Day 15 - Burgos to San Bol

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Where I stayed
Albergue San Bol

Flag of Spain  , Castille and León,
Sunday, September 16, 2012

Distance walked today: 26.8 kms
Distance walked in total: 315 kms
Distance to Santiago: 474.4 kms
Pains: none
Blisters: same one on heel of right leg.

Reflections: "If you stay in a hotel in a city, or town, during the weekend try your best to avoid having a window to the street, or any window at all." Spain is different, and parties go on all night Friday and Saturday.

Even though I could have slept for a few more hours, I forced myself out of bed. I even forced myself to a long hot shower before starting the walk, a luxury that I won't have again for over a week.

After settling the bill I started walking along the pedestrian street which crosses the whole of Burgos opening the path for pilgrims.

I had calculated, and later was proved correct, that I would have at least one hour or more without needing to use my headlamp. These modern cities have an excess of public lights, parks, empty streets, even the tombs at the back of churches. Everyone is complaining about the increase in electricity prices, but no one wants to reduce the wastage. Surely we would all be better off with the authorities turning lights off more and giving us all headlamps!

Talking about headlamps, I looked around Burgos for spare batteries for mine just in case they don't last out. My light compared to the Swiss chap that passed me today is like a candle. He basically had a lighthouse stuck to his head!

I found a camera shop but they wanted to charge six euros for a pack of four batteries. I found a "Panasonic" pack for 1,80 euro in the Chinese Bazar shop closer to the hotel. I know its risky, as they probably are not really Panasonic and will last 20 minutes. I fear I have misread the pack and they are "Panasonit" or similar...we will find out sooner or later.

Now, what I didn't work out was that I wasn't going to be alone during my walk. I assumed that as the albergue would not open until 6am, I would have 30 minutes head start in the rat race (apart from other posh pilgrims in hotels...cheats!)

I only walked five metres when two young kids passed and said "sssbuee caaamino". They obviously were coming back from a wedding as they were fully dressed.

A few metres more, more teenagers swerving and staggering all over the place. They had certainly indulged in a bit of liquor.

By the time I got to the Cathedral I struggled to walk forward with the groups of drunks walking in the opposite direction! It wasn't a dozen or hundreds...the streets were absolutely packed all along Burgos with drunk under thirties.

They caused no problem, and they loved saying "Buen Camino", with different grades of language capabilities. I had forgotten how long nights can be in Spain (bars were still serving and music playing). It reminds me of that time many years back when I came back from a long night out. I walked from the tube station home and my father was watering the plants outside. He later said I looked like our cat returning after a night tour.

The Camino leaves Burgos centre across the Puente de Malatos (bridge of illnesses) over the river Arlanzon. I kept walking straight for about 200 metres until a taxi stopped next to me. The driver told me I had taken a wrong turn and pointed me in the right direction. So very nice, and its already a few times that people have corrected me.

The funny thing is that the taxi driver could not have seen the shell which is on the back part of the rucksack. I guess the division of flies following me and my tired walk were the elements that made him reach the conclusion!

The walk continues along the University of Burgos and then enters a long stretch of fields and past the prison of Burgos. That's were the sun came out, and as usual pilgrims appeared from all over the place. Where did they hide before? There were no headlamps! They must have been hiding and waiting for me to pass to challenge me later.

The prison lead to the start of the real "Meseta" which everyone in the Camino seems to fear. It's basically a plateau, where the hours along the flat zones can take two or three hours before seeing any climb or descent. There are hardly any villages or fountains for water, and the scenery is supposed to be monotonous with wheat, sunflowers and vines.

I can't say that the scenery since the Pyrenees has been anything to die for, but on the other hand I'm probably spoilt after walking the Lakelands and God's own back garden a few weeks back. Wainwright would have thrown the towel after Roncesvalles!

In any case, a lot of people crack along the Meseta. I still have to find out why.
I seem to remember that was the boring part of Emilio Estevez's film "The Way", or was it all of it!

I walked for a couple of hours up to Tardajos and then found the first open bar. While slowly swallowing the mother of all croissants, I had a chat with an Australian lady in her mid forties. She had also splashed out with two nights of hotel in Burgos, and commented how other pilgrims had made her feel guilty about it. However she was delighted about having been able to wash her hair. I guess that's a comment the feminine readers and my mate Don might understand, but she expressed it as if it had been a caviar and champagne feast.

As with a couple of other pilgrims on the route she had lost her guide book during the first week. I think there are a few thieving pilgrims as others have commented how they "forgot" it but it was later in hands of others.

A large part of the walk today was along rural roads. There is a bit of space on the side but not always as it gets wider or thinner.

That is tougher on the feet, but the main problem is the traffic. Its Sunday morning, and half the drivers are drunk youths, while the others are sleepy bar workers going home to sleep. The above applies for Saturday and Sunday mornings...the rest of the week its only alcoholic truck drivers!

A great example was when I arrived at the small village of Rabe de las Calzadas, which only has a population of about 200. For a couple of kilometres I saw cars with young people pass by. They were all dressed for a party and had the windows down and the music a full volume.

I passed one car with four teenagers asleep inside, and then about a dozen others trying to walk straight along the road and singing loudly. It was 8am!

Passing through the village there was a local regional music group playing "jotas" (Castilian traditional music), and fireworks were being released. The streets looked like a hurricane carrying bottles, glasses and cheap wine packs had passed a few minutes ago.

I had a chat with an old woman who was desperately trying to brush all the debris into a pile to be able to get out of her house. The fiestas had started on Friday and it had been non-stop drinking and music until then.

I passed the pilgrim albergue in the centre of the village and guessed that no one would have been able to sleep a minute in there with all the racket.

A gentle climb up to the Meseta started there, and after the "Alto de Meseta" there was a steep descent.
The place is called "Cuesta Matamulas" which literally means the hill that kills mules! Everyone was walking slowly down and most people have commented its the worst part for them as it hits their knees hard.

Contrary to the rest, a downhill is like a bone for a dog to me. My legs just pump up with adrenalin and thrust me downwards as fast as I can go. Today, my usual hopping and jumping down developed into a full blown fast jog, passing fellow pilgrims who must have thought a convict had been escaped from the local prison and was legging it.

I blame the lamb I ate at Burgos. It must have built my calories up! The three catalans had told me that they had won many a mountain race in their day by walking fast up hills, but then legging it downhill as fast as they could.

Originally I was going to stop at Hontanillas del Camino, which is only 20kms from Burgos. But it was just 10 o'clock and the town was as disappointing as many previous ones (unless you are writing a book on rural mud architecture).

I bought a couple of bocadillos, and took off again to scratch a few kilometres more. I had read about a place called San Bol where the waters are "curing" for pilgrims. That sounded like just what I needed with the hot weather. The problem was that there was only twelve beds there, so I would need to be quick.

It was only 5kms of easy walk to I arrived at San Bol at 11.30am. No one else was there yet, and I had the rare luxury of blocking the entrance door with my rucksack. I also put my boots and would later sit my arse on the doorstep - no cheeky Israeli couple would push ahead today!

The albergue is basically a small concrete hut with a small wood next to it. I knew it would be tight, but it was fresh, had a river flowing next to it and had a large green area under the trees to lie down and relax. About one hour later there was already more than twelve of us waiting there.

In the meantime I had found the "Agua de Vida" (water of life) source which lead to a small pool in the wood next to the albergue.

I plunged my feet in the water, and it was freezing beyond comfort. I kept them in as long as I could, but I felt my tendons tightening dangerously.
I would try again later and managed to keep them in for about twenty minutes. The effect was fantastic no doubt, but more due to the temperature than any involvement from any Saint!

When the hospitalero arrived at 2pm we all cued nicely and I was waiting eagerly at the front to be the first to select my bed and rush into the shower. He was Cuban (a Doctor we would later learn - and isn't everyone in Cuba?), and explained how everything worked in the albergue.

I then presented him with my pilgrim passport, when he suddenly asked everyone "Rachel?". A hand raised from the back, and three large Irish ladies wobbled to the front. He said "you reserve, you priority".

How was this possible?! All the pushing and shoving I had done to be first for once, and these three had booked ahead. I was fine with the phoning, but why would that give them priority? - it hadn't with me before.

Anyway, I accepted my fate and kept in line. What the three ladies did not count with was that I had already prepared a plastic bag with my towel and change of clothes in it. I knew there was only one shower and toilet (and both in the same room), so when I got my bed (in the upstairs floor), I dumped my rucksack and silently tip-toed to the bathroom...First! The strategy worked and soon all the rest had to line up outside while I showered singing away "Always look on the bright side of life..."

There was all sorts of people in the group of twelve. There was a couple formed by a chap from Madrid and a German girl, who were constantly playing around and behaving as young lovers. I later learnt they met two days earlier, so it was the first "fling" I had seen in the Camino.

That was all good with me, until they started massaging each other with oil. I wouldn't normally complain, but he was a great imitation of a humpback whale when he took his t-shirt off. The contorsionism was just not very nice to have to observe...and before you ask - they were in the middle of the wood exactly were the water of life was.

We all picked some blackberries from the shrubs at the end of the albergue which were delicious.

The albergue costs 5 euros per bed, and 6 euros for dinner which the hospitalero cooks himself. The dinner was plentiful and tasty, with a huge paella cooked in the kitchen with everyone watching, a fresh salad and apple sauce for dessert (plus wine and bread). There was so much paella that a few of use (mainly the Spanish) had up to three dishes.

The albergue also had cans of food, drinks and wine bottles for 3,50 euro. Given we were 4kms away from any shop they could have pressed for higher prices (especially the wine). I guess the local authorities are in the "pilgrim mood".

All the above makes the albergue sound like a heavenly rest place, which it is, however there are a couple of negatives:

- one toilet and shower. It was always busy, so I ended watering the plants most of the time.

- there is no electricity, with exception of the two hours when the hospitalero cooks. He then switches the generator on and everyone rushes to charge mobiles and other electrical appliances.

- there are mice traps all over the house...and that has to be a bad sign!
We finally managed to eat dinner after about ten photographs from the Irish and American ladies. Each one wanted a photograph with their camera with everyone cheering with the wine glass. I did it for the first two, and then conspicuously put two fingers in front of my face (reverse victory sign) for the rest of the pictures. Given I was right in the middle I guess there will be a couple of surprised faces.

After the feast, the four of us who were speaking in Spanish sat outside and continued chatting about different things.

All three of them agreed that the Camino must be done without a mobile phone, watch or any sort of access to internet. That's the same sort of thing that my guide says. They were all saying that such objects cut freedom and control the person.

All true, so what? I don't see them moving into caves and removing themselves from modern conveniences such as the washing machine which they had used earlier.

The funniest part was that the guy from Madrid said he was struggling on a daily basis to find a phone box to phone is "mama" and tell her where he was! He was about 35 years old...

The sun set and someone brought a candle out. The other three were the guy from Madrid, his new "girlfriend" a German, and a Ukranian-Catalonian (as she defined herself!). The latter spoke a weird mix of catalonian spanish, with certain russian tones.

Both girls seemed to desperately want to tell the world why they were doing the Camino. I thought to myself "oh, oh...where is the emergency exit?"

The German girl was on her second Camino, and was doing it as she had lost her job, and now her flat. So she was hoping Santiago would change that. I had to think there were a few problems with her walk:

- firstly: she had already walked it and Santiago obviously didn't help her.

- secondly: she was walking while receiving unemployment money from the German state instead of looking for work.

- thirdly: she was walking with her rucksack full of little teddy bears, key rings and other stuff, which she wanted Santiago to bless so she would have lucky charms.

I really don't think the Camino or Santiago would have time for her. I'm more inclined to think that Santiago Matamoros (the violent and vicious version of Santiago the "Moor slayer") would have happily chopped her head off if he had wondered into the albergue that evening.

The Ukranian-Catalonian was currently getting divorced from a natural medicine expert, and was questioning whether to continue her studies on the same stuff.

She was the one that suddenly held the red candle with both hands and said "let's all hold the candle in turn and say what we are looking to get from the Camino". The horror, the horror...where are thou Santiago Matamoros?!

I could have walked away, but it was just too tempting to listen to this round of un-requested heart opening (perhaps the wine they were drinking polluted their minds).

The German girl started. Boo! It was weak. She only asked Santiago for "the World to be a better place and everyone to be happy", followed with and "OK?" as if she had doubts about her wish. How old was she? Six?
And more importantly what on earth did she ask for the first time she did el Camino? Death and destruction?

The "talking candle" moved on to the Madrid boy. He kept it simple and said that he didn't expect any change during el Camino, but that he hoped that after he finished it would change something in his life. Fair enough I though, nothing too dramatic.

The candle moved again towards the Ukranian-Catalonian. She started blabbing in her unique version of Spanish. As she spoke for about ten minutes non-stop in what seemed a very rehearsed speech, I have to admit I switched off during most of her monologue.

However I do recall her saying that the Camino was a reduced version life itself, you meet people, you get separated, people die, get ill, angry, happy, etc, etc. So what she wanted from the Camino was to find someone that was similar to herself in the Camino. Ah! A "Santiago Speed Dating" service I thought to myself. That probably fits with quite a percentage of the walkers.

The candle arrived at my hands, and I proceeded with my version of the Truth. I hoped it wouldn't upset them, but they opened Pandora's box, I didn't.

I told them that I was not looking for anything in el Camino, and that I was simply happy to walk it as it was there to be walked. I added that if I learnt anything along the way I was open to new information, but that I was convinced that I would learn as much on the Camino as I would in any other long distance walk.

I told them that I did not need to suffer to learn, and had no sins to be cleaned (we can all argue about this last point, but that's between my new favourite priest and myself...Padre Oz! A priest that can travel to the other side of the World and walk the Camino totally pissed with two Irish nuns. Hurray for Padre Oz!! Sadly I will never see him again).

Frau Happy World stopped me there, and said "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I think that to be happy you need to suffer". I quickly replied "I see you are a very happy person!". I doubt she understood I was using that old method of communication with the dumb...sarcasm.
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