Today probably wasn’t the best for starting out before dawn. It was pitch black when I left at 6am and there was still nearly 2 1/2 hours before sunrise. The Camino took me out of the village and up a hill with a questionable path. A couple of speedy walkers passed me and while I was able to follow their light for a few minutes, soon they were gone and I was back on my own. Luckily my constant companion over the last three weeks, the Buen Camino App, was by my side and I kept checking it to make sure I didn’t bear off the Camino, which would be very easy to do in the low-light conditions.
When I turned around I could measure my progress when I saw the lights of Atapeurca in the distance.
There was the slightest hint of sunrise on the horizon when I noticed a large cross.
Because the entire area around the cross was rocky bare ground, it was hard to figure out where the Camino route was but then I found a sign.
Next I came across a large labyrinth. Why anyone would need to walk around in circles after walking the Camino, I have no idea. 🙂
I wish it was light because I would have gotten a picture of the giant circular maze, but you would never be able to see it in a photograph taken in the dark.
So, at this point I was confident and started thinking about what a crazy thing this is that I am doing. Here I was, walking around on a mountain top in Spain in the pitch dark. This is giving me serious points toward achieving one of my Camino objectives; getting comfortable with dealing with uncertainty.
And then things got really uncertain! I came to a sign that told me I was headed to a town that was northwest of where I needed to be. I was no longer on the Camino! I pulled out my app that confirmed this.
I could either take my chance and retrace my steps in the dark or wait until it got lighter when I could see better. I decided to go for it. After about 10 minutes I saw a headlamp (a real one, not the eyes of a wild animal) coming toward me so I walked toward it. It turned out to be a young German couple.
The guy insisted they were going the right way. He kept showing me his phone and I kept showing him mine. Eventually we went our separate ways, but I was worried about them. I continued walking back in the direction of the Camino and saw three more headlamps walking across a path in front of me and I knew I was where I should be.
As we started to descend the hill I saw a headlamp way off to the right coming down from a different direction. It turned out to be the German couple. I was relieved to see them.
Throughout the day those two kept showing up, usually coming from a different direction than I, and we would say hi. Right as I got into the old city area in Burgos, I turned the corner and there they were! We hugged and formerly introduced ourselves and took a picture before we continued walking toward the Cathedral. Sebastian and Laura were sweet and we said our goodbyes when our guidebooks took us in different directions for the last time.
So, back to the rest of my story of the day, it was still dark when I crested the mountain and I got a beautiful view of the glowing lights of Burgos.
We came to the first town, but there was nowhere to get coffee. The sun was finally rising and the headlamp went back into my bag.
After another couple of kilometers, finally we were at a town that had a bar and it was time for breakfast. I had a delicious lomo (pork loin) boccodillo (baguette sandwich) with a fried egg and roasted red peppers along with cafe americano and orange juice. It hit the spot and fortified me for the next several hours as I negotiated my way into and through Burgos.
Leaving the bar it started to rain lightly so I stopped and put on my poncho and pack cover and of course, it stopped raining within minutes.
I do have to say, with the forecast of rain for the next four hours, this bus was very tempting.
But, I continued walking.
There is always encouragement when you most need it.
Soon the dirt roads turned into asphalt and I knew I had seen the last of the quaint ancient villages that I had been passing through for the past 16 days.
I had been planning for weeks that I would enter Burgos through the scenic park alternative route as I had done when entering Pamplona. But when I should have been looking for the signs directing me there, it was pouring rain and I was just focused on moving forward, not getting hit by a car and not tripping. I missed the turn which meant I would go into Burgos through the industrial route.
But first, I would have to walk around the airport. If you have ever done this, you know that even small airfields are huge! The route I was on took me around three sides of the Burgos regional airport where I would be flying out of the next day on my way to Barcelona.
Next I had to negotiate a huge traffic circle which was probably one of the most daunting things I did in the past 16 days. I would never imagine that a traffic circle could provide a life lesson, but this one did.
Looking at where I was and where I was going I just thought, “Shit, I am screwed!” There were no other pilgrims around. The group I was following had ducked into a bar to dry off and get something warm to drink. However, I was following the yellow arrows and that gave me confidence. I decided that rather than worrying about the entire traffic circle, I would take each ramp crossing one at a time.
There were a lot of crossings as this circle served as an off and on ramp to the highway was well as feeding the main artery into Burgos.
I approached the first crossing and a tractor-trailer stopped and let me cross. Because he was blocking other traffic I felt safe. I yelled gracias and he replied, “Buen Camino!”
Now I was in a small median strip in the middle of the off and on ramp. To my surprise, two cars coming off the highway stopped blocking the traffic behind them and I made my second safe crossing. One to go!
The last crossing was the most challenging because the median strip was under construction. I had to walk across a fairly narrow, wet and slippery wooden plank to get onto and off the median strip. But once again, the traffic stopped and I had made it!
So, you are probably wondering what life lesson I gained from this experience. Sometimes things can seem impossible because they are so big and complex. Rather than trying to figure everything out before taking the first step (as every good control freak does) take the first step and the next will be more clear and one step at a time the challenge will be overcome.
I know. It is crazy it takes a traffic circle to add deep meaning to your life, but the Camino works in mysterious ways.
After getting through that traffic circle I had no idea of what was in store for me over the next 3 hours. The rain continued on and off so I kept my bright orange poncho on reasoning that it served as a beacon that a human was crossing the road and could save me from getting hit.
The scenery was uninspiring, the tile sidewalk slippery and hard and this went on forever! My legs are still screaming with pain from that trek on such a hard surface for hours.
Finally about an hour and a half later I was in Burgos proper.
Home free! But then I walked for almost another hour to get to the old city! Part of the problem was that I was going slowly. I felt like I was like a kid on a car ride to Grandma’s house! Are we there yet ran through my mind every 5 minutes!
Bumping into Sebastian and Laura lifted my spirits and soon I walked through the arches of the old city of Burgos and got my first glimpse of the cathedral.
Back in March, I had made a reservation at a hotel right across from the cathedral to treat myself after 16 days sleeping in a bunk with 20 to 40 other pilgrims. Of course, at that time I had no idea how hard bunk living would be, so I didn’t know that I would resort to private rooms when they were affordable and available. Nevertheless, I rationalized I still deserved the treat.
As I was walking toward the hotel, I heard someone calling out, “Robin!”
Pinch me! I am in a city in Spain thousands of miles from home and I have friends who spot me and call out my name. It was Gene and Hyun who I hadn’t seen in several days. We hugged and caught up with on our journeys. They had attempted to walk into Burgos the day before during the thunder/hail storm and ended up checking into a hotel by the airport. They too had just arrived and were looking for an Alburgue.
We asked a local woman to take a picture of the three of us and she had a hard time getting the iPhone camera to work. Finally when Gene suggested we just take a selfie with his camera, she pushed the magic button and caught a great picture of us taking a picture of ourselves.
As we were talking, Kerrie, who founded the Sacramento chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, came walking up and said she was on her way to the next town at the beginning of the Meseta portion of the Camino Frances. But after a few minutes, she changed her mind and decided to stay another night in Burgos so we could get together for drinks or dinner.
I checked into the hotel and did the standard pilgrim end of day routine; took a shower, got dressed and talked with Ray.
I had an amazing view of the cathedral from the window in my room.
I heard from Henry and Angela and a whole group of folks were still in Burgos and we made plans to go to the 7:30 pilgrim mass. Then I went out to get something to eat and to check out the cathedral.
I haven’t been to all of the amazing churches in the world, but I have been to some of the most famous; Notre Dame in Paris, Westminster Abbey in London and St. Peter’s Bascilica in Rome. None hold a candle to the Cathedral in Burgos. It is massive, ornate and has probably a dozen different chapels, each with it’s own history. Pictures don’t do it justice. When in Spain, I encourage you to check it out. In fact, it is worthy of planning an entire trip to Spain as the country is amazing.
It was like homecoming at the pilgrim’s mass. Stanley and Esme were there as were Henry, Kyle, Angela, Damion, Kate and Efflyn. The group represented the core of my initial Camino family from Orisson and my adopted Camino family from Lorca on the day I couldn’t go any farther. I had no idea of what was being said during the mass, but used the time to reflect on my Camino.
At the end the priest called up all of the pilgrims for a special blessing. I went since I was still officially a pilgrim until the end of the day, I reasoned. Priests have been blessing pilgrims since the beginning of the Camino and that makes participating in the ceremony powerful and emotional for me.
Here is the Pilgrim’s blessing:
After the Mass we gathered outside of the cathedral and figured out where we would go for drinks and dinner.
We asked a young guy walking past if he would take our picture. He did a great job using the pano function to capture the entire Cathedral. As he was taking the picture, I asked under my breath, what would prevent the guy from running away with my camera. Basically nothing. But luckily he just wanted to take a good picture of us
For dinner, Kerrie, a Camino veteran, led us to a place that had plenty of room for our group of 12. I bought the first round of drinks to honor my friends who would be continuing their pilgrimage the next day. The group toasted me and had some very nice words for me. I can’t remember exactly how Kyle put it, but this 20-something made me feel like I had been an important part of their Camino and that I would be missed. So touching.
Camino families, like many families, work because of the range of ages with the elders providing wisdom and the youth providing energy. I would argue, however, that each youngish pilgrim I met on the Camino was wise beyond their years. They will carry the memories and lessons of the Camino for the rest of their lives, for many many years.
I was hungry because I had just had the jamon earlier in the afternoon. I order a dish that was fries, eggs and jamon. It hit the spot along with a couple of beers.
After dinner we said goodbye to several of our group and we were down to just Henry, and the three amigos (Kyle, Damion and Angela). Most of us were jonesing for a nightcap, but Kyle was craving gelato. After walking a LOT and checking out many tapas bars (it felt like the three bears, this one is too big, this one is too crowded but finally, this one is just right), we settled on one that offered the liqueur Henry was searching for, 43, which is made in Spain.
43 is a delicious, delicate elixir with a vanilla overtone. Henry got the first round and “future” Damion the second (more on that later; probably tomorrow).
Then it was time to say goodbye to my friends. It was sad, but I am happy that they are all continuing on and will be back to the life of a pilgrim tomorrow.
Henry figures that he will be reaching Santiago in about a month and I suspect it will be around the same for the others providing they don’t have any injuries that set them back. I hope not!
I feel a strong connection to most everyone I walked with. The Camino is ageless because we were all focused on the same goal; completing our Caminos. When you share a common goal, you work together to achieve it. You help each other out and you celebrate together.
This is something I want to take home from the Camino. I want to focus on what bring us together, whether it is with family, friends or people I don’t even know. I think if we all did that this world would be a better place.