Camino Frances 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante

Camino 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante – September 12th
One last long day..and walking by myself again.

I had a good sleep in Hostal Madriguera. It’s somewhere I recommend if you want a good rest, and I did. The owner, Alba, who has walked the Camino, is very helpful and the hostel is situated pretty close to the main square. Give it a look-up. However, that said, I should have stopped by the albergue. The previous day would be the last time I would see the majority of those I had met. I would walk alone the next day. But that’s not a bad thing sometimes. I know most of whom I had met were aiming for Hospital de Orbigo, a 30+km day. If I could manage it, well and good – I would see my pilgrim buddies again. If not, so be it. There were plenty of pilgrims on the trail…even in mid-September.

DaySeven

DaySeven2

In 2015, I stayed in Albergue Santa Lucia in Villavante and fell in love with it. The hospitality, the owner going out of her way for you, but I need to mention Coco the parrot! She would put a smile on your face if she squawked while you washed your dirty clothes. I remember not being allowed to take photos so that was a little disappointing. So..I would aim for Orbigo but if all else fails, Villavante was there to welcome me. This means taking the less travelled alternative route on leaving León. You have two options: walk along the road passing through small towns en route to Orbigo, or walk on a meseta-type trail through two towns. This was my meseta-Camino, so I’d do what I could to draw it out. Not many walk the alternative route, but I encourage it. It’s quiet, there is a town to stop after 21km – Vilar de Mazarife with it’s 3 albergues and if you feel up to it, there is Villavante after 30km. I felt up to it today. Being alone, I wanted to record some video, and I did (below)

I left León after 5.30am. The darkness engulfed the city, just the way I like it. I stood in front of the cathedral saying my goodbyes knowing that it would be some time before I saw it again. I walked on..alone. It was cold this morning and predictions of rain abounded, but it was dry for the time being. I felt good but thoughts of an ending Camino weren’t too far away. It would be 2 further days before I arrived in Astorga, only hop-skip and jump down the road. I was going to stretch these two final days out – records will be broken. But first, one last long day.

There is nothing interesting to see as you leave León however you climb for a bit and reach a number of bodegas at Trobajo del Camino. Make sure you turn back here and watch the sun rise over the city behind you. I said my goodbyes and moved on into the new morning. The locals were waking up and going to work, I wished each a Buenos Días as I passed. There was no music today, just me and my thoughts. Thinking – it can be bad, but it can be good. Too much of it is a bad thing – I’d argue against that if you are on the Camino. Promises can be made and there were a few promises I made to myself since I left Burgos. I won’t go into them now. I reached Virgen del Camino and stopped for a breakfast coffee and tostado – a regular occurrence at this stage. The cafe was just opening and I chatted in broken Spanish to the owner. A few metres down the main road is the church – Santuario De La Virgen Del Camino. I spent a few minutes here to enjoy its design before I crossed the road and found the start of the alternative route.

It was still dark by 7am. My phone’s torch was brought to the rescue as I worked out where was where. Once I saw an arrow I was where I needed to be. I made my way across a main road and I was on meseta-like trail again. Perfect walking ground. I seemed to pass Chozas de Abajo and Oncina in no time. I arrived at Vilar de Mazarife at 9.30am. There was nothing open, as I expected. I didn’t seem to mind. I took off my pack and found a seat to lie back on. Fruit, a yoghurt and a drink – heaven! Simple pleasures. I had two choices – stay here for an hour or so until the albergue opened or walk 8km to Villavante. The answer was plain to me. Villavante it was.

The 8km walk was slow but not arduous. There was a deliberate lack of pace. I mean, I could aim for Orbigo, but what’s the point? It would make my next two days even more difficult 🙂 I kept looking behind me for pilgrims, but I didn’t see one. This is a great alternative to the busy road after Virgen del Camino. I enjoyed it. Many wouldn’t. I arrived at Villavante at 11am. I took a bottom bunk beside the window and waited for company. It wasn’t long before I was joined by Ian, from New Zealand. He was closely followed by two girls from the US and South Africa. We had dinner at 7pm and a drink after. The parrot got the last laugh however as my request for a photograph was again denied. Hmmph!

I had no idea what I would do the following day. Orbigo maybe? 5km? Records will again be broken.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja

Camino 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja – September 10th
A long straight walk, another goodbye and a meeting of new friends…

Another day on the meseta, although we were nearing the end. Many of our fellow pilgrims were talking of walking a big walk today to reach Leon. Many whom I had met had walked longer days previously. From then on in, the terrain gets a little more varied. For me however, I was coming to the end of my Camino for this year and wanted to make the most of my time until I reached Astorga, my end point.

DayFive2

DaySix

It was an early morning and before leaving the albergue in El Burgo Ranero, June had made some lunch to keep us going for the day ahead. You genuinely meet good people on the Camino. June was one of them. To start the day, we had a 12 km walk to the next town, Reliegos, but we were in good spirits and we talked about what we would do on reaching Leon. That said, I didn’t think I would make it that far but chose to keep that to myself. 39km is a little too much for one day and I was in no rush. June on the other hand was eager to reach Santiago in 10 days. We were different in some ways. The walk out of El Burgo is long and straight and there is no much to inspire you. We chose to walk on the road rather than on the uneven senda, however the odd car would pass at speed. We were careful however deciding to use our torches on our phones to make the drivers aware of our existence. Within 2 and a half hours we had reached Reliegos, a small town close to Leon. I had stayed here in 2015 but there is not much to write home about, however Bar Elvis is still here. It was closed as we passed, choosing to stop for a few moments to take a photo. I told June about his quirkiness and his liking of Elvis music. A quirky man for a quirky town. A lot of pilgrims tend to walk on by here and aim for the much larger Mansilla de las Mulas. And we did too.

It was getting brighter and I felt good. The sun had made its daily appearance and I felt it on my head, having lost my cap a few days ago. I also lost my buff the previous day. I still had my wooden pole however, but I had lost the metal tip at the base of the pole. I grew to like its company over the days, no matter how battered it was. It is the small things that give you joy on the Camino. Another 6 km to Mansilla de las Mulas and you could sense that you were leaving the meseta…a motorway, more junctions, cars, industrial estates, it was busier. We stopped off at the first albergue in Mansilla for some breakfast..”El Jardin”. June wanted to buy me cafe. We had our sandwiches that she had made and just took in the morning. Mansilla was quiet. The albergue were opening up and we were met by many cyclists taking a pitstop.

The statue of the weary pilgrims is across the street before you enter the town of Mansilla. It is well known to those who have walked the Camino and depicts three tired pilgrims having clearly walked more than they can manage. We rested for a while and took a few photos. Walking through a lane brings you into the town. It is large and there were many locals wearing t shirts with the town’s name across it. There were also streamers hanging from buildings as if there was a fiesta due. I later learned that that evening there was a fiesta that continued to the early hours of the next day! Leaving the town, you can see signs of Mansilla’s Roman history. It was a walled town and the majority of the wall is still there. Keep an eye out for it as you pass through.

I told June that I wouldn’t be able to walk to Leon and would stay in either of the next two towns – Villarente or Arcahueja. Both are tiny, blink-and-you-will-miss-them, towns. June was determined to reach Leon and I knew she would make it, she is such a strong walker. My memory didn’t serve me well as I knew little about these two towns, but from my 2015 Camino, I passed an albergue in Arcahueja, a tiny town 8 kms from Leon. I decided to aim for here. I had no idea now good / bad / indifferent it was – I didn’t care. But we had another 5 kms to go before arriving there. Villarente was busy. I told June of the unfortunate death on the main road and the decision to re-route the Camino around the town as a result. The Camino enters a wood for a km or so before you are brought back on the main road. We stopped at Albergue Delfin for a cold drink and a rest before veering off the main road and aiming for Arcahueja. I arrived at Albergue La Torre at 1pm. I had walked 30km and I needed to rest. The sun had made it a harder day than usual.

It would be the last day that I walked with June. I chose not to say goodbye to her as she would be taking a rest day in Leon. We promised to meet up the following day and I wished her well for her remaining 8 km. Albergue La Torre didn’t look eye-catching and usually I would walk by a town like this. Arriving outside, the owners were busy serving lunch and said the rooms are being cleaned. I had no problem waiting. I had another drink and at 2pm, I was invited in. It’s a smashing little albergue and I was pleasantly surprised and how I was treated. Dinner was at 7pm so I had some lunch and before long I was greeted by Aga from Poland and the 2 Australian women. I had company. I also met Robert from Germany and Rosa from Mexico. Robert was suffering in a bad way with tendonitis and wasn’t walking a great deal each day. Slow and steady wins the race however. We all had a few drinks outside in the terrace sharing stories under the sun and waited for dinner.

It was a great night and we looked forward to the 8km walk into Leon the following morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 5 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero

Camino 2017 – Day 4 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero – September 9th
A song at the start of the day, a donativo and a last supper…

Another early start. I was used to it at this stage and gathered my pack and left through the back door. The albergue was still sleeping as I left. I was hoping that I would meet my friend June again but she was 2 towns ahead, so the hope was small. It was dark but the sky was lit by the large moon still hanging in the sky. I enjoyed my stay in Terradillos and met some new pilgrims, some of which I would meet again.

DayFive1

DayFive2

On leaving the albergue, the Camino takes you along the main road until you reach the town of Terradillos. The town was quiet and as it was also dark, I struggled to find any arrow or sign to lead me in the right direction. I use the Wise Pilgrim app and I am on my way soon after. The 2nd albergue in Terradillos, St Jacque de Molay, which is based in the town itself, is quiet. I have another 2 or so kms until I arrive at Moratinos, a small town, however it holds 2 large albergues. I’m walking along back roads now, my phone’s torch guiding me. I reach Moratinos and see some familiar pilgrims who had stayed the night in the main albergue here. They were lost and were looking for a way out of the town. My phone app came to the rescue and before long we were walking out of the town, their walking poles breaking the silence. One pilgrim was Irish and I laughed on hearing his words of greeting…”oh not this Dublin lad again!”. People from rural Ireland have a thing with us from Dublin!. It was all a private joke however, and we marched on together, Santiago-bound.

I felt good this morning. My feet were in good stead and I was eager to meet new pilgrims. If I met June, it would be a bonus! I had no particular town in mind to set up base however I had good memories of Bercianos del Real Camino. It was home to a donativo Parochial albergue and my time there in 2013 was special. However, I wouldn’t rule out walking an extra 5kms to the next town, El Burgo Ranero. I decided to say goodbye to my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends, preferring to walk unafraid into the dark.

I have another 8 km before Sahagun, a large town along the Camino. The evening before, there was much discussion between fellow pilgrims that Sahagun marked the halfway point to Santiago. There is a monument erected at the Ermita de Virgen del Puente just before Sahagun that states this. But many pilgrims have pointed out that they had passed the halfway point before arriving at Terradillos. However over dinner the evening before, I noted out that the monument marks the halfway point from the French border and not from St. Jean Pied de Port. I was glad to clear this argument up!

I hadn’t listened to music in quite a while since I arrived. I felt no need to. I had company, or I needed to concentrate on my footing without getting lost. This morning felt like a good time to turn on some music. One song that I kept playing was “Scare away the dark” by Passenger. The lyrics below seem to hit home and made me replay the song once finished. I felt unbreakable on hearing those words. There are times when, sitting in front of a screen in an office, you just want to pick up your coat and walk out. There is so much more to achieve in life and I have so much more to give. I kept asking myself the question “what’s holding me back??”. Fear, possibly.

We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I’m saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

The sun rose as I entered Sahagun and I met an American lady called Denise. She was leaving a cafe and was lost. I had also taken a wrong turn and was temporarily lost, but on seeing a yellow arrow, we both found our way. Onwards! I turned another corner only to see June. I was delighted and marched on westward out of Sahagun. We had another 10km to Bercianos del Real Camino, I felt good and the day was young. It was close to 8am at this point and I had walked 12km already. I topped up my water bottle before moving on. June had stayed in San Nicolás del Real Camino the evening before. She mentioned that the 2 large albergues in Moratinos were completo when she passed them however Albergue Laganares was less than half full. This morning, she had walked around 8km. I had a feeling she would walk further than me so I was preparing for her departure at some stage.

The walk from Sahagun to Bercianos del Real Camino is on a senda along a main road. You have, of course, the option to walk the Roman road via Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and join the Camino Frances in Mansilla de las Mulas. I had decided to avoid this however I was still confused by the sign posting advising pilgrims of which was the right way to Bercianos. After much thinking and reminiscing, I chose the correct road and we were back on track. We met an English pilgrim at various stages and said Buen Camino to him more than once. We would see him further on again. We also saw two German girls who had wanted to walk the Roman road but had missed the turn-off. Slightly disappointed, they made do with the 2nd option and kept walking.

I asked June had she seen some pilgrims that I had met previously. A number had stayed in the 2nd albergue in Terradillos. A few others had stayed in Moratinos and others had ventured as far as Sahagun. The chain was getting longer and longer but somehow we were keeping in touch. I was keeping in touch with Patti after meeting her first in Carrion de los Condes and I was meeting my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends the odd time. I had seen Carol and her friend from Australia a number of times and Aga from Poland. We all had our own ways of walking but we managed to see each other or receive news of how we all are from other pilgrims. June was planning ahead and had a date in mind when she would reach Santiago. I thought “wow!”. I reminded her to enjoy each moment and not walk too fast because she will pick up an injury or whatever!

The 10kms seem to go by in no time. During the few hours, we started talking about American healthcare and politics, something I try to avoid while on Camino. Anything but politics!! I changed the subject quickly and talked about the hills of León and O Cebreiro. Most of the pilgrims I had talked to were getting bored of the monotony of the meseta and were crying out for an ascent….something more varied I guess. They wouldn’t have long to wait as León approached within 2-3 days.

Bercianos was approaching. Not too long beforehand, we passed the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales, a church no longer in use. Bercianos greeted us with a new cafe “Bercianos 1900”. We decided to stop here for a drink and a rest. My feet were starting to play up on me again and I took some Ibuprofen to ease the pain. I met our old English pilgrim friend again. I asked him how he was getting on today and where he intends to stay when he is finished walking. He was thinking about staying in Hostal Rivero, another relatively new albergue in Bercianos, however he may walk the extra 7km to El Burgo Ranero. He mentioned..”when you walk from Paris, where you end each day is a trivial matter!”…From Paris?!…I asked him how far does he typically walk each day. “10-15km each day”. Wow…so why so little?? “Well when I finish I need to start painting the house when I return home to London. Well he does have a point!

We said goodbye to John, the UK pilgrim and moved on. We had 7km of straight road ahead of us, with blue skies and a gentle wind. It was 10.30am and we had plenty of time. For most of the remainder of the morning, there were no other pilgrims in sight. Cyclists passed us by shouting Buen Camino and we returned the compliment. There were periods of silence also when myself and June just walked. June, by far the faster, led the way and I followed. It wasn’t long before we reached El Burgo Ranero, a small hamlet with a number of albergues and pensions. It is chosen as an end stage in Brierley’s book, however, it has a well respected donativo, “Domenico Laffi”. It opens at midday and already there were people lined up outside. I walked through the town to see if there were other albergues opened, however, all 3 others had a midday opening. I saw a group of Irish walkers with tiny bags leave a cafe after a pitstop. It seemed that they were from the west of Ireland. I asked them how they were getting on? One said “All good, we are walking the Camino a different way”. He went to great lengths to note the differences in how I and their group walk their Camino. Not to worry. We are all pilgrims. I venture back to the albergue, noting where the shop was. The hospitalero had opened up for us before midday.

I showered, washed my clothes before June and myself decided to go to the shop to buy some food for lunch. In a gesture of real kindness, June told me to come back in 45 minutes and she will have lunch ready. So I went off for a snooze and left her to her own devices. From what we had bought, I was expecting a meal fit for royalty. We had wine too. It was something special also and I was full for the day. All I could do afterwards was wash up! Later on, I met the UK pilgrim – he was staying in another albergue in the same village. I also met Adam from the UK, my fellow Irish friend with his friends who were in the same albergue. Today I had walked 30km. I had 88 km left to walk in 5 days. The next 5 days were going to be slow and short. June wanted to walk to Leon the next day (38km) and asked if I would join her. I said I would start the day with her but I wouldn’t walk to Leon. This evening was a special one. We finished the bottle of wine with other pilgrims.

Tonight would be the start of the goodbyes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 4 – Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios

Camino 2017 – Day 4 – Carrión de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios – September 8th
A long road at morning and a goodbye

5am…my silent alarm wakes me. Automatically, I wake June who is sleeping in the bunk beside me. We gather our things and quietly make our way to the kitchen for some breakfast. Officially, the albergue was not due to open until 7am but we noticed their was a back door open so we were in luck. June and myself were joined by the Brazilian contingent who were feasting on a healthy breakfast. I finished off my last yoghurt and started to pack what food I had in the top of my pack.

Today’s walk was a major talking point among pilgrims for days. It was no secret that this stage is one of the toughest. There are no steep climbs or large descents. There are no off-putting cities that we need to pass through. Quite the opposite actually, as the next town is 17kms away – Calzadilla de la Cueza. Now, we walk the flat Vía Aquitania without stop. Both myself and June were eager to get going however and we left the albergue just after 5.30am. We were expecting the same heat as the last few days so we prepared. I had plenty of water and some fruit to tide me over until the first town.

DayFour.jpg

It was dark and, save for a few street lights in Carrion, there was no light. We struggled to find the way but once we saw the San Zoilo Hotel and the Rio Carrion, we knew were going the right way. I was delighted to be joined by June. Any company makes the journey easier, but it was different with June. She was talkative and really interested in what was ahead of her. As I had walked to Santiago, I was glad to answer any questions she had. She had a great pace also which matched mine, despite the pains in my feet. The morning was quiet, we saw a few other pilgrims as we left the town. We wished them a Buen Camino as we passed them by. There was an eerie fog that had fallen over Carrion and we knew that it would be that way until the sun rose. That was to be the case. We literally saw nothing. It was dark and insanely foggy. It was the perfect time to be walking with someone else. The mist was dripping from the trees from each side of the trail. I considered putting on my jacket at one stage. It wasn’t cold either.

The Vía Aquitania is one long stretch and it was impossible to stray from it. We constantly joked with each other saying that the next visible object was a building in Calzadilla, only to be a haystack. I enjoyed the morning and by the time we reached the first time, I had felt that I knew June. It was 9.30 as we saw the municipal albergue and we cheered like it was Santiago itself. The last few pilgrims leaving this albergue questioned if we had got a taxi from Carrion! It was some achievement but it had consequences. My 5th toe on my left foot had been hurting for some time and I thought it was time to slow down. I had been taking ibuprofen for a few days also. I enjoyed walking with new people but needed to constantly remind myself that they had been walking for 2 weeks prior to meeting myself. They had their own limits – some greater than mine. I had met folks who frequently walked 40km days, while there were others walking 15km per day. There are no rules and we can walk according to our strengths. However, when you meet people whose company you enjoy, you try and stay with them no matter how you feel.

I enjoyed my cafe con leche and tostado and did some stretches before throwing my pack back on. We were ready but I had a feeling that I would be saying “see you on the trail” to June soon. As predicted, the sun had washed away the fog to reveal the way in it’s glory. We left Calzadilla de la Cueza close to 10am and walked alongside the N-120 – a quieter version of the road I had walked beside the day before. Sometimes, we walked on the road, while other times we preferred the senda to it’s side. Either way, June wasn’t far ahead of me. We kept passing large arrows made of individual stones and wondered how long it took to make these. There was one impressive one of an arrow leading to a heart, closer to Ledigos.

I had decided on staying in either Ledigos or Terradillos, the evening before. The next town beyond Terradillos was Moratinos, which would have made it a 30km day. I began thinking that I really needed to slow down as I didn’t want to walk further than Astorga. I had plenty of days left, but the more big days I had, the more I would have to consider having rest days!! Ledigos is next to nothing, size wise. June commented that it smelled like a farm…which is probably correct. Good luck in Galicia, I said to her! I decided to move on as neither albergue was open and Terradillos held good memories for me. Leaving Ledigos, you can actually see Terradillos. It is that close. It is pretty confusing leaving this small town also, as there are two ways to get to Terradillos. We chose the road as I didn’t want to get lost (again!) by walking on the trail through the fields.

After 2km, I saw Albergue los Templarios and decided to stay here. It was 12am and the sun was at it’s highest. June had more energy left and wanted to walk on. The time had come to say goodbye…although I never say goodbye on the Camino. “I’ll see you on the trail”, I said while giving her a hug. She walked to San Nicolás de Real Camino that afternoon. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

Not surprisingly, I was the first to grab a bunk here, although most of the beds had been reserved in advance. The Camino is changing. I had stayed here in 2013 and remember the fun times I had with a great Camino family I met then. The place hadn’t changed, everything has remained in it’s place. The couple from Perth arrived in shortly later on bikes. They were travelling the meseta on bikes and then taking up walking at Leon. I sat outside on the terrace and watched people check in. Most I didn’t know, while some I knew stopped to say they were walking on to the next town. Within 2 hours, this albergue was completo – and the other albergue in the town of Terradillos was full shortly after.

I got some rest and woke for dinner at 7pm. I had dinner with a large group who had arranged their Camino through a travel agency. They were walking the Camino their way, they said. Sleep came early tonight as I promised to get up early and aim for El Burgo Ranero – a town I have not stayed in. I wonder could I do it. If I could, the remaining 5 days would be short. I suppose that’s something to look forward to. It was to be another hot day the following day – I would be prepared.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas

Camino 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas – September 5th
An early start..and hot!

I asked the owner of Hostal Evolucion the evening before if it was possible to leave early in the morning. She said, in broken English, that there was no problem, but I needed to ring a little bell at the front desk. Hmm…I wonder if this was going to work in practice? Time will tell.

DayOne

DayOne2I had an amazing sleep and woke at 5am. Right on cue. My bag was ready, I had a few snacks for breakfast. All I needed was to find the first arrow. I rang the bell as agreed and at 5.30am, I was on the road with pack on bag and pole in hand. I walked toward the bridge over the River Arlanzon, in search of the first arrow, although I had an idea of the right way. My previous two times in Burgos had been brief but I felt I had seen the city in it’s glory, thanks to Patricia. My head was a little dull due to the vino de ribeiro, but a little walk would shake that off.

The walk out of Burgos is along the river and at this time, it was pitch black. I kept an eye out for the Universidad de Burgos so I knew I was on the right track. On seeing the first arrow, white and not yellow, my heart jumped. Onwards I walked until the road turned and the arrows were no more. A passer by shouted at me “¿Estás buscando el camino?”. I said “Si!!” with positivity and he directed me to a turn off 10 metres behind me. This was the way to Villalbilla de Burgos, and I saw arrows again. I was leaving Burgos and heading for the first village, Tardajos. There was no stopping me. My feet were dancing and I was eager to meet fellow pilgrims – but not at this hour, I laughed to myself!

It was pretty flat, and I was alone so far. The sun was beginning to rise at my back and I stopped for a few moments to take it in. It wouldn’t be the last sun rise I would witness but each one is special. You can immediately feel the heat at your back as the sun creeps over the horizon. “Beautiful”, I thought to myself. I arrived into Tardajos around 7am and had Cafe con leche y tostada con queso, my normal breakfast on the Camino. I bought some fruit to keep me going until at least Hornillos. Tardajos is a smashing town with a great albergue so there is an option if you want to bypass the hustle and bustle of Burgos. It is a further 10km however.

Rabe de Calzadas is a further 2km away and the entrance to the meseta. Another quiet village with a recommended albergue. After this point, you need to have enough water as you are in no-man’s land. It is another 8km to Hornillos del Camino and today the temps were rising. It is in the mid-20s at this stage and only morning. And I needed sun cream!!

Onwards I walked into the meseta and towards Hornillos. I never had much of a love for this town and have always walked toward Hontanas, a further 10km. I had my heart set on Hontanas again but it depended on how hot it got. I arrived at Alto de Meseta, a 150 metre climb and could see the next few hours ahead of me, most notably Hornillos, a barren town, but growing in size. It was two early so I decided to stop for a while and walk on. The last building at the end of town caught my eye. I walked in and asked for an Aquarius. The woman behind the bar asked me where I am from. I naturally say Dublin and she asks which part. She is also from Dublin and in the last few weeks has taken over the running of a Korean restaurant in Hornillos. It’s name is Neson. I could not believe it. Another Dublin man was there chilling out with a ukelele trying to sing “Fix You” by Coldplay. I give it a go but playing a ukelele is different to playing a guitar. I stay here for a half an hour chilling out and talking about our love of the Camino. She was brought here because of love and has a child now. I say my goodbyes and promise to look them up the next time I pass through. As I leave, I’m warned to carry lots of water as the next few hours will be tough going. They are right as temps were in the 30s until I reached Hontanas.

I feel like I made a mistake moving on to the next town. After Hornillos, there is a gradual climb and there is no shade. I stop three times out of breath and consider turning back. Somehow I gather the energy to move on, while brushing the dozens of flies from my face.

I meet two English pilgrims ahead of me – Adam and Robert. They had been chilling out in Hornillos and I had said hi to them then. I walked with both until we reached Hontanas and I am so glad I did. They gave me the energy to reach my destination and proved that conversation is a great distraction. We walked with purpose past the great San Bol Albergue in the middle of nowhere, and then on to Hontanas. Well…we first needed to find Hontanas. It is built in a valley and the first you see of this pilgrim town is the large steeple of it’s church. We wait for it to pop over the hill and boom! we descend into the village.

I decided to check into Albergue El Puntido, while Adam wants to keep walking to the refugio at San Anton 5 km further on. I was one of the first here and got my washing done. The sun would dry my clothes in no time. A community dinner was not until 7pm so I decided to rest until then.

The dinner was super. I ate with Denis and his wife from Florida who had walked from St Jean Pied de Port and were taking it nice and slow. 20kms a day is their maximum. I also met Tara from Salt Lake City who gave me the ultimate compliment and praised my Irish accent. She also gave me a bottle of sunscreen, proving that the Camino does provide. The only shop in this town had after sun which was of no help to me. I slept well here, even though the church bell would chime on the hour every hour throughout the night.

There was music in the form of a small guitar outside the albergue and we stayed out until close to 9pm. I was tired however and wanted another early start the next day. This day, I walked over 30 km..the following day, I hoped to reach Boadilla del Camino and Eduardo’s En El Camino Albergue. We expected sun and we expected to meet new pilgrims. It was going to be a fun day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Camino 2017 – Day 0 – Dublin to Burgos

September 4th 2017 – Day 0
Dublin to Burgos via Madrid

A beautiful day in which I passed through 2 large cities. My flight was to leave at 6.30am. Yawning, I woke at 4am with an eagerness I had not seen since last September. My pack was barely 7kg light and I was out the door after a quick breakfast and my last cup of tea for two weeks.

Dublin Airport Terminal 1 was bustling, even for this time of the morning. Many were still wearing GAA jerseys after the All Ireland Hurling final the evening before. I checked my pack in and headed for the gate, eager to get on the plane and reach Spain. My Camino had begun with gusto.

The flight took off and within 2 and a half hours I had arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport – a sprawling metropolis of 4 terminals compared to Dublin’s 2. I collected my baggage and headed for the feeder bus. This little nipper arrives every 5 minutes and carries passengers from Terminal 1 to 4 within 20 minutes. It’s a joy to ride on, compared to walking. I was in T4 in no time waiting for the Alsa bus for Burgos. Luckily enough, the bus station in T4 is just adjacent to a cafe (and a McDonalds). I had a quick snack while waiting for the bus arriving at 11.15 Spanish time. The sun was shining bright and I was glad to be in the shade while waiting.

The bus arrived on time and a gruff Spanish driver ticked my name off a rugged piece of paper. “Dahveed?”..”Si”, I replied, as he opened the baggage door at the side of the large bus. The bus was full in no time. Burgos was not it’s only stop today, as it would make it’s way for Irun. I sat beside the window hoping that I would sleep but before I knew it, a tall gentleman sat beside me. He was also wearing cargo-pants, instantly identifying himself as a pilgrim.

“Are you on the way the Camino?”, I asked.

“Yes indeed, Burgos”, he replied.

“Excellent!, where have you come from?”…I asked, keen to strike up a conversation with anyone headed to the French Way.

He had come from Salt Lake City, via Newark Airport. His accent gave his origin away to be fair but the question was the ideal icebreaker. Robert, was just retired from the military and was keen to experience at least 10 days from Burgos. We talked for the majority of the trip, mainly about trails in Ireland and in the US. He looked super-fit so I didn’t think the Camino would be a problem for him, however, he was going to take it slow and steady from the start. A wise decision. I had hoped to see Robert again, but this was to be the only time I would see him, and on reaching Burgos, I wished him a Buen Camino. I made the point of saying “I won’t say goodbye, but I’ll see you on the way”.

At 1.30pm, we reached the Estación de Autobuses in Burgos on Calle Miranda, about 5 minutes away from the Catedral de Burgos. I was glad to be here and walked to my hostel that I had booked – Hostal Evolución. At €35, it wasn’t bad for a one bed room, including shower. I had plans for the evening so I decided that 2 hours or so sleep would be wise. A friend of mine told me that he has a friend living in Burgos who would be happy to show me around and have some tapas. Now, I’m not going to say no to tapas! So, sleep, refresh and tapas…sounds like a good plan!

Later on, I met Patricia outside the hostal after 6pm, just when the town was waking up from siesta. We walked over the Río Arlanzón and under the Arco del Cid to reveal Burgos Cathedral standing tall. She looked better than I saw her last in 2015. We walked around it, past the Albergue and on to our first tapas bar. One vino de ribeiro and a tapa, por favor! After 7pm, Burgos turns into a rich tapestry of bars and restaurants. The Plaza Mayor was full of families and kids giving their best shot at being Messi or Ronaldo. It was a joy!

After our 3rd vino de ribeiro, Patricia saw her mother and we decided to take a seat at one of the many bars. I tried another tapa – some bread with an anchovy drenched in oil. Beautiful. Her mother had no English and I had little Spanish and it was funny as Patricia was translating our conversation. It took time!

But time flew and 8pm became 9pm. I wanted to make an early start the next morning so I said my goodbyes. It was a great evening and I promised to say hello to everyone the next time I was in Burgos. While walking back to the hostal, I bought a walking pole to keep me company for the 10 or so days. I arrived at the hostal and got ready for the next morning. I hoped to reach Hontanas, but it was promised to be warm.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

My chat with Dan Mullins on My Camino – the podcast

I recently talked to Dan Mullins, an Australian producer and musician, about my experiences on the Camino and it has been uploaded for all to listen to. I had a blast talking to Dan as he has walked the Camino and is walking again in September. We touched on kit, blisters, the history of Irish pilgrimage and on giving back to the Camino through local Camino societies.

CaminoPodcast

If you have some time, give our chat a listen. By the way, Dan has interviewed a whole host of folks from all over the world equally as enthusiastic about the Camino. Go and listen to some of these podcasts as you are guaranteed to enjoy them. Dan is walking from Lourdes to Santiago in September and I hope to meet him while I walk the meseta. Fingers crossed.