Walking along the Canal de Castilla on the Camino de Santiago trail (photo by Madelyn Given).

El Camino: The Moon and the Stars

In a rural village in Northern Spain, I walked out of the tiny hotel into the predawn darkness of the meseta. As I hiked along the Camino de Santiago trail in fall 2014, I was quite alone on this morning, except for the Spanish man who had been hiking the same distance for several days. I followed him at a distance for four or five miles. The sky was unbelievably magnificent: there was a full moon, and the openness of the vast meseta made the view of the constellations, planets, and sky really grand.

I had to keep an eye on my footing, as the dirt path was narrow and uneven. It was quiet—not a creature was stirring—until I came near the ruins of San Antón. There I met up with a black cat. It would run across the path, jump up on a stone wall, run across again, crouch in front of a tree, and stare at me. It was eerie in the darkness. Later, I saw a few cats in the fields, and even a few field mice scooting from place to place.

As I entered San Antón, I went under an enormous arch. It was still dark until I came to Castrojeriz, with the ruins of the castle on the hill. I walked on a Roman road for a distance; this area has been inhabited since the Celtiberian times. The Romans used the vantage point to guard the route to the gold mines near Astorga. During the 10th century in Castrojeriz, a charter gave equal rights to Jews and Christians, which was unusual at that time.

I had a steep climb to Alto de Mostelares. The view of the surrounding meseta, with vast fields in every direction, was spectacular. But the trail is always changing: I walked out of town, down a wide, steep concrete path, which soon changed into a narrow dirt trail.

I walked on to Itero de la Vega. In the middle of a field was an ancient pilgrim hospital that had been restored. The door was open, and a volunteer welcomed me and offered to stamp my el Camino passport. It was cool and a nice place to rest. I walked on an eleven-arched Roman bridge over Río Pisuerga, and as I was doing this, I thought, “I never tire of seeing and learning about these ancient sites.”

A stork along the Camino de Santiago trail (photo by Madelyn Given).

A stork along the Camino de Santiago trail (photo by Madelyn Given).

I went on to Boadilla del Camino, and I walked along the Canal de Castilla to Frómista; you can see the canal in my photo at the top of this blog post. The scenery was a change from the dry meseta: I saw a white stork, and except for a few ducks on other rivers, very little water fowl. I passed a complex of buildings along the canal that housed prisoners during Francisco’s era. Later on, I crossed the canal by walking over the locks into town. I learned that this area was famous during Roman times, and during Napoleon’s era, it was looted and destroyed.

I have hiked 8 hours when I reach Frómista. I must decide if I will do a short day tomorrow (20 or 27 km); it would be good to give my body a rest. I am doing well and almost to the halfway point on the trail.

Today is a holiday, so the museum and historic church are closed. The mercados are closed, too. I met up again with the couple from the Netherlands: we first met in Honto, many days ago. As I was entering Frómista, I met a man from the Canary Islands.

Tonight our dinner group consists of the Italians, two hikers from New Zealand, and me. During the early evening, there is much camaraderie in the albergues—many stories to share and many new people to meet. It is an international adventure.

(posted March 10, 2015)