Time walked – 7.5 hours with a 45 minute rain break and a 30 minute lunch break
Total distance walked – 12.7 miles (172.25 miles total)
Weather – Rainy, 57 degrees F
Terrain – Rocky trail, pebble path, muddy path
After spending one of the best nights so far on the Camino, Ray and I prepared to walk in the rain. We’ve been blessed with great weather for walking, raining at night and waking up to cool, fresh mornings. It had rained in the night and the early morning while we slept at Refugio Acacio and Orietta, and it promised to rain most of the day. When it was time to leave the refugio, the rain had stopped and it was cold. Ray and I had our jackets on and our pack covers on, with our rain ponchos prepped and ready when needed.
We barely made it around the corner at the end of the street when the rain started coming down hard with a loud clap of thunder. We were so close to the refugio that we could have returned, but there was an open carport that we ducked into while we put on our ponchos. Before we finished getting them on, we were joined by the six German pilgrims and another woman who was walking alone. The woman recognized Ray and I from Zubiri, our third day of walking. As soon as she spoke, I remembered her as well, Valorie from Paris. Valorie had already been walking for 30 days when we had met her, starting her Camino in the middle of France. She was already soaking wet, having been walking for an hour this morning. She told me that she didn’t mind walking in the rain, but did not like the thunder. We stood there for a minute, got our minds set properly, and ventured back onto the trail to walk.
With my visor on that covers my ears to keep them warm and the hood of my jacket as well as the hood of my poncho, the rain had no chance of getting on my glasses. Unfortunately, I also kept my head down for most of the morning so that I could watch my steps, but also to keep the rain off my face. I had my phone in my pants pocket, like I always do, so that it’s convenient to pull out for photos, but I did not want to take it out in the rain. My hands were wet, and I did not want to get my phone wet as well.
We walked with Valorie for awhile, but with my blistered foot, I could not keep up with her. The rain had soaked our shoes and I could feel that my socks were wet, not a good combination for blisters. Ray and I did not want to stop in the first hamlet we passed with all of our wet rain gear. We had only walked about two miles and the next village was a little larger and only three miles away. We reached Belorado, and I was getting weary of walking wet. The rain had let up to a sprinkle a couple of times, but it was coming down hard once again. As we passed the central church, I saw some people standing at the large entrance taking cover in their ponchos. I told Ray that I needed to regroup, so we headed to the church to take cover as well.
Ray and I stood in the wide vestibule of the church with a Korean family of five. The mother was adjusting the rain covers and ponchos of the three small children. As soon as the parents had the kids ready, they took off into the rain. Ray remarked how difficult it would be to walk the Camino with small children. I thought that surely they had been there for mass, not on the Camino, but they did all have backpacks.
After a short break, Ray and I decided to make our move out of the church to find a coffee stop. Neither of us liked the idea of removing our rain gear, but we needed to eat and figure out where we were staying for the evening. The bar restaurants, as they are called, where we get our morning coffee, usually have wifi. We both liked the idea of hot coffee to warm us up as well.
We passed the first coffee shop which looked too small to maneuver all of our wet gear, but found a larger one near by. Because I was still looking down, I noticed several brass squares embedded in the street with a hand and foot print reminding me of the Hollywood walk of fame. We were on a mission to find a coffee shop and I did not want to stop in the rain to figure out exactly what these were. The German pilgrims were also getting coffee, and we joked with them that they would never be able to shake us.
The wifi was not very good, so I pulled out the guidebook to evaluate our options for the daily trek. I almost didn’t bring our guidebook because of the weight, but it has been a valuable asset. Ray expressed that he would really like to have a private room so that we could spread out our wet gear at the end of the day, but our options were limited. I finally was able to secure us two beds, but there were no private rooms available. We were going to have to plan the future better if we wanted to be more comfortable.
After about 45 minutes, we were getting restless. The Germans were still there, but Ray and I agreed that we needed to push on. We hadn’t gotten too far when I happened to recognize the name on one of the brass blocks. It was Emilio Estevez who had filmed part of the movie, “The Way,” here. I learned later that one of the squares was for Martin Sheen, but I didn’t see it or recognize any others in the downpour.
Three miles later, Ray and I entered the hamlet of Tosantos. It was time for a bathroom break after our coffee. Tosantos was situated on both sides of a busy highway. There was a sign for an albergue and restaurant, but we weren’t sure where it was. A woman putting her garbage in the community recycling bins pointed down one street, asking us if we were looking for the albergue. We’ve experienced several acts of kindness like this along the way, and it makes me wonder how many times a day these people have to help peregrinos.
We walked into the restaurant and the helpful resident entered right behind us and went behind the counter. As we were again removing our wet gear, I saw an appealing looking sandwich being served to a fellow pilgrim. While Ray used the facilities, I ordered the sandwich with a side of fries, and two hot coffees. The bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato sandwich was delectable.
The rain had slowed to a sprinkle for awhile after leaving Tosantos. Ray and I were finally able to look up and enjoy the view. We spotted a church built high upon a hill with caves carved into the cliffs behind the church where peregrinos had been housed for centuries.
Because it rained all day, Ray and I did little talking and walking side by side, instead having to concentrate on the path. With the blister on the back of my heel, I had to be very intentional with where I placed my foot causing me to be much slower than usual. It was hard for Ray to walk as slowly as I was, so he often got ahead. At one point when we were walking together, I asked if he thought this pilgrimage was still a good idea. He laughed and said that he wasn’t ever sure that it was a good idea! We then talked about how we were both still glad we were doing this and how the temperature with the rain was about perfect for walking. Any cooler and we would be miserable, and if it were any hotter, we would be sweating under our ponchos. Ray also joked that he was going to tell everyone that I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was unrecognizable. He also told me that he was very proud of what we had done and excited to see what was to come. I was very uncomfortable at that moment, but his support was just what I needed.
Ray and I wondered, as we walked in the rain, how the scenery would look differently under the normal blue sky. I tried to snap as many pictures as I could when the rain was lighter, but it never let up enough to take our hoods off.
Once we reached the hamlet of Espinosa, I knew we were within a couple of miles of our destination for the day. Normally that gives me a burst of energy, but today my feet were tired and I could not go any faster. The last mile of the trail was miserable. It had been raining all day and what must be a single-lane all dirt track had turned to mud. The hundreds of footprints before us had made the path even worse. I hoped that even though there were no private rooms, someone would have cancelled at the last minute and we could sweep it up.
Villafranca Montes de Oca was also situated on a main road. The tiny village appeared to be more of a truck stop until we continued walking toward our hotel with albergue. The hotel and grounds were stunning, giving me more hope of securing a private room. We walked into reception behind two girls, with two young men behind Ray and I. The young men were looking for the municipal albergue but were told it was closed for the year, leaving only this one. The girls were told to wait for the rest of us to get checked in. I asked if they had received any cancellations for a private room. I could tell the desk clerk wanted to give me a sarcastic reply, but she took mercy on my rain-soaked soul and told me that they were full. In fact, the two young men got the last two beds.
The clerk showed us to the albergue and actually assigned the six of us to our actual beds. Ray and I ended up with two top bunks. While this albergue was more modern than most of our stays, the word that comes to mind to describe our accommodation was horrendous. I’m sure I was overly dramatic from being so wet, but there was not enough room for all the pilgrims and their wet gear. There were muddy shoes everywhere. Normally, shoes are left at the albergue entrance, but today was an exception with everyone stuffing their shoes with newspaper to absorb the moisture. On the up side, there were separate men’s and women’s restrooms, but only two toilets and two showers in each one to be shared by 26+ exhausted pilgrims.
We had to share less than two feet of space between the bunks with our bunk mates. The railings on the beds assigned to Ray and I were already being used as clothesline from the pilgrims on the bottom bunks. Ray’s mood turned sour pretty quickly, but he saw that the sun was going to come out and got us motivated to wash what had to be cleaned so it could get dry on the lines outside. There were no laundry facilities here, but what seemed like miles of clothesline.
There was a small kitchen for sharing as well as one common room with a dozen metal chairs. One really loud girl had parked herself and all of her belongings in the common room where she had an constant audience. From the conversations we couldn’t help but overhear, we found out that several pilgrims decided not to venture out in the rain and just stayed at this albergue for two days. Ray and I concluded that those who stayed staked out more than their fair share of space before any other travelers had a chance. We also decided that the amazingly cozy and comfortable experience that we had the night before contributed to making this one so awful.
Fortunately, the pilgrim’s meal was in a delightful setting at the hotel restaurant. The same clerk who had checked us in gave Ray and I a table for two and made us feel like we were on a date. We laughed at how quickly our perspective had changed.
For centuries pilgrims have walked the Camino for deeply religious reasons. Now the Camino is walked for a variety of reasons with many not knowing exactly for sure what their reason is. I would say that Ray and I would fall into that category. It’s also possible that we have many reasons that walking the Camino Frances appealed to us. Ray has always been one up for a challenge, so the extreme challenge of walking across a country would have been enough for him. The vast history of the area has surprised and fascinated him as well. I’ve always wanted to participate in some of the challenges Ray has accomplished, but didn’t want to be miserably hot or cold. I was able to choose the weather that I thought I could tolerate the best, which for the most part I’ve felt that I’m well prepared. I was looking forward to a less stressful, more meaningful Camino, however. In our anxiety to secure a place to stay, we haven’t made it to a single mass or spent much time at all learning about the original pilgrimage. I know there are lessons to be learned from this experience. Today I’m going to be pleased to know that Ray and I will survive a situation that we would have never chosen for ourselves without killing anyone. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will learn something a little more meaningful.