Before we had even left Burgos and begun our walk across the plains to León, we were wearing our newly purchased ponchos to protect us from the rain! Little did we know that rain wouldn’t be the only thing to afflict us on the plains in Spain. As we began our walk out of Burgos and into some of the smallest and most out of the way villages on the Camino de Santiago, we also began walking into the coldest May in 100 years. Not the easiest thing for someone who has been known to complain when temperatures get below 10°C.
It didn’t rain the entire walk and it didn’t even get uncomfortably cold until the end of our second day out of Burgos. Even then we had some of the most beautiful blue sky days of our walk, in the photos you could hardly even tell that we were wearing all the clothes that we had with us (which had a positive side effect that our backpacks were actually just a little bit lighter and easier to carry!).
For nine days we walked across the plains. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they go on forever. You can look as far as you can see and all you can see are plains. By the end of it I was actually looking forward to climbing some decent hills again, which is fortunate considering we still had one major hill to climb before the end of the Camino. At times we did have stunning views of snow covered hills to the north of the plains, which explained the piercing wind that blew straight through our clothes and skin, chilling us to our bones. The most difficult part of the bitterly cold weather was arriving at albergues which weren’t heated (well for €5 per night I guess we shouldn’t have expected it), had lukewarm to cold showers and weather forecasts showing the elusive warm weather to be 4 – 5 days ahead of where we were. In one tiny village (and by tiny I mean village with 10 inhabitants) the albergue was so cold inside that my fingers went numb and I couldn’t finish typing the email I had started!
The plains were, well quite plain at times. We got quite excited when we encountered a minor rise or even a river to cross over. Or the discovery that the village we were walking to was in a valley that we couldn’t even see until we got to the very edge of it (it is a wonderful relief to find you only have 1km left to walk when you thought it must be much further since it wasn’t visible on the horizon). A bend in the track, some trees we couldn’t see past or even a small village was a marker for our progress, otherwise very difficult to measure.
The plains in Spain are also full of hidden gems, it is just a matter of finding them. One phenomenon from the plains that I was very excited to uncover was the existence of Hobbit houses. When replying to anyone’s question of where we were from, almost everyone responded with “Oh, Lord of the Rings.” It was nice to point out to them that Hobbits also exist in Europe, and yes just like Spain, we don’t all live in Hobbit houses in New Zealand either. Although we did end up finding quite a few villages with houses made of clay and straw.
The Burgos to León leg reaches quite a significant milestone on the Camino. We were wandering out of Sahagún when we stumbled across a plaque telling us we’d reached the halfway point from Saint Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela! With rain clouds looming over us and a cool breeze following us, we didn’t stop to celebrate for long, but we certainly did find the time to raise a glass of vino tinto to it that evening.
Another hidden gem along the way to León was a little cafe/bar/resturant that we happened upon for lunch, in a tiny village we almost didn’t even stop in. The bar was illustrated, inside and out, with messages from fellow pilgrims: words of wisdom, philosophical self-discoveries and “I was heres”. The bartender was what really made it though. He looked somewhat French with his little black beret, but his actions spoke differently. Grooving around, serving drinks, making sandwiches, all while talking and laughing with customers and stopping every so often for a cigarette and a beer. He certainly proved to us that you can enjoy your job, it’s just a matter of attitude. Being able to drink while working helps too.
Eventually we came to the end of our walk across the plains, where we were welcomed to León with an absolute downpour, soaking us to the skin. Our spirits were lifted significantly when we arrived at the municipal albergue where we were greeted with central heating so we could dry our clothes and warm up again, hopefully a sign of things to come. The most exciting part was discovering there were bikes we could use to explore the city. Riding a bike is an amazing experience when you’ve been walking for more than 20 days, we could move so quickly and cover so much ground, all while resting our weary walking feet.
An adult student of mine also told me that the long stretch from Burgos to León is one of the most trying parts of the Camino. He said it was where he probably laughed and cried the most.
I love the houses built inside the hills, and the bartender! He looks very animated and full of character, even in the photos.
It was definitely the most trying part of the Camino for me too. Arriving in León was such a milestone after the plains and from there it’s really not so far to go!
I hope you find the same bar when you’re on the Camino too, the meeting the bartender made my day 🙂