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.


Camino Postcard 7: Los Arcos to Logroño

All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well

17.4.19. Last night, the most pressing matter had been bed bugs. They came up in conversation and from that moment I was concerned that I might get bitten. An American gentleman very kindly lent me his anti-bed bug spray but of course, me being me, I wondered afterwards if I had sprayed the bed adequately.

This morning, all thoughts of bed bugs disappeared: a Frenchman in the next dorm discovered that his mobile phone was missing: it wasn’t in his backpack; it wasn’t under the bed: it was gone. Then, someone else noticed that theirs had also vanished. Now, two girls in our dorm realised that not only had their phones been taken, but so had €500 that one of the girls had worked all summer for.

What had happened? I remembered yesterday seeing a pilgrim wondering over to the bed of the girl who had lost the €500 and leaning down as if to pick something up. Had he come back in the night and stolen the cash? Maybe he had just seen some dirt on the bed and picked it up. Welcome to the culture of suspicion – perhaps a worse thing than the crime itself.

The police were called. They were not fast in the coming. When they did turn up, there did not seem to be any urgency in their actions. They talked, listened, and spoke all in a very laid back way. We waited to see what would happen next. Ellena said that in Germany the police would tell everyone to empty their backpacks and check their passports but there was none of that here. Eventually, Ellena, Carolin and I simply left. No one told us we could. But when we walked out, no one ordered us back, either.

Ellena and Carolin in the early morning sun

As for me, I had got lucky: last night, as per normal, I had left my phone was beside my pillow; it would have been the easiest thing for the thief to lift it. Ellena had been lucky, too; or had she? She usually left her phone by the socket to recharge. Last night, however, she decided to keep it with her: no reason; gut instinct just told her it was the right thing to do. She wasn’t celebrating, though: how could she when an intruder had stood just inches from her bed? – She slept next to the girl who had lost her phone and money.

I’m happy to report that this story has a happy ending. A few days later, we met a pilgrim at a bus stop who was on his way back to Los Arcos: the police had caught the criminal and recovered the mobile phones. If I recall correctly, he was Romanian and may have sneaked into the albergue in the early hours – perhaps after someone went out to smoke and forgotten to lock the door? It was a very opportunistic crime but also one that was, perhaps, connected to a gang – around the time of the Los Arcos thefts, phones were also stolen from albergues in Puenta la Reina and Logroño.

The walk from Los Arcos to Logroño was a long one – 28km. I don’t remember much about it. My journal tells me that it involved a steep climb but adds, rather bravely, that it wasn’t too bad. It also reminds me that my bad toe took a turn for the worse by developing a blister. This toe (left foot, second from left) was already suffering from bruising caused by being pressed against my boot during steep descents. The blister that appeared there would be the only one on my feet during the whole Camino. Fortunately, and despite the fact that at first I only put a normal plaster on it instead of a special anti-blister one, it never caused me any great pain. Why, MJM, why? You had plenty of Compeed!

Nearly a page of my journal entry for today is taken up with concern over money. I was spending too much. I had been spending too much since the start. Unfortunately, this was inevitable as by setting my daily budget at 30 euros, I had set it too low. To be sure, walking the Camino on 30 euros is perfectly doable, but pretty much only if you limit your spending to the cost of the albergue, breakfast and dinner. If you buy anything else – lunch or a beer etc – you risk breaking the budget cap. And don’t even think about being sociable. All of these things is what I was doing.

I suppose I could have gone without lunch and a beer at the end of the walk but then I would have been very hungry and that would have taken a toll as well. I suppose too that I could have been unsociable but what kind of Camino would that have been? No more than an exercise in walking point to point and being lonely. No, that’s not good enough. I’d rather come back home penniless and blessed by the ways in which I spent my money – whether on myself or other people. Happily, that’s exactly what happened but unhappily, I still worried. If I had to come home early because of my eye or leg, that was one thing; it couldn’t be helped, but I couldn’t bear to have to return ahead of time because I spent my money too fast.

Happy Birthday Russell!

Don’t worry! Ellena said, We’ll help you if need be. Along the way, she did; we all helped each other. Doing so, whatever the (literal or figurative) cost was one of the greatest blessings that the Camino gave me.

Ellena said Don’t Worry. Unfortunately, it took me a little time to stop worrying so much. If you are thinking of doing the Camino, and if it is possible, I would certainly recommend that you set your budget at 30-40 euros per day. That will give you the space you need to treat yourself during the day, something which on difficult days you will definitely want – and should – do.

After a good day’s walking, we walked into Logroño – our second big city after Pamplona. We met a young American family whose daughter had become friends with Ellena and Carolin. She was 5 (or thereabouts) going on adult when walking alongside them. On our way through the city, we passed a man made stream made for tired pilgrim feet to bathe in.

By the way, was it today that Ellena said for the first time that when we get to Santiago we would all get Camino tattoos and then go to Finisterre to enjoy the sea before returning home? I agreed even though tattoos were not on my agenda. That was fine, I thought to myself, we are a month away from Santiago – plenty of time for Ellena to forget about the idea and for me to run out of money.

We arrived in Logroño on Holy Wednesday. That evening, a special Holy Week procession took place at the nearby church (cathedral?). Some friends that we had made went to watch it but Ellena, Carolin and I were too tired. With our phones in our sleeping bags, we fell into a deep sleep; we didn’t eve wake up when reveller pilgrims rolled into the albergue (this one remained open 24 hours) at three in the morning.

The Art of the Way
  • Be sure to read Ellena’s account of what happened from Los Arcos to Logroño here!

Camino Postcard 6: Estella to Los Arcos

Winning with wine

Every so often on the Camino Francés we’d find rock images on the road. This one is unusual because it also contains a message written in the cement

16.4.19. So, last night, I didn’t eat. This morning, I didn’t eat, either. This was a bit of an issue. Firstly, and most obviously, because it might affect my ability to walk. Or rather, walk very far. Secondly, it was proof of a bad habit of mine rearing its ugly head again – not taking proper care of myself. A long time ago I used to live by myself and when I did, I fainted on two separate occasions because I had not got round to eating for too long. It was my own fault – I put other things first, things that I enjoyed more, like reading, and as a result never got round to eating until whump. I fell over. On both occasions I was fortunate not to hurt myself. Would that happen today?

Fortunately, it didn’t. I stepped out of the albergue and made some last adjustments to myself before getting ready to walk. As I did so, Ellena and Carolin appeared. We said ‘hello’ to each other, started chatting, and then started walking together. We’d keep doing so until 23rd May when we finally said out goodbyes at Santiago airport. In that time, Ellena kept us all on the straight and sensible, including in respect of eating.

As the sun rose, the day grew warmer. Our target was Los Arcos, nearly 25 kilometres away. Our first stop, however, was five kilometres up the road: Irache. For here was a most wonderful, marvellous, and magnificent thing that blesses Spain by its presence: a free wine tap.

A free wine tap?

Yes! A free wine tap; put there for thirsty pilgrims to drink out of their shells before continuing on their way. When we reached the tap, I realised that I had tied my shell to my backpack too tightly to free it. Ellena did a very holy thing, though, and let me fill her shell up and drink from it. Not instead of her – I could not have lived with myself if I had deprived her of wine – but after she had had her sip. We drank. We marvelled at the presence of the tap, drank, and went on our way.

Free wine! A highlight of the Camino

At this point, please let me rail against those pilgrims – if so they be – who abuse the kindness of whoever donates the wine by not drinking it from their shells but by actually filling their water bottles. These people are extremely selfish, scurvy, and abominable. Let them be anathema. There is only so much wine to be dispensed every day. By filling one’s water bottle, one is depriving needy pilgrims of the opportunity of drinking it, and that is a dreadful thing to do. If you are one of those people I implore you to get on your knees and seek the good Lord’s forgiveness. There is no sin He will not forgive, even one as bad as this, though he may make you drink sparkling water for ten years in reparation.

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. Let’s keep walking. Rather knavishly, the path now went uphill. It soon levelled out though and we made good progress until the heat of the day inspired us to take a break.

As we walked through – ? Possibly Azqueta, but wherever we were, we came upon a bunch (or a gaggle? What is the appropriate collective noun?) of pilgrims sitting outside a café. If it’s good for the goose -. We sat down at a free table. While outside the café, we met a couple of nice dogs. During the Camino, we would meet numerous canines, nearly all of them friendly. And if they were nervous, Ellena had the gift of calming them. She was our dog-whisperer.

Bu today, we sat down. I bought some lolly pops. We met George, an American who was walking the Camino with his husband. I liked George and was very happy when we met him again further on. Unfortunately, his husband (whose name I can’t remember) didn’t enjoy the walking and flew back to America. George kept walking, I hope to Santiago.

So, we ate our lolly pops. Ellena and Carolin ate theirs with their hands wrapped in their sleeves. It may have been a hot day but the lolly pops were too cold to touch!

Along the Way we found this pool on the side of the road… it’s purpose?

Upon leaving Possibly Azqueta (if indeed it was) we began climbing to the highest point of the day – Monjardin, 690 metres above sea level.

According to my journal, Ellena and Carolin’s pace today was better than mine over the first few days. This doesn’t mean that we walked fast but rather than we walked without stopping and starting, which I had done a lot of when walking by myself. There is more good news. I recorded in my journal that today my dodgy right leg (i.e. thigh) was only ‘tender’ rather than sore. It would be a few more days, though, until I could walk without using ibuprofen.

Later on, and in the middle of nowhere, we came across another van-bar. This one was a but more developed than the van-bar I had come across on the way to Zubiri for it not only had more seating but also a covered area as well. There were plenty of pilgrims sitting around, including an Englishman – a relative rarity on this Camino – named Tony who Ellena and Carolin already knew and I would get to know.

That afternoon, Ellena started walking ahead of us. She got further… and further… and further ahead until finally, there was no sight of her. No problem, I thought, we’ll meet her in Los Arcos, which we were now approaching.

Except, we didn’t. Carolin and I arrived in the town and there was no sight of her. What to do? Well, we eventually made our way to the municipal albergue where we found her. I can’t remember if we got lucky or if Carolin knew that Ellena would be there.

That evening, we relaxed outside the albergue, among a neat collection of sculptures (see right) and ate pizza from a local shop. I chatted with a man from Barcelona about this and that and nearly left my phone on a bench. Later, Ellena and Carolin would eat with other pilgrims. By then, I was happy simply to rest and let sleep carry me into the next day. It would not arrive, though, without upset and a visit from the police…