Mansilla de las Mulas & an authentic albergueria

as foretold, the middle section of our Camino was largely mental in that the similarity of terrain demanded less of our attention for longer periods… honestly, it could be monotonous, especially if we hadn’t had anything interesting to listen to on the iPhone to distract us. really, it was rather fantastic terrain for jointly listening to some of our audiobooks, so long as the sendas proved shady enough and we didn’t encounter too many other peregrinos, whose presence on the path necessitated our walking single file and pulling out earphones.

what I remember about walking to Mansilla de las Mulas? listening to Bobcat Goldthwait on Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me talking about his forthcoming movie, God Bless America. funny how the senses conspire to make you remember certain things … I suspect there are certain podcasts and entertainment personalities I’ll forever associate with the Camino, just as I still associate the smell of lavender with my trip to France the summer of 2000.

another thing about getting into this sameness of León is that some of the towns (mostly lodgings) distinguished themselves from others — one place we were at the top of the stairs over the dining room where people were watching the UEFA Champion’s League Final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich (Chelsea won); another had memory foam beds and graffiti-style murals on the wall. our accommodation in Mansilla, for example, was distinctly rustic, friendly, and authentic. the building certainly didn’t date from the Roman era, when the town was established, but dated from at least a century ago and though not likely actually a farmhouse at the time, the dining room displayed an array of period farm tools that complimented the overall ambiance nicely. the owner visited the States back in the 70s and we chatted a bit about the places he’d seen and about the part of the country from which we hailed. he also proved one of my best veg-friendly-food advocates on the entire Camino; I mentioned it when ordering our menus de los peregrinos and he asked if I wanted the egg and tuna off the salad and plain pasta without the meat sauce. my pasta came out with the meat sauce (the message didn’t make it back to his wife, who was working the kitchen, or she didn’t care) that, as often happened, I just planned to eat around, but when he came to check on our meals he said “no, no! I’ll bring you some more without meat” and took the plate away and brought back a fresh one.

the town, as I mentioned, dates from the Romans and is laid out in their distinct grid style with plazas and minor streets bisecting larger ones; the first half of the name hints it was a way point on the Roman road to León while the second half alludes to its 10th century history as a mule market. beyond that unique fact of the market, progress of the town after the expulsion of the Moors mirrors that of many others I’ve mentioned — repopulation efforts in the 10th century, fortifications and walls build throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, a Jewish population, a way point for peregrinos on the Camino with 4 albergues at various times throughout the Middle Ages. today, most of the town is confined to within the 12th century defensive walls though the proximity to the city of León (and location on the N-601 highway into the city) have helped the town stay more vibrant than other towns we passed through in the long stretch between Burgos and León. perhaps my memories are somewhat rosier because the day after Mansilla promised relaxation and recuperation at the Parador San Marcos in León …

menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.

our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.

my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.