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The Pale Castilian Sun

Posted by on Dec 17, 02:24 AM
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Coming at you from a funky apartment in the old Moroccan Quarter of Lisbon, Portugal…

Cross on a HillIt was the very beginning of December, a belated month of the year for pilgrims of the Camino to be on the trail. Nevertheless, a handful of hardy folks trickled into the enormous, new albergue in the city of Burgos in the frosty-white heart of the Castile. It had been a briskly cold day and I, under-dressed for air that bit the skin with the sharp teeth of winter, had been forced, chattering, into a pastry shop in an ugly part of town to raise my core temperature and get my bearings after having lost the trail of yellow arrows that guide pilgrims on their way. Randall was waiting outside the albergue when I arrived.

…the brim of which dripped freezing drops onto my blue nose.

Monastery RuinsThe next morning we left the albergue as usual at the latest possible moment with the cleaners on our very heals. The town was enveloped in a cloud of freezing moisture, a digital thermometer red 2 degrees Celsius (about 38 Fahrenheit) and it was not yet light outside. A quick stop at a bakery for some hot, fresh loaves of the meaty, substantial Spanish bread and we continued on. To top it off Randall had fallen ill and trailed behind as I climbed the unpaved trail into the small hills, clothed in more Leon Cathedrallayers than ever and with a beanie on under my helmet, the brim of which dripped freezing drops onto my blue nose. Finally the air cleared and the sun emerged, and the top layer was no longer necessary by mid day. A small and overpriced sandwich in a dingy bar at siesta time helped me to arrive in Carrión de los Condes without collapsing on the roadside from hunger. I made it a point thereafter never to run out of food during during the three hour siesta period of the afternoon. The night I spent at the pleasant Espiritu Santo Convent. Randall had held back and stayed in a town previous to recover.

The following day was long, flat, and uneventful, the afternoon themed by fits of near-freezing rain. I arrived in the city of León tired and wet, and stayed first in the municipal albergue, reminiscent of a college dormitory, made friends with a Belgian couple there who are on a similar bicycle trip, and the next night reposed in the Benedictine convent in the historic city center which was infinitely more appealing. Cathedral 2Randall caught up with me there and the next day we stayed in the lovely city-center apartment of a local artist for a couple of days to relax, recover and see some sights (like the majestic cathedral pictured here). When we embarked again on our iron steeds (this always requiring an exercise of the will) we followed the arrows through the bland suburbs and eventually came upon a neighborhood of small houses actually built underground like hobbit holes (Randall has pics) and onto the autopiste (freeway, motorway) by virtue of again losing the way. After five clicks or so a highway worker pulled up and authoritatively directed us to take the next exit, the autopiste being off-limits to cyclists, and I was somewhat relieved to be off of it. It was near dark when I arrived in Astorga for the night. Randall had pulled ahead 10km to stay in a more inexpensive albergue.

Foremost in my thoughts was that the road would be impassable or, at least, very dangerous near the top, which is perched 1500 meters (4500 feet) above sea level.

It was icy the following morning, frost shimmering on the small roadway and lending a pale hue to the sparse greenery on the roadside. A malevolent and arctic wind pounded me from the front and after 20 minutes there were snowflakes Small townstinging my naked face as I began the 400 meter climb to the pass. Foremost in my thoughts was that the road would be impassable or, at least, very dangerous near the top, which is perched at 1500 meters (4500 feet) above sea level. But the road was wet and free of snow most of the way even though several inches of light powder had accumulated on the sides, and the wind, the wind, if I could only express it with enough emphasis, slowed the serpentine climb to a snails pace. And the summit was a series of short ascents which I hammered flat with hard pedal strokes in an attempt to sustain a the dropping core-temperature of my carcass, fingers having left the sphere of throbbing pain to that of dead numbness. Many sections of asphalt were blanketed with a thin duvet of wet snow. Finally, we (I had caught Randall on the way up) arrived at the final descent but my fingers were so rigor-mortised to the brake levers, my torso quaking and lungs gasping that it was rather a slow drop into the more temperate valley. We stayed in the small city of Ponferrada to recover and rest-up for the challenges that would precipitate the following day over the pass into green Galicia.


  1. And I thought it was bad walking it in the July sun! I think the guide books say only crazy people do the camino after October! You will both find now that for the rest of your lives any time you see a yellow arrow you will have the urge to follow it.
    Hope all keeps going well and that you manage a happy, holy and restful Christmas.
    Best wishes,

    — Monica · Dec 19, 10:16 AM · #

  2. Dear Andrew and Randal-
    Wishing you a Blessed and very Merry Christmas!
    May our Infant Savior bless you now and always.
    Stay safe in your journeys…

    Rachel W. · Dec 21, 07:05 AM · #

  3. Dear Andrew and Randal

    happy Christmas

    haim and the family

    — haim bar · Dec 22, 01:24 PM · #

  4. Dearest Randall and Andrew: Wishing you Peace filled with Love & may many Blessings surround you as you continue to show your compassion for others. Merry Christmas! Always, Susan

    — Susan Knapp · Dec 24, 11:52 PM · #

  5. Hey kids!! Merry Christmas! We missed you at Christmas dinner at grandma’s but I guess you are busy. Keep air in your tires and grease on your chain!

    — Cousin Josh · Dec 25, 10:05 PM · #

  6. Wishing you both a Blessed Christmas …
    hope you spent it in a warm, cozy, family orientated surrounding with a roaring fire going!! Thinking of you
    Marian and all the children (Edinburgh)

    — Marian Guest · Dec 26, 03:20 AM · #

  7. Merry Christmas! We shall drink to your health and a successful journey. God Bless,
    The DeLisles

    — Jim DeLisle · Dec 27, 06:48 PM · #

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