Camino de Santiago: Phase Two, The Mind

Days 19 through 26, Burgos to Carrion de las Condes, ~119km/74mi

Phase Two of the Camino de Santiago is reputed to be all about “the mind.” This is the stage where the Camino enters “the Meseta,” the plateau of northern Spain’s central interior.

The Meseta is considered to be the “mind phase” due to the long stretches with few distractions. Most people either love it or hate it, but by far, it’s the least popular section of the Camino Francés, the most traditional of the pilgrim routes, with some choosing to skip right over it.

Those who love the Meseta tout it for its solitude and the chance to be completely alone, something that’s rare for most people, apparently. It’s viewed as an opportunity to go deeper with your thoughts and to reflect inward in quiet contemplation. But I had just spent 3 months alone in “quiet contemplation” with too many thoughts. I craved the distraction of companionship while on those long, monotonous dusty roads.

Leaving the city of Burgos in the early morning light with no foot traffic, it was now easy to follow the red granite stripe pointing the way through town.

Irrigation sources became much more prevalent on this next stretch.

Distances between towns became greater, as did the dreaded “highway walking” with paths parallel to the road.

Never fear, if a town did not have a pharmacy, they would at least have a vending machine selling pharmaceutical items. One even had an assortment of “battery-operated personal devices.”

I was a bit worried that my favorite breakfast would be at risk in the more remote areas also…

But again, never fear as most all cafes and bars had a “Zummo” machine, a two-sided operation that split, squeezed, and discarded the peel off two oranges at a time within seconds. Oranges in Spain were extraordinarily sweet, therefore the OJ was heavenly!

Along the Meseta, the vegetation and topography changed notably. There were fewer trees, more limestone, the crops were poorer, and irrigation was prevalent. It was pretty barren save for the vineyards and olive groves.  The mountains regions now both behind and ahead of me, it was easy to see the trail for miles where pilgrims up ahead looked like small ants.

Villages were typically developed along low riverbeds in the valleys, so one doesn’t often see the town until right upon it, with the church steeple being the first indicator to appear above the horizon. The villages, now fewer and further between, consisted of small earth-colored buildings with fewer services along the trail.  In some of the smaller villages, we were lucky to find one bar or cafe.

It seemed the pilgrims who chose not to skip the Meseta were either large groups of Australians who had formed their own packs by now and therefore tough to infiltrate, or they were non-English speaking South Koreans and Brazilians. People seemed to be determined to speed up and power on through, passing me like a squashed snail on the trail with little more than a “Buen Caminooo!” trailing over their shoulder as they motored on out of sight. I was faced to examine the question, “Why do I feel lonely on the Camino, but nowhere else on the planet?” (I wrote a book using the “never” word for gosh sakes, “Alone but Never Lonely!” Looks like I may need an addendum.)

I knew we had entered the Meseta when I could see the road so far ahead of me.

Lots of bell towers along this stretch also serve as perches where storks build their nests. (for my cousin, the “birder!”)

Often there would be a small village up ahead, but you wouldn’t know it until you crested the hill, as they were down in a valley along an often times dry riverbed.

As more young people leave for more urban jobs, many of these villages remain only to serve the pilgrims walking the Camino.

Even someone who is “Never Lonely” can get a bit lonely out here!

So yes, the Meseta did a number on my head. But not just for the reasons predicted. The straight, flat gravel roads were reminiscent of my childhood growing up on the Texas farm, walking through monotonous wheat fields to get to the school bus. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it still. I had audio books, but even that didn’t help. Without the distraction of cafes, cultural sites, or cathedrals along the trail, and nary a soul to talk to, I had to admit it…I was getting BORED! While the Meseta is supposed to be where one tones their mind, it seemed to be dulling mine.

I never missed an opportunity for a peek into the smaller, older churches whose door was almost always open.

In the town of Hornillios del Camino, there was literally no room at the Inn. All the albergues were full for the night, so one of the proprietors recommended we try “El Molino,” about 5 miles away. It was off the Camino, but the proprietor would come pick us up and bring us back to the Camino the next morning. It turned out to be a charming place in the middle of nowhere. We four (three Australians and me) were his only guests. He didn’t speak a word of English, but through my broken Spanish, we learned of his brief cameo appearance in the movie, “The Way.” The crew stayed here during the filming of the movie, and he proudly showed off his autographed pictures of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

Only 248 miles to go…getting close to the halfway point.

While the scenery was starting to become more stark and arid, I was grateful the poppies were still with me, lining the trail.

The Saint Anton ruins, one of my favorite rest stops along the Camino. Once a monastery, its founders, the Antonian monks, their order dating back to 1146, were dedicated to the care of pilgrims. A 16th century gothic arch still spans the Camino. Inside is a “donativo,” alberbue that operates by donation only. It is completely “off the grid,” with dinners by candlelight and the only entertainment being the “stars” of the Milky Way.

But it wasn’t all mental. It was partially physical. Another one of my intentions that fell short had been to find an option for sunglasses to fit over my new eyeglass prescription. But as I stated previously, I ran out of time. The endless wide, gravel path composed of blinding white rock never ending in front of me in the glaring hot sun was causing me to feel “snow blind.” After a couple of hours walking, I was seeing spots before my eyes. And now approaching mid-May, the temps were starting to heat up.

And if that wasn’t reason enough, I had pre-booked my final few days, aiming for what I thought would be my finish date to coincide with a holiday weekend in Santiago. But it was becoming apparent that I would not make this original timeline. I didn’t want to wipe the slate clean and start the booking process all over again. Skipping ahead a few days meant I might just make it there according to my original estimate.

The beautiful town of Castrojeriz, where you can see a castle up on the hill, and a beautiful church in the foreground.

I awoke early this morning to see the sunrise, as the Meseta is known for its beautiful sunrises. This approach is to the Alto de Mostelares, the highest point in the Meseta.

Though the Alto de Mostelares can hardly be called a “summit,” there was still an attitude of jubilation when reaching the marker at the top.

Rain clouds hovered all around me this day, but never overhead.

Though there weren’t a lot of trees along the Meseta, there were groves where they had been planted in neat rows.

More Camino graffiti..

The long and winding road…

When staying in an albergue, I would always choose a single bed if it meant not having to sweat out arriving in time to secure a lower bunk. This place was like an oasis, with a nice bar, restaurant, and garden in the middle of nowhere.

The path follows along the Canal de Castilla. On the outskirts of Fromista are a series of locks for managing elevation changes along the canal. It was here that I met an older woman from Spain who had walked the Camino 16 times. She explained that the canal was originally built to transport wheat to the coast to be loaded on ships before the railway days. Once the railroad came along, they were no longer used to transport grain, but now serve as an irrigation source.

In the center of Fromista is the Iglesia de San Martin, reputed to be one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain.

As if the Romanesque architecture was not reason enough to go in, the interesting capitals at the top of the support columns were worthy of a visit. I read that during renovation in the 19th century. many of the spicier scenes on the capitals were removed for “reasons of decency.”

Even the directional signs along the Meseta were starting to appear a bit weary.

Just a couple of pilgrims having a rest. He was the only person I found willing to slow down long enough for a chat. LOL! This is Pablo Payo Perez, Mesonero Major, a longtime hospitalerio, or Innkeeper on the Camino.

So I decided to do “Camino by bus” and skip ahead three days. The next few days were reported to be more of the dreaded highway walking, parallel to the road. The most challenging of these was a 17km/(11 mi) stretch without any services, food or water. I rationalized that I needed to get back to the distractions of abundant scenic beauty and cultural stimulation in order to sustain the sanity I needed to go the distance. I booked my bus ticket online, which was my saving grace. The bus was full, and the bus stop so crowded, they actually left pilgrims behind. The old adage “Misery loves company” must have originated in the Meseta. 😉

Of course, my worst fear would prove to be true. “FOMO” (fear of missing out.) In retrospect, I do slightly regret having skipped over this section. In the end, my timeline to make it to Santiago slipped anyway, causing me to cancel what reservations I had booked and start over again. At one point, I even considered busing it back to Carrion de las Condes to walk the three the days I skipped. Okay, well maybe I wasn’t regretting it that much.

On my last night along the Meseta, I treated myself to a night in the beautiful Real Monasterio de San Zoilo, a restored monastery converted to a luxury hotel, complete with chanting monk music piped into the lobby. This was my “Self Portrait in Shame,” looking back at myself in the mirror, trying to convince myself I wouldn’t regret skipping ahead. I felt a bit like a failure as a “pilgrim” here, sleeping in luxury, and awaiting my air conditioned coach to carry me away the next day…

“Lead us not into temptation…”

Turns out there is a lot more to be said for this second “mind phase” of the Camino. My boredom would be short-lived once I stepped off the bus into Leon.  The second half of this phase would end up being my favorite section of the Camino! I was a bit overconfident to think I could distill this melee of emotions into one post. I need to split it into two parts. Please stand by for Part Two…

13 thoughts on “Camino de Santiago: Phase Two, The Mind

  1. As usual, breathtaking photography and entrancing narrative. I feel like I was there – even if only for a moment, and without the aching feet!

    Virtual hugs,


  2. The photography, as always, is just beautiful. I really like the photos of the road going on and on into the distance and sometime with “walkers” on their way. The thought of making that walk basically by yourself is daunting! I admire you taking on the Camino.

  3. As always, Suzanne, your writings and photographs emote poignant reminders that, whichever path we find ourselves on, we each must keep searching for truth.

    “How can you hide from what never goes away?” ~ Heraclitus

  4. I find the photos and the landscape lovely and to my eye forward moving lines compelling me to keep going, but once again, I am sitting in my chair with a cup of coffee, not putting one foot in front of the other! And, as always your adventures make me smile, chuckle (I would love to see the “spicier scenes” and wonder why humans became “more decent” although I have my suspicions) and certainly reflect. Looking forward to part 2 of part two!

  5. Lor-dee. I don’t think, even when I WAS a walker, that I would have lasted more then through part of Phase 1.
    I guess I’m at that point in my life where I don’t need to prove
    anything to myself or anyone else…….

    Your writing is so delightful and the photos are exquisite. I’m
    glad YOU made the trip!

  6. The scenery was lovely, although I tend to agree with you-I probably would’ve gotten bored, especially walking next to the highway.
    Thanks for the storks’ nests shot! That was the height of breeding season over there, too.
    I love the “bartender’s” sexy lady tap handle! lol

  7. Glad you have you kept your mind set through the Meseta. That plateau is definitely is lacking in shade. But you certainly found some interesting little communities a a very nice hostel,
    Buen Camino !

  8. So, a few questions!!:) 🙂
    Could that juicer automatically add a shot of tequila?
    Did you skip past the poppies singing ” we’re off to see the wizard” ?
    Why do you suppose gargoyles often have their mouths open and tongues out?
    Great storytelling, great pictures!

  9. I can understand your boredom with so little to add to your stimulation. It is beautiful country and the sunrises are wonderful. Interesting little towns along the way. Thanks again for sharing your journey and thoughts with us:)

  10. Is in awe of your iPhone photography Suzanne. We are heading to Spain in a few weeks and I’m bringing nothing more than an iPhone. We will see how I do. I love my time alone to reflect but have to admit that I was feeling a bit lonely and sad (?) reading this post. Not sure how I would fare on the Meseta. Your writing brings out lots of emotions.

    • Thank you so much, LuAnn. I had some real challenges in getting the iphone photos downloaded to my PC, so I may be back on “Team Canon” next trip!

      How very exciting that you are going to Spain! I would love to hear more about this! I keep hoping to see a blog update one of these days.

      The loneliness I felt on the Meseta was simply due to the fact that I didn’t want to walk fast enough to keep up with others. The faster I walk, the less I see. But I have walked with you before, so I am confident you would have no problem going fast! 😉

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