Villafranca to Atapuerca.
Day 6 on The Camino.
Remember That One Time We Slept In A Barn.
One of the reasons our albergue in Villafranca was full, besides being the only one open, was that the next town was 12km away. Along most of the Way, there are stops every few kilometers, but from Villafranca, you walk up a steep mountain incline (really the only one between Logrono and Burgos) and then follow a long, slow descent into San Juan de Ortega.
The mountain trail began right outside our albergue, and we welcomed the incline on the first part of our day as a way to quickly get warm with fresh morning legs (as opposed to already tired afternoon legs). The trail was still snow-covered from the day before, which made the walk quite beautiful.
Especially since it was not currently snowing (or raining).
Kandace and I talked all morning for the first time in several days. We realized we hadn’t been talking while walking on the previous couple of days because of the weather. In fact, our whole faces had been covered and we had just been marching with our heads down for most of the day.
The first 12 kilometers flew by and as we descended into San Juan, we decided the biggest gift of this day was that we were finally out of the wind.
It was still cold, so we were grateful to find a cozy bar in San Juan with a fireplace. It was completely empty when we arrived, so, as usual, we re-arranged the chairs so that we were sitting right by the fire enjoying our coffee and eggs by the time others started to arrive.
Everyone was in good spirits after the previous day and we laughed as we filled the small space and tried each other’s food. After about an hour, a new group came in so I started collecting our things to get moving again. It seemed like a good time to vacate our seats by the fire. The young guy who was journaling the night before and his walking partner from Australia gratefully took our seats, the Australian mentioning that he needed a new pair of legs. Apparently they had come well over twice as far as we had walked the day before and it sounded like they had perhaps pushed it too hard. It reminded me of why I really enjoy doing the Camino in stages rather than all at once.
Perhaps the 800 kilometers is so daunting that you find yourself just wanting to get as much of it behind you as you can each day. And so some days you just walk until you can no longer feel your legs. I’m not sure. We later ran into the first guy again. He passed us as we were stopping for the day and introduced himself (Fernando…which of course, I took as a cue to break into the Abba song). He had left his friend behind and was planning to walk all the way to Burgos. Burgos!! We couldn’t believe it. That was nearly 40 km in one day! But I suppose that once Burgos felt within striking distance, he just wanted to keep going until he got there. He was planning to take a rest day in Burgos so he said he’d see us there when we arrived.
One day I think I will tackle doing a whole Camino, and I’m so curious how it will change my perception of The Way to walk for longer than a week. At this point, I wasn’t quite ready to get to Burgos. I felt a bit sad about the journey coming to an end.
We walked in a slight drizzle after our mid-morning stop, but still no wind and nothing like the rain or snow of our other days.
From San Juan, there were villages about every three kilometers the rest of the way into Burgos, so we had plenty of choices for stops if the weather got worse.
We continued through a forest and kept up a fairly happy pace through another village (Agnes) and over some lovely green hills before getting to the next town, all the while enjoying being able to laugh and chat without being blown over by wind.
As we came into the little town of Atapuerca, a small parade of people came out of a building led by two men playing instruments. They walked from the town hall to a bar at the edge of town, where they all went inside for drinks and dancing. Kandace and I had no idea what was going on but we (and several other pilgrims) followed the musicians like the Pied Piper into the bar and proceeded to stay there for the rest of the afternoon.
We ordered lunch and drinks and listened to the small band for as long as the party lasted.
(Here’s a short video of us sitting in the bar.)
When it finally finished up, we decided that we might as well stay. There was a little rain falling and we had already walked 18km. Kandace held down our table at the bar, while I headed up the street to put our names down at the town albergue.
I had read that there were only 18 beds, and maybe it was because the rooms the night before had been full, but I was concerned that we needed to go ahead and claim our beds. The albergue was at the top of a hill, called The Hutte, and I went into the reception area and communicated to an older lady that I wanted to pay for two beds. I might should have been a little suspicious when the fee was only 6 euros per bed, but I was delighted at the bargain. After paying, I walked back down to the bar where Kandace and I finished our lunch and our drinks and sat visiting with some of the locals for the afternoon. We kept expecting to see some of our friends, but they had either stopped at the town behind us or continued on ahead.
We finally pulled on our backpacks and walked up the hill to the albergue, which actually turned out to be a barn. We laughed and laughed as we spread our things out, took showers and got dressed for dinner.
We had planned to find a grocery store to buy dinner but there were no shops in town, so we ended up back down at the bar until the restaurant next to our barn opened for dinner.
The same lady who checked us into the albergue served us dinner, including a gorgeous eggplant dish as my vegetarian option. A wood-burning fireplace (our fourth in two days) in the restaurant made our lonely two person dinner a lot warmer.
After dinner, we went next door to our room, where we were the only ones. We laughed at my earlier need to “secure two beds” out of concern that it would be full. The barn door didn’t lock from the inside, and all of a sudden, the small, quiet town felt kind of creepy, so I barricaded the door with some chairs before we crawled into bed.
The room was drafty and cold, and I kept having to get up to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t seem to fall asleep. I was awake for what felt like all night, and couldn’t get warm. I kept imagining animals crawling out of the barn roof and into our beds.
I would get up and go to the bathroom and then have a whole conversation with myself about how or why I had chosen this poor sleeping arrangement. I managed to convince myself that it was going to be funny eventually, and I just had to endure a few more hours of the cold, dank room. Finally, I looked at my phone and it was a respectable enough hour to wake up, and I so I asked Kandace if she was awake and when she moaned back a sleepy “Ugh, yes,” I said, “Dear Lord, please let’s get out of here!”
Shameless Plug for our Humility Walk FB Group: When Kandace and I arrived at this hostel we did a FB live in our private Humility Walk FB group. We started this group for those who donated money to our favorite causes while we walked the Camino. If you’re interested, you can still join that group and watch this silly video of us in this crazy barn (as well as many other silly videos). We will be walking again soon and we would LOVE to have you join us. We share things in that group before we put them out to the rest of the world and sometimes we share things that we don’t put anywhere else on the internet. To join our Humility Walk FB Group, make a donation in any amount to your favorite organization that is making the world a better place. (If you need a suggestion, my favorites are EJI, Preemptive Love and A New Way of Life). Then send me an email (alison AT alisonchino.com) with your giving receipt and I’ll send you an invite, or just request to join the group via this link. You can also follow us on Instagram or check out our website. Thanks so much for following along!