King of the Castle

Call it existential angst.

Finding myself in this limbo-esque holding pattern, feeling marooned, stressed, sleepless and teetering on the edge of (in)sanity, I need to indulge in a bit of escapism to calm my mind. I’m craving a return to a more joyful, peaceful, creative and illuminating season – say, the Camino. IMG_6462

Prompted by an email that I received the other day from my friend Mindy, here’s a little story set deep in the middle of Spain’s Castilla y LeΓ³n region – when I was still breathing in nature’s wonders (yes, even cow and sheep manure).

This story takes place in the tiny hamlet of Moratinos, a micro-village in Palencia province that most Camino pilgrims stride right through in about 2.5 minuteIMG_6494s. If they’re engaged in conversation, or dare to blink, they will have passed through Moratinos without so much as noting its name.

However, I had a few reasons to stop there (for 2 days!), including the promise of tasty Italian fare (at an Italian-owned albergue), a visit to American expat Rebecca’s home called Peaceable Kingdom, a break from the pain, and a rest day in a village that is called home by (mas o menos) 22 inhabitants. IMG_6530

The pasta and tiramisu did not disappoint. Rebecca and Patrick offered me tea and tidbits of juicy (and less savory) details about their chosen place for retirement, while, their large menagerie of dogs sniffed and pouted on the other side of the door. The pain eventually stabilized, thereby freeing me to explore the place at a blissfully slowed pace.

IMG_6481Good thing too: Moratinos proved to offer a treasure trove of novel sights and experiences.

One sight that immediately captured my interest upon entering Moratinos was a hill off to the right. Encircled completely by small, wooden doors pressed into the sides, it was a perfect fit for the hobbits that I began to imagine resided therein.Β IMG_6480

Turns out I was wrong. Each one of these curious-looking entryways led into a cavernous wine cellar, or bodega. A traditional wine-making facility built into hillsides to control temperature, bodegas are used primarily to store wine bottles and barrels that hold the crushed grapes during the process of fermentation.

IMG_6475Winemakers also like to hang out with family and friends, eating seafood or sausages, drinking and (presumably) passing out from imbibing large quantities of mosto (pre-fermented drink that results from the initial crushing of the grapes).

I was gifted a glass and bottle of mosto while watching the locals processing a large vat of mixed-color grapes that had been harvested the day before. IMG_6519

I drank the glass, bid my hosts adieu, left their bodega and very nearly toppled over – prompting me to leave the bottle on a bench for others, primarily those with a sturdier gut, to enjoy.

It wasn’t until Rebecca mentioned that Moratinos’ hill of bodegas is called El Castillo (the IMG_6470castle) that I remembered the odd sight that captivated me as we neared the village: An old man stood on top of the hill for what seemed like an inordinately long time, as if he was searching or waiting for someone or something to appear.

An ideal spot for meditation, I remember noting. (As long as the neighbors, dogs and rain stayed awaIMG_6517y).

The white-haired man, dressed in pants and sweater, showed no signs of apprehension or impatience; but as he stared out into the breathtaking landscape laid out in front of him, I couldn’t help but wonder why he was up there, all alone. He barely moved.

With a knowing smile, Rebecca explained that it’s a common practice in Moratinos because once upon a time, wine-making used to be the village’s chief source of income – whereas it is now kept up as more of a hobby of vineyard-owning faIMG_6472milies.

The wares stored in cellars around the hillside were so valuable that the respective owners of each bodega would take turns watching the surrounding fields and paths to keep prospective thieves at bay.

It sounded like a practice dating back to castles, moats and knights fighting in armor to protect their feudal lands and keep the peace.

Still today, though a vestige of days gone by, and even though moIMG_6468st of the bodegas have been shut, abandoned or deteriorated from non-use, villagers can be found atop the hill, surveying the land and ostensibly guarding their goods.

Which is why I decided that the old man was no fool on a hill, but rather a King of the Castle.

A Peaceable Kingdom indeed.

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16 Comments

  1. Amit- thank you for that foray into Spain, and the peak into that wonderful little place. This is what happens when it’s not all about getting “there”.
    Armchair traveling is good for the soul.
    Hugs, Phiphi

  2. I loved the peek inside the wine cave! And would have also loved a sip of whatever you left on the bench! Really? You left a perfectly good bottle of vino on a bench? Your Camino posts are wonderful, Amit! Keep ’em coming!

  3. Yes, I was troubled by the left bottle too!! Loving these Camino posts, Amit. Theo and I are planning to walk the camino later this year. Not sure which route we are going to take yet but open to any advice!

    1. Since you’re in Andalusia, you might want to head over to the closest entry point into the Via de la Plata.. but beware of doing so in the heat of summer, I hear there’s NO shade of any kind on that route – which is otherwise beautiful, less traveled than Camino Frances and, best of all, probably a stone’s throw (mas o menos) from your front door!

  4. THIS is what I’ve been waiting for! Your beautiful stories, Amit, told from your wondrous point of view. Thank you…I’m enjoying each and every one and marvelling at your strength and bravery. Hugs….

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