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 5: Puenta la Reina to Estella

O’er the hills and through the trees,
We’ll go ridin’ you and me…

15.4.19. This morning, I went to the albergue-hotel dining room via the internal stairs and ate breakfast. During the time I was there I forget where the stairs were and managed to get lost looking for them.

The car park at the albergue-hotel at Puenta la Reina

Eventually, I admitted defeat and returned downstairs via the car park outside. There, I met Ellena and Carolin who had already eaten and were beginning the day’s walk. Ellena and I exchanged phone numbers so that she could tell me if there was any room at the albergue they were intending to stay at tonight – we were all heading to Estella.

At this point, I didn’t know if Ellena really would contact me. I hoped she would but maybe the idea would slip out of her head, or she would decide that one evening in my presence was enough, and move on. I would be sad if that was the case because she and Carolin had been such good company yesterday but one has to respect other people’s decisions.

As I think about my departure from Estella now, I can’t ‘see’ the path that I took that morning. The memory has been crowded out. Looking at my journal entry for that day (written a day or so later), however, it appears that the morning walk was a tough one. Brierley’s guide shows why – it was uphill. That would have made my leg ache. Day five of taking ibuprofen.

A memory returns – I recall eating elevenses at a café after climbing a narrow and steep alleyway. As I arrived at the café, I saw Ellena and Carolin sitting on a nearby wall, their backs to me. It would have been polite to go and say ‘hello’ but I was too shy to interrupt them, and maybe they wouldn’t want to speak to me, anyway. Not that they had shown any signs in Estella of being bored by me, of course – quite the opposite. Not long after I arrived, they left, and so the immediate problem resolved itself. The deeper problem of not worrying so much remains.

A street mirror selfie, taking somewhere between Puenta la Reina and Estella!

At the café I met a very friendly Australian couple. They told me that after they finished the Camino they would be taking a holiday in Portugal. What’s more, their whole European excursion was being done on full pay from work! Apparently, Australians are able to go on paid leave from work for 15 weeks in order to visit their ancestral homelands. I presume this is a one time thing but what a good deal!

I left the couple at the café but met them again at lunchtime in the little village of Lorca. They invited me to join them for lunch. Full of gratitude for their kindness, I was very happy to accept. We ate pizza and talked about everything for a clean hour.

My right leg had been really aching by the time of my arrival in Lorca but was so well rested over the course of that hour that for the first twenty minutes after leaving, I walked with my best pace yet. Even when my leg started to tire and ache a little again, I was able to keep going at a good speed.

Ponies quite rightly ignoring me and grooming each other

The afternoon had two highlights: stopping for a break outside an enclosed graveyard (most, if not all, of the graveyards I saw were walled. One or two were right next to playgrounds. Perhaps the Spanish like to teach their children about the circle of life early) during my supercharged walk and watching the world, or rather, pilgrims, pass by and seeing some ponies in a field. There was no one nearby so I started singing Pony Boy by Bruce Springsteen to myself. A minute or two later, their owner arrived in his car and started calling them. In the languid way that ponies and horses have, they trotted towards him.

By the time I reached Estella I had not heard from Ellena. I had not seen her or Carolin again after the café so knew they were almost certainly ahead of me. My heart fell but there was nothing to be done: they had to take their path just as I had to take mine and maybe it was not meant to be that we would meet each other again.

However… Later on, Ellena did indeed text message me. She and Carolin were staying at ~ ~ actually, I can’t remember but it didn’t matter, for she had texted! I will have to ask her this but I don’t believe we made any plans to meet again in the texts. When we met the next morning, it was by chance.

As for that evening, after checking in to the albergue, I walked back up the road to a green opposite a beautiful old gothic church. I sat there for a while, drinking my Coca-Cola and soaking up the sun. It became cloudy, though, and soon, thunder began to roll. I returned to the albergue and that evening, the heavens opened.

As the rain poured down, I rested. That night, I didn’t eat. This albergue didn’t make meals and I hadn’t been able to find a supermarket before the thunder arrived. I went to bed that night happy but hungry.

I’m rather fond of this photograph. I’m sitting on grass, relaxed and in front of a beautiful gothic church. Look at the blue sky! It’s hard to believe thunder started not long later