Camino de Santiago Day Fifteen: Burgos to Hontanas-Balance

15 04 2018

In a word? Brutal.

We knew today would be hard. We did it to ourselves really. Each afternoon we evaluate our progress, distance covered and how we feel. We aren’t necessarily going by the book. We do have the John Brierly guide which is super helpful to read as it has great tips about the route i.e. difficulty etc. but the stages he suggests aren’t necessarily the way we wanted to break up the trip. For example the first day we opted to only go to Valcarlos to break up that day.

There are also a few maps from the pilgrim office or the bag transfer companies that break up the trip differently and offer up different views of the elevation change. Finally we look at the options for where there is to stay and which cities we think are a good choice and then we look at the weather.

So all these signs told us we should go past Hornillos and onto Hontanas. We knew we were in for about an 18 mile day but the terrain seemed simple and we felt strong. Our friend Helena warned us that it was a bit of a trek and that there is a portion of the route that seems to go on forever along a high plateau and that Hontanas doesn’t seem like it will ever appear until you see the steeple top of the church peer over the ridge on your descent.

We were in good spirits as we’d had a good rest at the “grandma’s house” apartment and after a fancy chocolate latte and some mini croissants and another banana for stamina we set off to leave Burgos. We walked past the ornate grand cathedral and out of town noticing the huge birds nests on top of some chimneys. A dull walk out of town was exacerbated by the numerous cyclists whizzing past us and even cutting us off as we crossed the highway. Must be a popular Saturday pastime and for some reason they do not seem to realize that we cannot hear them until they’re just about to pass us… they’re not inclined to ring a bell or say on the right/left in any language so they’re just something to be aware of. In terms of Camino etiquette during the day two other things irked me… two pilgrims smoking cigarettes while on a long steep narrow incline! At first I thought it was just their clothes that smelled smoky until I realized the smoke was blowing in my face. Just sit on the side and enjoy your smokes if you have to and be sure not to leave the butts around. I’d imagine that in the summer they could also be a fire hazard. Second we ran into a pilgrim on a very long steep descent that had her radio audibly playing music for all to hear. It’s fine to listen to music but I was a little annoyed by the noise when it’s not what I want along my walk. Just use headphones and be respectful.

It was a beautiful day, light puffy white clouds in the sky but for the most part sunny and warm. I was wearing only a tank and light camping shirt. In general my pinky toe had decreased in size again since the night before but was probably larger than the day before that. Stop reading if you’re squeamish but let’s say when I grasped the excess skin it was about the width of two dimes… pulling it away from the toe between my pointer finger and thumb. Along the walk I was struck that balance is so important, any imbalance in your pack or your footing manifests itself in blisters, foot issues, back issues. Just the tiniest thing can set into motion a plethora of issues. This of course is true on the Camino where every experience is magnified, but a lesson to take home. Balance is so vital in all aspects of our lives and if we don’t take care of the core and create a stable foundation we will not only be off kilter but we have put ourselves in jeopardy. I’ve been wanting to explore the chakras or energy centers along this walk and thus first two weeks has been about the root, chakra 1. Finding my footing and my balance. Of course this initial struggle has manifested itself in this issue with my toe. Ali even suggested that the right little toe has to do with masculine energy and holding onto things that I don’t need… seems fitting.

On the way into Tardajos we saw a motorcycle group touring through the small town. About 200 streamed by. We stopped at a small cafe for a little refreshment and then on again to Hornillos. The road began a slow incline but we felt good enough. I was having a bit of pressure on my little toe but it was ok. We stopped at a little place for lunch and had delicious melon with jamon and a little steak with fries, yogurt with honey and a glass of wine for just 9,50 Euros. We saw a few other pilgrims stopped for the day and we headed off on our last 11km for Hontanas thinking we would have a long haul but it wasn’t worth stopping with the great weather.

We had a long slow incline and as we topped a plateau we saw the tips of some windmills and eventually the full windmills came into view as if someone was turning a lever to raise them. We were surprised at how far they seemed and then at how close they seemed to get, how big suddenly, but then we would dip around the corner for a moment and disappear. Then they’d reappear looking even farther away. I wonder if experiences like these were what inspired authors like Jorge Luis Borges and Dali as it felt as if I was walking through a surreal landscape. We were entering the Meseta where many say the beginnings of the Camino transformation occurs as there is less to see and you are really just walking.

The Shark Cloud

The clouds we’d seen at the slope that looked like a shark and other creatures were now so close above us it felt as if you could reach up and grab one. I wanted to… I’d pull it down and use it as a pillow in a green field. I was in tons of pain all through my body, my feet throbbing. I was close to tears at times for no reason. Then angry at myself because my suffering is so minor compared to so many and I opted to do this of my own volition.

I found Suzy in a similar mindset of utter exhaustion. We’d also almost exhausted our water. Even in the slightly overcast moments there is no shade no trees zero shelter up there on that endless plateau. I wondered if a car were to offer us a ride if I would take it, but no car ever came… one did drive behind us a few meters in the other direction the only one we saw for 10km. We kept waiting for the peak of the steeple and finally came across a small Albergue San Bol which looked empty and is not a town just one building and to our dismay saw that we were still 5km away from Hontanas. Ugh!! It was truly awful.

Somewhere in the midst of this we heard bells, at first I thought I was hallucinating but they kept ringing for about ten or fifteen minutes they went on. It was somewhat comforting knowing a church must be ahead but we still didn’t see it.

Just when we were almost at the end of our ropes out of no where a bike zipped up, not one to zip past us but a pilgrim from the U.K. “Hello ladies are you ok?” I think I mustered up an “I think so”. Suzy eyed his fresh bottle of water on his saddlebags and asked him to spare some, he gladly gave her the full bottle and then offered us some melty nutty chocolate which was so great. Yes I know you shouldn’t accept candy from strangers but this was no stranger it was a gift sent to us. Timmy was his name and he’d been cycling from the U.K. all along the way.

Our spirits lifted somewhat we kept on and very soon the steeple showed around the bend and luckily our Albergue Santa Brigida was right there. Some of our German friends were already drinking beer as we hobbled up. The place is awesome. Such an oasis after such a crazy walk. The rooms are so spacious very clean tons of bathrooms with great rain shower heads, lots of privacy.

We had the pilgrim menu which was a huge green salad and paella for the group, a fun and convivial dinner which ended with some songs by Suzy and yours truly. The best was when each nationality cheered us to do another song the way they do in their country, “Otras, otras!” I didn’t quite catch the spelling but we had Germans, Danish, Koreans, Italians and more in the mix. Sleep came easy in the comfy room with only four in ours… us and Timmy and Joel from Seattle. Such a great ending to a very tough day. 20.1 miles, an exact tie for our last biggest day.

Note: phone service and internet is very limited in this area.



2 responses

15 04 2018
Tom Riley

I’m beyond impressed that you are able, after the exhausting treks, to file these wonderful reports. Great pics, beautiful imagery in your words. Take care of those feet! Buen Camino!

17 04 2018
Beth Callahan

Glad you had a good end to your challenging day, Rebecca. You’ll see more stork’s nests up ahead in the bell towers. A good road tomorrow.

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