“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” – Paul Scott Mowrer, The House of Europe
Approximately twelve kilometres outside of Burgos, we enter the Meseta; the vast and expansive plains of central Spain. The Camino Francés leaves the Meseta in Astorga; depending on your itinerary around ten walking days later.
Day Sixteen: Burgos – Hornillos del Camino (Albergue de peregrinos El Alfar de Hornillos)
I woke up around six, peeked out the window, the street lamps flooded the square with a yellow glow, the sky still retained its inky black night status. The air was fresh, and I was excited about the day ahead.
Five-years ago, a friend had generously offered me her Camino backpack for my impending trip. Krishna and I met up for lunch; backpack inspection and a download of her and her partners Camino experience. She was the first person that I had met who had walked the Camino Francés. Friends had suggested that they skip the Meseta, and take the bus from Burgos to Leon, which they did. If I’d got that far in 2015, I might have missed this stage, but this time around, I felt that I needed to experience the Camino in its entirety.
Having packed up my belongings, checked the room, booked my Leon accommodation, I checked out of the hotel. The square looked stunning. I shot some departing photos, then took the Camino route out of Burgos. First stop, breakfast at the café opposite the Municipal Albergue. It was packed. Full of pilgrims equally as excited as I was.
Aside from a pilgrim having a cigarette while taking a last look at the cathedral, the street ahead looked deserted. I was struggling to find the Camino waymarkers when the cigarette man passed me and wished me a Buen Camino. He looked Spanish and also looked as though he knew the route. I picked up my pace and followed in his wake. A trio of lost South Koreans quickly joined us. As I approached the gates of Burgos, I ticked off one of, The Way milestone moments.
Upon exiting the gates, I turned around. The Spaniard and I who had been taking turns to locate the yellow arrows had now gathered more pilgrims. On the edge of Burgos, the last suburb before the Meseta, the Spanish guy handed me a yellow arrow pin, waved goodbye, and headed off to a bar for breakfast. Just passed the state prison the band dispersed, some pilgrims reduced their pace while others increased theirs. I was in the middle and enjoyed the mostly empty track into Tardajos, where I stopped for a break.
I was relieved to walk into the beautifully restored village of Rabé de las Calzada. The tree-lined parapet of Iglesia de Santa Mariña XIIIth C a welcome respite to the mostly bland thirteen kilometres we had just walked. We continued out of Rabé de las Calzada, the village abruptly giving way to the countryside. On the side of the nearby farm shed, was an uplifting mural featuring Albert Einstein, Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, standing in front of a night sky. Their wisdom perhaps an inspiration to the two other figures in the mural; pilgrims navigating their way to Compostela de Santiago.
After a few hundred metres the road splits, built into the corner is the tiny Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Monasterio. Pilgrims were huddled around the arched doorway waiting for someone to leave so they could go in. I decided to walk on. In front of me was a man carrying a US army backpack. We walked alongside each other up the long ascent to the plateau. He was struggling. Not as I thought from a heavy pack but from too much wine and partying in Burgos. He was from the Czech Republic, had quit his job as a chef to take over the catering at his friend’s farm in Portugal; feeding the global workers. I was a bit faster. I walked on, continuing to enjoy the spectacular desert-like scenery.
By the time I reached the plateau, the heat had turned up the dial. On the edge of the plateau, I saw Jimmin. Flies came out of nowhere, buzzing around our faces, as we made the long winding descent down into the small village of Hornillos del Camino. The constant buzzing and the heat made the last few kilometres feel very long.
I went straight to my Albergue. Standing at reception were other pilgrims from the Granon Albergue, Den and Pam from Australia. Our allocated bunks were in the same room. After the usual drill, I walked down a local bar and had lunch with Christy and her Camino posse.
Day Seventeen: Hornillos del Camino – Castrojeriz (Albergue Rosalia)
At dinner last night, a communal affair in an outdoor lean-to, sitting near Den and Pam, I began to think that it would be a good idea to ask if I could leave with them in the morning. We rose before dawn, stealthy walked downstairs, clutching our belongings and went downstairs to the inside kitchen. After a quick snack, we headed out into the narrow street, veered right at the end of the village and made our way up the gentle ascent to Alto Meseta. Walking under the stars on an unknown track, continued to challenge me. Especially as around the 5 km mark, we faced a steep descent down to the Rio San Bol. In leaving so early, I had to forgo visiting Albergue San Bol, and the healing waters of the nearby river.
The sun rose, bringing with it clouds of ground fog. We watched these mists roll over the Meseta, as we walked into Hontanas.
On the outskirts of this rustic village, we stopped at the tiny chapel of Santa Brigida. The haze shrouded the round stone building with mystery. We continued, in search of a café. It was 8:30 am; we’d walked 10.8 km; time to get out of the cold air and warm-up.
After Hontanas we walked alongside dry recently ploughed earth, through the archways of the ancient San Anton convent ruins, then later, near the outskirts of Castrojeriz below the jagged ruins of the hilltop castle (Castillo). The mists, which continued to waft above the land, softening the starkness of this rugged landscape.
Castrojeriz stretches for around 1.5 km along a hillside. I was grateful that Den and Pam also had a booking at Albergue Rosalia because finding it had challenged our navigation skills. Rosalia is a no bunks, Albergue!! I was upstairs under the wooden rafters, which emitted a funky haybale, cum mushroom smell. However, I loved the view from the window by my bed; rooftops and glimpses of the outlying countryside.
I went out in search of lunch and ended up at the bar/restaurant underneath the Albergue. After the best salad to-date on the Camino, eaten alone in their old-fashioned dining room, I took my glass of wine into the bar. I met an Italian duo, two strangers whose lives had collided together on the Camino. They were fun, high on life and lust. They also were Camino aficionados. As I was leaving, they told me that I had to go and visit The House of Silence.
I dropped off my supplies which I’d bought in the local basement tienda then continued up the steep steps behind Rosalia, turned right and followed the street into Plaza Mayor. It was mid-afternoon, the temperature gauge around 30o. Calle Real de Ote narrowed, becoming a shadowy corridor between the houses. Only to widen into a sidewalk again and stretch out to the edge of the village. I stopped to take in the view over the Meseta and look at the memorials and box plantings. I continued, in search of a bicycle that permanently sat outside The House of Silence. The faded blue marine plagues on the side on the house, dried wheat wreath, and dried sunflower head, very hippy and inviting. A wooden podium inside the doorway explained the rules; no phones, no photography, please respect the silence and space.
Sitting by an open window, gazing at the rustic walled garden, I began to reflect on the three elements of a Camino: physical, mental and spiritual. For me, Pamplona to Burgos was about the body getting into the rhythm of daily walking and gaining physical strength. Entering into the Meseta, walking through the desert-like countryside, made me think that this stage of the Camino would challenge all three aspects of the Self.
Day seventeen though packed a mental punch. Downunder, in a different time zone, it was my sons birthday. We now live in different countries, so rarely get to celebrate in person; however, walking along the remote dusty Camino pathway devoid of any cell-service, I felt disconnected from my family. Thankfully, before entering the house, I found a spot with cell-service and left a happy birthday message. I let The House of Silence works its magic; curled up in that oversized armchair, engulfed in the silence, a calm washed over me. Later I ventured out into the garden and listened to water trickling from a fountain. As they say out here, “the Camino provides.”
Day Eighteen: Castrojeriz – Fromista (Albergue Estrella Del Camino)
Yesterday, sitting on the Albergue steps waiting for opening time, Claire joined us; whom I nicknamed global child of the Universe, as she had multiply nationalities and residences. Claire had walked around 29 km the day before, using Castrojeriz as an early stop cum rest day. Planning on another big walking day, she was keen to leave early with us. We left the Albergue at 6:30 am; it was a chilly 9o outside, my semi-awake state not preparing me for the 3.5 km extreme climb up to Alto de Mostelares. We gave our lungs some recovery time, sat in the covered rest area and looked back at the night lights of Castrojeriz; watching the tiny dots of lights following in our wake. We then continued along the high Meseta for a few kilometres. Dawn broke as we descended another steep track onto flatlands. The night was fading into daylight as we stepped out on the plains. We stopped, turned around, hoping to catch the sunrise. We stood in silence, taking in the beauty of the tangerine glow that stretched out across the horizon.
Walking through the plains was surreal, the landscape tinged with shades of orange and rust, the glow throwing pink into the sky, the clouds taking on different shades purples. We crossed over the picturesque Rio Pisuerga on the Puente de Itero. Stopping by one of its eleven arches, we marvelled at the view. The tranquil river, with its floating isles of trees and watergrasses starkly contrasted with the first part of our day. The bridge led us into the Provincia de Palencia (Tierra de Campos), this extensive agricultural area, which affords little shade stretches almost to Rio Cea, Sahagún.
An hour later, a shepherd accompanied by his dog led his flock of sheep past us. They looked as hot and tired as we did. Like myself Den and Pam had booked accommodation in Frómista, Claire though was still thinking she would walk a bit further.
By the time we walked into the village of Boadilla del Camino, we had walked 20 km. We wandered around the town, getting our bearings then returned to the Municipal Albergue, which had outdoor tables and a café. It was nearly mid-day. I headed inside and ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and a slice of tortilla. With only five more kilometres to walk, we weren’t in a rush to move on. Sitting out in the courtyard with other pilgrims was fun. We were all interested in the girl with a trolley push-pull contraption, backpack alternative. Claire surprised us, by saying she’d hit the wall and was going to book into the Albergue.
An hour later, we headed out of the village. The last leg into Frómista is a track alongside the Canal de Castilla. It’s a beautiful walk along a tree-lined path, jet streams streaking across the tissue-like clouds which mitigate the full effect of the mid-day sun. A canal boat drifted past us—onboard tourists enjoying the scenery with a glass of wine in hand, adds some romance to the scene.
I said goodbye to Pam and Den and walked past the Gothic Iglesia de San Pedro XVth C to the edge of the city and my Albergue. After showering, washing my clothes, I bought a beer at the bar and went out into the garden. Later on, I went for a walk, spoke to several Camino friends all milling around the city centre. It was Sunday. The only open restaurant was full of locals, enjoying a long leisurely Sunday family lunch. I continued my wanderings then went back to the Albergue. I bought a pizza and glass of wine for dinner.
The variety of landscape had been unexpected, and amazing, but the long walk without a break had left me shattered. I needed an early night.