We took a taxi into Burgos this morning. It felt so strange to be in a car! The landscape flies by in a way I’d never noticed before. Toured the Cathedral, a wonder of high Spanish Gothic and Baroque style. I found it to be more of a museum than a place that inspired me to pray.
Camino de Santiago
I realized that I’ve walked six days in a row, for a total of 126 kilometers! Yesterday, I walked 4 kilometers over my ideal of 20 a day, and my ankle started to hurt. I limped into San Juan de Ortega, an isolated Monastery. We were late getting there, and the “deluxe” accommodations were full. So we stayed in the very rustic Alburgue in the Monastery for 5E. I had wine and a late dinner with my English friends at the only bar in the hamlet and got back to the bunk room just in time for 10:00 lights out. At 2:30 I woke up to a symphony of snoring from all corners of the room. It was a measure of my relaxation these days that I found it funny (for an hour) and then it subsided, and I slept a bit. Then it revved up again between 4:00 and 6:00. The 8 French pilgrims (all my age) sharing the room with Monika and me, got up at 6:30 and the day began. I’m very happy to have taxied into Burgos after 5 kilometers, and to be staying at a hotel.
Living out of a 36 liter pack is both liberating and difficult. I love the freedom of carrying everything on my back. Thanks to Andrea and Lydia , my belongings are really pared down. But with toiletries, rain gear, sleeping bag, and 2 liters of water, it’s still a bit heavy for me day after day.
Everyone packs their backpack with ziplock bags of stuff: toiletries, etc, and one of the cliches of the Camino is being woken at the auberge in the early morning by someone wearing a headlamp rustling plastic bags as they pack their backpack for the next day’s hike.
My backpack contains everything I own for the moment, and I’m constantly impersonating that guy in the cliche: dumping out everything onto the bed and finding whatever I need, and then repacking it for the next day. In the process, I do my share of rustling through ziplock bags.
At Trinity we had a homeless parishioner named Joyce, who came early every week and repacked her bags in the safety and good light of Trinity Hall.
I feel a new sympathy with Joyce now. As a Peregrina, I’m on the move every night, and my pack holds everything I own. And I’m constantly repacking it and editing what’s in it.
Of course I’m privileged to have a bank account, and a home to return to. I’m grateful to have the experience of both traveling light and being deeply rooted at home. And for my mental health. Joyce, tonight I salute you, and pray for you.
I loved my day hanging out in Los Arcos yesterday—experiencing the fabulous church, sitting at the cafe in the town square for lunch and later, dinner with pilgrim friends. Gina, Caroline and I stayed at a cute auberge, and splurged on the more private rooms. They shared,and I had my own room at the top. The ceiling has the original heavy wooden beams. When I went to bed at 10:00 or so, I heard what sounded like a married couple arguing in Spanish. I rolled over, wondered where it could be coming from, next door? How? The building was stone. It didn’t sound like an auberge encounter. The whole place was close for the night. I feel asleep. At about 3 I heard a woman crying out in Spanish and screaming! I was still half asleep, and wondered what the heck?? In the morning I commented to Gina and Caroline about it. Only Gina heard any of it. She thought it was on my floor above her. The Irish woman on my floor heard nothing. As we discussed it on the trail today I realized how strange it was.
The Aubergue was in a building that had to be 300 years old. Who had lived there in all that time? Certainly, many, many people with lives I would never know. Were the voices I heard echoes of another time, of energy held within those walls? I’ll never know. I do know that Spain has an ancient and passionate soul. The voices were not scary. I slept well and felt comfortable in the room. They were human and very real. It was yet another lesson in the mysterious quality of Spain.
Hale and I said our farewells at the Porte d’Espagne at the edge of the old town, and then I kept going up the hill, on the Camino. It was hard to leave him after such a good vacation together. He’s been so supportive of my desire to go on the Camino. My first stop was the auberge at Orisson, 8.4 kilometers up the mountain. The path was pleasantly uphill, through pastures. And silence. The only sound was the tapping of my hiking poles and the bells on the cattle down below. A farmer wearing a beret said “Madame” to my bonjour as I passed by. The road kept climbing and then got seriously steep. I met my first pilgrims as I stopped to rest: a young American guy from MA, a guy who works for Twitter in San Francisco (!) , a Dutch couple going to volunteer at the albergue in Roncevalles for two weeks, an Italian woman and an older Irish lady. Then it got seriously steep. I was very glad to have poles. There was no rush to get to Orisson because I had a reservation, so I enjoyed being in the moment and taking my time. When Orisson came into view it was like a mirage, it was so good to finally get there. I had the rest of the afternoon to read and visit with people on the deck, do our wash, and then we had a lovely communal meal with about 75 pilgrims. Wine, soup, meat, and French Basque cake for dessert. The owner of the Inn asked each of us to stand up and say where we were from. It’s a little challenging to return to the hostel life: bunk beds, no privacy, and the worst is the snoring. I looked out the window at 3 am and saw the most amazing stars.
Today we moved north to the Pyrennes, on our way to St. Jean Pied-de-Port, taking the auto-route mostly. (We’ve had several adventures at the toll booths; our American debit and credit cards don’t work in the toll booth slots, and there isn’t always a way to pay with cash. Hale puts on the hazard lights and presses the call button. Someone cheerfully answers and runs over to make change, but it is nerve-wracking when there are people behind you.)
We stopped at both Decathlon and McDonald’s today. Decathlon is the French equivalent of REI. With the non- stop rainy weather, I wanted to get rain pants for the Camino. Back on the autoroute, we stopped at McDonalds for lunch and a shot of coffee, and Internet. Both places were packed with younger people. McDonald’s was sleeker and more high-tech than at home, and the portions were definitely smaller.
For the past ten days we’ve been marveling at the ancientness of everything we see, the layers of centuries and cultures. Perhaps if that’s your daily environment there’s novelty in the fast, sleek, and anonymity of the big bod and fast food experience.
I’m still figuring out WordPress…just inadvertently erased this morning’s post about the rainy weather.
Here it is May 31st and the sky is a gloomy grey, the wind is blowing, and its been raining on and off for the last 24 hours. The newscasters are saying it’s the coldest Spring since 1816. They interviewed shepherds in the Pyrennes…and it’s snowing! Perhaps this is the first step of the pilgrimage for me: to let go of worrying about it. The weather predictions for St. Jean Pied-de-Port, where I begin walking next week, are for fair skies and rising temperatures. May it be so!
Today we hiked up to the Cite of Corcassonne, home of the Cathars, and an amazing medieval monument. There’s a whole medieval town within the castle, with winding streets, cute squares with cafes, and a cathedral.
Today we took a bus to Marseilles from Aix. Turns out that there’s a bus every 5 minutes between the two cities. I’m becoming reacquainted with the wonders of European public transport. It works. It’s inexpensive. It’s easy. Today the bus driver made change on the bus! The hardest thing about it was finding the Gare de Routiere in the rain.
Marseilles reminded us of a huge Oakland. It’s a port city, with many immigrants. They have an “Alcatraz” tourist site, too, on an island, where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned. Like in 1978, we walked and walked, so I got some good training for the Camino. Its been unseasonably chilly and rainy for late May, so we’ve been playing hide and seek with rain showers. We hung out for an hour at a funky little sidewalk bar waiting for the rain to stop. Turns out it was the inspiration for France’s number 1 hit TV show. So I had to take a photo.
I’m always aware of the largeness of Time here. In California, The oldest buildings are the Missions, from the 18th Century. Here, of course, it goes so much farther back. We went down below the street level in Arles and saw the superstructure built by the Romans to support the Forum. It was a basement the size of a parking garage. Today we visited the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct outside of Avignon. Our hotel is new, in an office park, outside of Aix, and five minutes down the road is a one-way Roman bridge over a stream. I’m going to be crossing lots of those bridges on foot in Spain. One of my hopes for the Camino is to enjoy the time with the deeper appreciation of living in Time.