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Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 8

6/13/15: 14th Day walking: From San Juan de Ortega to Burgos

Started off this morning to the sounds of the coo-coo. Hope it doesn’t mean I’m going to be getting lost again.

Had a chance to walk along with Ron, from Belorado, who sat next to me at Mass last night. His friend, Kerri has some sort of lung infection, perhaps pneumonia, so she took a taxi on ahead to Burgos. I saw him lighting candles in the church. People on Camino do that—even non-believers. It’s a lovely way to remember someone—living or dead. And it brings comfort. Ron said that he has been lighting candles at each church he comes to for his daughter, who died at 28. She would now have been 35. She evidently got entangled in drugs.

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The walk was easy from San Juan to Atapuerca where I saw the standing stones put up by some prehistoric peoples living there 900,000 years ago.  But then the route got serious. Very tough climb to Cruz de Matagrande—our high point for the day. Rough rocks and scrub trees. Lots of loose stone. Found Michelle resting at the top. We started down together but the trail split into several different tracks toward the bottom. I took the “shortest” route along dirt tracks through fields of grain. She took the one that headed for the nearest village and seemed more clearly marked. As I walked along, I saw fewer and fewer people and the track got more and more narrow. It was deja vue all over again. Now I knew why the coo-coo had been talking to me.

Let me interrupt this narrative to present a brief commercial for compasses. You should always carry one on European trips. And one is especially important on a walking tour like the Camino. Maps can be wrong, or at least confusing, and a compass can lead you out of dead ends and wrong turns by at least keeping you in the right general direction.

And so it was this day. As the track got smaller and smaller there were little paths leading off to the right and the left. But my compass told me to keep straight on. So I did. And Mirabele dictu, Miracle to tell, it lead me to another pilgrim-bridge built for idiots like me. 

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It carried me over the highway again—just like before. BUT, when I found the airport on my left, instead of on my right as the map said it would be, I realized that I had missed the “scenic route” into Burgos along a “peaceful river.”  Instead, at a little suburban town called Villafria I found myself smack dab on the sidewalk running parallel to the main road leading into Burgos. It was about lunchtime so I stopped in a diner to get a bite to eat and “study this situation,” as my dear-old-dad used to say. When I walked in and set my pack down I saw that Christina there getting a little smackeral too. She was the woman who surrendered her bottom bunk for me in San Juan.

We sat together. She too felt like she was at a crossroads in her life. She was 40 and finding it hard to surrender her youth. She said she was waiting for the city bus. The man behind the counter had told her she could catch it right out front—so that’s what she was going to do. And some “older man” had told her he had a great place to stay, and had handed her a card, so that’s where she was going to stay. She asked what I thought. I told her I was staying at the Municipal Alburgue. She said “Maybe I should do that.”  I didn’t know what to say.

When I got up to leave, she decided she wasn’t going to pound along the pavement through the industrial section of Burgos when there was a perfectly good bus system. And she wasn’t going to stay in the municipal alburgue when strangers hand you a card. It’s fate!  Me, I told her I was going to be a purist. The only ride I would accept would be in an ambulance. I saw her wrinkle her nose as she caught a whiff of my self-righteousness.

And it was a boring walk past soulless tire factories, parking lots, and repair shops along a busy 6-lane road. But I told myself, “life is going to have its boring bits; we need to learn to live with them.” So I had 6 or 7 kilometers of “life-lesson.” I hope Christine saw my virtuous self as she motored past in her air-conditioned bus to her fate-selected accommodations.

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I’ve think of myself as being open to the Spirit. She told me that’s what she wanted. I should have told her that, even so, you don’t want to be a ping-pong ball in a hurricane—being blown all over the place. Yes, be open to the Spirit—but don’t be guided by every spirit. Some of them don’t mean us well.

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Stopped at the Church of San Lesmes where I sat on the benches with the other homeless men and watched a wedding party form up outside the door. It looked like it was going to be quite an affair but as it was threatening rain I decided to push on. And then the sky opened up and buckets poured down. I sought refuge in a bank lobby and put on my hooded rain cape and discovered why real peregrinos carry rain pants and rain jackets instead. The cape was useless. It didn’t really cover that much and the wind whipped it up over my head when I ventured back out on the street. And then the torrential rain turned to hail. Whee. I quickly found another bank lobby.

Finally arrived, drenched and exhausted, at the multi-story Municipal Alburge. After I showered and settling in, Michelle arrived. She had been assigned the very next bunk. Cool. The building was very modern and the bunks were built-in, as were the lockers beside them. Had a sudden urgent call of nature and forgot to check on the availability of papel igenico before commencing. That’s a big “Ooops” in a Spanish bano. I didn’t want another shower so it was essential that I find some other way to clean myself. My clean, white linen handkerchief had to take one for the team. It was softer, at least, than the usual papel even if not quite as “desechable.”

Michelle and I ate supper in a “kabop shop,” around the corner from the Alburge, then went to take pictures of the cathedral and the famous statue of the Peregrino studying his blisters. Burgos is a lovely town, and the parks in the old city have sycamore trees pruned to within an inch of their life. Lots of buskers playing musical instruments, and another wedding party at the Cathedral. Tomorrow we enter on the infamous Meseta, sort of like the midwest of Spain—flat grassland, swept by sudden rains, wind-storms and notoriously unpredictable weather. Hail one minute then scorching hot and windless the next. I had no trouble falling asleep. I was seriously tuckered.


Sunday, 6/14/15: 15th Day walking: From Burgos to Hontanas


Michelle wanted to sleep-in; I was anxious to get on the way so we said “Asta Luego,” and I took off at 6am. The day was perfect for walking. There was a brisk cool breeze at my back all day long. And it was cloudy, but without rain. Walked more than 30 kilometers. A new record! It’s very hypnotic walking along for miles with only the sound of the stones crunching under your feet. I heard several people say that they were going to grab a bus to take them around the Meseta. I’m glad I didn’t. It reminded me of a rocky Kansas. As I walked, I could see distant mountains, and from the low promontories I could see from horizon to horizon. For the most part the tiny villages are at the bottoms of little valleys carved into the plateau by small streams and rivers. The “walk” into Hornillos was more of a slide down the gravel path. A wonderful cup of café con leche though and I was ready for more walking.

 Gorgeous skies, distant vistas and cheerful little swifts flying out over the fields keeping me company. Natural pest control! And lovely chirping pest control. DDT never did that!

Six kilometers more and I decided to stop at a little one-building “village” called San Bol. But it looked so remote and God-forsaken I decided to push on to Hontanas, a major metropolis of 70 hardy souls another 5k away. As I walked I could see fields in all directions. And distant wind turbines far off to my left, and far off to my right. And storm clouds dropping rain far, far, away. There’s no way weather could sneak up on you on the Meseta. But, boy-howdy, my Brierly said I was close to Hontanas, and I didn’t see a thing that looked even remotely like a village. Normally, you can see your intended stop up ahead and gauge how long before you arrive. A young couple breezed past me, and the young man, a veteran of several Caminos told me to take heart—“Hontanas will sneak up on you.”

And it did.

 The land was flat as a pancake then suddenly I was at the top of a 1 kilometer plummet into the village. I slid down again and found a bed at one of the three alburges, and learned that I was sharing a room with 4 German walkers. And they were wound up! Couldn’t follow a word, but it was all evidently hilarious. And they had already staked out the bottom bunks. My poor feet. They need to invent bunk-beds with elevators.

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Got my shower and ate supper outside in the sun sitting in an Adirondack chair next to Phil and Ida. Stuffed myself with those wonderful “Magnum” ice cream bars. I think one of the things I miss most about the Camino is eating as much ice cream as I want. Walk for eight hours a day and it’s really quite remarkable how many calories you can eat without gaining a pound!

That night it stormed and hailed. That distant rain I saw finally arrived. I wouldn’t have known (with my earplugs) but I was sleeping under the skylight. Like sleeping inside a snare-drum.

Monday, 6/15/15: 16th Day walking: From Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

Today was a perfectly lovely, if chilly day! I was really fortunate to be so exhausted last night that I turned in early. That meant I plucked my drying clothes off the line before turning in. I draped them over chairs in my room to finish drying while I slept. The other walkers have had to contend with freezing cold, soaking wet clothes today. They have them draped over their packs and swinging from lanyards like flags.

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Given the nature of the Camino you see the same people over and over again and yet often walk with different people each day. That gives you the opportunity to learn what people think of each other. And there are as many different personalities on the Way as there are walkers. And many different reasons for walking 500 miles or so, from one side of Spain to the other. One friend confided in me that she didn’t like another couple we often met-up with. I didn’t tell her, but I suspected she didn’t like them because she was a bit cynical and they weren’t cynical at all. I tried out the idea with another walker (without mentioning names!) and they wondered if it might be that all of us have a tendency to think that other people are really very much like us. And so cynical people are very suspicious of people who seem to be un-cynical—they must either be stupid or hiding something. “And if I tear them down I won’t need to change my view of the world.” Maybe that’s right.

As I walked along I decided that this should be “Lessons from the Camino.”  And one of the lessons should be “Whenever possible walk with a normal stride—even if it hurts.” Because if you limp, eventually other body parts start to hurt too! You start off with a blister, so you limp to keep the weight off your left foot, so your right ankle and knee start doing double duty, so they start hurting so you start leaning on your sticks more and your shoulders start to ache as well. For lack of a blister-pad the Camino was lost! So even when it hurts, try to take a normal stride. Maybe the same is true for emotional and psychic pains as well.

 Christine ended up sharing the same room with the Germans and me last night. Heard her suggest to a friend this morning that they should rent a bicycle and bike a hundred kilometers or so. The little compromises we make tend to grow. A bus here, a bike there, a taxi when you need it. The discipline of the Camino ebbs away. No wonder some people end up taking taxies from one Alburge to another. And the whole concept of a pilgrimage falls away.

Amazing, the pontificating man I heard a week or so back passed me again today. This time with just the shorter man. The young woman was missing. And, my God, he was still pontificating at excruciating length about monetary policy, public debt, and fiscal responsibility. And the shorter man couldn’t wedge a word in edgewise!  I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be able to keep my mouth shut.


            (to be continued)

Sunday, July 30, 2017 3:08 PM by
I would be one of those lazy tourists, taxi taxi, lol. You have lots of stamina.
I wonder if that is like the stone hinge?
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