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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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: Currahee

I’ve been finding myself a little more emotional than usual lately. I’m overtired from working long hours, and many things (maybe too many) about my life are feeling rocky, unsure. But part of the emotionality is stemming from something very simple – we’re 13 days out from the day my friend Jakob gets married. And though I’m overjoyed for him to have found the woman of his dreams, to have everything that he’s hoped for come to fruition, there are some complex emotions tied up in the thought of missing the wedding of this man who essentially became my brother and my other half on the Camino.

It’s difficult to adequately put into words what it feels to form a bond with someone that you barely know, under circumstances you can barely understand. When those circumstances happened on the other side of the world, and sometimes seem like a dream, that also takes its weird toll on your sanity. But when all of the parts of the experience combine to create something that shakes your life to its core, that too can leave some scars. The bottom line is that I found love on the other side of the world, with a few souls that were met quite by random. People that I know will be in my life from this day forward. People who, in no time at all, came to mean the world to me. And my heart hurts to know I can’t be there for the wedding of someone I barely know, but know I’d jump in front of a bus for. It’s a strange time to be me (but then, when is it not)?

What’s really weird is going back through the photos from the Camino, trying to piece together just when it was that Jakob and I became friends. And there, in the photos, I see that it was the 2nd day of walking together. In memory, I thought that maybe it was a week of getting to know each other. In the real world, a week would be crazy fast. I don’t make friends easily. It takes me months to trust someone enough to be friends, never mind comrades.* But time is different when you’re walking to Santiago de Compostela, and there, in a photograph of a perfect sandwich, lies a memory of one silly conversation about Band of Brothers, and one foolhardy agreement to keep on walking that afternoon across the longest stretch of the Meseta. By the end, we were bonded in a way in which only the road is capable.

Maybe it’s only in my head, or my heart. And there are a hundred other small memories of our walk, and of when our fellowship was rounded out by our third brother, David. But there was a deep magic in our shared footsteps, a closeness that Jakob would probably attribute to St. James, and David to something rational, like exhaustion and hormonal fluctuations. I think I’ll just stick with love.

So to both of my brothers from another mother, if you’re reading this, I love you (even when you wake me up eating Oreos in the middle of the night, or let a cow attack me, or laugh at me for getting the hottest Pimento de Padrón and feeling like my face is going to melt off at the dinner table). I might not be much of a world traveler at the moment, but whenever you need me, whatever I can do, you have the promise of my sword. And to Jakob, who is about to undertake another wonderful journey with its own set of challenges, keep running up that hill. I’ll be shouting “Currahee!” for you on this side of the pond. ❤

*NB: According to Etymology.com, the term comrade dates back to the late 16th century, and is derived from the Middle French term camarade, relating to the Spanish term camarada. While comrade now means “a friend or trusted companion, esp. one with whom you have been involved in difficult or dangerous activities, or another soldier in a soldier’s group” (via the Cambridge Dictionary), I find it particularly telling that camarada meant just “chamber mate.” Given the close quarters shared by peregrinos at night, as well as the difficult activities undertaken together during the day, both old and new terms fit very well.

Anna’s Camino: Day 17 – 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.

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One of my favorite interior details from The Cathedral of St. Mary of Burgos.

It was still dark the next morning when Natalie, Ruth, and I left the albergue to begin the day’s trek. We started the day with the routine pitiful breakfast that was the norm across the length of the Camino – toast, juice, coffee – and between the vague irritation from not enough protein, the biting cold morning, and being generally exhausted, starting the day’s walk was quite difficult. There was also the not-so-little issue that this would be my last day with Natalie for some time. I greedily soaked up every second of our walk together, endeavoring to regulate my pace so I could cling to her side for the few hours it took to walk from tiny hamlet of Cardenuela Riopico to the big city of Burgos.

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Breakfast. The ham and cheese in the background are from Natalie’s pack – bringing your own protein is absolutely essential if you want to fuel your body properly first thing.

No matter which way one enters any large city, you’ll still find yourself humping it through the ‘burbs for quite some time before reaching city center. In Burgos, it’s no different. The “industrial area” – office parks, some scrapyard areas, a place that felt like the disused back lot of a small airport – that you’d drive through in less than five minutes takes more than an hour to conquer on foot. It’s not pretty, it gets monotonous, but if pilgrimage is life in a microcosm, I don’t think I need to spell out for you why it might be helpful to endure the boring, ugly bits. That’s up to the individual, though – every pilgrim walks her own road. My lessons are not yours. I found a strange joy, even in the not-so-great stretches, something I think has its roots in a childhood spent playing on the railroad tracks and in abandoned houses. I’ve always loved the overgrown and forgotten, the underdog places. They suit my soul.

Two days before, at dinner with Natalie and Terry in Villafranca Montes de Oca, we had spent some time discussing the pros and cons of the route into Burgos. Terry had very strong views on the subject, having done it before. She’d found the route spiritually deflating on her last trip, and advised against walking there. That’s part of why she’d taken the bus from Villafranca. Natalie, who’d also walked this portion of the route before, had heard that there was an alternate way to get into Burgos that was much prettier, and had resolved to find it. I was happy to tag along on the search. As it turns out, the way was quite interesting, in turns ugly and beautiful. There were still industrial areas to slog through, but then the route took us through a beautiful natural area that turned into a city park, first with nature trails, then bike trails and foot paths.

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The park route into Burgos.

All morning long, we saw Ruth, then lost her, then saw her again. Finally, about 30 minutes before reaching city center, Natalie and I plopped down on a park bench to eat a snack, and Ruth came along just as we were finishing up. It was nice to join up and walk the final stretch together; I took the opportunity to ask Ruth about the many hiking badges on her backpack. She had at least 10 patches, maybe more, denoting the various places she’d hiked. I loved the idea, and still do.

Our path through the park followed a small river, and as we got further into town, there were more and more foot bridges crossing the river. We could have crossed a bridge and left the park at any time, but kept moving along, scanning the sky for the spires of Burgos Cathedral. Twice we stopped to ask directions, but both locals told us to keep walking, not to cross any bridges yet. The last gentleman we talked to was so emphatic that we HAD to stay in the park for awhile, so we were careful not to stray. At first it seemed like he’d been afraid we’d get lost, but once we got into town proper, we realized that he’d had a different purpose in mind. Though we could have followed the river on either side of the city, entering city center from the path we were currently on gave us an absolutely breathtaking view of the gates of the old town, the spires of the cathedral just beyond. We’d lucked into asking a proud local for directions, and he pointed us in the precise direction required to fall in love with the city the way he had. It was the first time, but not the last, that I’d find myself close to tears over the sheer beauty of a place. I don’t think that I could have had quite the same experience had I not walked so far to get there. It was a triumph unlike anything I’d yet felt on the Camino, thus in my life.

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Me and my banana, about to storm the front gate of Burgos. I’m not sure why I look so serious. The banana certainly looks to be having a lovely time of things.

We arrived early enough in the day for the other two ladies to get to tour the cathedral and grab food before leaving town. Since I was checking into a hotel, I offered my room for baggage storage, so everyone could change shoes and walk around Burgos without packs. The Meson del Cid is a fine, old hotel that fit my needs. It wasn’t the most modern or cushy, but I had my own room with a giant bed, no snoring neighbors, and a fabulous bathroom all to myself. Even better, the hotel is directly beside the cathedral, which is situated in the city’s main square, so I was right in the middle of all the action. When your feet and legs are screaming with every step, not having to walk too far is worth its weight in comfortable walking shoes. We all took a second to admire the generous accommodations, then headed out to take a peek at the town.

First stop was a walk around the cathedral and surrounding neighborhood, where we happened across the most adorable little cafe any of us had yet seen. It was a tea/cocktail shop that was decorated in a very feminine motif, pastels and floral patterns, with beautifully appointed china. Even the barista had a sweet smile and very welcoming demeanor, fitting the overall spirit of the place; the entire experience was enchanting. They also had one of the best slices of tortilla of my entire Camino, with a thin layer of ham baked in between a thick layer of egg/potato, and a thinner layer of egg/cheese.

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After a cafe con leche and a little snack, it was time to tackle the cathedral. There are no words to properly explain the awe I experienced, so I’ll just give you photos…

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I quickly lost the other two peregrinas, as I soaked in every tiny detail and read every available scrap of info that I could find. By the time I finished the self-guided tour through the church, Natalie and Ruth were long-finished and sitting, waiting for me near the exit. I could tell they were a little impatient to get back on the road again, but they were also both so forgiving and kind in their manner that I felt guilty and forgave myself in almost the same moment. We went in search of kebabs, as one of the two ladies had heard there was a really good kebab shop right around the cathedral. The one that we found was OK, but nothing to write home about. After lunch, it was time for them to walk on. It was already mid-afternoon, and they had a long walk to get out of the city. We went back to my room to get their bags and have an emotional goodbye. I promised to catch back up with Natalie in a day or two. Maybe I believed at the time that that was a possibility; I don’t know.

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That night after dark, I walked around the city center, exploring on my own for the first time. One thing that struck me about Burgos, and many of the smaller towns I walked through that had even a smidgen of night life at town center, was how families were out together en masse. In a U.S. city at night, you’ll see couples out together, or maybe groups of people if they’re headed out to eat or to a club. You might even see a family or two, or a single mom/dad with kid or kids. And the same was true here, of course – except that there were many children present, and kids were normally accompanied by both parents, or two grandparents, or parents AND grandparents. The kids were always dressed so nicely, and it was rare to see any little ones acting up (at least in public). The whole scene was completely alien to me, but heartwarming, too.

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The fountain in the square outside of the Meson del Cid.

I went looking for a place to eat dinner, but felt so out of my element without a friend. I wandered down a bustling strip and through a couple of squares, admiring various menus and shyly standing around, getting a feel for how fancy the establishments might be. Several restaurants had ads for chocolate and churros, which I craved to try. In the end, though, I was just too out of my element to force myself into dining alone in a foreign language. I walked around until I found a little grocery store that was still open, and bought a selection of junk food to eat in my hotel room. I took a long, luxurious bath, then curled up in bed and ate chips and a chocolate bar, letting the crumbs fall as they pleased with no one there to judge me.

It felt strange to be so solitary. For the first time in a long time, being alone, something that I enjoyed in my “real life” back at home, filled me with an acute sense of loneliness. Looking back on that memory brings to mind the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” I was hurting on the inside that night. I never did get to try chocolate and churros. I also didn’t sleep at a hotel again on my Camino, and even now, I tend to stay in hostels, where I can meet new people. Seventeen days in, and my way of encountering the world was changing.

Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 4) – Reaching Cardeñuela Riopico

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.

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By the time Cardeñuela Riopico came into view, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. As I shuffled down the main street, I began to feel the melancholy seeping in through my aching spots. I’d managed to push it away all day, but now it was obvious I’d gone as far as I could, both mentally and physically. Whether or not I found the only friend I had left in this new Camino world, this would be my stopping point for the day.

The town was pretty small, and there were only three options for albergues, but I had no clue which one Natalie had chosen. By now it was bordering on late afternoon, and I wasn’t even sure if she had stopped in this town. I had no idea how far ahead of me she’d been. What if her plans had changed, and she’d called it quits in Atapuerca? What if she’d felt energized, and kept walking to Burgos? I knew that no matter what, I was done walking until tomorrow. My legs were in rough shape. I told myself that I would be OK if I couldn’t find my friend, but I didn’t believe it. I wasn’t ready to give her up just yet.

 

I walked all the way through town, and saw a few faces, but not one pilgrim. It occurred to me that perhaps Natalie had tried to send me a Facebook message with her location, so I stopped in at a local bar to use the wifi. Being my normal awkward self, I didn’t feel comfortable asking the bartender for the wifi password, so I ordered a beer and tried not to look conspicuous while glancing around for a sign with wifi password. Finally the bartender took pity on me and asked if I needed help. I took my chance, and in broken Spanish explained that I was looking for my friend, a girl wearing orange pants. Never had I been so happy that my high school Spanish teacher had taught us how to go clothes shopping en español. The bartender said she hadn’t seen anyone in orange pants, but picked up the phone and started to call around town for me to see if anyone else had. After a couple of calls, she let out a hoot – the girl in the orange pants had been spotted, and was staying at the first albergue in town! Now that I’m retelling this story, I realize that since I’ve returned from the Camino and started my new career in hospitality, I’ve held this woman in mind as a paragon of kindness and hospitality. She really saved me that night, just by making a few phone calls, even though she didn’t have to. Wherever she is now, I wish her many blessings, across the miles.

Shoelaces tightened, pack back on, poles in hands, feet one in front of the other, back through town, every step its own form of torture. Natalie was waiting at the front door for me, clearly relieved that I’d showed up in one piece, long overdue. She helped me get checked in with the hospitalera, who showed me my bunk and instructed me on the rules for where to take off shoes and what doors to keep locked, etc. The water wasn’t that hot in the bathrooms, but the shower pressure was good, the rooms were well-appointed, and even better, the albergue was nearly deserted. Ruth (the Anglican priest that had been in our room the night before) was here, and turned out to be a sweet, friendly person. We chatted for awhile, did laundry and hung it out on the line in the waning sunlight, then Nat and I went to see if the town church was open. It wasn’t, but we wandered around anyway, and I took some of my favorite photos of the entire trip. The sunlight was just so beautiful that afternoon. It put a cap on things. I knew it was our last day together, but instead of feeling sad or angry or lonely, I started to get excited for what was to come.

 

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Natalie

There were only four of us in attendance at dinner that evening: Natalie, myself, Ruth, and a fourth person whom I can’t seem to place. I had so much fun asking Ruth questions. I’d never met a female Christian religious leader. I’d met women with strong religious beliefs, and I’d met preacher’s wives, and I’m sure I must have seen a nun or two in passing, but I’ve never met a female preacher, and until then, definitely never a female priest. I had so many questions. Of course, since she was British, I also had all sorts of TV questions about the obvious things – like, had she watched Vicar of Dibley or Father Brown, for instance (the answer was yes to both, of course). I regret not having more time to get to know Ruth. It must be difficult to go on vacation as a spiritual servant, especially on something as personal as a pilgrimage. How can you ever really escape your job when the world is your work? I wish I could have asked her how she felt about that, and whether it was a burden or a joy, or a little of both.

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Self portrait with fluffy eyebrows.

After dinner, I enjoyed luxuriating in the albergue bar in my most fetching ensemble of elephant pajamas, neon green compression socks, and hiking sandals, drinking pacharan with Natalie and Ruth while we chatted and caught up on our online posts via cell phone. We discussed our plans for the next day, and somewhere in there, I made my announcement.

I’d spent the entire day feeling anxious and frightened that my only walking companion would leave me, when in actuality, it was the opposite. That afternoon, it came to me that I would be the one doing the leaving – at least metaphorically speaking. I’d decided to take time off in Burgos. We’d been walking for over two weeks now, and I knew it was time for a real break, an actual bed in a private room, time for my legs to recover, and some time to explore a city I’d heard was quite beautiful.

As I was describing my intention, the tiny, scared part of me hoped that Natalie would want to stay, but the braver part of me knew that it was time to part ways. She had somewhere to be, even if I didn’t yet know the full story. Our time was up for now. Though this meant that the Claire/Natalie/Anna sisterhood was officially dissolved, the timing felt right. So I skimmed through the various Burgos hotels on the Wise Pilgrim app – truly indispensable as it is – and stumbled across Meson Del Cid, where I could get a private room for around 50 euros a night. That was far more expensive than any albergue, but also much more luxurious than anything I’d get for that price in the U.S.

Visions of bubble baths danced through my dreams that night. Burgos or bust!

Click here to read about Day 17.

Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 3) – San Juan de Ortega to Cardeñuela Riopico

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.

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Before leaving the States, when I was still just doing my own lazy version of researching the Camino Frances, I had discovered that there were quite a few labyrinths along the way. One of my goals was to visit as many as possible, so it probably won’t surprise you to find that I managed to miss all of them but two, both of which I found by serendipity alone on Day 16.

Natalie and I walked along in the woods outside of San Juan de Ortega, sharing anecdotes as we walked down the trail. I remember that she was telling me a story she had heard long ago in the Yukon, and I was completely engrossed – so much so that we were nearly on top of the bull before either of us saw him. There in the woods, in what we believed to be the middle of nowhere, was a GIGANTIC bull – nose ring and all – having a quiet snack in the undergrowth beneath the trees. It was a complete shock. We’d seen plenty of animals so far along the Camino, but had never run into anything this large without the comfort of a fence between us and it. I don’t know Natalie’s experience with cows, but I was terrified for a moment. We both stopped talking, and walked around the creature with great care. I expected him to run us down at any moment, but he was having a lovely afternoon in the woods, doing his own thing. He barely even registered our presence.

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Soon, we were out of the woods, into a light-flooded clearing. We could see for miles over the rolling hills. The sky was so blue, the grass so green, the trail so inviting…and there were cows everywhere. This portion of the Camino wound directly through the pasture land, no fences, just a well-worn dirt path, and lazy cattle lounging about, enjoying a beautiful day. My original terror at seeing the bull was pushed aside, overwhelmed by a sense of wonder. I love animals, and cows are no exception. It felt a unique privilege to get to share space with them. I’d change my mind about cows a couple of weeks later, but for today, I was in heaven.

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The first labyrinth was a tiny thing, up on a rise. There was already a pilgrim there, walking the old spiral, as we approached. I waited until he’d finished to take my own place there, and as I followed the radiating path, Natalie walked on along the Camino. I felt a twinge of panic as I watched her figure retreat into the distance, but forced myself to do the thing I needed to do, rather than follow my fear. It’s funny how you can learn and relearn a lesson. Mine has been – and continues to be – the art of letting go. This time I got it right. So many other times I fall short of the prize.

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Labyrinth walk completed, I finally walked on. The old town of Agés wasn’t too far down the road, and I was sure that I’d find Natalie in a cafe there, just like before. Even though there had been plenty of pilgrims on the road during the course of the afternoon, Agés seemed curiously empty. The first place I thought to stop for a coffee was shuttered tight. I consoled myself with the fact that it was getting on into the afternoon, and it must be siesta by now, but the fact is, the town was dead. What used to be a bustling place in the Middle Ages had failed. There were less than a hundred inhabitants, many of them elderly.

With the failing Spanish economy, the tiny towns all across the country are dying. The younger population move away to the cities for work, and fun, and culture, leaving their tiny towns behind to fall into ruin. I felt a strong affinity with Agés, because it has much in common with my tiny hometown in rural North Carolina. I, too, had betrayed my home for the promise of a better life – a life that allows me the luxury of traveling to other countries. How could I ever begrudge the young of a tiny, dying town their need to see a bigger world? How could I see the similarities between my tiny hometown and this lovely place, and still feel no tug to hurry back to the place I’d left behind to die in my absence?

The town is pretty small, so I walked up and down the main strip, made a detour to the town church (locked and looking somewhat decrepit), and finally crossed someone’s backyard to head back to the only cafe that seemed to be open. There were a couple of pilgrims sitting outside, one of whom was a younger guy from California – let’s call him Dude – that I’d run into before, and was not excited to see again. He wasn’t a bad kid, just not too bright, and not at all shy about saying whatever came to mind. I’d overheard Dude criticizing various Spanish customs in that special, uncultured, particularly demeaning way that only we Americans seem to grasp with aplomb. I had no wish to be associated with that kind of behavior. If I’m going to be a stupid tourist, let me do it on my own steam, thanks. Today he was being generally loud and dumb near the front door, so I ducked inside to see if there was a spot out of hearing range at the bar.

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The bar was empty, except for the required contingent of elderly local farmers. The bartender/owner quickly came over, and we discussed food and drink options in pigeon Spanish and a smattering of sign language. He very sweetly asked me where I was from, where I was headed, and what I liked the most to eat, and when he found out that I was from New Orleans, he was all smiles – he’d visited my city before. I ordered my old standby – a beer and a slice of tortilla, which he happily informed me was freshly cooked. When my plate was delivered, I was surprised to find he’d included a heaping helping of something entirely new to me – Pimentos de Padrón. He insisted I eat the first gorgeously blistered Padrón pepper in front of him, then laughed as I practically melted in delight. Move over, tortilla – my new favorite dish had arrived!

While I was eating, Dude and his walking buddy came in to get another drink and generally annoy everyone in the room. It felt like something out of an old western; had I not been annoyed with him, myself, I would have laughed at how obvious all of the old locals were being about staring daggers at this total outsider. The radio was on, and tension was broken when The 5th Dimension came on, singing “Aquarius,” from Hair. By then, Dude, the other pilgrim guy, and I were all drinking cans of Aquarius, the ubiquitous sports beverage of the Camino. I couldn’t help but giggle at the coincidence. Dude started to sing along and do a little routine with his drink can. The innocence of the scene diffused the situation, and soon after, both pilgrim guys sauntered off, leaving the locals and me in peace. A couple of weeks later, I’d hear that Dude drank an entire water bottle full of unfiltered water he’d gathered from a stream somewhere, and had to spend a couple of days in hospital. Gossip travels on the Camino, and I heard the story a few times, from different people. No one seemed too surprised.

By the time I left the cafe, it was seriously late – going on 2pm, at least. Any other day, it would have been time to start wrapping things up and finding a place to bed down for the night, but I had plans to keep. Just outside of the bar, there was a sweet little cat napping on the sidewalk, so I bent down to pet him. When I straightened back up, who should I see but Terry, walking out of a door just a few feet down the block. It was a seriously wonderful surprise, since that morning it had been pretty obvious from our varied plans that our paths wouldn’t cross again this Camino. I hurried over to give her a hug, and before I knew it, I was tagging along to try to find an artist that she remembered from her last trip here. We wandered around, looking for this particular house she remembered, where an old man made perfect little miniatures of real architecture from the town.

As it turns out, we didn’t find the artist in question, but as we were walking down a particular street for the second time, in retrospect most likely looking completely lost, a door opened down the way. A wizened old woman walked out, pointed our way, and started to yell. At first, I thought she might be angry, but then I realized she was just slightly deaf and asking us a question. Terry spoke enough Spanish to understand, and yelled back an answer. The lady ducked back into her little house, then came out a minute later carrying a gigantic iron key – the thing was at least as long as my forearm. She started off down the road, beckoning us to follow her. Terry filled me in: the woman was the guardian of the town’s church key, and had offered to give us a tour. We followed along, feeling so blessed to be offered the opportunity to glimpse the interior of the town’s precious worship spot. It was plain, but beautiful in its stark interior.

Once we stepped inside the building, our guide started to chatter along happily. Her presence somehow brought the holy space to life, giving it color I wouldn’t have seen without her. She knew that we couldn’t understand much Spanish, and she didn’t speak any English, but that didn’t stop her from telling us everything there was to say about the church. Somehow, between Terry and I, we picked up enough words to fill each other in on the basics. Our guide had been baptized here, and married here, as had her children. She showed us the timeworn baptismal font, and a beautiful figure of the Virgin Mary. We left donations with her for the church’s upkeep, and she gave us each a blessing, hugging both of us and kissing our cheeks. It was a moment of such shining kindness. It happened beyond words, and escapes my explanation, even now. I felt like a real pilgrim in that moment.

When I left Terry behind in Agés, I refused to say goodbye. I knew that it was the last time I’d see her, but I’d also known that earlier in the morning, when we’d said goodbye the last time. So really, what could I know? Instead, I told her, “See you later.” All the better, since I’d actually see her a couple more times!

I’d heard that I should spend some serious time in Atapuerca, the famous archaeological site just outside of Agés. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s the home of some of the earliest human remains currently known. Before leaving for the Camino, I’d been positive that I’d spend a day there, so of course I didn’t spend any time there whatsoever. I walked through the town and right back out, even though I saw that several pilgrims I’d met over the last few days were sitting out in front of an albergue, boots kicked off, having the first lovely beers of the afternoon. I still had about 6km left, which meant more than an hour and a half of trudging along, maybe even two hours, given my current pace. I mentally kicked my own ass as I walked out of town. I didn’t want to walk any farther, so why was I pushing myself to keep up with this schedule?

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The walk over the hill at Atapuerca was grueling and a little creepy. The entire path was strewn with large rocks, making every step a chore. I spent a majority of the time I walked over the hill thinking about the many ways I could get hurt, and mentally rehearsing how I’d get in contact with emergency services if and when I broke a leg. After leaving town, I didn’t see another person for quite some time, and it seemed likely that I might not meet another pilgrim. Even so, I finally did, just around the time I saw my second labyrinth of the day.

The night before, in Villafranca Montes de Oca, I’d briefly run into a man and woman traveling together. In their early to mid-30’s, they had a strange intensity, moving as a solemn singular unit, not exactly inviting of outside interaction. Here they were again, despite not having seen them at all today. I was so relieved to see new faces that I instinctively just started babbling along at them, not really considering if either of them spoke English. Luckily, they both did. They were kind enough to walk with me for awhile, brightening my afternoon and giving me a love story to think on for years now. I wish I could remember their names – maybe Terry can remind me, because I know that she met them once, too – but we’ll call them Raul and Minka.

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Raul was a Spaniard, and Minka was from Eastern Europe, I think the Czech Republic. They’d met a year before, on the Camino. She spoke no English or Spanish, and he didn’t speak Czech. He said that he saw her from across the room, and fell for her instantly. He endeavored to speak to her each time they saw each other, and though she thought he was weird at first, she began to see the charm in the situation. Eventually they figured out how to communicate, and despite the language barrier, fell in love. She went back home to her country and started learning Spanish (and a smattering of English, evidently, since she told me some of their story while they walked, though he was the talker of the duo). He went back home and started learning Czech. He visited her, and she visited him. Even though it was difficult trying to figure out living situations, they were both sure that this was the right choice, that they’d found The One. They got married, and now they were on a second Camino to celebrate their honeymoon. Unfortunately, they were short on money, and only had the budget to stay at albergues donativo (donation-based hostels), which were few and far-between. They would be walking all the way to Burgos today, even if it meant walking in the dark. Eventually we parted ways, since they needed to pick up speed in order to reach the city.

After the hill at Atapuerca, there was another nearly abandoned town, Villalval, where I was shocked to see an abandoned church in ruins. I stopped and investigated the church for some time, walking all over the church grounds, attempting to look in windows, and wishing that I had the guts to try to break in. In case you didn’t know this about me, I’m a total goody-two-shoes, not because I want to be, as much as because I prefer to avoid unnecessary conflict. So no breaking in, just some photos, and then on my way again. Towards the edge of this tiny village, I started to feel someone watching me. I’m sure that more than one dark window had a lonely little old lady behind it, and I was marginally more exciting than whatever was on TV that afternoon. Still, I thought I heard someone call my name once, just one faint, “Anna!” floating across the rooftops. My imagination ran wild. Needless to say, the last couple of kilometers were completed at a trot.

Click here to read about Day 16 (Part 4).