‘Many people avoid the Meseta, catching the bus from Burgos to Leon’, I heard on my first day on the Camino de Santiago. I was shocked. I thought most people were keen to walk the full route, either in stages or as a single pilgrimage. Whilst setting out to walk and enjoy the whole 800km, the Meseta was the section I was looking forward to with anticipation. I became curious as to what my experience would be.
I planned my Camino with a friend with whom I’d been doing an annual walk of up to 6 days. I had not anticipated how important it is to really know and be compatible with the person you walk with if you choose to walk with someone. I found it is imperative to be compatible mentally, physically and emotionally.
The ‘we’ I talk about in this blog is my walking buddy.
The Meseta is the ‘mind’ section of the Camino Frances. It was cold and wet as we departed Burgos. We’d been recommended to pack ponchos. We had chosen to pack raincoats instead. After a wet Burgos, we realized ponchos were going to be essential to keep our packs dry especially as we were carrying our belongings each day.
With grey skies overhead there was no beauty around us as we left Burgos and walked fields interspersed with flyover highways. Nevertheless, the beauty of the vegetation and open spaces inspired us and gave us pleasure as we walked. It rained on and off throughout the day and large drops pelted us as we entered our destination for the day, Hornillos. It was a relief to arrive at our albergue and find a bar nearby serving hot food. As we were thinking perhaps those who avoided the Meseta were smart, a warm sun burst through the clouds, rapidly drying everything out. We were able to venture out to explore. We found a fantastic collection of underground, cave-like bodegas used to house the wine and food of the locals. We were in photographic bliss.
We woke the next day to sunshine and openness all around. Coming from Australia where big blue skies, open plains of wheat and stark vegetation are very familiar, I felt at home. I was, however, clearly in Spain with ruins and history in abundance enroute.
I loved every moment of the Meseta; sometimes walking alone, taking time to reflect; other days walking with other pilgrims having interesting conversations.
At the convent ruins at St Anton – very imposing and beautiful – I met a Swedish guy walking his fourth Camino. For him, it was about shedding – weight, stress, concerns – and restoring peace. I had dedicated my Camino to peace. There were so many nationalities talking, sharing and caring. I thought, if all the world leaders did the Camino, there would be no wars. The Camino naturally creates camaraderie and tolerance. It may not start that way, but I found it certainly developed as I relaxed into the walk and accepted people for exactly who they were. I realized we all have concerns that we have to deal with at times.
Every day I felt joy in the land. It embraced me. I found I was falling in love with walking, myself and my environment. Quite an unexpected experience!
The open spaces and heat, even in early June, were a challenge. We experienced a heat wave whereby it was 36-38C every day. I found it important to pace myself and plan my walking day. As it got hotter, we started earlier and earlier, leaving at dawn some days. There was a real advantage in that. The sunrises were spectacular and there were few people on the road, making it a very peaceful start to the day. I really enjoyed the reflective time this gave me. One morning we saw both the sun and the moon in front of us through the clouds and behind us a magnificent sunrise reflecting off the clouds.
Water on the Meseta was vital. Not all villages have potable, drinkable, water. So ensuring I had enough was important. One day I ran out, and in the way only the Camino can provide, an albergue owner drove down the road towards us handing out bottles of water. He was celebrating the birthday of his albergue, so he said and we were thankful for his gift. En El Camino Albergue was a superbly run welcoming family accommodation. Each floor featured beautifully crafted timber furniture made from found wood. Coincidentally, we had decided, at the previous village, that we were going to stay at this albergue when we got into Boadilla, our destination for the day. The owner’s gift cemented our decision.
There are days on the Meseta when the towns, villages or landscape are not attractive. These can be challenging. They are very good training for being able to accept the mundane of life. I found there is freedom in sameness and beauty if you stop, breathe and observe.
Wheat, wheat and more wheat and tilled soil of all colors – white, red, brown, orange and yellow – greeted us every day.
Another highlight was the day we walked from Terradillos. We took the alternative route to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, which was quite remote. It felt like we had stepped into outback Australia – what so many people visit Australia to see – with a big open blue sky, wispy white cloud, red dirt, rough rocky road, fields interspersed with wheat and salt bush-style scrub.
It was a fantastic walk with the very comfortable Albergue Via Trajan at the end to welcome us. In the afternoon the village felt deserted. As siesta drew to a close, shutters started to roll up and the ‘old people’ of the village emerged with their chairs to sit on the corner, in the square or outside their home to pass the early evening with their neighbors. The village came to life. We realized the Camino de Santiago is a very important part of the lifeblood of these villages.
Often we didn’t see a sole in villages we passed through, except for in bars and albergues where pilgrims abounded. This quietness continued as we climbed off the Meseta and entered the suburbs of Leon before arriving into the hubbub of the old town on a Sunday. Surprisingly, after the peacefulness of the Meseta, we loved the liveliness of the Spanish enjoying a day off and the elegance of the big city.
I can highly recommend the Meseta. Take your time and walk the distances that work for you. Stop, look, listen and feel and you get the Meseta.
Jill Keyte walked the Camino in May and June 2017