Day 16, Carrion to Terradillos, 26.8km (by bus)
April 16, 2016
I am a bad pilgrim. I just could not face another day of hiking in the cold rain. Also, the pilgrims guidebook listed today’s walk as beside a highway (though along the old Roman road, Via Aquitaine!) There were no towns, cafes or even fountains for the first 17k, so it would have been a forced march with no break. My shoes have not been dry for four days and another mud puddle shuffle will not help. On top of all this, the dark skies have dampened my mood as well. I’ve taken today’s journey by bus. Tim, a better and more dedicated pilgrim than me, hiked on after breakfast. My bus didn’t leave until almost noon. I expected Tim and I to meet up again tomorrow, but shortly after I arrived in Terradillos, Tim walked into the hostel.
Tim said that some of the road crossings were submerged, with guards slowing the traffic in deep sections. He said there was lots of standing water and even some small rivers over the trail. He’d hoofed it, mostly to stay warm, since the temperatures were in the mid-40’s. On the bus ride, I saw submerged parks and parking lots. There was a recreational camp site with over a hundred campers. All will suffer with water damage. Every bridge we crossed had water almost touching the bottom of the structure. This is some serious flooding.
This break will allow my feet to dry a bit and improve them. They were wrinkly and white when I peeled off my liner socks last night. Days on end of wet feet are dangerous, leading to multiple sores and blisters. Most, though not all, of my clothes dried overnight and I’m hanging out everything that’s damp in hopes it will dry tonight.
I’ve given little history about the Camino, so this might be a good time for a few facts. This thousand year old pilgrims trail is known as the Camino Frances–the French Way. There are many paths to Santiago de Compostela (the last resting place of the remains of Saint James) but this is the most popular. Starting in San Jean, France, it’s 776km in length. We started in Pamplona, Spain to avoid the Pyrenees and about 67km. Over a quarter of a million pilgrims hiked the French Way in 2014 and more are expected in Holy Years, when St James’ (San Iago) Feast Day falls on a Sunday. July and August is high season, with half the pilgrims hiking during these months. Only about 11-12,000 hike during the month of April. Frankly, the hostels seem full enough to me now. I can’t imagine where everyone stays in August.
July and August seem just too hot for me. Most of the path is through fields with almost no shade. While towns have a fuente (fountain) for pilgrims it could be difficult to carry enough water in a few stretches. If I had it to do over, I’d probably choose fall. Cooler temperatures than summer and much less rain than spring.
I’m finding the path fairly well marked, though the assortment of markers and placement does keep you craning you neck in search of the right direction. Although there are some printed signs and a variety of scallop shells (the symbol of the Way of Saint James) we mostly look for fletcha ammarillos (yellow arrows), spray painted almost anywhere.
Most guidebooks lay out a schedule to complete the hike in 30-34 days. I scheduled 40 days, which seems more reasonable and allows for some rest days. I’m using the John Brierley guide, very popular in the states. He makes the assertion that “Any reasonably fit person can accomplish this journey without undue stress.” I’m not sure I agree with him as I’ve seen a fair number of knee injuries, bad blisters and some back aches. This is not for everyone. His schedule has you average over 20km per day which is difficult for most people.
That being said, there are easier ways to finish this trail. If you have the budget, you can stay in hotels or pensioners along the way. It’s easy to get a service to move your backpack forward each day so you don’t have to carry it. Costs are 5-10 Euros, depending on distance. You can hire a service to make reservations for you along the way.
I had a touch of food poisoning this evening. This morning’s ham tasted a bit off and I didn’t finish it. The “passage” was violent, but mercifully brief. I’m lucky it waited to hit after my arrival to the albergue. I skipped dinner and slept extra. Felt fine in the morning.
Day 17, Terradillos to Bercianos del Real Camino, 23.5km
April 17, 2016
This morning was fog that didn’t lift for over an hour of walking. The path was fairly dry, though we rarely saw sun. The wind was calm until afternoon. Mary Ann hurt her back yesterday and at the first town, stopped at an albergue and arranged to have her pack moved forward by a service. Even without it, we could see she was walking with some pain and listing heavily to the left. She walked with us to Sahagun, about 13km. We had lunch, loaded hamburgers with a cana (short draft beer). Then we walked her to her accommodations for the night and found the monastery was closed and we couldn’t locate her backpack. Disaster! But then one of those miracles occurred. Just as we got one of the sisters to come to the door (we’d disturbed her during mass!) a man walked up behind us, “Mary Ann? Mochila? (Backpack?)”. Her pack was found! Tim carried it for her to the municipal albergue while i sat and waited with our packs, watching the skies get darker.
According to the map, we only had 10km (6 miles) to go for our final destination of Bercianos del Real Camino, but I honestly think the walk was closer to 15. The skies were quite darker in the east and I threw my poncho over my rain jacket and pack cover. Tim is from Texas and I have lived there, too. If I’d seen a sky like that one in Texas, I’d have been running! Ten minutes before we arrived in our final stop, we were hit with tiny pellets of hail. Only the size of apple seeds, they stung when they hit your face and hands. Glad it only lasted for a couple minutes. Then the rain came and were were soaked. Several peligrinos (pilgrims) arrived at once and we carried water into the hostel with us. The two hospitalleros (hostel volunteers), Mario and Francisco, are very welcoming and kind. This is a donativo (by donation) albergue and has a kitchen and a warm dining area, but nothing is as warm as their hearts.
I had mistaken the two men for monks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Francisco is married, a recently retired pharmaceutical salesman. Both are atheists who have hiked the Camino and wanted to come back to serve the pilgrim community. I had a lovely, long discussion over tea with Francisco, a native Spaniard. His English is excellent. Mario is originally Italian, but has lived in Spain for 40 years. I only wish we shared a language. Both are here for 2 weeks and were required to take a hospitalleros course.
Watching two atheists lead a non-denominational, quasi-religious program before dinner was interesting, but they pulled it off well. Dinner was a simple salad, pasta with a small amount of sauce and fruit for dessert. We were treated to sangria, though. The hostel was chilly at night. None of the bunk rooms had heat, in fact only the kitchen had a single electric heater. It never got above 47F through the day, so I didn’t take a shower for fear I couldn’t get warm and dry. At night, the temperature was barely above freezing. I was happy for my down bag and a wool blanket thrown over it. Still, I slept fully clothed.