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Burgos, Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, Hornillos del Camino, Meseta, pilgrimage, Spain

September 14th, Day 13: Burgos to Hornillos del Camino: ‘The Meseta – The Journey of the Mind’

Sunflower fields in the meseta.

I sleep like a baby in our quiet, clean and comfortable hotel room, but I still manage to wake up at an unearthly hour of the morning, despite having no other pilgrims around me. I get up, send some messages home, gather my things and check out.

We head to a café at the top of the road, right next to the cathedral and across from the albergue. We order a coffee and sit with other pilgrims who are fueling up before their morning walk. A great energy fills the café, and I realize I feel very at home in this little city. As I sip my cortado, I picture this being my local spot.
We run into Ramon and he, Tammy and I leave town together. It’s a pretty and easy morning walk, and as we leave town, I can truly see that we are entering the flat terrain of the meseta, the part everyone warned would be trying, boring and mostly awful, a part that quite a few pilgrims purposefully skip.
The first few glimpses of the meseta prove to be beautiful besides the occasional bleak and industrial entry into, or exit from, town. Ramon and I walk together, and despite already knowing a lot about Ramon, I haven’t actually had much one-on-one time with him – I have just heard a lot about him and his story from other pilgrims.
We begin talking and he asks me if I have had any realizations on the Camino so far. It’s still early days, and despite so much happening, I haven’t had time to, or been asked to process things just yet. I begin to tell Ramon that I’m learning a lot about self-love, whether that entails stopping to doctor a blister before it becomes too painful to walk, or removing myself from toxic situations before they take an emotional toll on me, instead of being a stubborn fighter who ‘sticks things out.’
I realize that the beginning of the meseta, what previous pilgrims have coined ‘the journey of the mind,’  is unfolding right before my eyes.
I learn about Ramon’s reasons for walking the Camino, specifically that there are a few things affecting his current relationship. We talk about his family history – the loss of siblings and the affect that had on his parents’ relationship, and we talk about love, trust and relationships as we approach Rabe de las Calzadas.
I confess to Ramon that I never really witnessed much romantic love between my parents growing up, and that as an adult, I focus on how many unhappy marriages there are, the high divorce rate, and the fact that we’re not a monogamous species. Ramon explains to me that we are the directors of our own lives, and part of being our own director means projecting what we want, while at the same time, looking around us and seeing what we want and attracting it to us.
It hits me that while I tend to be an optimist, I am a real cynic about love. At the end of our conversation, Ramon challenges me to look around and notice the love around me. I realize, I’ve only been looking at the things and situations that reinforce what I believe to be true. I accept his challenge to look for the things around me that will help foster a new opinion.
We stop for a break in Rabe de las Calzadas, and enjoy an Aquarius, the sports drink of the Camino. An old, heavy set Spanish man serenades us and insists we have a picture taken with him as he plants a kiss on my cheek. We laugh as we leave town an begin the 10 km to Hornillos del Camino. It is a scorcher, and there’s no shade to be found for a long stretch. As we walk along a dusty, rocky path, we see a tree off in the distance to our left. We decide to cross into the field and take a little break under its shade. It seems to take us forever to reach this tree that looked so close to the path. We sit and share some snacks before heading on.
When we finally arrive in Hornillos, I want to keep walking, but my body is telling me otherwise. The albergue is full though, and after checking out a few alternative guesthouses, we realize we will have to wait for the overflow gymnasium to open at 4 p.m. I shed my boots and sit on the steps outside a small church, joining the pilgrims who have arrived prior to me.
4:00 seems to take forever to arrive, but when it does, the lady running the check-in process picks up my boots and carries them to the gymnasium, proceeding to check me in first – do I look that tired and pathetic? Either way, I am thankful for this gesture of kindness.
The gymnasium/accommodation in Hornillos
An afternoon siesta is in order and it’s good sleep, despite the fact that we are in a cold, cavernous gymnasium. I wake up just before dinner and Tammy, Ramon and I venture over to the one restaurant in town for our nightly vino tinto and pilgrim’s dinner. The place is seething with people and we’re fortunate to get a table during the second seating. We wait a while for our food, and we’re between courses when I see the sunset unfolding outside.
I excuse myself and cross the street and climb up the steps where I had sat earlier. Behind the village church, I can see the meseta sprawling out before me, endless fields of sunflowers in the distance.
Everyone’s at dinner, and there’s not a soul in sight. I soak in the view and the silence before returning to the crowded restaurant, and as I turn around to walk back, I spot an older couple in their late 60s sitting on a picnic bench outside the restaurant. They are cuddled up together like teenage lovers, sharing a laugh and oblivious to the world around them. It is surprising and sweet, and I take a moment to think about what Ramon had said to me during today’s walk. I’m thankful for my time with him today, for the conversation and the courage to share my feelings with him, but most of all, for his challenge to me moving forward. I head back into the restaurant and sit down at the table. I smile at Ramon. It’s a smile that says, “You are right.”


Ages, Burgos, Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 13th, Day 12: Ages to Burgos

Breakfast #2 : Tortilla de patatas

I don’t sleep late, and I’m fully awake when things start dropping off beds – first Gill’s harmonica, then a water bottle… it’s a morning of discombobulation. We gather ourselves and our things and head back to the restaurant where we had been the night before. On the way, we run into Ramon, who made an early start from San Juan de Ortega to catch up and say goodbye to Gill.

Buen Camino!

We have coffee and toast and sit huddled around- exchanging contact info and sharing pictures.

We are parting ways with Gill this morning, and despite tentative plans to meet up again on the 24th, we are delaying the inevitable. We are not satisfied from breakfast, and find another café at the end of the street, duck in and order tortilla de patata and another round of coffees. It’s quickly approaching 9 a.m. and we have a decent days walk ahead of us. Ramon says goodbye and heads out before Tammy and I. We say our goodbyes to Gill and make our way out of Ages.

The early morning walk out o Ages.

It is a beautiful morning walk. The sun seems as slow to rise as we are to start walking. A soft autumn light unfolds, and the farmland around us glows gold.  Farmers are in the fields, herding sheep and because of our late start, we share the path with only a few other pilgrims.

Despite our late night, I feel invigorated and excited to share the next few days with Tammy. We walk and talk – bouncing from topic to topic – life, work, relationships, our families. Tammy tells me of her mother’s passing five years ago. She is carrying some of her mother’s ashes with instructions from her father to sprinkle them in Finisterre: ‘the end of the world.’ I decide then that I will walk at the same pace as Tammy, so that we arrive in Santiago on the same day and make it to Finisterre to complete this mission. We come to a cross on a hill and there’s a winding descent through a couple of villages. We stop for a cold coke, and begin the long haul into Burgos, which takes us along a concrete, industrial path.

Leaving Ages.

When we reach the outskirts of Burgos, we are both put off by the city. We have been in such small, quaint villages leading up to now that being in a large, modern city feels strange. We sit on a patio outside an old, dingy café next to a major road, and decide we will blow through Burgos and try to make it to the next small village on the other side, Tardajos. It’s another 10 km. What we don’t realize is just how big Burgos is… It takes us close to an hour to actually cross the city, but once we do, we are met with a beautiful, charming old city.

This side of Burgos is filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and galleries, all which line cobblestone streets. We see a sign for the municipal albergue and make our way to inquire about beds for the night. Here we run in to Dima and Keren, our Israeli friends, and their walking partner, Martin. We tell Martin of our plans to possibly keep walking, and he tells us we would be silly to leave without exploring Burgos. We are already realizing that he is right, but find out there are no beds left at the albergue.

Not wanting to walk much more, or go on a wild goose chase for accommodation, we decide to inquire about a room at the hotel on the corner of the street. I saw a pilgrim’s rate advertised as we passed, so we inquire as to how much it will cost to stay for one night. We approach the hotel, and sliding doors open. A flower arrangement sits upon a large, circular wooden table. The lobby is pristine – clean marble floors, dark furniture and throw rugs. A bowl of fruit sits on the counter near check-in.

Our posh hotel for the night.

We have walked 24km in 85 degree heat. We are dusty, dirty and tired. I feel slightly out of place and I wonder what kind of price quote we are going to be given. A small part of me says it shouldn’t matter- to just take it this one time, no matter the price. I ask the lady at the check-in desk if they have rooms left for pilgrims, and if so, what the rate is. The polite receptionist quotes us a price of 67 Euro for both of us. We are used to paying 8-12 Euro a night for a bed, so this sounds like a lot to us. We thank the receptionist and walk to the sliding doors. I’m thinking Tammy isn’t up for paying that much and she thinks I’m not, but when we realize we’re on the same page, we hightail it back in and book the room immediately. I do feel slightly guilty, like we are cheating a bit, but one night of luxury is welcomed. We have a suite with a large bedroom, big bathroom, fluffy white towels, and a living room with a sofa, chair, table and mini balcony.

La Catedral de Burgos.

I take the longest shower of the Camino and even dry my hair and we head out to explore Burgos, which is now bathed in end of day light. We approach the cathedral from the back, catching the end of a wedding celebration. Church bells are ringing and colorful confetti decorates the gray pavement under our feet. We watch the young stylish bride and groom leave the church and walk the steps down to Burgos’ Cathedral, which towers over the square below, their photographer in tow.

After touring one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen, we head for dinner on the square- tapas and vino tinto. We find a small café on a corner, and we are the only pellegrinos in here. It is a local joint and we order chorizo, eggplant, cheese, sausage and bread. Two friends that Tammy had met near San Juan de Ortega, Eric and Serge, join us as we make our way to an outside table. We sit with them for a while, but I am overcome with fatigue from a late night last night. We say farewell, but walk the roundabout way back to the hotel. Burgos is coming to life. A fashion show is in full swing on one square, a gallery opening is taking place to our right, and in true Spanish style, patrons from restaurants and bars are spilling into the streets. The energy is fun and light… I could almost catch a second wind.

We head back to Hotel Palacios de los Blasones to enjoy a night of respite from the pelligrino lifestyle – one that includes a comfortable clean bed, wifi, fluffy pillows, and no collective snoring, yet ironically enough, all I find is that I miss the ambiance of the albergues and the and camaraderie found within them.