Time walked – 5 hours with two quick stops
Total distance walked – 12.25 miles (236.95 miles total)
Weather – Warm, 60’s in the morning, 78 degrees F in the afternoon
Terrain – gravel road, pavement, some rocky path with a steep uphill
After having had an enjoyable day reaching Hontanas and at the Albergue Juan de Yepes, Ray and I started out before 8:00 a.m. with a renewed outlook on the Camino. We had walked less than 50 feet when we saw a tall young man volunteering to help a fellow pilgrim with some foot issues. I heard him say that she should try using his ointment as he offered her a tube, saying that it was all he had. There was something familiar about the young man, and I felt as if I should know him. I got a good look at his sweatshirt, and I realized that it was T.I. When I hollered his name and he looked at me, a big grin spread across his face. Ray and I both remarked at the same time that it was obvious he had lost weight since we saw him last. I asked him what happened with the scholarship. He said that he would catch up to us but that he couldn’t leave until he made sure this pilgrim would be alright. The last time I had seen T.I., we were walking along and I saw him give a donation to a woman sitting on the side of the road. He may have lost weight, but he was still the same generous guy.
Ray and I looked forward to another day in the meseta. It wasn’t nearly as boring as we had been told by those busing past. In fact, I was relieved by the flat path winding through fields of grain, hoping to give my tired feet a break. It looked like we would have another day without a cloud in the sky. If it turned hotter than expected, it was a good thing Ray and I were already on the trail.
For the majority of the Camino, the path is wide enough for Ray and I to walk side-by-side. If the trail is flat, our stride is very close to the same, but Ray is much faster than I am going up or down hill. We walked along together until coming across what I’ve named single-track, where there is only enough room for one person carrying hiking sticks.
The number of pilgrims on the trail now is a fraction of the number we started with in Saint Jean Pied de Port. We can walk several kilometers without seeing another pilgrim, and we rarely pass anyone. When we get into our final destination, however, there seem to be more pilgrims than residents in the tiny hamlets. I’m still having anxiety about getting a bed secured, so I called the night before to make a reservation at a small hostel with four rooms and eight beds. Ray and I sleep much better with fewer people in the room, and my foot issues are taking more strength to deal with than I like to admit.
Every once in awhile Ray or I will think of a song lyric inspired by our surroundings, but we have been able to escape having songs play over and over in our heads. We’ll joke around about the lines when we think of them, but they go away as quickly as they come. More than once I’ve sung, “This is the trail that never ends,” and we are thrilled that is as far as that song goes. One day Ray wanted to think of all the songs we could that referred to walking, but after we thought of three, we stopped trying. On this morning I looked at the wheat fields on my right and said, “…amber waves of grain,” and stopped to take a picture. Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with enough song lyrics, but as appropriate as those words were to the view, the lyrics did not go any further.
I thought we had to go five miles to the next town before having our morning coffee, but when we reached the ruins of the ancient convent of San Antón, we could hear music as we neared. It sounded like the music was coming out of the ruins, but it was actually coming from a rustic café across the street and around the bend. A chalkboard menu by the entrance advertised coffee, so in we went. The proprietor was a character, introducing his dog as the best wife he’d ever had. He and Ray enjoyed some light conversation while I enjoyed my coffee and my half of a €1 sandwich. We read that the convent does open in the summertime only for weary pilgrims, having 14 beds but no electricity.
Ray often changes his shoes after the cool mornings turn into the hotter part of the day. I had read that many pilgrims give credit for having no blisters to this practice. Ray insisted that I try it as well, so I switched to my sandals after our coffee. While we were sitting there, T.I. arrived and bought himself a sandwich for the road.
Together the three of us walked to Castrojeriz catching up on what we’d been doing in the last week. We had walked together on the longest daily journey and then crashed at an albergue, getting the last three beds. T.I. was planning to walk with us the next day, but he got an email in the night about receiving a scholarship for seminary. We left him the next morning to work on filling out papers and arranging a conference call. I was anxious to hear how it had worked out for him. Instead of being excited like I thought he would be, his spirits were low. The short version was that he had qualified for a full-ride scholarship with one stipulation, he needed to raise $13,000, $2,000 coming from his local church with the rest from at least 13 different people. Wanting to be encouraging, I told him that I thought he could do it. He then added that the money needed to be pledged by May 31st with the first donations being received by the end of June.
Because T.I. wanted to walk the Camino Frances as humbly as possible, he wasn’t prepared to raise this kind of money in such a short time. Doing his best to trust that God will provide, he told me that he had not been able to connect to the internet for a few days making this task feel impossible. After falling behind in our work on the Camino, we understood his frustration. For the second day in a row, Ray and I did not believe that things just happen by chance. We believe that we met T.I. for a reason and then ran into him again while he had a problem to solve. I had told T.I. that I would be writing about him on the first day we met on the Camino. Because Ray and I want to help him, I asked him to give me all the details that I would need to share with others about how they could help him. T.I., Ray and I became excited to see what might possibly happen through the power of social media. T.I. promised to write me a letter with a link to the scholarship information, and the next time I opened my email, his was the first I saw.
If you’d like to know more about T.I. or can share his story with others, please click the link here: Thomas Ira Atkins Letter
T.I. had just finished filling us in when we reached Castrojeriz. The Camino turned right off of the paved road into the village. To the right of the path was an impressive church, but even more impressive was the medieval structure high up on the hill overlooking the town. Ray and T.I. speculated what it was and how long it had been there. Ray also wondered how the size might compare to the large church if they were closer in proximity. I teased them both and said that I would wait for them at a restaurant while they climbed the hill to get the answers to all their questions. Later I read that we were looking at the remains of a 9th century castle.
We passed two more impressive churches on the way through the village and then could see a daunting uphill climb in the distance. None of us wanted to admit that the hill before us appeared overwhelming. Obviously we had already climbed steeper and higher mountains on the Camino, but the meseta was supposed to be flat. We decided to make a game of it by guessing how far it was to the top. Ray guessed 2.5 miles, which I thought was too long. I guessed 1.25 miles and T.I. guessed that it was 2 miles of climbing. When we reached the agreed upon point, we recorded the information that we needed from my Fitbit and set off in the hot sun.
Since T.I. is much taller and younger, he climbed ahead of us. Ray and I climbed together, and when I needed to stop and catch my breath, Ray stopped with me. The climb reminded us of the hike to Boquete Tree Trek where we had trained in Panamá. The rocky road was similar as well as the steepness. Once again, Ray and I were thankful for the training we were able to do in the mountains. The first time I climbed the 4 kilometers, just over two miles, to the Tree Trek, it took me an hour and a half. This climb was much faster.
T.I. waited for us at the top. We could look back and see the trail all the way to Castrojeriz. We were now higher than the castle. I checked the distance and we laughed in disbelief when it calculated to 0.6 miles. We had all gone over! There were a handful of pilgrims at the top resting from the first climb we’d had for days. An enterprising young man had set up a stand with snacks and drinks for a donation. Ray decided that a coke would be good, but he had spent all his change on coffee, leaving us with only large bills. T.I. overheard our conversation and put a 5€ bill in the basket, telling Ray to get whatever he wanted. We witnessed T.I.’S generosity once again. I turned around to take a photo of where we had been when I saw a hand-written sign that said, “Yesterday we lied about being hungry, today we lied about being boring.” We all agreed that so far the meseta had not been boring.
Before descending down the other side, I snapped a photo of the trail before us. Ray remarked that the pilgrims on the trail looked like ants. I was hoping to see Itero de la Vega, our destination for the day, but could not. Since we had a reservation, we could enjoy ourselves more and not have to rush our pace. T.I. walked with us, and like the time before, we talked in depth about life and relationships. Each of us commented on how much the meseta reminded us of the Midwest, and how much we were enjoying this stage of the Camino. We are always surprised at how far we get walking when we’re involved in conversation.
T.I. followed us to the hostel where Ray and I had reservations. They checked in Ray and I and had a room available for T.I. as well. The bedrooms were all upstairs with a shared bathroom. We loved how much it felt like we had come to stay at Grandma’s house. The owners had a market next door, so after getting settled, Ray and I shopped for snacks while T.I. went exploring. We regrouped for the pilgrim’s meal at 7:00 p.m., which ended up being just the three of us. We were served by the owner and his wife who had prepared our home-cooked meal. Ray and I ate as though we were starving. We complimented our hosts with the little Spanish we knew, and excused ourselves to get ready for bed. We did not have reservations for the next day, so we needed to be up and on the trail as early as we possibly could be.