My plan today was to get an early start so that I could get to my destination of Atapuerca by the time the Alburgues opened and started giving out beds. Typically that is 2pm.
I knew from reports of friends who passed through yesterday that there are limited beds and they filled up quickly. When that happens, a pilgrim has no other choice but to continue walking to the next town in search of a place to sleep for the night.
Typically there wouldn’t be a bed crunch this time of year, but Friday, October 12 is a holiday in Spain. Does the date ring a bell? It is the official date of Columbus Day in the US and a proud day for Spaniards as well! The focus of the celebration is now more about Spanish nationalism rather than Spanish conquests around the world.
In any case, holidays like this drive Spaniards to the Camino for 2 to 4 days walks that add to the regular pilgrim traffic. (I had no idea to look at the calendar when I was scheduling this trip. It may or may not add to the enjoyment of my sightseeing day in Burgos.)
I left Villafranca Montes Oca before 7 am this morning in the pitch dark. (Sunrise is a very late 8:20am this time of year!). Luckily I have an awesome headlamp that really lights the way.
Before I could start the mountain climb I would have to survive walking on the street to the Camino path.
There is little to no sidewalk and the trucks come barreling through as if they are on the open highway. It was daunting!
I gave myself even more of a challenge by continuing on the road longer than necessary. When I couldn’t find a yellow arrow, I knew something was wrong so I checked my GPS map and saw I was off course. Great! That meant I would have to retrace my steps backwards for several blocks to get rerouted.
I finally was heading in the right direction up a rocky path that didn’t seem well travelled.
The signage gave me confidence I was heading the correct way as did a group of three Spanish pilgrims who confidently charged ahead of me.
As I proceeded up the hill, two headlamps were coming toward me so I figured the Spaniards discovered it wasn’t the right way, but their headlamps were really dull; just two dots of light coming right at me. From my training walks at home in the early morning I have encountered enough animals that I finally realized these were eyes reflecting the light of my headlamp. Just as I figured that out, I saw something small dart off the path. Because the trail was steep, the dots of light seemed to be at my eye level which caused the confusion and made the animal seem much larger than it was. It was likely a cat because then I noticed a black cat to my left, also with glowing eyes. I schussed it away as I did not want to to cross my path and bring me bad luck. He obeyed and I was back on my way.
I walked up hill for about an hour not being able to see anything around me. I have read it is beautiful, but I missed out on that. This 12k stretch of thick forest had a reputation in the medieval days of being a dangerous passage for pilgrims. It was an ideal place for thieves and bandits to hide out in the woods and rob them as they passed. My guidebook assured me this is no longer a problem so I continued. It never ceases to amaze me that I am walking in the exact same footsteps of millions of other pilgrims who have been doing this for centuries.
This seemed like a very long 12k. Toward the top of the mountain it started to drizzle, so being safe rather than sorry I put on my pack cover and poncho (which is tough to do on my own with the pack on, but I managed). It immediately stopped raining.
I walked past a monument to the people killed during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. It also marks the shallow grave of over 300 people who were executed at the start of the war.
I was really dragging and I assume it is because my energy reserves were low from just eating a sandwich around 4 pm the day before and no dinner. I promised myself when I came to a place I could stop, I would have a snack fortified with one of the NUUM electrolyte replacement tablets Nancy T had given to me.
There actually was a rest area that some enterprising person set up, but it wasn’t operating so I sat there and snacked on some cheese, chorizo, nuts and an apple I was carrying and tried not to think of how good it would taste with a hot cup of coffee. In about 6k I would be in a town and could get some real caffeine.
Finally I was in the town of San Juan de Ortega!
This was the first time I saw empanadas! All they had was tuna and it turned out to be delicious!
Five of us from Orisson were there so I got a picture to send onto the folks ahead of us.
Here is Stanley (his wife Essa was sick and traveling by taxi to their stop for the night), Ye, me, Kate and Efflyn.
Stanley was committed to stopping in Atapuerca but the other three were hoping to get one town further making for a shorter day into Burgos on Thursday. That sounded good to me Efflyn and I walked out of town together and for the next couple of kilometers were walking at a good 4K clip, but I wanted to slow down so I would take some pictures so I said goodbye to her.
As I reached the village of Ages I ran into Norah who I had met earlier in the day and we walked together into Atapuerca. It was a little before 2 and she was staying there for the night. I was reluctant because I had already called ahead and talked to every Alburgue in town and knew that none of them had a private room and the bunk was just not appealing to me after so many days in the comfort of my own room.
But I walked into the first place with Norah and asked if they had a private room and bingo! I took it and was relieved to be done for the day. It was so easy. I paid for the room and immediately gathered just about every piece of clothing I had and went to the laundry room. I knew this would be my last chance to do serious laundry before returning home on Saturday.
Pilgrims started arriving shortly after 2, but the hospitalaros running the place take siesta from 2 to 3:30. There were over 25 people waiting for a bed by 3:30! By dumb luck (kind of) I got there exactly when I should have! Most pilgrims were coming from a further distance than I which is why they arrived later. My plan to set up in Villafranca Montes Oca the day before worked!
I had texted Kate to see if they made it successfully the 6 additional kilometers from here to the next town. She, Ye and Efflyn were there, but they had to walk through a thunderstorm and hail!
Norah is my Camino angel for today since had I not been walking with her, I might have just walked through this town and missed a wonderful meal and a relaxing night.
I wanted a good meal today and there were a couple of very nice restaurant options. The place I wanted to go to was across the street so I thought I would stop in to see if I needed a reservation.
The owner said they closed at 3:30 (it was 3:45) and they would not be open tonight. After reading reviews I was so disappointed and it must have showed. He yelled something into the kitchen and then quickly sat me.
They offered a menu del dia for €15; 50% more than the typical €10 pilgrim menu. I didn’t care; I was hungry and wanted a good meal.
I started with Spaghetti with a spicy tomato sauce.
Followed by roast pork loin with a delicious sauce.
And then had fresh Burgos cheese with honey and walnuts.
It came with a small carafe of wine and bread that was also delicious.
After the meal I used google translate to express my gratitude to the owner.
I told him it was the best meal I had on the Camino and he explained that the problem with the restaurants serving pilgrims is they don’t have cooks. They are reheating commercially prepared foods ( kind of like Olive Garden or Applebee’s). I do get that it is darned challenging to feed people a hearty meal for €10 including wine and this isn’t supposed to be a gourmet experience. But to me, food isn’t nourishing if it isn’t prepared and served with respect for the ingredients and I think I have been malnourished for the past few weeks.
When I come back next year, I am going to try to alternate pilgrim menus with ordering from the menu and I will seek out better restaurants. I know I sound like a food snob, but when I have had a good meal on the Camino I have a better day walking. I know that many people eat to live. I live to eat.
After an early, but filling dinner, I took a walk around town and stopped into a bakery/mini market and bought a split of wine and an apple tart and retreated to my room to prepare for my final day on the Camino.
I can’t believe I have been walking for 15 days straight and am nearly 1/3 of the way across Spain! The number of people I have met from around the world is just incredible. I will definitely be back to finish up.
Tomorrow I will walk into Burgos and remove my pilgrim shell and check into a hotel I have had reserved for months. I will become a tourist and visit the cathedral and other places of interest. I look forward to having a nice meal and checking out some of the shops for some souvenirs. On Friday I fly from Burgos to Barcelona where I will tour La Sagrada Familia on Saturday morning before boarding a Boston-bound plane.
I am really missing home and can’t wait to see Ray when he picks me up at the Dartmouth Coach terminal on Saturday night.
I wonder how my life will change? Will I keep up the intense walking without a compelling reason to train?
Will I try to simplify things. After living out of a backpack for three weeks, I have learned just how little we actually do need.
I know that I cannot wait to cook! Ray will be harvesting all the rest of our peppers before I get home and I have big plans for them! Inspired by the wonderful meal I had in Belorado, I will roast and skin them and store them in olive oil in the freezer to serve with meat dishes.
I am happy we didn’t grow any potatoes this year because I don’t need to see another one of those for a while. But I am going to try my hand at Paella because the two I have had have been very comforting and delicious. And, I want to continue learning about Spanish wines. I have had a few here that have been delicious and would like to discover more at home.