Putting it All Together | Days 14 to 19

After two weeks of hiking, we were starting to find our rhythm. Up early, packed and ready, on the trail before sunrise, putting in a good days walk, finding a place to stay – no cheating and making reservations – and finishing off the day with laundry, a shower and a cold beer. We’ve overcome most of the blisters on our feet (although Tracy’s baby toe wouldn’t heal until 3 months after we returned home), the hills are still challenging but we’re less winded at the top now, we’ve lost weight and inches even though we are eating more than ever, the downhills are still challenging, but thankfully we’ll be heading into the Meseta with longer stretches of flat trail. We’ve noticed a dogged determination to get as far as we can each day and spending less time sight-seeing along the way, eager to keep moving and doing our “tourist” thing at the end of the day in whichever town we happen to be in.

The days are still very, very hot and we fill up on water at every opportunity and enjoy a cold beer at the end of the days hike. We like the Estrella but prefer San Miguel, in fact we’ve thought more than once that San Miguel should be included among the patron saints of pilgrim’s on Camino.

We’re about 30 percent of the way and cannot even think about the end. While we’ve developed a rhythm we still have bad days, though we are aware of each other’s struggles and do our best to offer encouragement throughout the day, there are still long stretches of silence between us. But, we’re comfortable in each other’s company and though we spend a lot of time in reflective quiet, we still reach out for each other’s hands because in truth, our spirits are higher when we are together.

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September 8 | Day 14

Granon to Belarado

Stats | Hiked: 15.7 kilometers; Weather: cold and overcast; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 5h/0m

Route: Left Granon a bit later than our normal 7 am start time to enjoy the quiet of having the casa rural to ourselves and because Tracy has been dealing with some heel problems now that her blisters are healing. We cannot stress enough how important foot care is while hiking the Camino.

We are both happy to be leaving Granon. Of all the towns we have stayed in or passed through this one had been the worst. It’s a pretty town but our stress over the accommodations at the municipal albergue, the hunt for better accommodations, and the emotional release of the night before have just left us drained. We both expressed how sorry we were that we hadn’t stopped in Santo Domingo for the night.

Rested and ready we set out for our first climb of the day to Redecilla del Camino, crossing from the La Rioja province into Castilla y Leon, the largest autonomous region of Spain where we will spend most of our time as we pass through the three large provinces of Burgos, Palencia and Leon. We have noticed now, nearly two weeks into the Camino that we seem to start each day with a climb. Looking ahead through the guidebook confirms that we do a lot of climbing and Alan has mentioned more than once that since we started in the Pyrenees and we are heading to the Atlantic Ocean that we need to go downhill at some point!

Stopping in Redecilla to fill up our water bottles, we run into Javier and thank him again for his assistance the previous evening. He is also taking a break and brushing his teeth, explaining that the bathroom of the Hippy Haven albergue where he stayed was so crowded with people trying to leave that he just grabbed his gear and left. He didn’t care much for the accommodations in Granon either.

Saying goodbye to Javier and Adrian (Holland), he was at the municipal albergue in Granon and told us he hadn’t slept all night due to the hard floor and the thin yoga mat, we hiked toward Castildelgado in search of an early lunch.

Arriving in Castiledelgado, the cafe we were expecting was closed, but we noticed a tiny sign for another near the highway. We took a moment to grab some quick photos of the beautiful horseshoe portal which is all that remains of the 12th century pilgrim hostel and of the Iglesia San Pedro, 12th century, the Romanesque church that adjoins the ruins of the Count of Bererana’s house. Finding the restaurant was on the opposite side of the busy N-120 we carefully made our way across and into the cafe. Alan ordered us a couple of “tortillas*” and drinks, which were absolutely delicious and after busing our table we loaded back up and rejoined the Camino trail.

[Tortilla in Spain seems to mean everything but flat, round bread. Today’s tortilla were crunchy bread with chorizo, though the meat and cheese options change and in most cities they are called bocadillos. Sometimes we ordered tortilla and got an egg scramble with meat and cheese, sometimes it was similar to a potato and egg quiche, either with or without meat we’ve had them both ways and occasionally some red peppers. We came to call them tortilla surprise since we were never quite sure what was going to show up at the table, but regardless it was always tasty and filling.]

Leaving Castildelgado we would have a steeper climb to reach Viloria de la Rioja. With only 70 inhabitants it’s a charming, little town but we passed right through after filling up at the pilgrim’s fountain. While enroute to Viloria we noticed that there were fewer vineyards but more fields of sunflower, some of them pilgrim-designed so rows of happy faces smile at you as you pass. Thankfully the next four kilometers would take us downhill at a gradual pace until we reached Villamayor del Rio where it would start climbing again.

We past through Villamayor del Rio without stopping and after crossing the river made our way up the steepest part of the days hike. Passing yet more happy sunflowers, we notice that fields of hay are starting to pop up interspersed with the sunflower fields. You get a real up close look at Spanish agriculture while on the Camino!

Halfway up the climb to Belarado, Tracy’s heel starts acting up again. Though we were less than a kilometer from our destination when we saw the A Santiago albergue and it’s rows of welcoming flags from around the world, we decided to call it a day.

We check in and pre-pay for dinner and breakfast to get the additional discount, find our bunks, and shower. The albergue has both a kitchen facility and a restaurant, usually it’s one or the other and occasionally neither. The laundry room is just off the kitchen, the machines are inexpensive to use for washing and drying but take 1 hour and 45 minutes for each cycle. We get laundry started, Alan grabs Tracy a beer from the bar and gets her settled at one of the many patio tables with her foot propped up and then takes off to do some sight-seeing.

While Tracy gives her heel a chance to rest, Alan runs into Jeffrey in Belarado and together they do a bit of exploring. Seeing the mural depicting the Knights Templar that Jeffrey had found earlier and visiting the Church of Santa Maria, 16th century, and its gilded altarpiece depicting Santiago Matamoros, which is built into the limestone cliff. They also find the handprints and footprints of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez having been honored by the town for their film, The Way. Martin Sheen’s father is from Galicia, home of Santiago de Compostela.

Finished with their bit of sight-seeing, Alan makes his way back to the albergue, with Jeffrey in tow, and the two share their sight-seeing exploits with Tracy over a pre-dinner drink. Jeffrey heads back to check on Michelle at their albergue in town while Tracy fills Alan in on her exploits in laundry.

There are a few unwritten rules when it comes to shared laundry facilities, but this was apparently not understood by two old gals from Germany. Upon pulling the clothes out of the washer, Tracy found the dryer with the least amount of time left and checking frequently was patiently waiting for the owner of the clothes in the dryer to come rescue them. A few minutes later while checking again she finds the two German ladies emptying the dryer of the owners clothes, piling them on top of Tracy’s wet laundry and taking the machine for their own use. Normally it’s not even worth stressing over, but these machines take 1 hour and 45 minutes for each cycle. Frustrated but not saying anything, she separates the wet and dry clothes and sets out to find the owner of the dry ones. The victims of the German line-jumpers were very kind and pulled her back into the laundry room with them, apparently they had arrived earlier in day and were using the availability of machines to do a week’s worth of clothes they also had two other dryers full and combined those to loads to empty a dryer for Tracy.

Sites Visited: horseshoe portal, remains of the 12th century pilgrim hostel;  Iglesia San Pedro, 12th century, Romanesque church that adjoins the ruins of the Count of Bererana’s house; happy sunflower fields; mural depicting the Knights TemplarChurch of Santa Maria, 16th century, and gilded altarpiece depicting Santiago Matamoros; handprints and footprints of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, in honor for their film, The Way

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September 9 | Day 15

Belarado to Villafranco de Oca

Stats Hiked: 11.9 kilometers; Weather: warm and clear; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 5h/0m

Route: This morning karma came knocking for the two line-jumping German ladies. While everyone was patiently waiting in line for a breakfast of cafe con leche, croissant and juice. These two gals walked to the front of the line, bypassing the other 20 or so pilgrims, and were promptly ignored by the servers until they finished serving the other pilgrims . . . every last one of them. Tracy left the albergue with a smile on her face.

It was in great spirits that we left Belarado and with a short day planned in order to avoid three large hills at the end of the day, see insert below, we struck out at a good pace for Tosantos.

For five kilometers, mostly along the busy N-120, we chatted about our beloved baby, Kiara — our two-pound Chihuahua who we had lost just two weeks before beginning our Camino and whom we both missed terribly — and laughing together while recalling some of her more hilarious personality traits. Because she was so tiny and no body fat whatsoever, she loved to lay in the sun, Alan used to say she was solar-powered. Never has one tiny dog had more nicknames, Kiki, Keekster, Burrito Dog, Bat Dog, Punkin Butt, just to name a few.

Approaching Tosantos through more sunflower and hayfields, we stopped and took a few photos. We stopped only for a few seconds, wanting to continue the days gradual climb and planning to stop later for a bite to eat. On the way out of town Tracy turned around to say something to Alan and noticed a building in the cliff face behind him. Stopping for a few minutes to shoot a few photos and noting the location to follow up in the guidebook later, we continued our trek toward Villambistia.

We did learn later that the cliff building was the Ermita Virgen de la Pena (Our Lady of the Rock) and that the 12th century church was, in fact, built into the cliff face.

Warming with the days climb and the Spanish sun we decided to stop in Villambistia for a cold drink, but when we arrived the albergue/cafe was closed. We opted for a vending machine soda and visited with a couple of the Camino Perros* hanging out at the albergue. There was a lovely fountain with a pool and Tracy was surprised to find it filled with koi.

[While researching the Camino de Santiago we had read many times to be wary of the dogs (perros) in Spain, some folks saying to use your pilgrim staff or hiking poles to keep them away from you. While the idea of using a stick on a dog for any reason is completely unfathomable, we chose not to worry about what others had to say regarding Camino Perros. Our actual experience was barely note-worthy as most of the dogs we encountered have had thousands of pilgrims pass by them each day and have little or no interest to even get up and investigate a new face. Having said that, whether your dog-friendly or dog-fearful, keep in mind that there is danger for the dog who may want to be friendly. Never allow a dog to follow you as there are dangers for them outside of their known world — becoming lost along the Camino’s many trails or worse loose on the busy freeways nearby.]

We left Villambistia and our new canine friends and made our way out to the trail to continue the climb. Today’s hike was all uphill but it was gradual and barely noticed as a large group of pilgrim’s were walking along with us creating a traveling conversation of sorts. In short time we found ourselves entering the small town of Epinosa del Camino and when we spotted a couple of empty seats at the cafe, dropped our packs and grabbed a seat. Alan ordered up a couple of cold drinks and a couple of tortillas, returning to the outdoor cafe with the drinks he sat down with Tracy and her new friend.

While waiting for Alan another pilgrim had arrived  at the cafe. A large man, obviously working hard up the hill, he pointed at the empty chair as if to ask if it was available. Tracy told him it was and he took a seat asking her name. She replied and asked for his name to which he responded, “I am CATALAN, from Barcelona!” in a booming voice while banging his fist off his chest. Knowing that Catalan is the province to which Barcelona belongs — Carcassonne doesn’t have a football (soccer) team and the entire city has adopted the Catalan Dragons as their home team — but unsure if it was also his name, she continued to call him Catalan for the remainder of the Camino.

While we were discussing the newspaper with him, the cafe owner came out with our sandwiches — all three of them. Dos, Tres in a busy cafe sounds pretty much the same. We offered the extra sandwich to Catalan who readily accepted. We enjoyed his company for a bit longer, then left him when a dozen or so more people spotted him and needed a place to sit – he was a bit of a celebrity on the Camino, but then a boisterous personality is hard to resist! We saw him infrequently and each time he was surrounded by a large group of people, but with a ready smile and a wave of recognition never failed to include us in his list of Camino friends.

Just before arriving in Epinosa del Camino, Alan had been commenting on whether or not we would see a tandem bike on the Camino. Cyclists were everywhere, but so far we had only seen single-rider mountain bikes. While putting on our packs Alan turned around and spotted a tandem bike with a trailer. Walking over to take a quick photo, he starting chatting with the helmsman, learning that they had started the Camino in Holland and were making about 100 kilometers each day. Joking the helmsman said that his partner would prefer 50 and that he’d rather do 150 so they settled on 100. He spent a few moments showing us the bike and explaining that the trailer held their gear, clothes and some camping equipment in case they tired before finding an albergue.

With only four kilometers left before our destination and just a slight climb before arriving, we left feeling pretty strong about the last hour of the day. Continuing the gradual climb we came upon ruins of San Felices, stopped a moment for pictures, then made our way over the footbride over the Rio Oca and into Villafranca Montes de Oca (which translate to something like “Hill of the Goose city” more of a description than a name really).

15f[This excerpt from the guidebook “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierly shows the elevation change over the three hills just past Villafranca Montes de Oca that we anticipated as quite a challenge and the reason that we decided to cut the day short. Climbing like this late in the day had proved to be difficult in the past and we found it easier to cut the day a little short and climb taller hills after a good night’s rest.]

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Checking in at the albergue, going through our post-hike cleaning routine, we eventually found our way to the truck stop cafe right beside the N-120 highway. While Alan grabbed a couple of cervezas, Tracy grabbed a table and a few minutes later met up with Jeffrey and Michele. Michelle wanted to check out the bread store at the opposite end of the building, and they had wandered over. Meanwhile, another pilgrim had arrived into Villafranca with an unusual method of carrying his gear . . . a donkey! Alan ran over to take a few shots of the handsome little burro hanging out near the opposite end of the parking lot.

Later after some shopping and checking on the laundry line drying at the albergue we ran into Jeffrey and Michelle again and absconding them for a visit, headed to the other end of town (the whole town is barely a kilometer long) and we met the owner of the El Pajaro hotel and bar. Alan had a great time visiting with him as Michelle and Tracy went to investigate two adorable kittens on the other side of the building. The owner, who’s name I have unfortunately forgotten, told us that he had an excellent pilgrim’s menu and we made plans to meet for dinner a little later in the evening.

Meanwhile, we enjoyed our beer and marveled over the fact that the N-120 freeway, which cuts right through town and barely slows down, was mere inches from the tables sitting out in front of the building. We also met a nice young couple of cyclists, also whose names I have forgotten. He had started his Camino in Russia and his girlfriend had joined him in Saint Jean Pied-du-Port. We were continually amazed at the starting places of people on the Camino.

We headed back to the albergue to get our clothes off the line and put them away and while there met Franco (Buenes Aires, Argentina). A nice young man who was telling us how he works for a while in a country, visits what he can and then moves on. He was quite interesting and has visited a lot of places and worked a lot of different jobs. He had even worked three winter seasons at ski resorts in Beaver Springs, Colorado and was familiar with the U.S. West Coast.

Arriving early to the meeting place, we took advantage of the open Church of Santiago, and ducked in for a visit. The altarpiece, gilded and very tall, took center stage making the altar itself look like a small table. Most Catholic churches have shallow dishes of Holy Water at the door, but we were amazed by the gigantic scallop shell used in this church used for the same purpose. You could bathe a small child in it. Additionally, there was a museum-quality pendulum clock that looked to be at least 15th century.

Dinner was good, the owner stopped by the table to visit with Alan a bit more and was kind enough to take a photo of the four of us. We also met a couple of ladies from California, one of them a DeAngelo, but not of the same family tree as I am. They were vegetarians and were explaining how difficult is was to find fresh produce on the pilgrim’s menu as everything was jarred or preserved somehow. Having eaten a fair share of the pilgrim’s menus over the last two weeks, I didn’t exactly agree, but then I’m not a vegetarian and was often more than satisfied with the offerings. I don’t remember all that we ordered for dinner, but I remember that the wine was good, the food as well, the conversation and company fantastic, and that Michelle was surprised that the flan she ordered as dessert came straight from the little plastic cup onto her plate. We all had a good laugh about it but I believe for future dinners she opted for the helado (ice cream) for dessert.

You meet a lot of people on the Camino and it’s part of what makes it a special experience, but every once is a while you meet people who are extraordinary and you never feel like you have enough time to visit with them. Jeffrey and Michelle are extraordinary people and we so very much enjoyed the time spent with them.

Sites Visited: Ermita Virgen de la Pena (Our Lady of the Rock) 12th century, built into a cliff face; happy sunflower fields; ruins of San Felices; Church of Santiago

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September 10 | Day 16

Villafranca de Oca to Ages

Stats | Hiked: 16 kilometers; Weather: warm and clear; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 5h/20m

Route: We started out of Villafranca before sunrise, hoping to get the majority of the hills done early in the day before it got hot. The hills were not as bad as anticipated, the climb up the first hill was pretty tough, it was very steep. We didn’t have headlamps so Tracy had to slow down through the forested part due to low light. The plateau and monument area at the top were very nice with a great view of a nearby wind farm.

The descent from the first peak was very steep, flattening out to cross a small creek and immediately into another climb, slightly less challenging than the first. Heading over the top of hill two we had a nice view of the busy N-120 highway through the trees.

We met Kathy and Dan (Boston, MA), — Dan works in IT; Kathy, is a nurse, was running in the Boston Marathon at the time of the bombing — while walking over the top of the mountain pass through what seemed to be a flood plain or dry river bed. After the long climb to the top Tracy was tired and we stopped to rest when we found some felled trees as a makeshift seating area.

The descent from hill two was fairly mild and we managed it and the remaining hill with no real problems. The descent in to San Juan de Ortega was just a bit steeper than hill two, but not nearly as bad as hill one.

We stopped in San Juan de Ortega for a nice break, the Bar Marcela was open although not quite serving lunch yet. We opted for muffins and cafe con leche outside. After a quick bite we took a moment to visit the church on the far end of the patio.

The church, dedicated to San Nicolas de Barri, was built as part of a monastery in 1150. Passing through the short, plain doors we entered into one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen. The light flooding in from above allowed us to see the beautiful architecture and cross-ribbed vaulting of the ceiling that was detailed with hand-painted designs. The dome is constructed in such a way that at each equinox the setting sun shines directly on the Virgin Mary in the scene of the annunciation. The center ciborium (canopy over the alter) was stone but crafted in such a way that it seemed lace-like. The overall effect left you nearly speechless.

We spent quite a while enjoying the church and by the time we finished, the cafe/bar had ready-made sandwiches available, so we grabbed a bite before moving on.

Leaving San Juan, Tracy was struggling with her pack. The straps were rubbing on her collarbone so badly it was bruising. We hadn’t realized it quite yet, but the effects of 15 full days of hiking were causing enough weight loss that we would start having to adjust pack straps every few days for the remainder of the Camino.

[It is important to note here that when hiking with a backpack for a long period that it is necessary to get one that fits you really well. When purchasing our gear Tracy, who had never done anything beyond day hiking, tried nearly 16 different packs before finding the right one. Some were too tall for her and would get in the way of her hat, or rub on the back of her head. Knowing what will bother you while you’re hiking, like something rubbing or bumping your head, can help you select a pack that will be perfect for you. And, most importantly, make sure you’re wearing it right. When we first started training Tracy had the straps around her hips, but didn’t like that with weight the pack put too much pressure on her lower back. After reading the information online, she realized that the pack was meant to go around her waist. This simple change alleviated the lower back problem. We also used packing cubes that we purchased from eBags.com years ago. It allowed us to load the pack in such a way that the weight was equally distributed and didn’t shift throughout the day.]

We left San Juan de Ortega and continued on to Ages, another 5 kilometers before calling it a day. Tracy wanted some time working with her pack straps to alleviate the rubbing problem and the day had warmed considerably. We found a nice little albergue, the municipal, that had a bar/restaurant on site.

Being the first ones in the albergue, we hit the showers and enjoyed the use of a washer and dryer. After a quick espresso, we headed over the the town church to have  look inside.

The 16th century Santa Eulalia was subtle by comparison with the one is San Juan, but had a few notables among its list of long-term guests. Don Garcia, the Navarrese king killed by his own brother in 1054 was here for a while but later moved, apparently they left his entrails behind and they are still interred here – ick. There was a simple but pretty baptismal font that was hand-carved out of a single piece of stone that sat in the back of little church and the ceiling had an interesting four-point star design.

Outside the church in the courtyard there was a pilgrim fountain and play area, along the small hill that the church sat on, there was the Rio Vena and the sound of the water over the rocks was mesmerizing in the quiet space.

We had dinner at the albergue’s restaurant, complete with a bottle of the local red wine that was sweet and tangy and went well with our meal, then went to bed early as the following day we were headed to Burgos, 22 kilometers away.

Sites Visited: San Juan church, dedicated to San Nicolas de Barri, built as part of a monastery in 1150; Santa Eulalia, 16th century

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September 11 | Day 17

Ages to Burgos

Stats | Hiked: 22 kilometers; Weather: cool to cold/overcast; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 7h/0m

Route: We left Ages at our regular time of 7 am, but knowing we had a long days hike to Burgos, we kept up a quicker than normal hiking pace in the first few hours while the weather was comfortable. We made it to Atapuerca in 30 minutes, just 2.5 kilometers from Ages.

Atapuerca is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the site of the earliest human remains ever found on Earth. 900,000 years old. They believe that they may even date back over 1 million years, but that hasn’t been confirmed as yet, but the archaeologic dig is on-going so perhaps in a few more years they will have confirmation. According to the guidebook, they were able to confirm that our ancestors were cannibals – ugh [ =/ ]!

We left Atapuerca and our cannibal ancestors and headed toward Sierra Atapuerca, the hilly range nearby. The guidebook had stressed keeping alert as there were many options over the next five kilometers and you could easily get sidetracked off the main Camino route.

The climb up to the alto (1,080 m) was rocky and rough. Well at least for us. The four older Italian ladies (who had taxied their packs ahead) didn’t seem even the least bit winded even though they were carrying plastic grocery sacks with bottled soda and lunch offerings. Watching the shortest of the group swing her make-shift lunch bag around her waist in a wide arch as she climbed kept us both in awe. Reaching the top, Punto de Vista, we would have had our first glimpse of Burgos in the far distance, but the morning mist obscured the view.

We stayed for a moment to grab some photographs of the amazing display of rock art, the crucifix, and the metal poetic sculptures at the top. Enzo and Elena were there as well, and had the courtesy to at least look a little winded from the climb! After greeting us with her usual enthusiasm, Elena spread her arms out and spun around saying, “Bella!”

The long descent over the next 6.4 kilometers took us over an hour and past a military installation of some sort. The signs were all in Spanish but nearly every word on the sign was either printed in red or followed by an exclamation point, we figured they were serious about not crossing the barbed wire fencing. Reaching the bottom of descent the path leveled out as we entered Orbaneja Riopico.

We had met Andy (Water Island), a carpenter who built his home by hand – including the furniture, on the way down the hill and had a lovely chat with him about his experiences on the Camino and life on Water Island.

Stopping in Orbaneja Riopico for a soda (Tracy) and espresso (Alan) we met an older man from Germany (Dominik, I think) who had a bum leg and was moving slowly. Though he spoke little English was chatting with Tracy about the climb up and over the last hill. He was quite bundled up against the weather and was wanting her to put her jacket on because it was misting, not wanting to hurt his feelings she dug out her jacket and threw it on to make him happy.

The next 7.5 kilometers into Burgos took us past the airport, a large industrial area, and later, as we got closer the San Miquel brewery. [ =) ] With the national bike race happening that week the traditional Camino was hi-jacked and the new route impossible to determine and Alan spent the next two hours asking, “Donde est Camino?” at nearly every intersection.

[It is interesting to note that some of the pilgrim blogs we read while researching the Camino mentioned using the tallest church as a way marker if you get lost. As the Camino traditionally passes all major churches in a city. However, in truth the small towns are easy to navigate and the large towns the steeple of the cathedrals all seem to be obscured by every other building in town, especially when you’re on foot!]

Eventually we reached our destination, the covent albergue. The large albergue was filled with “false pilgrims.” With the national bike race happening, rather than secure a room in one of the many hotels, these false pilgrims would go to the albergue, say they were starting their camino in Burgos, purchase their credential for 3 euro and secure a bunk for 8 euro. Although the large albergue will house 150 people, most pilgrims we knew had to find lodging in the hotels at a much higher rate because the albergue was filled much earlier in the day. We ended up staying at a four-star hotel after exhausting other choices, the Palacio de los Blasones. Thankfully we didn’t have to pay the regular rate of 200 euro per night as they offered us the pilgrim rate of 80 euro, 40 per person. We ended up with a view of the cathedral from the upstairs window in our two-story room.

After showering and doing laundry in the sink and hanging it to dry by the railing, we headed out for a cold beer at a little cafe we had spotted near the cathedral while we were investigating lodging options earlier. There are only six tables but the view of the amazing Gothic cathedral was awesome! The owner, a tiny, little lady about 4’6″ tall, brought us out the beer we had ordered as well as a plate of crab tapas.

[Usually between the hours of 4 and 6 pm when you order a drink you will also be served something to snack on. We’ve had potato chips, green olives, cheese puffs, crackers, but this was the first time tapas with a crab topping . . . yummy!]

We spent some time photographing the exterior of the beautiful 13th century, Catedral de Santa Maria. It’s Gothic done right, light and airy, though it has been embellished over the centuries it retains its original Gothic structure and is a truly beautiful example of religious architecture. The Plaza Santa Maria was filled with shops and restaurants as well as a few well-placed bronze pilgrim statues. After taking a photo or two with the weary, naked pilgrim statue sitting on a bench, we headed up to the cathedral’s side entrance to spend a few minutes looking through the church and museum. It was free once Alan ran back to the hotel for our passports and pilgrim credentials.

What we had intended to be only 30 minutes or so turned into well over two hours as we couldn’t seem to stop our slow movement through this amazing church. 21 chapels, a 15th century clock that still works and though not very attractive, still cool that it still works after 500 hundred years. We were lucky enough to be there when it chimed with only a couple other people so the sound of the bells could be heard. After touring through all the chapels, the main altar and organ seating areas, we headed down into the cloisters and finally the museum. We completely overshot our goal and paid dearly for it. Neither of us had brought the proper after hiking footwear and didn’t have enough arch support to spend over two hours on hard marble surfaces.

Our civility to one another in shreds, we found a restaurant and ate a quick dinner then headed back to the hotel to try to head off any further damage to our tired and aching feet.

[The biggest mistake we made on our journey was to not invest in good post-hike footwear. We hadn’t realized how much walking we would do after we dropped our packs and took off our hiking boots. Foot care is essential while on the Camino and it is important to be kind to your feet even after the days hike is finished. If you are planning to hike the Camino de Santiago — bring good post-hike footwear, your feet will thank you for it.]

Sites Visited: Sierra Atapuerca, Punte de Vista, amazing display of rock art, the crucifix, and the metal poem sculpturesCatedral de Santa Maria, 13th century, Gothic but embellished over time; Plaza Santa Mariabronze pilgrim statues

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September 12 | Day 18

Burgos to Rabe de los Calzada

Stats Hiked: 13.3 kilometers; Weather: cool and sunny; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 4h/0m

Route: We left Burgos later than usual. Originally starting out at our regular time we didn’t have any luck finding an open restaurant for breakfast so headed back to the hotel to dine in the restaurant there before leaving. A lovely buffet style breakfast that we lingered over a bit, still sore from our excursion the day before.

Already planning a short day because Tracy’s nagging heel problem was exacerbated with the time spent in the cathedral, we slowed down a bit more to enjoy some of the sights as we left Burgos. The castillo was slightly visible on the rise to our right as we left the city and we passed by the Abba Burgos another four-star hotel that is a converted monastery. We past the monument to El Cid and under the Arco San Martin, — the original pilgrim’s gate, Puerta de Romeros is now one of the entrances to the university and we didn’t notice it as we passed — and crossing the Puente Malatos headed into El Parral Parque. With more time we would have stopped to tour the amazing Hospital del Rey, but rather than spending more time on our feet we opted to continue on through the park. However, the 12th century, Puerta del Rey (King’s Gate) was worth a stop for a few quick photos. As were some of the beautiful bronze pilgrim sculptures in the park.

It took nearly an hour to leave the city of Burgos, then another two hours to reach Tardajos, where we stopped for coffee. It was nearly noon, but we were still full from breakfast. Most of the trail to this point had been past the suburbs and rail yards and the surface either asphalt or concrete, the last few kilometers to Tardajos was a much better trail having changed over to an earthen surface until we reached the edge of the city.

The days hike was nearly over, only another 2.3 kilometers to Rabe de las Calzados and thankfully much of it was through agricultural fields and soft surfaces. But, upon reaching the small town we again ended up on asphalt, irritating Tracy’s heel even more. We past an old abandoned house that looked ready for a horror movie film crew with the spooky iron gate and the weeded front yard and thought how interesting it might be to see inside, but rather than risk a no trespassing law, we just took a few photos and kept moving.

Once we arrived at the Liberanos Domine albergue in Rabe de las Calzados, and needing to wait a short while before it opened, we took the time to drop our packs and investigate the small town square and nearby 13th century church, Iglesia Santa Marina. Despite the beautiful bell tower the rest of the church seemed to be slightly neglected and there were major fault lines at the foundation. There was one chapel, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, with a beautiful painting but the room was secured with bars and we could only see it from a distance.

Once the albergue was opened, we registered and opted in on the family-style dinner menu. After we cleaned up and found that for 5 euro the family running the albergue would also do your laundry, we gingerly made our way to the cafe/bar at the end of the street for our post-hike beer. Sitting in the small plaza which offered free wifi to anyone in the vicinity, we spoke with other pilgrims taking a short day, or a break for lunch and a few cyclists who were headed further along.

The cafe owner was very proud of his location along the Camino and was himself a former pilgrim. He had tiny medallions of the Virgin Mary that he handed out to all the pilgrims who visit his cafe. She is said to have a special fondness for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago and we appreciated his kindness. Our tiny tokens of protection in hand, we made our way back to the albergue for a nap before dinner.

Dinner was amazing, a thin barley soup with broken bits of angel-hair pasta, steak and fries (everything in Europe seems to come with a side of fries, or frites as they’re called here!), a salad and a bottle of locally produced red wine. Our table companions were a couple from Italy, neither of whom spoke much English. They were also bunked in our room and Tracy had been amazed at the things they took our of their packs to get the bed ready. We had only brought a sleeping bag, but these two had flannel sheets and blankets with them – we were amazed that they would want to carry that much weight and then realized that their bags had arrived before them so they probably weren’t carrying them at all.

Our other bunkmates were Don and Moe, (Saskatchewan, Canada) an older couple with a daughter also named Tracy and warm, friendly personalities.

Our short day was over but we had finally reached the edge of the Meseta and looked forward to the days ahead with fewer hills and longer stretches of flat trail.

Sites Visited:  Arco San MartinPuente MalatosEl Parral Parquebronze pilgrim sculpturesPuerta del Rey (King’s Gate), 12th century

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September 13 | Day 19

Rabe de los Calzada to Hontanas

Stats Hiked: 19.5 kilometers; Weather: overcast to sunny; People Met: 2Time on Trail: 5h/30m

Route: Feeling much better after our early day, we headed out to greet the first rise of the Meseta, after a quick breakfast in the albergue. Reaching the top of the low hill we spotted the first of many ‘stone altars,’ much larger than the ones we had seen previously which were just small piles of stacked rocks. Those of the Meseta were taller and cairn-like.

After just a couple of hours we found ourselves in Hornillos del Camino at the km 469 market where we got ourselves a cold drink and sat on one of the benches provided by the market’s owner. Shortly after sitting Enzo and Elena arrived. Elena greeted with with the French ‘Faire la Bise,’ or double-cheek kiss, our first since moving to France. The double-cheek kiss is a social kissing gesture to indicate friendship, in France it is called Faire la Bise, I’m not sure what they call it in Italy.

In the center of town we took a moment to take some photos of the Gothic church, San Roman, and Fuente de Gallo (Hen Fountain), a rooster-topped, monument-shaped, fountain that was in the square. The fountain was of no particular interest, other than the odd rooster-topped design that we found amusing believing at first that it was a monument to chickens.

We left Hornillos is high spirits, due in part to Elena’s delightful greeting and of course the chicken fountain, and headed toward San Bol across the next rise of the Meseta. The distance between Hornillos del Camino and Hontanas, our destination, was over 10 kilometers with only a small albergue at San Bol to break up the distance. We planned to stop for a lunch of fruit, bread and chorizo (which we carried daily, restocking as needed).

The hike was very pleasant, though warm, and we made San Bol without issue. Talking with a variety of people as part of the vast moving community of the Camino along the way. San Bol’s small albergue ended up a one kilometer round trip from the trail, but we figured it would be nice to sit at a table to eat rather than in the dirt alongside the trail.

Once we finished eating and chatting with the hospitaliero of the albergue who was mopping the deck, Alan asked if there was a place to fill his water bottle. The hospitaliero smiled and pointed toward a spot in the yard with a small pool. Not knowing if it was for drinking or bathing, he headed over and found that what appeared to be a small pool was a small artesian well bubbling up through some rocks. A small sign indicated “Aqua de Vita” or Water of Life. So filling up with the magic water he headed back to the picnic table and helped Tracy finish packing the remains of lunch.

Back out on the trail to rejoin the Camino, Alan explained about the small sign and the little fountain. Later we read in the quidebook that the ‘magic water’ is supposed to have healing power and to cure aching feet, it made Tracy glad to know that Alan had shared the ‘magic water’ with her, hoping that it really was magical.

We hiked the last five kilometers into Hontanas and secured lodging at the El Puntido, a private albergue with a restaurant, bar, market and upper and lower patios. After getting settled in our bunks, we were slightly disappointed to find row after row of hand-washing sinks for laundry – and a little more than disappointed to realize there wasn’t hot water to wash them with, but we did laundry and hung it out to dry before heading down to the bar for our post-hike beer and journaling date.

After finishing our journaling and FaceBook updates, we headed over to see the 14th century, Church of the Conception, but it was closed. We did find the beautiful pilgrims’ fountain in the cool shade of the church, and took a few photos of fellow pilgrims cooling off at the pool of the fountain. Apparently Hontanas derives its name from Fontanas, Haven of the Fountains, however we only found the one by the church.

Heading to the upper patio to wait for our clothes to dry (it takes much longer when hand-washed, we can never squish enough water out of them) we chatted amiably with the half-dozen or so other pilgrims doing the same until our clothes were finally ready.

Laundry complete and stored away, we had dinner at the restaurant. In the dining hall, we selected from the standard pilgrim’s menu that included a few items not regularly offered and shared a table with Leila and Yanni (Torino, Italy), who were on their second Camino. They had done the shorter route – Sarria to Santiago – the year before and had enjoyed it so much came back to do the full Camino Frances.

After dinner and our pleasant conversation, we headed to bed. We were already missing Jeffrey and Michelle who had taken the bus from Burgos to Fromista to allow time for Michelle’s foot to heal. We wouldn’t see them again, but kept in touch daily on FaceBook.

Sites Visited: San Roman, Gothic church; Fuente de Gallo (Hen Fountain); Aqua de Vita (Water of Life) or ‘magic water’ fountain; Hontanas pilgrim fountain

See a complete list of our day-to-day Camino experiences.

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