These are posts in which I relate the story of my walk on the Camino de Santiago with my friends Bill and Derrick in September/October 2019.
I woke up early on the day after my hardest day on the Camino because the couple in the bunk beds next to me were up and packing. They were using plastic bags for some of their gear and it’s impossible to refill these bags and get them back into your pack without making a lot of noise. My office is the same size or maybe a little larger than the room we were in (it was a small room) and there were two bunks on the other side of me and their bunk on the left of me. I was too close to not wake up. So I slid out from between the ceiling and my bunk and hit the floor and starting packing my own gear.
My “normal” at this point in the walk was to sleep in the clothes (clean) that I would hike in the next day. Getting ready was quick and pretty easy this way.
Bill and I reconnected outside and we got back onto the road. All of the anxiety and fatigue and pain I had been feeling when I went to bed had disappeared while I slept. Prayer, ibuprofen and solid rest made a big difference. We also had formed a plan.
According to my guide book, the next town on the Meseta would have a bus stop and we decided we would play our “fast forward” card and skip the rest of the long, flat plain of the Meseta and move ahead to the city of Leon. Pilgrims reading this are groaning right now, probably even giving up on me because for many pilgrims the walk across the Meseta is one of the most soul nourishing segments of the Way. I am happy for everyone for whom this has been their experience. But Bill and I had agreed that based on the days we had left and the miles/kilometers we had left, and what our first day had been like, we would be happy to carry on without that particular nourishment for our souls.
We decided we would go ahead to Leon, take a day in the city for rest and recovery and then carry on from there. Only it didn’t turn out to be as simple as my guide made us think it would be.
It turned out that getting a bus in the next town was possible if we stayed there overnight. And, the bus wouldn’t take us forward to Leon or in the direction we were going, it would only be able to take us back to Burgos.
We found this out by talking to a very kind woman in the local office of tourism and the Camino. She worked very hard to help us figure out what we were going to do. Her Spanish was excellent but ours, not so much. Her English was not so great but she pressed ahead and between the three of us we started piecing all the details of our situation together. So there we were in Castrojeriz with no way forward and no way back unless we kept walking.
And then the very kind woman explained to us that she could get us a taxi that would take us back to Burgos, to the train station there, and we could get the train from there to Leon. It was more like, “I know someone who will drive you to Burgos for a price.” The taxi would cost us 50€ and if we wanted to make the train, we needed to decided right then.
So that’s what we did.
Our young driver drove us out of Castrojeriz and onto the highway we did not see from the Camino. In less than an hour he had us back in Burgos at the train station and we backtracked in minutes a day and a morning of the walking we’d already done. All from the backseat of a very nice, very new BMW-M3 – 2019, white with a black interior. Exactly the kind of ride you’d expect a farmer to drive.
At the trains station we discovered the urgency had not been quite as serious as it had seemed. We sat for a while and then moved into the small café for lunch. There I saw people at another table had ordered a big bowl full of olives to snack on and after walking through olive groves on the Camino I decided to do the same. We were joined by an Englishman who normally lived in Guatemala who had found himself “accidentally” biking the Camino. It was one of the many Camino conversations where you realized it wasn’t an accident that you were at the same place at the same time as the person we were talking to.
On the train we met two couples who had arrived there together for a “relaxed Camino experience.” They were from Virginia Beach which is just “up the road” from where we live in North Carolina and it felt like we had run into neighbors from home.
Eventually our train was ready to leave and we got on board. In 2 hours we covered the Meseta, what would have been just a little less than a week of walking. I arranged a spot for us to stay in Leon, a place where we would both have our own bed and we would have a shower and towels. We walked straight from the train station towards the Cathedral. We had managed to land there just before siesta time but we knew the rhythm well enough now and knew that everything would be shutting down very soon.
When I booked the room it was with the expectation that it would be seedy but it would be ours for two nights and a day. And it would have a shower. Did I mention that yet? It’s hard to explain how much, at this point in our journey that our own shower with unlimited hot water and clean towels we didn’t have to wash or repack, meant to us. But it was a big deal. However, when we arrived at the place we booked, I had to recheck our reservation because we ended up about a block from the Cathedral and the room was posh. Not only posh, the room came with our own washing machine and air conditioning.
Our own washing machine.
I quickly texted the owners of the place to verify that we were in the right place and allowed to use the washing machine. We were and we were.
It felt to me like we’d won the lottery. It felt like a giant gift at just the right time in the journey for me.
After cleaning up and chilling out during siesta time, we made our way down the street to sit in the shadow of the Cathedral and enjoy an outdoor meal at a restaurant.
I wrote this…
“Tonight we ate beside the cathedral and watched people. Extraordinary to be beside this huge edifice as people went along with their business. What an amazing constancy a building like this must create for the people who live around it. ‘Our fathers worshipped here and their fathers worshipped here and their fathers worshipped here…’”
After a day where everything felt like it was coming apart, it was a gift to have an entire day where it felt like everything was coming together.