Day 27 – To El Burgo Ranero

Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero – 18 Kms, 24,792 steps

Giant mural in Sahagun supporting… what? Women farmers?

Some two-star hotels are surprisingly good and some redefine how low the bar is set. Sadly, my lodging in Sahagun was the latter. I tell myself “it’s only for a night” and hope the next place will be better. I did’t sleep too badly, though.

Sahagun’s Arch of San Benito
Dawn making an appearance in the rearview

A small group of us walked through Sahagun’s pre-dawn streets, past some of its finest monuments and churches, and out into the countryside. The Camino path was another senda, a path alongside the highway. Some gently-rolling hills led us away from town.

Nice, shady, tree-lined path sections became fairly common

I made a startling discovery early this morning: I had no reservation and, therefore, no room at the inn that I was traveling to! This was another independent operator email snafu and reinforces the value of using a service like Booking.com for reservations.

Luckily, I was prepared. I’d had trouble yesterday getting any answer when I called the place, so I made a reservation at, of all places, a nearby mega truck stop. So when my original reservation vaporized, I had the truck stop to fall back on. And it it’s surprisingly nice: a good room with real A/C, just a tad off the Camino, and with a 24-hour diner and convenience store beside it. Not a whiff of diesel fumes. I suspect it may be nicer than my original accomodation at the albergue, and for a few dollars less. Another case of “the Camino provides”?

Home Sweet Truck Stop

I was walking for a while on the route of the ancient Via Romana, the original Roman road through Spain, in the era of Augustus.

A tiny onlooker or, as the French think of them, an “appetizer”

The rolling hills today introduced acres of a new crop: corn. Some of it was totally dried out but still standing (“feed corn” perhaps?) while other fields were still green. All were heavy with ears of corn, ready for harvesting.

Dried but still standing

When I got to my halfway point this morning, at Bercianos del Real Camino, I was surprised by Albergue La Perala, a really nice place with something I’ve rarely seen on the Camino: a well-manicured, green lawn. It was a pleasure to take off my boots, sip a cafe con leche, and rest for a while here.

Albergue La Perala’s flower-lined lawn

I found another fine example of local large-scale mural art in the middle of Bercianos. Look at this image and appreciate its terrific use of perspective. Can you tell which areas are flat?

Answer: ALL of it

Quite a few pilgrims on bicyles went by me today, including a pair on a tandem. Almost everyone shouts out a “Buen Camino” greeting as they pass.

Just about perfect conditions

For most of the second half of my walk, conditions were just about perfect: temps in the 60s F, a light breeze, sunny but not on the well-shaded path, gently-rolling hills, and a really comfortable path surface. I hope this keeps up!

A Camino Eyesore

I’m not sure who approved it, but the metal arch over the path outside El Burgo Ranero is jarring and unattractive. And all of the stickers that have been applied to it haven’t helped its appearance, either.

I’ve enjoyed my stay at the Avia Truck Stop so far. Tomorrow, I’m off to Mansilla de las Mulas and my last night in the Meseta before heading to the big city, Leon.

Day 26 – To Sahagun

Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun – 22 Kms, 30,165 steps

I had a nice rest at the Hostal Camino Real and enjoyed their breakfast buffet (lots of good protein) before leaving just before dawn. The forecast was for cool, cloudy weather and that was fine with me.

I walked along a senda, the path beside the highway, for several hours and the path surface was pretty nice. Then we got away from the road, back through farm fields, and the crappy, rocky surface was back.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know: What Do You Eat?

Good question! Most Spanish cafes and restaurants offer a “menu of the day”, which lets you select from several items for a first and second course, and dessert. Wine, water, and bread may be included, all for a usually low fixed price. Here’s a example of my mid-afternoon main meal yesterday:

My first course was a tasty Menestra de Verduras (vegetable stew)

Note that there’s a giant bottle of water and a full bottle of wine on the table, and I’m welcome to consume as much as I want. Such generosity is not always the case with the menu of the day – a single glass of wine may be served instead and water might cost extra.

My second course: delicious pork loins in a Blue Cheese sauce

As you can see, the servings are large. The food was tasty and I was pretty stuffed at the end of the meal. Three pork loins is generous.

An ice cream sandwich chocolate-dipped thingy

My dessert preference is always Rice Pudding, but they were out of it so I requested ice cream. The weird hybrid bar shown above was presented and, while not what I was expecting, it was good. Total cost for my meal: 12 euros.

Note the cloud cover

Back out on the Camino, I strode along through Ledigos and Terradillos de los Templarios (yes, we’re in Templar knights country) and I took a 30-minute break at my halfway point for the day, Moratinos. I ran into the trio of Australians I met in the first few weeks of my Camino, whom I haven’t seen since Burgos, which was a nice surprise.

At the next town, San Nicolas, I was concerned to see a Guardia Civil van parked beside the Camino path and pilgrims gathering around it. The Guardia is sort of a cross between what in the U.S. is the National Guard and the State Police. An officer approached me as I walked up and… wanted to know if I wanted a Guardia Civil stamp in my pilgrim passport (which was what everyone else was getting). I didn’t, but I thought it was an interesting positive PR exercise on their part.

Look at that – under 400 Kms!

I finally made it to Sahagun around 1:00, which meant I covered 22 Kms in 5 hours – not too shabby. I have two more 22 Km walks planned in the coming weeks, but everything else I think is 20 or less from now on.

Sahagun is a a larger town (pop. 2,800) and has a rich religious history tied to the Benedictine order. The town is awash in ruins, churches, and holy remains. None of which I’ll take in, as I’m out of here tomorrow at dawn. I’ve got two more days before I leave The Meseta behind and get to Leon, where I’ll enjoy some luxury hotel living and a rest day. Oh, yes!

Day 25 – To Calzadilla de la Cueza

Carrion de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza – 17 Kms, 24,104 steps

I had a good night’s sleep in the Comfort Suites hotel and headed out at 8:10, just as the sun was making an appearance. There were several routes out of town and I saw some departing pilgrims twice, after they’d made an unexpected loop of the market area. The waymarking in towns can often be confusing.

Dawn, from my lodging’s courtyard
Sometimes it’s as easy as following the markers at my feet

Yesterday I had an interesting experience at the local Lupa supermarket. I picked up two pre-packaged, bar-coded pastries and when I went to the cashier, she told me I had to go back to the Produce department, weigh them, and get a pricing sticker! It’s common in Europe to have to weigh produce and print the resulting price sticker, but this?! Luckily, she told me which “button” number to press on the scale, as it had 100 options on its display (just text, no images). Really? Isn’t the idea of the UPC, the UNIVERSAL Pricing Code, to make pre-packaged items easy to scan and price? I was amazed.

Pre-package pastry with the sticker I had to print

So, off I went to Calzadilla, a 17 Kms walk with the promise of no towns, no facilities, and no food on the way. The path ran along the highway for quite a while and was beautiful: flat and smooth, then headed off through farm fields. The weather started out clear and a chilly 46 F but warmed into the 60s soon enough. There was plenty of sun and even a little cooling breeze. Pretty nice walking conditions.

The Carrion de los Condes suburbs

Inquiring Minds Want To Know: What about masks and COVID? Well, I alway carry an KN-95 mask with me, and I’m careful to eat outside and to avoid indoor crowds. Almost no one wears a mask outside here and few wear them inside. If I go into a store or pharmacy and the staff is wearing masks, I put mine on, out of respect if nothing else. Otherwise everyone behaves as if COVID is gone (I understand President Biden declared the pandemic “over” recently) but every day people are still catching it. I still prefer the cautious approach, thank you.

A food truck, in the middle of nowhere

I got lucky and found a food truck at the halfway point of my walk (and there was another one, too, about 30 minutes further down the path). God bless these vendors, who show up with a generator, a mobile kitchen, and seating. They offer coffee and tea, pastries, grilled foods, and cold drinks, at reasonable prices. I had a cafe con leche and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Sharing a table is also a great way to meet other pilgrims.

We are, of course, still in The Meseta

I was grateful for the occasional tree and shady spot, but there was not much more than a lot of horizon to see. At one point, one of my shoelaces came loose and I promised myself I’d tuck it in at the next opportunity (defined by me as a rock, bench, marker, or stone taller than 12”, where I could put my foot up). I didn’t find one for 62 minutes! The flatness of the path kind of accentuated how boring the walk was. I mean, if you’ve already seen a thousand acres of wheat chaf and browned sunflowers, there wasn’t much to take notice of.

Calzadilla de la Cueza

I arrived in Calzadilla at 12:30. The Camino runs right through the midde of this tiny town. There’s a hostal and two albergues, each with its own restaurant, and a small general store. That’s it for commerce. All the locals I interacted with were very welcoming and nice and the hostal, where I’m staying, is surprisingly well-equipped. For example, it actually has an elevator to the upper floors.

All that sunshine is good for something

One of the albergues actually has a half-size swimming pool in its garden and I met two interesting women sitting nearby it this afternoon. One, a Belgian, was severely traumatized by the 2016 terrorist attack on the subway system near her office in Brussels and, after years of seclusion and therapy, is using the Camino as the finale of her recovery. The other woman is a managing director of a Ronald McDonald House in the Netherlands, and is walking her Camino in memory of an unborn child she lost. The Camino means so much to so many; I wish them well and hope I will see them again along The Way.

Tomorrow, I head for the larger city of Sahagun, 22 Kms away. Tomorrow also marks the beginning of my last three weeks on the Camino. While walking this morning, I had my moment when “three more weeks” on the Camino became “only three more weeks”.

Day 24 – To Carrion de Los Condes

Fromista to Carrion de los Candes – 19 Kms, 27,507 steps

Another beautiful dawn on arriving soon

I left this morning after a good night’s sleep, despite having had a monster G&T at yesterday’s cocktail hour. The Spaniards really know how to give you your cocktail money’s worth. Check it out:

Makes my oversized sunglasses case look petite

As you may remember, the Brierly guidebook is the unofficial Bible of the Camino and everyone uses it. Today’s entry, however, highlights a bias of his that isn’t very helpful. The original Camino path runs next to a two-lane highway. Not right next to it, there’s a ditch and some dividing land. But in his first sentence about the route, Brierly describes this adjacent path, known as a senda, as “soulless”. He makes it sound like the adjacent road is packed with fume-spewing cars and trucks and lobbys for an optional route along a canal, which adds neary 2 Kms to the walk.

The senda

Well, I can testify that the original route is perfectly pleasant. It’s safely separated from the roadway, it’s flat, and its surface is packed sand and pea gravel (a huge improvement over the awful rocks of the last few days). Yes, an occasional car or truck comes by, but the frequency is something like one every ten of fifteen minutes. This is not a heavily- traveled motorway. Several pilgrims I spoke with expressed their surprise at the guidebook’s heavy-handed take on this route.

Look at that nice, comfortable walking surface!

So, almost needless to say, I had a really nice walk today. So flat I almost didn’t use my hiking poles at all. The absence of shade along most of the way was not a big deal, it was sunny but temps were in the low-70s by midday. For me, it was the perfect distance and conditions for returning to the Camino after a rest day.

Onlooker at my halfway point

I passed through the town of Revenga de Campos and took my mandatory halfway-there 30-minute break in Villarmentero de Campos at a nice hippy-ish cafe. They had a big yard, with lots of murals, and hammocks. The goose shown above wandered about freely, obviously an old hand at working the crowd for handouts. He was huge and had a really loud, grating honk.

Lest we forget, this IS still The Meseta

My five plus hours of walking was through the now-familiar farm fields of The Meseta, with little to break the monotony outside of the few towns. Nonetheless, the weather was glorious and the footing easy, so not a bad way to spend the morning.

Sunflower harvesting

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve passed by thousands of acres of sunflowers. This morning I managed to see some of them being harvested. The big machine is a called a combine and has a special cutter-scooper on the front that harvests the plants. There are some interesting videos online that explain how it all works and how all the non-seed plant material is filtered out.

The local Jacobean Foundation buildings

I finally arrived in Carrion de los Condes and had no trouble locating my lodging. It’s called Comfort Suites but has no connection to the Choice Hotels chain of the same name in the U.S. As I was a bit early and no staff was there, I had the fun challenge of checking-in using a wall-mounted kiosk, which involved, among other things, feeding my passport into a scanner. All went well but I’m bracing for a deluge of junk mail now that I had to provide my email address in order to get a receipt. My room is really quite nice, very large, and equipped with a U.S. style air conditioner and giant TV. Is it too soon to take another rest day?

Tomorrow is a 17 Km walk to a place called Calzadilla de la Cueza. We’re warned that there is nothing at all for 17 Kms going there, so we need to bring food and plenty of water. There might be a food truck at the halfway point, but I’m not counting on it. Cheers.

Day 23 – In Fromista

In Fromista – 0 Kms, 0 steps

I slept well and woke up feeling much better. The recuperative ability of the human body is amazing. I slept in and the hostel provided a nice buffet breakfast.

I’m spending today doing a little reprovisioning at the pharmacy and supermarket, and catching up on blog posts. I spent an hour outside a cafe with Renato, who I just stumbled upon, who stayed in Itero de la Vega last night, left very early this morning (“I could see the Milky Way”), and was here by 10:00AM.

Tomorrow, it’s back to the pilgrim routine: I’m off to Carrion de los Condes at first light, a 19 Km walk, which will put me at the halfway point of the Meseta.

Day 22 – To Fromista

Castrojeriz to Fromista – 25 Kms, 35,883 steps

I set off this morning fully prepared for the long day ahead of me. After a quick breakfast of cafe con leche and a chocolatine at my hostel, I started out along the Camino. This meant a 25-minute walk through the rest of the town. It appeared that I didn’t miss much by not venturing further into town the previous day.

The Camino route through town has special paving

At one point I passed an ossuary, a “bone repository”, where disinterred bones would be placed to make room for new burials in the church yard. So much for the sanctity of burial.

The ossuary has its own unique wall decorations

Before long I was joining others for the long, steep climb out of town. If you zoom the following image, you can see the trail top in the upper lefthand corner. Every now and then I think I see Grace or Wendy up ahead of me – if you’re reading this, ladies, you are missed.

There’s nothing like a hard, steady climb to get you going in the morning
And, of course, the view back down the hill is exhilarating

And so another day of walking on the Meseta unfolds. One thing I haven’t mentioned before is the flies. Maybe it’s Spain’s policy on toxic pesticides, maybe it’s endemic to the rural areas I’m going through, but whatever the cause, there are just a lot of flies. Black “house” flies. And not just outside; the absence of window screens and air-conditioning means that doors and windows are frequently open. Hence, there are a lot of flies in restaurants, in rooms, in everywhere. I’ve taken to wearing a pretty strong bug repellent while walking, otherwise I’m spending half my time waving flies away from my face.

About two hours after leaving Castrojeriz, I headed down from the plateau towards Itero de la Vega. The angle of the descent was severe.

I headed down the steep descent and across the plain

At the bottom, I wound up walking with a fellow I’d met at breakfast this morning. Renato is a 59-year old gent from Geneva, Switzerland who started walking months ago from there, got to Saint Jean Pied-de-Porte in France, and was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the hip! He had to go home to get treatment and rest for a few months. Now he’s resumed his Camino and we spent a few hours walking together discussing, of all things, Classic Rock music. He’s an amateur jazz piano player and a huge Pink Floyd fan. He’s also about 6’ 6” tall; a big fellow. We discussed many things, including the return of vinyl and how grotesque the aged Rolling Stones look on stage now. It was nice to chat with someone and I’m sure our paths will cross again.

A nice tree farm outside Itero de la Vega
A mural welcoming pilgrims to town

Itero de la Vega is a tiny town, population 50, and exists these days primarily because of the Camino. After walking 11 Kms, I entered the town and soon walked right by the albergue I was supposed to stay in tonight. It was closed up tight and there was no announcement or notice posted on the door about the owner’s death. I went by at 10:30 AM and I wonder if anyone coming along later, unaware of the situation, might have hung around waiting for it to open in the afternoon. It seems kind of irreponsible not to alert people who’ve made reservations that it’s closed. Oh well, I had a cup of coffee in town and set off on the second half of my walk.

Remember the 790 Kms sign in Roncesvalles? Here’s the remaining distance

The sun came out and the temps went up and the next few hours, walking to Boadilla, were less pleasant than in the morning. The rocky path surface, while flat, was difficult. Then all of a sudden I found myself walking beside a large, tree-lined canal. What?! This most unMeseta-like feature ran on for miles and reminded me of the old C&O canal outside Washington, D.C. I was very grateful for the shade.

The shade was very welcome
… and then along came a boat full of tourists!

Apparently, the canal not only provides irrigation water to fields but is also an opportunity for canal boat rides. I’m sure we pilgrims are a phenomenon pointed out by the guide; the passengers all waved at me enthusiastically and called out “Buen Camino” as the boat passed.

The 15th century Church of San Pedro, across from my hostel

I was very glad to reach my hostel, at about 1:45, and the landlady was true to her word: she had a two-night room all ready for me. I did my pilgrim chores (check-in, shower, laundry) and had lunch next door. I’m on a street with half a dozen albergues and hostels and lots of restaurants and cafes, so there’s no shortage of services for pilgrims.

So, how did I feel after 25Kms in the sun? Well, by the end of the day I was really tired and starting to get sore. I did some stretches but still felt like I’d been hit by a bus. But I slept soundly knowing I had a rest day in front of me and woke up the next morning feeling much better. Tomorrow: nada! I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything; what bliss.

Day 21 – To Castrojeriz

Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz – 20 Kms, 25,697 steps

A beautiful dawn for my exit from town

Mornings at albergues are interesting. If breakfast is offered, as it was at Hornillos Meeting Point, it’s laid out the night before and there is no albergue staff there in the morning. Pilgrims help themselves to breakfast (which can be of varying quality) and often have to exit the building through a side door, because the front door is securely locked.

I ate, finished packing, and trooped out of town along with many others getting an early start. So far, I’ve managed to time it so that the pre-dawn light and other pilgrims show me the way, without having to resort to using my headlamp.

The relentless Meseta landcape

We climbed up out of town and I was on the Meseta an hour later. There were dry wheat and oat fields as far as the eye could see, along with the usual wind turbines. It was sunny and dry, with a little breeze, so it was good walking weather.

It’s been said that the landscape and monotony of the Meseta do strange things to time and distance. I haven’t noticed that yet, but I’m just two days in and I’m ready for the Meseta to be over.

And they call Montana “Big Sky country”

As I plod along, I pass or am passed by many of the same people from one day to the next. Actually, there’s something telling in that sentence: I pass people. In the early days of this Camino, everyone passed me. I must be getting stronger.

There’s a Camino saying that the first third of the journey is physical, the second third mental, and the last third spiritual. I’m in the second third now and I confess to having a lot of thoughts, especially at night, questioning what I’m doing. It can be lonely and boring. I’m lucky that I have the support and affection of many people and that they encourage me daily. I wonder how it is for other pilgrims.

I pass a lot of interesting art work in small towns, speaking of encouragement, which urges pilgrims to continue. There are also some weird artworks, like this statue, seen in a private yard:

Not a pubic water fountain

I walked through the morning, through the towns of San Bol and Hontanas, and then past the ruins of the Convent of San Anton.

The 14th century convent ruins

There’s still an albergue there, run by a religious order, that offers the full rustic effect: no electricity and a shared evening meal, in return for a donation. I prefer a little more modern shelter, thank you, but I was happy to refill my water bottle at their fountain and make a small donation.

My destination, at last

The last 2.5 Kms into Castrojeriz were down a paved road. That’s better than the rocky paths I walked today but still a hard surface. It’s always nice to see the town limits sign for my destination.

I’m staying tonight in a hostel right at the near edge of town. No more walking today, which is good. However, tomorrow I’ll have to walk the length of the town just to leave it. My hostel, El Manzano, is run by a lovely young woman who took it over just two weeks ago. She’s from Argentina but lived for a year in Sedona, AZ and she is getting a trial-by -fire taking charge at the height of the pilgrim season.

A nicely-restored VW Bug parked outside my hostel

I’ve been calling ahead each day to confirm reservations I made a few months ago and have gotten no answer at the albegure I’m supposed to stay in tomorrow in Itero de la Vega. Some online research revealed that the owner died in August and the place is closed. That’s a Camino first for me (and for him, of course) so I was suddenly scrambling to find a place to stay. As I’ve mentioned earlier, these tiny towns have no excess capacity, so my plan was upended. After half an hour of calling and considering, I decided to combine the next two days and go all the way to Fromista (25 Kms!) tomorrow, where my hostel could accept me a day early, and let me stay two days. So I traded a long walk for a day off. My longest walk so far has been 22 Kms, so I should be able to do a few more. Let’s see what happens.

Day 20 – To Hornillos del Camino

Burgos to Hornillos del Camino – 21 Kms, 29,195 steps

The Meseta is a vast, high plateau that takes a week to walk across. It’s famous for being without shade, without water, and without a lot of towns. Though the plateau itself is flat, the towns are often off the plateau, down by a river. This means there are some serious daily ascents and descents to and from the Meseta. Unsurprisingly, a lot of pilgrims choose to skip this area by taking a two-hour train ride from Burgos to Leon, as I did in 2019.

Leaving town was easy, just follow the markers

I wound my way through Burgos, around the cathedral and eventually made it to the outskirts of town. It was 49-degrees, so I wore my windbreaker for the first time. There were always a few other pilgrims in sight, as pre-dawn is a popular departure time.

A park near the University – notice the nice path surface

After an hour or so, I was walking though farm fields and another hour later brought me to the ascent up to the Meseta. It was a long, steep uphill climb and at the top, everyone was shedding their windbreakers and other outerwear. Luckily, it was a bit overcast, cool, and we had a breeze. Sometimes the path surface was nice packed grit, sometimes it as crappy hard rocks.

Typical Meseta scenery
The very occasional tree, with attending sheep flock

For the last few days, I’ve been keeping pace with a pair of young ladies I’ve dubbed The German Party Girls. They’re very blonde, very tan, and drink a lot of beer. They’re very attractive and they know it. I have little direct interaction with them but it’s fun to observe them when we’re at the same stops. They get full credit for doing the hard walking and carrying backpacks.

The GPGs stop to photograph the sheep
The sheep say baaaa

As always, what goes up must come down, so we went down a really steep descent. I protected my knees by making vigorous use of my hiking poles and taking short steps. I’d hate to do this in the rain! Several mountain bikes passed me on the way down, with speed but not difficulty.

I tried to keep my camera level, so you could appreciate the downhill angle

The picture above shows the steep descent and winding path to Hornillos del Camino. Hornillos means “furnaces” and refers to the kilns where ceramic tiles were once fired, a local tradition. The town has been around since the ninth century and generally exists now to service pilgims. Population: 70.

My luxurious private room

I was happy to arrive in the early afternoon at Hornillos Meeting Point, a well-run albergue. There was a line out the door to get in, but luckily I had a reservation for a “private room”. As you can see above, this means I did have my own room and bathroom, but the bunk beds were no different than those in the dormitory area. So, not overly luxurious but private nonetheless. I like my privacy but, more importantly, I have been known to snore and I wouldn’t want to inflict that on others in a dorm.

Tomorrow, more Meseta with a 20 Km walk to Castrojeriz. The weather forecast is for more of the same: cool morning, slight overcast, and dry. Excellent!

Day 19 – To Burgos

Atapuerca to Burgos – 20 Kms, 32,451 steps

Dawn saw a line of pilgrims exiting Atapuerca and heading uphill through the surrounding farm fields. I thought the rocky trails of the last few days were bad, but this one took the cake. It was awful. Usually, the bad paths have a smoother tire track or border that pilgrims have worn down but this had none of that. 110% of my attention was required to be sure where my feet were going; I barely noticed the scenery.

Rob, are these your new boots?

A couple from Texas that I met the night before over cocktails, Rob and Lauren, told me that Rob’s hiking boots had fallen apart in the previous week. So they’d ordered a new pair, to be delivered to them in Burgos. When we spotted these boots along the trail, I got a laugh when I asked Rob is they were his new pair, special delivery.

Lauren was sporting a Camino nail job

I caught up with Grace and Wendy in Obaneja, a small town with a roadside London-style, double-decker bus I remembered from 2019, painted as a billboard for the local albergue.

A backpacking cargo trailer, on a steep rocky downhill
I would not want to haul that thing up some of the hills we climbed today

We made it to the outskirts of Burgos and took an optional route along the river, through a nice park, rather than walking for miles through an industrial area. The park was shaded and had separate pedestrian and bicycle paths, water fountains, and lots of nice benches.

A nice piece of wood-working

A technical note: WiFi throughput at the places I’m staying in is often very poor and/or heavily-loaded. It can take several minutes to upload a photo, which means these posts can take a long time to compose and upload.

We made it to Burgos and went our separate ways. Wendy and Grace are done with their Camino, will have a rest day in Burgos tomorrow, bus to Madrid the next day, and then eventually go home to Australia. It was really nice to have such interesting “trail buddies” for a while and I wish them well,

My accomodation was a hotel on what turned out to be “restaurant row” in the old part of town. The hostess told me that the street actually predates the larger city. I was happy to have a wide choice of places at which to eat, at my doorstep.

I met Grace and Wendy for a farewell drink that evening and, near their hotel, we saw a large street mural being painted. What a feat!

Tomorrow, I head to Hornillos del Camino and into the famous Meseta plateau. The weather looks promising.

Day 18 – To Atapuerca

Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca – 18 Kms, 26,664 steps

After a good night’s sleep in the San Anton Abad hotel, and after a few trips through their outstanding, protein-laden breakfast buffet, I left town just at dawn for Atapuerca.

Villafranca Montes de Oca in the rear view mirror

I remembered from my 2019 Camino that there was a climb out of town, but I’d forgotten how long and relentless it was. After about 45 minutes of steady uphill walking, I finally reached the point where the trail flattened out through the woods. Luckily, the weather was cool and partly cloudy, which made the climb easier.

The trail was flat and pleasant, briefly

Eventually, the trees became a pine forest and I walked along what looked like a service road for hours. I saw one or two other pilgrims as I went, including Grace and Wendy, who left me in their dust. For long stretches, the path surface was a miserable, rocky mess.

At the top of a steep descent; notice the subsequent steep ascent up ahead

I make use of my hiking poles for all ascents and descents. Uphill, they really help the legs power along. Downhill, they can take a good bit of the load off the knees. They can also prevent a face plant if you trip over some sneaky stone (which I have, a few times). I’ve seen a lot of younger people walking without them and I’ve seen a lot of younger people wearing knee braces. In my estimation, hiking poles are worth every penny.

Weird art projects on display along The Way
All the descents push your feet foward in your shoes; some people make custom adjustments in their shoes as needed

After stops in the small towns of San Juan and Agés, I finally made it to Atapuerca. This is the town that gives its name to the nearby caves where wall paintings and other evidence of human activity have been traced back 1.5 million years.

The birthplace of mankind

I got an unpleasant surprise when I arrived: my accomodation had no reservation for me. This despite an exchange of emails back in May with the very woman at the front desk. I showed her the email she sent me, she said that I was supposed to have followed up with a credit card number (which is not stated in her email). This was a serious problem. Atapuera is a tiny town and this is prime pilgrim season so everything in town was booked. However, I was pleasant with the woman and she graciously (and, I think, a little guiltily) called around town and found me a nice room nearby. It was probably nicer than her place, actually. So, despite a bit of a shock, it all turned out OK in the end. As they say, “the Camino provides”.

Tomorrow, I’m off to the big city of Burgos, population 180,000, at the end of a 20 Km walk.