Tonight we are in Burgos, population 150,000 and we have decided take a rest day after 10 days and more than 200 kilometres on the trail. We have about 500 kilometres remaining to reach Santiago de Compostela.
We left the tiny and run down village of Ages early and in the dark this morning. Our first stop was at a small café bar where a woman behind the counter is busily taking orders for pastries and coffee, calling out the orders to a man named Antonio who operates the coffee makers. She has flair, addressing almost every client in the queue as “mi amor”. When I ask if I can take her photo, she gives me a lovely smile and thumbs up.
We set out and during the lovely sunrise we see the white trails of several jets in the clear blue sky. Our guidebook lists the population of as being 60 but Spanish couple with whom we shared bunks in the albergue believe that is a high estimate. They say that some of the homes in the village belong to people who were raised here and who now work in Burgos. They return home on some weekends and for summer vacation.
This whole area has suffered rural depopulation and has seen better days. Providing food and lodging to pilgrims may be pretty well all that some tiny villages can rely upon. We and a gaggle of other pilgrims enjoy our early morning coffee at places such as the one this morning.
We have walked through undulating countryside for much of our time since beginning in Pamplona The mountains are a constant on the horizon but the intervening landscape is mainly devoted to vineyards, olive groves or large tracts planted into sweeping fields of wheat, oats and occasionally sunflowers. The wheat and oat crops have been harvested and the land lies in golden stubble.
I had imagined Spain as a place with lots of people on the land, but not so, at least not here. There are simply no farmsteads anywhere in sight. So I wonder who owns that land. Who does the farming and where do they live?
Initially, I thought that the farmers might live in the small villages we are walking through and work the land from there, but I have seen virtually no farming equipment parked anywhere in or around these places.
Obviously, it takes a lot of investment to own and run vineyards and wineries, not to mention large grain farms — as we well know from the experience of Canadian agriculture. But I thought the European community – and Spain is a member – had policies to keep farmers on the land and were unlike Canada in that respect.
Atapuerca’s pre-historic caves
Not far out of Ages we come upon a sign informing us that we are near the pre-historic caves of Atapuerca, a UNESCO-designated heritage site. The caves are located three kilometres from the Camino trail and they contain human remains dating back 900,000 years, the oldest in Europe. We decide not to make the three-kilometre detour, thinking that we will instead visit the Museo de la Evolución Humana Humana in Burgos.
Cruz de Matagrande
Not long after passing the UNESCO sign, we climb on the sierra to the site of a huge wooden cross (Cruz de Matagrande) located at an altitude of 1070 metres.
Soon after that we catch a first distant glimpse of Burgos on the parched plain below. It is a long walk into the city, skirting the high wire fence of the airport, crossing the highway in a suburb called Castanares and then following the walking and jogging paths through the trees along the Rio Arlanzon. We pass a number of bridges leading into the old city centre and one of them leads us and our hotel.
We have a quick shower and I have barely finished when I begin to sneeze and to feel ill. We notice that there is a pungent smell in the room, almost certainly from the chemicals found in their cleaning products. I recall with some alarm the two women from Quebec who died in their hotel rooms in Thailand, most likely from chemicals used to control bed bugs and other pests. We go to the desk and ask for a change of rooms, a request that is readily granted. Then we proceed to explore the city.