For me, a key measure of a good albergue, hostel, or hotel is a place to which I can retreat from my room early in the morning to think and write. Albergue La Morena started breakfast at 6am – a major plus. The hospitalero (a nice word for the person running the albergue) was just starting to build a fire in the stove when I sat down in the bar area. One of my next measures is good WiFi…unfortunately, that has been an issue at almost every place we’ve stayed.
Sally joined me a short while later and we had the chance to talk with Hans a bit further after our introduction the night before. It turns out that Hans is an ER physician working primary on the west side of Indy and is in Spain for a wedding that he plans to attend after walking the Camino. He started about 8 days after us and is walking 35km-40km per day – a very aggressive schedule. He’ll finish about four days before us. Hans has the warmth of the Midwest and was a welcome discovery. We talked a bit about healthcare, the Camino, and Spain. He learned Spanish during a three month medical mission in Mexico and had spent time in Spain. He encouraged us to visit the south of Spain after our Camino to see the sites.
We got started around 9am yesterday knowing it was going to be a long day. Our walk to Bercianos would cover 16.7 miles, our longest distance yet. The good news? No rain in the forecast. As we walked out of Ledigos, it was cloudy but light enough for good visibility. One detail of note about the towns we’ve seen in the Meseta: they are not nearly as nice as the villages before. The houses are not as large, attractive, or well maintained as what we had seen before. Many of the villages appear to be on permanent siesta. The large, stone, and ornate Iglesias of Navarre and Rioja have been replaced by smaller country churches built with bricks and any number of other materials that might be found in the countryside. Few have had evening Masses. It turns out that the Meseta may be avoided for more than its wide open plains. There have also been fewer loading options. Tonight, we are staying at Hostel Rivero, one of the first places we’ve booked sight unseen.
The day’s walk was pleasant. It was cool in the morning but there was little wind. We had to remove our jackets about 25 minutes into our walk. One of the first towns we walked through had a very interesting hillside with a number of doors. We had seen some similar dwellings in other towns but they were usually single doorways – this looked like an apartment complex for Hobbits. We learned that these are bodegas, areas built into the hills for the storage of wine. These bodegas in Moratinos were estimated to be about 500 years old.
Halfway to Santiago
Somewhere between Moratinos and Sahagun (the next town we passed through today), we passed the geographic halfway point between St. Jean Pied a Port and Santiago. There were no bands or parades to celebrate this virtual milestone but we later learned that a place in Sahagun offers “halfway stamps” for pilgrim passports. We didn’t get one. However, we did stop in Sahagun for a Coke and lunch. Stopping at the first cafe we encountered in this ugly town, the hospitalero (it was part of an albergue) had nothing to offer but frozen cannelloni or a really unattractive tortilla. The cannelloni was ok but less than satisfying. We found a little sweets shop shortly after that had some cream filled pastries that were tasty.
Sahagun became a tad more charming as we moved through the town. We obviously entered from its less appealing side. However, we weren’t in the mood to sightsee. We were at the halfway point of our day, feeling good, and knowing we had another 9 miles to go. We passed through it without incident and made our way into the long stretch to Bercianos.
We had seen a few pilgrims in the morning, including Laura, our friend from Barcelona. Otherwise, we hadn’t seen many others. Later in the day, our Korean contingent caught us as they made their way to Bercianos. There were a few alternate paths today and some of the signage was confusing. We ran into a number of pilgrims who had to backtrack or take a long way around – mistakes that caused 2km-3km of extra walking. Sally changed her shoes a couple of times – a good strategy she developed to help with blisters. She finished yesterday’s walk in her Birkenstock sandals.
We arrived in Bercianos at almost exactly 4pm. The last half hour was painful as we could see the town and were ready to be done. Our feet were tired but we were able to complete the mileage without issue. The village has a few albergues and the hostel in which we are staying but few redeeming features. The housing is reflective of other places we’ve seen in the Meseta and reflects very modest lifestyles. As we arrived, Hans was pulling his gear together at an outside sitting area to start the next leg of his day – he’ll walk another two hours before stopping for the day. When we walked inside the restaurant/hostel, Julia was sitting there enjoying a beverage. She gave Sally a hug and told us she was catching a ride to Leon to meet her boyfriend who had flown-in to see her. She said she’d found some kind of cream that was doing wonders for her knee.
We put our packs in our room and came down to have a beer and a snack which ended up being a bag of Doritos – Tex Mex flavor. We wanted to sit outside but the flies were too heavy so we returned to the bar inside and sat there for a couple of hours. A few minutes later, a guy walked-in (we recognized him from a brief encounter with he and his wife Carrion de los Condes). He talked with the hospitalero for a few minutes, well actually, he used his phone and an active translator app to try to communicate with her. It worked fairly well. (I recalled hearing his wife bring her southern Tennessee accent to bear on a couple of Spanish words at the hotel in Carrion and am certain the natives appreciated the translator.)
Zee (as we learned was his name) decided to sit down with us and chat. He reminded me a little of Weird Al Yankovic with a bit of Albert Einstein thrown-in for good effect. Characters welcome! He and his wife, Diane, were from Nashville but now lived north of Orlando. Retired for 20 years, Zee told Sally that it is a good idea to marry money. Smiling, I told her it was too late. The couple apparently spends much of their time traveling and were doing a few legs of the Camino before they took a train to Barcelona and boarded a 12 day cruise back to the states. They made me think of characters I had to have seen in a movie. Diane wore her hair in what I would describe as a glam mullet and they both wore matching safari shorts reminiscent of Nigel from The Wild Thornberry’s. Zee’s personality was larger than life and both of them were joyful. He talked to us for 30 minutes or more before wandering off upstairs to “see if he could get lucky.” Sally and I said a couple of words but the chat was mostly soliloquy – wind him up and watch him go. We smiled as he left. They absolutely owned it and it made them both charming.
Finally, we ordered two hamburguesas which are supposed to be hamburgers but these looked like they had been cut out of a solid slab of something gray and unappetizing. I dutifully ate (most) of mine but Sally wasn’t having it. Rudy and Bert walked in and sat with some of the Koreans. Looking around, I realized that we had supplanted our original walking group for Orrison with this set of characters. On the Camino, everyone’s a character.
The Hardest Step
Returning to our room, we decided to watch a movie but discovered the WiFi was too slow to stream or download anything. Instead, we took turns rubbing each other’s feet and listening to a podcast by Fr. Mike Schmitz. Curiously, his homily was part of a series entitled: The Hardest Step. He talked about “next steps” and the difficulty we have in moving past the disappointments, failures, and challenges. Oh, how I needed that message! Minutes before, I was asking myself: what’s the point? Walking through depressed Spanish towns or seeing the 100th ruin or rubbing down aching feet – why are we doing this? Almost on queue, Fr. Mike answers: the next step is an act of faith.
Before we left yesterday, I had a message on Slack from my oldest daughter, Madison:
Coop was outside talking to himself and I popped out to ask how he was doing and he said, “i good, talking to poppy.” So sweet!
Her note brought me to tears. i thought: Why the hell am I 4000 miles away from my family? The next step is an act of faith. Each of us wakes up every day looking at our loved ones and the day ahead. We can be six inches from the one we love and still be 4000 miles away. We walk into our days not knowing what they’ll bring: joy, tragedy, discovery, hope, disappointment, sadness. All we can do is take that next step.
Faith is believing in something more. It is believing there is purpose in what we do. This morning, I look at the sun rising outside and believe fully that I am in this place for a reason. I am on this path for a reason. And guess what? I don’t need to know that reason right now. I just need to take that next step.