sandy soil of El Bierzo

as we’re decompressing from that nightmare of a presidential campaign season, I thought I’d bring you some nice, soothing pictures of cultivation in Spain.

the soil in the Bierzo region of Castilla y Leon is very sandy — which makes it exceptionally good for growing both roses and grape vines. for several days around Molinaseca we saw incredible rose bushes in all manner of places — in gated front gardens, in the middle of an intersection, tucked next to a wall that lead to an underground garage … when we set out from Molinaseca at our slightly-later-than-usual time (7:15 a.m.) the roses in a garden a few doors down from our hotel had already gotten their morning soaking. probably a good thing considering how hot the weather got that afternoon …

on the way to Villafranca we also saw fresh cherry trees which, if I remember correctly, many farmers spray with something unpleasant to deter people from plucking ripe fruit off the tree (and cutting into their merchandise). we also got a lesson on the reason the hills between Villafranca and O’Cebriero are so good for growing grape vines when we stopped for a snack and some wine in Cacabelos.

over the course of the Camino, we listened to a lot of podcasts, as well as a couple of audiobooks. for some reason, the only day for which I can routinely recall to what I listened was this one — day 26. as we progressed along the busy main road in Camponaraya and on through a rare stand of trees I listened to episode #465 of This American Life — What Happened at Dos Erres. we stopped at a cash machine just as I got to a graphic part of the story and it was jarring to come out of such a gripping, awful narrative to a mundane if busy city street. later on, as we wended our way along the side of a quieter roadway (not entirely sure we’d managed to stay on the “alternative” Camino path), I listened to episode #212 of the Nerdist featuring Brent Spiner; recorded at a live show Phoenix it was the complete opposite of This American Life. and Andy could not understand why I kept laughing as we were struggling up another damned hill with sweat pouring out of everywhere and precious little water to slake our thirst.

he understood better why I was laughing when he got around to that episode a day or two later.

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 …