I’m writing from the city of Leon
on the 19th of April. I’ve come a long way since my last email
and the days seem to run together when I look back. I have almost finished
crossing the meseta - the broad mostly flat plane that goes from Burgos
to a bit beyond Leon. Yesterday for the first time I could see the mountains
that I will probably begin to climb the day after tomorrow. They are
frosted with new snow as temperatures here remain below normal for this
time of year.
The meseta has been an interesting experience. After the hilly wine
country of Navarra it was quite a change in scenery. And the way I came
into it was also a bit magical. I had spent the night in a small albergue
(pilgrim’s hostel) in Tardajos about 15 miles past Burgos. As
usual I was up early and out in the still half dark that persists here
until 7:30 or so.
As I walked out of town a sliver of a waning moon hung over the eastern
horizon which was just starting to lighten. Some stars shone overhead.
I walked through the quiet deserted streets and out into the countryside.
As the light came on I noticed a bank of cloud or fog behind me and
as I walked into the morning the fog slowly caught and engulfed me.
I could see about 70 yards in any direction. The gravely country road
I traversed disappeared in front and in back.
Off to my left and right rough grasses, gorse, some small flowers and
occasional small birds were my company. It had been cold again in the
night and some remnants of frost clung to the edges of the road. It
was altogether a mysterious, moody, and abbreviated landscape. The only
sounds were the calls of the small birds sometimes visible on a branch
or in the brush but more often hidden somewhere in the grass. The larks
especially were brilliant bursting into long ecstatic arias as the day
grew somewhat brighter.
about 11 after 4 hours of walking, things began to change and the fog
started to lift. Little by little more and more of the surrounding world
came back into being and when the sun finally had sent all the fog back
to wherever it goes, I was in the meseta - Horizon all around me in
a mostly flat world broken by small dips and rises and a sky that seemed
huge. The Camino ran mostly straight but was broken by the occasional
dip or swale around which it would curve in visually wonderful patterns.
I took lots of pictures and for the second time in the trip unzipped
the lower legs of my pants and converted them into shorts. When the
fog lifted other peregrinos also appeared. I passed a group of French
walkers who had started in France several years ago and were doing the
Camino in 200-kilometer increments. After I passed they broke into song
singing in wonderful harmony - this all happened before the fog was
completely gone and added an interesting quality to its final moments.
I also walked for a while with a Dutch woman, Carla, enjoying the chance
to talk in English for a bit. As we descended
into a small depression in the meseta we were suddenly confronted with
a small town, Hontanas that is hidden from view till you are just upon
it. Walking down the main and only street we passed an open garage and
were hailed by a craggy old Spaniard. His name was Jesus Martinez Delgado
and the card he gave me reads "ARTISTA". He was quite a character
though I understood only a little of what he rapidly spoke. His "art"
was a bit bizarre. Odd pieces of wood carved and shaped into strange
forms. But all of them were decorated with pictures of other Peregrinos
and himself. And sure enough we were spirited to the official photo
spot and pictures were taken. It was after this that I was handed the
card with the understanding that photos were to be contributed for future
artworks. I left Karla in Hontanas and continued across the meseta finishing
the day in my favorite town so far in Spain.
is an old city. Celtic origins predate the Romans who were there. Its
most significant feature is a high conical hill that towers over the
city and which is crowned by a mostly in ruins castle. I arrived in
this small pueblo early enough to have time to climb the hill and spend
over an hour investigating the castle. I had the place all to myself
and the views in the afternoon light were incredible. Light dappled
the landscape through broken puffy white clouds and the land around
was a riot of greens, browns, ruddy earth and gray hazy hills. I could
follow the Camino out across the valley and up and over the next outlying
hill. A few other small pueblos were scattered across the broad landscape.
Castrojeriz also marked a turning point in the meseta. The wilder and
a bit rolling eastern part was to soon give way to an even flatter and
more intensively cultivated stretch that has persisted all the way to
Leon. Only today did the land begin to undulate a bit in preparation
for the mountains soon to come.
Some other highlights of the last days have been again the wonderful
birds. I think I forgot to mention the coo-coo´s in my last installment.
But occasionally and usually early in the morning, I will hear the distant
and distinctive call from some small stand of wood. The other birds
that dominate the meseta are the raptors. Harriers, kestrels, hawks,
and several others that I don’t recognize and almost constantly
in the air hunting the wide expanses of field for small unsuspecting
prey. I enjoy watching the lilting dance of the harriers as they cruise
just above the earth and the staccato wing beats of the kestrels as
they hold in one place 50 or 100 feet above the ground ready to swoop
down for a quick meal.
I’ve done a lot of walking in the last few days. For the three
days before today I walked 120 kilometers or about 75 miles. The walking
has not been hard in this mostly flat land but the weather continues
to be a challenge.
Sunday the 18th was one of my hardest days on the Camino. I left the
town of Sahagun in the morning half-light in a cold drizzle. By 8 AM
the drizzle had turned to harder though intermittent showers and it
was cold. Then the wind came up and when the rain came down it didn’t
come down but blew sideways. In fact the left side of my shoes and pants
were wet and the right side dry such was the force and direction the
wind carried the rain.
I thought to myself if it would only just rain or just be windy I’d
be a happy boy. And I got my wish, the rain stopped. But the wind came
on with a vengeance and turned more to the west so I had to walk directly
into it. And so it was for the rest of the day. 30 MPH right on the
I stopped twice once in a deserted courtyard in a small town I was passing
where there was at least shelter from the wind though not the cold.
And another time behind a large marble cross on a pedestal that occasionally
marked this stretch of Camino. I was glad to finally arrive in Mansilla
de las Mulas where I spent last night after 36 kilometers of bashing
into the wind. There I met a couple of Americans and a Brit who had
teamed up and walked single file trading places in the lead to make
the going easier. I sat in a local bar later in the afternoon and actually
had a glass of the local wine with these other fellows all about my
age. We traded Camino stories. Duke and (name forgotten) were from St.
Paul and had started a week before I did. If your interested, a glass
of the local wine - really quite good even to a non-drinker - costs
.50 while a coffee is a full euro.
Today I’ve enjoyed walking around Leon. The walk into the city
was only a bit over 10 miles and I was here by 11 AM. The centerpiece
is the gothic cathedral which is magnificent and has the most incredible
stained glass that I have ever seen. The entire upper levels of this
huge arching structure are filled with intricate and large stained glass
(windows seems an inadequate word) that shine with a luminosity and
grace that is truly breathtaking. I spent some time there just sitting
and enjoying the wonder of it all. For the rest of the afternoon I wandered
the narrow and warren like streets of the old part of the city getting
lost and finding my way again. That is how I happened upon the internet
cafe with very reasonable rates.
My last comment on this Camino installment has to do with the emotional
component of this walk. It is so much different than the AT. A friend asked during a phone call how I would rate
the experience. At the time I said and 8 out of ten but afterward realized
that this walk has had almost daily incredible ups and downs.
I go from almost ecstatic enjoyment of some special beauty or vista
to deep reflection and sometimes feelings of loneliness at being a bit
of a "stranger in a strange land". Maybe it has something
to do with wondering how I am going to live the final third of my life.
In so many ways it seem that I have already lived about 6 distinct lifetimes.
But walking hour after hour, mostly alone and especially in the vast
sky-struck expanses of the last few days have given plenty of time for
thought. Lots of reflection, no answers. The British fellow who was
with us yesterday had walked the Camino before and his comment was,
"The Camino really begins when you finish the walking." I
guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Camino, you see, means "the way" or "the path".
It makes me think of another "way" the Tao. I think both are
not paths to "somewhere" but rather are about the journey
that goes on after the walking stops. And I guess that is what I will
continue to think and pray about tomorrow as I head up toward the mountains
hoping for a break in the weather
Peace and blessing to you all, and love also,