Day 20 – Reliegos to Leon – 24.7km

There were only three others in my room last night , a young couple from Chicago and an Italian chap so I had a really good sleep and set off at first light ( now around 8.15am ) towards the small town of Mansilla de las Mulas where I stopped for breakfast with Alain. Alain is a French Canadian I’ve seen intermittently since St Jean. He has been walking now for 9 weeks as he’s another who started at Le Puy. Like Servan and Edith he was extolling the beauties of that part of The Camino.

After passing an area where a lot of maize was growing we came to the outskirts of Leon at around 1.30pm and there was then a long drag into the city near a busy main road , not the most scenic part of The Camino. We reached the centre around 3.00pm and paid our 5 euros to book into the Albergue Santa Maria , another place run by Benedictine Nuns. In my experience so far the Nuns have spotlessly clean Refugios and they seem to make a special effort to give the Pilgrims a good experience. We were shown to our bunks which were in a large dormitory that contained around 50 bunks ( all men as the sexes were separated again ). I knew what that meant.

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Day 19 – Sahagun to Reliegos – 31.2km

A really good sleep as I had paid a bit more ( 20 euros ) for a single room at the Benedictine Convent Albergue in Sahagun. Most of the Albergues/Refugios don’t have this option but I was grateful to escape the snorers , at least for a night. A Pilgrim will pay anything from 4 to 10 euros a night to stay at one of the Refugios , unless it is a ” Donativo ” when you just make a donation in the box when you leave. These tend to be the smaller Parish Refugios which are usually fairly basic but often have a communal meal ( such as the one I stayed at in Viana ). Most of the Refugios will have a kitchen so you can prepare your own food or you can take the option of ” The Pilgrims Menu ” which is available in most of the bars/restaurants in town or indeed in some of The Refugios. For around 10 or 11 euros you get three courses and a half carafe of wine. The standard can vary but I’ve had some very good meals and wine for this very reasonable cost. Some of the young student Pilgrims are budgeting around 10 euros a day by cooking for themselves and staying in the cheaper or Donativo Refugios. I’m spending around 25 euros a day ( if you ignore the couple of hotel nights I’ve had ) so that gives you an idea of costs.

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Day 18 – Terradillos de Los Templarios to Sahagun – 13km

Eight of us in the dorm last night and another champion snorer revealed himself , a Canadian guy. John actually woke him up to try to stop him snoring , which worked for about 5 minutes until he went back to sleep again. One of the four German guys in the room went so far as to take his own mattress out into the hallway to try to get some sleep. That didn’t work either. I knew I’d spoken too soon when I said I was getting used to it .

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Day 17 – Carrion de Los Condes to Terradillos de Los Templarios – 26.8km

We awoke to a CD of the Nuns singing this morning. I must be getting used to the close sleeping proximity of others as I don’t seem spend so much time observing the breathing patterns of my room mates during the night. Hence I slept well and felt refreshed. I examined myself for the dreaded bed bug bites and was relieved to find no evidence of such. I wondered how poor old Gus was getting on. I was soon to find out.

I walked out of Carrion at first light and met up with a group who I’d eaten dinner with in town the previous evening. Two of them , who’d eaten pizza , had been up vomiting during the night but seemed recovered come the morning. We walked on together and came to a section of The Camino that follows a Roman road , the Via Aquitana. This is a long , straight section with no facilities for 17km or so. Half way down this section we came across Gus , who was retching at the roadside. He’d eaten the pizza in town too and , with bad timing , his symptoms had only started whilst on this isolated part of the route. I walked with him , while he intermittently vomited , another 8km to Caldadilla where we found an Albergue for him to pull in for the day. I left him a supply of Imodium and Stemetil and he went off to bed , his bites still visible. Poor Gus isn’t having much luck.

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Day 16 – Itero de la Vega to Carrion de Los Condes – 34.7km

Only myself and Gus in this Refugio last night so a good sleep. This really was a ” one horse ” village and we woke to the sound of several cocks crowing. Gus asked me to have a look at some red , itchy skin lesions on his arm. They looked very much like a group of insect bites and alarm bells rang immediately. It is well known on The Camino that one or two of the Refugios have had a problem with bed bugs and news of these travels fast , so that they can be avoided. Gus told me he’d first noticed them the previous day so it doesn’t look like he got them in Itera. I hope for his sake they are just insect bites he got whilst walking , otherwise it means half a day hot washing every bit of kit , including your rucksack. Not surprisingly I spent the rest of the day noticing every little itch and fearing the worst. I’ve moaned about snorers and lack of sleep but getting bed bugs in my kit would take things to a different level altogether.

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Day 15 – Hornillos del Camino to Itero de la Vega – 31.2km

I set out at first light ( 8.00am) with the intention of putting a good few km behind me today. There isn’t much to distract you in this landscape except perhaps the birds and other wildlife. There is precious little shade from the sun too. I am told that this is the most mentally challenging part of The Camino and I’m beginning to see why this should be the case. For this reason some of the Pilgrims have opted not to walk this section and have taken the bus to Leon instead. Somehow that seems like cheating but I guess everyone needs to have their own personal Camino experience and there are plenty of older Pilgrims who may not be up to the long slog across the Meseta.

I walked part of the morning with Martha , a nurse/missionary from North Carolina who had spent 6 years working in Rwanda. She was interested in how the NHS worked and she told me about her experience if the US health care system. She was paying a lot of money each month for Health Insurance and if she were to make a claim then the company may only pay out around 75% of the costs. With a serious illness the other 25% can add up to a lot of money and it goes some way to explaining the health anxiety that afflicts a lot of Americans. Let’s hope we don’t ever go down that road in the UK.

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Day 14 – Burgos to Hornillas del Camino – 21.0km

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog but we entered the ” Meseta” about 13km after leaving Burgos and there isn´t much in the way of anything there , let alone Wi-Fi

I had a great sleep in the hotel and headed out to take a tour of the Cathedral in Burgos in the morning before leaving around Midday to continue walking. The Cathedral is considered Spain´s finest Gothic Cathedral and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It was amazing. And not just for the architecture as it contains a huge amount of art treasures and other artefacts. The photos don´t really do it justice. There was a huge marble dome at the heart of the Cathedral directly under which was the tomb of “El Cid” and his wife Jimena. El Cid’s real name was Count Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and he was given the title of ” El Cid ” ( the leader ) by the Muslims , out of respect. He acted as a mercenary for whichever member of the Spanish Royal Family would employ him and he drove the Moors out of various places , hence his place in Spanish history. There were some documents signed by him in the museum part of the Cathedral. Inside the Cathedral was also a very ornate Renaissance Golden Staircase ( see photo ). Legend has it that Napoleon was the last person to walk down the staircase.

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Day 13 – Burgos – rest day

A well earned rest day in the city of Burgos. As with all the Refugios we had to leave by 8.00am , after which they shut for cleaning and open up again around Midday for the next wave of ” Peregrinos “. A Pilgrim isn’t allowed to spend more than one night in any Refugio so I booked into a Hotel opposite the spectacular 13th C Cathedral de Santa Maria that dominates the City.

Burgos is the 2nd largest city on The Camino Frances with a population of 175,000. It is referred to as the Gothic capital of Spain and was the seat of Franco’s Government until 1938. I can vouch for the fact that it is a beautiful city and this weekend was a great time to be there due to the festivities. It more than made up my experience in Pamplona.
The festivities seemed to centre on El Cid ( who was born near the city ) and there was a medieval theme to it all. Every other person seemed to be dressed in medieval costume , the children too. There was a concert of classical and regional music outside the Cathedral in the morning. Throughout the day there were ” knights” jousting and stick fighting down by the river. There were costumed basket weavers , blacksmiths , puppet makers and others. A bunch of musicians wandered the city all day playing the Spanish version of the bagpipes and drums . All in all it provided a terrific atmosphere and the place was teeming with visitors. In the evening there was a great torchlit procession of all the costumed people and the horses through the city.

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Day 12 – Atapuerca to Burgos – 19.5km

7.00pm Just a quick update as we´ve only just reached Burgos and are about to go out for dinner. We´re going to have a rest day tomorrow and I´ll get some time to do the update then. First impressions are that it is a beautiful city and there just happens to be a big festival this weekend in rememberence of El Cid. Well it would be rude not to help our Spanish friends celebrate wouldn´t it ? .

We set out a bit later than usual from Atapuerca owing to the fact that none of us had slept a wink. I was allocated one of 6 bunks in a room that was already occupied by a couple from Bath , a lady from Idaho and two very big Californian guys who both apologised in advance as they were aware they both snored loudly. That proved to be an understatement.

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Day 11 – Belorado to Atapuerca – 30.4km

8.40pm A good night’s sleep , waking at 7.00am and on the road by 8.00am. Some of the German contingent were already marching out the door , headlamps ablaze , at silly o’clock in the morning. They usually arrive at their destination early afternoon and pitch camp. My approach is the exact opposite in that I am usually one of the last to leave the Refugio and amble along until I find somewhere to stop for breakfast. Then I continue to amble all day stopping frequently for a chat and a glass or two of Rioja en route. This means I am usually one of the last and most dishevelled looking Pilgrims to hit town in the evening. This was certainly the case this evening when I arrived at Atapuerca at 7.30pm. This was a few km longer than planned as there was ” no room at the Inn” at the previous village of Ages. We have left the vineyards of La Rioja behind and are now walking on paths through fields full of stubble and sunflowers that are past their bloom and ready for harvesting.

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