For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 1 February 2008

The Meseta

After Burgos the landscape changed dramatically. We had entered the high plateau land of the northern Spanish Meseta. (Meseta means plateau or tabletop.) For the 1st couple of days crossing this vast, underpopulated region the bare open vistas of farmland were broken up by flat-topped hills and rimmed by faraway mountains whose peaks sometimes glistened with snow. Thereafter the plateau became, well, just a plateau - an empty, featureless plain of far horizons and cereal fields which stretched away as far as the eye could see.

In summer this part of the Camino can be punishing for the pilgrim - hot and cloudless, with little shade. Lonely too. You feel like a little dot, an insect making insignificant progress across a flat, endless landscape. In winter there can be strong winds with high humidity and cold temperatures. When I was there I was spared the high wind - but the nights were crystal-clear cold, and the days sometimes foggy, a fog that often did not lift all day. I think I said earlier that this section of the route, from Burgos to Leon, is known as the Way of Penitence...

We'd walked 30 km and it was almost dark. The village of Hontanas, our day's destination, was nowhere in sight. The treeless Meseta seemed to extend out into infinity. I put on my headtorch. Then I took a sharp, involuntary intake of breath. The illuminated bell tower of the church of Hontanas had suddenly appeared below us in a gash in the plateau. It revealed itself with the sudden intensity of a vision. It was beautiful. We rushed down the steep slope to this isolated village. The village that time forgot.

Later, in the small albergue municipal, 2 jolly Spanish ladies cooked us soup and spaghetti and fried eggs. Later still we climbed one of the rough roads out of the village and looked down onto the spotlit Church of the Assumption (see photo for the same view in the morning light). Cans of beer were passed round. The sweet smell of marijuana drifted over from someone's hand-rolled cigarette. There was a little group of us there on that hill. Squatting on plastic carrier bags on the damp ground. A deep frost would soon descend.

There was laughter. Then silence as we gazed up at the night sky. The constellations were clearly visible. Orion. The Plough. Shooting stars blazed away. I asked myself: what did I feel at that moment? The answer came to me: peace. Peace in a Field of Stars. We eventually stumbled, one by one, back down to the refuge. Where I slept a dreamless sleep.

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