Can’t Stop Walking #2

Can’t Stop Walking #2

June 1 – Dave and I had a great day walking around Elk/Beaver Lakes with Susanne today. We all had a taste of the Vegemite that fellow Camino For Good pilgrim, Annette Schaab, kindly sent to me. As instructed, we spread it very thinly on top of toasted/buttered sourdough bread. Wow! Vegemite does have a unique flavour unlike anything else. It reminds me of molasses and not just because it looks similar. Yup! I think it is possible to acquire a taste for it. Thank you Annette! It helped to “spice up” our picnic. 😆

So between yesterday and today I walked a total of 23.7 km and made it from the outskirts of Burgos, through Tardajos, to one of my favourite little villages, 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 Astorga is on the Meseta.

I am virtually spending my 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. I just 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. 😋

June 2/3 – I had almost reached the “Flight Path” that encircles the Victoria International Airport this morning when someone who might have been a “pilgrim in training” passed by. His pack was bigger than a day pack and he was walking backward – walking toward the west while facing east, in other words. By the time I reached the path, he was walking normally but very fast – probably to catch up with others who were also weighed down with backpacks. I would have had to run to catch up and pacify my curiosity about what they might be training for, but would have missed photo opportunities.

My friend, Cathy, e-mailed me yesterday about her grandson’s project. The website he created (2021 BC Bolt) is a virtual endurance event where you cover as many kilometres as possible through running, hiking, or walking in June. The goal is to reach 21,000 collective kilometres and raise $10,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Cathy said the kilometres I am walking en route to Santiago would help them meet their goal. We track our distance on Strava and upload it to their website. It’s one more incentive to get out there and walk! 🥾🥾

After walking twenty kilometres over the last two days, I virtually went straight past the ruins of the Convento de San Anton without stopping. Drats! We still haven’t been able to find out for ourselves why the San Anton Albergue 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 getting to sound pretty good!

Even after arriving at the San Esteban Municipal Albergue in 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. 😴

June 4/5/6 – 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!

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.

June 7 – This morning I walked happily and with “great intention” to Sidney for my second vaccine dose. It was a momentous occasion because Spain is finally on the horizon. Feeling fine, I returned home via a long route around the Victoria International Airport.

At the same time, I virtually made it to within sight of Calzadilla de la Cueza from Carrion de los Condes. Dave and I stayed at the beautiful, historic Real Monasterio de San Zoilo Hotel in Carrion de los Condes for two nights in 2015. The hotel is a renovated monastery dating back to the 10th century; the cloister which is the highlight of the complex was completed at the beginning of the 17th century.

The 17.2 km walk between Carrion de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza 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 nose was running, my eyes were tearing up, 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 Caldzadilla de la Cueza came into view. 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. Once we got around the corner where no one could see me, I couldn’t resist 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.

My mood improved so much 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! 🏃‍♂️

June 8/9/10 – If travel restrictions are lifted next week, Dave and I will head out on a road trip. In the meantime, I am walking as much as possible, so the 38.24 km I walked in three days is a bit of a record.

I virtually left Calzadilla de la Cueza two mornings ago, zoomed straight through Sahagun yesterday, and arrived in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos at lunchtime today. Whew! 🏃‍♂️ 😰

Dave and I collected our half-way certificates in Sahagun, signed by the Mayor on October 7, 2015. The achievement was reason to celebrate – quietly, of course, in consideration of the nuns who were sleeping in rooms above the Convent de Santa Cruz Albergue. Actually, we had more than one thing to celebrate as it was Dave’s 77th birthday! 🎉 🎂

We had a conversation with Rose from New Zealand who said she was overwhelmed thinking 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.

Some of us were comparing John Brierley Camino guidebooks at breakfast. They were not the same when it comes to the section from Sahagun to Mansilla de las Mulas. The older version (ours) showed the main Camino route following a scenic, more remote route with the alternate route being alongside the highway. The newer book shows the main route following the highway and the scenic route being the alternate.

We always chose the more remote scenic route, even though they were longer. The one from Sahagun to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos was one of the best – serene and in keeping with the inspirational music I listened to. Lyrics I had only skimmed over before I listened to carefully and thought about the meanings. They touched my heart and sometimes made me teary-eyed.

It seemed like yesterday when my sister, Carole, phoned to tell me to Google “The Prayers of St. Francis” sung by Angelina. She waited while I listened and said that was the song she wanted to ask her grandson to sing at her “garden party” which was to be her “celebration of life.” She knew she was dying, and that song meant so much to her. It was one of the first songs I heard that day.

Carole promised to always be on my shoulder, but really it was the other way around. It was always me who was on her shoulder. She gave me strength, just like in Josh Grobin’s song: “You raise me up so I can stand on mountains; you raise me up to walk on stormy seas; I am strong when I am on your shoulder; you raise me up to more than I can be.” I miss her. Carole truly was “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” another song that spoke to me of her.

Later Carole was our “Camino Angel” who came to our rescue. 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.

June 11 – Tonight I am virtually camped out on the most perfect stretch of Roman road left in Spain between Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and Mansillas de las Mulas. Looking at the landscape, is it any wonder that eventually one might wish for a hill to climb, a house, a town, or a water hole? They said the Meseta is a flat plain. Yup, that it is!

What a thrill to think that Augustus would have travelled this road 2000 years ago and maybe even camped right here. He would have had a retinue of servants and some pack horses, maybe a palanquin or a sedan chair. I could use a retinue of servants or (at the very least) Gunga Din. I need water!

When Dave and I were here in 2015, the weather was beautiful, unlike today’s rainy weather at home. There is no lack of water here! Nevertheless, I persevered and walked 10.5 km. 👍 🚶‍♂️

June 12/13 – For the last few days, I’ve been trying to make up for the time I’ll be sitting in the car when (and if) we are allowed to travel next week. We’ll know tomorrow. I walked 31.6 km here on the “Wet Coast” (true to its name) during the last two days.

I virtually reached Leon! The kindness we were showered with on our walk from Mansillas de las Mulas to Leon in 2015 buoyed us up and left us with an urge to “pay it forward,” even if it was with just a smile and a “buenos dias” for everyone we met.

Two young servers with big smiles in Puente Villarente were our first two Camino Angels for the day. We ordered cafe con leche but they brought us more than just coffee. They brought 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 were trying to make sense of our map when 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!

We were lucky to find a room in Leon for the night, and it didn’t really matter that the walls were brilliant orange and mustard coloured and that our view was of a concrete wall eight feet from the window. 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. Leon was buzzing because of a festival taking place, so it might have been a good thing that our room faced a concrete wall. At least it was quiet!

On the way out of Leon the next morning, we passed the luxurious Hostal San Marcos (a Parador Hotel) but not without first having a quick peek inside. It is well known as the one where Tom and his three fellow pilgrims stayed in the movie, “The Way.” It was built in the 16th century as a convent, but it also has a dark history. During Spain’s 1936-39 civil war, thousands of opponents of the future dictator Francisco Franco were imprisoned here and many were killed.

On the Plaza San Marcos in front of the hostal, we met Garry, an Australian author who was just starting his Camino. His flight arrived in the wee hours that morning and, because there were no vacancies in the city, he had no choice but to sleep on the street in the safest place he could find. It wasn’t an ideal start to his journey, but he seemed to be in good spirits anyway. Garry is very knowledgeable about historical facts pertaining to such things as the Knights Templar, so our morning walk out of Leon turned out to be most interesting.

The route from Leon to Vilar de Mazarife was relatively isolated and part of it was muddy since it had rained. It might have been because of the mud that many pilgrims chose to take the alternative route along the highway. The mud didn’t stop us, though, even if it did mean we had to do a load of wash later!

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