The art of embracing bewilderment.
I began my Camino with a secret side-mission: to grasp the Spanish language and become ‘fluent’ by the time I finished the walk in Santiago de Compostela. However, by Day 15, I’d resigned myself to the fact that this would not happen. It was a case of ‘too many cooks’ and not enough concentration. However, my distinct lack of language skills didn’t detract from the illuminating experience of a first-time pilgrim.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 15
My morning began well after my fellow wanderers had started their day’s lengthy 31-kilometre journey from Itero de la Vega – where we spent the night on Day 14 – to Villalcázar de Sirga. The transient rhythm of our rambling pilgrim party had matured into an organic system of flowing feet. We would often walk alone, then in pairs, next in a trio, and, when we encountered other groups, our boots would collectively amass dust beneath our engaging conversations.
While windswept wheat played the lead role in the day’s agricultural display, I savoured the talent of the Camino’s supporting cast. An enormous irrigation channel through Boadilla del Camino and a soldierly plantation forest of poplar trees complemented our journey until we arrived at a farm-style café for a late bocadillo lunch.
We sat and devoured our supersized sandwiches as donkeys and geese garbled in the background and a brood of chickens clucked about our feet anticipating a downpour of crumbs. I did my best to starve the circling scroungers (given I needed all the food I could eat as I’d already dropped an entire pant size), though I’m certain to have sacrificed a few morsels while sitting mouth agape trying to decipher the words on el menú.
Despite a fortnight of language lessons from Spanish-speaking pilgrims, my hiking brain had slipped into drone mode; my absorption of newfound knowledge had hit an all-time low. By Day 15, I had at least worked out why my pronunciations were a hodgepodge of twisted vowels and strained consonants. Not only had my lessons switched between an eclectic mix of pilgrim tutors from varying Spanish-speaking (and non-Spanish-speaking) countries, but the locals would swap their dialects every few hundred kilometres or so along the road.
From Basque, Castillian, Catalan and Galacian varietals to the vast assortment of international evolutions, it was no wonder I struggled to grasp any level of consistency. By the time we arrived at Albergue Municipal Villalcazar de Sirga and joined the night’s multinational gathering for dinner that evening, my tongue was utterly mystified.
Six of the sixteen autonomous communities in Spain have other co-official languages in addition to Spanish.
Traditional South American dishes were handed around the table amongst Germans, Italians, Spaniards, a Swede, our Colombian head chef and one linguistically-challenged Australian. Food, wine and a trilingual conversation bounced feverishly around the intimate kitchen table as my perplexed right eyebrow lifted higher and higher — my incoherency as a native English speaker had peaked.
Nevertheless, the spirited mood of the setting immediately invigorated my sluggish disposition. I slid into the top bed of my rickety metal bunk with my head swimming in positivity. The timing was impeccable; a much-maligned stretch of featureless dead-straight monotony awaited us on a 28.7-kilometre Day 16.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Albergue Municipal Villalcazar de Sirga
This stretch of the Meseta is so flat that you’ll begin praying for a hill.