Dawn to (way past) Dusk

June 1, 2019

Slanting rays of light rewarded our early start this morning, walking from San Juan de Ortega to the town of Villafría de Burgos. We had hopes of beating the heat that inevitably followed the sun.

Along the way we met a fair number of pilgrims with the same strategy. One young pilgrim’s t-shirt made me smile as I read, “Walls are meant for climbing.”

Our shadows point to the small town of Agés where breakfast awaits at an as yet undiscovered lovely café with outdoor seating, a must to begin such a gorgeous day.
Continuing on after Agés, early sun picked out concentric circles of a stone prayer labyrinth in the grass beside the trail.

Near the town of Atapuerca, we passed a field with several standing stones bearing plaques explaining that these stones had been erected in the late 1990s and early 2000s using “methodicas antiguas” in order to honor the discovery of the remains of the most ancient humans found in Europe.

Standing stones commemorating the site of Atapuerca.


Three days ago we had the privilege of walking for a short ways with some members of the singing group Voces del Camino. Tonight they were scheduled to sing in the Burgos Cathedral, just a 30 minute bus ride from our day’s destination, the small town of Villafría.

We arrived at our hotel with time to take a cooling shower and a short nap. Then, with advice from the hotel’s concierge, we easily caught the local bus (2.40 euros) to the city center of Burgos.

From the bus stop we navigated our way using the spires of the Cathedral, the map on our Guthook app, and the ubiquitous yellow arrows of the Camino.

Burgos Cathedral – we found it!

The Burgos Cathedral is an incredibly huge edifice, with only two doors open to the public. One door bore signs about buying tickets. I presumed this would be the place to ask for information concerning the Voces del Camino concert. But this door was closed and locked!

Entering the other door, an uncommunicative wrought iron fence sprawled across a huge entryway. Doors on either side were plastered with stern signs saying, “No tourists! Enter only for worship and confession!” Many confused looking tourists wandered aimlessly between firmly closed doors and mutely barred gates.

We consulted our Voces del Camino flyer. We read every sign we could see. We stood in indecision. A strange animated clock, whose face wore a grin like a court jester, struck the hour. Seven o’clock. We had 30 minutes to figure this out.

We saw a man in a suit with Voces del Camino flyers in his hand. ‘Oh, hurray!’ I thought. ‘A person of authority!’

We asked, showing our own flyer to help bridge the language barrier. The man nodded, pointed to his flyer, pointed to the closed gates, then hurried away. What should we do?

“The flyer says they’ll sing after Mass. So let’s go to Mass. It’s better than standing here aimlessly. The sign says Mass is in that chapel.” I pointed to the door on the left.

We slipped inside, sitting shyly in the back. More people followed. Three priests entered, and Mass began. I couldn’t understand a single word, but amazingly, in one of the songs sung by the cantor I recognized the tune of “Blowing in the Wind!”

At the end of the service, we left with everyone else, and followed half the congregation across the huge entryway, through a suddenly opened gate in the wrought iron fence, down a hall, and into another chapel.

As we found a seat, members of the Voces del Camino group paced up the aisle. Hurray! We had found the concert!

Approximately 40 choir members made incredible acapella music. Melodies chased one another, harmonies intertwined. Sound and beauty lofted through the air. As I listened, I felt myself lifted up, following notes and emotions far above, to the cathedral ceiling and beyond.

Voces del Camino

Regretfully, I returned to every day life as the concert came to a close at 9:30 p.m.

Jay and I walked to the bus stop, through throngs of people out for Saturday night. The schedule informed us that the next bus arrived at 10:45 p.m. Oh! I was exhausted!

We stood at the bus stop, our souls full of joy from the glorious music, but my body ready to collapse. Just then, a taxi pulled up! I asked the driver how much it would cost to get us to our hotel.

“Between 10 and 20 euros,” he told us.

I looked appealingly towards Jay. “A bird in the hand…” he muttered. “Let’s do it!”

Midnight found us safely back at our hotel for the price of 14 euros. We’d had a wonderful adventure. Soaring voices lingered in my soul as my head gratefully hit the pillow.

Bells and Voices!

May 28, 2019

Every town along the Camino de Santiago, no matter how tiny, has a church with a spire thrusting into the sky and at least one bell dangling in its framework.

Iglesia de Santa María de Arlette

Each time we’ve tramped past a tapering belfry, I’ve looked up, wishing I could be in the steeple with the bell, ready to send music across the countryside.

‘Ah,’ I’ve mused. ‘If only I could perch beside the bell, or climb a spiral staircase, or even tug a bell rope, and feel the bronze weight swing, the clapper sending reverberations through the air!’

Iglesia de Crucifijo, Puente la Reina

Larger towns tend to have elaborate belfries, collecting even more daydreams around their spires.

Imagine my delight when we walked into the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and I saw the Torre Exenta (free standing tower) with eight bells!

Two euros bought a ticket giving permission to climb the tower, and I set off with irrepressible glee.

The first few steps were wide and straight, leading to a lower portion of the tower, filled with sunshine from windows. Soon the steps narrowed, curving invitingly. ‘Now I’m in the tower!’ I thought.

I noticed an occasional sconce attached to the wall, waiting with ageless patience to be filled with a burning torch. My imagination blossomed, feet treading the same stone stairs as generations of shadowy bell ringers, charged with marking the important events of the day, using eight bells!

I noticed an ancient round hole drilled through a stone step, covered with a modern plastic disk. What could it be? As I ascended, I saw more of these holes, and I pondered. Could it be for letting light from the torches filter upwards?

A tourist passed me, heading down, and I saw the red flash of his jacket on the turn below me, through yet another hole. Could the holes have been put there to keep people from sneaking up or down the tower steps? My imagination took fire yet again, nefarious assassins being foiled by heroic bell ringers, with the help of spy holes through the stairs!

Later I read in a pamphlet that the holes had been used to let ropes through, so the bells could be rung from below. Of course!

Fifty steps into my climb, I came upon the ticking mechanism of the tower clock.

This clock, installed in 1780, made by blacksmith Martín Pasco, is unique, in that it runs using the original mechanisms created by Pasco over 200 years ago!

I wonder if Martín Pasco dreamed that his work would still be used 239 years later!

A sign informed me that, inscribed upon the center of the clock, were the words, “Tempus fugit.” (Time flies.)

I continued upwards, pausing at an occasional arrow slit window to enjoy a view of miniaturized landscape.

The town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada below!

Just as my leg muscles were contemplating open rebellion, I looked up to see the top of the stairs, with a bell hanging above!

One can barely see the bottom of a large bell!

I emerged into sunshine with a gentle breeze quickly drying the sweat patches on my shirt. Bells surrounded me, large, small, each hanging silently from its framework.

Reverently I circumnavigated the top of the tower, peering closely at these bronze harbingers of happiness!

In front of each bell was a sign, telling its name and sometimes telling its size and/or the donor’s name. Names of bells ranged from fanciful (Aguijón – Sting) to functional (Campana Grande del Reloj – Big Clock Bell).

One sign declared its bell, named Prima, had an inscription reading:

Una y otra mui del Caso

La Campana Fiel advierte

Sí la Ora de la Muerte

Que tan en olvido paso.

My feeble Spanish overwhelmed, I asked Google to translate.

Over and over again

The Faithful Bell warns

Yes, the Prayer of Death

So in oblivion step.

I can make no claims as to the correctness of the translation, but I did like the idea that these bells transmitted customs and beliefs of everyday life, whether they rang for joy, passing time, or the passing of a life.

It was with regret that I finally descended. I wanted to stay in the top of the tower for a whole day, watching the bells mark the hours. But I knew Jay was below, and I did want to share my discoveries.

From the Torre Exenta we progressed to the Iglesia Catedral de Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Again paying a small entrance fee, we toured this cathedral, an excellent museum giving homage to its founder, Domingo García, who built the first church in 1106. We saw many statues and works of art, and learned of the many miracles attributed to Santo Domingo. A large diorama left the biggest impression upon both Jay and me, showing daily life in the time of Santo Domingo. The details of the miniatures were amazing, bringing my imagination to life once again!

After filling my imagination with the lives of 12th century people, it was a bit of a shock to prosaically continue walking towards the next town. The hours passed, and my energy flagged. Jay pulled ahead, promising to wait for me in town.

The small village of Grañon held the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. As I slowly approached, a stream of people exited the church. I stopped, wondering what I had missed. At the end of the crowd, Jay appeared, face alight with wonder and delight.

“Did you hear them?” He demanded eagerly.

“Umm, hear who? What happened?” I was lost.

“A singing group called Voces del Camino just practiced here. They’re good!” Jay’s voice was full of awe. “I’m glad I got to hear them! It’s too bad you missed it.”

(Jay took a short video of part of their practice, which is posted at the end of this blog. Their singing voices are truly beautiful!)

Fifteen minutes after leaving the town of Grañon, singers from Voces del Camino began to pass us, giving us an excellent opportunity to make new friends and learn more of this talented group.

Vocalists from all over the United Kingdom were invited to join a pilgrimage, walking parts of the Camino de Santiago and singing in churches and cathedrals.
One member gave us a flyer telling a bit about their journey.

We walked for an hour, to our final town of the day, Redecilla del Camino, enjoying the company of this group.

A woman stopped to pick a poppy and make a doll. “My grandmother used to make these for me and my sister.”

“How cool!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of corn husk dolls made in the southern USA, where I grew up!”

Sharing a flower doll brought girlhood customs from two continents closer!

Regretfully Jay and I said goodbye to our new friends, but gratefully I collapsed onto my bed at the hostel. What an incredibly full day!

P.S. Here is Jay’s short video of Voces del Camino.