Stage 15 – Castrojeriz to Frómista
Total Distance – 25.2 km
Adjusted for Climb – 26.4 km (accrued ascent 250 m = 1.2 km)
High Point: Alto de Mostelares at 900 m (2,952 feet)****
****Please note that this altitude, taken from my guidebook differs from the altitude given at the signpost atop of the Alto de Mostelares that is noted as 1050 m (3,444 feet). After climbing the Alto de Mostelares I agree, WHOLEHEARTEDLY, with the signpost!!!
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE TO FULL-SIZE
As I stepped out of Embed Posada and into Castrojeriz’s Plaza Mayor I could feel the heat emanating from the ancient cobblestones. I did not know it at the time but I was to embark upon one of the most physically challenging stages of the Camino to date. My guide said,
“… be prepared for the strenuous climb out of Castrojeriz onto the Meseta”
YEAH – how does one prepare for that?
I started out alone but quickly found a walking companion before leaving Castrojeriz!! His name was Salva and we forged an instant connection. He was a truly international person, born in Germany of a Spanish mother and an Italian father, Salva was a master carpenter who worked building luxury sailing ships. He also was a Camino veteran who had completed the Camino several times, even in the winter!!! Salva, speaking 4 languages of which his English was the weakest, spoke to me mainly in his very good Spanish. We shared bits and pieces about our lives, families, upbringing and the Camino as we walked side-by-side and soon we were at the bridge over the río Ordrilla and walking along a track that traversed an old Roman causeway. The Romans were active in this area because of their mica mining activity on the Alto de Mostelares.
The daunting Alto de Mostelares was soon in front of us physically barring our way to Santiago. What was a Peregrino to do? Climb it of course! At this point in my Camino I had lost the dread of steep hills or mountains. I knew I could climb them and survive but that didn’t mean I had to like them!!
Salva and I tackled the Alto de Mostelares side-by-side much like the two Peregrinos in the picture above. The Alto, a steep, flat-topped hill (the Spanish name for such a hill is a paramo) was certainly challenging. Cyclists could not climb it with their bikes and Salvo had to assist a young Brazilian woman with her bike up the Alto. It was a very chivalrous act on Salva’s part, no doubt rewarded by the company of a very beautiful young woman!! The fact that during the climb my heavy breathing went unabated will give you an idea of the taxing nature of the climb.
The scene at the top of the Alto was very celebratory. You had to stop to catch your breath and why not share the joy of having competing the climb with your fellow Peregrinos! I met a young Peregrino from Korea there and astonished him by greeting him in fluent Korean!! I don’t speak Korean but after a decade of working in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles I did learn to properly, with the correct accent, greet a person. It really helped make my meals in Korean restaurants very enjoyable! I was happy to greet Korean Peregrinos in this manner all over the Camino especially since they had to overcome some challenges (language, food, culture) that we Westerners did not. I wanted in some way to make them feel at home and welcomed. I hope that in some small way that I succeeded.
Sadly, not all Peregrinos have ever made it to the top as the following memorial to a Spanish Peregrino who died attempting the climb on the 25th of September, 2008 shows.
This served as a reminder to Salva and me that this pilgrimage is not without its’ risks. Salva reminded me that there was another similar memorial at the start of the climb that I did not see. You see many such memorials, usually erected by the loving families of the Peregrinos, all over the Camino. It’s apart of the Camino as much as it is part of life. I think that if you are going to die someday, dying while walking the Camino is not such a bad way to go.
After a brief stop it was time to go down the alto and what a beautiful way down it was! Our next destination would be the Fuente del Piojo (Fountain of the Flea) rest area.
We had to walk another 4.1 km before arriving at the Fuente del Piojo. For obvious reasons it was a popular place to stop and rest. The shade provided a welcome respite from the sun and many Peregrinos greeted each other and conversed with each other while resting their weary bodies. Salva and I followed their example and soon we met Maria who was from Colorado. She had decided quickly to do the Pilgrimage and one day she was back home and the next day she was on the Camino! I met many others that shared her experience. There was also a fruit vendor there who had drinks also and only asked for a donativo.
About 1.5 km down the track from the Fuente del Piojo is the Ermita de San Nicolás. It is set in a lovely area close to the río Pisuerga. The trees that line the river are lovely and the more importantly they are the only bit of substantial shade one gets between there and the Canal de Castilla (close to another 10 KM away!). There are also very, very few water fountains between here and Frómista and one must take every opportunity to fill up with water. The Ermita (the former Hospice of San Nicolás, was run by the Benedictines of San Millán de la Cogolla) dates backs from the 12th Century and is now run as a albergue by the Italian Confraternita di San Jacopo di Compostela di Perguia. It is a primitive albergue that has no electricity or phone. It does have a toilet and shower. In addition, any drinking water must be obtained from the Fuente del Piojo. These features make for a tranquil respite illuminated by candlelight and the camaraderie of your fellow Peregrinos. Unfortunately, I did not experience a stay here but would definitely consider it next time.
Salva and I soon came upon the Puente de Itero de Castillo. The word “Itero” is a derivation of Hito meaning landmark or boundary stone. This 11th Century bridge (called Pons Fiterie in the Codex Calixtinus) crosses over the río Pisuerga and marks the border between the kingdoms of Castilla and León and the border of the present-day provinces of Burgos and Palencia. As you can tell from the pictures it has been extensively re-built.
It didn’t take us very long to reach out lunch-time destination Itero de la Vega (Pop. 190). We had lunch at a bar/albergue where we soon met Maria again. The three of us decided to have lunch together on the patio next to a boisterous and friendly group of Spanish cyclists.
It was at this point that Salva and I said goodbye to each other. I needed to get moving and he had decided to stay a while longer over lunch. We promised to meet up again in Frómista. I started walking in the rich wheat lands around Palencia that the Visigoths in the 5th Century called the Campi Gothorum (the Fields of the Goths). Although the Goths are gone, except for a few younger Peregrinos, the name stuck and this extensive agricultural land of rich soils, well-served by rivers and canals, is known as the Campos Góticos or the Tierra de Campos. Indeed, as I walked in the blistering heat I was reminded of the American Mid-West. I saw mainly wheat and vegetable crops with some wine production. The land was very, flat and lacking in shade. That lack of shade and fellow Peregrinos made me want to get to the next village Boadilla del Camino as soon as possible.
Walking alone in the heat I did encounter some Peregrinos. First, I ran into Patricia sitting by the side of the road and obviously in some discomfort from her ailing knee. A lone Spanish cyclist was there by here side, flirting (can’t blame him) and telling her that he could take her on his bike. I was doubtful since he had 40 kilos of equipment on his bike already!! We walked together the three of us for a little while before Patricia had to stop again. It was at this point that I left them together and continued walking knowing that Patricia would be taken cared of since the cyclist would not leave her side.
A short time later I ran into a young American couple in their early twenties. They were college students from Orange County in California and were track athletes. We soon walked into Boadilla del Camino (Pop. 140) and came upon an unexpected road block.
Boadilla del Camino is cited in some 10th century documents but it is thought to be older. The town plan is circular indicating the presence of medieval fortifications in the village’s past. It was at the point that we entered the village that the couple and I separated because I needed to rest and get something to drink while they decided to carry on. I stopped at the Albergue En El Camino and was very impressed by it. I just stayed long enough to rest a little and have a beer but the reports that I heard from fellow Peregrinos were very favorable.
As I sat in the shaded bar area of the Albergue En El Camino drinking a cold beer I was looking forward to getting to the Canal del Castiila. The canal was built in the 18th Century to provide transportation for crops and power for corn mills. It originally had a system of 50 lock gates (eclusas) and there are plans to restore all 50 of them. I was looking forward to the shade that would be provided along the canal and hopeful for some elusive cool breezes.
A little ways out of Boadilla del Camino I again saw the American couple. It seems that they too had stopped for a drink somewhere. They were soon way ahead of me and I was slowing down considerably because of the heat.
It seems that the heat had gotten the better of me and I decided to sit down in the shade along the canal to rest and the check my blood sugar level. This was the first and only time during my Camino that my blood sugar became dangerously low. I drank water and quickly popped a glucose tablet and waited for it to take effect. In the meantime who would happen to arrive and sit down next to me but Patricia and her cyclist!!! They were still together!! They very kindly asked if I was ok and I told them what had happened. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes when I started getting the itch to move on. They decided to rest some more and I walked on along the side of the canal until I reached Frómista.
At Frómista I was still concerned about my blood sugar level and decided to find a Supermarket to have an ice cream to pump the level up before finding the Casa Rural that I had booked for the evening. At the market I ran into Craig, the Irish Peregrino that I had walked out of Burgos with! He wasn’t the only one I found there but I’ll tell you about that in my next post.