Distance walked: 20km
I won’t lie, I was very glad to leave Atapuerca.
After breakfast with Barb and Dave, I walked out of the small village with them, and was glad to leave behind the crowds and noise of our busy hostel. I’d decided to find a private room in Burgos later that day and I could hardly wait!
Brierley’s guide-book says, “Familiarise yourself with the various options [for descending into the city of Burgos]…and prepare for the hard slog into the city itself – after the relative tranquility of the camino from San Juan de Ortega city life can come as something of a shock.”
Of course, I didn’t familiarise myself with the different routes.
I didn’t like to study the map in advance – I preferred to figure it out as I went along and see what the route presented. Around 6-7km outside the city, the path splits in two. To the left, is a leafy walk along the river Arlanzón, allegedly scenic and beautiful. To the right, the path skirts alongside Burgos airport, allegedly through miles of ugly concrete and industrial buildings.
Days earlier in Villambistia, a woman told me that she and her friend planned to take a city bus and skip those miles entirely.
I purposefully asked her, “If Camino is like life, is it right to “skip the ugly bits” just because you don’t like them?”
It was a thorny question to ask.
Lots of people talked about skipping bits of, or whole sections of, camino, just because those parts had a reputation for being boring or ugly. I could understand taking buses and trains because of injury or illness, but I didn’t like the trend towards an “à la carte camino”. I didn’t think “ugly” countryside was a valid reason to omit entire sections of the journey and I wanted to challenge that way of thinking.
She knew I had asked a loaded question.
I didn’t ask it just to be an ass; I just wanted to understand her thinking. My own “rules” for walking camino were rather strict and it was a novelty to hear from someone who was a lot more relaxed about it all. She presented an argument that I thought was reasoned and pragmatic, even though I didn’t share her views. But you know, it didn’t really matter either way. When it came down to it, her journey was none of my business.
Without knowing it, when I came to that junction in the trail that day on my way into Burgos, I chose the path to the right.
At the time, I just followed the yellow arrows as I saw them, and I didn’t even notice that most of the crowds around me had disappeared to the left. I was lost in my own little world, shuffling along, putting one foot in front of the other on the gravel trail. When I looked up, I realised that the expansive airport runways were to my left, behind large wire fences with warning signs all over them. For miles, I passed through industrial warehouses and concrete paths. When I looked around, there were only a handful of other pilgrims within sight. The usual crowds were nowhere to be seen.
Brierley warned me of a “hard slog into the city”, and dozens of people had told me about the ugly descent they would avoid.
In truth, those few kilometres were among my favourite of my entire camino.
Well, they were quiet. Even with the noise of airplanes and motorway traffic, the trail felt quieter than it had felt in days.
After two particularly noisy days on the trail and in hostels, those few miles gave me a break from the masses. Sure, it wasn’t the most scenic part of northern Spain but I didn’t walk Camino just for the scenery. I walked because I felt compelled to. I walked because I needed some time. And oddly enough, the grey suburbs of Burgos gave me the space and time I needed that day. I didn’t notice that it was “ugly” or difficult in any way. I was happy in my own skin and grateful for the time alone.
That experience was a lovely reminder:
Don’t listen to the scaremongering.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
If I’d listened to the people around me, I would have taken the leafy river walk, just like them. I’m sure it is beautiful but it wouldn’t have given me what I needed that day, which was alone-time and space.
If I’d listened to others, I would have taken a city bus and skipped that section entirely – but imagine what I would have missed!
There are a million ways to walk Camino. Everyone has an opinion on the “right” way and the “wrong” way, but only *you* can know what’s right and wrong for you.
It’s like life that way.
And sometimes, the “ugly bits” turn out to be surprisingly good!