Day 22: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

It was nothing new to wake up in pain by this point on the Camino, so when my legs were swollen and stiff on the morning of Day 22, I shrugged it off, gave myself a quick calf massage, popped an Ibuprofen, and joined the other pilgrims in packing to leave. The mood and energy level in the dorm seemed rather low, overall. No one was really hustling to get out, and there were groans from those pilgrims who realized their boots hadn’t dried out completely overnight. I was proud of myself for having worn sandals the day before, so that my feet could be warm and toasty this morning. Once again, I realized that it’s the tiniest details that make or break a day. Even though my legs were really hurting, warm feet on a chilly morning improved my mood greatly.

IMG_7469

Hobbit houses!

 

The other thing that really made my morning was seeing hobbit houses! Somehow, I’d missed the memo about the bodegas in Moratinos, so seeing these perfect doors cut into the hillside was a wonderful shock. The bodegas are underground structures, primarily used for wine storage (or perhaps general storage) by families in the municipality, but they look exactly like something out of Hobbiton. I was told that they are also sometimes used as drinking dens / man caves, but didn’t get to see this for myself first hand. Instead, I had to be content with visiting Bodega Restaurante El Castillo de Moratinos, a bar and restaurant set up in an old bodega. We had a quick snack, and walked on, making it to Sahagun shortly after lunchtime.

IMG_7485

This made me laugh.

 

Since we were both so beat from the day before, it was decided that we’d stop early, get beds in a nice albergue, and just relax. The reviews for Albergue Viatoris were excellent, so deciding to stay there was a simple choice. From the extensiveness of the grounds, was pretty obvious that the place was its own bustling city center at the height of pilgrimage season, but when we arrived, it was a ghost town. Despite the proverbial tumbleweeds blowing through, things were looking up when the hospitalero led us to a nicely appointed room with only six beds – only half were bunks! – and showed us a kingly private bathroom down the hall with a lovely shower. We each took a non-bunk bed, and drew straws to see who’d shower first. Jakob won. He was only gone for a few minutes before coming back, looking cleaner, but not too enthusiastic about it. It turns out that our posh digs had no hot water. We mutually decided to move on with life instead of complaining, so I took my own icy cold dip, then we headed out to find food.

IMG_7483

Very special chicharrones 🙂

What happened next was one of my favorite dining experiences on the entire Camino – an Irish pub with Spanish beer and Italian food. I don’t know if it was the sheer relief of not having to exercise anymore, or if it was just the simple economics of pouring more alcohol in, but the rest of the afternoon was exceedingly pleasant. Jakob and I sat and bullshitted for awhile in the bar, enjoying beer and each other’s company. We had chicharrones at the bar, as well, and I was surprised to find out that he had never tried pork rinds or cracklins before. It made me weirdly proud to have been present for the first try, especially since he liked them.

Afterwards, we decided to pick up some snacks for dinner so we wouldn’t have to leave the albergue again that day. On the way to finding a grocery store, we ended up wandering into an Asian general store. There’s at least one of these in every slightly large town. These stores are a cheap one-stop-shop, with strange and varied wares, and I loved to visit them all along the Camino to see what kind of random stuff I could find. In Sahagun, I found cheap Halloween decor, masks, and sparkly top hats. I was too pleased with the hats, and ended up wearing one for a few minutes. I was brushing glitter out of my hair for a couple of days.

At the grocery store, I got to experience another first for Jakob – his first packet of Double Stuffed Oreos. It turns out that he loves Oreos, but they didn’t have the double creme version in Germany. He was pretty much overjoyed to see the packet in the cookie aisle, and I realized that he got just as excited about food as I do. Along with the typical wine, cheese, bread, and sausage, that packet of Oreos had to come back home with us.

The rest of the day was very laid back. We did some preliminary reading for the next day’s walk, then caught up on posting photos to Facebook and getting in touch with family who were waiting to hear from us. Once it was apparent that no other pilgrims would be joining us in the room, we spread out a little. I actually ended up feeling weirdly exposed to not have a bunk above my head, so I moved down to sleep in the bottom of one of the two bunks in the room. Lights were out early, and I fell asleep quickly. Since it was just the two of us, I didn’t bother with my ear plugs.

Around one or two in the morning, I woke up to a strange rustling sound that took a moment for my brain to interpret…until I heard a crunch, crunch, crunch. It was the middle of the night, and two beds away, my new friend had woken up to eat Oreos in bed. I couldn’t have loved anyone more in that moment. I laid awake, listening to him eat a couple more cookies, then roll the bag shut and put it aside. I fell asleep smiling. As I recall, he had a stomach ache the next morning.

Day 21 (Part 2): Villarmentero de Campos to Calzadilla de la Cueza

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

All beautiful moments must come to an end, and soon enough, it was time to pack up and leave the garden at Albergue Amanecer. Buoyed by our little break and the lovely surroundings, my moodiness from the morning disappeared as we hit the road again. The weather had cleared up over the course of the morning, and once again we had blue skies and puffy clouds.

As we walked, Jakob and I discussed who we were and why we had each decided to walk the Camino. Despite our easy friendship, our lives had been extremely different. I was an only child, raised in a rural area by a lower income family.  I moved a thousand miles away at 17 and never looked back. At nearly 34, I had three college degrees and dozens of seemingly random jobs under my belt. My dreams of singing and writing hadn’t even gotten off of the ground, and I’d bounced around from idea to idea all of my life. I was pretty good at most things that I tried, and job transitions weren’t too difficult, but I’d yet to find a job about which I could be passionate. I was introverted, introspective, and struggling with depression. I was walking to find answers to questions I didn’t know yet. Though I enjoyed the religious architecture along the route, my only connection to Catholicism was my slight obsession with St. Francis, and I found him more in nature than in the built environment.

By contrast, my new friend grew up in a close-knit family, in conditions that many would call comfortable (both of his parents are professionals, and his father is well-known in his field). His family had lived in the same area of Bavaria for many generations – longer than my family had been in America. At 30, Jakob had only recently finished his law degree after many years of school. His dream was to become a judge, and he was almost there. His Camino had long been planned to span the bridge between graduation and job placement, and as we walked, he was keeping track of his job application process as it rolled along back home. I was surprised to learn that in Germany, there is no requirement to practice as a lawyer before becoming a judge. We discussed what the job meant to him, and the nuances of job hunting for a judgeship near his home in Munich. He was driven, optimistic, and given his patience and open-mindedness, I couldn’t help but marvel that he’d be great at his chosen profession. He was also religious, and for him, the Camino was a way to connect with his name saint, James the Apostle (called Jakob in German tradition, from the Latin Iacobus).

I was surprised, given how much I liked my new friend, that he was also highly active in his college fraternity. It took me awhile to wrap my head around how different it was to be in a frat in Germany vs. the U.S. He showed me a photo of their old-fashioned uniforms (complete with funny hats and military braids). Involvement seemed strict, and academics and conduct were of the utmost importance. Connections lasted a lifetime, and older members made sure that the college-age brothers didn’t stray off the path and embarrass the organization. But like the American frats with which I had more experience, beer was also a key ingredient. How could it not be, in the beer capital of Germany?

Speaking of imbibing, we found great kinship in discussing the party reputations of our respective hometowns during their two biggest festivals – Oktoberfest for him, and Mardi Gras for me. We shared funny stories of various debauchery we’d witnessed, and popular misconceptions of what these giant, world-renowned parties were actually all about. We each issued unconditional invitations for a festival exchange program – one day I still plan to make it to Oktoberfest.

IMG_7436

Bocadillo, Aquarius, Coca Cola – who could ask for more?

In early afternoon, we reached Carrion de los Condes, and sat down to have lunch at a little cafe. I had no idea, but this was about to be one of those life changing moments. We posted up at our table, me with an absolutely giant sandwich. I pulled out my phone to peruse the WisePilgrim app, and he pulled out his yellow guidebook (then only published in German – the English version came out a few months later), looking up our options. We were about to hit the longest stretch of the Camino with no opportunities to stop, and if we chose to keep walking, we’d have to really commit. No bathrooms, no water, no cafe con leche, nowhere to rest our weary feet! It would be hours before we’d make it to a stopping point, and it was already afternoon. Was it crazy? Should we do it, or just stop here for the night? Once again, I got this feeling that the Universe had put us together as some sort of challenge, to keep each other encouraged.

As we ate and mulled over the choice, it was also in the back of my mind that we must be reaching the end of our time together soon. It seemed natural to me that we would walk in each other’s company for a few days or so, then split up. Easy. No pressure. I was on track to find Natalie again, and also practicing a kind of detachment. Despite how much fun I was having, at some level I was letting things wash over me without getting too involved. Perhaps I was guarding my heart? I don’t know what I was thinking.

But then, over that jamón y queso bocadillo muy grande, somehow the conversation turned to books and TV, and I mentioned that I really loved the miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Weirdly enough, the show was my introduction to the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, and it was a series that I rewatch yearly to remind myself of determination, grit, bravery, and goodness. Jakob immediately geeked out, and gushed that the show was one of his favorites, too. In fact, he’d watched it multiple times in German and English, to make sure not to miss any nuances in the dialogue. I told him that years before, when I was training to run the Chicago Marathon, I’d spurred myself on in difficult moments with Easy Company’s battle cry, “Currahee!” He said he’d often done the same. With that simple exchange, something shifted. No more conversation was necessary – we were all in. We could keep walking. We could do this. That was also the moment that I realized I’d been handed a new Camino family without even trying.

The next albergue was 18k away, in Calzadilla de la Cueza, which meant at least another 4 hours walking at our current pace. We’d be very lucky to arrive before dark, and there were storm clouds on the horizon, so we’d probably be walking through crappy weather. It was a stupid decision, made out of false bravado, and one which had terrible consequences. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On our way out of town, we stopped to purchase two cheap ponchos. I had a raincoat and a pack cover, but had found that my pack was still getting wet inside when I walked too long in the rain. Luckily, I’d packed all of my clothing inside a big space saver Ziploc bag, so my clothes stayed dry, but I still didn’t like the moisture in the pack. Additionally, wearing the raincoat made me feel like I was in a walking sauna. I thought maybe the poncho would do the trick if we encountered heavy rain, and soon, I got a chance to test out the theory.

IMG_7445

Within about an hour after leaving Carion de los Condes, the sky went from somewhat cloudy to absolutely treacherous. The wind whipped up into a frenzy, and we were hit with heavy bursts of rain. I changed out of my trail runners as soon as the weather shifted, to attempt to keep them dry. Instead, I switched to my Teva Tirras, worn with socks. My feet were cold and damp, but didn’t chafe – and I knew I could count on dry shoes the next day. Underneath the socks was the typical layer of moleskin on all of my “danger zones” known for chafing, plus a thin coat of Unpetroleum Jelly (made by Alba). The rain was so relentless that in the end, I ended up wearing the raincoat and the poncho together.

Between the insane crackling of the poncho and the wind whistling across the open Meseta over the Camino, there was little conversation. We marched on, wet and miserable, all afternoon. From time to time, the rain would let up a bit, and one of us would point out something funny or weird to examine along the road, from old boots left behind, to road markers. From time to time, I’d begin to despair that we would see civilization again. The road stretched on forever in those moments. Inevitably, though, as my spirits sank, Jakob would draw my attention to some small wonder at the side of the road. For awhile, we both put in our headphones, and realized we could walk “together” but separately, singing along to our own tunes. Singing is always a spirit lifter for me, and this worked out perfectly. Towards sunset, we stood and admired the clouds racing along the horizon. There was power in the land, and prayer in the walking. We were discovering something important together. It was still an incredible relief to see the first rooftops of Calzadilla de la Cueza appear on the horizon.

IMG_7451

IMG_7455

It was dusk when we walked into town. Luckily for two completely exhausted peregrinos, the Calzadilla de la Cueza Albergue Municipal was on the left, immediately as you walk into town. I don’t know if either of us could have walked another step. As it turned out, the facilities were cheap and pretty nice. The bathrooms seemed newly refurbished and very clean, and the beds were comfy. There were maybe 10 other pilgrims there that night, including Tom, the older American guy I’d met with British Mark a couple of weeks before. I said hi, and he not only acted like he didn’t remember me, but was also a little rude about it. I was too tired to care much, but Jakob later told me that he saw the interaction and was taken aback on my behalf. As we started to unpack our things, I heard Jakob start laughing, and looked over to see that he was peering at me through a giant rip in his poncho. I’d already decided I couldn’t stand the way mine crinkled as I walked, so I told him he was welcome to have mine as a replacement. My pack would just have to get wet now and then.


After a hot shower and putting on some dry, warm clothes, I felt slightly more human. However, my legs were killing me, and my face was chafed from the wind and sun. It was obvious that the day’s activity had taken its toll on my already tired body. I massaged my legs with Volaren, popped an Ibuprofen, and donned compression socks, but even with that, I could tell I’d done some serious damage to my legs and feet. We’d walked around 34K over the course of the day – over 21 miles, almost a marathon. Even with all of the walking I’d done up until now, it was a huge leap in distance, and I knew I’d pay a price. Leaving the albergue in search of food was out of the question, since I could barely walk. I ate a few random choices from the vending machine while checking my Facebook messages in the break room, and went to bed before the dorm lights were out.

Day 21 (Part 1): Fromista to Villarmentero de Campos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

IMG_7406

Moon and stars carved into the bathroom door at Albergue Amanecer.

The day started out damp and gloomy. A fine mist was falling, and the sky was gray, as we struggled back out of the door of the inhospitable albergue and trudged back out to the Camino. I don’t know how Jakob slept, but I slept like a rock. That was great, because as it would turn out, I’d need all the energy I could get for the day ahead. Still, I was dragging as the day started. My mood was as dumpy as the weather.

The town still seemed to be asleep, but just up the road was a little cafe/bar that catered to the all night crowd. Most of the patrons were a little rough around the edges, guys who seemed to have just gotten off of the night shift, peppered with a few who had probably been drinking for hours. A pinball machine in the corner had a crowd of guys around it, bantering back and forth, cheering now and then. Several older men were perched at the bar, beers in hand. I mentally pegged them as off-duty truck drivers, and for some reason that cheered me up a little.

There were a few peregrinos already seated, eating the customary breakfast of toast, zumo, and cafe con leche. I took one look at their plates and decided I just couldn’t handle another morning of carb loading. I asked the bartender if she had tortilla, and she shook her head no. Eggs? No. OK, what about chorizo? Si! So I did have toast for breakfast, bolstered with a chewy hunk of sausage for protein, and a hot cocoa, just to get my endorphins going and pull me out of the funk. We sat near the other peregrinos, and ever-friendly Jakob made conversation while I ate and nodded along now and then. They were British women, in their late 50’s or early 60’s. In what I would learn was a pretty usual occurrence, they found my companion to be exceedingly charming, and one giggled like a schoolgirl while they talked.

IMG_7404

Eventually, there was a break in the rain, and the trio of women struggled away with packs and ponchos. I hadn’t quite finished my breakfast, so we sat a few minutes longer, and while we sat, it started to rain harder. Neither of us had the energy to budge until it cleared, so it was about 30 minutes later that we finally got our day started and got out of Fromista. Despite my breakfast and my new friend, I felt grayer than the day.

Before the Camino, walking was a means to get from one place to another. Walking just WAS. There was no emotion associated with it. There was no specific benefit to be gleaned from it. I put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until I reached a destination. That was that. I didn’t know before the Camino, and to be honest, I didn’t really realize while on the Camino, just what joy there was to be had through walking. I couldn’t see how drastically it could impact me, to my very core. This day stands as one of the first days that I got just a glimmer of an idea that putting one foot in front of the next could change EVERYTHING for me, starting with my mood.

As Jakob and I walked, I loosened up just a bit. I still felt emotionally low, but talking with my new friend gave me some mental space. The real turning point in the day was just up the road, about 9km away, at a place called Albergue Amanecer.

In my primary research for the Camino, I’d read that at some point around the Meseta, there was an albergue that had a friendly donkey and a tipi. I’m not sure when it became absolutely necessary for me to visit the albergue with the donkey and the tipi, but at some point, I’d decided that it was one of my Camino “musts.” I was hoping to stay the night in the tipi, should the opportunity present itself. The night before, while drinking wine and eating our grocery store dinner at the albergue, we’d researched the next day’s walk a little, and discovered that we were an hour and a half’s walk from Albergue Amanacer, home of tipi and donkey. I was disappointed to not be able to stay the night, but figured we could at least stop and take a look.

IMG_7418

Geese and a tipi! I never did get to chat with the donkey, though.

By the time we reached the tiny municipality of Villarmentero de Campos, it was already late morning. We were very behind schedule for the day, and the Albergue Amanecer’s front gate was closed. But beyond the gate was visible a large, verdant lawn, outdoor tables, and in the distance, the tipi and several old fashioned wooden structures that reminded me of Romani vardos that had been taken off of their wheels. The entire picture was so wholesome and pleasant that it increased my resolve to get in and explore. Jakob tried the gate, and it opened easily. Once in the front yard, it was obvious that it had been closed to prevent the yard’s various fowl – chickens, ducks, and geese – from wandering out. The birds wandered around and past us as we made our way to the little cafe on the side of the building. Inside, one of the owners made cafe con leches and invited us to hang out while we rested our feet.

As soon as we’d taken a seat outside in the garden, a couple of locals showed up. With them came their dogs, who scampered around, played with each other, chased chickens, and generally just amused the hell out of all of us. At one point, one of the chickens flew up to the roof to escape a dog, and we all clapped in amazement as the chunky bird clumsily cleared the roof’s edge by what seemed like millimeters. As we enjoyed the scene, a young hospitalera told us about how she had recently moved to Spain, soon after walking the Camino for the first time. On her first walk, she’d rescued Camina, one of the young dogs now playing out in the yard in front of us. She felt so at peace on her journey that soon after returning to her own country, she called up the albergue’s owners, asked if they’d hire her on, then packed up her belongings and moved to Spain.

I was aware that it was getting late, but was really enjoying the moment, and didn’t feel like leaving yet. Part of me felt anxious – was I inconveniencing my new friend? Would he need to walk on to meet his schedule? Was it pissing him off that I was wasting time here in this beautiful garden? But when I surreptitiously glanced over and took stock of his attitude, I saw that he was relaxed, just taking in the moment with a zen-like demeanor that made me a little jealous, but mostly just made me relieved. I knew that I was being given a big gift, whether or not Jakob realized it. To be able to move at my own pace without judgement was still a very foreign concept. I decided to sit back and soak in this taste of freedom that had presented itself, here in this perfect little slice of nature.

Day 20: Hontanas to Fromista

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

IMG_7350

It’s a strange thing, waking up alone after so many mornings spent in close company. I didn’t know what to do with myself that morning in Hontanas. Of course, I knew the basics – get up, get dressed, get packed, get the hell out of the albergue before they kick you out at 8am – but I was so used to the little morning intricacies that come from walking with other people. Waking up alone in Burgos hadn’t affected me quite so much as this, probably because there’s such a stark difference between waking up alone in a quiet hotel room, and waking up alone in an albergue full of people. While everyone else bustled along on their normal morning routines, I felt like I was only going through the motions of mine. It didn’t feel real. How do you leave an albergue without friends in tow? I wasn’t sure. In the end, I dragged my heels and waited around for the albergue to empty out. Even though I walked away alone, I didn’t feel quite so lonely with other pilgrims in my general area.

IMG_7358

Leaving Hontanas, I followed a loop in the Camino that led out into the hills, and gave a gorgeous vantage point to enjoy the morning. The day was clear, and I soaked up the tiny details – the crunch of soil under my boots, the dew that still clung to wildflowers along the way. After awhile, I could see that the track I was following ran somewhat parallel to the main road, and would eventually be joining back up with it. Many of the pilgrims from the albergue were hiking alongside the road. Even from rather far away, I could make out the German pilgrim, Jakob, at the back of the pack. I could tell from the hitch in his gait that he was experiencing some pain, either in his hip or his lower back. It was a feeling with which I was deeply accustomed, after throwing out my back a few years earlier. I’d been in almost constant pain for about five years before a mix of chiropractors, physical therapists, and a great personal trainer helped me overcome it. As I watched the German limping away in the distance, I felt a flash of annoyance at his situation, and picked up my pace to catch up with him across the field.

My behavior at that junction was completely out of character, much like plopping down at the table with strangers the night before. I don’t know exactly what happened. Even though we knew each other slightly from dinner the previous evening, I’d spent most of the meal chatting with Nestor and Dena, and only briefly engaged in any conversation with Jakob. I had no attachment to him, and could very easily have watched him limp away and have gone about my day. As I’m writing this, I keep thinking that maybe, looking across the field, I subconsciously recognized him from Burgos, and there was some sort of kinship already brewing on that account. At the time, though, there was only one basic emotion occurring – irritation. For no good reason, I was completely annoyed at this stranger for not taking better care of himself, and I felt an overwhelming need to be bossy and make him do better. Definitely not my proudest mental moment on the Camino!

I caught up with him within a kilometer or two, and didn’t bother to waste time. I merely matched his pace, quizzed him on what hurt, and asked where he was carrying most of the weight in his pack. It felt like someone had taken over my body for a moment – my normal self watched in shock as this new, pushy version of me informed Jakob he was doing it all wrong, told him what he needed to do to stop hurting himself, and promised to teach him some stretches to help keep from seriously injuring himself once we got to the next coffee break. Then I picked my pace back up and walked on, simultaneously horrified at my behavior and strangely confident that I’d done exactly the right thing. It was very weird. What’s weirder is that soon after, Jakob and I all stopped at the same cafe, where he immediately sat down to rearrange his pack weight. We had coffee, chatted politely, I showed him stretches, and he was gracious enough not to tell me off for being a know-it-all. After our break, I again walked on alone. Even though I had no reason to think that I’d forged a lasting relationship in a few moments over coffee, still I relaxed into the knowledge that I’d found a kindred spirit, and was no longer walking completely alone.

The first time this occurred to me in force was just a little up the road, at the ruins of St. Antonio de Abad, a beautiful old monastery. I had been eager to examine the building, but as I got closer, I saw that it was shuttered up tight. However, there was a van parked beside what had been the main gate to the compound, and a little old man sold crude, handcrafted wooden pendants out of the back of the vehicle. As I approached, I felt misapprehension, but the knowledge of my German friend on the road behind me gave me comfort. One or two pilgrims passed by as I examined the woodcrafter’s wares, and I eventually bought a wooden bird to take home.

The day stretched on. We had now entered Palencia. Though I chatted with other pilgrims as we walked, no one’s pace quite matched my own, and I remained mostly solo. I still had it in mind to push on and catch up with Natalie, and to do so, I tried cutting back on my usually numerous coffee breaks, stopping only when I felt it was most necessary. By the time I reached Itero de la Vega in the early afternoon, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. No coffee meant no tortilla, and no tortilla meant that I was famished! Everything in my body screamed for me to stop right here and call it a day.

There weren’t many places to stop and grab a bite, but Bar Tachu was on the main drag and seemed to still have a few people inside, so I entered. It had a rock-and-roll vibe to it, and I imagined that a Friday night at Bar Tachu had to be the experience, indeed. The first thing that I saw upon entering was Jakob, ordering a burger at the bar. I didn’t know how he and walking buddy had managed to pass me, but at some point in the day we had leapfrogged. They looked a lot better than I felt, and I felt another stab of guilt-not-guilt at being bossy that morning. They invited me to come and sit with them, and we all took off our shoes and ate bar grub at the rock-and-roll bar in the middle of nowhere. It was wonderful.

While we ate, the three of us discussed how much time was left in the day, and where we each thought we could make it to before it was time to quit for the afternoon. The general consensus was that it would be prudent to aim for Castrojeriz. We ended up leaving Bar Tachu together, and walking on together until Boadilla del Camino, about 8km away. We talked and laughed most of the way. Jakob’s friend wanted to go to a particular albergue somewhere between Itero de la Vega and Boadilla del Camino, but when we got there, it turned out to already be closed for the season. By the time we reached Boadilla del Camino, it was getting on into the afternoon, and the clouds were looming overhead. The friend announced that he was definitely stopping here for the night, so we shuffled into the first cafe to take off our packs and have one last coffee together while we all made up our minds about lodging for the night.

It was around 3pm, and the sky was gray. It was raining – heavy enough to be annoying, but light enough to not put a major wrench in the day. My feet hurt, but I still had energy. More than that, I still had the drive to catch up with Natalie. The three of us sat at our table, surrounded by food, drinks, and guidebooks. What was the next step? After consulting my maps, I made the call to keep walking. If I could keep up the pace, I could easily be in Fromista by late afternoon – it was only 6 more kilometers. Jakob’s friend decided to stay the night in the municipal albergue, and had figured out how to get there from here. I expected Jakob to also stay behind in Boadilla del Camino, but had a strange moment of pleasant un-surprise when he announced that he was going to walk on to Fromista with me. That might not make sense, exactly, but if you’ve ever picked up the phone without looking at caller ID, and still known exactly who it was, you might know the feeling I’m talking about. It’s more of a feeling of having absolutely no idea something is going to happen, followed by a feeling of absolute certainty that was obviously always going to happen. Maybe I’ll be able to more accurately describe it in some later draft. At the time, I was relieved not to have to walk on alone in the waning light, and pleased that it seemed like I’d found a solid companion.

The rest of the afternoon’s walk was spent swapping stories about our respective cities – New Orleans and Munich, and how, though they were extremely different, they still had some shocking similarities. We talked about Mardi Gras and Oktoberfest, and our favorite local foods, and showed each other pictures of our partners. Jakob was over-the-moon in love with his girlfriend, which made me more comfortable with him, since I also had a boyfriend back home, and wasn’t interested in any of tension and awkwardness I’d seen several times thus far on the Camino. It was becoming clear to me that some people go off on pilgrimage with their eye more on hooking up than on finding themselves, and I didn’t have the mental room for any misunderstandings with men. It was a major relief to not have to fend off advances, or explain my intentions to anyone that I met on the road.

We arrived in Fromista very late in the day, around 5pm or so. It was hours later than I’d typically walked before, and every inch of my body cried defeat. We consulted Jakob’s yellow Camino guide and my Wise Pilgrim app for a suitable albergue, and agreed on Albergue Estrella Del Camino, which turned out to be my least favorite spot to sleep on the entire Camino. It was the least hospitable albergue, by far. We had beds and showers, so that was nice, but we were the only pilgrims in the place, and largely ignored. The only nearby food option was a tiny market, where we bought a mishmash of food and wine to share, and went back to the albergue to eat in the common room.

Before bed, I called my parents to tell them about my travels, and chatted with my dad about the fact that we’d be visiting a Templar castle in a few days. That night, we were the only people in the dorm, and we chose beds like strangers choose seats on a train – leaving a few spots open in between, for privacy’s sake. If only the hospitalera had cared to have us, the experience would have felt luxurious. As it was, we were both happy to leave in the morning.

 

Anna’s Camino: Day 19 – Burgos to Hontanas

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

IMG_7326

There’s some surprisingly awesome graffiti all along the Camino Francés, but this simple piece was one of my favorites.

For awhile after I left Burgos, I didn’t pass a single person, not even a local out for a morning jog. It was early, but not so early that I shouldn’t have seen at least another pilgrim or two on the way out of town, so I worried that perhaps I was headed the wrong way. But the road markers told me I was going in the right direction. My optimistic side told me that maybe there was a reason I was leaving the city alone. If this was the start of Part 2 of my Camino, then perhaps it needed to mirror the start of Part 1. I resolved to enjoy my status as a once-again solitary peregrina.

In stark contrast with earlier days, I had no set goal in mind. As I started out, I resolved to walk as far as I wanted to, and stop when I was ready. I briefly checked over the map to see what was out there, and how much distance there would be between towns, but otherwise I kept my thoughts as light as I wished my backpack could be, and got a move on. The day was crisp and cool, a proper fall day, with just a few pretty clouds in the sky. Taking those two days off had done me good, and my body felt revved up and ready to go. I practically bounced down the trail.

 

As I walked, I enjoyed the little signs and symbols left behind by those who had walked before. There was one amazing work of rock art that reminded me my birthday would soon be here, and I felt flush with pleasure as I realized that I was alive and in a really great place to be enjoying that fact. I also saw another solitary poppy – my second of the trip – a reminder that St. Francis was there with me. Later, I looked back that that photo of that late-season poppy and realized that it was also a sign of a very special day. I couldn’t have known that when the flower first appeared, of course.

The first obstacle of the day was hitting a construction area that had destroyed the path markings and greatly confused the area. It looked like a crew was in the process of building a new road and overpasses, but the site was abandoned. Conflicting signs pointed two different directions for the Camino, and I wandered around for a few minutes, getting my bearings and looking out for notes and signs left behind by other pilgrims to mark the way. Some helpful soul had made a Camino arrow out of larger rocks, something that I’d seen before down the trail. This was the first time that it was amazingly helpful, instead of just one more thing to walk by.

After successfully navigating the construction zone, I put my headphones in, and sang along to The Edgar Winters Band at top volume, since I was pretty sure there wasn’t another soul around for miles. Then I rounded a curve and saw a trio of Spanish teenagers out for a walk, giggling. I froze for a second, then laughed along with them. It was pretty silly, after all. They wished me a Buen Camino as we passed.

It wasn’t long after they disappeared from view that I heard the gunshots. I quickly took off my headphones and froze there, listening.

I’ve lived in New Orleans since I was 17, and though I’ve been lucky to never witness gun violence, it certainly does happen here. I am always cautious of who might have a gun, who looks angry or is raising their voice, who might have a reason to make a bad decision and hurt those around them. To make things a little murkier, I also grew up in rural North Carolina, where everyone has a gun or two (or ten) in the house. Even though I was taught how to safely handle firearms as a child, and then taught to shoot as a teenager, I have never liked guns. I don’t like the look or feel of them. I hate the sound of them. I don’t like seeing them in a hand or on a wall, whether modern or antique. I understand that they’re useful in some cases, but that doesn’t make me dislike them any less. Even so, a lifetime of hearing them go off has given me a certain pragmatism, I guess. My initial fear at the sound of a lone gunshot eased off as I heard a few more. I could tell that whoever was shooting, it was a rifle. It was a gorgeous fall morning, on the weekend, and I could see there were woods just up the hill. I quickly decided that someone must be hunting. There were a few more gunshots, nothing, then a few more as I got closer to the patch of woods. I wasn’t worried about gun violence by that point, but I was worried that someone might mistakenly shoot out of the woods and hit the lone hiker. I was happy to be wearing a bright pink jacket, so at least I’d be visible if I went down.

All at once, a big, shaggy labrador retriever bounded out of the woods, then another, both wet and muddy up to their underbellies. The dogs were soon followed by a group of rugged, handsome men with their rifles broken and dead ducks slung over shoulders and carried on strings. A few more dogs trotted along. One big, golden dog had a duck clamped firmly in his jaws, and practically danced along next to his owner, his eyes so full of joy that I couldn’t help but want to congratulate him for being a good dog. The whole thing looked like a scene out of an Eddie Bauer catalog. I was simultaneously saddened by the carnage and oddly attracted to the conquering heroes. There was a certain pastoral romance to the scene. The men walked down the trail ahead of me for awhile, until they reached their parking lot. I walked on, trying to wrap my head around it all. After all, duck is one of my favorite dishes.

Later in the day, I ran into Terry again (of course). We walked together for maybe an hour, talking about her time in Africa in the Peace Corps. It turned out we both really like Afrobeat music, so she told me about a couple of concerts that she’d been to in years past. Along the way, we picked up a third hiker, Annie (not her actual name) a young woman in her 20’s who had been struggling to keep up with two other pilgrims. The other couple kept up their speed and were out of sight before long. Annie walked on with Terry and me, and when Terry got to Hornillos, her intended destination, Annie and I kept walking together for a nice part of the afternoon. I wish I could remember her real name, because we had a great talk. I really liked her. She was in the process of moving to another country for a job, and was walking the Camino, then going home to pack up the rest of her stuff and make the final trip to her new life. I loved how practical and driven she was, and remember wishing that I had a little touch of that in my scattered life.

IMG_7327IMG_7329IMG_7332IMG_7333IMG_7334IMG_7335IMG_7336IMG_7337IMG_7340IMG_7341

Before long, we got to the little hamlet where Annie’s two friends had told her they’d bed down for the night, so I walked with her to the albergue where they were waiting. They invited me to stay with them, but it didn’t feel quite right. I had the energy to keep going, and I thought of how nice it would be to meet back up with Natalie, if I could only work a little harder at it. So I grabbed an Aquarius and sat with them for awhile, enjoying their albergue’s little garden seating area, and took a look at my maps. There was a town not too much farther down the road: Hontanas. Something about it sounded right to me as I rolled the name over my tongue – Hontanas, like Bananas, like Anna Banana, like me. It was just right. It’s weird thinking about it now, since I certainly didn’t understand it then, but I had a very strong gut feeling about Hontanas. I needed to be there. Mind made up, I traded out my sneakers for Tevas to revive my tired feet, strapped my pack back on, gave my trio of new friends hugs goodbye, and kept on keeping on.

By the time I reached Hontanas, I was absolutely battered. Every step was a monumental effort. Even with sunblock on, all of my exposed skin was a couple of shades darker. It was taking everything I had just to not drop my pack and sleep right where I was. It would be sunset in an hour or so, so I fervently hoped that this was where my gut had been insisting I go. Luckily, the sign that I was supposed to be here was loud and clear. Right there at the edge of town is a Tau, the pilgrim’s cross, the symbol of St. Francis. As soon as I saw it, I knew I’d find whatever it was that I was looking for just down the street.

IMG_7344

The hermitage of St. Bridget, Hontanas.

I don’t remember if I went looking for Albergue El Puntido, or if I found it by accident, but if it was the latter, it was the luckiest of accidents to have. The albergue has a restaurant and bar, ample outdoor seating, and even a little general store for basic needs. I went in and bought a bed from one of the hospitaleras who was manning the bar, and went about getting tidied up from the day. I showered, got my bed set up as quietly as possible, since there was already a guy sleeping on the bottom bunk, and pulled everything out of my bag that I wanted to have laundered. It was a little late in the day, but the hospitalera was still willing to wash things for me.

IMG_7347

Talk about a pilgrim tan!

All of the major things taken care of, it was now time for the best part of my afternoon – a beer. Taking a cue from English Mark, I asked for the largest mug they offered, then took my ice cold treat out to the front of the bar, where a gaggle of pilgrims was already congregating, drinking and talking. As soon as I came out of the front door, I realized that Nestor, whom I’d met in Pamplona, was sitting alone at a little table opposite the door, writing in his journal. We’d only barely met, but there was something so familiar about him that seeing his face made my heart leap. I softly called out hello, not wanting to disturb him too much, then headed over to the larger group of pilgrims. Out of the din of conversation, one thread rang above the rest – a woman, speaking English with a southern accent, her voice dancing with friendly, playful notes. Well, whatdaya know, an American! I took a plunge that is completely out of character with my personality, and just pulled up a chair at her table without asking if I could join. It was a “What the hell, let’s try it!” moment that paid off in a few ways.

IMG_7348

Didn’t take a single photo of El Puntido or my new friends, but I did take this snapshot of the recycling pile out behind the albergue. With the way our night went, I’d say this was about a week’s worth of bottles, lol.

Dena was a charming, vivacious Tennessee native, currently in the process of leading the table of pilgrims in a game of 20 questions. I joined in, and began to make guesses towards the common goal – what did Dena do for a living? Another woman from Nashville, Cherrie, sat to my left. She stayed out of the game, since she and Dena were friends. Between my failed attempts to figure out Dena’s profession, Cherrie and I shared stories about our pets and all of the animals we had met so far on the Camino. The other two people at the table were both guys – Josh (not his real name) an American from California who’d hurt his leg, taxied ahead for a rest day, and was waiting for his parents and uncle to join up the next morning, and Jakob, a German law student. Eventually, we were joined by Alison, a serious, athletic young woman from Colorado, and Nestor, who had packed up his writing and come over to join the fun. We drank beers and talked and laughed until the sun went down. I finally had the courage to ask Nestor why he’d had a black eye when I met him, and it turned out that he’d been mugged for his watch in Barcelona before even starting his pilgrimage. When the group expressed dismay, he lightened up the mood by sharing another disastrous vacation story, about how he’d gone out hiking on a mountain without the proper clothing, and had almost frozen to death after misjudging the terrain. It was evident that Nestor’s special talent was finding the humor in almost any situation, and he kept the table laughing with his cheery retellings of vacation mishaps.

We sat around, soaking in the fellowship (and the beer) until someone mentioned that we should probably let the hospitaleras know if we were going to order dinner or not. I remember feeling total panic – of course I wanted food! What would I do if no one gave me a pilgrim meal? Ack! Chairs were quickly pushed from the table, and one by one we sought out the hospitaleras to obtain sustenance. Jakob and I were the last two at the table with Dena when she finally broke her silence and cleared up the mystery of her job. It had been at least an hour and a half, and way more than 20 questions, but no one had figured it out. I remember finding something so charming and genuine about her laughter as she informed us that she was a real estate agent. To this day I still have no clue how none of us figured that out.

While I had many wonderful meals with fellow peregrinos over the course of my walk through Spain, I can say with absolute certainty that nothing came close to beating dinner in Hontanas. Something brand new began to blossom in me at that table. There were layers to the magic, of course. We were all tired. We’d all been broken down a little by now, and I know that I was in a space where I felt more comfortable and unafraid of being my genuine self. Most of us were solo, except for Dena and Cherrie, who were walking together. Some of the other pilgrims had walked in with others, but no one else was part of a dedicated pair. We were all a little buzzed from afternoon beers, and feeling comfortable after hours of pleasant conversation. By the time we were seated at the albergue’s long farm table, plates of warm, delicious food in front of us, wine flowing, we were all old friends. Alison and I started talking about Game of Thrones, Nestor and Jakob jumped in, and we were off! Dena and I talked about pack weight, and what was and wasn’t necessary in our bags (she couldn’t live without her skincare routine, and I couldn’t live without my PJ pants). We emptied all of the wine, requested another bottle, then eventually Nestor bought us another one. Dinner was long done, the rest of the dining room empty and clean, by the time the last hospitalera on duty came over to suggest that we all go to bed soon. It was after 10pm, about two hours after my typical Camino bedtime. Oops 🙂

On the way up to bed, I realized I’d forgotten about my laundry. I discovered it in a basket at the bottom of the stairs to the dorm rooms, freshly washed, but still wet. I hadn’t realized that there wasn’t a dryer when I’d handed the things over to be laundered. Feeling like a total idiot, I went out to the back patio and draped my clothes across one of the available clothes racks. There was no way it would dry by morning, and I glumly reconciled myself to walking in cold, wet pants the next morning.

Alison and Jakob were staying in my dorm room, and we all finished up our nighttime routines as quietly as possible, while still shooting each other knowing looks and stifling giggles. It was like being part of some secret in-crowd. I went to bed feeling satisfied, and woke up feeling thirsty and slightly hungover. As expected, my pants were cold and clammy off of the clothesline. Still, I felt pretty good. As we were standing around, packing up and getting ready to head out, no one wanted to say goodbye. Josh waited out front of the albergue for his other family members to arrive, and he and I started to talk about funny t-shirts we’d seen. I told him about my favorite t-shirt from back home, and showed him a professional photo I’d had taken in the shirt. He was blown away – it turned out that one of his best friends owned the t-shirt company, Buy Me Brunch, that I’d gotten the shirt from. It was a smaller company, so it was a fun realization for both of us. I shared the photo with him to send to his friend, and soon after, walked on for the day on my own, for my second day as a solo peregrina.

My Camino Playlist (2015 Edition)

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

there-are-two-means-of-refuge-from-the-miseries-of-life-music-cats

Considering all the cats I petted on the Camino, I have to think that Mr. Schweitzer was on to something…

There are many controversial subjects among pilgrims and prospective pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago: raincoat or poncho, backpack weight, shoe type, best bedbug prevention, pants or skirt, and the list goes on. If you’ve ever asked yourself “is XYZ a good idea?” chances are that there are a few forum threads on XYZ, and equal numbers of people saying “Of course!” and “Hell no!” We humans are a difficult bunch.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from walking the Camino started to get drilled in before I’d even boarded the plane to Paris, through reading tons of Camino journals, blog posts, and forum comments. Pretty early on, it became obvious to me that this journey was mine to make, and mine alone. It’s one thing to pay attention to advice, but it’s up to the individual to decide what’s useful and proper in their situation, and what is merely interference (no matter how well-meant). Just because someone else insists that their way is the only right way – especially when they’re knit-picking you about things that aren’t life or death – doesn’t mean they’re right. In fact, it seems to me that when people try to bully you into accepting their inconsequential choices as your own habits, it’s usually out of fear, and the subconscious belief that having others conform to their whims will somehow validate their life path. In other words, don’t believe everything you read. Make your own decisions. Walk your own damn road!

When you know yourself and your proclivities, sometimes there are choices to be made to ensure comfort and happiness that will go against the grain. Have the courage to do things your way (but don’t be too proud to admit when your way kind of sucks in the end). Deciding to do things my way meant that I wore sneakers instead of boots, despite some strong advice against it. I went with my gut, knowing how miserable I get when my feet are hot. It worked out splendidly, and I’ll do it again. I also wore thin, dual-layered socks, rather than two pairs of thick socks – another fantastic choice that I have continued on later hiking trips. I wore leggings instead of pants. I used a poncho and a raincoat, and threw them both away (insert mad laughter here)! Another thing that I knew I’d be doing from the outset, despite the naysayers, is listening to music. I just don’t operate without it.

On the various Camino forums I frequented prior to leaving on my walk, there were some hot debates about music or no music. Some people argued that it was unsafe to walk around with headphones in, blocking out the noise of oncoming traffic. That’s valid enough, and you should always be aware of your surroundings when listening to headphones, no matter where you are. But I found that a stronger contingent of the “no music” crowd argued against it for spiritual reasons, with the idea that doing anything besides walking and listening to the sounds of nature around you would interfere with the pilgrimage. At first glance, this seems like an OK point. However, for some reason, this thought was seldom shared as a kind suggestion, but rather as a bold insistence that if you weren’t walking in silence, you were doing it wrong. Needless to say, that’s one concept that got pitched out of my window early on. While I often did walk with nature as my only soundtrack, and I also spent a lot of time getting to know my Camino friends as we walked, I also had times when my music was the only thing that pulled me through. Singing is one of my preferred forms of healing and meditation, and I had some beautiful moments out there, singing along to Petula Clark and Neko Case, barely managing to put one foot in front of the other. Some days I knew that the notes had helped pull me along to my destination.

I have a Camino playlist on my Spotify account, and it’s been growing since 2015. Before it gets too big for me to remember what the list originally contained, I wanted to write it down here. Aside from this playlist, I also listened some albums that were already on my iPhone, including a Petula Clark greatest hits album, a Spotify playlist that my boyfriend made me when we first started dating (including several songs by my all-time favorite band, Dry the River, who as it turns out, broke up around the same time I walked into Santiago de Compostela *argh*), a couple of albums by Miranda Lambert, a few songs by Fela Kuti, “Aguas de Marco” as performed by Elis Regina, Ween’s White Pepper album, and Chicago II. The following list was my official Camino playlist, though. Most of the songs therein were chosen for their messages, and all were chosen for the fact that I like to sing along. This will give you a little taste of how eclectic my tastes run (though this isn’t the half of it – I also love nerdcore rap, speed metal, Brazilian pop, Afrobeat, 40’s jazz, 60’s pop, 80’s English ska, and bluegrass).

  • Price Tag – Jessie J, B.o.B.
  • America – Simon & Garfunkel
  • Scenic World – Beirut
  • Graduate – Third Eye Blind
  • Free Ride – The Edgar Winter Group
  • Spice Up Your Life – Spice Girls
  • Saint Simon – The Shins
  • Voce Abusou – Maria Cruza
  • Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Shakira, Freshlyground
  • Show Your Colors – Genevieve
  • Go Places – The New Pornographers
  • We Owned the Night – Lady Antebellum
  • Some Days I’m Golden All Night – Josh Rouse
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  • Millennium – Robbie Williams
  • Flowing – 311
  • Dancing Song – Little Comets
  • Cool Change – Little River Band
  • Brave – Sara Bareilles
  • Show Me Love – Robyn
  • Takin’ It to the Streets  – The Doobie Brothers
  • Front the Least – MC Frontalot
  • Gypsy – Shakira

The list has since grown to include a number of other just right (to me, at least) songs that say “this is the way” to me. Thus far, these include:

  • God Gave Rock and Roll to You – Argent
  • Try Everything – Shakira
  • Wise Up – Aimee Mann
  • Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
  • Je Joue De La Guitare – Jean Leloup
  • Kyrie – Mr. Mister
  • Give A Little Bit – Supertramp
  • Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In – The 5th Dimension
  • The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
  • Dreams – The Cranberries
  • Ramble On – Led Zeppelin
  • Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
  • I Go to Extremes – Billy Joel
  • Serenity – Godsmack
  • All This Time – Jonathan Coulton

Anna’s Camino: Day 18 – Burgos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

IMG_7292

When I woke up in Burgos on the second day of my mini “vacation” from the Camino, I very nearly strapped my pack back on and left town. Even though my legs and feet were still hurting, and I wanted to take some R&R, the urge to keep moving was intense. It felt lazy to just sit around for the day, even if I wasn’t exactly going to be sitting. I laid there in bed and did some mental accounting, weighing up the pros and cons of cutting my stay short, and eventually decided to keep the pack where it was for just one more day.

IMG_7275

Instead, I packed up my little travel purse with a few things that I’d need for a day of exploring the city, and headed out to see what there was to see. I knew nothing at all about Burgos, so I just went where I felt on a whim. I found a t-shirt shop that had a Rolling Stones-type logo on a shirt, and texted it to my English friend Mark, with a note to hurry up and get to Burgos so I could buy him a pint for his birthday. He responded that he was taking a break, so I wouldn’t be seeing him in Burgos any time soon. I do wish I’d have gotten to see him just one more time, as he passed away in 2016. I wrote about that here.

My explorations led me to a seminary campus a little ways out of the downtown area. The front gardens were beautifully landscaped, and boasted several beautiful little rose bushes. I spent some time carefully inspecting all of the flowers still in bloom, and taking photos here and there. There was an order to the gardens of Burgos that I found highly pleasing, as well as reminiscent of the royal gardens from Alice in Wonderland.

As I was just wrapping up with taking photos of the flowers, and wondering what I should do next, a tall, handsome man strode down the sidewalk. He had bronze skin and high cheek bones, which made me wonder if he was part Native American. Though he was dressed in street clothes, his haircut and bearing made him look every inch like a military man or undercover cop. He carried nothing – no camera or bags. He wasn’t a tourist, or if he was, he had planned his route ahead of time. He made a beeline back to the city gates, and I didn’t think twice – I waited until he was about a block away, then began to follow him, trying not to look suspicious. That, children, is how I ended up pretending that I was on a secret mission with MI6, and tailed a stranger for half an hour through the streets of Burgos. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and there’s honestly not much of the story to tell, other than the fact that I kept myself amused for far longer than one would expect. I lost him about a block away from the Military Museum of Burgos; he turned a corner and was gone. I amused myself by thinking that he must have been on to me, but eventually I came to the conclusion that perhaps he was just on his way to visit the museum, and made it through the front doors before I came into view.

IMG_7266

IMG_7264

IMG_7267

IMG_7269

IMG_7272

IMG_7284

IMG_7285

Spy adventure over, I wandered around town for the rest of the afternoon. I walked over to the municipal albergue to get a new credencial, since the one I’d brought from home was already full of stamps. At the albergue, I once again struggled with being on my own here. I was acutely jealous of the incoming peregrinos, and briefly considered leaving the hotel and coming to stay at the albergue for the night. I reminded myself that the first part of my Camino was over, and it was now time to pen the second volume. It made me feel slightly better, but I still missed being nestled in with all of the other pilgrims at night. After picking up the credencial, I hiked up the hill to see the castle, but it was closed for the afternoon. I took some photos out over the town, then hiked back down. At some point in the afternoon, I also got a FB message from Terry, who was in town. Once again, I mused that it was completely pointless telling anyone goodbye on the Camino. We’d already said goodbye forever twice now, and here we were, making plans for dinner.

After heading back to the hotel room to clean up and get ready to meet up with Terry, I walked down to the cathedral square. I wanted to get a stamp in my new credencial before the cathedral museum closed, and take some pictures of this really interesting bronze statue of a naked pilgrim sitting on a park bench, just past the center of the square.

As I headed towards the cathedral, another interesting person caught my eye. This man was still somewhat far away, and wasn’t carrying a pack, but something about his gait and posture (plus the fact that he was obviously there to see the cathedral) told me that he was a pilgrim. He shuffled across the square in flip flops, khakis, and a plaid shirt. He carried something in front of him with deference – a credencial? A camera? He didn’t pick up his feet as he walked – I think that might be what first caught my eye, because his steps were awkward, like he might pitch forward at any minute, but the rest of his movements implied confidence and openness, and a body that normally had a much surer stride. It was obvious that his feet were killing him, and maybe that he wasn’t used to wearing flip flops. From a distance, I couldn’t quite make out his face, but from the preppy outfit and what I thought from a distance was graying hair, I pegged him to be older, about 40. It struck me that he had an old/young look to him, like an elf. I watched him shuffle across to a park bench, then my gaze was caught by an older couple and their toddler grandson. By the time I turned back, the man was gone. My mind fell off of him completely, and I went about getting my credencial stamped before Terry showed up. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d just caught my first glimpse of one of the most important people of my Camino, Jakob, my German shepherd. It wasn’t until I was already off of the Camino that I put two and two together, and realized who I’d seen there in the square at Burgos. I’ve been keeping it secret ever since, since he’s always bugging me to hurry up and get to the part where we meet. Surprise! (I guess it’s kind of creepy in retrospect, though…oh well.)

Maybe ten minutes later, Terry came along, and we went off in search of dinner – no easy feat at 6pm in Spain. Most places weren’t open yet, or were open and only serving drinks and tapas. After an hour of wandering around, chatting and looking in doorways, Terry eventually strode into a cafe that was open for drinks only, and pleaded a combination of age and pilgrim status to the manager. He took pity on the poor, starving peregrinas and served us a pilgrim menu with no choices. We sat, he brought us what he had, and we ate. I loved that dinner, as it was always a treat to get to spend time with Terry, and also it tickled both of us, I think, to be given pity, but only so much. Also, as I remember, the dessert was excellent.

I walked Terry back to her hotel (which, unlike mine, was both modern and cushy), and headed back home to pack. I’d sent my laundry out to be washed by the hotel that morning, taking a cue from The Way, and wanted to spend some time cleaning out my pack and repacking it a little better before it was time to hit the hay. On my way home, I stopped in at a bookstore and bought an English copy of the maps-only edition of Brierley’s Camino Frances book. It was a fantastic find, one which I wished I’d known about prior to beginning my Camino. I much preferred the advice of the Wise Pilgrim app to anything I read in the full version of Brierley’s work, but it was handy to have paper maps on hand on occasion.

I don’t remember falling asleep that night, but I do remember waking up an hour early the next morning, willing time to move faster so I could get a move on, already. Eventually I gave up and started walking before sunrise. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road, even if it meant giving up my chance at having chocolate and churros for breakfast.

Click here to read about Day 19.