Stage 13, Take 2: Hontanas to Frómista (Linda)

The Romanesque Church of St. Martin's, in Frómista

For the first time on the Camino, we were able to get breakfast when we were ready to, as I was awake at 6 am, the prospect of hot tea early was fabulous. We headed out into the pre-dawn dark as I had my mind firmly planted on the fact that we were to cover 34 kms. today.

The first part of our morning took us through some muddy trails which kept me occupied trying to see my footing as the sky began to lighten. I stopped for a cuppa in Castrojériz at the first bar I came to, I found the bunch of Spanish guys who we were drinking with last night in having breakfast. Nothing out of the ordinary, except, their breakfast staple is red wine, beer, and cigars! Makes me look like a paragon, I find it amusing as they will tell you the alcohol gives them strength for the road ahead, hopefully they can see it!

As I was leaving town, I bumped into a fellow I was chatting with in Hontanas yesterday, he has dubbed me The Roadrunner, so beep!beep!, after I left him I started walking with an interesting Irish bloke Terry. He has traveled for the last twenty years all over the world, so we climbed the heights together chatting all the way. He was my companion for most of the walk today, he had some extremely interesting insights into the Irish issues, so I picked his brain for a while.

As we were crossing an extremely exposed area the rain decided it could hold off no longer, but I had decided to stop for a smoke in the shelter of the few trees available so we avoided the worst of it. We started off again feeling lucky to have been able to stay so dry, so you can guess that the universe wasn´t having that! Down it came, so we laughed at our predicament, coz what else were we going to do.

The last push from Boadilla del Camino to Frómista was hard yakka, the rain was pouring I was soaked from the waist down and my feet, well, let’s just say the photos people took of them yesterday in all their blistered and bloody glory would have been far exceeded today. It was so good to walk into the hotel lobby, the owner was terrific, as before I even signed in he allowed me upstairs to change. Probably the fact that I was dripping all over the floor convinced him to get me out of there. My bathroom has the biggest bath with bath salts, oh bliss! Looking forward to dinner and a shorter day on the Camino tomorrow.

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Stage 13: Hontanas to Frómista (Curtis)

Portents?

Today was our longest hike yet: 34 kilometers from Hontanas to Frómista. It was also our first day of rain on the Camino. Figures, right?

I got into our hotel in Frómista about two hours ago. I still haven’t seen Linda, but the owner told me that she arrived a good two hours ahead of me, and soaked to the skin. Knowing how much she loves wind (and there was plenty of that to accompany the rain today) I can only imagine her enthusiasm for walking in a downpour. Probably a good thing I’ve not seen her yet … 🙂

Despite the threat of rain when we left Hontanas just before dawn this morning, I had determined to break up the distance of today’s walk into manageable portions. It just so happens that Castrojériz, the first village after Hontanas, is 10 kilometers down the road, so that was a good place for “second breakfast”, as the hobbits say, and a chat with the man behind the bar about Ernest Hemingway (once he’d found out that I live in Pamplona), Paulo Coelho and classic films. Can’t say I care all that much for either Hemingway or Coelho as writers, but it was more interesting than your average village bar conversation.

Coming into Castrojeriz this morning ...

Coming into Castrojériz today ...

Leaving Castrojériz, the next challenge in today’s Camino was crossing the Alto de Mostelares (the Mostelares Height). It looks a lot more intimidating on approach than it actually is, and I choogled up the trail to the top pretty quickly, snapped a couple of photos while chatting with a couple from New Zealand, and then pushed on, determined to cover the 6.5 kilometers to Itero de la Vega ahead of the rain that was already looming on the horizon, forcing to put on my rain cape in preparation. I made it to the bar ahead of the rain alright, but while I was knocking back a cup of hot tea for energy and warmth, the sky opened up and it poured. I decided to see if I could wait out a break in the rain before setting off again, so I ordered another cup of tea and a plate of ham and cheese, and pulled out the paperback copy of the Confessions of St. Patrick that some pilgrim had left behind in San Juan de Ortega for a read.

Autumn finally setting in at the Puente Fitero bridge in Palencia

Half an hour later the rain had still not let up, so I decided there was nothing for it but to push on and deal with getting soaked. As I left the bar, I discovered that in addition to now pissing down rain, the temperature had also dropped a good five degrees. I pulled my hood up, bent my back to the task at hand and just pushed on. It was pretty miserable, I won't lie to you. Boadilla del Camino, the next town, was 10 kilometers down the road, and Frómista another 6k beyond that. In other words, I still had half the day's distance to cover.

The rain let up just before I rolled into Boadilla. I had originally planned to make a final rest stop there before the final push into Frómista, but now I decided to take advantage of the fact that it had stopped raining and that the blowing wind was actually helping to dry me off now and push straight on to Frómista, asking God to hold the rain off till I made it to the hotel. I broke my resolve to not use my Mp3 player while walking since the final 6 kilometers were turning out to be a harder slog than I needed, so I made my way into Frómista to the sounds of Van Morrison, Nanci Griffith, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Tom Petty.

Frómista is another dusty (well, soggy today …) meseta town, famous for the Romanesque Church of St. Martin, the finest example of Romanesque architecture on the Camino. But I've visited it numerous times by now and really, there ain't all that much else in town to tempt me out of my nice, warm hotel, so I will probably just hit the evening Mass in the Church of St. Peter's just across the way before dinner, and then hunker down here for the night. We have been promised that the weather will improve tomorrow, but hey, we are pilgrims, so we'll just have to take it as it comes.

Cos the way we roll on the Camino …

Ultreia peeps!

Stage 12: Burgos to Hontanas (Curtis)

We got out the door a bit later than desirable today, but it was well worth it for the uncommonly hearty breakfast our hotel set up for us. When you’re staring down the barrel of a 30k walk, little things like an abundance of ham, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, yoghurt and, of course, ample quantities of coffee (aka, the Blessed Bean) is not something to be sniffed at nor tossed aside lightly in the interests of a schedule.

We have been so blessed with the weather on this pilgrimage. For most of today the sky was clouded over but with the most agreeable walking temperature you could ask for. The sun came out in a bright, blue sky sometime around 2:30 p.m., but there was such a cool tailwind blowing that the afternoon’s final 10k walk was not at all hot or uncomfortable.

Normally there’s no way I’d be out walking after lunch, rolling into town at 4:30 p.m. or later, but when I stopped for a rest in Hornillos del Camino today after 20k, I struck up a conversation with a father and son from Valencia who were walking the Camino together and decided to have lunch with them before pushing on. Lunch in Hornillos today consisted of an entreé course of white beans with Spanish chorizo sausage, a main course of stewed beef, and a dessert course of sheep’s curd, all washed down with the local red.

Okay, so the first couple of kilometers after that admittedly hearty lunch were a bit of a slog, I’ll admit, but I soon got my Camino groove back and we made the final 10k in just about an hour and a half.

Hontanas is one of those Casilian villages that never appears on the horizon and that you think you’re never going to find until you’re right on top of it, because it’s built down in an arroyo (come on guys, I’m blogging on a Blackberry tonight; look the word up for yourselves!) and just suddenly appears in front of you. I got in, said goodbye to my father and son travelling companions, and hit the hotel for a shower, wash out the walking gear and a quick nap before supper.

Linda & Mr. Bigglesworth having a cuppa in Hontanas

I tried to be a bit social after supper and join Linda and the other pilgrims from the albergue across the street for drinks and the usual pilgrim banter, but I wasn’t really in the mood. Seems I’m in full-on hermit mode at the moment, so I retired to the little bar in our hotel for a couple of glasses of wine and some Blackberry blogging since there was no computer available.

Tomorrow’s walk is another long ‘un: 34 kilometers. So, it’s time for this little pilgrim to get to bed. Ultreia, peeps!

Stage 11: San Juan de Ortega to Burgos (Curtis)

Burgos, home of the legendary Spanish hero El Cid Campeador

We had a bit of a rest day in Burgos today. We arrived earlier than anticipated, and that meant that Linda was able to get to a sporting goods store and get herself some new Asics trekking shoes. Though she is a serious walker and had bought her boots well in advance to break them in, they have not served her at all well and have basically turned her feet into hamburger. And yet she still kicks everyone’s arse … o-o-ookay …

So we got rested up for the 30k walk from Burgos to Hontanas, I hit the evening Mass in the cathedral, we went out for some tapas in the city centre before sitting down at our hotel to an absolutely scrummy plate of pasta and calamares (squid) that was cooked to PERFECTION. Now it’s off to bed for a good night’s sleep and back on the road tomorrow.

Ultreia!

A stop for a photo op on the steps of the cathedral

Stage 10, Take 2: Belorado to San Juan de Ortega (Curtis)

We made it to the monastery of San Juan de Ortega today. People who know me well and know the history of my Camino experiences down the years know the significance of this place on my first pilgrimage to Compostela, way back in 1994, so arriving here is always a significant milestone in the Camino for me.

I’m glad that I listened to my guardian angel this morning and slowed my pace for the first half of today’s 24k walk to accompany Cheryl and talk to her about some of the things that had led her to make the decision to walk the Camino with us. We had a really interesting conversation, and it was actually good to fall into a different rhythm, although I didn’t have to slow my pace all that much; besides waking a bit tired from too little sleep (thanks to my determination to keep this blog up-to-date each day) and deciding to walk at a slower pace and conserve my energy for the second half of the day’s walk, through the desolate Montes de Oca, Cheryl’s pace has really picked up since we left Roncesvalles. Her uncertainty about being able to keep pace with us, or about whether or not she could cover the distances has melted away and she’s found her pace. It’s always a great moment to see her arrive, positive and bubbling about some conversation she’s had with someone she’s met along the way.

Cheryl on the road to San Juan de Ortega

The first 12k of today’s walk passes through a number of small Castilian farming villages that are generally pretty undistinguishable from one another. They may have a small bar or shop where pilgrims can have a coffee or pick up some fruit, nuts or other drinks before pushing on to the next, but other than that there’s no reason to stop for long in any of them unless it’s to attend to a blister or refill you water bottle.

Villafranca Montes de Oca is a different case though. Back when I walked the Camino for the first time, all of the guides to the Camino advised the pilgrim to stock up on water and food for supper here because there would be no towns, houses or other signs of civilization for the next 12 kilometers, until reaching the pilgrim’s albergue in the abandoned monastery of San Juan de Ortega, where there would be no supper other than the garlic soup that the parish priest José María Alonso Marroquín would prepare for the pilgrims each evening. That still hasn’t changed much, although the small bar at the end of the monastery complex does now prepare simple combination platters of omelettes, tuna empanadas and morcilla (that’s blood sausage for you who don’t know, and it’s yummy!). You have to take a number and wait your turn for a table though, because the place seats about 15 at a time, and there’s usually upwards of 60+ pilgrims in the albergue. There’s also a bed and breakfast there now, which provides posh pilgrims such as ourselves a bit more privacy and comfort. I know I’d never have got a nice 2 hour afternoon nap in after my shower in the albergue.

As we started our ascent up the mountain from Villfranca, Cheryl stopped to fiddle with a blister she had put some Compeed on and told me just to go on ahead. I locked into my “let’s knock this baby down and get to that shower” rhythm, and the next 12 kilometers just seemed to fly by. I found Linda sitting at the entrance to the b+b waiting for me as I rolled up; as our bags hadn’t yet arrived, we repaired to the bar where I introduced her to tinto con gaseosa while we waited for Cheryl to roll up. She made her appearance some 20 minutes later, all smiles and waves, and we all headed off to our rooms to rest up.

The monastery of San Juan de Ortega has been much repaired and renovated in recent years. This is where the tomb of San Juan, one of the road-clearing saints whose devotion to their safety and his efforts to clear safer passages through the bandit-infested woods of this region made him much revered by pilgrims of former times, is located. Unfortunately, no Mass this evening, but I was able to spend a good bit of time praying before the saint’s sarcophagus before dinner. I wasn’t really in the mood for much hilarity and pilgrim banter, but I did end up talking for a bit with a German pilgrim who’s living in Switzerland until supper time.

Not much more to report. We’ll head off to Burgos tomorrow. Will keep you posted …

Ultreia!

The monastery of San Juan de Ortega

Stage 10: Belorado to San Juan de Ortega (Linda)

This morning we set off as is now usual in the dawn light, great walking temp. crisp, clear, gets you into a brisk gait just to get your blood flowing. We wound our way through a few small villages early today, at the second one I decided sugar was needed, or maybe just wanted, you never can tell. Stopped off briefly for what, if you can get fresh-baked ones, is a decided plus on the Camino. Chocolate croissants! The bar I stopped at smelt as if they had just come out of the oven, mmmmm, heaven on a stick! Or in this case on a plate. Fortified by sugar and a cup of tea, I headed of keeping my eye out for Villafranca as Curtis had told us it was the last chance for food and water before the push on to San Juan de Ortega.

Walking into Villafranca I could see all the pilgrim´s sitting in the plaza chatting, drinking, generally resting for a moment. At this stage in the day I was enjoying my solitude so I didn´t stop, exchanging holas and buenos dias, as I walked through. As soon as I crossed the plaza the street began to climb. And it climbed, and it climbed. What a wonderful heart starter, I think a cigarette I had twelve years ago came back to make its presence known!

I stopped briefly for a banana at a lookout near the top of the ascent, as my legs were telling me the climbing was a little harsh. What a view, across the pines and oak trees, hills and valleys green and lush. On to the top, where I rewarded myself with a cigarette as you do, (or as I do). The rest of the walk was kilometers of sandy track thru forest. The energy from the trees and the earth was tangible, I felt awesome, and stopped at one point to meditate as I was ahead of other pilgrims for a while. Wonderful, I could have sat in meditation for the rest of the day, but that wasn’t getting me to San Juan de Ortega.

I arrived in the town and headed to a bar, (the only bar) for tea and a sandwich. I had written down the name of our hotel but as I had walked past it coming to the bar, I headed back and left my gear. I spent some time in the cathedral there, peaceful, a magnificent sarcophagus is within, and because the town is very small it is lovely and quiet.

After a shower and nap, I headed back to the bar to catch up with some fellow pilgrims as they came in at the end of their days walk, our entertainment included the bar/church cat chasing a mouse he was considering eating for dinner around the plaza, his participation in the circle of life was a not quite appreciated by all, and lots of jokes and laughter was had as sides were taken on the fairness of the situation.

After some rather loud, off-key singing with the Aussie contingent it was time for bed.

Stage 9, Part 2: Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado (Curtis’ report)

We’re getting caught up here today folks, after a day off from blogging yesterday, so scroll down to read all the new posts since our arrival in Nájera. Also, make sure to check back and re-read some of the posts below, because I’ll probably be editing them to put some more photos into them. My camera battery just died and I can’t upload anymore for the moment!

Today’s walk was only a couple of kilometers longer than yesterday’s and, much to Linda’s delight, hotter and far less windy. But in spite of being only 23 kilometers, the walk into Belorado always seems to take forever to me. In part, this is because a good portion of today’s walk, including the last nine kilometers or so, transcur along a gravelled access road that runs along the asphalted main highway that connects Logroño and Burgos (and under which lies the medieval Camino), so for a good part of the walk from Santo Domingo to Belorado you are accompanied by the rumble of the heavy trucks passing along the highway. Not the ambience most conducive to reflection or prayer as you walk.

The other reason is that the rolling hills of this part of Castile (we left the Rioja region and entered Castile today) often take you up high above the way, and you can see a great distance, so what you inevitably see is the path of the Camino stretching out before you and a tiny line of pilgrims plodding along it in the distance. Can be a bit monotonous and disheartening when your feet are tired and you’re just ready to roll in and have a shower and something to drink.

The only stop I really made today was in the village of Grañon, some seven or eight kilometers after we left Santo Domingo, to have a second cup of coffee with Cheryl and to spend a little time praying in the village church. She and I chatted a bit as we left Grañon; Cheryl is apparently working on a list of hymns that she plans to ask her congregation back in Chicago to forego singing for at least a month after she gets back. You’ll have to ask her which ones they are, but I do believe most of them contain references to stones, rocks, wind and sun …

I commented to Cheryl and Linda at dinner the other evening that it is about a week into the Camino that the novelty of what you’re doing finally wears off and the Camino starts to be hard work. It’s not just the disappearance of the novelty though; we are definitely drawing nearer to the meseta, the high, flat table-land that lies at the heart of Spain, between Burgos and León. Spiritual writers of past times refer to this stretch of the Camino as the “purgatory” stage of the Camino. The landscape begins to flatten out and you can see for kilometers in almost every direction, the towns are almost uniformly small, dusty farm towns in the midst of an endless ocean of wheat. There’s not much to look at, folks, and so your gaze turns inward and you have loads of time to reflect and think, accompanied by the crunch, crunch, crunch of your boots on the dusty gravel roads that form the Camino here.

Lots of people hop on buses in Burgos and head straight to León, skipping the meseta stage of the Camino altogether. I think that’s a mistake, but then we do not live in a culture that teaches us to value silence, solitude or reflection, and not everyone’s up for the intensity of the meseta. In two days we’ll be there, and then it’ll take us about a week to get across it. I’m actually looking forward to it; I have long since come to appreciate walking across the meseta for the things I’ve learned about every time I’ve done it. And though it still kicks my butt from time to time, it’s where I get some of my best praying done on the Camino.

For now though, it’s off to bed. This little pilgrim is up way past his bedtime, and we’ve got o hit the Montes de Oca on our way to San Juan de Ortega tomorrow. Keep praying for us, and don’t forget to check back over the next few days for new photos in some of these entries after I’ve had a chance to recharge my camera’s battery.

Ultreia!