Last night’s Albergue was an odd one. Villafranca Montes de Oca does not seem a prosperous town. Many of the houses are closed up and in disrepair, but someone has renovated a large old hospital as a fairly upscale rural hotel, with an Albergue up in the attic. They clearly want to cater to upscale patrons, but walkers are probably their bread and butter. They served a great pilgrim meal in a high-ceilinged restaurant with great service and even better wine. What made me smile was the ambient music– it sounded like a church choir singing U2 songs. Did spend some time talking to three retired women from North Carolina on a big hike, and met a pilgrim from Portugal who walks almost as fast as I do. Morning came early as a group didn’t understand how voices carry down stone hallways. I had a long walk today to Burgos, so I rousted myself out of the top bunk and got on the way before anyone else, cresting the hill up above Villafranca as the sun came up. Today’s walk was much different from yesterday. All morning I was away from the highways, first going up through a wild forest (mostly scrub oak) intermingled with some cultivated pine. There was a moment when the red sunrise shone on the pine treetops, making them first appear as if they were going through some sort of die-off. Then I realized it was the light, really magnificent light. Soon after a deer crossed my path, halting briefly in a thicket without seeing me. Moments later it tensed and bounded away. The first wildlife except for birds I’ve really encountered, but the birds were plentiful, with cuckoos calling all morning and a hawk rising almost at my feet. I thought it was red-tailed but that might have been more reflected sunrise. After summiting, the trail wound down to Ages with, as in all towns, a great stone church. The bells struck nine as I entered, echoing off the hills. The rest of the morning alternated walking through forest–mostly pine plantation with muddy access roads–and small villages. Some of the trail followed the border of military training land and at least showed some evidence that sheep grazed up there some time, but I still don’t understand livestock here. I pass barns full of animals, and they have hay piled to the sky, but no pasture land– no fencing, almost no sign of livestock life. Very curious. Later I began to catch pilgrims who had started at later points on the way. It was a drizzly day, so most people were in rain gear. Large ponchos tend to predominate here, I guess because people aren’t carrying much other weight, so they can afford the extra pounds. Unlike long distance treks where people tend to have interesting, often unusual gear, the Camino is dominated by equipment twins. People–often couples–clearly have decided to take a great walk, and gone together to the outdoor equipment store, purchasing matching packs and rain gear. Sometimes I wonder how they keep track of what belongs to who, but there is something endearing about it all. The latter part of the day became the familiar suburb hike, ultimately skirting the Burgos airport, then following a highway another 8 km to city centre. My guidebook recommended taking a local bus from the airport to town, and since I had already logged 32+ km, I decided to cheat, to yellow blaze, and follow the book’s advice. The city Albergue is good– well laid out and had washing machines. As I unpacked, I realized laundry was necessary, so my later afternoon was spent in the washroom which at least had beer (80 cents) in the cold drink machine. Dinner was tapas with Michelle, a triple-crown hiker and fellow pilgrim, in a bar beside the cathedral which dominates this part of town.
T. Hugh Crawford