Sometimes I think, this is what it must be like out there. In the Midwest. The Great Plains or the Badlands or something. I don’t know. I’ve never been to the Midwest. But the Meseta, this flat, seemingly infinite plateau hogging Northern Spain, seems as close as I’ll get to it.
Here are flies. Here’s an albergue in the middle of nowhere. The walk through nothing was infuriating and I was so happy when I saw this place I dropped my trekking poles.
Today I didn’t love the Camino. I woke up too late and my bread was hard and the cheese was sweaty and a man wouldn’t let me rest near his food truck without buying anything and I got angry.
I checked into the municipal albergue and did the routine. Present passport and credencial, get a stamp, pay five Euros. Choose a bed (top bunk), unpack, shower, hand wash clothes, record the day’s distance in a journal (28 kilometers), and then, whatever. I have chosen to sit at the bar out front. Not like there were other options.
Here are red plastic chairs and sun-faded umbrellas with old beer advertisements. Here is everyone, resting from the infuriating walk in the sun. Everyone does what they need to do. The Hungarian guy I often bump into has added a feather to his straw hat, and he sits in the shade smoking a pipe and reading The Imitation of Christ. A woman is complaining about her shin splints and asking if there is a pharmacy here (nope). The old man I am sharing a table with is shirtless. When I sat down he tugged at his chest hair like it was a shirt and asked, “Do you mind if I remain this way?” and I waved away his manners like a fly. People pore over their guidebooks. Some are talking to each other, the same old conversation every day: where are you from, where did you start today, are you going all the way, how are your feet.
Here there is one beer option: Carlsberg. Every pilgrim has opted for a grande. I asked for a glass of water too, which is always free in Spain. The water from the public fountains tastes like chlorine and dirt but the water in my cup is cold and sweet.
The main thing to note is that here, everyone is sitting. After the texting and researching and snacking, people just sit there and look at the excerpt of earth before them, doing nothing.
It feels like a truck stop here, too. A truck stop in the Midwest. Around this plastic oasis, its all just fields that are done for the year: they get to sit doing nothing too. It feels endless and big and, like I said, the way I imagine lots of America is.
The flatness of the Meseta astounds and annoys me. I don’t understand it. I come from a place with mountains and trees, where you need to climb up on something to see far away. But this place… the path goes straight, as far as you can see, and when you get to that spot, the same thing just happens again. I try to be present, but today I had to listen to music, podcasts, comedy, anything. There are few people on this stretch. This is the part people skip.
But this chunk of the Camino has an atmosphere unlike any I’ve felt. It’s brutal in its simplicity. It’s beautiful. It sucks. The sky is a blue dome. It’s too cold and too hot. And as much as I miss Ballard beer and will continue declaring its superiority to Spain’s, I tell you that every once in a while, there is nothing like a Carlsberg.