Entrance to the city of Burgos (photo taken by Madelyn Given on her El Camino pilgrimage).

El Camino: Headed to Burgos

For over one thousand years, the el Camino has attracted spiritual and adventure seeking pilgrims. It has historic sites of world renown, and today, in September 2014, I am headed to one of them. It will be a culture shock for sure, going from the timeless nature trail to a big city. I feel blessed to be walking here, and I am in good spirits as I start my usual day before dawn, headed to the big city of Burgos, one of three big cities on the trail. I will hike 27.5 kilometers to get there, and I plan to check in early enough to get a bed at an albergue.

It is cool and refreshing in the early morning. I feel safe, free, and alive on this quiet trail of natural beauty. There are walkers all along the trail, but not many, as I can go for long periods of time alone, only seeing others in the distance. The Brazilian couple followed me part of the morning, as well as a young Italian couple I passed. I met up with Manual and his dog, Curio. All are wonderful, friendly pilgrims, part of the el Camino family that forms a bond after many days of hiking this long trail.

From San Juan de Otego, through a forest on to Atapuerca, along a highway to Orbuneja, I hiked by myself, and then I met up with the only Italian still hiking at my pace. The other seven, who met and started together the first day, are several days behind us now. This tall, thin Italian and I hiked quite a few kilometers together.

We met up with a woman from British Columbia, at a place where the trail intersects with the city. She was deciding whether to take the scenic trail or the direct trail, which takes the industrial route through the city. The Italian had planned to take a city bus, and the Canadian woman was concerned about going with this Irish vagabond who was trying to convince us that the scenic route was best.

He was a strange-looking character. He had a homemade cart with bicycle tires, and a harness he had made to pull it. On this cart were a bunch of backpacks. Not one, but at least eight packs, all stuffed full. I decided to go the scenic route, the Italian agreed to come, and the Canadian woman seemed happier that we were all going together. We followed the Irish vagabond, silently thinking that we were safer in numbers.

We got lost twice: each time, the Irish vagabond assured us he knew the way to the city center. We went along the Río Arlanzón, in a lovely city park, for what seemed like many kilometers. When the Italian stopped at a fruit stand, I knew he wanted to depart from the Irish vagabond, and I agreed.

We walked the rest of the way together into the old walled city of Burgos; you can see the impressive city entrance in my photo at the top of this blog post. I found an ATM, but it didn’t work; I wasn’t concerned, but I was tired and wanted to check in for the night. I headed straight for the albergue and got in line. It had 150 beds and was five stories: a modern, clean place with an elevator. There was a friendly staff, and once signed in, we were directed to the tall boot drawers to leave our boots. Then I was escorted to my cubby.

I had just sat down on my bed when I heard a familiar voice. I knew it was Peter, my trail friend from Belgium, who I had never expected to see again. I was pleased and surprised that the Brazilian couple was in the same cubby of four bunks. Peter took me to find a different ATM, and showed me how to get out of the city in the morning. We found an outside café and caught up on what had happened in the last few days.

Burgos is a beautiful ancient city, and the cathedral is a UNICEF World Heritage Site. There are 28 chapels, besides the magnificent cathedral center, with its elegant carved gold pieces, star-vaulted dome, and carved marble tomb. From my window, I could practically touch the cathedral—it was that close.

It was Saturday, and outside of the Cathedral, families were gathered, waiting for weddings or baptisms. The people were beautifully dressed and full of excitement. It was a pleasure to see these happy Spanish citizens, celebrating with their families on joyous occasions, and looking so beautiful and fit.

The music and sounds of the city are quite a change from the trail I have been on, and yet this is part of the trail, right through the oldest part of the city, and onward through the country again. Today I walked from a tiny village, through a forest, into modern suburbs, through a large city park, to one of the grandest old Christian sites in the world.

It is a culture shock, with the night life until dawn, sophisticated restaurants, and upscale shopping districts. As I head out the next morning to start my day, I met up with all the young folks leaving the bars and heading home to bed. It was another great day on the el Camino.

(posted February 24, 2015)