The day started clear and sunny. There was some chance of rain so we made our ponchos easily accessible in the tops of our packs. Out of Santo Domingo, we crossed the N-120 a couple of times to get to the path. The N-120 is a very busy road with a lot of truck traffic. We’ve seen a few memorials near other crossings; places where previous pilgrims were unable to cross safely. There are no cross walks, signs, or flashing lights at the places and we cross very carefully.
The first village we encounter outside of Santo Domingo de Calzada is Grañón. Walking into the town, we immediately see a very interesting cafe. Though it was still a bit early for our normal stop, the very cool cafe right at the entrance to town catches our attention. It is an old van converted into a food truck with a series of transparent roof panels and sliding doors that are retractable. The entire arrangement butts up against a shipping container that has been converted into bathrooms. The couple who run it and their cat were having a cup of coffee as they waited for the day’s peregrinos to arrive. The interior had a very thoughtful decor and was a bit of a feast for the eyes. We felt badly for the cafe up the hill a bit, it didn’t stand a chance. We enjoyed a cafe con leche and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice before heading on.
Moving on through Grañón, we stopped in to tour the Iglesia de San Juan Batista. It has a lovely retablo – I find it remarkable that even the smallest towns have large, elaborate churches with incredibly ornate details. The most striking feature of this church was the western facing window with it’s colorful imagery depicting the churches place in the world: the cross of Santiago, crops, the Sacred Heart, with the outline of a statue of Our Lady cutting across it from our vantage point.
We moved out of Grañón and a short distance later found ourselves crossing into Castilla y Leon, the larges geographic region in all of Spain. We will move through three of its provinces on our way to Santiago: Burgos, Palencia, and Leon. The vineyards are long gone, replaced by miles of more traditional farmland running up and down the hilly terrain. The wind has returned fiercely and will be our constant companion for the next 16 km.
The next three towns we encountered were poor rural villages. To date, most of the towns we’ve passed through have been very nice: updated homes, renovated buildings, and clear signs of more affluence. Today’s villages tell a different story perhaps reflecting their distance from a major city or the type of agriculture that exists in this area. Options for food are scarce and the charm of the villages in our our journey to date takes a turn toward the more run-down end of the spectrum.
The hilly landscape and open fields are beautiful but the persistent wind makes it difficult to enjoy. We wind through the three villages and end up walking on a path that runs parallel to the N-120. The wind is so loud in our ears that it nearly drowns out the high volume of truck traffic running beside us. Looking ahead, we see pilgrims hunkered down, leaning into the wind. No one is talking. No one is smiling. We cross the N-120 yet again and take the final path into Belorado and relief from the incessant wind.
Belorado is an attractive town and maintains much of the character and charm of it medieval heritage. Narrow streets, an old church now serving as an albergue, and lots of activity make it a welcome change from the tired little towns we passed through earlier. We arrived at Hostel.B late in the day and were delighted with its design, character, and amenities. The owner, Joaquin, greeted us with a big smile and limited English. We checked-in, changed, and found a bar for our afternoon beer to celebrate our arrival. We debated on dinner but opted for the pilgrim’s meal at Hostel.B.
Dinner turned out to be a fun and fascinating event. Not since our first two nights on the Camino have we had an opportunity to break bread with a group of pilgrims and enjoy all of the curious conversation that entails. The cast of characters at this dinner did not disappoint: Marguerita from Italy (part of our original group from Orrison), Soon Li from Malaysia, Marta – also from Italy, and Benedict from Germany. We made introductions and the conversation started. Marguerita shared the story of our first night in Orrison when the pilgrims were asked to introduce themselves and say why they are doing the Camino. Marta shook her head immediately saying, this is a very personal question and suggested that it is not appropriate for a group of strangers. Benedict piped-in with the question: do you think anyone will answer it honestly? I mentioned the “simple” answer we provided when asked by the American tourist last week: we are celebrating our 50th birthdays. The table was interested to hear more about the Camino Tour Group from America which naturally got a few laughs from Europeans with their own perspectives on American travelers. Sally and I watched and smiled at the interactions.
From there, I suggested that the pilgrims we had encountered were all “seeking.” Benedict ran with this. A quick note about Benedict: he is completely German. Cooly rational with the air of black and whiteness to every statement – at least as it comes across in English. His statements were often finished with a “yes” – punctuating the end of the statement while marking the clarity of its conclusion with the rhetorical “yes” question. “We are all seeking our own answers, yes?” “Few pilgrims will answer that question honestly, yes?” He was very intuitive and added a wry smile to his comments. I asked Benedict the question: Do you think they are seeking God? He hesitated for a moment, then quickly answered in a very nuanced response “Yes, we are all seeking what you would call God.” My response: everyone I had encountered was a seeker and though most would claim to want to “find themselves” or “get closer to nature” or “connect with the universe” what I saw them seeking was the Divine in the world: God. Nearly no one wants to identify with a quest for something as old fashioned as “God” but they are all seeking to fill that place in their heart that can only be filled with Him.
Marguerita was quiet during this exchange and Marta didn’t want to delve too far into something so personal. Soon Li mentioned that she had seen something on TV that drew her to the Camino. Marguerita and Marta both admitted to wanting to quit their jobs and move into something different. The breakpoint of the Camino marked a path toward change. The seeking of answers was a question to the universe: what next?
The dinner was delightful. Joaquin worked to prepare our meal and interjected himself into the conversation. Jovial and full of life, he had walked the Camino six times and opened this Hostel a year ago to serve pilgrims. He even went into a detailed explanation of the name and log – most of which I was unable to follow however, the name has something to do with moving from Point A to Point B – Hostel point B. Whatever the details, he was very passionate about the Camino, serving pilgrims, and his Hostel.
Toward the end of the evening, Joaquin brought out a plastic jug and poured shots for all of us. I asked him if it was homemade and told him of my Romanian friend who always brought out an unmarked jug of something that typically meant trouble. He laughed and said “No, no, no” as he smiled deviously. Whatever it was, it burned going down but we were all smiling too much to mind.