Day 16 to Puente Villarente - The Santiago Seals

The Meseta has one more challenge left: a neverending path along empty roads. The few cars that pass by honk enthusiastically. The people inside go bananas. They know only die-hards venture here: the Santiago Seals. Everybody else has taken the train to Leon. Roads like this are a mind game. I didn't bring any music, a deliberate choice. I want my mind to be in the Camino, not Seattle or London. I think of Flandrien spirit, the blessings of priests, lighting candles in churches, the flight patterns of birds … really anything to keep me going. The 13 km strip between El Burgo Ranero and Reliogos is a killer. I only meet 2 Aussie bros and a lost South Korean. The Australians share my enthusiasm. They’re used to the mighty outback and the ‘Wide Open Road’, worshipped by 80’s alt band The Triffids. Small trees provide ample shade. I’m totally mesmerised by the landscape. How can anybody skip this beauty? On the horizon I can see the snowy mountains of Galicia. We'll cross those babies after Leon.

I finally reach civilisation in Reliegos. 25 km done. 13 to go. Time to recharge: water, coffee, food, sunscreen, dry socks. The Ramones are playing on the radio. “Eh-oh, let's go!” The next village - Mansilla de las Mulas - is 6.5 km away. It's hot but I can already see the church on the horizon. Keep going! When I reach the charming town, I skip coffee. If I sit down now, I won't be able to get back up. Move on! Find the strength! Maybe sing a hymn? Our Mother Mary of Flanders? No, that one always moves me to tears. I’m starting to lose it. Is that my wife Angela walking next to me? “When I wake up, I'm gonna be the man next to you ... And Iiiiiii will walk 500 miles!” Right now, 5 will do.

Look! I can already see the sign. Hold on, it doesn't say Puente-something, but Villamoros. Moro's Town, hahaha, like Moro aka Maurice, the notorious taxi driver in Beirut. Not funny. If I'm lost I won't make it. I’m completely exhausted. Thank goodness, an old woman appears. I ask for directions in my Borat Spanish. 2 more km she says. What's that 30 percent rule of the Seals again? Wherever that extra strength is hiding, I need to find it quick. The next doggy town appears. Somebody shoot me. I can't even spot the albergue. Or someone to ask for directions. Finally a worker shows up. 1 more mile. For once I am relieved to walk on. This place sucks. Find the strength! And that bloody village called Puente Villarente. But finally, there it is! Now the hostel. I arrive totally wrecked at the Albergue San Pelaya. But my mood changes quickly when I see the fancy patio and sitting area. Huray! I’ve conquered the Meseta. I’m 37 km closer to Santiago. And just 12 away from Leon. Mission accomplished. Hu-hah!

Travel Essentials

Pick the right road. In Calzada del Coto you can choose between the old Roman road going through some villages and the modern, straight road along the highway. For some weird reason, I picked the monotonous road, which I quickly came to regret.

Stock up supplies. There’s an endless 13 km strip between El Burgo Ranero and Reliogos. One straight, empty road through nothingness. For die-hard Meseta fans.

Albergue San Pelaya - Calle El Romero 9, Puente Villarente - +34 987 312 677 - Open all year, noon to 22 h - 56 beds, 8 euro - outstanding address, charming interior, fancy patio, outstanding pilgrim’s meal 10 euro. Worth staying here as you’re only 12 km away from Leon. This allow you to chill the rest of the day in Leon.

Buen Camino!

Next episode: 'Day 17 - The Kings of Leon'

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