Leaving Burgos, all peregrinos had heard many stories about what lay ahead of us: the meseta! Those stories were enough to scare off some folk and motivate them to hop on buses and taxis to pass over it entirely. Most of us, however, were excited to experience this major geological feature of the Iberian peninsula. I had heard it often described as a desert, and loving the American Southwest and Namibian deserts as much as I do, I was particularly looking forward to it.
Day 15: Burgos to Hornillos del Camino
Today’s path was a trail of transition: from the old city of Burgos to urban to suburban to light industrial to agricultural to the meseta! And along the way… more stork nests!
Once we reached the outskirts of Burgos, we started to feel more heat, dust and aridity. It was clear that we had entered the meseta, the northern part of the high plateau that expands for hundreds of kilometers to the south and west of us.
I asked a question of those peregrinos in my WhatsApp group who are ahead of me, and they were unanimous in their opinions that the meseta is very different than any earlier part of the Camino Francés but has its own mesmerizing effect on people walking across its long distances.
I was pleasantly surprised by how similar it felt to my countless hikes out of Arandis. If I replace Spain’s plowed fields with the Namib Desert, the crunching sound of the gravel road under my feet quickly transport me back to Namibia.
It’s so nice to come up on a gentle rise and get this kind of view of our destination town.
Daily Stats: 21.4km (13.3 miles) and 347m (1,138′) of elevation gain.
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I had a wonderful surprise at dinner tonight: two musical artists, including this tenor singing many popular operatic arias.
A few quick Q&As…
A: Mine are gone, as are most others’ I see each day. New “conditions” in this third week on the trail seem to be shin splints and tendinitis which can lay people up for days at a time. I’m taking extra care with my pre- and post-walk stretches as those conditions have hobbled even younger, and fitter peregrinos. Anything can happen!
Q: Do I walk alone or with others?
A: Each day is a bit different, but if there’s any pattern… I start my day a bit later than most and walk alone for awhile. I have a pretty fast average walking pace so I tend to catch up to familiar faces, and walk & talk with them for awhile. Particularly when we come to hills to climb, I usually wish them a “Buen Camino,” and push on. The climbs are my favorite parts of the trail – where my body is most comfortable. Also, there can be several villages and other rest stops along each day’s route. Some people stop at all or most of them while I usually stop at one around the halfway point for a café con leche then move on 10-15 minutes later. As a result, I usually arrive at my daily destination before many and have been told more than once by the hotel that I am the first guest to arrive. I know it’s not a race… and I’m not trying to go faster than others, but: it’s my Camino! 🙂
Q: We see your distances each day, but how long are you actually walking?
A: Interesting question! I just went back through my tracking data to answer this question. I start the tracking app when I leave my hotel each morning and stop it when I’m checking in each afternoon. It says 4-5 hours per day (including my rest stops and other breaks for pics, etc.) which surprises me a bit – it feels longer! I would have guessed 6-7 hours.
Hostal De Sol a Sol
Calle Cantarranas, 7
09230, Hornillos del Camino
+34 649 876 091
Day 16: Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz
Today was projected to be an “average day,” but it was far better than average for me. First, despite being on the meseta, it was not completely flat. Second, we were spared the high temperatures for which the meseta is known. In fact, the moderate temps and tame conditions (no wind, no rain) made it an ideal walk with some ruins to explore along the way and an incredible approach into a town with a prominent church and a castle on a hill! Oh yes, let this be “average!”
This photograph is a typical image of the Camino for so much of its distance. What is missing is any knowledge of the conversations going on between these pairs. They could be partners, or they could be “camigos,” but what I’ve learned so far is that the “magic of the Camino” exists in those chats.
It’s aways a treat to “drop into” a new village. Sometimes, they just jump out of the wide expanses and take us by surprise.
I haven’t mentioned, or photographed, any of the dozens (hundreds?) of water fountains that are provided for us along the whole way. I carry 2L of water in my backpack’s integrated hydration system (read: ‘bladder with a straw’) each morning, which lasts my whole day. Others carry 1/2L and 1 Liter bottles with them and top up at the fountains we frequently find along our path. This was the only fountain that looks like this and, needless to say, it wasn’t working.
The meseta is definitely not flat…
… but the valley bottoms can be quite flat.
Along today’s route, we came across the beautiful ruins of El Convento de San Antón.
I arrived before 12 noon, just in time to hear the bells chime.
The approach to Castrojeriz is quite spectacular!
This is where I first met Nicole from Germany, a very accomplished photographer who has completed many Caminos over the past several years (that’s her over my left shoulder in this selfie). She will take several of the better photos of me throughout the rest of my weeks on the way, and she was there in the main plaza of Santiago de Compostela to greet me.
Catrojeriz has many beautiful old buildings and “a castle on a hill…”
Daily Stats: 21.1km (13.1 miles) and 327m (1,073′) of elevation gain.
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Posada de Castrojeriz
Calle Landelino Tardajos, 5
+34 947 378 610
Day 17: Castrojeriz to Boadilla del Camino
The guidebook warned us of a steep hill to cross over at the start of today’s route. It didn’t tell us about another hill several kilometers further that seemed to take a lot of people by surprise. There were grumblings when I arrived to my destination town, about both the “surprise hill” as well as “the heat,” which I don’t fully understand. While it’s true there was a lot of direct sunshine today, the small digital thermometer I carry never showed me anything above 78°F (25.5°C). I guess it depends on what you’re used to…
My first view of “the hill” we were expecting, with the winding path to the alta.
Of course, the view on the way up was spectacular, here looking back at the rising sun over Castrojeriz.
There’s always a gathering of peregrinos at rest on the altos.
Photos are always fun when you can play with the rising or setting sun!
The view of arid gold on the other side was very expansive and no less interesting.
Now and then we come across a kind entrepreneur, like this one with a food truck just as we started to need a little energy boost.
Otherwise, it was a day of long, flat stretches of gravel road.
It’s not only gold and dry, however… we still found some water and some green.
Daily Stats: 20.0km (12.4 miles) and 359m (1,178′) of elevation gain
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At an albergue, a traditional accommodation on the Camino, dirty shoes and hiking poles are kept outside.
“Mi camiga” Sylvia, reading ahead about tomorrow’s route.
The small village had a large church.
En El Camino
Plaza el Rollo
34468, Boadilla del Camino
+34 979 810 999
Day 18: Boadilla del Camino to Carrión de Los Condes
Today has been highlighted on my itinerary for months as my longest distance planned walk over the hot, flat, and dusty meseta… So, I made some adjustments to my preparations for the day, starting with breakfast at 6:30 and out the door at 7:15am. Here in Spain, at this time of year, that meant I walked the first 45 minutes in starlight. It was fantastic, and reminded me of my late night desert walks around Arandis. The early pics show the canal I walked beside in the chilly air.
The last few kilometers were along a road with noisy cars and trucks, not the ideal path. But seeing our destination town come into view always gives us an energy boost!
Another wonderful energy boost was a recital by five Norwegian students of Spanish guitar at an old former church with wonderful acoustics! This was offered for incoming peregrinos, on a donation basis, and proved to be a perfect salve for our sore feet, muscles, and minds.
Daily Stats: 26.6km (16.5 miles) and 283m (928′) of elevation gain.
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This evening, before dinner, I joined a group of peregrinos to meet “The Singing Nuns of Carrión.” About 50 people from all over the world introduced themselves before the nuns led us through some multinational and multilingual sing-alongs. The English-language contribution was “Amazing Grace.” Along with this afternoon’s guitar concert, I am extremely pleased with the town’s live music vibe!
My dinner tonight included fellow walkers from England, Spain, Venezuela (via New York City and Australia), and Denmark.
Hostal La Corte
Calle Santa Maria, 36
34120, Carrion de los Condes
+34 979 880 138
Day 19: Carrión de Los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza
Today was billed as one of those walks “you just have to get through.” Long, hot, dry, flat, straight, with no shade nor water and with absolutely NO services anywhere along the way. It is surely some of that but also not. The rumored-food truck at free 8kms took a lot of stress off of people. I love how these “caminopreneurs” fill needs!
Boldness emerges at dawn…
Most of the day looked like this…
Daily Stats: 17.8km (11.1 miles) and 165m (541′) of elevation gain.
Sorry, but I don’t have a Relive flyover video for today.
A few quick Q&As…
Q: How far have you walked? How far are you going?
A: After today, my tracking app (which I use from hotel to hotel each day, but not when I’m otherwise exploring) says that I’ve walked 409.6kms (255 miles) from Saint Jean Pied de Port. The total projected distance I’ll be walking is 807.4kms (502 miles) to Santiago de Compostela and 924.9kms (575 miles) to my end point at the coastal town of Muxia.
Arandis kids, please check my math: that means I just crossed the halfway point to Santiago (50.7%) and am 44.3% of the way to the ocean.
Here is my weekly overview map showing how far my blue dot has moved from East to West.
Q: Are you still wearing your sandals instead of your boots?
A: Yes! My 2-ply Wrightsocks and Chacos sandals have become my preferred footwear, with my big boots strapped to the back of my pack. Since Logroño, I’ve been free of blisters or any other problems with my feet, so… at least until it rains, I’m sticking with this winning formula for me!
Q: How fast do you walk?
A: Pretty fast, compared to most peregrinos I meet on the Camino. It’s my most comfortable pace which I adjust to match others’ when I walk and chat with them. Again, my tracking app is useful: it says my daily pace has ranged from 4.3 to 5.0 kms/hour (2.7 – 3.1 mph), and I’ve averaged 4.64 (2.9 mph) since the start. That data will be useful for future planning!
(My step count says “yesterday” because I forgot to do it on the day I walked…)
Hostal Camino Real
Trasera Mayor 5
34309, Calzadilla de la Cueza
+34 979 883 187
Day 20: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagún
I tried something different today. The Camino almost begs us to explore variety. We are all in our own routines, but are constantly tempted to break out of them.
All the guides suggested this would be an “average day on the meseta,” but the projections showed a lot of time alongside roads. I’m normally not too bothered by sections like this, since traffic is usually pretty light when I’m walking. But this is farming country, and it’s common to see extra-wide, or extra-slow, or extra-loud trucks and tractors out here. My navigation app showed me quite a few farm roads running roughly parallel to the “designated route,” so I went out to explore them and spent a lot of time on my own out in golden fields, only joining up with other pilgrims at a couple of villages along the way. It also gave me the chance to see our destination town open up in front of me as I walked up a rise, a view that most others would have missed.
So I guess today was a day I walked near the Camino more than on the Camino.
Mileage Check (my first sub-400km sign!)
One of the villages we passed had a number of bodega homes, or “Hobbit Homes,” as some pilgrims say. Note the ventilation and TV antenna above these fully functioning residences!
This photo hides the fact that the chair is on top of the small hill containing the bodega homes, with identically-colored fields below and in the distance.
I have today’s path all to myself!
Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a large town appears once I climb up a small rise.
Walking into any town brings a special thrill, but Sahagún may win the prize for the best welcome sign!
Daily Stats: 22.9km (14.2 miles) and 306m (1,004′) of elevation gain.
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Hostal La Codorniz
Calle Avenida Constitucion 97
+34 987 780 276
Day 21: Sahagún to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos
Yesterday, I searched out other routes to avoid the roadside paths. Today, it was my planned route that started me on a 2-day alternativo where I will be off the main track and away from the vast majority of other peregrinos for awhile. We all started this morning at A below, but only a few of us will go to B before joining up again tomorrow at C. Most pilgrims take the more direct route, along the road. It was a chance to be alone again for much of this short day of walking – which was nice! And it helped me look forward to a similar though much longer stretch tomorrow.
Walking out of Sahagún was as pretty as my arrival yesterday.
The main route lacked appeal…
… so I was very pleased to take the alternate route, despite its longer distance.
Railroad tracks offer their own photographic beauty…
… as do the meseta skies!
Daily Stats: 15.1km (9.4 miles) and 228m (748′) of elevation gain.
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Casa El Cura
La Carretera 13
Calzadilla de los Hermanillos
+34 987 337 647
Breakfast the next morning turned out to be an all-American affair in my hotel: On the left are “the two Pattys (not patties).” The Patty in the foreground was one of the three other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers I met on my Camino. Steve and Rob were two of three brothers from Southern California who I met on my very first day out of Saint Jean Pied de Port – we crossed paths off and on throughout our journey. Middle brother Tom had sadly sustained an injury and returned home a few days ago. 🙁
Day 22: Calzadilla de los Hermanillo to Mansilla de las Mulas
If I ever had a compulsion to walk alone across Kansas, I’ve now been cured of it. Today, on the second part of my two-day alternativo, my distance seemed twice as long as it tracked. After the first 45 minutes, I walked passed the last of the very few pilgrims I would see also taking this route. From then on I was completely on my own through countless fields and gently rolling hills. It highlighted how much a good conversation can make the kilometers disappear. I missed their company!
Looking back at a dramatic sunrise!
Looking ahead at mile after mile of open fields.
Looking to each side of me at fields as far as I could see.
I discovered that this alternate path today had once been part of an ancient Roman road – and is even older than much of the route we’ve been following.
I know just how exhausted they feel!
Daily Stats: 23.9km (14.9 miles) and 197m (646′) of elevation gain.
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Hostal Albergueria del Camino
Calle Concepcion, 12
24210, Mansilla de Las Mulas
+34 667 621 133
Day 23: Mansilla de las Mulas to León
Prior to today’s walk into León, I have entered 3 other large-ish cities on the Camino. They are all pretty much the same in the “light-industrial” environment with which we must contend when entering and exiting. Burgos gets extra points for placing its route in a long, riverside open space and urban park, although its sheer length and repetitive visuals might be reasons enough to request the odd factory or warehouse that would help break up the view a bit. (Yes, that’s a joke!)
Mileage Check in the early morning light.
Another Mileage Check, a bit further on. Note how the first part of the region’s name has been painted over in these distance markers as a political statement. It is intended to read “Castilla y León,” as we are in the large region of Castile and León. Not everyone around here is happy with the 1983 political merging of two old provinces so we often find the signs defaced.
The entry into León offers good infrastructure so we can avoid the road traffic.
I had heard recent rumors that the folks in León aren’t as nice, friendly and welcoming of peregrinos as we’ve found everywhere else along the way. The look of these gate keepers would have me believe those rumors!
But not five minutes after passing through this gate, I stopped to buy a fresh hot churro from a street vendor and was happily surprised. Not only did she welcome me warmly, but she gave me a city map and the churro for free!
I felt very welcomed to León and am excited to explore it! I’ve just walked 9 days in a row and feel strong – even capable of continuing tomorrow. But I know I still have far to go so I will do the right thing and give my body a break. I opted to buy some bread, cheese, wine and dark chocolate to eat dinner in my hotel room while studying the maps and guide books.
Daily Stats: 19.1km (11.9 miles) and 294m (965′) of elevation gain.
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Hotel Conde Luna
Av de la Independencia, 7
+34 987 206 600
Rest Day: León
León is the 4th large city on the Camino that I’ve passed, and the 4th that I’ve taken an extra day to explore. It being just a normal Fall weekday, I felt in closer proximity to the residents than to other peregrinos or fiesta attendees. Just an ordinary medium-sized city: plenty of pretty historic buildings from numerous periods over time, topped off by the simple and elegant León Cathedral. I said in an earlier post that I found Burgos Cathedral overwhelming. In a comfortable contrast, León Cathedral is just whelming. Its finest feature, said to be excelled only by Chartres Cathedral in France, is its stained glass windows. Fortunately, it was a bright day outside so we saw them in their full glory!
Old City Walls
Convento de San Marcos (Parador de León)