I was on the longest rocky road I've ever seen. There was no end in sight, no asphalt roads, no natural trails, no towns, no villages, no farmyards, no houses, no water fountains, and very few trees, hence very little shade. "This is what I wanted," I thought. "I can do this." And with each step I began to send love and light to all of the people I know and to all of the pilgrims on the road and eventually to everyone in the world. I played several mind games along The Way including my usual rituals, and even took a video of the monotonous landscape and the sound of my walking feet!
If it looks or sounds like I have a fast pace, I really don't. I listened to music yesterday and it was a nice change but I don't want to listen to music while on the Camino. It takes me out of the moment. I focus on the golden silence of the wide prairie and I stop often and look up. Pilgrims joke about how all you see is the path because you're always looking down. You also focus on navigating the terrain. Sometimes it's smoother on the edges, or it's better in the middle. My only companions were the birds and the butterflies and when I focused on the sound of their songs, it quieted my inner chatter.
The walk itself became a purgatory, punctuated by the agony of my feet. Where was the first cutesy little town of El Bergo? If I passed it why can't I see the next one called Reliegos? All emotion had drained away and my movements became mechanical... walk and stay balanced, walk and stay steady, form follows function. This is exactly the kind of place that if you stepped on a rock the wrong way, you could tear a ligament. "Don't think about that" I thought. So I didn't and on I went. Four hours became five. Five hours became six. Each minute was an infinite unit of misery and suffering, of aching intense burning pain in my feet. In spite of all of my determination, I began to have doubts again that I would make it to the next town, let alone to Santiago.
I was all alone out there, even the signs had disappeared but I knew I was still heading west because of the sun, and there had been no missed turnoffs. Then it happened. I achieved the state of no thought. I had gone blank inside and essentially became one with the road. There was no thinking, just being. I wasn't even observing, I simply was. I was one with the birds, and the fields, and the sky, and the road. I didn't feel anything, I had become light. My favorite quote "gain enlightenment, do laundry" took on another new meaning.
I transcended back to my body when I rounded the curve of a long corner and saw two figures way ahead in the distance. As I approached the two 50-something women, who were clearly exhausted and sitting down on the rocks on the side of the road with no shade, I said "Hola." They were Annalyse and Genevieve from Paris and they spoke English. I sat down with them and we rested. It was at this moment that Annalyse looked at the two of us and said, "What are we doing here?" and Genevieve and I confirmed that we honestly felt the same way. Finally we rallied and around the next curve of a long corner, we could see a town in the distance. But like every other town one sees in the distance, the last few kilometers to get there are the hardest. In this case we still had about six kms to get to the town square! I walked into town with them and we headed to the Municipal Alberge. We all checked in and it was only then that I discovered I was in Mansilla de las Mulas. "What?" I said, "What about El Burgo and Reliegos?" "No that's the other route." Oh, so that explains it, I took a wrong turn on the old Roman road.
The Municipal Alberge in Mansilla de las Mulas was classic and Laura and her team of volunteers, have been welcoming pilgrims for many years. It's 5 Euro and there are 76 beds spread out over 8 dorm rooms, my room had about 16 bunks. After a shower -decent shower here except you had to go downstairs and through the courtyard where everyone is sitting to get to it, but it locked, private, hot water- and then a quick change while still inside the shower, yuck, you have to balance in order to put your leg in your pant without getting it wet, I walked out front and ordered a Tinto de Verana. Even though I was in the middle of the dorm room, I had a bottom bunk and it was clean and there was food next door, I knew where I was staying. I settled into a warm glow thinking about all of that and then called my Mom for her weekly check in. She loved the "I took a wrong turn on an old Roman road" story and was happy I made it. It was great to hear her voice, we talked for awhile and then just as we were saying goodbye, Brian from Ireland came outside. "Surprise" he said. It was good to see him, someone from before.
We set off to find food and catch up. The town of Mansilla was darling and had a lot of pilgrim history. This is where two of the routes, the Camino Frances and the Calzada Romana, converge (there are actually many pilgrim routes in Spain, I was on the Camino Frances). The architecture in Mansilla was astounding and there was even a nice sandy shore by the bridge on the Rio Esla. Every time you'd order a drink, they would give you free tapas, so we went around town to several places and drank Mahou, the Pilgrim Beer. Brian had become part of "a new family" he told me, and I thought it was funny how cliques form on the Camino just like they do in life. The Camino is one big metaphor for life. I had fun talking to a bunch of other peregrinos too, including Helen and Lawrence from Ireland, but then headed to bed as soon as I could slip away. As I drifted off, I could hear myself snoring through my own earplugs! "Oh no" I thought, sometimes I snore when I'm completely exhausted and after walking those monotonous 33 kilometers today, I was the most exhausted I've been yet. "Oh well" I thought, "this is pilgrim life." I clutched the black bag of lavender I kept in my sleeping bag that Phillip from France had given me and dreamily fell asleep.
"Solitude shows us what we should be, society shows us what we are."
- Lord Cecil