I Awake to Heavy Breathing in my Ear – Hornillos del Camino

I arrived cold, tired, and muddy to the  town of Hornillos del Camino. The only people I saw outside, shuffling around, trying to stay dry, were pilgrims. Lucky pilgrims who had arrived earlier than I and were staying in the municipal albergue.

The guidebook by John Brierley says, “. . . there is little to occupy the pilgrim here other than the priceless peace that pervades this village. . . . Chill out and try doing nothing . . . ”

Little to occupy the pilgrim here takes on a whole new meaning on an overcast, wet, drizzly day when you need space and air circulation to get boots dry. There were few joyful faces around, as the grayness of the day seemed to soak into people’s flesh and made everyone gray.

One exciting thing that happened was that a man passed out while standing under an overhang, probably while admiring the nothingness of the day and realizing that the next day would probably bring more of the same. An ambulance from a few towns over arrived quickly and he was OK.

The person who operated the albergue was doing double duty today as the town cafe owner – her assistant hadn’t shown up – and was in the midst of supplying meals for hungry peregrinos. Those of us who had arrived during lunch would have to wait until food time was over and she could get away.

Before she had left to start cooking for the lunchtime crowd, she had handed out slips of paper with numbers for the first lucky 50 pilgrims. They would get a nice place to rest – 30 in the albergue, 20 in the town hall. The rest of us were assured we would be able to stay the night, but where?

We waited in the albergue’s dining room. Small, dimly lit and damp, it contained a vending machine for coffee and one for soda, a trash can, a stove, and some  kitchen items. It also contained about 25 wet people, searching for a place to rest their packs and their backs.

After about 2 hours, the tired hospitalero finished her duties at the restaurant. Those with numbers lined up, paid their fee for the night, and were sent off to find their assigned bunk bed. Another hour and a half later, it was time for those of us without numbers to learn our fates.

I paid my fee, letting others go ahead of me in line although I had waited longer (Why be in a hurry? We’re all going to the same place at the same time, and I didn’t want to stand in line). Finally she said, follow me, and we dutifully did. I lost sight of them because I had to put my boots back on and hoist my pack. I asked others outside in the drizzle where the group had gone and they pointed around the corner.

There it was, my hotel for the night.

The town Gymnasium.

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The gym had probably been changed into peregrino overflow housing when the town realized there weren’t enough people to justify a gymnasium and they could make money charging for cots. I think it made sense and probably would have suggested it, if I had been a resident of the town. Metal cots lined the walls with a few mattresses on the floor for real overflow bedding. The bathroom was modern and clean (cold water only) although you had to go back to the albergue for a shower, which meant a walk in the cold rain. There was mold slowly creeping up the sides of the walls where they met the floor. Peregrinos started to use the soccer goals stored there to spread out wet clothes.

The under-appreciated hospitalero handed out blankets to all who needed. I felt sorry for her, knowing that many would complain about what they would see as a  new low in pilgrim accommodations.

From my point of view, however, it was dry, cheap, and the temperature was comfortable. I wasn’t going to sleep touching the wall so I didn’t worry about the dirt and mold there. It was the roomiest space I had ever stayed in my life and I wasn’t sharing a bunk bed. I was OK with this and knew it would be something to tell the folks back home.

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It was where refuges live in camps on CNN. And I truly was grateful and happy with this warm, dry, place to stay the night.

The large gymnasium windows along the top let in all the light (there were no lights in the building) and I enjoyed the sound of hard rain as I fell asleep.

The heavy breathing in my ear the next morning would have, in a previous life, awakened me with a start. Instead, I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and dug deeper inside, vainly trying to block the sound out.

But I slowly realized that heavy breathing not accompanied by snoring  wasn’t the usual sound heard in an albergue. I poked my head out, found my glasses, and looked around.

About two feet from my bed, where nothing had been the night before, was a large dog. Two, in fact. Curled up next to their people in the other cots who had snuck them in during the night. The dogs were well behaved and as clean an anyone else in the gymnasium.

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The downpour of the night before ensured that the day would be full of sticky mud and I was glad I hadn’t rinsed out the zip off bottoms of my pants, which I realized worked great as gaiters. I packed up, nicely rested, and started to walk to Castrojeriz.

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Another Close Encounter and Another Poll – Day 18 – Burgos to Hornillos Del Camino

I left Burgos in good spirits, deciding not to take the coward’s way out and spend an extra day in that lovely city, but to drive on according to plan. It didn’t hurt that, as I had tried to go back to sleep that morning, I could hear another pilgrim in the hotel preparing for that day’s journey. My initial reaction was “God gives you a place to rest, why hurry out the door? Why? Why?” Yet, another voice started to make its way into my consciousness – “Let’s go. Let’s go.”

I turned on the tv to find out what the weather would be that day. Once again, rain (although I haven’t mentioned it in a while, it has rained every day). A nice breakfast awaited me in the dining room of the hotel and my clothes were fresh, clean and dry.

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I made my way through Burgos,  going through the festival the city was holding that day.

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Because of the tents and stalls set up for the fest, I couldn’t make my way to the few sights I still wanted to see before I left town. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Mary Helen and Carolyn were new pilgrims from the US, just starting from Burgos. They asked questions about the Camino, questions I myself would have asked weeks ago of someone who had been on the Camino as long as I had. Why are you walking? Is it hard to find the way? What are the albergues like? Answering their questions made me feel like an old hand at this Camino thing, yet each question also made me realize how much I didn’t know, as each answer went along the lines of  “you kind of do whatever you want, there’s no one right way.”

The rain started pouring when I stopped in Tardajos to get a tortilla and beer but I prepared every day for heavy rain, with my rain cover on my pack and wearing my rain jacket. I had originally planned to stop in the town of Rabe de las Calzados, about 13 kilometers from Burgos,  for the night, but I was feeling good about walking and decided to continue all the way to Hornillos, 20 kilometers and the start of the Meseta.

The rain stopped but darker storm clouds gathered in new, threatening fury. I was walking alone and suddenly there were dark, black-grey clouds to the front, back, and either side.

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I had entered the Meseta, the place most prized by some pilgrims, dreaded by others. The Meseta is the flat part of the Camino Frances, providing thousands of acres of farmland for the breadbox of  the country.

For many, the flatness is a welcome relief from the ups and down of the previous kilometers of the Camino. For others, it is a very long, boring walk.

And, in a thunderstorm, you are the tallest thing around. You and your metal hiking poles.

“. . . though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . ”

The blisters which had started to disappear so nicely during my short stay in Burgos began to once again sneak in as my socks and boots got wetter and muddier. So much for the clean pants I had delighted in earlier in the day. I hoped that Mary Helen and Carolyn were prepared for this part of their opening-day Camino experience.

As the clouds grew darker, I glimpsed another pilgrim, a woman, just around the slight bend in the trail in front of me. Ponchos have a tendency to flap madly in the wind and her’s was no exception. Her dark green poncho fluttered violently around her in the coming storm like a giant dark gown, yet her dogged march forward inspired me as I kept going. I said a prayer, acknowledging that everything would be in good hands, put my head down, and continued on, knowing I would catch up with her soon because of my quick pace.

The rumble of thunder came from over my left shoulder. Yet, the rains never came. All around me, I could see the rain falling in sheets over the acres of flat meseta, as  portions of horizon were obliterated by the storms. It was windy and cold and I kept my poles tucked close to my body (just in case). The Camino was muddy from the rain that had fallen just in front of me.

Yet, I stayed dry.

I looked ahead to see how the woman in front was doing.

She was gone.

But there was no road, no path leading off the Camino here, no clumps of trees to seek temporary shelter. It was a straight stretch as far as one could see.

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Where had she gone? And I knew I was walking faster than she was (Ask anyone – I have a good pace).

Rain began, but not storm rain, just normal rain. I was no longer in danger of being electrocuted on the Camino. I continued to the soggy town of Hornillos, another story. I never did find that woman with the poncho.

Saints? Big Tess at it again?

I am not making this up.

The Saints Sneak Up On Me – Burgos

I did sleep until 0900, maybe later.

I awoke, quietly, on my own terms. No hustle of people getting up, dressing, packing, hoping to be first out the door. I awoke slowly, peacefully, without an ache or pain in my body. Fully rested.

I went to breakfast and drank a pitcher of orange juice in 3 minutes, then asked for another. Delicious. I ate some of everything being offered.

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Yet, there were so many things I wanted to do that day. I forced myself to start moving.

Leaving the hotel with a bag of everything fabric I had, I found the laundry in town that would wash, dry, fold, and deliver my laundry to the hotel. I found a Vodaphone store and put minutes on my phone, finally.

I wanted to see all the great sights. I wanted to see the world-famous Cathedral.

I also wanted to see the Monasterio de Las Huelgas Reales. This monastery was founded in 1187 by royalty, many of whom were crowned and later buried there. But the big draw is that the monastery has a statue of Santiago, St. James, with a moving arm. This arm was used to bestow knighthoods on lucky recipients.  The draw of classic cloister architecture, a statue with a moving arm,  and the beauty of a bright, dry day was an irresistible combination and I was off.

As I followed my map, I ran into several friends from the Camino and I spent time with them. I admired the many statues of El Cid, a favorite son of the city.

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The gardens along the river were lovely and the new Museum of Human Evolution was very enticing.

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Should I visit? Do I have time? Money? Each new sight drew me away from my goal of finding the monastery as I wandered happily around Burgos.

I finally decided to get back on track and find that monastery. I eventually saw what I was looking for across the river –  an old building, small, unassuming, faced by trees and, what else, a parking lot.

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I approached, read the plaque on the wall, and came to a shocking halt, unable to believe what my eyes were telling me.

I had not found the monastery founded by Alfonso VIII and his peers, with a statue that could bestow knighthoods.

I had, instead, stumbled upon a convent founded by my traveling companion, Saint Theresa. In fact, the last convent founded by Saint Theresa before her death in 1582.  My companion, Big Tess, who had been guiding my steps from day one of my Camino, had led me through the city, admiring the sights, and taken  me straight to her house.

I checked my map, and sure enough, this convent wasn’t listed. In other words, if I had been looking for it, I would not have been able to find it.

I realized that I had been so caught up in myself, my journey, my well-being and comfort, that I had forgotten to say “thank you” to my true traveling companions, my Saints – Big Tess, who had given me the gumption to walk away from people who made me feel bad about myself, St. Julian who had led me  to the great hotel room, St. Christopher, who put me on the right bus, St Roque, who kept my feet in great shape, and St. Philip N, who saw that I always had a reason for a smile on my face.

I spent quite a bit of time sitting  in the parking lot, resting and thinking. I watched as a young woman carrying a suitcase walked up and rang the bell of the convent. A woman opened the door and gave a warm, “Ah, we’ve been expecting you! Welcome!” to the new arrival. I felt happy for all parties involved.

I gave up my plans to look for the famous monastery with the statue with the moving arm. I had found a more important sight.

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Oops! Is my Prejudice Showing? – Burgos

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Burgos was a beautiful and welcome city. The cathedral is grand and rightly takes up the center of attention, in a city with many noteworthy sights.

I entered at the end of the day, sweaty, tired, and happy. Walking into the plaza, I found friends from the Camino who had arrived earlier. I asked them for advice on where to stay and for some general prices. They gave me information and, armed with a map from the tourist office, went to find a place to stay for two nights.

The first place I stumbled upon was too “posh” for a disheveled pilgrim like me but I decided to ask for their price in order to get a base line for my search. Imagine my surprise when they gave me a price lower than my friends were paying at their hotels!

I decided to stay at the posh place.

Great decision. The room was more charming than any I had stayed in for a long while.

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I took a LONG hot bath, unpacked, and went out to find dinner, returning to where I had found my friends earlier. Because it was the plaza in the center of the city, in front of the cathedral, it was ground zero for pilgrims – not only did the Camino pass right through the plaza, but the municipal albergue, for pilgrims looking for overnight accommodations, was also within throwing distance.

I didn’t find the same friends but did find others. Dom and Jean were having dinner with L., whom  I had met a few days earlier when, after making herself a steak dinner in an albergue kitchen, took up my offer for my extra pasta. I had made dinner for myself that night in the albergue and, as usual when cooking for one, had quite a bit more than one person could eat. The “etiquette” is that extra food is offered for any pilgrims who have neither time and/or money to make a decent meal for themselves – the food is never wasted and the offer graciously accepted by anyone hungry.

Like I said, L accepted my offer at the albergue, even though she had just made a steak dinner for herself. I had been a little put out – the offer had been intended for those hungry, not those who had just eaten a steak dinner –  but an offer was an offer and maybe she was still hungry. One other hungry pilgrim took me up on my offer and wolfed down the food so I was glad I had made the offer.

So now I found myself in Burgos, sitting down to eat with Dom, Jean, and L.

I didn’t know them very well and I asked where they were from and why they were walking. I guessed that Dom and Jean were from Ireland, an easy guess because of their accents. I guessed L was from Hawaii. Her Asian ancestry and all-American accent immediately took me to the islands.

But, no, she was from British Columbia, BC as they say, in Canada. Did I detect a very subtle note of unhappiness that I had assumed she was Hawaiian because she was Asian? Had I made a terrible prejudicial faux-pas??

When I lived in Hawaii and people mistook me for Hawaiian, I was nothing but flattered. A lovely place, with nothing but good memories and vibrations for me, had I now offended her by suggesting she was from there?

We all compared where we were staying in the city and, when I mentioned where I was and how much I paid, L announced that she would NEVER have paid that much for a room, that she could stay four nights on the Camino for what I had paid for one.

Yes, I knew that was true. the albergue would have been one-fourth the price.

But I had planned on Burgos being one of my rest towns.

I hadn’t wanted to sleep in a creaky bunk bed and to share a bedroom and bathroom with 20 people. I wanted my own bed, my own lovely, clean bathroom.  I wanted to use someone else’s full size towel, not my hand-towel size microfiber one. I wanted to sleep on clean sheets, not in a sleeping bag. I hadn’t wanted to have to leave at 0800 the next morning. I wanted to sleep until maybe 0900 and have a leisurely breakfast the next morning, sans heavy backpack, muddy boots, and dirty hiking poles. And I knew I had done well with the price.

So why did her comment so quickly and completely make me feel so badly about myself?

I decided that I didn’t need to go through dinner with a person who made me feel uncomfortable – was this Big Tess talking in my ear (remember my saints? If not, go back a few blogs and read up on my traveling companions).

I left and had an ice cream sundae for dinner near my hotel.

Had I offended L by assuming she was from Hawaii instead of from Canada? This still gnaws at me.

Why did her comments about my choice of hotel instantly make me feel like a person who is incapable of making good choices?

Why did I let her make me feel like an idiot? This gnaws at me still, also.

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