After my chance reunion with my Icelandic comrade in the town of Bercianos del Camino, we walked ran the next 8km to El Burgo Ranero in short order, arriving before the local municipal, Domenico Laffi, had officially opened to pilgrims for the day.
As the two of us sat outside in the wind and sun, I took the opportunity to reflect upon how far I had come already this Camino. Sunday marked two weeks walking, non-stop, from St. Jean. Some days were brutal and long; some were relatively quiet and short. But each was a blessing unto itself, with trials and afflictions sharing the same path as alleviation and respite. Every day you wake up, comrades, is a day to appreciate.
Camino is a very strange place, lemme tell you. Of course, if you’re out here, or have walked afore, you know this already. But if you haven’t walked the Way yet, let me a’splain the situation to you.
For many people, the Way is little more than a walk through northern Spain with some nice photo ops here and there, some fuckold churches (can I say that?), and sharing a big room with a bunch of drunken assholes that need to wake up at 5AM to walk 20km to the next big room full of drunken assholes.
For me, it is (mostly) that, but there are a great many things that go unappreciated and undocumented in the copious amount of (unnecessary) guides people lug around.
I write to you from the small municipal albergue of Boadilla del Camino, a rather sleepy town without much going on it seems. Cycling is upon the television, the locals are drinking up a storm (it’s 4PM), and there are far fewer dipshit turigrinos here than last night. So, yes, not a bad way to end the day. Yet what a day twas!
But let us backtrack just a wee bit, eh?
Yesterday evening, after a lovely night of chicken paella, copious vino, and serving as the impromptu Italian translator (weird, I know), I went to get my laundry from the line before turning in for the night. Much to my (mis)fortune, however, a small stone lodged itself between my foot and sandal, slicing apart the fleshy goodness that was my left big toe, leaving it a bloody, and painful, mess. Fuck, I’m fairly certainly I cried out in several languages. Not good – definitely not a good spot to injure yourself on Camino.
Fuck, again. Now what? I thought to myself as I watched an unending flow of blood stream forth from the hideous laceration, the suspect stone mocking me as my blood pooled about it. Buen Camino! I heard the little bastard laugh at me. I kicked it away in disgust, forgetting my laundry as I hobbled to the nearest sink, doing my best to not track blood everywhere. Christ, how it hurt.
Injuries are commonplace amidst the Camino. Many people will earn themselves more than a few blisters along the way, and the ubiquitous joint and back pain seem to affect more still. But almost severing a toe via stone? Bah.
What choices did I have then? After patching up the wound, I could continue the Way and hope my Boy Scout First Aid training pulled through. It would certainly be touch and go, a slower day no less. Or I could sit a day out and let the wound heal up naturally before continuing onward, giving not only my toe, but my body as well, time to heal and recuperate.
But momma didn’t raise no bitch, I said in defiant triumph, stitching together the remnants of my toe in preparation for the morrow. As the famous Dewey Cox once said, “And I will walk. Hard.”
The next morning I donned my tactical sandals in lieu of my boots and began my trek westward. Trying to squeeze my wounded foot into my boots was not happening – too rigid and no air for the wound to breathe. Luckily the Way was mostly flat – albeit there was one steep hill – and it was typically easygoing.
As I trudged along, and I mean trudged, I recalled that everything happens for a reason, absolutely everything, and my injury was no exception. There was a purpose behind that malicious stone, no doubt, and as I walked, anger, bravado, and frustration gave way to clarity and calm. Gone were the ill feelings that haunted my early rising, that sense of uncertainty about the day and my performance – here were only good things now.
By walking at a slower pace, I had more time to admire the beauty of the Meseta, a region many people find dull or lackluster. Yet here I was surrounded by an absurd amount of colors, sounds, and sights that strained all of my senses to truly appreciate.
The crunch of the gravel underfoot was coupled with the singing of various avians and the squeaks of mammalian critters, and the soft sound of the wind whistling throughout the budding wheat.
Greens of all hues and shades were juxtaposed against fields of fresh earth, punctuated here and there by haphazard splashes of floral colors. Multi-hued tractors churned the earth anew, their drivers just as colorful as their mechanic beasts.
And in the distance, one could always see the stone spire of a venerable church.
No, my injury was far from an impediment – it was the catalyst to clarity. Befitting, too, that it occurred upon entering the Meseta, the mental portion of Camino.
My mind soon focused not upon the emotions I let grip me the evening afore, but instead upon the beauty surrounding me in every waking moment. The pristine beauty of the Meseta and all Spain had to offer this day.
It allowed me to slow down and share with strangers, to laugh and talk with one another as if we were all old friends. The lovely German and Irish couple, the Irish gal redder than the sun, the friendly Spanish bar owner who gave me a medallion, the two French ladies enjoying the hilltop view, the people and souls of Camino who I might have simply walked on past had I not been humbled by a single stone.
Yes, it’s true, your erstwhile wanderer has made it to the fabulous city of Burgos, somewhat officially marking the beginning of the Mesata on Camino. I had originally planned to walk on through this bloated industrial habitation, but upon glimpsing the cathedral spires through the trees, I was compelled to stop for the day. And lawdy am I glad I did.
If Burgos tickles your fancy, then by all means, comrade, read on.
I’m writing to you from the lovely city of Logrono which is approximately 160km from Saint Jean. What the hell, you might think. You only started walking Sunday! Been a doozy of a week so lemme tell you all about how I ended up so far down the Way in such a span of time.
I was planning on writing a longer post but I’m absolutely knackered from pimp slappin’ the Pyrenees today so you’ll just have to make do with pictures and bullet points. Quit your bitchin’ – this is trail wisdom. You’ll go far, kid, with these observations about Life on the Way.
Bruno’s Trail Wisdom; or, Here’s to Enjoying Life
– If you’re on the fence about bringing an item, leave it behind. – Exactly what it says on the tin, folks. Today, it being the first day for many pilgrims, you see bags filled to the brim with absolutely every pocket stuffed with gods knows what; the give-and-take table at the albergue is completely covered in such items. If you are hiking for any amount of time, be mindful of what you bring because you have to carry every ounce upon your back.
– Every mountain has a peak. – Don’t get discouraged because the trail keeps going up; it has to end somewhere. You just keep chugging along, one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, hell, you just climbed a mountain! It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or if you take a break, or if you want to quit and go home. The important thing is to remember that everything that might seem difficult to you now will be inconsequential so long as you keep going. Reach the peak, then shout from the top.
– Turn around now and then. – Not to see who’s following you or whom you’ve left behind, but to take in your accomplishments and see the world you just passed by. Look how far you’ve come already! Just by keeping your head on a swivel, you can really improve your mood. That mountain behind you? Yeah, you hiked that fucker. The city eating your dust? Left it behind like an orphan baby. People are capable of incredible things, and sometimes you just need that friendly reminder. Turn around and take in those sights.
– Be friendly to everyone, yes, everyone you meet on the trail. – For starters, being a dickhead is rarely acceptable behavior (unless you’re from the North), and a smile goes a very long way. Even if you don’t speak the lingo, a simple nod, smile, wave, or anything, really can do wonders for other people. Maybe homeboy’s having a shitty day, and you just brightened his mood by being polite. Yes, being polite to everyone – including those goddamned wop daigos and their insufferable audible levels – can work wonders. Be nice on the trail.
– You’re never alone. – Look at those two! Fuck, I walked behind them for a few hundred meters waiting to get a good shot of them holding hands as they hiked; it was beautiful. Just two loving pilgrims walking along together, paying no mind to the howling wind or stinging rain; simply walking as one. Always remember, no matter where you are, you aren’t alone. You are always in someone’s thoughts, prayers, hopes, and dreams. When you stop and realize that, well, it makes all the hardships more bearable.