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Days 11, 12, 13: Pinchos, pinchos, pinchos

Santo Domingo > Belorado > Burgos > San Sebastián
September 17 – 19, 2017

Viloria de Rioja

The next day we head to a town we are told is an old hippie pueblo called Belorado. Along the way every little town we skip through seemed particularly adorable, especially Viloria de Rioja, the place where Santa Domingo was born.

They probably had fleas

Just outside we encountered the tiniest kittens we had ever seen. Surely there are a lot of cats and dogs on the Camino but an awful lot do seem to cross my path in particular so Vanessa started calling me the cat whisperer. “They always find you.”

Examples of Belorado street art

Just outside of Belorado there was a nice looking albergue with a lot of international flags and even a pool. We were very tempted and plagued with indecision. In many towns there are a couple clear winners in terms of accommodation, either the reviews, the price or something makes it a fairly easy choice. They they all looked pretty good here so we decided to take our chances because we wanted to be a little more in the center.

It was a good choice.

As we approached we looked at the logo and realized that the man in a truck had been handing out free cold water along the trail earlier and the bottle that we had came from this hostel, Cuatro Catones. The blonde lady behind the counter was vivacious and chattered away in Spanish as she checked us in. It was also the place where everyone, even those not staying here, came for pilgrim’s dinner, the best in the whole pueblo. But best yet, as we walked back into the spacious courtyard, with an unexpected covered in ground pool, we saw Brad sitting with a group of other young people. Lucky choice indeed.

View over the albergue courtyard. The pool had this weird enclosure I’ve seen often in Spain that articulates open or closed based on weather conditions.

It was so nice to just lounge here, chatting with new friends including a girl from Quebec that had been walking since July in Switzerland. Her route had taken her initially on a long route trail, then through another Camino route in France called Le Puy before starting again on the Frances in St Jean Pied de Port. I may have rolled my eyes a bit at Vanessa’s starry eyes but I did also think her journey was very cool.

Scene from inside the Cuatro Catones

Waiting for our reservation at dinner that night (yes it was both that tiny and that popular) we ran into Rose and Laurie again. Their knowledge and willingness to take part in some of the fancier parts of the camino further convinced me this was really the spot. We asked to be seated together and this was one of my favorite dinners. We really got to know them, saw pictures of grandkids and grandkids-in-law, and genuinely bonded. I really hope we do get to see them again, especially since Rose just lives up in the Seattle area.

Unfortunately, in an incident a few days later Rose accidentally texted Vanessa a lovey message meant for her wife and I fear the embarrassment might keep her from wanted to be in communication again. I sincerely hope I’m wrong as it was actually the cutest, sweetest thing.

Through whatever combination of looking out for my newbie hiker health, hard times necessitating travel other than by foot previously, or just the different nature of the trail, we decided to take the bus to Burgos the next day. Annika had told us the previous day that the walk into Burgos was ugly and uneventful and went past the airport for a long time. They say that the less scenic parts of the way are just as important for the experience and that suffering is part of every pilgrimage but I say we only have limited time on this earth and I constantly strive to make my time here the most worthwhile whether at home or abroad. So I felt no guilt. I think Vanessa felt some.

It’s hard to know what a thru-hike, indeed any life journey, is supposed to teach you and even weeks later as I write this we are still trying to untangle our many lessons. Did this bus taking and, later, some skipping around make this a less genuine experience? I don’t think so. But what it means and why as a whole is still elusive to me. The only thing my little nerd heart did discover I was sad to miss was the paleoarcheological site at Atapuerca, where they had unearthed some very early hominids and which I think the public is able to visit at times (although what these times are I could never be sure as Spain opens and closes anything seemingly at will). But the Museum of Human Evolution itself, with intensive exhibitions on Atapuerca, was actually in Burgos so I would be able to nerd out there.

Colorful Belorado main square

Belorado wasn’t big enough to have an actual bus station so we were a little nervous about where to catch it but we needn’t have been as the street was crowded with pilgrims either ending their journey or doing the same thing we were. We chatted with Annika and waited to the bus to come but we saw that they were setting up a market in the square and I had read that Belorado was supposed to have a roaring leather market on Mondays so when the bus came I checked with with driver to make sure there was another bus coming later in the morning. Still in the throes of a great fear of bedbugs (that may never fully wane to be honest) we were also glad not to be putting our backpacks in the same cargo hold as that many other pilgrims.

Our inspirational flyover state friends

Other pilgs (as we have colloquially started calling our fellow Camino hikers) got off the bus here too and we started chatting with a couple older ladies when they asked how to get to the main square where they were seeking coffee. We told them we were headed that way too and we would walk with them. One was from the Midwest and the other, who had strands of bubble gum pink strewn through her fluffy white hair, was from Texas. They were not shy about their liberal political beliefs and claimed to be doing the good work throughout the middle of the country. We had coffee and tea with them while we waited for the market to be set up and talked about feminism and the sad state of current politics. As much as we may have thought this trip would take us away from some of the terrible things happening at home, at least for a short while, this really hasn’t been true. Everyone in the world is worried about Trump and America and I don’t blame them. At one point they even made Vanessa cry and though I can’t remember what it was about, or even if it was a happy or sad cry, probably both, I knew it was a profound moment we were meant to have with these women we will probably never see again but already loved over one cup of tea.

When they finally departed we were shaken and moved but had to keep going. This supposedly infamous leather market never really materialized as it seemed, in the end, to just be an outdoor flea market with the usual mix of cheap underwear, tchotchkes, and some fruits, vegetables and cheese here and there.

In a surprising role reversal the foreigner mansplains Burgos to the local male statue. Photo by V Friedman

V has her own special relationship with the pilgrim statue of Burgos.

It me? aka fellow pilgs aka they’re really into statues in Burgos. Photo by V Friedman.

In Burgos we searched in vain for a cheese dessert we had read was a specialty there called postre de abuelo (Grandpa’s sweet) but still had a delightful collection of midday pinchos with more delicious Serrano ham, patatas bravas, and various regional cheeses. I found it searching for the postre and though it didn’t have it I felt vindicated that it was the same place our concierge recommended when we asked her.

Fried cheeses and ham plate at El Morito.

The Museum of Human Evolution was closed on Monday’s so we opted for a cathedral visit in the afternoon. It was grand and included a guided audio tour that was just a little too wordy. I took a million pictures as usual but was getting a bit jaded and bored by gothic Catholic monoliths at this point so by the end we decided this was certainly our last old church tour for awhile. In fact, spoiler alert, I don’t think we did go to another until the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona weeks later, which is an incredibly different beast.

Burgos cathedral from the outside.



Ugh. So tired.

Stained glass schmaind glass…what am I even doing here?

Tomb was ok I guess…

As disillusioned as we were with churches we were also a little with the trail. Consistent terrifying tales of bedbugs, endless walking along motorways, and constant worry about securing a bed at albergues that filled up before 2pm were really wearing us down. We felt tired, which was to be expected, but also worn down, which was sad for this early stage. So over what was probably the best carpaccio I’ve ever had we decided to take a break from the Camino and head up to San Sebastián for a 2 day mini-vacay. The next couple days were supposed to be nice and I had been dying to go there. We had heard tantalizing tales of the ocean and the food and this little crab was overdue for a beach break.

Not postre del abuelo but still damn good. Photo by V Friedman.

Raw meat heaven. Photo by V Friedman.

It felt like a weight was lifted off and we were really able to enjoy our hotel that night as we snuggled under the bright light of the neon sign directly outside our window.

Our bus wasn’t until the afternoon so I took the morning to visit the museum on my own. It was the first time we had been apart even for just a few hours and I think we both felt refreshed. I enjoyed the Atapuerca exhibit and the rest of the museum was not bad. Recreations of early hominid species were interesting, there was a giant human brain, a walk in model of Darwin’s ship, and a special show of early microscopes from the 15th to 19th centuries.

Cutaway of Darwin’s ship the HMS Beagle.

19th century microscope

We make it to the bus in good time and as we begin to re-enter the beautiful green mountains of Basque Country where white stucco houses dot the hillside and you can see patches of blue sea between them we knew we had made the right decision.

Recreation of early human skull fossil outside the museum.

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