May 27, 2011 Burgos to Rabe de las Calzadas


Nave of Burgos cathedral.

Short day. Stayed at Burgos to enjoy cathedral tour along with Monique. Spectacular. Definitely on eof the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. Left town about noon and walked 10 km to Rabe de las Calzadas. Stayed at lovely albergue along with Merila, Natalie, Susan and Monique. Great dinner of tortilla and good conversation. Getting the feeling afterward that Susan and Natalie no longer approve of me. Agree with Monique that I will go on ahead as I walked quite a bit faster.

May 26, 2011 Atapuerca to Burgos

Had dinner last night with Natalie and Susan of Spokane and Matlan of Costa Rica. Great conversation. Natalie is a pancreatic cancer survivor and a fun lady. Talked lots about Luke and girls.

Left albergue at 06:15 after very hot night in top bunk. Walked uphill after Atapuerca and attacked by mosquitoes at cross atop hill. Then walked downhill to many small farming suburb/villages before taking the righthand option at the airport. Bad choice. Ten km of desolation and trucks. Never saw a plan take off or land by the airport I walked next to for an hour.

Arrived at Meson del Cid hotel at almost exactly same time as Michelle and Robert, who had taken the left option into Burgos. They declared their walk “tres jolie,” a reminder that I’d chosen the wrong path. In Burgos by 11:30 so walked around to shops looking for boots. Went via taxi to the Decathlon store. Huge disappointment as carried only discount Spanish brands. Saw Cloud and Tom and Alish at McDonald’s adjacent to store. They told me about the bus back to Burgos. Met up with Luke, Gal, Lila and Swiss Monique for pizza dinner — couldn’t find anything else that was vegetarian. Luke wants to walk with the girls until the last moment, rather than heading to Barcelona. Am thinking that’s ok, except leaves me with only options of hanging with Rocky or being alone. Will have to think that through. Most likely option is for me to begin 30+ km days and get to Santiago quickly so can do other things afterward, including Barcelona.

Night at Meson del Cid, planned to see cathedral in morning with Monique, then short walking day.

May 25, 2011 Tosantos to Atapuerca

Slept to 07:00, then breakfast of toast and cafe con leche at albergue’s comedor. Walked quickly to following towns and dodged trucks at Villafranca del Montes de Oca. Enjoyed the exercise of climb up to top of Montes de Oca, then the hot sun and endless forest became tedious. Finally came to San Juan de Ortega. Sheila of SF was behind me and looked for chair for her. Tried to borrow extra chair from solitary man and he said, “no.” Must’ve been angry because my immediate response was not nice. He must’ve understood English slang — I could see it in his face. Immediately felt guilty and began to examine my state of mind.

Then off to Ages and finally Atapuerca. I had entertained the idea of walking directly to Burgos, but was drained after a day in the sun. A cervesa at the bar followed by shower and washing of clothes at private albergue.

Had photo taken by French couple from Tosantos — Michelle and Robert of Limoges. They are very nice, but somehow my French fails when I talk to them. They have no English but many smiles and they enjoyed the chapel service last night at Tosantos very much.

Sitting now at shady portion of albergue yard, listening to birds and to pilgrims talking in Spanish. Hospitalera sitting near, reading Hape Kerkeling in Spanish. Next big task: eating a (hopefully) huge dinner.

May 22, 2011 Azofra to Santo Domingo

The landscape that became a painting that became a landscape.

Slept in late at Sebastian’s request and met Jahn at door of albergue at 09:00. Had a lovely, long talk with Jahn and Sebastian all the way to Ciruena. Met Kim and Janey just before Ciruena at a rest stop atop a large hill. Janey had bought new boots in Logrono and was now much happier with her camino.

Arrived Ciruena at 10:55 to sound of church bells so let Jahn and Sebastian and spent next 1/2 hour at simple mass in parish church. Exuberant singing from female congregants in front. Group of 10 seemingly Spanish men sat silently in rear of church. Many “Buen caminos” to me on the way out. Bar for tortilla and cafe con leche then on to Santo Domingo.

Outside Ciruena found camino landscape from my painting efforts. Too several photos and realized I had the unusual experience of walking through a painting. On way out of valley realized that Sheila was ahead and slowly caught up to her. Had nice conversation about church and singing. Had realized that “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore” had been sung as closing song at mass. Sheila explained this was an important song in her spiritual development. “While smiling have spoken my name…” was key line for her.

Arrived Santo Domingo de la Calzada to see a smiling Sebastian and find Rocky waiting for me at the Parador. Nice room overlooking a small courtyard. Excellent bathroom. Scheduled for dinner at 18:00. Mass in cathedral at 20:00. Sitting under cloudy skies in modern main street. Weather cool.

Realizing now that there are reveal approaches to spirituality on the camino:

  • Ordeal — struggle through aches/pains and blisters to cover difficult miles to completion
  • Sacrament — the way is full of natural beauty
  • Community — the highlight is other people. They are precious and conversation is most important
  • Religion — going to mass, viewing churches
  • Cultural/Language — the joy of immersing oneself in a different people
  • Exercise — “Hey, look how tough I am. I did 37 km today”
  • Adventure — What is over the next hill? What amazing things will I see?

Sat at table on camino and enjoyed passing parade of pilgrims. Some new faces: Guido of Italy; Carmen of Slovenia, Odd of France. Dinner at restaurant off small square with Rocky, Sheila, Janey, Kim, Joanne, Sebastian. After dinner decided to rest my blister with one more night at the Parador so said goodbye to Sebastian and Jahn at door of cathedral.

June 6, 2008 Burgos to Hontanas

I’d read many stories about the heat and boredom of the Meseta, but in my first experience of it — about 3 km out of Burgos — I knew I was in love. The Meseta is a vast plain, filled with grain fields, that stretches basically from Burgos in the east to Leon in the west. Contrary to My Fair Lady, the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain. Instead, this is a hot and fairly dry area, particularly in the summer months. The rainfall is just plentiful enough for a crop of summer wheat, so large farms spread out over the vast, mostly flat land and the camino is mostly on dirt roads that primarily serve these farms.

Setting out alone from Burgos I soon came upon a small but diverse international group. It consisted of an American woman, a Spanish man, and a Japanese man. I joined these three for the day as we walked on ahead toward my goal for the night: Hontanas.

The day was hot and dry, so any bit of shade was very welcome. My new boots, contrary to the reputation of new boots, were treating my feet very nicely. Still, I was hot and dry as I pulled into the town of Hontanas.

This little community, made up mostly of abandoned homes, sits low in a draw and is almost invisible until you come right onto it. Over the previous days I’d heard about another  American, Trevor, and I hoped to meet him here. Sure enough, I sit down for lunch and hear the familiar sounds of American English and I meet Trevor Rasmussen of Ohio whom I’d come to know well over the next weeks. “So you’re Trevor,” I said, and as we talked we began a strong friendship that was one of the best in my many days of camino walking.

I stayed that night at the albergue, where I snagged the last bed — a double in a private room! Soon a young couple knocked on the door and asked if I’d trade them since they were hoping to have some privacy and the rest of the albergue consisted of multiple bunk beds in several rooms. I obliged this charming couple and took one of their bunks instead. That night at dinner I sat with them, discovered they’d only just met a few days before, and heard the young Frenchman describe his dream of opening a crêpe restaurant here in Hontanas. It sounded like an ambitious dream, given the ramshackle nature of the town and the scarcity of any tourists except pilgrims, but I love crêpes (well, the sweet ones, anyway) and I wished him well.

May 30 – June 2, 2008 Santo Domingo to Copenhagen and back

May 30: I left Santo Domingo at dawn in a white taxi and watched out the window as future camino miles whizzed past. I saw several pilgrims braving the wind and light rain of this day, and once again I was amazed at the colors of the springtime grain fields.

I arrived at Burgos in plenty of time for my train and waited at a cafe as one of the oddest sights of the camino unfolded before my eyes. A group of young Spaniards escorted one of their friends into the train station. He was blindfolded and wearing a bright wig and ballet tutu. He had some kind of sock around his male appendage and it became clear he was getting married this weekend and his friends were giving him a pre-nuptial hazing. He took it “like a man” and the whole episode evinced chuckles from the assembled train goers.

I boarded the train to Burgos, looking ahead to a five-hour journey and enjoyed every moment of this trip to Bilbao. Through fields and forests and across rivers — this was an introduction to the beauty of Northern Spain and I was glad for the opportunity to see this beautiful region. I arrived at the train station in Bilbao and spotted the gorgeous stained glass window above the train gates. Then I caught a taxi for Bilbao’s airport and my flight to Copenhagen.

My wife, Gail, an anesthesiologist and professor of bio-medical ethics, was to speak to the European Society of Anesthesiologists that weekend. It was a big event and her first European speech. When I arrived in Denmark I soon realized there were two Sheraton Hotels and I wasn’t certain at which one Gail was staying. I guessed which one and when I arrived at the lobby I asked the desk to call her room. Gail answered the phone and asked the odd question, “Where are you?” I told her, “I’m down in the lobby,” and she was ecstatic. Her friend, Pam, had joined her for her Copenhagen visit and for a couple of weeks of sightseeing between there and Rome, so the three of us spent the next days enjoying this amazing city and listening as Gail shared his outstanding speech with the European Society.

Since Gail is a doctor I asked if she’d be willing to take a look at the blisters on my feet. “No!” she said, “They’d be too gross!” Even without the support of My Own Private Physician the days away from the camino brought healing to my feet and by the time of my return to Spain I felt much better. My only regret was that I’d left my favorite baseball cap back at the hotel in Santo Domingo and I expected I’d never see it again.

June 2: After a great weekend in Copenhagen I said goodbye to Gail and Pam and headed back via plane to Bilbao. My friend Stefan had suggested that I needed a cell phone so he could send me SMS texts, so I obliged and purchased a cheap cell phone and some minutes as I waited at the Bilbao train station. I boarded the train back to Burgos and caught a taxi to Santo Domingo. As I checked in at the Parador I asked about my hat and, sure enough, they’d kept it safe for me. From then on I’d have a fondness for this hotel and the great Parador chain.