The Hardest Thing

A spot of sunshine warms Sally during our evening in Castrojeriz.

We’ve now stayed at three albergues and this one, Albergue Orion in Castrojeriz, has been the best. The albergues are the base level accommodation and center on providing economical accommodations for large groups walking the Camino. In Orion, we were able to get a private room and bath which is a game changer. The really nice thing about albergues is the community of pilgrims that stays in them. One of Orion’s owners is Korean and the pilgrim meal was bibimbop – a very welcome change from many of the standard options for pilgrim meals. Although we sat with some folks from France and Korea who spoke no English, it was a very nice evening. The owner, Daniel, and his wife were fantastic hosts.

Castillo de San Esteban

Sally was thrilled to discover that they had toasters so we were able to enjoy buttered toast, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast. Afterward, we made our way through the village. Castrojeriz is another quaint (and sleepy) medieval town enjoying a place on the Camino. It has three churches but they were all closed during our time in the village. The ruins of an old castle were on top of the hill overlooking the town but the 20 minute walk up the steep hillside was a price we opted not to pay to visit it.

We stopped at a little pilgrim store offering hiking gear (very rare in such a small town). The owner, an 80ish gentleman who spoke no English, was friendly and quirky. I was looking for some kind of gel pad for my left heal to see if it would help with the tendon pain I’ve had late in the day of our walks as well as some gloves. His shop reminded me a bit of Olivander’s Wand Shop from the Harry Potter movies – there was stuff stacked everywhere! You had to ask for a specific item and he would move some stuff around, produce an unseen box, and rummage through it for whatever it is you are seeking. He had some shoe inserts that I decided to buy but his gloves were expensive and not exactly what I wanted.

Castrojeriz below
And back down…

Moving out of town, we found ourselves in a sizeable group of peregrinos and noticed a steep climb ahead – the Alto de Mostelares. The three hundred foot ascent was steep but we moved steadily up it – we’re far better conditioned for such climbs now. The view at the summit was spectacular and we took a moment to survey everything below. The plateau was not very wide and we found ourselves descending on a concrete-paved pathway on the other side. Looking out, we were able to see our path winding across the landscape and disappearing over a hill in the distance, about 4km away. We made way our down slowly and headed toward the next rise at a good clip. We both felt good this morning and the climb had warmed us up on this breezy 45 degree morning.

We walked on as the wind picked-up and pushed on into Itero de la Vega, a village built along the rio Pistuerga in a rather lush, wooded area. We had made good time this morning but I noticed that the back of my heel was starting its familiar ache – not a good sign this early in the day. The little cafe was full of pilgrims but the owners weren’t feeling the joy. We ordered plates of over-easy eggs, ham, and French fries – apparently a staple with almost every meal in Spain. Sally and I both removed our shoes to give our feet a break and realized we had been walking too fast.

Two and a half weeks into our journey, I’ve discovered that the biggest mistake pilgrims make is walking too fast. I believe that speed is the single biggest cause of injuries, blisters, and fatigue. Almost everyone we encounter is cranking along at a good clip – many getting up early and arriving in the next town before 1pm. Some of this is due to the fear of not getting a bed, a very real danger in the summer season. We’ve only encountered a few places where that was a problem during our Camino. However, I think the speed thing is driven by the simple fact of having a destination and our basic need to get there. This morning, we got caught in the group and walked in stride. It wasn’t uncomfortable nor did it feel fast, but the telltale signs are the aches and pains that follow. My Achilles’ tendon and Sally’s little toes were telling us we were going too fast. The hardest thing? Taking a breath and intentionally walking more slowly than your normal pace. It can actually be a bit maddening.

The other variable that I had not properly considered was that yesterday’s trek from Castrojeriz to Fromista was 15.5 miles – 2.5 miles past our comfortable target of 13. From Itero de la Vega, we had another 9 miles to walk. For me, the remainder of the day became a game of managing the tightening ache of my tendon and for Sally, keeping her little toes from re-blistering.

This place had a pool too…Hugh Hefner, eat your heart out!

The day remained cloudy and windy but there was no rain. A true gift. We walked along, now at the back of the group but at what we knew was a safer pace. The next wave of pilgrims caught us before Boadilla del Camino – including Kayla and Julia, still nursing her knee but moving along at a good clip. Even injured, pilgrims want to move quickly. We stopped for a Coke in Boadilla at a quirky albergue which, judging by what I can only describe as a bohemian mural (see picture) on its courtyard wall, likely presents a very lively scene in high season. There was a memorial just outside of this albergue and in front the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Ascuncion called the Rollo de la Justicia. The Rollo commemorates Boadilla being granted the authority in the 15th century to publicly torture and hang their own criminals – apparently a great sign of progress for a growing community. We saw Bert and Rudy here as well, however, Rudy did not mention my blog so no dinner offer was made.

Rollo de la Justicia – 15th century sign of progress?

A little way outside of town, we came to the Pistuerga Canal which actually offers peregrinos a boat ride to Fromista – something I would have considered had it been operating today. A group of young Koreans who stayed at the Albergue Orion with us passed us on their way to Fromista. We had seen them a few nights before and I recalled how they nursed their blisters as I watched them march-on toward the next village. Slowing it down is truly the hardest thing. Interesting note about our Korean friends – they know some basic English phrases and give the appearance of understanding but we’ve learned quickly that understanding ends after the most basic pleasantries. However, they will keep smiling and nodding as you speak gibberish to them.

Water management on the Meseta – Fromista’s lock system on the canal.

My phone was dead when we reached Fromista, which made finding our hotel a little challenging. We were able to get directions and made our way to Hotel Oasibeth. It was a very good choice. I’m currently sitting in the lobby as I write this – we have the entire hotel to ourselves. The growth of the Camino has fueled places like this all along the Way. Spain has numerous categories of lodging and the hotels are typically at the top of the food chain for comfort and amenities. We typically alternate between more basic places and an occasional hotel to recharge our physical and mental batteries.

Quiet morning at the Hotel Oasibeth

Last night was an exceptional experience as we were completely spoiled by the owner and a young woman named Alicia who was positively delightful. Alicia spoke pretty good English and catered to us throughout the evening – including making our reservation in our next village. Alicia lives in Palencia (about 30km away) and works two hospitality jobs – about 15 hours per day. She has a little girl named Emma. The Spanish unemployment rate is running at about 17% so finding work can be a bit of a challenge. She said she hates to be away from her little girl so much but she is doing what she needs to do to support her. At pretty much every place we’ve been, a person like Alicia pretty much does everything – cleaning, bar tending, preparing food. The owner was present and they prepared our dinner together – the best steak we’ve had yet paired with a massive salad and, yes, French fries. As we were retiring for the night, Alicia came over and gave Sally a hug. She acted like we had been serving her all evening! Along the Camino, we’ve encountered all types on the road and in the places serving those travelers. I continue to be amazed at the ones we find who have a true heart for what they are doing – their energy and warmth is contagious. Language barrier or not, it is always easy with those people. If Alicia should ever find her way to the United States, I know a place in Indianapolis that would help her earn a living that wouldn’t require her to be away from her daughter for 15 hours a day.

Today, a light 12 miles to Carrión de los Condes – at a proper pace.

  • Timothy Musholt

    My vote for Camino lesson #2: “The hardest thing? Taking a breath and intentionally walking more slowly than your normal pace.”

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