The problem was that the camino that day was all mud —
mud the color of light chocolate. In fact, that's what the locals call
the mud after a rain. It was so slippery that it wouldn't take much
of a misstep to fall or twist a limb. Thus, it makes you quite tense
as you make your way along the trail and it was very tiring. The need
for frequent rests made it a slow day.
As I made my way along, I started studying the many tracks in the muddy
path to relieve the boredom. (You can sing only so many songs before
you drive yourself nuts. Besides I have a lousy voice that even I can't
stand.) As I looked at the tracks, I couldn't help but think of the
Lone Ranger and his trusty Indian friend Tonto. (Tonto means
fool in Spanish — coincidence?) I was always amazed at how much
Tonto could learn from the tracks: " Hum!! — white man,
six feet tall, 180 pounds." So, I tried to ascertain what the tracks
would tell me. All I perceived was: "Yuppie — Birkenstocks."
I knew that the tracks were lying to me because I knew that a yuppie
would not want to get his sandals muddy, let alone walk 20 K in the
Ahead I could see that the trail led up and over a steep hill. I was
apprehensive because the guidebook indicated that the name of the hill
was Cuesta Matamulas, which translates as Mule Killer Hill. I didn't
know if it was named thus because that was where they slaughtered mules
or because the hill was so difficult that mules died on it. For some
time I fretted about this — a little knowledge can be a dangerous
Actually the hill wasn't too bad and it would have been a piece of cake
if it hadn't been so slippery because of the rain. Then I saw a pilgrim
ahead of me moving back and forth looking for the most favorable trail.
I followed his lead. He looked strange because he was wearing a jump
suit for the rain and had a bright yellow covering over his back. The
covering made it look like he was wearing an oxygen pack and his slow
deliberate steps made him appear to be an astronaut walking on the moon.
But, he was one slow astronaut and I soon overtook him. As I passed
him, I realized that he was a she — it was the German woman I saw
As I was walking along the crest I saw a woman huddled under a bush.
I asked her if she was all right. She replied that she was okay but
that she just needed to get out of the wind for a bit. So, after a brief
discussion, I left her and continued on. Soon I came to the edge of
a steep down slope. As I looked down on the small village below, which
was Hortanillos, my destination for today, I realized why they called
this a mule killer hill. I could imagine mules tripping and stumbling
down this rocky trail breaking a leg, which would be a death sentence.
But it would take more than a steep slope to kill this stubborn old
I found the alburgue — a very basic one — next to the
church. But it had hot water (at least when I had my shower) and a small
kitchen downstairs which the pilgrims could use to cook a meal. Unfortunately,
there was no tienda (store) in the pueblo (village) to
buy any food so unless someone brought food, the only food there would
be that which might have been left by a previous pilgrim. There were
packages of rice and pasta, and pieces of stale bread, but I couldn't
eat any of that starch if I wanted to.
So I went to the local bar that had a comedor (dining room) and
they served meals on pilgrim time. The meal was a typical "menu
of the day" which consisted of two courses, dessert, wine/water,
and, of course, pan (bread). Each course had about four choices.
I chose alubias con chorizo (kidney beans with pepperoni-like
sausage) for the first course. For the second I had filete de tierna
(filet of veal). With the wine and dessert it was a good meal for a
good price — only 8 euros (about $7.20).
As I was sitting there, waiting for the first course, in walked the
two women that I had passed that day. I asked them to join me and we
formally introduced ourselves. The German "astronaut" was
Martina and was from Munich. The woman who had been huddled under the
bush a Swiss woman named Ugette. Ugette ordered what I was having and
seemed to enjoy it. Martina had more difficulty — she's a vegetarian.
She couldn't eat the mixed salad because it had tuna on it. She couldn't
have the beans because they had chorizo with them. And she couldn't
have the lentils because they were cooked with pieces of ham. She went
right to the second course. No veal, no chicken, no eggs and ham, and
no fish; she had macaroni and tomato sauce. Now I knew why she was having
trouble getting well!
Later that night I sat in the kitchen sharing wine with various pilgrims,
comparing notes about their camino and what they liked and disliked
so far. It was a pleasant end to a miserable day. As I went to bed,
I thought to myself, "Well, it couldn't get worse!"