St. Jean Pied de Port to Leon, 466 km (January 15 – March 7)
The “Camino For Good Virtual Camino” kicked off on January 15, 2021 when Dave and I (virtually) left St. Jean Pied de Port, France, on the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. As of March 7th, we have walked 466 km and arrived in Leon. We are more than half way to Santiago with just 313.9 km to go. At our current pace, we should arrive on April 11th. No hurry! It is the journey, not the destination that matters.
HERE is some information about our “Virtual Camino.”
This “Virtual Camino” has been an excellent motivator, giving us something positive to focus on during the pandemic. It has been fun meeting personal goals as well as people from around the world who are also walking this “Virtual Camino.”
Dave and I will be primed and ready to walk the Camino del Norte (Northern Road) in Spain as soon as we can. That route is slightly longer than the Camino Francés and runs 817 km from the city of Irun on the French/Spanish border to Santiago. We reached Bilbao in May, 2019, and would like to carry on from there.
As we walk at home and log our distances onto the map of Spain, we reminisce about our actual journey along the Camino Francés in 2015. For example, although on March 7th we “actually” walked here at home, we magically and “virtually” arrived in Leon, Spain. Part 1 of our virtual journey from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos can be found HERE. This is Part 2: Burgos to Leon.
February 18/19 – Burgos to Tardajos (almost)
Lindsay, a fellow pilgrim, was the inspiration for my “Virtual Camino” on February 19th. He had been looking at the big picture and decided, instead, to look for those little things that are often missed. I went out today looking for things we often miss, too. I didn’t walk as far as expected but went slower and saw much more as a result. I ended up in Dominion Brook Park, a place that Dave and I have driven past for 11 years but never stopped to explore. It was a five star day. Thank you, Lindsay!
February 20 – Tardajos (almost) to Hornillos del Camino
When Dave and I walked the Camino Francés in 2015, our routine was to walk for awhile before breakfast. The cafe in Tardajos was the first one we came to after leaving Burgos – a distance of 11 km. We were starving! Dave’s two sandwiches, my potato tortilla, and our orange juice and cafe con leche disappeared as if by magic! Then we were off to the Meseta.
Is it any wonder why Dave and I loved the Meseta so much? It is a high, largely treeless, windy plain with big skies and stretches of farmland. Crops were mostly harvested and fields plowed when we were there in the autumn of 2015. We’ve heard of people who avoid this part of the Camino (maybe because there are fewer facilities and places to “hide” if you get my drift), but Dave and I wouldn’t miss it for the world! By the way, most of the distance between Burgos and Leon is on the Meseta.
We are virtually spending our first night on the Meseta in the tiny town of Hornillos del Camino. It’s amazing how a place with only about 100 residents can provide for as many pilgrims as they do.
We only wish we are about to have the same dinner tonight that we had in 2015 at “The Meeting Place!” The cook was loudly applauded when he brought in the paella and once again after we thoroughly cleaned our plates.
February 21 – Hornillos del Camino to San Aton (almost)
On our Camino this morning, Dave and I walked to Dominion Brook Park, the place I explored two days ago while searching for little things we often don’t see when we are focussing on “the bigger picture.” We discovered “Sam’s Garden” a lovely area I somehow missed the first time. We totalled 11.4 km for the day after venturing along the not-so-nice slushy, muddy trails in Dean Park in the afternoon.
We ended up (virtually) between Hontanas and the Convento de San Anton. Drats! I was really hoping to spend a night at the San Anton Albergue to find out why it is so hugely popular.
It lacks facilities such as electricity, internet, and hot water. There is a kitchen but no refrigerator or coffee maker. There is a laundry room but no washer or dryer. There is one shower, but it is cold. There is no place to buy food so you must bring your own.
It sounds something like camping with a roof over your head, but people love it. I am guessing that the appeal has something to do with the fact there is nothing to do but connect with other pilgrims, hopefully while sitting around a warm campfire and sharing bottles of vino and …Hey! It’s starting to sound really good!
February 22 – Convento de San Aton (almost) to Castrojeriz
Even after walking 20 km from Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz in 2015, Dave had more walking to do. He wasn’t satisfied until he reached the castle ruins above the village. The castle dates at least as far back as the ninth century.
Meanwhile, I headed for the shower. The communal bathroom confused one poor man when he flung the door open and was faced with only women – one wearing just a towel. He quickly turned to leave, thinking he had mistakenly entered the ladies bathroom. “No! Come on in! This is your bathroom, too!” We laughed.
At the San Esteban municipal albergue, we shared one bathroom and one dormitory for 30 – actually 31 due to a latecomer who arrived when all the albergues in town were full. Rather than turn him away, a mattress on the floor gave him a place to sleep – the spirit of the Camino at its best.
Today’s “Virtual Camino” was dismal, unlike the sunny day when we actually arrived in Castrojeriz. Following Lindsay’s lead, I took photos of signs. These signs might be interesting only because they are “redundant.”
February 23 – Castrojeriz to Itero de la Vega
Getting up at 6 AM while it is still dark with plans to walk 25 km doesn’t sound like something most people want to do, does it? When you share a dormitory with thirty other people, that’s exactly what you do. The first person who gets up is your “alarm clock.” 🙂
On our Camino in 2015 we were thankful to have had an early start leaving Castrojeriz. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because, just as we reached the top of Alto Mostelares at an elevation of 90 metres, we turned and watched the sun come up behind Castrojeriz. What a masterpiece it was!
In contrast, today’s “Virtual Camino” was all about how changeable our weather here at home can be. On our 10.7 km walk from home to Sidney and along the waterfront, there was a mix of rain, hail, wind, and sunshine – everything but snow.
February 24 – Itero de la Vega to Fromista
Castrojeriz to Fromista was a favourite stage on our journey in 2015. More accurately, it was one of many favourite stages! It started with a spectacular sunrise and sweeping landscapes and ended with peaceful tree-lined paths along an 18th century canal and the beautiful 11th century Romanesque Iglesia de San Martin in Fromista.
On our way through Boadilla, we checked out the En El Camino Albergue with its beautifully landscaped grounds, small swimming pool, and walls painted by artist Begona. Rather than share a dormitory with 22 others, we carried on walking to Fromista where we hoped to find a private room with bath. The tree-lined path went through the Tierra de Campos (Land of Fields) to the Canal de Castilla, an 18th century canal that provided transportation of the cultivated crops as well as power to turn the corn mills.
Our private room with bath at the San Martin Hotel in Fromista was a highlight after walking 24.5 km that day. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven, but we soon had it confirmed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We met a couple from Minnesota who were disappointed with their room which is identical to ours. John said it was so small he wouldn’t be able to swing his golf club without hitting something. They had stayed in hotels during their entire journey and this one didn’t measure up. On the other hand, we had slept in dormitories and shared bathrooms for the last few nights so sleeping between a pair of sheets and drying ourselves with big, thick, thirsty towels was pure luxury.
My “Virtual Camino” between Castrojeriz and Fromista for the last two days was okay – nothing at all like our Actual Camino” on October 2, 2015!
February 26 – Fromista to Carrion de Los Condos
On our “Virtual Camino” for the last two days, Dave and I miraculously made it from Fromista to Carrion de los Condes, while walking 22.2 km along our usual routes at home: to Sidney and in Dean Park.
There are two routes to choose from when leaving Fromista: the main route along the highway or the slightly longer, scenic, riverside route. It was a “no brainer” which one we would take in 2015. We met a woman who tried to take the riverside route the day after we did, but rain had turned the path to mud. She had no choice but to cut over to the main route alongside the highway. What a difference one day can make!
A wedding took place at the magnificent 13th century Templar Church of Santa Maria la Virgen Blanca in Villalcazar de Sirga while we were there. While having our pilgrim’s menu at the bar opposite the church, we sat at the open window which was almost as good as being at the wedding reception itself. We stayed here a night before heading to Carrion de los Condes, a short distance away.
Tonight we are virtually staying at the Real Monasterio de San Zoilo Hotel in Carrion de los Condes, a historical place where we took a break from the Camino for two nights for medical reasons in 2015. In the “good old days,” the town was home to no fewer than 14 pilgrim hospitals but (thank heavens!) Dave just needed to visit the farmacia, not a hospital.
The renovated monastery which is now a hotel dates back to the 10th century; the cloister which is the highlight of the complex was completed at the beginning of the 17th century. Of course, we had to stop for a photo when we noticed Dave’s grocery store. What a fantastic hotel and town for taking much needed time off from the Camino!
February 27 – Leaving Carrion de los Condes
On this morning’s 8.5 km “Virtual Camino” around the neighbourhood, I came across touchable, fuzzy buds that might belong to magnolia trees and several picturesque arbutus trees with their peeling bark. I also found a sign that could have come from Spain. We are now virtually between Carrion de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza.
February 28 – Carrion de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza
Walking our “Virtual Camino” locally for the last two days was a whole lot easier than the actual Camino was on October 6, 2015. The long stretch between Carrion de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza – 17.2 km without a coffee or washroom break – had its challenges.
The first challenge was leaving our comfortable, warm hotel and heading out into the pelting rain and relentless wind! I felt like one of those droopy, brown sunflowers in the field beside us, bending with the wind on their skinny stalks. My eyes were tearing up, my nose was running, and little windshield wipers on my glasses would have been handy. I was wishing Scotty could “beam me up” to any other place. A cruise? Back at the lovely hotel we just left? Anywhere! An hour later the rain stopped, but the wind carried on.
We had walked for an hour before it occurred to me that I had something in my backpack that might turn a miserable day into a tolerable one. It meant stopping for a few precious minutes to find it – a worthwhile sacrifice.
Our daughter, Tania, told me there might be a time I would like to listen to music so she lent me her iPod. I hadn’t listened to it at all on our journey so far, but this seemed like the perfect time. I dug it out and, as soon as I plugged in the earbuds and turned the volume up loud to block out the howling of the wind, my spirits lifted and I suddenly had energy!
The first song that was playing was one of Tania’s which I didn’t know but, when I heard snippets of such words as “wind” and “strolling,” I thought “How perfect is that?!” Tania’s music and mine were shuffling a variety: “Dances With Wolves,” James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road,” ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” David Guetta’s “Titanium,” etc. I became The Road Runner with Wile E. Coyote (Dave) in hot pursuit. What fun!
We had hiked about 17 km when the steeple of a church came into view, meaning we were finally coming to Caldzadilla de la Cueza. At the same time, KD Lang began singing “Halleluja.” “Halleluja indeed,” I thought. “Coffee! Washrooms!”
It was when we came out of the cafe and were getting ready to walk again that AC/DC came on. I plugged one earbud into Dave’s ear so he could hear what I was listening to and he said, “No wonder you are walking so fast!”
Once we got around the corner where no one could see me, I felt the urge to dance. Boots and poles moved in time with “I’m T.N.T. …I’m dynamite …watch me explode…” and helped get us to our destination in record time. Now I have new appreciation for AC/DC!
I felt so much better that, when I passed a man who was also wearing earbuds, I smiled, pointed to his earbuds and mine, and gave him two thumbs up. Later we met Richard from Germany in Ledigos. He made a comment about how fast I was walking, so I said it had to do with my fast music. He was listening to slower John Denver music, so no wonder I passed him!
March 1 – Calzadilla de la Cueza to Moratinos
What a pleasant surprise it was to virtually reach Moratinos this afternoon after walking 12.4 km on the “Flight Path” around YYJ and through some residential areas.
In Moratinos, Dave and I finally had the (virtual) pleasure of meeting Bruno at his amazing Albergue San Bruno. Bruno is one of the hospitaleros who has benefitted by funds raised by “Camino For Good.” He said 2020 was a difficult year due to the pandemic, but he continues to be optimistic and looks forward to welcoming more brave pilgrims. We also went over to say “hello” to Rebekah Scott and tell her how much we enjoyed her book, “A Furnace Full of God.”
Dave and I passed through Moratinos in 2015, but didn’t stay. We were intrigued by what looked like little hobbit houses built into the hills. They turned out to be bodegas which are used for food and wine storage. Some of them may be 500 years old. You have to be careful, though, because some of them have become collapsed caves!
P.S. While walking today, I listened to “My Camino: The Podcast” hosted by Dan Mullins. I love Dan’s quote: “Dreams are Reality in Waiting.” ❤️
March 2 – Moratinos to Sahagun
On our “Virtual Camino” this morning, Dave and I walked 9.6 km to Patricia Bay and back. At the same time, we magically reached Sahagun, the half-way point to Santiago de Compostela. We are excited to be celebrating the achievement with our Australian friend, Janine Sawyer, and some vino tinto – quietly, of course, after being asked to kindly keep the noise down in consideration of the nuns who are sleeping in rooms above the Convent de Santa Cruz Albergue. Actually, we had more than one thing to celebrate back on October 7, 2015, as it was Dave’s 77th birthday! 🎉 🎂
This afternoon we received our half-way certificates which had been properly signed by the Mayor of Sahagun.
Here is the English translation:
“May everyone who sees this letter know that this pilgrim has passed through the Leon territories of Sahagun, Geograhical Centre of the French Saint James Way, as decreed by the Calixtinus Codex ‘bountiful in all types of goods, where the meadow lies where it is said that in the old days the victorious knights drove their shining lances into the ground and they sprouted green with life to the glory of the Lord.’ And, according to testimonies, you can find rest for the fatigued body and relief for the soul. The inhabitants of this noble village wish to encourage you on your journey, and may you arrive in good health to the house of Saint James, where we hope you will fondly remember those who welcomed you here.”
Money raised at this albergue goes towards helping poor children in Peru fulfill their dreams of becoming teachers, doctors, ballerinas, etc. You don’t mind paying extra for blankets and a phone call when the money goes towards a good cause like that! ♥️
March 3 – Sahagun to Calzada de Coto
Today wasn’t one of our favourite days on our “Virtual Camino,” but at least we found some fun things to take photos of. We had to go into Victoria anyway, so we decided to explore some of the city. Then, when Dave went off to his appointment, I explored the mall. Honestly! It’s easier following the yellow arrows on the Camino than it is following the arrows in the mall. They are there to keep people two metres apart because of the pandemic, but I kept finding myself going the wrong way. At least we managed to virtually get from Sahagun to Calzada de Coto with just another 364.9 km to Santiago de Compostela.
When we were leaving Sahagun on our actual Camino in 2015, we had a conversation with Rose from New Zealand. She was overwhelmed thinking about how we are only half way to Santiago and have to walk the same distance AGAIN! I suggested thinking back about each day she has already walked, how they were all unique and special in some way. We now get to walk the same distance again, creating even more wonderful memories. In other words, our glasses are half full, not half empty. She laughed and agreed that was the best way to look at it.
It was at the half-way point in Sahagun that I realized I didn’t want the journey to end. Dave wasn’t in total agreement because Portugal was next! There would be another adventure when this one was done! 😊 👍
March 4/5 – Calzada de Coto to the Roman Road
After walking a total of 19.7 km locally in Victoria and Sidney for the last two days, we virtually made it to the Roman Road between Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and Mansillas de las Mulas. How fantastic is that?!
When Dave and I walked from Calzada de Coto to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos in 2015 on our actual Camino, we were impressed by how peaceful and beautiful that stretch was.
Later, the “Camino Angel” came to our rescue, just when we needed her most. We were usually good at ensuring we had enough cash on hand, but when we arrived in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, a little town without a bank, we were worried. We pooled our resources and discovered that our few remaining euros would have to stretch until we reached the next, bigger town, 24.2 km away. Just when we thought we would have to forego our helado (ice cream) or cerveza (beer), we found 50 euros that the Camino Angel left us.
Whenever we can’t remember the name of the little town of Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, we refer to it as “that strange little ghost town in the middle of nowhere.” There were hardly any people or cars; nevertheless, we saw a fender bender take place. There were only two cars on the street and, although they weren’t going anywhere, they had an accident. It was like being in an alternate universe where strange things happened.
Anyway, on our “Virtual Camino” tonight we’ll be sleeping on the most perfect stretch of Roman road left in Spain. Augustus would have travelled this road with a retinue of servants and maybe they had to camp out right where we are! Janine, will you be camping out with us again? I haven’t seen our servants anywhere around. Have you?
March 6 – The Roman Road to Puente Villarente
Last night on our “Virtual Camino,” Janine, Dave and I camped out on the most perfect stretch of Roman road in Spain between Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and Mansillas de las Mulas. The expansive starry sky would have inspired Vincent Van Gogh!
Now we are a stone’s throw away from Puente Villarente. Happily, I caught up with Dave (my Energizer Bunny) so we can walk into Leon together in the next day or two.
Check this out. Is it any wonder that after awhile one might wish for a hill to climb, a house, a town, or a water hole? How about a horse, mule, palanquin or a sedan chair …Oh that’s why Augustus needed his retinue of servants 2000 years ago – to carry him in his chair. They said the Meseta is a flat plain. Yup, this is it! Has anyone seen Gunga Din? We need water.
March 7 – Puente Villarente to Leon
Dave and I walked 2.6 km of our “Virtual Camino” this morning at Butchart Gardens. In 1904 Jennie Butchart was a woman with a vision and an abandoned limestone quarry. Now there are 55 acres of gardens. In the afternoon I walked another 10.6 km around previously unexplored neighbourhoods and virtually arrived in Leon.
Approaching Leon on our actual Camino in 2015 wasn’t tedious or dangerous as we were led to expect. The kindness we were showered with that morning buoyed us up, and nothing could burst our happiness bubble! I felt full to overflowing with an urge to “pay it forward,” even if it was with just a smile and a “buenos dias” for everyone I met.
Our first two Camino Angels were in Puente Villarente where we had our mid-morning cafe con leche break. Two young servers with big smiles brought us, not just coffee, but two shot glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, two cookies, four flaky pastries and two little tapa sized potato tortillas on a slice of bread – “no cuesta nada.” Traditionally, pilgrims relied on the kindness of people to give them what they needed. The generosity of these young people was like a “throw back” to days of old.
We arrived in Leon and sat down with our guidebook map trying to figure out how to get to our albergue. A Camino Angel approached and, holding out a brown bag, invited us to help ourselves to what was in it. Churros, those deep-fried, sugary pastries that we sometimes call Mexican donuts were fresh from the bakery, warm, fragrant, and mouth-watering. They tasted like “MORE!” Our arteries might not like them, but we sure did!
To make this long story short, the private room in our albergue had brilliant orange and mustard coloured walls and a view of a concrete wall eight feet from the window. Where are all the graffitti artists when you need them?! No matter. It was just a place to sleep when not exploring the maze of busy, narrow streets that connect the squares and plazas of old Leon and the 13th century Catedral de Léon with its magnificent 125 stained glass windows.
There was a festival in Leon that weekend and the city was buzzing! Maybe having a window that faces a concrete wall instead of the street isn’t such a bad thing after all. 😃