Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 15th, Day 14: Hornillas del Camino to Itero de la Vega: ‘The Head and the Heart’

Fields of gold.

We wake up early in the cold gymnasium and hit the trail around 6:45, well before anything is open. I feel lethargic leaving town, like a coffee would work magic right now. We have a solid morning walk before Hontanas, where we know we can stop and fuel up, but as the sun rises, I feel like I’m coming to life. This is partly because we can see where we are going now, but also because we are rewarded with a beautiful sunrise that is turning the fields of sunflowers to gold.

Our morning walk is halted completely as we frolic in the fields, taking picture after picture – trying to capture the morning’s beauty. After 30 minutes, we move on, walking a steady pace to Hontanas, coffee and breakfast slipping to the back of our minds as the conversation turns to one about self-love. Tammy and I talk for a long while, and I have some time for self-reflection. The conversations of the past two days are really making me think, and I sort of have an internal dialogue with myself.

I am learning that I need to be nicer and more patient with that inner part of me that I’m usually so hard on – the part that asks questions, hesitates, throws up flags, shows insecurities. I need to learn to hug that part of me, and ask questions when flags are raised, instead of fighting it, toughening up and carrying on without any consideration as to what that part of me is saying. For I feel like this is what my heart is saying, and often times, it’s easy to let my head rule my heart, but, usually at the expense of my feelings. It’s these feelings and emotions that separate head and heart – and I’m learning that being with these feelings – whether negative or positive is the only way to process them, learn from them, and fully move through and on. Our feelings are the biggest indicators of what we really need at any given time.

The daily reading from John Brierly’s Camino Guide.

We arrive on the outskirts of Hontanas, and descend down a small hill into the village, which is literally one vertical street into and out of town, with a few markets, cafes, a hotel and an old church. We find a café attached to a hotel and order a real, full breakfast – coffee, eggs, potatoes, bead, more coffee. It costs as much as some of our pilgrim’s dinners.

We have wifi and Tammy forwards me a daily message from the Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron. Ironically enough, todays reading is about self-love. The topic is ‘Nurturing Ourselves.’ It reads:

As adults, we begin to cultivate a sense of loving-kindness for ourselves—by ourselves, for ourselves. The whole process of meditation is one of creating that good ground, that cradle of loving-kindness where we actually are nurtured. What’s being nurtured is our confidence in our own wisdom, our own health, and our own courage, our own goodheartedness. We develop some sense that the way we are—the kind of personality that we have and the way we express life—is good, and that by being who we are completely and by totally accepting that and having respect for ourselves, we are standing on the ground of warriorship. 

I can’t help but think how spot on this is, given my morning conversation with Tammy and myself. I re-read the passage and smile. Odd and interesting revelations are occurring on the meseta.

A note placed at San Anton’s ruins.

I check some messages and realize I have missed seven calls from friends at home. I know something is wrong and I learn that a good friend of mine has been admitted to hospital for an emergency hysterectomy. I send a couple of messages home, and before leaving town, we duck into the church and I say a quick payer for her.

An old man stops us as we’re leaving and rambles on in Spanish about the history of the church, and something about the war. I don’t understand fully, but we smile in return. On our way out, he hands us a leaflet detailing the churches on the Camino where we can attend Mass.

Entering Castrojeriz.

We walk on to Castrojeriz, feeling strong, and arrive in what feels like no time. As we enter a field of haybales, I meet Russ from Atlanta. We have been hearing about each other for a few days now from other pilgrims, as we’re both from Atlanta, but we haven’t crossed paths yet. We say a quick hello and Russ moves on. Tammy and I rest on a haybale and decide we feel strong enough to keep walking.

Castrojeriz is quaint and the street leading out of town is filed with Inns, cafes and galleries. We’re tempted to stay, and we see Russ outside an albergue. He’s surprised we’re moving on as it’s 2:30 and most pilgrims have finished for the day. We push on, but as we make the long climb up the hill just outside of town, I don’t doubt that we both wish we had stayed put. One positive is that we have the path to ourselves. We don’t pass another pilgrim for the rest of the afternoon.

Overlooking Castrojeriz.

From the top of the hill, all we see are blue skies and sunflower fields. We have just a few kilometers left to go but decide to stop at an area with picnic tables and a water fountain. According to a man who cruises by us on a bike, heading in the opposite direction, we have just 1 km left. Still, we shed our boots, aware of the need for a rest, despite such a short distance to go.

We walk on, for what feels like more than one kilometer, and finally reach San Nicolas, a beautiful Italian donativo. It’s quiet to the point that we think it might be closed, but I know I need an internet connection tonight to be able to check on my friend at home, so we push on another 2 km to the next village.

The last 2 km go quickly and we stop at the first albergue we see. We check in at the bar and the senor takes us to a room with three beds and a private ensuite (and very clean) bathroom. The price is 10 Euros, but we feel like we’ve really struck gold, when no one shows up to claim the other bed.

In between Castrojeriz and Itero de la Vega.

The shower rivals the one at the hotel in Burgos, and after getting cleaned up, we head back to the bar for a vino tinto and to make a dinner reservation. Pilgrims are sitting in the courtyard, soaking in the afternoon sun, doctoring their feet and congregating with their Camino families. We have lost Ramon and Lynne, and wonder how many towns ahead they may be.

Later, in the dining room, we squeeze in for dinner at a small table for four, but Georgie, from Australia, and her crew – Sebastian, Rune, Penny (Georgie’s mum), Mike (from New Jersesy) and a few others insist we push our table together with theirs. We are now a group of about 12.

‘Laura with the aura’ and me

I recognize a few faces from recent towns, specifically the woman wearing the “Fiercely Independent” tee shirt. I had seen her last night in Hornillas, and laughed at the line on her shirt, seeing as this is what my mother says I am – fier
cely independent.

I am telling this story to a few others at my end of the table, unaware that she can hear what I’m saying. I have to excuse myself as I’m receiving a phonecall with an update on my friend’s condition. I find out all is ok, and I’m relieved for the good news. I catch up briefly with my friend who is updating me, and when I return to the table, the lady wearing the tee shirt has gone and retrieved another of the same tee shirts from her room and is gifting it to me.


Fiercely independent??

Come to find out, this lady is Laura, who I nickname, “Laura with the aura.” Her shirt is promoting the Woodstock Film Festival. I meet her husband Adam, who immediately gives me the nickname “Little Woodstock.” This will stick for the rest of the Camino.

I change into the shirt and wear it with pride for the rest of the Camino, often getting questions from people villages ahead as to what my connection to Laura and Adam is. Well, they have, and will, become extended members of my growing Camino Family.


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