31.05.2012 - 05.07.2012
Burgos was yet another beautiful city. Spacious and unpretentious, ancient and modern at the same time. I'd felt the same about Pamplona and Logrono. Was it that the architects, town planners and city fathers of each generation were heavenly inspired and loaded with pesatas or was it that the Camino brought me to these cities in a different way. Normally I arrive in a new city by car, bus or train. I have no sense of the place until I arrive into a car park or bus station, hardly the most inspiring of beginnings. Most often I am not quite sure where I am in the city and have a task to complete, sometimes it is pleasurable, sometimes not. An entry into the city on the Camino is different. You walk into it; slowly slowly you transition into it. You get used to it's smells, it's buildings, whether the people look at you or respond to your smile. The fact that you are walking into it means that you have some orientation before you arrive. For me, one of the thrills was spotting the spire of the cathedral or cathedrals from a distance. You knew that was where the Camino was taking you, albeit slowly slowly. Pamplona, Logrono and Burgos are all ancient ones, built by a river for defensive purposes and thus overflowing, with bridges and defensive city gates. So the final thrill of arrival into the city was to cross the river over some ancient bridge, enter through some splendid huge, solid city gate and a few minutes later, arrive in the central Plaza towered over by the Cathedral. Pure magic. But fair play to the modern city planners, the cities remain spacious and airy and welcoming. Pamplona deserves special mention. They have some fantastic modern architecture right next to the ancient stuff. Not only does it work, but it adds to the old. I was impressed
In Burgos I stayed in the Davina Pastora Albergue, a small little room with 13 beds above a chapel. When the chapel bell rang every fifteen minutes the floorboards gently shook. Far from being annoying, it calmed the senses. Which could not be said for the 3 Korean men who were amongst my fellow pilgrims. The Koreans are usually the very essence of politeness and good manners. These 3 had obviously missed going to charm school. During the night they switched the main light on and off on many occassions, failed to shut the door when they were having a pee and when they arose at 5am, had a full scale and heated debate on something. I was raging. When you are raging at 5am, it is hard to get back to sleep. So at 5.45am I was out of the alberque and rapidly pacing through the streets of Burgos in the dark. The next stage of the trip was through the Meseta and I think I was feeling a bit nervous of what was to come. So, pounding through the streets in the dark seemed like the best way to block it out. Twenty minutes later I was greeted with the customary 'buen camino' by an increasing number of pilgrims going in ther opposite direction to me. When the 7th or 8th had passed me by I realised I was going the wrong way, heading back to St Jean Pied du Port. Ooops, glad I spotted that in time.
The Meseta is a high plateau covering a fair part of central spain. It is reputedly incredibly hot and inhospitable. Very few people choose to live there, they say the only thing that seems to flourish is unending fields of barley, wheat and oats. I had heard that this stage of the Camino (from Burgos to Leon) was incredibly dull, mind numbingly dull infact and that the intensity of light and heat could be quite overwhelming. I wasn't looking forward to it at all. I had images of myself evaporating, or melting into a puddle of wax at some godforsaken spot in the middle of nowhere. To die so early into my 2 year career break would be so unfair, so I vowed that after 2 weeks of dawldling, I would move up into third gear. And so, after turning to face the right direction, I speed off towards Hornillos del Camino, my first sleep stop on the Meseta. What followed was utterly magical. Yes it was just a path through barley and wheat fields, but there was something about the vastness, the emptyness, the silence and the light that was so so special, so bloody elating. Give me more of this I thought, I don't want it to stop. And then out of nowhere a village appeared. It had been hidding in a depression in the plateau. It was Hornillos. It had one long empty street, the same sense of hushed silence and emptyness. In my head the soundtrack from a spaghetti Western was playing and tumbleweed was rolling down the street. There seemed to be no one there. And then I arrived at the Albergue next door to the Church, where it seemed half the world's population were queued up for a bed. It was 11.15 and the Alberque didn't open till 12.30. 11.15!!!! How the hell did I get there so fast? I didn't ponder long on that question, but congratulated myself at having turned into an Olympic speed walker overnight and promptly went for a beer. (The church, the bar and the Alberque all within 20 metres od each other, what more could a girl ask for?) I loved Hornillos, I can't quite describe why. I think it's somethying to do with the 'atmosphere' or 'energy' which is created by the heat, the high altitude and the emptyness. Honestly, it felt a bit like being drugged. After the usual daily routine I awoke at 5pm and stumbled out of bed to go outside for some oxygen. I happened upon those poor poor Pilgrims who had been walking during the middle of the day. Dear God, they were in a bad state, a bit like the zombie movie of the first night in Roncesvalles, but minus the water. Apparently this is the same every afternoon; the heat builds up to unbearable levels and as there is no shade and no water, people become very dehydrated and unwell. I was fine and dandy and high on whatever drug was in the air. I had a sociable early evening and then disappeared off into a field for a couple of hours to contemplate my navel. At lights out time I knew I was in for a rough night. Not only were the dreaded Koreans two bunks down from me, but my bed was next to the entrance for the kitchen, an entrance with no door. That meant I would be awoken as soon as people arrived there for brekkie, often as early as 4.30am. That was it. If you can't beat em, join them. I was going to get up early, walk 30 km and try and get a place in one of the famous Albergues, St Nicholas in Itero de la Vega.