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Before saying anything else I must say that Burgos is a beautiful city that deserves your full attention. I wish that I could have spent more time there seeing all that this city offers. There is a wealth of art in Burgos and you will find a detailed listing in Glitz and Davidson’s, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Guidebook. I remember while in Burgos thinking, “I must come back here one day with my wife.” One day I will.
As you will recall I had met an Irish Peregrino named Craig the previous day and we had decided to walk together. We met outside of the Cathedral at 7:00 a.m. which was the first time that I had ever started a walk that early! It just wasn’t my style because I enjoyed meeting locals while walking and I also enjoyed stopping in churches or other historical places and an early start took away many of those possibilities. Be that as it may we were off early and on our way.
Real Monasterio de Las Huelgas.
After passing the Cathedral and the Church of San Nicolás we were soon walking along El Parral parque when I decided that we should take a small detour to visit the Real Monasterio de Las Huelgas. As an aside, “monasterio” is the Spanish word for a monastery but it is used for both male and female religious orders without distinction. The word could be used for a monasterio that housed monks or one that housed nuns. In this case in 1175 Alfonso VIII decided to convert the grounds of one of his rural palaces into a monastery named Las Huelgas (meaning the pleasures). It was intended to be the world’s most opulent refuge for widowed nobility. He ceded it to the Cistercians, with a significant catch, they were to report to the King only (hence the word Real). He made his queen, Eleanor (Leonor) Plantagenet (the daughter of the English King Henry II and the sister of Richard the Lion-Hearted) the first prioress. Significantly, she decreed that the 100 noble lady members installed there be called Señora instead of Sor (the title used for female members of religious orders). I was excited to see the Capilla de Santiago that has a statute of the saint with a moving arm and also the royal standard used in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa but this was not to be because we were too early!! At least two hours before opening and this is why I normally started my walking at 9:00 a.m. or so!!
The Vaunted and Much Feared Meseta Central
After walking along the calle de los romeros, past a majestic statute of a Peregrino and through the Burgos University Campus we finally came upon the rural outskirts of Burgos. This was the beginning of the meseta central. Before leaving for Spain I had heard that it was table-top flat, straight, and that the heat would be unbearable. In my mind I had a picture of something like our southwest but alas that’s not what I found. What I did find were endless fields of crops and the first appearance of storks! The storks would soon be everywhere in the next 200 miles. The heat had yet to make an appearance as the rain had dominated the month of May and early June, so far.
We were soon clear of the Burgos and walking in the green countryside. As if on cue we began to see storks in the distance! These storks are usually found in pairs that mate for life and spend the winter in Africa before returning to their nests in Spain in mid-March. They are very family orientated and lay 2 to 5 eggs that hatch over the time period of a month. Most stork families return to Africa in August although a few intrepid ones may choose to winter in Spain.
We soon came upon the town of Tardajos (Pop. 700), the ancient Roman town of Augustóbriga- an important junction of the east-west Via Traiana and a north-south Roman road that connected the Roman towns of Clunia with Julióbriga (now called Retortillio and located on the Cantabrian coast). Tardajos was an important site in the reconquest of the Castilian Meseta in the 9th Century, being a part of a defensive perimeter against the Muslim south. Craig and I made it our first stop for breakfast with the truckers in the local cafe.
On the road to Rabé de las Calzadas (Pop. 190) we came up to Paulette, a friend of Craig’s from Canada.
This part of the medieval pilgrimage Road between Tardajos and Rabé de las Calzadas was known to be swampy and difficult to traverse. It inspired the following jingle:
De Tardajos a Rabé, From Tardajos to Rabé,
liberanos Domine. May God deliver us.
Y de Rabé a Tardajos, And from Rabé to Tardajos.
no te faltaran trabajos. you will not lack for troubles.
I too was to unexpectedly encounter a friend – Patricia, the young Peregrina from Allicante. She had been having trouble with her knee since before the town of Belorado and had to fall back because she could not keep up the pace. As I was walking close to the Fuente del Praotorre picnic spot I saw her walking up to the main trail. We were happy to see each other and walked for awhile until again she had to fall behind. During the time we walked we filled each other in on what we had experienced on the Camino. It’s normal, these types of reunions and separations and I really admired Patricia’s dedication even though she was injured. She told me that she had until September to complete the Camino and was doggedly determined to do so. This was an attitude that I would encounter everywhere on the Camino and indeed one that I shared.
After the Fuente de Praotorre we began our assault on the Cuesta de Matamulas (the Mule-Killer slope and the highpoint of the stage at 950m and called Cuesta de Matamulos on Spanish websites). Although it sounds ominious, we were in for a treat because we would also be seeing the famous piedras santas (sacred stones) as we overcame this last hurdle before our destination of Hornillos.
The rest of the stage that day was uneventful and we entered Hornillos (Pop. 100) at about 11:41 a.m.!! This was unprecedented for me and much much too early!! Craig even had to wait a half hour before the municpal albergue would open!! I would never arrive this early to a town again.