Balancing the breathtaking and the benign
I’ve always suspected that it’s a basic human impulse to yearn for rewarding new experiences; however, somewhere along the way to adulthood, we refit this instinct to crave comfort, convenience and consistency. It can be so easy to lose perspective on what guides your development and informs your outlook. By Day 18, the Camino’s challenging moments had already refocused my attitudes, and I had begun to feel oddly pre-sentimental for the tough moments.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 18
We left Bercianos del Real Camino accompanied by a similarly spectacular low-sun spectrum to the one that concluded Day 17. The all-encompassing wheat fields, which had seemed to add a visual weight over the last week, acted as our early-morning inspiration.
Arriving in El Burgo Ranero for ‘first breakfast’, I realised I would be far happier if I could somehow live exclusively within the golden hours that straddled both sunrise and sunset. A lifetime mesmerised by the sky’s fiery metallic hues would be a life well spent. Alas, the Camino’s climbing sun soon unshackled the pulsating heat of the day, the vivid colours soon muted and I went back to sweating through my shirt. How quickly these illuminating experiences pass us by; a reminder to appreciate the timeless moments when you have them – even if you don’t relish an entire adventure.
Remarkably, as much as I’d grumbled about the recent humdrum viewing, I knew I would miss my time in Spain’s northern Meseta. While this expansive agricultural stretch technically ended some 68 kilometres away in Astorga, the scenery surrounding the industrialised sprawl of upcoming León would contrast heavily with the previous week of wheat-heavy walking. I realised this section, much like the Camino itself, would not last forever. I felt nostalgic for something I was currently experiencing.
Nevertheless, once I arrived in Mansilla de las Mulas in the mid-afternoon, I realised I’d absorbed little from the day’s level landscape. Other than the distinctive Shire-like hobbit homes in Reliegos, the countryside had blurred into one. However, floating conversations amongst the day’s rotating walking party and the mouth-watering prospect of a pilgrim birthday dinner kept my mind from completely dismantling.
Reliegos, a former Roman village that was resettled in the 10th century, has few reminders of its past (though you can still see many private family bodegas tucked into its hillsides like Hobbit holes).
Group fluctuations had peaked by the time we arrived at our night’s Albergue; 14 multicultural pilgrims had gathered to celebrate with home-cooked pasta, a toothsome dessert and several bottles of sparkling Spanish cava.
‘Happy Birthday’ renditions in English, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, German, Polish and Danish reverberated around the courtyard before the chatter of conversation returned. Then, like from an angel on high, a South Korean pilgrim emerged from a balcony above and brought the house down with an extraordinary virtuosic performance, commanding both a standing ovation and a whoop of hysterical laughter.
This communal celebration perfectly embodies the modern-day Camino – humble pilgrims gathering in modest surroundings to share their experiences, knowledge and diversity; life was indeed a rich tapestry. However, with several days of subdued rural hiking behind us, our focus soon shifted to big city grandiosity and Day 19’s fiesta-filled city of León.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Albergue Municipal ‘Amigos del Peregrino’
Slightly downhill if anything. Mansilla de las Mulas for the win!