We continued our traverse of the Mesata over the past two days. Today we walked along the ancient Roman road known as the Calzada Romana. Our guidebook claims that this is “the most perfect extant stretch of Roman road left in Spain today.” This was also a very remote stretch of the Camino with no asphalt roads, no towns, no villages, no farmyards, no homes, no water fountains, no food, and very little shade. But, it was also a stretch with no cars, no noise, and no extraneous distractions either. In this respect, it was beautiful and peaceful. We crossed miles of gently rolling fields and only saw a farmer or two working their fields. Some people complained that the road was a bit boring since it just ran straight through. But, I loved the stark beauty and found myself imagining the ancient Romans in these exact places building and then using the road. You could almost hear the clink of sword against armor and horses moving by.
Yesterday we walked a fairly short route (only about 14 km/9 mi) from Sahagun to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, a small farming community with a couple of albergues. We continue to marvel at these tiny village that we would otherwise never have visited. The people are warm and welcoming. We speculate that they might be pleased that their towns play host to the pilgrims on their way to Santiago on the historic Camino. We saw an interesting route designator that had two noteworthy aspects. First of all, it let us know that there are only 315 kilometers remaining to Santiago. But, it also displayed the word “Ultreia!” This is a word with Latin and old French roots. It was a greeting used by Medieval pilgrims and is still seen from time to time on the Camino. It means “Ever onward” and was used as a verbal encouragement to pilgrims. It still seems to work its magic even today.
This afternoon I spoke with a group of four college-age girls from Seattle who are hiking the Camino together. They attend Seattle Pacific University and began their pilgrimage in St. Jean Pied de Port a few weeks ago. They were in great condition and were having the times of their young lives. The conversation reminded me of an earlier posting in which I gave words of encouragement to any single young women who might be contemplating hiking the Camino. After publishing that posting I also spoke with a 30-something year old woman named Nicole, from Venice Beach, who cautioned that young American girls would probably be more comfortable hiking in a small group rather than alone and that, before hiking, they should clearly understand what they will be getting into, with shared bathroom facilities and bunk rooms, snoring sleepers, no hair dryers or makeup, and the like. The Camino seems to be very safe, but it is a long way from home and some social company that you can trust is maybe a better idea than hiking alone. By the way, Nicole is a breast cancer survivor who is hiking the Camino alone. She is here with her bald head (okay, with a little peach fuzz), looking and feeling great, thank you very much!
Our destination town today (Mansilla de las Mulas) was holding their weekly public market in the town square when we arrived. So, as soon as possible after checking in to the municipal albergue, I headed back to the square to check out the market. I have visited town markets during my travels in many countries and always enjoy seeing the local produce on sale and feeling the energy that always seems to be present at the markets. This market, although not very big, had all the energy I have become accustomed to in the past. The vegetables looked freshly picked and beautiful. It made me a little homesick since I have not been able to cook properly while on the Camino and I miss that a lot.
Tomorrow, we press on to the next big city on the route – Leon (population of 130,000.) Our entrance into the city will be in sharp contrast with the very rural, almost deserted pathways we have been following for the past few days. But, we are looking forward to the change and everything this major city will provide.