Luckily, Mikey asked for and paid the check when ordering the final course at dinner last night. We downed the coffee and quickly hobbled across the street to the Albergue. Our French friend was waiting to close the gates behind us. Hearing the gates lock behind us as we climbed the stairs, Mikey started humming “Maria” from The Sound of Music.
As we had been the last to make it back to the albergue, we were also among the final pilgrims to leave this morning. Slowly marching out of the gates, Mikey was stopped by the hospitalero who asked him about the church, shook his hand, and wished him a Buen Camino. As we walked down the drive, he called out, “Café!” and pointed us to the nearest place to get coffee. What a guy!
The coffee was good and strong. At 1€, it was also a good deal. Even better, though was the 1.50€ coffee that included a shot! Mikey thought the barista was joking and politely declined, stating the early hour of 7:30 am. The man shrugged, took Mikey’s coin, and poured a shot for himself. Looking around, we noticed that we were the only ones not drinking liquor before 8 am! Wow.
The initial walk out of the village was nice. We even met a few friendly horses along the way. Still, we weren’t really prepared for this particular walk.
Yes, the hospitalero had told us that the first 15km would follow the highway, but it literally ran alongside it for the entire time. Luckily it wasn’t that busy, but there are enough annoyingly large agricultural and commercial trucks and trailers to blow a sleepy pilgrim around a bit.
We often walked on the small shoulder of the road for seemingly an eternity.
There were (thankfully) a few turnoffs with pastures and such, but there were neither places to stop and rest nor fountains to refill our water bottles.
We finally reached our halfway point and entered the Sierra Del Norte Natural Reserve. OK, maybe Mikey’s alone in this, but he thinks bathrooms, water fountains, maybe a general store. But no – nothing like that – not even a picnic table!
There were cows, though – and they had water to drink. We started guessing that this was more of a Bureau of Land Management than National Park kind of thing.
It was very picturesque with lots of streams. Still, nothing was marked so we didn’t risk drinking from them. (Should’ve bought that Life Straw!)
The lack of water was troubling, but the placement of this skull was just mean. Mikey now started wondering if we’d make it.
Then we saw the cruel exit from the park. Our guidebook had warned today was “the stage from hell” and that there was a steep mountain climb at the very end, but we didn’t think much of it. But now, with the sun hot on us and almost no water left, it became a most hellish climb.
While Mikey wants me to say that we made it all in one go, it wasn’t quite so. We stopped a few times to wheezingly rest a throbbing ankle but did make it to the top without too much exhaustion. Yet, it may have been the look from the top that served as rose-tinted glasses. Looking back, we could see most of the 15km we had traveled through the park and, turning forward, saw the village of Almadén de la Plata down below.
This is the town hall which is known for its obvious clock tower. Our albergue was located in the same square.
As there had been a recent fire in the large public albergue, we pilgrims had been encouraged to make reservations at one of the private ones the day before to ensure that we would have places to sleep. The quirky man who had taken Mikey’s reservation had made him promise to show up today. After Mikey explained that he was walking the pilgrimage and that there was literally nowhere else he could go, the man had guaranteed him a spot with no need of anything but a first name.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the albergue, the man’s wife looked sternly at us and asked if we had reservations.
-“Yes,” we replied.
-“What is your name?”
-“Oh!” she suddenly brightened, “We’ve been waiting for you! I just wanted to make sure you actually had reservations.”
-“Wait, so you mean pilgrims lie to you about having, señora?” asked Mikey.
-“Oh, yes – all the time. And they steal my sheets. You’re not going to steal my sheets, are you?” she asked.
-“Uhm…no, señora. I have a sleeping bag.” It was then that we noticed a sign on each available bed that read, “Don’t STEAL my sheets!”
It’s a good thing we weren’t planning a laundry heist as the church had canceled evening mass. Instead, there was an afternoon funeral and everything – even bars that normally stayed open during siesta – closed so that the town could participate in it.
Mikey was sitting outside a restaurant with the husband of the American duo (the talkers – oh, and they’re from Texas) when the doors to the restaurant closed so that they could attend the burial service. Since we still had open tabs with the server, we just waited around for the better part of an hour until he returned to settle our bills.
Mikey appreciates honesty, so we returned later to have dinner. This venison stew was even better!
Although we normally skip dessert (Mikey’s tried, but just doesn’t have the taste for flan) our server spoke highly of the dessert and said that it was his grandmother’s very own recipe. Talk about twisting an arm.
Well, she must’ve been quite a lady because Mikey loved it. Cheers, abuela, wherever you are!