“On the road again…”

“On the road again…”

Day 14 (of walking), April 20: Burgos to Hontanas (31.7 km, 19.7 miles)

Mais oui, bien sûre!

So one of the last pieces of business last night was the nodding and smiling to Nadine about possibly setting out from Burgos together about 8:00 am. If it worked out… I wasn’t thrilled about it, truth be told; trying to call up my French–either to speak it or to listen to it–is challenging. Still, it wasn’t my intention to avoid her. However, by 7:20 I was packed, I had brought Ginny’s backpack to the bar to await the vehicle that would carry it forward two days, and I had delivered Ginny’s ice to her bedside. I was going to wait another 40 minutes for what? And so I left.

Ha! The morning’s jokes were on me. For one, I kept waiting for there to be a “better spot” to pick up some breakfast just a little bit further along, and thus… I missed my opportunities and had to face the prospect of walking six miles on an empty stomach. Not smart. By mile five I was stopping to shed my winter coat–a brilliant blue sky was giving the sun the chance to do its warming tricks–and to dig out the second of the three energy/protein bars I had brought from the US. The other joke on me was addressing another solo walker as we came to the far end of Burgos and starting a conversation with her. Oh, no! Back to French again! This woman apologized for her lack of English and lamented the state of English instruction in France. “We should be ashamed of ourselves,” she went on, in French, of course! “The Germans. They all speak English [editor’s note: no they don’t!]. From Norway, Denmark, all over. But the French? We are disasters!” We must have walked together for an hour and a half or so, but then we met up with Leko from Japan and before I knew it, Leko and I had taken a lead on my new French friend.

Breakfast in Tardajos was very welcome. Tortilla española, café con leche, orange juice. Ready to move on. Ah, but here comes my French friend from the morning walk, who sits and joins me, having first checked out the little town a bit. And then, miracle of miracles, here comes the lonely Nadine from last night! Here’s my chance to get these two women connected with one another so they can chat without effort to their hearts’ delight. And I’m off the hook.

But here’s the thing: it’s now my turn to tour the little town a bit. I was admiring the outside of the village church (there’s no curing me!) and in the process met up with a family (2 adults, 2 kids) who were admiring the stork’s nest on top of the bell tower. The kids thought it was cool. The family interested me; very definitely not Spanish. I was curious. “Move back about 20 paces,” I suggested to them in Spanish, ” and you’ll see the stork.” And then: “¿De dónde son Uds?” “De Madrid.” Nah, can’t be. “Well, we came from Ecuador, but years ago. The children are españoles.” Ah. The wife knew nothing about the Camino, the husband a little, so I provided some information and left behind a family who were saying that they should consider taking on the Camino when the kids were a little older. But you know what? In the course of my conversation with them, and also a bit further down the road when I had occasion to be speaking in Spanish, I found myself saying things like “oui” and “très bien”! Oh, my! Mon dieu, mon dieu!

Lunch and the meseta

Three or four hours down the road I found myself on the outskirts of my proposed destination for the day. It was 1:30, dreadfully early for me to want to stop. And I felt good. I was walking with Yolanda and Ruth, aunt and niece from Madrid. They had reservations for Hontanas, another 10 kilometers down the road. Hmmm. The wheels start churning… Hmmm. I could do that. It would be about 20 kilometers, longer than I’ve ever walked, but… I could do that. And I’d have my inaugural view of the “meseta.” Ruth offered to dial the albergue where she and her aunt were staying and make a reservation for me. Said and done.

I saw the Spanish gals ducking into a tiny store and, though at first I passed it by, upon recalling that I had missed the breakfast hour by passing up opportunities, I decided I shouldn’t do the same for lunch. Did an about face. For under $4 I walked out with a nice chunk of peasant bread, five slices of some kind of cold cuts, a wedge of hard goat cheese, an orange, a tomato, and a yogurt (can I still count the yogurt even though at some point it fell out of my backpack? I hope there is another pilgrim somewhere writing home about “how the Camino provides”!)

Ah! The “meseta.” Loved my intro to it as I climbed up to the “dry” high plain (so just why were there puddles on the trail?) Definitely lends itself to introspection and contemplation and many stops to just turn around and take in the full view, all 360. And to watch the waving grass, listen to the strong wind as it passes through. A tail wind! the best kind, no? Wondering: is this planted? Not a farm house in sight. Not a piece of farm equipment in sight. No flocks of sheep, no grazing cattle. On and on and on. I kept thinking I should take a photo of a tree since it might be the last one for 150 miles. Barren and lonely, but yet not that at all. Distant vistas… maybe 30 miles away? More? I took a lot of videos and some photos. The former, I’m afraid, will never load on the kind of Wifi I’m encountering; the latter, maybe you’ll see if I can ever find the kind of time I need to send them on their way. Or: come do this part of the Camino yourself. Not flat exactly–according to Fitbit I climbed 128 floors on this stretch–but not as rocky or as challenging as other sections. And at some point, it was time to sit by the side of the road (a gravel one, one car in two hours at the most) and, back to the Camino, meseta spread ahead of me, have a picnic with the crunchy bread, the meat, and the cheese. Lovely! Delicious!

More special sights or thoughts on this full, long day

  • Ever seen a St. Bernard drink out of a small town’s fountain? So happy to have caught him with my camera. Gotta get the day’s photos uploaded!
  • Have I told you that on one of my stops along the meseta I took off shoes and socks to relube my feet, and, refreshed and reenergized, got up motivated to “lift up” in prayer each and everyone of you I could think of, and “all the rest whom I’m forgetting at the moment, Lord.”
  • Did I mention it was gloriously sunny? All day long? That when I arrived at my albergue in Hontanas that sun warmed the large stones of the hostel, its patios, the streets of the town? And that being the case, that the pilgrims were out at the cafes instead of hiding out in their dorm rooms?
  • Spent some reflecting on this statement I’ve read/heard about the Camino: “the Camino might not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need.”
  • Thinking about how WE are put here to be each other’s “miracles,” how we are the only hands and heart and voice and love that God can show in the world. Instruments. Big responsibility! To be God’s presence in the world.

Home for the night

It was a long haul to Hontanas towards the end. I’ve been used to seeing villages from quite a distance and being certain that I was heading towards them. In the case of Hontanas, no clues as to its whereabouts. No visible church towers calling out to me. Just the vast expanse of plain. Finally, ahead, I saw a huge hill looming in the distance, a reddish gravel road cutting through the middle of it. Oh, no! Yet another distance to cover before the town? And then, a few more steps, I crested the smaller hill I’d been heading up and saw, just down at the bottom of the hill, quite close to me: Hontanas at last! I could celebrate the longest walk (to date) of my life, at just under 20 miles.

I’m a big one for exploring a town before I settle in to the chores of clothes washing, showering, checking out dinner options, catching up on electronics. A fan of it, but it’s not often the way I proceed. But this day, yes! My albergue was at the entrance of the town. I located my bunk, spread out my sleeping bag liner and night clothes, and headed out to “see the town.”

You do understand, don’t you, that the towns, the pueblos we are passing through, are very tiny? They pretty much exist because of the pilgrims. In my guidebook, Hontanas is listed as having a population of 70! I’d wager that most of the 70 are at the service of the one-night visits of the pilgrims. It was a joy to run into Kelly from California and a couple from Germany; I would have imagined them several days ahead of us, but… for one reason or another, many pilgrims get delayed along the way, with injuries or just the occasional day off for R & R. My walk through town took me past a restaurant whose evening menu was very inviting. I entered to see if the meal was only available to those spending the night in the establishment and learned that it was open to all. I was given a 7:15 arrival time at a table, I later learned, that I would share with 7 or 8 folks from California who are doing the Camino on a bigger budget than my own.

As I continued along the central street of the town, lined with outdoor tables and chairs and loud chatter from Camino walkers who were thrilled with that still-bright sun, the church bells began to peal as the natives gathered. I learned that there was a 6:00 pm Easter Vigil service, not really suiting me with my 7:15 dinner reservation and my still-dirty body. I talked to some of the locals as they were entering the church and asked if there was a service in the morning (“no”) or if they knew if I would find a late morning or early service in Castrojeriz, the town I would reach the next day. I was informed that there was a 1:00 pm mass there in the Iglesia de San Juan. Perfect! I had only 10 kilometers to walk in the morning. Piece of cake!

Back to my albergue to wash and hang up some clothes, shower, and head back up the main street to dinner. If you must know: a salad with greens, beets, strawberry, and warm grilled goat cheese for first course; vegetable curry for the second; strawberry and apple cobbler topped with chocolate for desert. 10 euros. Most of the Californians were either 1) beat from the day’s walk or 2) intent on catching up on emails. Nelson, though–or was it Henrick, Henry…. or….?–apparently has a reputation for never shutting up. He did nothing to make me feel otherwise and… by 9:15 I was more than ready to return to the albergue, collect my clothes from the outdoor line up beyond the parking lot where half an hour earlier it had caught the last rays of the sun, and make my way to room 10. I found my five bunk mates already in bed, three apparently asleep and two just about ready to turn their lights off. All of which explains why I didn’t write this post last night but rather put the lights out and settled down into my silk sleeping bag liner, my winter coat spread atop me as a blanket, and waited for sleep to come. (Don’t let me get too much of your sympathy: it was a pretty comfortable temperature in the room.)

Thus ended a typical night of a typical pilgrim. If different from other nights, it was because… at the break of dawn we could proclaim: “Resucitó.” “He is risen.”

I’ll hope to be updating photos soon on Instagram/Facebook (Katy’s Camino). It just seems to be problematic to get them on this blog with what is often a weak internet signal…..

Laying low in Burgos

Laying low in Burgos

April 18-19: “bumming around Burgos”

Do I admit it? I did not go into the famed cathedral (though I did plenty of admiring from the outside). I did not take in even one museum. Didn’t get in on “the scene” (I saw revelers enjoying wine as early as 9:00, but the half liter of sangría–one glass–I shared with Ginny was “it” for the boozing), I had at least five meals in the same bar…. Nevertheless, I left town with very positive memories of the “miracles” that fell upon us from the moment we arrived in the outskirts of this historic, more-than-thriving city (all shared in a previous post) and a good handful of memories to take with me upon my departure. Among the latter, and in no specific order, I’ll relate a few details covering my stopover in Burgos.

Relaxing with the locals

At one point I dared say to one of the friendly and accommodating waiters in the bar: “Your food is excellent, but we’ve eaten here several times now. Would you mind sending us in the direction of other nearby eateries?” This must have been Thursday, late afternoon of the 18th, the first of the two-day official Easter-related holidays. We emerged from our Airbnb after an afternoon consisting of: washing clothes; writing that long blog about the angelitos that you may have waded through; icing and stretching (that would be Ginny); and having a lovely chat with Lisa from New Zealand, who had spent the night with us so she could sleep in. (Aside: we encounter people doing such amazing things! Lisa, a 61-year-old teacher from New Zealand, left home just before Christmas… for a year of travel! A year! Before meeting up with us she had, among other adventures, traveled with a nomadic tribe in the desert for several days. Her daughter will join her soon to accompany her for maybe three weeks on the Camino; her husband will join her later in the summer in Rome for a few weeks. After her adventures, she plans to return to teaching in New Zealand for another five years. Won’t she have had some amazing experiences under her belt by that time?) Again, I digress. Let’s go back to the friendly waiter and his happily given instructions so that we could eat at some of his competitors’ establishments. His “down, then two rights, then a left” led us to the Plaza Mayor, the central plaza of the old part of the city, just four or five blocks away. The memorable?

The memorable was being with the locals as they relaxed and enjoyed the holiday. And being able to give Ginny a taste of what the pre-dinner hours (anything before 10:00 pm) are like in Spain. And, of course, to relive that myself. We were not in the heart of “pilgrim country” with all the “where/when did you start,” “how far are you going,” “how’s your heal/ankle/knee/hip,” “first Camino?” Etc. No, we were with the natives or those who had returned to their city of origin for the holidays. Festive, animated, but “typical,” as well. This is how they do it: stroll and chat, chat and stroll. A bite here, a nibble there. And more chatting! Nicely dressed and neatly coifed “gal pals” (in their 50s, 60s), families, the little ones so excited when the abuela arrived to join them at the restaurant.

So yes, we did find a restaurant. A so-called “cafetería” that was nothing of the sort but at which Ginny delighted in finding a hamburger topped with goat cheese (which I think sounded better than it actually was…) and I had… enough chicken breast to place some in a plastic baggie for another day. The best part, though, was not the meal but the people-watching. Several young children near us were so adorable as they played hide-and-seek and just oozed pure, unadulterated joy! (I’m wondering: can “adults” experience “unadulterated joy” as well? Surely! Whenever we bring out our inner child, right?)

Needing just a little something sweet to finish off the meal, we returned to a pastelería on the square where, between glances at the very chatty clientele–(Ginny: “Katy, do these people ever quiet down? Do they ever go home? And they still haven’t had their dinner? This is really different!”)–we availed ourselves of the WiFi and were a real anomaly as we sat there quietly trying to connect with loved ones and get some photos uploaded. “What strange people,” the locals must have thought. “They barely talk or even look at one another. So intense! Clearly, not from our country!”

We may not have overstayed our welcome at the cafe when we eventually left (9:30 perhaps?) to return to our Airbnb, but Ginny’s knees were none the better for her having sat upright for so long. We left the locals behind with their strolling and chatting. We “small town girls” had had our fill. How many Holy Thursday processions had we missed with all our sitting? Several, no doubt. But clearly we were not the only ones “playing hooky” and missing out on the strictly religious overtones of the día festivo!

Planning ahead

We did, after all, need to come up with a plan. Friday morning, April 19. We need to vacate the apartment before noon. Wow, had it been a treat! Even without wifi. To have control of the thermostat was worth the price; we could be as warm as we wanted to be. Ditto with regard to control of the lights; on when we wanted them on, off when it suited us. A room for each of us! No snoring in the background! Bet this isn’t our last taste of luxury. Time will tell.

Between rising time and 3:30 pm, we came up with a plan. We moved just down the street to the municipal albergue, an amazing 6-story affair run with a precision reminiscent of the military. Because of the predicted (and actual) rain, because the city is a “fun place” for youth and Burgos has much to see and do, and because of the Holy Week activities, people were lined up to get registered when the hostel opened at noon. We were in line for a good half hour and, eventually, assigned beds on the 2nd “planta” (which is the third floor). As in all hostels, shoes/boots are left behind in the reception area. I can’t tell you how many times I took them off, then put them back on to go in search of information, then off again to return to Ginny with said information. And so it went for a few hours. But, SUCCESS was in order! We found a bus that would move Ginny ahead two days, located the bus station and learned how one could go about buying a ticket, figured out how to have her bag sent ahead two “stages,” found an albergue that would allow a two-night stay… All this was accomplished with help from our human angelitos who answered questions, looked up info on the internet, explained bus systems, and the like. (We are all, are we not, meant to be angelitos for one another? Isn’t that what it is all about, that “brother’s/sister’s keeper” business?) It felt good to have a plan in place. If not the dreamed-of Camino, the necessary-for-the-time-being one. (I have heard it said that “the Camino doesn’t necessarily give you what you want, but it gives you what you need”… even if you didn’t know you needed it….)

Burgos my way: the 4-hour version

And so I’m off to “see the city.” It was my intention, truly, to head to the cathedral, the exterior of which I had been admiring for days now. It really was. And I did walk the two, three short blocks to it. And around it. My eyes, however, caught sight of the arrow pointing up to “el castillo,” the castle. Ah, first that, first the castle!

Up some stairs. Up a winding street. Up and up. And then, to the side of the winding road I spied a narrow dirt pathway into the woods. You’d better believe it: I was soon making my way on that path, my heart oohing and ahing as I left all hustle and bustle behind. As they say, “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” I know, I know, I was born in bred in Chicago, but I have always been and will always be a “country gal” in my heart.

The trek up to the castle reminded me so much of the isolated, private, lovely hike I did in Prague in October 2017 when I couldn’t figure out how to buy tickets for the tram from the machines at the bottom of the hill. Everyone around me seemed to be a tourist and none eager to speak English or to explain the machines and token use, etc. So… turns out my most memorable Prague experience was that walk up the hill in total seclusion, getting views of the gorgeous city as it was left behind down by the river as I climbed. The climb in Burgos from cathedral level was not as extreme, but it was delightful. It felt so liberating to be back on a trail, to be in the trees, to be heading towards a view from above and a castle about which I knew nothing but which surely had figured prominently in days of old.

Old, indeed! When I reached the top there were–as was the case in Prague–people aplenty taking in the view over the city and the displays about the castle. Originally built in the year 884 if I’m remembering correctly. Protection against the “moors,” the “infidels” who had invaded the territory we now know as Spain back in the year 711. That original castle was built, then rebuilt often over the centuries, its present incarnation being a restoration of our current century with some excellent maps, displays, and explanations (most of which I didn’t try to absorb; it was enough to try to imagine the atmosphere.) I took photos of the well that was constructed to give water to the villagers living near/within the castle. An amazing work of engineering. I could look at my photos and quote how many meters down this well went to access the river below, but I’ll spare you the details and myself the interruption to this narrative. Enough for now to just marvel at the skills with which certain ones of us have been endowed, to the great benefit of the rest of us!

Next for me was to retrace my steps and also discover some new paths down the hill. On descending, I passed for the second time a good-sized park–still closed for the season–which appeared to be a “challenge” park or a “team-building” park. You know, obstacle courses, wooden structures to climb, ropes, bridges, etc. I thought of how much Maura would have enjoyed this in the past… and how she might relish it today as well. Wish it had been open so I might have watched people trying to relearn what our ancestors could do as if by second nature.

Having been up to the top, I decided it was time to go to the bottom, to a level down below the cathedral. To the river, of course. I was still lamenting that we did not enter Burgos by way of the river route, so I was determined to walk along it for a bit. What is better than a stroll along a river?  This river walk was bustling with cyclists, dog-walkers, and nature lovers. Time being the premium it always is, my walk along it was too short and I was soon crossing it. For one thing, I wanted to scout out the location of the bus station so I could give Ginny some confidence for her walk there the next day). I had the opportunity to query some natives to make sure I was “getting warmer,” heading in the right direction. In the process I passed a church whose door was open, took a quick tour of it, and noticed that there was a Good Friday service at 18:00 (6:00 pm). It was about 5:15 at that point. I had time to spare.

In the interim: time to find the bus station, chat with a lovely girl from Madrid, a pilgrim–I had guessed that as her pack was at her side–who kindly explained about buying tickets on the bus if no one was available at the ticket counter the next day. I love these interactions with natives, all of whom I have found very accepting of my imperfect Spanish. (Happy to say that it has been a joy to speak it and to see that it wasn’t as far back in the inner recesses of my brain as I had feared.)

Still time. I dashed back across a different bridge to the cathedral side of the river, asked a local for the name of the bridge he was photographing, and learned that he wasn’t a local after all, but a Dominican (from the Republic, not the priory) in Spain for research for his PhD. He must have been itching for someone with whom to talk (and talk and talk and talk) as I had to extricate myself with apologies and head back to the church.

Definitely not a pilgrim mass. Well, not a mass at all, as on Good Friday there is never a mass per se. I was definitely among the locals for this traditional service. As it would have been at home–and worldwide–many readings, many prayers, veneration of the cross, communion service. In the middle, a long homily, a very long homily, memorable because… I barely understood a word of it! There was such a tremendous echo in this church and the priest was talking at an I-want-to-win-this-marathon speed. When he finished and the two laymen–the ones whom I could barely understand when they were, earlier, doing the readings–when those same laymen began the prayers of the faithful, I caught just about everything. We prayed for one and all, believe me, whether “one and all” wanted those prayers or not.

Upon exiting, a quick walk back to the Plaza Mayor where I entered the same restaurant where Ginny and I had eaten last night so as to take advantage of the WiFi. Connected with Ginny and learned that she hadn’t had dinner yet either. We arranged to meet back at “our favorite bar” just inches from the albergue. Over the course of several days, I had enjoyed pureed vegetable soup there twice; this night it was cream of mushroom soup to accompany the wedge of tortilla española. I have, I admit it, very simple tastes when it comes to food.

The evening ended with a big challenge when we invited a woman to join us at our table. When one is anywhere near other pilgrims, the table gatherings are ever-changing. A Danish or German or Australian or North American leaves and his/her spot is quickly replaced by someone from Lithuania or Japan or Argentina. Tonight is was a French woman. For all practical purposes, Nadine did not speak English. Two years ago, after we’d spent a month in the Province of Quebec, I might have done quite well with her. Oh, but that was then, after months of review. And for the last three weeks I’ve been concentrating on Spanish. It was a strain at the end of this long day to try to communicate in French. When Nadine suggested we walk together in the morning as we headed out of Burgos, I admit that I sort of cringed. It is hard enough for me to understand her when we are looking at one another (the background noise of other pilgrims doesn’t help…), but it would be even more of a struggle to try to carry on a conversation while looking forward as we walked. Still, I told her: Bonne idée. Une plaisir (several errors in those phrases no doubt; very humbling to know that I am speaking some absolutely horrible French!). She was planning to leave about 8:00 am, the deadline for leaving the municipal.

Ginny missed a good bit of that conversation as she had returned to our new home for more icing and stretching. I was happy to join her and fall into bed. Four of us had one of many “cubbies,” but the partial walls were enough to keep it relatively quiet and I soon fell into a good sleep. No blankets for us here, but the radiators were going. I was fine inside my silk sleeping bag liner with my winter jacket kind of draped over any part that got chilled. Not a problem. (I am so glad I brought that jacket. I wear it most mornings and most evenings. Haven’t cursed it yet. Nor the purple mittens made by friend Sue from some fleece remnants covered by scraps from Ken’s old rain jacket. They are on my hands every morning. Cap AND headband on my head. On the few days in which we’ve had sun, the sun hat comes out later in the day, but generally on top of my fleece cap. Spring is late in coming, temperature-wise. Rain and temps in the upper 40s are forecast for next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays. No question about it: I’m happy to have brought some warm enough clothing. I don’t even need to look down at my sleeves to know that I am still wearing the heavy Smartwool top that has been on my body every day since April 2!)

I am finishing this post on Easter Sunday morning, April 21. HAPPY EASTER TO ALL! Will hope to give the April 20 update later today. Right now, as I conclude this post, I hope that even those of you who plan on a sunrise service are still fast asleep.