May 28, 2011 Rabe de las Calzadas to Itero de la Vega

Left Rabe at 06:45 after toast breakfast and walked nonstop to Hornillos del Camino. Met Luke and girls there as well as Philippe and Roberto. Happy reunion! Left Hornillos with rumors that Rocky had been there also that night. Luke and the girls heard she’d been there but hadn’t seen her.

Walked from Hornillos to Hontanas with Lila and had a great talk. Nonstop talk and lots of laughter.

Arrived Hontanas and enjoyed lunch with Luke, Lila, Gal and three Germans. Nick, David, and Lucas. Decided it was time to strike out on my own without Luke and crowd, so left with plan to overnight at Castrojeriz. Arrived hot and tired there. Passed first albergue at beginning of town because didn’t like its looks. Discovered next 2 albergues were completo. Decided to strike out for next village, 10 kms away, but stupidly did not buy water before I left town. I realized the next hill is huge and I began to hope that there was a lot of water in my camelbak. Sign said the climb was 1050 meters and it felt like it. At top of hill a group of Italian bikers was resting and they gave me water after I asked, with much kindness. Kept walking and saw that after hill was a desolate stretch of at least 10 km. Continued walking without shade and without water. Bikers passed me just as I spotted the fuente and asked if I was ok. Very nice. Stopped at the fuente for +/- 20 minutes to air out socks and rest my feet and drink drink drink.

Arrived at San Nicolas de Puentetitero (Hospital de Pelegrinos) and was turned away by the hospitalero. I must’ve looked very downcast as in a few minutes he told me I could stay! Said I could sleep on mat on floor — which was just fine — and sent me to the showers to give me time to get ready for dinner. Had a foot washing ceremony followed by a lovely dinner and wine drinking contest and grand/funny Italian toast. Met 3 French women: Claire, Flora and Cecile. Also Finnish woman with excellent French and English named Sukkar. Very quiet setting on quiet side of river from Itero de la Vega. Cloud and Tom here along with Michelle and Robert. Very satisfying meal and general “feel” of albergue. Everyone is happy and satisfied. The pilgrim hospital (albergue) is small and quaint. A beautiful camino experience for all the normal reasons, plus the general ambience that is about joy, faith, and love. This all felt more genuine as they had relented from sending me away!

As David the hospitalero left he put me in charge of the albergue. If a pilgrim comes along I am to let him/her in. The door is never locked, David says, and breakfast is at 06:30. Long walk of 38 kms today, but ended in joy.

June 7, 2008 Hontanas to Fromista

Trevor proved to be much fun and very good company and he had with him Danni, a policewoman from Berlin. We set out after breakfast on a cool and windy day with rain threatening from the skies.

Soon after Hontanas is the Convento San Anton, a ruined medieval convent with portions of the apse and some buttresses all that remain. The road goes under one of the buttresses and the whole scene is one of beauty and desolation.

After a time the road straightened out as vistas of the next town, Castrojeriz, came into view. The crescent-shaped town hugs a conical mountain with a ruined castle on top and, though Castrojeriz is quite small, it is easily 2 km in distance to cross it from one tip of the crescent to the next.

After traversing the town, Danni, Trevor and I set out to climb the big hill opposite. This is considered the biggest climb of the Meseta, and perhaps one of the steepest (though not the longest) climbs of the entire camino. At the top we looked back to spectacular views of Castrojeriz and the pathway from which we’d come. On the other side of the hill we looked down to unobscured views of the remainder of the Meseta and the mountains beyond. The steep downhill was followed by more, seemingly endless, flat stretches.

Feeling good in my new boots, I left Trevor and Danni behind and headed to Fromista, 34 km from the day’s start. This was one of my longest days so far on a camino and, when the hospitalero at the albergue indicated there were no more beds I was discouraged. After walking through the plaza area and finding now hotel rooms, I was even more discouraged. I went back to the albergue, put on my sad face, and the hospitalera opened a vacant overflow room and let me take the first bed. Later that evening a group of strapping, young Italian bikers in Spandex shorts joined me and, though we had no language in common, we spent a friendly night in our bunks, with handshakes and smiles all around.

I regret missing the open hours of the Fromista church. It’s one of the treasures of the camino, with hundreds of sculptures in the outdoor soffits. It’s tiny, but clearly a Romanesque gem.

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.