Day 12: San Juan de Ortega – Burgos

29km

After several days of primitive provinciality, I was looking forward to some time in the bustling civility of Burgos, pop 169,682 according to my guidebook.

Guidebooks deserve a mention here.  While the French and Germans and even Danes have extensive options that provide extensive details, we English speakers are somewhat limited.  I mentioned that I acquired the UK Confraternity of Saint James‘s Pilgrim Guide to the Camino Frances for its comprehensiveness and updates, despite it complete lack of maps.  The reality is that my only other option was the boorish A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino by John Brierly.  It had maps, but also trite prayers and ethereal reflections, and a 33-stage plan.

What I came to realize on the Way, however, is that we don’t really need a guidebook at all.  The Way forward was mostly clearly marked once I knew what to look for, and I never lacked fellow pilgrims or locals or help interpret more complicated forks.  Is this true in life too?

(I will admit it might have been useful to read German comedian Hape Kerkeling’s best-selling I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago before departing. This book is probably responsible more than any other thing for the Camino’s recent popularity.)

While I learned to completely disregard the alternative paths my guidebook described – the path I needed to take would be abundantly clear, and the alternative not, confusing, long and generally not otherwise reawarding – occasionally the confraternity came through with some valuable lodging information.

After an 8km slog through the industrial outskirts of Burgos (I walk at a pretty quick 5k/hour clip), I knew the industrial housing of the 178 bed municipal albergue with “coffee dispenser and snack machine” would not be in the cards.  Instead, based on the confraternity’s recommendation I headed off towards the 18 bed Santiago y Santa Catalina above the Capilla de la Divina Pastora and a plaza away from the exceptional Gothic cathedral.

Hospitalero Juan made no attempt to speak English.  Nevertheless, I negotiated the final bunk and a dinner recommendation.  At lights out, after the German below me had hacked up several cups of phlegm and a young girl walking from France arrived with no money at all, hospitalero Juan serenaded us with his guitar and tender tenor.

It was almost like being in the provinces, except one of the world’s most impressive examples of Gothic architecture was just around the corner.

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