Time walked – 5.5 hours with a short coffee break
Total distance walked – 11.1 miles (224.7 miles total)
Weather – Sunny and hot, 78 degrees F
Terrain – rocky path, dry hard dirt path, gravel trail
The hot weather Ray and I are encountering on the Camino Frances is very unusual for May. Not only are my feet swollen after walking a few hours, but Ray is experiencing swollen feet, stiff ankles and tight calves. The both of us are a little down facing our physical difficulties. I thought that my training in the mountains of Panamá would render me immune to blisters and injury. Ray has climbed mountains, raced sailboats, hiked for two weeks in New Mexico and paddled a canoe down from Kansas City to St. Louis without any pain or soreness, so his Camino feet are a first. We’re hoping that the weather turns back to the normal, cool, spring temperatures and that our ailments subside as a result.
We did not sleep well at the albergue in Rabé. A couple of young people came into the room after 11:00 p.m., waking us up, and then a couple of others had set alarms for 6:00 a.m., making quite the racket packing up all their gear. I’ve read many accounts about the annoying pilgrims who get up at 5:00 a.m., alarms going off, turning on lights and talking loudly, so I’m extremely grateful that we have not shared a room with anyone like that. Fortunately our roommates cleared out quickly giving us the space we needed in our sleep-deprived fogginess.
It was a little cool when we left to hit the trail, but I did not wear layers. The thought of having to stop and take off my backpack to remove a layer was more than I could bear. I seem to warm up very quickly once we get going. We started out as fast as my feet would let me go, and for a change, I was looking for the sunny spots to walk in rather than the shade. The morning sun was shining perfectly on an old stone church at the far end of the village. I stopped just long enough to snap a photo, and then we continued out of town.
Ray mentioned how glad he was that we were always headed west, keeping the morning sun behind us. He also wanted to know how far it was to our coffee stop. With my brain still a little fuzzy, I could remember the name of the village for our coffee stop, but counot remember how far it was supposed to be. The information was starting to all run together in my head. There was a slight incline out of Rabé de las Calzadas, so I hoped that once we reached the top we would see the next hamlet eliminating the stress of not knowing. The meseta stretched before us, however, without our coffee stop in sight.
We were surrounded by wheat as we walked, and we loved it. Ray has taken multiple photos of the different varieties of wheat as well as other crops to send to our youngest, Annie, who just graduated with a degree in agronomy. We occupied ourselves by talking about how much this reminded us of Kansas and how vast and beautiful we thought it was.
Ray asked about how my feet were doing in the new sandals. I liked them and was pleased that the straps avoided the blisters on my left foot. As long as the Camino trail consisted of small rocks or dirt, my feet were doing fine. I could feel the larger rocks through the soles of all my shoes, so I had to be more careful where I placed my feet. If I stepped on a large rock with my heel, it often jammed the sole up onto the blister on my left heel shooting pain up my leg. Usually if I have a blister it only lasts for three or four days, but the one on my left heel had been the same for over a week.
Again I questioned myself as to why I thought walking 500 miles across Spain would be something I wanted to do. Instead of asking Ray if he thought this was a good idea, like I had done before, I asked him if he thought we would make it all the way to Santiago. I told him that I was concerned about falling behind schedule, and that I didn’t see how we could make up the time lost. I also asked him why he was walking the Camino. He usually tells the people that we meet along the way that this was all my idea and he is just along to be the water boy. Ray answered me seriously that he wasn’t sure why he was walking the Camino or if we would make it to Santiago de Compostela, but he thought we should do everything we can to finish what we had started. He also thought that getting a good night’s sleep makes a positive difference both physically and mentally. He finished by saying that because we came here to walk, we are happiest when we are walking. He was right. While the rest in Burgos was necessary, it made us both stir crazy.
The trail sloped upward gradually between the farm land. There were no trees and no clouds in the sky, but the landscape was breathtaking. Of course we didn’t know how to judge the distance of the fields, but their expanse was impressive. Ray commented on the absence of fences, which I had not noticed. He also observe that we appeared to be walking a country road, yet we rarely encountered any vehicles. I am surprised how much I like being out in the open by ourselves.
The rocks grew steadily larger as we climbed the gentle hill. Once we reached the top, we could see Hornillos del Camino, our morning coffee stop and our halfway point for the day. We could also see most of the trail that would get us there, and it still seemed like a long way. The distance to Hornillos from the crest of the hill was about 2 kilometers, a distance I have never walked to get a coffee. While it looked far away, Ray and I knew that we would be enjoying our coffee in just a few minutes.
We arrived in Hornillos del Camino after walking five miles, and I was ready to stop at the first café. I walked inside and realized it was more of a grocery store with sandwiches to go but no coffee. I had entered and exited the store before Ray made it to the doorway. I told him they did not serve coffee and he reminded me that he never likes to stop at the first place. Just ahead was a sidewalk sign advertising food and drinks, so we entered there and found plenty of seating on an outdoor patio. Before we had finished, Paul and Sara arrived for their drink break. Knowing we were from Kansas, Paul wanted to know what we thought of the Spanish prairie and referred to me as Dorothy. I had never been called Dorothy, and not only did I think it was witty, I thought it was hilarious. He went on to say that he did think the name Wendy was appropriate for someone from Kansas. I’ve really never liked my name, so I may introduce myself as Dorothy in the future.
Ray started putting in his backpack indicating that it was time to move on down the Camino. As we entered the street, he asked if I knew how far it was to the next town. Again, I wasn’t sure but told him that we were about halfway. He was concerned that we would need some snacks or food before we reached the next village. I assured him that we were not going very far and that we could eat a full lunch when we found a place to stay. Before I finished, he pointed to an albergue door at the edge of town and told me to see if they were selling food.
I popped my head in the doorway and immediately saw a woman holding a small little boy. I asked her in my best Spanish if she had bocadillos. Without answering me, she asked if I spoke English. I was surprised at the question, but said that I did. She then asked where we were from. Ray answered her that we came to Spain from Panamá but we were originally from the United States. I still didn’t know if we could buy a sandwich, and the girl seemed more interested in talking about Panamá.
The girl in the albergue told Ray and I that she had walked the Camino a couple of years ago with a couple from Panamá, and that she had met them in this very village. For a second, I didnt think there would be any way that we would know any couples from Panamá that had walked the Camino, but then I knew that I did. I instantly knew who she was talking about with no doubts whatsoever. I didn’t even ask her if it was the Bricks, instead I told her. “You walked with Bill and Gina Brick,” I said to her. Her face turned white and Ray thought she was going to faint. She nodded her head and we told her that Bill and Gina were the ones who had told us about the Camino.
I asked her for her name and if we could take a picture to send to the Bricks. She agreed and said that her name was Emma. She asked if I would tell them we had met Emma and her son, Eli. She was very emotional and went on to tell us her story of meeting Bill and Gina in Hornillos del Camino with other pilgrims on a day when there were no stores open and they had no food. She said that Bill had gone door to door asking the residents if they had anything to share with the group. Emma had been very impressed at Bill’s resourcefulness.
Emma went on to tell us that she had fallen in love on the Camino and her boyfriend had followed her back to Ireland, where they had a son. About a year ago, she returned to the Camino to the very place where she had no food to open an albergue with a restaurant. She was still a little shaken when she asked us to let Bill and Gina know what she was doing. At this point Ray was trying to figure out what we could buy to take with us when she said that she felt like she had more to tell us. She asked if we had ever been in business because she needed some advice. Ray laughed and told her that was all we had ever done. Eli was running into the foyer and Emma had to chase after him. When she returned, she told us that she was feeling overwhelmed with the business. She said that she had prayed the night before for God to send someone that would give her hope. She was convinced that Ray and I were the answer to her prayer, and deep down both Ray and I knew that this wasn’t just a coincidence. We spent a few minutes with Emma giving her encouragement and answering her questions while following Eli from room to room. She then remembered that we had come in asking for a sandwich. Ray told her that he really just wanted some bread to take on the road. Emma said something to her employee, who sliced a loaf of freshly baked bread in half and insisted that we take it as her gift.
As Ray and I walked the few more steps out of Hornillos del Camino, we acknowledged that we now knew why we were walking the Camino and would not question it again. Trying to keep tears from welling up in my eyes, I tried to joke with Ray, asking him if he had goose bumps or thought he was going to cry. “Both,” he said.
A couple of hours later we were walking into the village of Hontanas, which was built on the downside of a hill. More often than not, the villages are built on a hill. We’ve joked often about how tired we are when we finally reach our destination for the day only to have to climb a hill to get there. I’m assuming they were built like that to give the residents an advantage over an enemy attack. But as we approach Hontanas, we could not see it. There was a billboard advertising an albergue two kilometers ahead and then another one at 500 meters, but we still couldn’t see the village. Almost the full 500 meters, the trail turned to the right and down sharply, revealing the rooftops of Hontanas.
The first albergue we saw was Juan y Yepe. I saw the large outdoor seating area, multiple clothes lines, a newer building, and told Ray that I would go in for more information. I was impressed the moment I walked through the door. It did appear to be new and clean with more seating inside. Ray and I had talked about finding a place where we could get some sleep, and I thought this albergue looked promising. I asked if they had private rooms, which they did but were already reserved. The desk clerk said that they had a room with just two bunk beds, and he asked if we’d like one of those. Each room also had a private bath, they offered a community meal for the pilgrims, and it sounded good to me.
Our room was down two flights of stairs which was somewhat difficult to maneuver on swollen feet. We already had one roommate, Jodine, but the room was large and clean with beds that looked brand new. Ray and I thought we’d hit the jackpot! In the place we stayed the previous night, there would have been four more people in a room this size. As always, showers were our first priority, then laundry and it looked like we could squeeze in a little rest.
Jodine asked if we were going to attend the pilgrim’s mass at 6:00 p.m. The church was just a few steps away, and we told her that we did want to go, although we’ve not made it to one yet. She said that although she was Jewish, she had gone and wanted to attend this one as well. I was thankful that she mentioned it because we would not have known otherwise. With dinner at 7:00 p.m., it looked like we could make it work.
Ray and I sped through our afternoon routine and even got some work done because we had strong wifi. I kept glancing at the time so that we wouldn’t miss the mass. About ten minutes before 6:00, the church bells starting ringing. We quickly gathered our things and went to see if Jodine was in the room. She had been resting, but was already gone. Ray and I walked to the church and their were only three other people there, but they were in the back. I wondered if we should have verified the information, but we went ahead and sat down. The church bells were still ringing and the time on my Fitbit said 5:53 p.m. I snapped a photo of the alter just before several people starting filling the pews.
Of course the mass was conducted in Spanish, but they had translations printed in several languages so that everyone could follow along. I was happy with how familiar I was with some of the Spanish, which made the service more moving. I thought about my sister-in-law, Kim, who would love this part of the pilgrimage. I had not had a chance to talk to her about walking the Camino before we started, but I have often wondered how much she has known about the history since she is Catholic. At the end of the mass, the priest called up all the pelegrinos. There were about twenty who walked forward for the blessing. The priest spoke a blessing over each pilgrim as he adorned us with a cross necklace. It was a special moment and one that Ray and I will always cherish.
Ray and I returned to the albergue with plenty of time to enjoy the pilgrim’s meal. There were twelve of us, including Lisa, who we had dinner with in Burgos. There were four from France, a couple from Italy, a man from Austria, Lisa and her friend Carmen, and an Australian celebrating his birthday. It was another paella dinner, which was fantastic.
After dinner, Ray excused himself to go work because he and Brandon were working out some issues. I had heard there would be a good sunset, so eventually made my way outside to see if I could capture a photo. Instead, I got a shot of Ray on the phone with Brandon in this gorgeous setting. I posted the photo on Facebook and thanked God for this amazing opportunity.