We’re a full day behind St. John’s recommended pace, because of our stay in Burgos, so, feeling strong, we blow past his recommended stopping point of Hornillos del Camino and press on another 5.6 km to San Bol, a hostel in the middle of nowhere.
So far, the tales of the Meseta are overblown. Brenda, Jeff, Maddie and Steve all considered it to be a dire wasteland – Jeff and Maddie bussed ahead to avoid it and Brenda called it the “missteppa”, and spoke as though it were some great trial she must overcome alone. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, it’s flat. Yes, there’s little to no shade. But it doesn’t not that different from the rest of Spain, not much different from a stretch outside of Zubiri. Not that different, from Martos, even, where I taught elementary school English a few years back.
On the way, we meet up with Zoltan, who cheerfully informs us that he’s feeling not quite so ill. We walk for a while, the second pilgrim to join us for a lengthy walk, after Steve. Dorcinda tries to talk to him about German folk music, and he says he likes electronica and more modern hip hop and indie music. He talks about getting this name from a Hungarian father and growing up without knowing him and how now he regards his dad as somewhere between a friend and a stranger, but not like a relative. He makes it to Hornillos de Camino and we press on the San Bol.
Just before San Bol, I feel an irrational panic begin to set in at the number of pilgrims we see ahead of us and around us. San Bol only has 12 beds, and we really don’t want to walk any further if we don’t have to. At a hilltop, we see an English guy with a parasol, and he’s loaned it out to a young Korean woman, who smiles beamingly from its shade. The maybe-Brazilian woman who’s been walking at the same pace as us since Burgos stops to talk to them, but we merely say hi and move on. We figure the last one to San Bol is a rotten egg, and we’re not gonna get heatstroke gabbing with some random Englishman in the hot sun. So long, suckers. We see the hostel across a field, and consider the possibility that someone behind us could cut across the field rather than walking the circuitous route around on the main road. Fortunately, no one else is as focused on the goal and no one cuts us off.
At San Bol, the hospitalera only speaks Spanish and is relieved that I understand her. She notices me translating for Dorcinda, and I explain, yo traduzco, y ella paga. For once Dorcinda has cash and I don’t. It’s a white lie but it gets a smile out of her, and she says, of course, because she’s the big sister! She asks me to explain some hostel rules to the other guests. It’s relatively early, so we sit to write for a while after showering and washing laundry. Outside there is a cold, stream-fed pool where we soak our feet.
At dinner, only six of us eat – me and Dorcinda, a 25-year old Korean woman, two 40-50ish men from Denmark and Italy, and a 75-year-old Frenchman. I am mystified that the others – including two Dutch girls who were here long ahead of us – don’t eat. They must have brought food with them because there is literally nothing else around for miles. The dinner conversation is in stilted English, the only common language among us. The Frenchman jokes that we’re like monks, eating in silence. He’s excited at first that all different nationalities are represented, but then is disappointed that almost no one speaks French or Spanish (I’m the most fluent at either, which is pretty sad. I can confidently say “je voudrais le fromage” but not much else).
I explain that the last one to leave has to lock up and bring the key to the hostel in the next town. We talk about distances and how far we intend to go. Michel reminds us that the Camino is not a race. That’s the kind of attitude that will get you stuck with the job of locking the albergue door and walking the key to the next town, Michel.
I can tell that Michel is a talker and is frustrated by his inability to join in during dinner. Me and the young Korean sit with him a while, and let him regale us with tales of his rugby days. He was a player and helped organize tours for his French team. He’s played all around Asia and especially islands there in New Zealand, India, Tahiti, even Borneo. It’s hard to understand him, since he’s speaking broken English and occasionally slipping back into French. He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s doing this. He also doesn’t seem to hear or respond to questions or asides, and I can only really understand about one word in three. Its tedious, but he appreciates it and we go to bed happy.