Camino Frances : Part Four

It is said that walking the first part of the Camino (I guess wherever you start) tames the body, the second part tames the mind and the last section brings joy to the soul.  So we were entering the second stage, having become accustomed to the physical exertion of walking day after day.  We’d got a handle on treating blisters, finding albergues, and also stocking up with food for our daily journey.  Evenings were spent enjoying dinner with fellow pilgrims.

Apart from good footwear, the next most important thing on the Camino is your backpack.  Ideally you should only carry 10% of your bodyweight or you’re probably setting yourself up for a back operation on your return home.  In the beginning we came across midgets carrying loads that would have looked more appropriate on camels.  I read somewhere that your backpack says a lot about you.  If you’re carrying someone else’s backpack then it says that you’re a thief – or a saint if you’re being helpful!

I met someone whose backpack was so organised that each compartment had the name of a room.  For example, he had the bedroom which contained his sleeping bag; bathroom – toiletries; kitchen – snacks; dressing room – clothing, and so on.  My backpack was actually too small (35 litres) and only had two compartments.  If I’d named them they’d have been called ‘back’ – which stored everything; and ‘front’ – everything else that didn’t fit into ‘back’.  But it only weighed 6.5 kgs so was very light.  I also saw at least two gadget freaks who carried solar panels on their backpacks to keep their electronic equipment charged!  Backpacks also served as wash-lines when laundry didn’t dry overnight.

Burgos is an amazing city dominated by its beautiful cathedral and wonderful square with loads of outdoor restaurants.  If perchance you’ve got a statue fetish, you won’t be disappointed as there are statues everywhere.

Burgos was also home to the famous warlord El Cid.  His tomb has pride of place in the cathedral.  It’s a pity he isn’t alive today, because his picture shows him to be such a hunk of a man, I reckon he would be on the Hollywood A list of actors if was still around.

It’s quite a shock to the system coming into a city after the peaceful paths of the countryside and I heard of a few pilgrims who pushed on through without stopping.  Sadly, Burgos was the parting point for me and Mick,  as he had to return to England.  We’d walked 300 kms together since we set off at St Jean Pied de Port, and it has been such a special time together.  I was wondering how I would fare on my own.

I stopped off for a few days to have physiotherapy on my ankle before setting off on the next stage of my journey, which took me across the Meseta, the high central plateau of Spain.  Many pilgrims give this stark and arid stretch a miss, choosing to take the bus to Leon instead.  I was looking forward to it though, as I was drawn to the loneliness and vast open spaces of these plains, which are reminiscent of Namibia where I live.   In my opinion, this stretch is best walked alone as it gives one the opportunity to meditate and really experience oneself, nature and to connect with our Creator.  You can almost touch the silence along this stretch.  Many a time I thought I heard footsteps behind me, only to turn around and find that I was completely alone.  Quite eerie actually.  At no time did I ever feel unsafe though.

On the Meseta, if you don’t like your own company for days on end, it’s probably best to latch onto other pilgrims who feel like you do.  Talking of latching on to other pilgrims, some people are like the Pied Piper of Hamelin the way they attract groups of pilgrims – they end up with quite an entourage.  Others are like the said Pied Piper attracting folks with their musical instruments.  I didn’t mind the Irishman we met with his little flute – it was quite pleasant having his haunting Irish music fill the airwaves.  However, there was one fellow with a harmonica who nearly drove us mad with his unwelcome music that filled the night long after we’d all gone to bed.  I think quite a few people had uncharitable thoughts on what he should do with it.

My two favourite villages along this stretch were Castrojeriz, with its ruined castle on the hill, and Boadilla del Camino.  In Boadilla, whilst sightseeing in the village, my companions and I heard Dixie music coming from someone’s home.  When the homeowner, Manilo, saw Peter from our party, dance a little jig to his music, he rushed out and invited us inside.  It was like taking a trip back in time with all the weird and wonderful family heirlooms and artifacts he had.  He offered us all a beer and then proceeded to show us his entire ancient cd collection, his pet ferret and his wife’s artwork.  We regretted not being able to speak better Spanish, but that didn’t detract from the experience.  What a wonderful interlude that was and a chance to meet one of the friendly locals in his own surroundings.  Times like these are gems along the Camino!

By the time I left the Meseta, the brown pathway seemed to be etched on to my retinas and even when I closed my eyes I could still see it.  Somewhat like a screensaver on my eyeballs!

Join me next week as the Camino takes me to Galicia with its gentle climate and beautiful countryside.

<Camino Frances : Part Three                                                 >Camino Frances: Part Five


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