Today was another short-distance day, after a rest day that followed a short-distance day. Can you tell that I’m not very interested in racing across Spain?
Despite the sadness at watching my fascinating newfound friends zoom ahead of me, only to be replaced by some lookalike strangers, I learned that the new folk are just as interesting as those I’ve lost forever.
It’s not the tribe that’s important, but your relationship with each member.This could be an old Namibian proverb.
Day 9: Logroño to Navarrete
I going to walk another day out of my boots. My Chacos suit me just fine! Some of you have asked, so here is the Chacos website.
Today’s route included a walk around a pretty lake. We see a lot of creeks and rivers on the Camino, but a large body of water like this is pretty rare.
Speaking of rare, I also spied a few red squirrels today, which always eluded me when trekking in England this summer.
What aren’t rare are the famous Tempranillo grapes of La Rioja, so plump and sweet – almost ready to be harvested.
I spent some time with Joan from Marin County in California, who had decided to walk the Camino just a week before she flew to Europe. It always surprises me to meet people like her, who started this strenuous activity with virtually no planning and even less preparation. While climbing together up a moderately steep hill, she told me that she wasn’t sure she would be able to continue all the way to Santiago – she just felt so out of shape. When I pointed out the crosses that others before us had built from fallen sticks in about 100 meters of fencing at the top of the hill, she said she wanted to do the same while praying for strength to continue. This is the last I saw of her.
Spoiler alert: On the very last day of my walk, I met an English couple who had befriended Joan and they confirmed that she had successfully completed her entire Camino. I guess if you don’t plan or prepare, it’s good to have a Plan B. That’s not my style, but we all have our own Caminos. Well done, Joan!
At the entrance to Navarrete, I came across the preserved remains of a hospital established in the Middle Ages to treat peregrinos. With most of those people walking barefoot or in sandals, do you think they treated many blisters then?
Once the daily bubble of pilgrims passes through a town or village, the streets empty out and they become very quiet.
The interiors of many churches are simple and austere. But not all.
Because it had been such a short day, I had plenty of time and energy to climb atop the hill and take in the wonderful views in all directions.
Daily Stats: 12.9km (8.0 miles) and 250m (820′) of elevation gain.
Check out Logroño to Navarrete on Relive!
Hotel Rey Sancho
Mayor Alta, 5
+34 941 441 378
Day 10: Navarrete to Nájera via Sotés
Today was a very good day – everything ticked along quite nicely. I walked very comfortably in my Chacos and split off from the main route to follow an alternativo. The temperatures stayed cool, and the dramatic cloud formations suggested rain but never delivered any. It was a truly marvelous day out!
Sunrises are always a nice way to start the day.
For the first time, I decided to go off the main route of the Camino for a bit, on what is referred to as an alternativo. I walked up to the village of Sotés, which looked so inviting on the hillside.
The church plaza and town square were quiet and it was clear that not many pilgrims walk this route.
I got to practice my Spanish over café con leche with a couple of old guys sitting in the nearly empty square. Though I missed many of the details, I learned that the “main” route of the Camino Francés passed through Sotés until as recently as 20 years ago, but has now been “bypassed.” “¿Por que?” I asked. They replied with the universal gesture for money or payoff and described intensive lobbying of the Camino guidebook authors and the keepers of the yellow arrows by small business owners in a neighboring village. Apparently, business interests changed the route and it was the first evidence I found of what I began to call “camino commercial” that would manifest in many ways in the weeks to come. Most of the former cafés, bars, restaurants, hotels and albergues in Sotés are long gone.
Down the road, back on the main route, I spied the church in that neighboring village from afar and elected to “bypass” its merchants. My feelings are mixed: as a business consultant, I admire the creativity of the owners to build their revenues and profits against competition, but I have a problem with the efforts that feel a lot like a rewriting of history.
The grapes look good enough to eat!
And trust me, they are!
Daily Stats: 18.8km (11.7 miles) and 317m (1,040′) of elevation gain.
Check out Navarrete to Nájera on Relive!
My destination town of Nájera is most notable for its large rock backdrop, including “old gypsy caves” of which you can see a bit in this photo. It was fun to walk around and explore and I can easily see why it is many pilgrims’ favorite.
Hotel Duques de Najera
Calle Carmen 7
+34 941 410 421
Day 11: Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Today was another day of rolling hills through vineyards, wheat fields and fallow ground. Unlike most other days so far, we often had views of our route several kilometers ahead. I find that some people “love knowing where we’re going,” while others “hate seeing how far there still is to walk…” There is no consistent perspective. Personally, I don’t mind seeing our future road ahead. I enjoy the anticipation of getting to the furthest point I can see, and I love feeling amazed how quickly that distance passes under my feet.
For the first couple of kilometers, up the hill out of town, I thought I might have the Camino all to myself today. It lasted awhile, but not for long…
I’ve been on the road for nearly two weeks and the towns and villages we pass – even those I stay in – are starting to blend together in my mind and memory. It was not only me. In conversations with other peregrinos, I often hear, “do you remember that town? Hmm, which one was it? I know it had a church…” The daily routine is turning into our own version of “road hypnosis.”
What I do have are clear memories of the people with whom I walk and talk. This is Sylvia, a Venezuelan-American who had recently returned to the US (New York City) after several years residing in Australia. She had also been happy to trade in her heavier footwear for her hiking sandals and we enjoyed walking together off and on for a few days into Burgos. Her father from Madrid was able to visit her there and was appropriately proud of her strength and determination! Once she zoomed past me and reached the coast several weeks later, she made the decision to stay in Europe indefinitely. Last I heard, she is now keeping warm in the Canary Islands. ¡Buen Camino, Sylvia!
Daily Stats: 21.8km (13.5 miles) and 468m (1,535′) of elevation gain.
Check out Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada on Relive!
El Molino de Floren
Calle de Margubete, 5
26250, Santo Domingo de La Calzada
+34 941 342 931
Day 12: Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado
I wrote this in my mini-blog on WhatsApp today:
I find it interesting to hear fellow peregrinos discuss our various stages from town to town along this very long walking path. Comparing, grading, rating, ranking, and judging each segment seems a pretty ridiculous exercise when our purpose (ok, my purpose) is to safely move from Point A to Point B across a large swathe of land, while relishing our great fortune to be here. It’s like grading individual links in a chain, forgetting that the value lies in their working together.
Immediately afterwards, I had (another) interesting Camino experience. A lovely couple from Australia sat down next to me at the café, saying: “Oh my goodness, this was absolutely the worst stage so far!” They were expressing the point I had just tried to make. Because I had had a nice conversation with them on the road earlier today, I felt comfortable sharing with them what I had just written – and hoped they wouldn’t take offense.
They took it as an observation by me – not as a judgment of them. And it prompted a nice far-ranging conversation that attracted other people and lasted throughout dinner. We agreed that part of the “challenge” of dealing with more and less preferable sections of the Camino has to do with how one breaks down the full walk into particular sections. Like gerrymandering political districts, it might be possible to re-set the popular starting and stopping points of each section so that enough “good” parts are combined with “less good” parts to allow all sections to be lifted above their current average. Furthermore… those peregrinos who ignore the guidebooks and walk an average of 20 kilometers per day will experience different “sections” than those who average 30 kms per day (yes, there are some people like that!). By the time dessert was served, we were agreed that the Camino can only truly be judged as one single LONG walk, and that we may all have days that we each prefer more based on many factors – but that alone doesn’t make them “bad” sections.
Long shadows just after sunrise. We only walk West.
There are as many ways to travel along the Camino as there are peregrinos. I am certain that the people in this hot air balloon aren’t traveling to Santiago, but it is fun to speculate about the great views they must be having over this land.
We passed many fields of dried sunflowers today. How colorful they must look in the Springtime. I often wonder about walking this route in another season, but I guess I should finish this trek first before I think too much about doing it again.
Grañon was one of of several small villages that I walked through today and it yielded an experience that answers a question a couple of people have asked me: “Have you ever lost or broken any gear?” My answer today is: “no, not until now.” In future days, I will shed backpack weight by leaving behind things that I don’t expect ever to need (e.g., silicone ear plugs, a document sleeve, and a small bottle of liquid soap), or that have broken (my iPhone case and a power bank), but today was purely an accident:
I caught up with Sylvia in Grañon for a café con leche who introduced me to Inés, a writer and travel guide from Uruguay. Because Inés had transported her large backpack ahead this morning, she had no convenient way to carry her water and daily snacks so I offered to lend her my small daypack until she could get one of her own in Burgos. In the course of digging it out from the bottom of my backpack, I put my sunglasses down and only realized I had left them behind when I was several kilometers down the road. I must always keep my eyes protected from bright sunshine (thank you, Namibia ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), so I was fortunately carrying a spare pair – one of the only things for which I carry a spare. I suppose it was the best thing for me to lose, and I still have them with me to this day.
Most of today, the walk was through golden wheat fields and over gently rolling hills.
Our destination town had its traditional church and bell tower and a lot of public artwork.
Daily Stats: 23.3km (14.5 miles) and 477m (1,565′) of elevation gain.
Check out Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado on Relive!
I find it quite satisfying when the Health app on my phone sends me “trending” notifications like this…
It was that last step!
Avenida Burgos, 3
+34 947 580 010
Day 13: Belorado to San Juan de Ortega
Today was a long walk, with more uphill than we’ve had in awhile (but still not “climbing”) and with a couple hours of good steady rain at the end. When the first drops fell, I decided to don only my rain jacket and backpack rain cover, which meant my pants and feet got soaked. The good news is that everything in the pack stayed dry and my feet could handle the wet socks.
But before you think I was foolish to walk in the rain with my sandals, let me clarify that I did start the day with boots, but after a couple of hours the ol’ boot blisters were acting up so I swapped them out. All my wet things are now hanging out in my room to dry and I’m sure I’ll be ready to face whatever the weather gods have in store for us tomorrow, when I walk into the major city of Burgos. I’ll be staying two nights to enjoy another rest day.
The few towns we passed had their churches, of course, but here they are made of different colored stone than what we had seen in the region of La Rioja. We are now in Castille and Leon, the largest region in Spain, and I’ll be here for a very long time!
It was nice to have high hills to cross over, because it meant a change of flora. We moved from small trees and shrubs to a dense forest of pine and oak just as the rain started. It smelled so nice and reminded me of trails in the Sierra Mountains of California where I hiked as a kid.
And also similar to California, we occasionally came across interesting rest stops with their own esoteric art.
Sadly, I have no photos of the rain as my battery was running low and my phone gave a warning that it detected moisture in the charging port. I sure hope nothing gets damaged! A few hours after arriving in my destination village, when the rain stopped, I wandered about the village while my wet things hung in the open window to dry overnight.
Daily Stats: 24.7km (15.3 miles) and 639m (2,096′) of elevation gain.
Each week, I plan to post a summary from Google Maps, so you can see the slow but steady progress I am making across Spain towards the ocean. I started my Camino two weeks ago but it feels like I’ve been out here forever. It’s a long walk…
Calle La Iglesia, 3
09199, San Juan de Ortega
+34 606 198 734
Day 14: San Juan de Ortega to Burgos
Today’s walk was a story of several dichotomies, partly due to the distance covered: 27.9km (17.3 miles) – my longest day yet!
- We had several attractive villages and hamlets and way too much ugly fencing around an airport.
- We had a large hill with winding loose-gravel tracks that I had all to myself for nearly half an hour and long, long, looonnnnggggg stretches of straight, flat, paved footpath into the center of Burgos.
- We had bright warm sunshine that sunburned me and dark overcast clouds that delivered light rain for awhile.
- I had long periods when I saw no one but peregrinos and then later, in the city, when I didn’t see any pilgrims at all.
It was a good day, all in all, and I look forward to getting to know this beautiful city of Burgos.
For some reason, there just didn’t seem to be as many folks on today’s trail as normal. I learned later that people sometimes choose to avoid bad weather or what they believe will be less attractive stretches by hopping into taxis or buses. “Tu Camino, mi Camino.“
But the evidence of others was never far away…
It is often hard to distinguish one village from another, but the village of Atapuerca did stand out for being located closest to numerous excavation sites where remains of the oldest hominids in Europe have been found. We are unable to visit the sites without pre-booked permits but I hope to go to the museum in Burgos tomorrow that highlights the work that paleontologists have done in this area for forty-plus years. It is fascinating enough to walk along a path that millions of people have walked for over 1,200 years. To also think of the prehistoric peoples who settled in these hills and marveled at these views for tens of thousands of years is simply mind-boggling to me.
This is the first stork nest I’ve seen atop a church’s bell tower on this trip, but I expect to see many more. They are empty at this time of year and I find it interesting to think that the birds have probably already arrived in Africa on their annual migration. I’ve seen them there in Namibia!
To find the long, un-signed alternate river trail into the city center of Burgos, I first had to find “the blue bridge.” I did and found Inés in meditation. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the bridge and her matching blue jacket.
A rare bend in the walking path that didn’t have many bends.
The views were pretty, but this hard asphalt walking path never seemed to end!
Daily Stats: 27.9km (17.4 miles) and 427m (1,401′) of elevation gain.
Unfortunately, the Relive app didn’t record today. Maybe it was the app… or maybe it was me. Oh, well. I’ll try again tomorrow.
No wonder my feet hurt tonight!
Hotel Norte y Londres
Plaza Alonso Martinez 10
+34 947 264 125
Rest Day: Burgos
The beautiful and bustling city of Burgos marks the end of many people’s Camino, particularly those who need to get back to work or who only wanted to walk for a week or two. Others choose to stop walking here, and catch a bus across the upcoming meseta, for fear of what they’ve heard is “a long, boring stretch of the way…” For most of us, Burgos is a great place to rest, recover, relax, and recharge. I was lucky to be there for the last day of a historical fiesta with many locals wearing their traditional medieval attire (colorful!), and learned in the world’s only Museum of Human Evolution because of its proximity to the famous archeological sites on the Sierra de Atapuerca, over which I walked yesterday (informative!), and was astonished by the grandeur of the Burgos Cathedral (overwhelming!).
Museum of Human Evolution
Yesterday, I passed through the village of Atapuerca, and had read in advance that the best way to learn about the nearby famous excavation sites was by visiting the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos. It was one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, and definitely worth taking hours to explore and learn! Until you have the chance to visit yourself, here is some information about the Atapuerca archaeological sites and the museum.
I was too immersed in the displays to take many photos, but I did capture this example of what one of the dig sites looks like.
If you look closely up and to the right in the previous photo, you’ll see this very old automaton that moved every quarter hour to ring the bell.
A rare occurrence: the opening of the main doors, to greet a bride and groom getting married in one of the chapels.