Saturday 20 September 2014

Pilgrim's Progress - Part 4

Our Camino, Our Way – Carrion de los Condes to El Burgo Ranero

Day 11 - Carrion to Calzadilla de la Cueza: 16.87km / Ascent 108m / Descent 65m

After the shock of yesterday's news and the ensuing late night, it was good in a way that breakfast was a little later than usual. Coupled with a lazy getaway, it meant it was after 9.00am before we hit the trail.

Facade of the Monastery San Zoilo

Passing the front of the monastery, we first followed the road to the edge of town, crossed the bypass, and picked up a minor road heading west.

Via Aquitana, the ancient Roman highway crossing northern Spain

Pilgrims reading this will have a variety of opinions on our method of walking the Camino, and I’m sure there are many people out there who take a dim view of the way we have chosen to complete our pilgrimage, thinking to themselves (or even out loud) that doing it in sections, pre-booking generally better standard accommodation beforehand and not relying on the Albergue system is somehow not in the spirit of the Camino.

Trust me; we have rehearsed those same arguments over and over again. In the end it comes down to this: with busy lives, family responsibilities and work commitments, it is the only way we can currently undertake such a trip, and with a maximum two-weeks-at-a-time vacation rule, keeping to a rigid schedule and taking certain liberties with the essence of the journey is the only way we can do it at this stage in our lives.

Excluding students, retirees and the non-working for a moment, the number of people we met of working age who said they had effectively just quit their jobs and set off on pilgrimage seems pretty high. Interestingly, when we talked to them about it, almost all advice we received – not all of it tongue-in-cheek, I suspect – was for us to do the same. Heaven knows; if yesterday’s news demonstrated anything it was that opportunities must be grasped and that the future should never be taken for granted. The thought of giving it all up is tempting – very tempting - but it’s not for us. Not just yet, anyway!

The route today was pretty simple - leave town, head in a straight line for 17 kilometers, reach Calzadilla de la Cueza. At a T junction we left the tarmac and kept straight ahead along the gravel track which would accompany us all the way to Calzadilla. It was a short leg today – the shortest of our current trip – but unusual in that we would not pass through a single village all day.

Morning rest stop beneath shady trees

To make the journey a little easier, a couple of rest stops had been constructed that offered seats and shade for the hot and tired. We reached the first after 6 or 7 kilometers, an arrangement of picnic tables beneath shady trees. Because the day was short we had a good half-hour break, a bite to eat and some water, and dozed in the shade to conserve valuable energy.

Setting off again we noticed it was already quite warm, even though it was barely mid-morning. Another hour or so on the trail brought us to the second rest area – this one with lean-to for shade plus other wooden benches – where we ate lunch and again sat for a good while, simply dozing and reading. Just before we set off, Mike and Carol arrived – a good chance to check we were all fit for the walk ahead and had enough food and water to keep us going.

From here on into Calzadilla it was about 6 kilometers, with no shade at all for the entire section. Our guidebook had warned us of this in advance – helpful, as we knew we would probably have to tackle it in the heat of the afternoon – and we had made allowances. But we were beginning to rue the late start and slow pace on what everyone feels is the hottest afternoon of the week by some margin. Heat bouncing back from the pale track bed added to the discomfort, and it came as a shock but no real surprise when the Albergue owner confirmed an afternoon temperature of 39˚C (102˚F). Phew!

Although the biggest place for miles around, Calzadilla is still a bit of a one-horse town. However we received a warm, friendly welcome from our hoteliers, and were swiftly shown to our room where we had a quick shower to clean up and cool down. Cooling down was definitely the order of the day - when we bought drinks and ice creams later, the barman also confirmed his belief that it was hottest day of the year so far.

Whatever the actuality, it was certainly warm enough for us. Even so, we went for a walk round the town so we weren't stuck inside all afternoon, gravitating to the shadows wherever possible for maximum cool before finally retiring inside for drinks. As the afternoon wore on people rolled in, and it wasn’t long before a whole bunch of pilgrims were sitting around chatting and whiling away the time with an iced beverage.

Dinner at the United Nations

Dinner at the hotel resembled a select gathering of member states of the United Nations, represented as we were by England (2 counties), Scotland, the US (5 states), Canada, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Brazil. Portion sizes were as prodigious as the number of nationalities around the table was profuse, and included a chick pea soup that was as good as anything we ate all fortnight.

A final drink beckoned before bedtime, but the beer ran out: pilgrims can be a thirsty lot when pushed. However it was still so hot that no one was keen to shut themselves in their rooms just yet. No offence meant to any the hotels or Albergues along the way, but entering the bedrooms was often like opening an oven door – too hot and uncomfortable for sleep – so we ended the day with a late stroll to try to catch whatever cool was going.

Day 12 - Calzadilla de los Cueza to Sahagun: 23.89km / Ascent 234m / Descent 259m

The heat of yesterday had persuaded most to make an early start so as to finish before the thuggish temperatures of the afternoon set in. I also suspect that most were awake early as getting any sleep in such conditions proved pretty difficult. So we had breakfasted and were underway by 7.45am, heading out of Calzadilla beside the ubiquitous N120 road.

It was a very pleasant morning, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the first 6 kilometers to Ledigos. Here, we stopped for a coffee with JD and Becky and Frans and Ann.

Adobe housing, Terradillos de los Templarios

It was still barely past 9.30am as we moved off again, completing another straightforward 6 kilometer stretch, through the wonderfully named village of Terradillos de los Templarios, to the little hamlet of Moratinos where we broke for cokes and sandwiches with Frans and Ann.

Memorial tree to the late Rev Philip Wren, the
"Methodist Pilgrim" who died May 2013 on The Way

On the way we saw a memorial to a British reverend and chatted briefly to a chap from Lyon in France - a recently retired forest ranger in Chamonix. What a great job that must have been!

After passing through another small village, we started on the lengthy stretch towards Sahagun, taking the opportunity for a break and some food in the shady surrounds of the Ermita Virgen del Puente picnic area.

The Ermita Virgen del Puente

The final 3 kilometers into town tripped through the usual edge-of-town factory-scape. The Camino chose to take a couple of different routes through the town centre, and we ended up taking a slightly roundabout way to our hotel in the main square. We’d arrived shortly after 2.15pm, and even though by common consensus it was nothing like as warm as the day before, it was still nice to arrive with plenty of time to rest, relax and explore the town.

For the first time in a long time, we seem to be the only pilgrims in our particular hotel. I’m not quite sure why: where we are – 2 floors above the bar with a view over the square – is nothing special but perfectly fine. Best of all, it has air conditioning – something of a relief after days of hot weather – and with it the promise of a good night’s sleep.

Pilgrims about town, Sahagun

Others appear to be spread across a couple of Albergues and a hotel or two. After a rest and showers, we went for a walk round town. It was pretty quiet at first, as the siesta seemed to be observed with more diligence here than in some places we have stayed. However, we thought we’d go for a beer and see whether any other pilgrims were afoot. They were, and the square outside our hotel seems to be the place to be. Others were abroad as well, and we swapped the day's news with all and sundry.

We dined in the evening with Fred and Brian, and Sandy and Dean from Seattle. We had bread, a delicious tuna salad and a massive fish Paella that was supposed to feed four, not the six who tucked in but couldn’t finish it. During the course of the evening one advantage of using hotels became apparent: the others were all on curfew from their respective Albergues, and had to negotiate extensions after 9.00pm – in some cases not without serious complaint!

Day 13 - Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero: 18.96km / Ascent 140m / Descent 76m

After a simple but excellent breakfast of coffee, juice and Danish pastries, we were on the road again by 7.45am. Other pilgrims were lurking outside, sourcing their breakfast from one or other of the many cafés on the square.

We swapped news of schedules, working out who we might bump into over the coming few days and whether we would see some people again. In the course of conversation, another advantage of using small hotels manifested itself – or rather it was an outbreak of bedbugs that had manifested itself in one of the Albergues overnight. Not nice!

Frans and Ann by the Arco de San Benito, Sahagun

Leaving Sahagun by the bridge over the Rio Cea, we fell in with Mike and Carol and Frans and Ann, and would continue to walk with or near them for much of the day. At the first village, Calzada de Coto, the Camino splits in two – both official routes running roughly parallel to each other, but divergent for around 30 kilometers. One way is the original Camino Real route; the other follows the Via Trajana, an old Roman road. We all opted for the Camino Real route; the four Scots, on the other hand, chose the Via Trajana. So we wished them well and went our separate ways.

Tree-lined tracks like this offer vital shade on hot days

Between Calzada de Coto and Bercianos del Real Camino we walked with Frans and Ann, talking about topics as diverse as international business, nuclear power, the Belgian football team, beer (and the beauty of small producers) and Wagnerian opera. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. In Bercianos we stopped for a lazy coffee break, where Mike and Carol caught up and joined us as well.

After a sociable first 10 kilometers, we walked the next section on our own, all the while walking beside the road in the shade of poplar trees. After half an hour or so, we passed a bird hide by a small, reedy lake, which made an ideal spot to eat our sandwiches.

Bird hide beside the small laguna between Bercianos del Real Camino
and El Burgo Ranero, an ideal spot for birdwatching and lunch

Because today's walk was not especially long, it was barely 1.30pm when we reached El Burgo Ranero, even though we had adopted a fairly relaxed pace. After an impromptu tour of the village we found the hotel, though not before starting a minor disagreement between two local women as to where we needed to go (one said she knew exactly where our hotel was but was wrong, the other denied any knowledge of its existence at all). All was well in the end, though: we checked in and were treated to one of the most delightful welcomes of the trip so far - a cold bottle of beer each!

We popped to the room for a rest and a wash. We have the tiniest bath known to man – I could barely squeeze my legs in under the tap, and had to use an empty beer bottle to wash my hair. After a quick circuit of the village, we settled at the bar for to relax, write notes and catch up on the day’s news with other pilgrims.   

We sat with Mike and Carol for dinner. Under intense interrogation they let on it was their wedding anniversary, so we celebrated with wine and a menu peregrino, and offered them congratulations and best wishes for the future!

Later, we went for another quick stroll, and rang home to swap news before going to bed. It was very hot in the room, and again we didn't sleep too well. The heat had been a notable feature of the last few days, both during the day and at night, but we didn’t let it detract from the fact that we were having a great time. 

With sore feet a thing of the past, the daily routine honed with military precision and new friendships forged, we felt like we could walk forever. Even the sad news of a few days earlier couldn’t detract from that. However, for us the end was approaching – just three more days walking before our Camino for this year had to come to an end. Although we still had plenty to look forward to, we couldn’t help but feel a slight tinge of melancholy that the life we were living and the way we had slipped into it so easily would soon be exchanged for the “real world” once more.  

No comments:

Post a Comment