A post from David’s mind diary:
Since our last post we walked into Burgos, the biggest city since Pamplona, and met some interesting folks. One older Chilean man living in Australia stands out in particular. I made an interesting connection with this man as he shared some of his story and reasons for walking. This was Luís’ third Camino. During his second trip in 2008 he had decided to walk longer than many and began in central France. His wife was less enthusiastic but decided to accompany him on the adventure. One morning, well into their trip, she told Luís that her stomach was hurting. Her condition worsened rapidly. As he prepared to take her to the hospital she began to shake. Within moments she was dead in his arms. He was walking this Camino in part to grieve her death and she was clearly very present in his thoughts. As Luís and I approached a large cross surrounded by a huge pile of stones we looked together at pictures and pamphlets pilgrims had left in the rocks commemorating their dead loved ones. Luís delicately picked up and examined each picture and card and appreciated the sentiment and the expression of love toward family members and friends who had passed. I thought about my mother (who has been dead for 11 years) and felt a sense of appreciation and a special space to acknowledge and honor her after seeing Luís’ care and sincerity. I had never before felt connected to another person in my grief; it had always felt like a solitary and intra-personal feeling. Watching Luís connect with and feel solidarity with others’ grief opened me up. I was able to feel connected with Luís in his grief and there seemed space for us all to feel loss together at the same moment. Sometimes when a friend’s loved one dies I feel like it is the time for me to support them and in that moment, even though my own grief is often triggered, I find it can detract from their emotion to start talking about my grief. There seem to be more options now.
The rest of the day fell into place after some struggle getting lost in the Burgos suburbs. We found the giant, beautiful cathedral and some strange beat-up sea barnacle-encrusted St. James hanging out on a park bench (photo somewhere below). We then bought a bus ticket to Bilbao (a 2-hour bus ride north) to visit our friend Gonzaga, whom we lived with for a month at Los Gázquez. We spent four nights in Bilbao and were warmly welcomed into Gonzaga’s family. We shared coffee and a birthday lunch of incredible paella in a nearby coastal town with his parents. Bilbao is a fantastic little city reminiscent of an older Spanish San Francisco. We hope/plan to return to spend more time with Gonzaga and his loving family.
After being away from the Camino for 4 nights and then spending two additional nights in Burgos to celebrate my birthday at a comfy hotel with an indoor pool, sauna and gym, we started back on the Camino with a driving mission: make it to Sarria, 110 kilometers east of Santiago, by June 10th to meet Thad for our final week of walking. Having been out of the rhythm for a week we felt somehow different and less real or less committed than our fellow walkers. Camino Imposter Syndrome (CIS) had set in. We felt like fakes, like we were pretending. On our second day back on the road a woman in the next bunk over caught whiff of our uneasy presence (or was it our fresh laundry?) and inquired if this was our first day ever walking the Camino. “Oh no! The authentic pilgrims are on to us!” we thought. But we ventured on, knowing that after a few days there would be no way we could not feel that we, too, were pilgrims. The pain in our feet, the hobbling in the afternoon, the sunburnt noses, the restless nights of snoring, the sweat and the smelly socks were too real to deny that we were long distance walkers. After a few days on the road we were unrecognizable amongst the others.
The landscape has since changed again. It is somehow another shade less beautiful, but a shade more interesting and unexpected. Aqueducts have arrived by the sides of the trail, graffiti has increased, more time is spent walking beside busy roads, the land has flattened, rock, cement and gravel stretch before us. The camera stays in my pocket for hours and hours without the impulse to snap a shot of a scene of rolling hills or creatively built stone walls. A few interesting new elements have been introduced, however. One is lawns, which is a nice addition to lay in after walking. Another is dreadlocks, reggae music, the occasional smell of marijuana and the laid back, take-it-easy-and-everything-will-be-okay vibe. This cross section of hippie culture was a surprise to encounter, but we’ve embraced the scene and we hung out in hammocks and almost slept in a teepee next to a grazing donkey (photo below). Another element is that the building materials have changed from cement and stone to brick and cob; the sides of homes are covered in mud with hay and rocks mixed in. Also we’ve observed that the people in the towns seem more uniformly older, and many towns in what really seems to be the middle of nowhere apparently exist only as a result of the Camino passing through. The weather has changed as well, and sweat, sunburns and wardrobe changes are the issue now instead of the wind, cold hands and wet feet of earlier days. We are definitely in favor of this change.
This post brought to you by David, with invaluable assistance from Austin.