I left my swanky hotel room (how many times do you hear the word “swanky” these days?) – 200 square feet of pure luxury. Well, not really but it served it’s purpose. It had a shower, a single bed, and a small desk which looked out over the street below.
I packed up and headed out to the old cathedral, since I knew the camino always goes by the church that the town was built aroun. Burgos is an awesome mix of old and new, traditional and modern, sacred and profane. The old part around the main cathedral is a blend of cafes, modern shops (in old buildings), and a swirling mass of people, at least on a Saturday. I recommend it, if in Spain.
It took me a little while (and some assistance from my GPS) to find the camino. As soon as I did another pilgrim appeared, so I was pretty sure I was headed in the right direction, although upon asking him he admitted he wasn’t quite sure we were headed the right way. Soon enough I spotted a now familiar scallop shell on the wall of a building, and followed the signs out of town.
On the outskirts of town I stopped at a Panderia and got a breakfast roll. It was a one man operation, the guy was busy, it was a quick transaction. It occurred to me that this was probably the way it has always been here, for centuries. It was in the early morning, he was in the back baking bread, doing whatever Panderia people do, to prep for his morning rush. It all seemed so effortless. It was just the flow of life.
It reminded me of a book I had read- Breakfast at the Victory- where the author (John Carse) describes a one legged (or one armed, I can’t remember-all’s that matters is that the guy was missing a limb) guy behind a counter at a diner in Manhattan who prepares his bagel, cheese and coffee every morning.
Carse describes the guy like he’s Mikhail Baryshnikov performing Swan Lake, albeit without the standard equipment we’re all used to having. I guess even a one armed bagel making counter guy can be imbued with as much grace as a prima ballerina. Just depends on how you choose to look at, and live your life.
To me, Carse’s book tries to get us to see beyond the obvious in the world and in our lives. He prods us to try and get a glimpse into the profundity of the moments that pass us by every day like ships sailing past in the night off in the distance. We never really give ourselves a chance to get a good look at them.
I headed out of Burgos and was into small wheat fields. Then things opened up…to bigger wheat fields, although a main highway was never far away as the camino was paralleling it more or less. The path veered off, under an overpass, and into a little river valley that was nice and shaded.
The camino went back to paralleling the highway and soon I had reached Villabella, the first town on todays tour. I stopped at the first and only little shop where pilgrims were sitting outside. It sort of doubled as a mini-mart. There was only one woman selling stuff, making cafe con leche, and warming up breakfasts. Intermittently she would bark out an order to an older woman (her mother I think) who was standing around sort of monitoring the situation, but not doing much.
After standing in line for 10 minutes to buy a banana and a Coke, my American-ness got the better of me and I wanted to bolt. In the land of the free I would have been in and out 9 minutes ago, and on my way to hurry though my day, to see if I could get to all those things we ‘Mericans deem so important, the things we fill our day with. Perhaps this is why we’re so unfulfilled. To riff on Karl Marx, being busy is the new opiate of the masses. We don’t stop, like Carse does, to consider the moments…
I resisted the urge and waited it out. Fortunately things sped up slightly, I made my purchase and was out of there. I ran into Yan who said that Cormac had stopped there but moved on when he noticed the lackadaisical customer service. So it’s not just Americans who are a impatient breed. It probably got his Irish up.
The path ran through the backstreets of the town, I saw a few locals starting their day. Soon I was heading out into farmland again and got attacked by little black flies. Well, not really attacked. They swirled around my head like electrons around a nucleus, occasionally landing in my mouth. A nuisance more than anything.
They stayed with me intermittently, returning just when I thought I was rid of them. I’m not sure if they were attracted to the sunscreen on my face, or my new swarthy good looks due to the new beard. Of course I’m joking, I just wanted to use “swarthy” in my blog. I decided to let them be, accept them, since I am invading their space, just another foreign body passing through their native land. Acceptance might very well be one of the main lessons I will take away from this walk.
Soon I was walking through Rabe de las Calzadas, pop. 200. The camino passed by the old church and I thought of stopping in and making an offering to whatever saint handled pain and suffering. Apparently there’s seven, to cover whatever ails you -back and spine, arthritis, and my favorite, the mysterious St. Jude, the saint of hopeless causes.
The Encyclopedia of Catholicism says, about St. Jude: “We have no reliable information about this obscure figure.” Unfortunately their is no patron saint of blisters, corns, bunions and hammertoes (I reasoned that if there was she would cover the entire foot) so I moved on, thankful for patron saints, in general, even though I’m not religious.
I walked through the town and by a cafe. Surprise! Cormac and Sinead were sitting down having a cafe con leche. I set down my pack and was talking to them and then out of nowhere, Asia showed up, the Polish woman I had met with Kento on the bus ride from Pamplona. She was staying in St Jean for a day or two after I started so I figured I wouldn’t see her again, but there she was.
She had that look of sort of disbelief. I think it was was like when you see something out of context and you have to readjust your brain. She probably had seen a lot over the previous week, and hadn’t expected to see me again. She hugged me a few times (later she told me she was a hugger and that she had been shorted on hugs recently). I told her that I understood, for I hadn’t seen too many hugs in the previous few months either.
Her and I left Cormac and Sinead and walked together, talking about our journeys so far. It felt good to reconnect with someone from the very beginning of my journey. It started to get hotter, and we walked on, making it to Hornillos. We stopped and Cormac and Sinead were taking a respite in the town, and said they were stopping for the day.
Asia and I moved on, I thought I was going to make up a day by doing 2- 30k days in a row. Hornillos was 20k from Burgos, so we made out for for the next town- Hontanas, which was another 10k. It got hotter still as we climbed up to the Meseta.
The Meseta is the high plains of central Spain. Hot, dusty farm land as far as the eye could see. It was pretty much a straight shot too, the camino just kept going and going, laid out in front of me. Like certain parts of life, there was nothing to do but settle in, hunker down, and…walk. Not much thinking about which way to turn, how fast to walk.
I’d been warned by Brierley that this was a tough part of the trip. I thought that in that case, one would be forced to go inside, and contemplate the questions we all entertain when our brain doesn’t have a tv show or video game to distract us.
Unfortunately my new blisters were a major distraction. I hobbled into the first place I came upon on the outskirts of Hontanas. It was new, just built in 2015, and only 8 Euros. I checked in, took off my boots, and lied down to count my blessings, and my
I told her that I didn’t have time to…for all the little things. That I was at a crossroads, and that time was the only thing I had left.
“What do you mean?”, she said
“Well, it’s hard to explain. Uhh, look, it’s kind of like taking a road trip”
“Hmm”. She looked at me strangely.
I tried to elaborate. “Like, when you start out, it’s all fun, full of anticipation. You get a little giddy, a little goofy…”
“OK” she replied. Quiet was her most effective tool for getting information out of me that I didn’t want to admit.
“Yeah”, I continued, “…you see, then…well, after a hundred miles or so, you fall into that lull, that comfortable complacency. Maybe your conversation drifts off, you start looking for things outside your window, things to keep you occupied”.
“Then…” she said, pausing…”then, well, I guess you’re telling me that we’re getting closer to the end of the trip…”.
“Yeah, well, uh, no” I said. “I think we need to stop and stretch our legs, so to speak. You seem to know where you’re going. You always seem to know. Me, I…I guess I’m a little lost”.
She thought about it for a moment and smiled.
“You boys. You’re always a little lost. You’re always looking for someone to take your hand. And for someone to push you out the door. I know it’s scary, but it won’t kill you”.
Somehow she sounded like my mother. Worse, she was right. My mother may have also been right, but like all kids I was too stubborn, and young, to accept the fact that she was right.
I thought about what I was going through, the road I was trying to travel down. I thought about how I had tried to make enough time to make it work with her along for the ride. I thought about how we all have different paths, and were all traveling at different speeds. I thought about the lessons we all need to learn along the way whether we recognize them or not. I thought about her and beauty and truth and magic and whether or not one should try and force things or just let them happen. I thought of life without her.
A note to Jack Kerouac.
You raged and shot like a bright bursting roman candle cascading against the blackness of the eastern sky looking to the west in one great volcanic eruptive groan that laid the seas green and the skies a beautiful indigo electric true blue, but cracking like the time you ran into Neil Cassady in the streets of Denver with a bottle of Tokai and dirty dungarees from times long past and sang a song that let me know you were the shining bursting gone in an instant flame heat and hot that just shot out of and to nowhere. Gone before you were mentioned. Sought after you were gone. Nobody knew you’d be home with your mother and that she would follow the ambulance to the hospital and lay you down one last time. No more hangovers for you. I feel sorry you couldn’t accept the moment for what it was.
And in the hard throes of the troubled fields of Iowa and Oklahoma where the babies cry and the parents bathe them in tears of knowing that they nor them will ever see the fields of their fathers, or the promises of our forefathers, or the setting sun, or the supplication we all must make int time, to the earth and to the dirt beneath our feet.