In the Mesata, every sunrise is a miracle. For a few minutes, ordinary crops are transformed into fields of gold. An incredible spectacle that reminds us of the simple beauty around us. A priceless reward for getting up early. I just love the morning. Maybe because it holds the promise of another great day. And what a day it shall be. Right after the Convento de San Anton, I pass Castrojeriz, probably the most beautiful village along The Way. As I stroll through the dramatically lit, colourful streets, I immediately regret not sleeping here. This is textbook Camino: an endless Calle Real snaking its way around a hill, opening up into a charming Plaza Mayor, bordered by little cute shops. A ruined castle on the hill casts its shadow over the cobbled streets.
The Burgos crowd has caught up with me. At Bar-Hostal Manzano, I bump into Sultan, the super athletic Hungarian. In between stages, he practises a lot of yoga. But today he's not on the path of enlightenment. “They fucked my mind” he barks in broken English “In previous place, I had to sleep on the floor.” It’s funny to hear pilgrims complain about other pilgrims, the way tourists bitch about places being too touristic. I offer him a coffee. “Can I buy some of your bandaids?” he asks. “Don’t be silly” I tell him as I dig out my medical kit “Take what you need.”
It’s good to have a strong coffee. Right after Castrojeriz comes a long, nasty climb. Sweat burst out of every pore. I’m rewarded with a stunning view over the valley. The morning mist, still hanging in the basin, is blurring the light. After a short walk on the plateau, an even greater panorama is awaiting me. The Camino nosedives into an endless patchwork of green fields. I can’t see a single village on the horizon, just one endless steppe, invaded by a pilgrim army. Cyclo-grenos better check their brakes as the road goes down 17%. The rest of the Camino is relatively flat, allowing great pace. After 2 weeks of hardship, most pilgrims have transformed into walking machines, fast and furious. The whole gang marches steadily towards the horizon, only to halt at San Nicolas.
The 12th century Hospice of San Nicolas is another piece of Camino legend. The Italian Confraternity has restored the building back to its former glory. It’s one of the most welcoming and authentic albergues along the road, offering free coffee and water. A friendly Padre stamps my credential and thanks me for passing by. In the apse, Polish pilgrims are celebrating mass. The priest simply wears a simple stole over his North Face gear. Hosts are taken from a Tupperware box while another pilgrim reads from a travel size Bible. It’s a touching moment. On my way out, I can see some of the simple, wooden staple beds against the wall. Another great albergue missed. After crossing the ancient bridge over the River Pisuerga, I turn right towards Itero de la Vega. There are plenty of snack bars and terraces to replenish. I better stock up some carbs because we’re not done yet. The Way becomes a curvy line, drawn by a child through an ever rolling landscape.
Even in the age of smart phones, the Camino has its own bush telephone. Messages are passed on by pilgrims. I’m informed that Ernesto is on his way. I can’t believe we’ve been running into each other for the last 12 days. In Boadilla del Camino we meet again, probably for the very last time. Tomorrow, he’ll take the train from Fromista to Leon. I’ll miss his company. Thanks for walking along, amigo. May the Camino of Life be kind to you.
The stretch to Fromista, along the Canal de Castilla, is a welcome change. It’s rare to see water in the arid Meseta. The colours are just amazing. I can’t stop taking pictures, slowing down my fast pace. In less than an hour I still manage to pass the impressive locks, announcing the town. The first signs of Fromista, the railroad area in particular, are rather dull. But around the San Martin church, a lively centre unfolds. The church is an 11th century romanesque masterwork, maybe a little over-restored, giving it that Disneyland look. Obviously, the doors are closed. I really don’t get these opening hours in Spain. I’m not buying this whole Siesta thing. Although I could use a little rest myself. I sundry my socks and feet on a bench. It’s hard to get back up. I better bribe my body at the nearest pastry shop. “If you carry on 5 more km, I’ll get you one of those extra creamy boules de Berlin.” Deal! The last miles are a total killer. A gravel stroke next to a straight asphalt road. It’s around 3 pm and I’m the last pilgrim standing. It’s sunny, thank God not summery hot. I’m so bored I start studying the flight patterns of birds.
Poblacion de Campos is a total cul-de-sac with zero entertainment, one depressing bar and no Wifi. The Municipal could pass for an old school, overlooking a large unmowed lawn with a play-yard. Other pilgrims are taking a nap. Some cheapskates are cooking up 1 euro pasta with 1.5 euro meatballs from a can. I’m so bored I invite a French pilgrim for a beer. “I don’t drink” he says politely. “That makes 2 of us” I smile and the ice is broken. His name is Remi, a true pilgrim who walked all the way from France. He’s nicknamed ‘Happy Man’ for a very good reason and 10 minutes later, we are caught up in ‘fous rires’ (crazy laughs). A happy end to a beautiful day. Peace.
Plan very well or you’ll miss some stunning albergues.
Reserve a bed in the iconic village Castrojeriz or the charming Fromista. If you’re looking for an authentic, spiritual Camino experience, sleep at the 12th century Hospice de San Nicolas, run by Italian volunteers, near Itero de la Vega. Off-the-grid and extremely welcoming. Coulda-woulda-shoulda stayed here.
Especially during top season, it’s easier to score a bed in the village before or after a classic stage finish. Places like Poblacion de Campos, right after Fromista. The Municipal is quiet, 18 beds spread over a spacious dorm. Modern bathrooms, a small kitchen. Details: Paseo del Cementer 11 - +34 979 811 099 - Open from 7.00 to 22.00 h - 4 euro. Check in at the nearby Hotel Amanecer en Campos, where you can also have a bite. WIFI is poor. Talk to fellow pilgrims. A no frills, no thrills address.
A much better option is 6.4 km further down the road: the RP Amanecer in Villarmentero de Campos, where you can sleep in tepis, circus wagons and tents. It’s one of the most original hostels along the road, very Flower Power, run by a friendly Dutch Hospitalero (6 euro). “Wish I had stayed here” I told him “Now you know for your next Camino.” he smiled. Also has an outstanding library of books left by pilgrims. Thanks for the Herman Brusselmans novel. I left it at the Municipal of Olveira, 400 km down the road.