Camino Postcard 13: Burgos to Hornillos

23.4.19. A wet day, but a better one than the last two – well, just about.

We saw numerous statues on the way out of Burgos. I don’t know who this one commemorates but it was good to see a disabled person remembered in this way

Ellena’s knee was improving but continued to hurt. My right leg ached as as per usual and Carolin started feeling unwell. Ellena and I were able to keep walking but while Carolin could walk, she felt so bad she was not able to carry her backpack. Ellena took it for her, and now wore one on her front, and her own on her back. She looked like a backpack sandwich, and it is a matter of great regret to me that I never took a photograph of her! (If I never write another blog post, you’ll know that she killed me after reading this! Entschuldigung, Ellena!).

Given her situation, it was a heroic effort. She never once complained and carried both backpacks for sixteen kilometres.

In our haste to leave Burgos, we did not stop for breakfast there. Instead, we waited until we reached the little town of Tardajos. There, we took cover in a small tent outside a café, amongst other pilgrims, and ate chocolate croissants.

Given our previous experience, and the fact that 23rd April was a public holiday in Spain, not eating in Burgos was a bit of a risk. We could easily have ended up with nothing like we did between Redecilla and Belorado. I think my advice to future pilgrims would have to be Always eat when you can or at least, Take food with you in case you don’t find any open cafés.

Not long after leaving Tardajos, we passed a small town named Rabé de las Calzadas. In doing so, we entered the Meseta. This section of the Camino Francés is just over two hundred kilometres in length and consists of fields, fields and more fields, and paths that go on forever.

What is a true pilgrim? One who looks after another

I have read that many pilgrims take transport rather than walk across the Meseta, and I can understand why. There is no cover from the elements.

  • If you walk across the Meseta in the summer, put on sun tan lotion and wear a hat/sunglasses! Make sure, too, that you have as much water as you can carry with you.
  • If you walk across it in winter, make sure you are wearing a rain proof coat! These things are of critical importance – not just to get across the Meseta comfortably but to do so safely.

With all that said, let me not make the Meseta sound like a danger zone. It can punish the unwary, but the truth is, if Ellena, Carolin and I could walk the entire length of it in our depleted state, anyone can. Just make sure that you prepare as well as you can.

On the 23rd, the rain stopped and started all day. Fortunately, our day ended at around lunchtime. Just over twenty kilometres after leaving Burgos, we arrived in another small town – Hornillos del Camino – where we decided enough was enough. And because the day had not been an easy one, we also decided to treat ourselves: rather than go to the municipal albergue, we opted to stay at a private one instead.

It was a very homely house (the last one?) and cost €15 rather than €5 but was worth every penny. The living room was very cozy, the other pilgrims were some nice Americans, and we were given a room with two bunks, so had to share with just one other person – who turned out to be our friend Lillian: a perfect circle!

The hospitalero did not provide food so we had to eat out in the evening. Until then there was a convenience store right across the road. When I made the epic three second journey across the road to buy some food, the store owner gave me a scallop shell free of charge, which was rather kind of him.

In the afternoon, Ellena and Carolin rested. I worked on the Fixxbook while the Americans chatted to one another about the origin of the St. James in Spain legend. Later on, I discovered that one of the Americans was a fan of Bruce Springsteen. He told me that there really is an E Street in The Boss’ hometown, which was great knowledge.

The private albergue we stayed at in Hornillos also looked after members of The Way production! This poster is signed by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez

That night, I slept well.

Camino Postcard 12: Belorado to Burgos

22.4.19. At breakfast this morning we returned to the question of what to do next: Walking was out of the question as Ellena’s knee remained swollen. Shall we take a taxi? No, that will be too expensive. That leaves coaches, then.

But where would we take it? We settled upon Burgos, a large city at the end of the next Brierley stage after this one, fifty kilometres ahead. Going to Burgos would put us ahead of schedule in terms of our Camino journey and also save us between two and four days worth of money (anything between €60-90)

I looked up coach prices on-line and found, to my pleasant surprise, that we could get to Burgos for €3-5. The debate was over. Ellena felt bad for making us take the coach but as I wrote in my journal, the Camino should be a life affirming experience, not life destroying, and if we had walked she would have risked doing further damage to her knee.

We saw bigfoot

Taking the coach was absolutely the right thing to do and if anyone is ever silly enough to challenge me on this point, I will call them small minded stick-in-the-muds who put ideology ahead of love and challenge them to a duel to preserve the honour of all pilgrims who have ever been forced to take transport.

At the bus stop we met a pilgrim who was about to return to Los Arcos – he had received a call from the Spanish police: the mobile phones stolen at the albergue there had been recovered, could he come and collect his.

Despite the cheapness of the ticket, the coach was a very modern one with wi-fi and all. Unfortunately, it still made Ellena and Carolin a bit sick, so we were all glad to alight when we arrived in Burgos an hour or so later.

As we collected our backpacks, we met Mike from Alabama. He joined us for second breakfast in a nearby café. Mike had slept in the bunk next to mine in Los Arcos and lost his mobile phone to the thief. I can’t remember if he had been told about their recovery, but either way, after we mentioned it, he had no intention of going back to collect his – after the theft, he simply took a bus to the next town and bought a new one. If I had had my mobile stolen and had the money, I would have done exactly the same. Mike was good company and it would have been lovely to see him again; unfortunately, after today, we never did.

Side view of Burgos cathedral. It was my view while writing about Nicola Fixx

From the café we wondered through the centre of Burgos, round its grand cathedra and towards the municipal albergue, another large one in the manner of Pamplona and Roncesvalles. When we checked in, one of the hospitaleros gave all three of us a fistful of attitude for skipping two stages. I found out later that he did that to everyone so for him it was probably just banter but given our circumstances we did not appreciate it.

The thing is, pilgrims walk, and are expected to walk; the minute you start taking transport, even if you know your cause is just, you have the weight of other people’s expectations on you, and it is always heavy. To banter about this, you have to know your audience so that you know they’ll take your humour in the right way. This is the first rule of humour, and especially of banter, and the hospitalero broke it. As a result, he ended up causing unnecessary anger and distress, rather than getting the laugh he no doubt expected.

We found our beds – annoyingly we all had top bunks; fine for Carolin and me but difficult for Ellena – and rested. After a while, I took my notebook and went for a walk. I wrote some notes for my Nikki Fixx book in the shadow of the cathedral. Ellena and Carolin inspired me to really get on with it during the Camino. I am happy to report that I am still getting on with it now. Who knows, maybe this summer will be the one when I FINALLY finish it…

When I returned to the albergue, I found Ellena and Carolin sitting outside the bar opposite the albergue. I joined them for a while but when they went drinking later on I returned to my bed.

Squeak!

Camino Postcard 11: Castildelgado to Belorado

22nd June 2019
Correction: After writing this and Camino Postcard 10 I realised (thank you Ellena!) that we didn’t stay in Castildelgado but Redecilla del Camino.

21.4.19. Today was Easter Sunday. Rusurrexit Sixut Dixit! It should have been a good day, a great day. For Ellena, Carolin and myself, however, it was a dog day; one to get through and then forget (Tony walked on ahead of us today).

The albergue in Castildelgado didn’t provide food so when we left it, we reckoned on eating breakfast in the next village or town that we came to. When we arrived there, however, we found no cafés, let alone one that was open. Maybe we would have better luck in the village or town after that? No, no luck at all. Both places were locked up and had their backs to the world.

Looking at my copy of Brierley, I see that there were two towns on our route – both marked in capitals and bold – Viloria de la Rioja and Vilamayor del Río. If we visited either of them, they left absolutely no impression on me: in my journal, I mention the caféless villages and then go straight on to the path that took us to our destination for the day, Belorado. As I think back to Easter Sunday, I can see in my mind’s eye the two villages and the road but no other towns.

The path that we walked down ran for a boring age beside the road – nigh on ten kilometres, according to Brierley’s map. The clouds were heavy and the countryside boring. Ellena’s knee was sore and swollen after her fall yesterday and all of us were in a funk.

We decided to stop at Belorado. Would we get accommodation there? To make sure we did, I downloaded the Booking.com app to my phone and used it for the first time. I would use Booking.com to reserve rooms several more times during and after the Camino but would never quite be comfortable doing so. Not because of the app but because of what nearly happened at Belorado.

No, it’s not an accidental photograph but an action shot of the laundry room!

We arrived on the outskirts of the town and were delighted to find our albergue-hotel right in front of us. One of the restaurant/café staff was handling the check-ins but when we told him that we had booked online he seemed to have no record of it. There were still rooms available, thank goodness, but it was not encouraging that we might have been turned away despite everything seeming to work on the app.

Fortunately, this was our only bad experience with Booking.com. More unsatisfactory ones were to come at Belorado. Firstly, we were made to wear the kind of wrist bands that you are given at concerts. Why?? We were not in a compound or secure area. Secondly, after taking our rooms and gathering our clothes together to wash them as one, we had to navigate a laundry room where only a few of the washing machines and driers actually worked.

They did not do so satisfactorily. Our washing machine finished before the timer indicated that it was done and the drying cycle had to be repeated two or three times before drying our clothes properly.

We ate dinner in the restaurant area – eventually. The service was a little slower than I was comfortable with.

After dinner, we defied the dogness of the day and dipped our feet into the outdoor swimming pool. Of course it was c-c-cold but it still felt good doing it rather than lounge in my bed being anti-social.

In the evening, we considered what to do tomorrow: Ellena’s knee was still swollen. She didn’t want to take the bus but walking on her knee could not be the right thing to do. We made no decision, leaving it until the morning.