Camino Postcard 16: Castrojeriz to Población de Campos

First of all, I owe the people of HONTANAS an apology. I realised the other day that in my earlier posts, I referred to their hometown as ‘Honatas’. Lo siento!

Day Four on the Meseta

Today, we ate breakfast at our albergue in Castrojeriz before setting off. Our boots had spent the night in a little shed. When we collected them we found that they were now more or less dry.

Tying our laces up, we started walking; just the three of us, now; we left Tony at the albergue to catch us up later.

This morning, we climbed the alto de Mostelares. The path wound its way to the top, stretching our legs but never being too strenuous. At the top, we were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful view of the valley we had just crossed.

A short plateau followed before we began walking down a very steep incline. It was so steep, we had to lean backwards as we walked.

The clouds skudded across the sky as we continued on our way – a breezy day in the heavens.

Upon a moment, we came to a chapel where we paused to stamp our pilgrim passports. Framed photographs of the current and last two popes hung proudly on the wall. The photograph of John Paul II showed him wearing a brown pellegrina with scallop shells embroided onto it. This photograph was taken in the early 80s when John Paul made his own pilgrimage to Santiago.

We next stopped at an interesting café-albergue in Itero de la Vega, where we saw bronze insects mounted on the wall. Tony caught up with us here so we ate together.

After stopping again at Boadilla del Camino, we joined the Canal de Castilla, which took us to Frómista. As canals go, it was a fairly ordinary one although the high walled lock at its end with its two bridges, one held up by a lovely arch, were impressive sights.

Our original intention had been to stop in Frómista but at Boadilla Tony told us that the albergues there (or at least the one we had intended to stop at) had been reviewed unfavourably online. In contrast, an albergue three kilometres up the road – just before Población de Campos – had been very favourably reviewed – so we decided to head for that one.

The albergue in question is called La Finca and it was unique among all the albergues we stopped at on the Camino Francés. How can I describe it? There were no dorms, but rather, individual bedrooms. I say ‘bedrooms’ reservedly because they were more like cubicles. The bedroom/cubicles had an upper and lower level. The lower level was on the ground floor; the upper level was accessible via a short set of stairs.

Our first impression of La Finca was very favourable. Very soon, however, we began to see some of the cracks – the showers didn’t have locks on them and the water was permanently cold; neither were the bedroom/cubicles as clean as one would have liked. I think La Finca had only lately opened so hopefully these were just teething problems. At any rate, the food that evening was good. As we ate, proud parents took photographs of their daughter in her first communion dress outside.

As soon as I finished my meal, I retired to my bed. I was feeling out of sorts that afternoon and not in the mood for company. I did a little writing before going to the toilet. When I came back, I found Ellena sitting on my bed. She had been concerned for me and came to make sure I was alright. Did I say I didn’t want company? I will always be very grateful for the company of a friend. We sat and chatted and peace came back to my heart.

Camino Postcard 15: Honatas to Castrojeriz

Day Three on the Meseta

I slept badly last night; the dorm was too warm and one of the other pilgrims snored too loudly. I couldn’t be angry, though; the heat was good for our boots and as for the snoring pilgrim, well, who is perfect? As it happens, I am prone to snoring as well, and goodness knows how many other imperfections I have that other people find annoying.

We did not eat breakfast in Honatas but hit the road straight after getting dressed. It was not a comfortable walk – my boots were still very damp from yesterday. Only from tomorrow would they start to feel dry again.

Before we left the albergue, an American pilgrim reminded me of a neat trick I had first learnt in Roncesvalles: put newspaper in your boots; it helps soak the wet/dampness up. I remembered her advice thereafter and it never failed me. How does paper soak water up so effectively? I would love to know the science of it!

When we left Honatas, the weather was dry. Alas, it didn’t stay like that for long. Thankfully, though, the rain was not heavy and we were spared the sleet and slow. Not that the weather showed us any mercy. Around mid-morning, hailstones began to fall. One struck Ellena in the eye – fortunately no damage was done.

The hailstones were so vicious we paused to take refuge next to the wall of the Arco San Antón. It was ‘just’ a ruin so didn’t keep us dry but it did allow us to turn our back on the hail stones until the shower stopped.

Prior to the hailstorm, we passed a finger of stone (photo below) on the hillside next to the path. It was, no doubt, all that remained of some building or another but in its desolation under the heavy clouds it had a real Tolkien-esque feeling about it.

After passing the ruin, we had to negotiate a huge puddle, which I almost slipped into. I came so close to doing so that I feared I had soaked my boots through for the second day in a row. Fortunately, I managed to avoid that fate by a hair’s breadth.

At St. Anthony’s Arch the hail storm soon stopped and we continued on our way. Not long later, an ambulance whizzed past us in the opposite direction; it was a salutary reminder of the dangers that the Camino can sometimes pose.

A long, little used, road took us to Castrojeriz. While walking, we met Lillian, and saw two dogs playing with each other in a field. Lillian was her usual bubbly self and the dogs looked like they were having a rare old time. It was all very heart lifting – which we needed after the hail.

As we approached Castrojeriz, the rain stopped and two rainbows appeared. One of them, as you can see in the photograph below, actually ended on the nearside of the hill. I should have gone to see if I could find the pot of gold!

When I mentioned this to Ellena and Carolin, the joke belied the fact that money was concerning me again: discussing it takes up half a page in my journal entry for today. I was still spending too much.

We arrived in Castrojeriz before midday and stopped at a café. Still suffering from the effects of yesterday’s weather, no one had the heart to continue and so, although the albergue would not open for another two and a half hours, we decided to stay there for the night.

It was a good decision. The albergue, built around a courtyard, had nice, smallish dorms. The hospitaleros cooked the meal, an oriental dish, which was very tasty. The other pilgrims were very friendly and we met Tony again, which lifted everyone’s spirits.

Although we did not know it at the time, today was the last day we had to walk in really bad weather. From now on, the weather would be at worst too hot; there would be rain, of course, but nothing like we experienced today and yesterday. In this respect, we got lucky because we did hear of snow coming down in one or two of the higher up locations along the Camino Francés. By the time we reached them, however, the snow had melted away and the weather was fine again.

Camino Postcard 14: Hornillos to Honatas

Day Two on the Meseta.

Wow. A short, and intense day. When we left the homely albergue, it was raining, but only lightly. Everyone felt fine. Ellena’s knee was getting better, Carolin felt okay, and so did I.

Our intention was to walk to Castrojeriz, 20 kilometres away. We managed 10 before throwing in the towel.

What happened? The weather did, big time.

The meseta

The light rain got heavier. It turned into sleet, then snow. The wind drove it down against our faces. My left foot started squelching. Uh-oh. Had I trod in a puddle? The squelching got heavier. It started in my left boot but soon both feet were affected. No, I hadn’t trod in a puddle: the rain, sleet and snow had penetrated my boots and soaked my socks right through.

For me, this was the worst news. If my feet were squelching they were rubbing against my socks and boots, and that meant I was at increased risk of acquiring one or more blisters. And that, of course, I really did not want to happen.

I don’t think I have mentioned blisters for a while, so let me reiterate: they were bad news. At best, they slowed you down; at worst, they could end your walk.

Slowing down doesn’t sound so bad. No, but had I needed to do so, I might have had to leave Ellena and Carolin, which would have been a great blow as we were getting on so well. It would also have put me behind schedule, which had the potential to cause money problems.

A Camino ending blister would certainly be bad news. Yes. I wouldn’t have minded having to go home early because of my eye because I can’t help being short sighted but if it had been because of my leg (I should have got physio for it last year) or because of a blister that would have been incredibly frustrating.

You had the right boots and socks, though; the weather was not your fault. Welcome to my world of irrational thinking.

The snow continued to fall. All three of us soon got soaked through. It got even worse – the wind lowered the temperature until our hands were frozen. Mine stung with the cold. We decided to stop at the next town we came to, which was Honatas. There, we found an albergue. We checked in as soon as it opened. Until then, we drank wine and a couple of hot chocolates (not at once) in its café.

Exhibit A: One frozen pilgrim

The afternoon was spend warming up in bed.

There was still a little drama to come, though. After checking in, we were asked – as per the custom at all albergues – to leave our boots on a rack under an awning outside. We knew, however, that if we did that, they would never dry out in the cold, damp air. So, an executive decision was taken to go against albergue custom and keep them in our dorm. Fortunately, the hospitalera did not notice (or chose not to do so). If she had, I would certainly have brought them in later on and kept them in the dorm overnight.

At tea time, we ate in the dining area. At the end, we were charged for our food. Again: we had already paid for it when checking in. The man-in-charge (pun intended) made a stink about it but eventually found it in his gracious heart to let the matter go.

As the afternoon wore on, the bad weather passed; we even saw a little blue sky. The rain made a couple of comebacks but didn’t last, and was never as bad as the morning.

After we checked in, I inspected my feet for blisters. The good news was that no new ones had appeared. The bad news, however, was that my left thigh had severely chafed. Fortunately, that resolved itself over the next few days with a generous and regular application of vaseline.

I got lucky – all three of us got lucky: we were told about a French pilgrim who had been found laid out on a bench somewhere behind us. Thank the Lord she was alive. Details were never more than sketchy, but I recall being told that she was found wearing inadequate clothing for bad weather. Exhaustion must have taken her. This is why, as I said yesterday, it is so important to prepare as well as you can. Of course, this applies to the Camino as a whole and not just the meseta.

The weather was so bad, Ellena and Carolin were forced to put their ponchos on over their raincoats. Note the muddy path, which made the walk even more difficult – especially when it was filled with puddles.