We rise early, and get a decent night sleep despite the large room. I didn’t even need earplugs. As I brush my teeth the old frenchman turns off the light before entering the bathroom, thinking that the room is empty, and that he’s turning the light on as he enters. I don’t really have time to object, and he opens the door to find me glaring at him, toothbrush in my mouth. He is apologetic and I shrug it off.
At breakfast, the old french pilgrims jealously guard the good bread, leaving us with just pan cruciente, which is excruciatingly dry no matter how much jam we slather on it. The coffee is drip, and bad. Dorcinda leaves ahead of me, and before I follow her, I say goodbye to the hospitalera. She follows me to the doorway and I wave again. She seems hesitant about something. Dorcinda tells me later that she wanted to hug me – she had said earlier, while I was in the bathroom, that she hugs all the pilgrims on their way to Santiago.
We walk 6km? to breakfast and we see two old cyclists. They passed us on the way in and are impressed that we caught up so quickly. We also see one man from our hostel. These are the only pilgrims, the only PEOPLE, we would see for most of the day, starting a long lonely stretch of 18km between towns. We load up with a relatively luxurious breakfast – coffee, eggs and either chorizo or bacon.
The day, as predicted, is hot. We walk for a long way on paved highway, and wonder where the roman road begins. We see few signs of life, no pilgrims or cyclists, few cars, even. There is a train in the distance.
Eventually we meet the Roman road, and it is hard going. The rocks are big and uneven. Despite the exhortations of the book of John, I do not feel particularly connected with antiquity. I feel connected with the heat of the sun on my neck, the sweat on my back, the pain in my feet. We stop at every shady spot – few and far between – to drink water and stay hydrated, and I nearly finish my bottle, which is something I’m loathe to do. This is as remote and difficult as the 17.5km stretch a few days ago, without the company of Alice to speed the time, and without the break of an oasis to sell us cold drinks half way.
Finally, mercifully, we see Reliegos ahead. In town, we buy smoothies, the first calories since breakfast so many hours and miles ago. It’s wonderful. We debate about whether to move on or to stay for a while and decide to press on. The next stop is Mansilla de las Mulas, and it puts us at 32km for the day.
We stop at the second hostel we see, a pleasant and clean looking place called Gaia. It’s cheap too, just 5 euro each. We settle in, and I see a bed bug. I report it to the hospitalera, who is distressed and apologetic. She kills the bug and sprays mattresses. We spend an hour hemming and hawing and researching bed bugs, but decide to leave and stay at the hotel nearby instead.
In Mansilla, we wander around town for a bit. We find an old alley with a door through the old city walls. Just beyond there’s a little meadow and some trees. Just inside the door, there’s a spent box of Don Simon wine. I haven’t seen the stuff since my Martos days, when I was well acquainted with the cheapest types of alcohol that I could afford with my low-paid part-time teaching work. Not a bad place for a bum to get pissed on boxed wine, I think. We seek out a place to eat. Our guidebook and a shopkeeper who sold us cookies both recommend La Curiosa, but the kitchen there doesn’t open until 9, and that won’t do. We consider the bar next to La Curiosa, which charms us with the sound of a slightly off-key piano, played casually by one of the patrons. The woman at La Curiosa recommended Las Delicias, though, and she doesn’t steer us wrong. We get a decent menu, and I get drunk on the bottle of wine they give us to share. No writing tonight.
Our feet have new or worsening blisters. I decide to lance the blood blister on my foot, and it seems to go pretty well.