Canadians on the Camino, Day 12: Walking the meseta

Hay fields on the high meseta near Burgos
Hay fields on the high meseta near Burgos

(September 15)

We leave Burgos early this morning and before long we are on the meseta, the large central upland plateau that covers much of the Iberian Peninsula. The meseta is in some ways similar to the high rolling prairie in the Swift Current or Maple Creek area of southern Saskatchewan.

We left the mountains behind on the other side of Burgos, although we can still see them off in the distance when we look to the east behind us and also to the north. Burgos sits at 860 metres above sea level, considerably above the 420 metres in elevation at Pamplona where we began. We will climb to about 950 metres today before descending again to 825 metres and that is approximately the altitude in Leon, which we should reach after about a week of walking.

Villages small and poor

The few villages we encounter today are small and poor. For a good portion of the day we walk between fields of golden stubble on an old road with small stones embedded in it.  I have taken some photos of fields and rock piles that would appear familiar to some Canadian farmers.

Our guide book warns that there is no shade here and few water fountains and that is true. Still in each of the few small villages that we pass through there is always a bar or café. We start with morning coffee, stop for another at about mid-morning and at noon we usually have a ham and cheese sandwich served in a baguette. The Spaniards don’t spare on food so we have them cut the sandwich in half and that is plenty for us, and usually we drink sparkling water to wash it down. We never drink alcohol during the day.

We plan to stop in an old village called Hornillos about 20 kilometres beyond Burgos but we have an early 6:30 a.m. start and do not feel like stopping by 1:00 p.m. when we arrive in Hornillos. We push on for another 11 kilometres to another tiny village called Hontanas, which is hidden in a high plains arroyo about 32 kilometres out of Burgos, a long walk for us.

Hontanas

Our guidebook says Hontanas has a population of 70. We use the book’s list of albergues and hostels to tally up the bed count for pilgrims and it comes to 140, double the stated population of the village. The main street contains three or four albergues, some run by the church and others private. The municipal albergue is kept neat and tidy by a group of local women.

We have opted for a private hostel called El Puntido, which advertises 50 beds spread over three rooms, but this hostel also has a few private rooms and I booked one of those when I called ahead. We find this ideal for added privacy and tranquility even though we share the bath with others.

A communal meal

This albergue serves communal meal in a large dining room and by my count it is attended by about 60 people. The menu is surprisingly varied and the food is good. The cost is nine Euros, about $15 Canadian and that includes a starter, a main dish, bread, wine and dessert. The bustling young woman who runs the place along with a fellow who I assume to be her partner is called Marta. We have some fun about that – Marta and Martha — but not too much because she is really busy.

She places us at a table with two other English speakers: a woman from London who teaches English as a second language, and Father Stephan, a young priest from Germany. He has been walking for weeks, beginning in Lyon, France but unfortunately he lost his shoes in Burgos. The albergues along the way make all pilgrims deposit their hiking shoes and boots in racks to be found at the entrance. This morning someone took his shoes and left an identical pair but one size smaller. After a day in those his feet are pinched and he is already limping. Leon, the next city, is a week’s walk from here. Let’s hope the owners of these two pairs of shoes connect on the trail, and soon.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament