I Get a Camino Family – Day 24 – Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

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I had cancelled my reservation for the community dinner at the convent the evening before so I could go to the bullfight. In return, I made a reservation for breakfast in the morning.

I arrived with the last wave for breakfast and enjoyed the food and conversation.  When the last hospitalero (I’m not sure if she was a nun or not) came into the breakfast room and saw that I didn’t have breakfast in front of me (it had already been cleared away), she insisted upon getting me breakfast. No amount of Spanish on my part could convince her – I knew she understood what I was saying  – that I had already eaten.

In case you’re wondering, breakfast consisted of cafe con leche, some cellophaned croissants, butter, jam, a juice box, and a sandwich to take on the road. If this sounds spartan, please don’t think so. The breakfast was fine and I was grateful for anything offered with a glad heart. All I really ate in the mornings was coffee and maybe a croissant anyway, so this was more than I usually had before getting on the road.

Understand my predicament, then, when the woman in the convent made me sit and have a second breakfast. Coffee, I would drink, no problem. juice, OK, I’m always thirsty. But I already had the first sandwich tucked into my backpack, knowing in my heart that I would not eat it.

And yet, refusing food, in a convent, would probably upset the mojo of the Camino big time.

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Breakfast number two just for me.

So I ate another croissant, drank more coffee and juice, and tucked sandwich number two next to its brother in my pack and set out.

I soon had to decide which path to take.

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Why all the graffiti?

The guidebook listed two choices on this relentlessly hot day. Option one, recommended,  would take me along the ancient Roman road. Historic, yes, but flat, shadeless, and with only one water stop. The other, the Real Camino Frances (that is, Real as in “Royal,” not as in “not fake”) would follow a road.

I decided that I had had enough of ancient roads, historic bridges, and centuries-old churches for a while. The path along the road, which is called a senda, looked straight and well maintained. I decided to take the way that offered a stop (and a bathroom) about halfway.

I took the not-recommended route.

Dear reader, you expect this to turn out badly, but it turned out well in every way. The road had very few cars. The senda was tree-lined and brush free, making it comfortable to walk.

I walked under a little metal archway, an art installation by the local government. It made me think of all the people whom I had not met and would never meet, but who had thought about me, walking the Camino in their town, and who wanted to show that they were aware of my travel. They wanted to give me a sign that I was not forgotten and was well thought of. They wanted to give me a work of art. I cherished that little archway as I passed under it and said thanks to the artist and the people who approved it.

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IMGP3779 At the halfway point, Bercianos del Real Camino, I ran into a home of one of my saints who I have not mentioned in a while. St. Roque (“row-KAY” in Spanish, “Rocky” to his friends) had an inauspicious little “ermitage” next to the bar where I  stopped for a drink. This bar was one of only two places on the Camino where I thirstily downed two sodas in the middle of the morning.

I was very surprised to find Rocky in this most unexpected place. Once again, this ermitage (hermitage) was not on the map.  St. Christopher was apparently guiding my steps. IMGP3780

The ermitage was locked so I couldn’t go in. It probably would not have been much to see anyway.

No great altar, no gold statues, no ceiling up to heaven. Just a simple hermitage, a place of solitude, introspection, and local devotion. It would be meaningful for me only because these weird encounters with my saints  kept happening.

When I settled in at the municipal albergue in El Burgo Ranero at the end of the day, I met Otto, who was Austrian and ran a ski resort and hotel. I also ran into  M.L, whom you may remember had called the albergue at San Juan de Ortega a “hell hole” and was complaining about the conditions in this town now. I had walked part of that day with a woman named Deana, who was English but lived in Germany. And I was happy to meet up again with  Dave and Rena, the newly weds from my first day on the Camino – we had been passing each other for weeks.

But I was happiest to catch up with my two Spanish friends, Andres and Juan Carlos. Our language skills were terrible – my Spanish, their English – but they were funny, they were sweet and they were helpful.  We were similar ages, and similarly enjoyed being among the last to fall asleep and the last to get out in the morning.  They had both been on the Camino before and were enjoying themselves immensely, each for wildly different reasons. Our conversations struck a chord and we became Camino family members.

I, who had decided to travel solo, discovered that just knowing that friends were up ahead or just behind added pleasure to my journey. I liked knowing that there could be familiar faces at the end of the day to share stories with.

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Carlos, me and Andres at Bercianos del Real Camino.

The (Half-Naked) View from My Office – Day 21 – Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

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I sat with my microwaved lasagna, my bottle of wine, a pack of cherry tomatoes and a peach.  I was in the courtyard of a convent, preparing to catch up on my blogging and journal writing. This would be my “office” for today.

And what a view!

Not rivers and mountaintops, woods and cathedral towers. Not lakes and meandering trails, sunsets and blue skies.

My view was of nuns and half-naked bicycle riders.

Cha-chiiiing!!!

That morning  had been overcast and chilly. The walk along the other side of the canal that I had followed into Fromista had been just as pretty as it had been the previous day. However, there were more pilgrims walking  this morning.

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I walked with Bouwolf from the Netherlands for several kilometers to the town of Villalcazar de Sirga where we stopped for morning cafe. He kept on but I stopped to see the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca on the advice of Carlos and Andres, two of my friends from Fromista .

The outside of the church was not much to look at. In fact, part of it had collapsed years ago in a landslide and had apparently be repaired with just a wall.

But the inside! Ah!

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The church was exquisite and,again, surprising in its golden “over-the-top”-ness.

The shadowed altar was the highlight of the church. A sign stated “No Flash.” I don’t  use a flash (my camera takes pretty good photos without) but another visitor, in the front of the church, did, There was a subtle click and a split second flash of light.  Instantly, the sleeping ticket taker at the entrance of the church woke and let out a loud “NO FLASH!” in English, then went back to sleep!

I donated the one euro to light up the altar so the villanous flasher and I could see what we were missing, and the sparkle was worth the euro.

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An amazing thirteenth century altar shone in dazzling glory, one of the most brilliant I had seen yet.

I eventually continued down the road and reached the town of Carrion de los Condes. Unfortunately, I arrived at the albergue just after the last two spots were taken (by two friends from the Camino, so there were no hard feelings). The hospitalero, however, sent me to another albergue where, he assured me, there would be room.

That’s how I ended up in this courtyard/office, with my wine, my journal, and my view.

The Espiritu Santo convent is a place of great peace and energy. The nuns expertly and efficiently register tired pilgrims, a system developed over centuries of daily service (although now assisted by cell phones, Apple and Google). I picked out a bed nearest the window and lay down, finally seeing one of the famous storks nesting on the top of the chapel.

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In town, I met Michelle from Arizona, and, as we shared stories and cafe, an old local man sat with us. He was quite taken with Michelle and asked her many . . . um . . . interesting questions about her situation. Why was she traveling alone? How could she have children and not be married (divorced, which he didn’t seem to understand)? Did she smoke?

I was in on all of this because my Spanish had gotten good enough to be the translator. I laughed at his inquisitiveness and her answers. Michelle was diplomatic – friendly, trying to not offend yet not encourage –  and she and I spent the rest of the afternoon giggling.

Later, I found a place to buy food AND a place to get my broken glasses repaired (they had fallen apart again two days earlier).

That evening, after showering and shampooing, after hand washing and hanging up clothes to dry, I settled in at a table outside and prepared to work.

I saw friends from the Camino and chatted but mainly I blogged, trying to get photos and stories synced and out to cyberspace. The sun had come out at the end of the day and the wind had died down. A Pilgrim Mass would be starting soon and I hadn’t missed a one since the start of my Camino.

I looked up and saw a nun, dressed in pure white, manipulating the water hose in order to drench the flowers which had missed some of the earlier rain. Her habit was clean and was a sharp contrast from the clothes pilgrims were wearing, including myself.

Behind her was one of the bicyclers, just finished washing his bike for the day, now chatting on a cell phone. Casually dressed for getting wet, he simply wore basketball shorts. As I looked up from my blogging, and sipped some wine, I thought of what a juxtaposition I saw from my “office” window.

The nun and the bare-chested cycler, each unobtrusively working in their own world, connected to each other by the Camino, and neither getting in the other’s way. Neither seeming the least bit out-of-place.

What a trip.

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Tender Hospitaleros and Seven Hours Without Rain – Day 20 – Castrojeriz to Fromista

This would be one of the best days ever for me on the Camino.

I awoke gently from a very sound and comfortable sleep to the distant sound of church bells ringing. Slowly, the bells worked  their way into my consciousness.

Well, not exactly.

The volume slowly (quickly, if you are being awakened) increased, getting louder and louder until the bed shook and it felt as if I was sleeping in the belfry. I had never heard bells ring so loudly. I was definitely awake.

The ringing was soon replaced by the gentle sound of Gregorian Chant, a more peaceful and civilized way to wake pilgrims from a long rest. The hospitaleros had a reason for warning everyone not to get up earlier than 0630 – the bells and chants were their own surprise way of being everyone’s alarm clock, courtesy of loudspeakers in each room.

The hospitaleros were kind and gentle . . .

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. . . and worked hard to put a smile on everyone’s face. Although there was no kitchen for the pilgrims, the hospitaleros had a small kitchenette in which they prepared a much appreciated breakfast of coffee, bread, and butter/jelly, etc. for all the pilgrims to enjoy in preparation for the day’s journey.

The hospitaleros were sad to see me go . . .

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. . . but the knowledge that I was heading for a majorly steep hill, with the promise of lots of rain and mud, was irresistible and I was off.

The climb up to Alto de Mostelares was not as difficult as I thought it would be and the view back into the valley, with Castrojeriz now in the distance, was magnificent (although overcast).

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The path was wide and not rocky and there were many pilgrims around to talk with.

When the wetness ended, the loveliness of the meseta began again. The fields were beautifully green and lush and the flowers were all in bloom, with a delicate explosion of red poppies everywhere – is this the national flower of Spain?

For the rest of the day, the Camino was flat and easy. I walked past the ancient Ermita de San Nicolas, a popular albergue which lacks modern comforts such as electricity and phone service, but makes up for it with its  cloister-like atmosphere and communal meals.

I decided to call it a day in Boadilla del Camino and looked for a place to stay. But the albergue I had my eye on had only upper bunks available by the time I arrived, late lunch time.

I searched my soul, checked my feet, and realized that I still had kilometers left in me. So I downed a bocadillo (sandwich) and a beer at a picnic table and, although many pilgrims were ending their walks, I set off again, in spite of a sudden downpour that had everyone who was eating lunch outside racing for cover.

I found myself walking along the most peaceful stretch of Camino I had walked on. This was the charming Canal de Castilla, a 3-kilometer long straight stretch of Camino .  With no pilgrim in front of me nor behind me, I had the path to myself. The clouds began to break up and patches of baby blue gradually grew larger overhead.

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The rustle of the wind in the trees along the canal, the birds, frogs, and insects that called to each other, announcing their sexy ( I assume) presence, the lack of human voices,  and the exhilarating  realization that I was meandering, taking photos and making recordings of any quiet spot I might not want to forget, made this my best day on the Camino yet.

Just outside Fromista, the canal dipped into a series of locks. A “pilgrim” had a tent pitched next to the canal – he said he was trying to work his way back home to the Czech Republic. We talked about the Camino. I offered him a euro. He accepted.

I strolled into Fromista.

The Iglesias de San Martin in Fromista was consecrated in 1066 and stands as one of the most handsome examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain. The afternoon light gave it a glowing radiance, like a miniature Christmas house lit from inside with a candle. The calm coolness inside was a fitting end for my quiet day on the Camino.

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The gentleman who was manning the ticket booth for the church was the parish priest, covering for the real ticket taker, who was on his lunch break. The Priest told me that this church was only one of seven for which he was responsible. Busy man. He reverently blessed my rosary.

I was able to Skype and phone my family and had a great meal of “black rice.” I ran into some familiar faces from the Camino. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of these people would become my dearest Camino family in the days and weeks to come.

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The Saints Sneak Up On Me – Burgos

I did sleep until 0900, maybe later.

I awoke, quietly, on my own terms. No hustle of people getting up, dressing, packing, hoping to be first out the door. I awoke slowly, peacefully, without an ache or pain in my body. Fully rested.

I went to breakfast and drank a pitcher of orange juice in 3 minutes, then asked for another. Delicious. I ate some of everything being offered.

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Yet, there were so many things I wanted to do that day. I forced myself to start moving.

Leaving the hotel with a bag of everything fabric I had, I found the laundry in town that would wash, dry, fold, and deliver my laundry to the hotel. I found a Vodaphone store and put minutes on my phone, finally.

I wanted to see all the great sights. I wanted to see the world-famous Cathedral.

I also wanted to see the Monasterio de Las Huelgas Reales. This monastery was founded in 1187 by royalty, many of whom were crowned and later buried there. But the big draw is that the monastery has a statue of Santiago, St. James, with a moving arm. This arm was used to bestow knighthoods on lucky recipients.  The draw of classic cloister architecture, a statue with a moving arm,  and the beauty of a bright, dry day was an irresistible combination and I was off.

As I followed my map, I ran into several friends from the Camino and I spent time with them. I admired the many statues of El Cid, a favorite son of the city.

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The gardens along the river were lovely and the new Museum of Human Evolution was very enticing.

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Should I visit? Do I have time? Money? Each new sight drew me away from my goal of finding the monastery as I wandered happily around Burgos.

I finally decided to get back on track and find that monastery. I eventually saw what I was looking for across the river –  an old building, small, unassuming, faced by trees and, what else, a parking lot.

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I approached, read the plaque on the wall, and came to a shocking halt, unable to believe what my eyes were telling me.

I had not found the monastery founded by Alfonso VIII and his peers, with a statue that could bestow knighthoods.

I had, instead, stumbled upon a convent founded by my traveling companion, Saint Theresa. In fact, the last convent founded by Saint Theresa before her death in 1582.  My companion, Big Tess, who had been guiding my steps from day one of my Camino, had led me through the city, admiring the sights, and taken  me straight to her house.

I checked my map, and sure enough, this convent wasn’t listed. In other words, if I had been looking for it, I would not have been able to find it.

I realized that I had been so caught up in myself, my journey, my well-being and comfort, that I had forgotten to say “thank you” to my true traveling companions, my Saints – Big Tess, who had given me the gumption to walk away from people who made me feel bad about myself, St. Julian who had led me  to the great hotel room, St. Christopher, who put me on the right bus, St Roque, who kept my feet in great shape, and St. Philip N, who saw that I always had a reason for a smile on my face.

I spent quite a bit of time sitting  in the parking lot, resting and thinking. I watched as a young woman carrying a suitcase walked up and rang the bell of the convent. A woman opened the door and gave a warm, “Ah, we’ve been expecting you! Welcome!” to the new arrival. I felt happy for all parties involved.

I gave up my plans to look for the famous monastery with the statue with the moving arm. I had found a more important sight.

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