A Very Windy Place

First things first: I wanted to mention something that embodies the Camino spirit that I saw yesterday after arriving in Leon. I bumped into Francisco, the Youtuber from Almería, in a coffee shop. He was buying a coffee and pastry for some poor soul who obviously did not have the means to pay for it himself. He did it selflessly without drawing attention to himself. I now feel obliged to do a good turn myself. And so should you.

Lisa is taking a well- deserved day off today, so I set out early in the morning and played Camino hash: trying to find the path out of town. It is a little more difficult in the darkness of the early morning and there were not many peregrinos out that early. I figure Google-mapping is cheating, worthy of a serious offense if this were the HHH hash. Asking a local is a minor infraction at worst. I made my way out of town and just prior to leaving Leon’s city limits, I came across a small stand set up for serving hot coffee, bananas and other refreshments to pilgrims. All for the price of a donation. I had a coffee and took a banana and a delicious bar of dark chocolate. “Is it always this cold at this time of year?” I asked man running the stand. “No,” he replied, “it is usually colder!”

As I left the stand, it got colder, mainly because of a biting wind which grew stronger with every step away from Leon. I entered Virgen del Camino and found the alternative route I planned to take. The normal Camino runs alongside a major highway; the alternative goes through the countryside, first going south, then west and finally north, transecting the avoided highway and into Hospital del Orbigo where my hotel was.

I had a nice cafe cortado and piece of homemade cake in Virgen del Camino and soon after I was in the countryside as the sun came up, promising a nice day – and some warmth.
The sun could not penetrate the thick cirrus clouds and the wind blew constantly out of the mountainous north. A dozen wind turbines with Jack’s batteries could have powered Leon for a month.
I came across this interesting structure exhibiting some truly Gaudí lines. It was billed as a Pilgrim’s Oasis. I am not sure if it was meant to be a bathroom for women, something that women will tell you is sorely missing from the Camino (has not been a problem for me!). I did not go in to investigate
And so on I walked – and walked and walked in this windy high ground. I did not walk 25 miles, but it was more than 20! Note there are no shadows. The sun was stuck behind the thick layer of clouds.
What a sight for sore feet. I followed the arrows which actually took me off the Camino but led to a bar where I had my breakfast: cafe con leche and a slice of tortilla. Then I was back on the windy way.
The sun came out about noon so thought I would cool off my feet. I was feeling some hotspots and wanted to avoid blisters. I have taken to wearing knee-length compression stockings (with wool socks on outside) to help my feet but they are not the best for preventing blisters.
I came across this monster blocking my path. This machine harvests the sunflowers.

The last hour always seems the longest, whether you target a four hour day or, like today, an 8 hour day. And then the last 1.5 km seems interminable! But before you can say “Hotel Don Suero de los Quiñones” you are there, checked in, showered and sipping a beer or a vino tinto. I was really looking forward to a gin and tonic, but it is too dang windy!

Judging from the menus dangling in front of a few establishments, sopa de trucha (trout soup) seems to be a local specialty. I was hoping to be sipping a piping hot sopa de trucha, but it is not served until 7 pm. Right now it is 6:15. It is only going to taste better!

A note on my feet: the swelling has subsided in my right foot, ankle and lower shin. Still tender in a few spots. My left ankle still gets sore as the day wears on; but I have some damaged tendons in my arch (from wear and tear over the years) which cannot be repaired out here. I have rubbed Voltaren on both feet every morning and most evenings for the last 3 days and have been wearing compression stockings. I also rub Aquafor on the soles of my feet and between my toes. As mentioned above, the stockings change the dynamic of my foot rubbing my shoe and both feet have hotspots. Tomorrow I will change to Aquafor, wool socks and sandals. I have a short day tomorrow: about 3 hours.

Okay, time for another vino tinto and my soup should be ready soon!

What the heck! Spanish gin, by the way.


Leon is the last of the big cities before Santiago de Compostela. It was a nice walk from Mansilla de las Mulas. There is an alternate route that takes you on an ancient Roman road, which I kind of regretted not doing, until meeting the folks who had and their description of a long and desolate trail with no stops along the way and wobbly footing.

On the approach to Leon, I picked a thistle as a souvenir. I have seen them growing along the Camino since St Jean. It reminded me of Scotland, which reminded me of my good friend Doug Mowat. Doug entered his Santiago ahead of the rest of us, and I expect he will be there cheering us on as we reach that longed for destination. I remember talking about the things we would do in retirement. I am not sure if the Camino came up but I suspect Doug would have chosen the cycling route. Doug, today was for you!

Leon is a beautiful city and seems more compact than Burgos and more elegant than Logroño, but just as lively as Pamplona. Lisa and I visited the Cathedral which is a masterpiece. Surprisingly, when it was built, the population of the pueblo was about 5000 souls. Later we visited the museum at the Casa Botines, designed by Antoni Gaudí, the Catalan architect. Jack, you should take Shannon to visit this museum – it would amaze her I am sure. His masterpiece is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but this museum describes his exploration of natural shapes to guide his designs.

The exterior of the Cathedral of Leon is even more beautiful at night. Close by is the Barrio Húmedo, or “wet neighborhood”, where there are a lot of bars. Lisa and I chose one and we had morcilla, scallops and gambas a la plancha, washed down with Rioja wine. As a digestif we tried an herbal orujo. Plain orujo is like grappa, which can be like firewater. With the herbal infusion, the orujo made a very pleasant end to our meal. On the way back to our lodgings, we bumped into more of our Camino family and had a nightcap with them.

Dinner Surprise

Lisa and I got away from our lodging on another chilly morning well before the sun came up and, as with many mornings, we followed Venus. As the sun arose at our backs, the surroundings became clearer and we walked along a mostly flat path lined with sycamore trees through fields either already harvested or thick with maize. At this time of year, the farmers cut off the water and let the corn dry in the sun until the decision is made to harvest. This is all for animal feed.

I love to get an early start before the sun is up and get in 5 kilometers before breakfast. The sunrises are always beautiful, but as we are heading west, I need to turn around frequently to catch the glorious colors.
The trail today was mostly straight and flat. Here we spotted a most unusual sight: purple flowers growing right out of the ground!
Along one section of the path, someone had dressed up the sycamores with colorful crocheted “sweaters”.
Lisa, shown here with Leanne who we met early on, found that her rain gear kept her very warm on these cold mornings. Yesterday the sun warmed us up by breakfast. Today, it was cold all day.
Since our alberge today is located 8 km out of town and did not offer a very good meal selection, we stayed in Mansilla for several hours. We bumped into Scott and John and shared some drinks and stories. By the time we finished, the supermarket had closed, so our plan to buy cheese and ham and bread for dinner evaporated. However, we stumbled upon this restaurant: The Curious House of Food. We were served one of the finest meals we’ve had on the Camino.
The interior of the Curious House of Food. Lisa got a kick out of the framed hot water bottle. I am surprised she did not sneak it out in her backpack and take it to our hostel, where they have not fired up the room heaters yet.

Our hostel sent us a cab and tomorrow will return us to the same place so we can resume the Camino without missing a step. Tomorrow we head to Leon.


Lisa and I set off from Terradillos about 7:15 and got to Sahagun about 3 hours later. It was our coldest morning yet, at 37 deg F. In Sahagun, you can get a half-way certificate. Some may think that a half-way certificate is not very important, but it does demonstrate that you have walked nearly 400 kilometers. On the other hand, you can walk 100 km from Sarria to Santiago and get a certificate, or compostela, after walking only 100 km. Of course, the Camino is not about kilometers or days or sellos (stamps) or pace. What IS the Camino about? There are people who have walked it 5 times, and 10 times, and more. But I doubt they could tell you what it is about. All I can tell you at the half-way point is that it is about you.

Cold as a witches tit.

The Camino is full of interesting characters. Today I met and walked for a while with Frank from Almería. Frank, or more properly, Francisco, is a police inspector who will be retiring at the end of this year. He is originally from Asturias and endorsed our plan to travel eastward along the northern coast of Spain after the Camino and encouraged me to try the fabada asturiana.

Lisa and I checked into our alberge, a new, modern and clean hostel built for the pilgrim trail. After unloading our gear, we decided to go into town for a beer and a bite to eat. on the way, we bumped into Frank, who was putting away one of two drones he Carrie’s with him. He had just finished doing an aerial video of Bercianos. He has a YouTube channel and has been recording his journey since St Jean. Check it out at: Francisco BL para Almería.

Francisco told me about the mozárabe trail that goes from Almería to Santiago de Compostela. At 1400 km, it is a bit more of a challenge. I am checking my calendar to see if I have 2 months free to tackle it.
Another 15 mile day, plus a stroll into the village. I won’t be posting any more mileage charts unless I do over 25 miles in a day.

So how does it feel to be at the halfway point, you ask? I look back at all the experiences so far. Every single day has been wonderful. I remember that first morning, leaving St Jean Pied de Port and how amazingly good that cup of coffee in Orisson was. I remember the fourth or fifth day when I began to feel like a pilgrim and not a lost tourist. And soon after that when the familiar faces became family. And my diversions from the trail and how happy I was to get back on the Camino. Hundreds of little incidents of people and places come to mind. I will never be a virgin peregrino again.

So actually, I feel a bit sad.

Mistaken Identity

I had to grab a taxi from Hornillos to Carrión de los Condes to catch up with Lisa and make up for the days I fell behind in Burgos and Logroño. I arrived in the morning and checked into the Hospedaria del Convento de Santa Clara.

Let me go back in time for a moment. In September 2021, Erin and Don Byrne joined Paula and I on a trip to Italy. While visiting St Peter’s Basilica we learned the Pope was about to celebrate mass. We had to stand behind a security barricade. It we could see some of the lucky folks invited to participate, including a group of Augustine nuns. Later, outside, we bumped into the nuns and asked how they had been so lucky to be part of the Mass. Lucky, they said. They were admiring the cathedral like we were, but they were escorted in as guests of the Vatican. Truly an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives. We also learned that they operated a hostel for pilgrims in Carrion de los Condes on the Camino. We took note of their contact details.

Last week I emailed Don to get the address and I booked a place at what I thought was the Augustine-operated hostel. Only later did I realize that I had booked the hostel run by the Clarines, a cloistered group of nuns who have limited contact with the outside world! A certain Ignacio methodically and laboriously checked me into my room. When I showed him a picture we took of the nuns in Rome, he gave me a cockeyed look. “Those are Augustine’s!” So I did not get a chance to say hello to our friends. Another reason to return!

On the way into Carrión there was a sign saying that there would be a guitar concert that night. I knew that a well-known luthier named Federico Sheppard had a guitar workshop in Carrión and it turned out to be in a room attached to a 12th century church which Federico had leased from the local Bishop and is in the midst of renovating. He builds guitars and has talented young guitarists come and perform there. We heard Sondye, a Norwegian guitarist, play. Federico then invited us for a glass of wine and dinner at the La Corte restaurant. Federico is a bit of a Renaissance man with many tales and a definite opinion on all matters. (You can get a feel by reading an interview with him at https://www.guitarsalon.com/luthier/federico-sheppard).

Federico Sheppard in the 12th century church he is refurbishing and re-purposing as a guitar studio, workshop and concert hall. He spoke of many interesting things he found in this ancient building, including the painting of the crucifixion of Christ (at top) showing an eclipse of both the sun and the moon. He is flanked by a couple of his “Camino” style guitars, with scallop and sword motif on the rosette.
Sondje, the Norwegian guitarist in residence put on a nice recital for us. The acoustics were quite good. He also has a group of students coming for a guitar class.

Today, Lisa and I set out for Terradillos hiking through the wide open meseta. We listened to her morning anthem, Carri Underwood’s “How Great Thou Art”. Villages are few in these stages but we did find a place to stop and have a cafe con leche and rest our legs. Terradillos is a small town so we hung out at the alberge the rest of the day.

How great Thou art.
The meseta is beautiful wide open country, bounded by the Cantabrian mountains on the north and the horizon on the south. The farmers grow wheat, barley and sunflowers in these rocky soils.
Some of you have asked how far I walk in a day. This was from today which represents an average day. It was about 5 hours of walking and half an hour resting.

Tomorrow, on Day 18 of the Camino, Lisa and I will reach the half-way point, in Sahagun.

A Happy Place

It was good to be on the bus going in the right direction. It was a nice refresher of the towns I had walked through not long ago: Najera, Santo Domingo, Belorado, Atapuerca and finally Burgos. They tend to blur together after a few days. I had a cup of coffee and a toasted ham and egg sandwich at a familiar coffee shop, then headed towards the Cathedral, turned left at the river and was on the road again!

The path leading out of Burgos was much more pleasant than the road coming in. I followed a patch along a park which was built alongside the river. After a while, I turned away from the river and found myself walking in the mostly treeless meseta, but the road was good and fairly flat. It seemed like a lot fewer pilgrims were on the trail. I have heard some people skip this middle portion, either due to time constraints or because it is too “boring”.

I had sardines for lunch in a local bar in Rabe de la Calzada. Another guy came in, Gary from North Dakota (or was it South?), went up to the bar and just said “Beer”. The lady started pouring and he shook his head. “Bigger!”, said Gary, motioning with his hand. She found the biggest glass in the bar and filled it with beer. Gary plopped down and started to drink. He had been walking from some town 8 miles before Burgos. He looked at me and said, “I’m tired!” He looked it. “I’ve never walked more than 18 holes of golf before in my life!” Which proves they play golf in North Dakota. Or South.

On the way out of Rabe, I saw a bench in a yard next to a small ancient chapel. I decided to go and rest my feet, by lying down and kicking my leg up on the backrest. As I lay there, I saw an inscription above the doorway which read:

Templo de la Verdad es lo que mires; no desoigas la voz con que advierte que todo es ilusión menos el muerte.

Well that sent my mind off on a Camino of its own. I pondered the illusion we live in and how attached we get to it as I watched the leaves in the tree shading me as they slowly danced in the breeze.

Eventually I got on my way to Hornillos, staying at the place run by the brother of the woman who married Emilio Estevez’ son. Hornillos is a little place even in a land of little places. But I was about to discover that it’s got life!

This is a picture of the peregrinos who went to mass at the little church in Hornillos. After mass, the priest invited all the peregrinos, which was most everyone up to the altar and handed out the Pilgrim’s Blessing to everyone in all their native languages. We had people from USA, Spain, Italy, France, Panama, Brazil, and Korea. After reading the prayers, we all sang church songs. We Americans sang Amazing Grace. It was interesting to hear versions of some familiar songs on a different language.

After mass I went up the street to a restaurant called the Origen, run by a guy named Omar from Senegal, and had dinner with John from Florida and Bjarne from Greenland. The singing for the evening was not over, as you can see from this piece from La Tosca. Camino surprises never end!

Sorry, could not get the photo and video to upload. Will work on these technical difficulties later!

Death in the Afternoon

I mentioned in an earlier post that good fortune often comes my way on my travels. I should have suspected something was amiss this morning when I boarded my bus to Logroño and a minute later another bus coming into the station crashed into my bus, breaking the gull wing mirror and sending cracks propagating though the windscreen. But not so bad that we did not make the trip. Then on arrival in Logroño I realized I had fallen for the “hotel looks like it is in the center of town but is actually two miles away“ trick again. After a complicated process of front desk discussions, phone calls, website visits and chatbot messaging, I cancelled it for a hotel that actually was in town.

Going back to Logroño was like a trip back in time. I went through many of the towns I trekked through on the Camino and saw many pilgrims on the trail. It was like watching my hike in reverse. By the way, you need a mask to ride the bus in Spain. Luckily, I had one. But the poor old fellow in front of me did not and the driver harassed him but eventually gave him one to wear.

The reason I came back to Logroño was to go to a bullfight, particularly the one today which featured Roca Rey, a bullfighter from Peru. And as luck would have it (my luck turned for the good again), I sat next to a couple, of which the woman was from Peru and the man was from Barcelona. We had a great chat this afternoon. There was also a fellow who was oenologist from Bodega Beronia with a friend who is an ex-rugby player. I have already planned a trip to Logrono to visit the bodega while attending the Rugby World Cup next year!

The bullfight was about as good as it gets. Morante de la Puebla struggled with the first bull, which lacked all instinct, and mercifully, but poorly, put it away. Diego Urdiales had a good bull and fought well, but the kill was long and messy. Then came Roca Rey who fights in the extravagant style that I remember of Espartaco many decades ago, though Roca is not quite so daring. He had a good fight but could not place the sword. Morante was up again, but upon a few charges it was evident the bull was cojo, or weak-kneed, so he kept stumbling. After hoots from the crowd, the President allowed a substitute bull. Too bad, because the crippled bull had a lot of fight in him. The replacement bull was an outstanding animal and Morante knew it. He fought him very well and the kill was good. He got an ear.

Diego Urdiales was up for his second bull and put on a very good show. The kill was good. He got two ears, but deserved only one and a half. However, he is a Rioja local and so has the home field advantage. Then it was up to Roca Rey to justify his position as the top billed fighter of the day. The fight made the day. It was a great bull, maybe a bit to heavy, the picadors professional, banderilleros efficient, and Roca Rey dominated the bull. The kill was clean. The bull did not give up his life quickly. Roca Rey was awarded two ears.

The grape harvest fiesta de San Mateo was in full swing and I would have loved to party the night away. However, I got my bullfight fix and am anxious now to get back on the Camino. I love the early morning departures and sunrises, followed by breakfast on the trail and walking and encounters while walking, and the arrival to a new town. It is all good.

The difference in the foam on a cafe con leche and on a beer

Early in my career I had the good fortune to work in Spain. One of the oil fields I looked after was near Ayoluengo, an hours drive north of Burgos. I never spent much time in Burgos if I could help it. Years later, driving from Madrid to Pamplona with the family, I stopped in Burgos, parked near the city center and visited the cathedral where we had a bite to eat. A few months later, I received a parking ticket for that stop. So Burgos was never a city close to my heart.

Today I spent all day in Burgos on my day off and I have to say I have changed my mind. It is not such a bad place after all! I did my laundry, visited the Museum of Human Evolution and went to a physiotherapist to see about my foot. Also had breakfast at the cafe I am sitting at now sipping Rioja for dinner, found the rugby bar and went to Mass.

The Museum of Human Evolution was focused on the archeological dig near Atapuerca, but had exhibits on Darwin’s journey on the Beagle, the commonality of DNA among all living things, all known pre-humans and the rise of homo sapien. While I was wandering through the Atapuerca exhibit I recalled one of the messages on a trail marker a day or so before that said “Deprogram your mind” in Spanish. Meaning, of course, take advantage of the Camino to rid your mind of negative or unproductive thoughts.

So I wondered, there in the museum, what if I deprogrammed my mind of all artificial constructs, leaving only those basic human characteristics that cannot be erased. That would take me back to somewhere around my birth, give or take 9 months. This became the thought experiment: how would I re-program my mind to live in our world which is so full of artificial concepts like money, borders, nations, etc. These are notions we cannot survive without. And now, to continue the experiment, how would Atapuerca man reprogram his mind to live in his world? A simpler task, I suspect.

The visit to the physiotherapist was excellent. I got his number from a lady at the coffee shop at breakfast this morning. It turns out he lives close by. The clinic was new and clean and Andres, the PT, young but reassuring. We discussed my issue (swollen ankle and pain in the shin) and then went to the treatment table. He massaged and worked my ankle, foot, shin and leg. He then used a technique called dry needle, which I had not heard of before. I am aware of acupuncture, but dry needle is more of a western medical practice which involves, if you are not aware, inserting a very slender one inch long needle into your skin and twirling it around in various directions. He did it in two locations just outside the tibia, one about six inches below the knee and the second about three inches above the ankle, where my pain was concentrated. I rolled over and he worked the back of my leg. This was a full one hour of treatment and better than any foot massage I ever got at Wat Po. And I got the pilgrim’s discount! So if you plan to be in Burgos for any reason, drop by Clínica 24 and visit Andres Marcos de Pedro.

This is the bar I am at writing my post. There are so many of these places on every city and town that I don’t know how they make any money. But that is not what is about. These are community gathering places where you meet with friends and have a beer or a glass of wine, maybe a bite to eat, and discuss the important things in life. Like the difference between the foam on a cafe con leche and the foam on a beer. Even the bartender will come out from behind the bar with a glass of wine and join in.

By the way, thanks for all the great comments. I love to read them.

Long March into Burgos

I was able to catch up on the queen’s funeral highlights today after a relatively early arrival in Burgos. The Last Post and the piper’s lament were quite moving. I have had similar moments along the Camino almost every day. But they are as difficult to describe as the emotion I felt listening to that lone piper. Anyway, she was an amazing woman.

The cocks were crowing as Lisa and I departed the El Peregrino alberge in Atapuerca which I would highly recommend. We had a tough climb over a very rocky path as the sun came up. I tried to stick to the goat path alongside the pilgrims path, but stunted trees next to it kept brushing my hat off. At last we came to Campañuela del Rio Pico where we stopped for breakfast. It was one of the best layouts of breakfast foods I have seen. The tortilla had tomatoes, onions and mushrooms and they had a large variety of bocadillos, or sandwiches made with baguette-style bread.

We had a much better path to follow now, much of it road and the rest suitable for automobiles, though there was very little traffic. We snaked our way to the top of another rise and there before us gleamed Burgos. The view gave us a glimpse of what the meseta would be like: a mirage! For as close as Burgos appeared to be, it receded into the distance as fast as we approached. The meseta is high, flat land and you can see for miles with a good vantage point.

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Burgos. Two hours later, we reached St Mary’s Cathedral. That’s a lot of outskirt! I walked for a while with a fellow from Madrid who kept muttering “Dios Mio!” wondering where it would end. I had to chuckle, although I was muttering the same under my breath.

Sometimes I feel that I am a very lucky traveler and my hotel selection in Burgos proved to be one of those instances. It is just around the corner from the major bus station and since I plan to take a bus back to Logroño the location could not be better. It is also 10 minutes from the Cathedral and 10 minutes from the Museum of Human Evolution.

Did I not mention that I was going back to Logroño? No, I did not leave anything there and I am not walking from Logroño to Burgos again. This is a planned excursion to attend a part of the grape harvest festival and to watch a bullfight. Tomorrow will be a rest day and the day after I take the two hour bus ride to Logroño. I will spend the night there, possibly drinking a copa or two of vino tinto, then return to Burgos and catch up with the Camino.

This is a cross at the top of the hill just before breakfast. If they took all the rocks off the trail leading to this point, it would bury the cross!
Me and my buddy Santiago, with St Mary’s cathedral behind. I took many pictures outside and inside the cathedral. None seem to do it justice. It is an amazing Gothic exterior and inside the art and carvings and tapestries and silverware and intricate altars are overwhelming. Construction began in 1221. Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the investment in the cathedral took off, reflecting the power of Spain and its growing empire.

Lisa and I met up at the Cathedral and after a tour inside, we had a some wine and pintxos. Lisa really likes the morcilla, the local sausage, and we had several versions of it. Then we returned to St Mary’s for mass and the pilgrim’s blessing. And now, back at the fortuitously located hotel, time to listen again to the Last Post and turn the lights out. RIP, Lillibet!

Ancient Trails

Just a quick note today. Had a long 20+ mile hike today and suddenly the afternoon and evening are already gone and it is time for this pilgrim to get some sleep. I am in Atapuerca, near an archeological dig that has unearthed fossil records of the earliest man in Europe dating back a million years. It makes you wonder what kind of spiritual quest he might have pondered.

It was a cold start to the day and did not warm up much until the sun was climbing pretty high. This was colder than I expected for this trip but had a good jacket and long-sleeves shirt.
Te he sunrises can be quite spectacular with condensation trails from commercial Jets creating interesting runes. What would Atapuerca man thought of these skies?
Where did Atapuerca man go for spiritual enlightenment? Or was he too busy just surviving? Did he hike through these same hills and valleys and forests?