Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 16 - slept in Itero de la Vega - July 13

I rose around 8am and was out of the alberge by 9am. Last night I told Lauren to feel free and set off without me, which she did. I had decided that I was going to follow my own timeline whatever that may be. She said it best last night too, "when you're alone that's when the magic happens." I was one of the last out and got conned into the pilgrim breakfast because I thought there would be more than just bread, but no. Assume nothing. It was just tea and bread. After my morning rituals, I left shortly thereafter, determined to have a nice breakfast in the next town.

The storm last night had left a cool, peaceful morning. There was barely a breath of wind and not a soul to be seen anywhere along the Camino. This is what I wanted, and let out a huge, satisfied sigh. I began another daily ritual of proclaiming the fact that "I'm so glad I don't have kids" and then checking in with my body, exalting each part for how well it's doing. When I send love and light to it, it helps alleviate the pain. First the feet, you guys are doing great! Then the ankles, you guys are doing great! Then the calves, you two are doing great! Then the knees, you guys are doing great! Then the thighs, you guys are doing great! Then my ass, you are doing great! Then my back, you are doing great! Then my core, you are doing great! Then my chest, you are doing great! Then my shoulders, you two are doing great! Then my arms, you guys are doing great! Then my neck, you are doing great! Then my head, you are doing great! And finally my mind, you are doing great!

It was then that I noticed my fingernails and how long they've grown. I had taken off all polish (on my toes too) because I knew it would be one less ritual to deal with, and now each nail was a display of absolute perfection in its natural appearance. Even the nail I injured 10 years ago in Ojai, which now has a ridge down the middle of it, was long and perfectly manicured. It had never grown that long since my accident 10 years ago. It feels like I've shed some of my skin only to strengthen my force inside. I also noticed how relaxed my arms were. Normally my hands and my forearms are so very tight due to all of the work I do on the computer, but now, they were completely soft with no referred pain whatsoever! "That's because it's all been transferred to your lower body," my inner voice said sarcastically. Fine, it's a welcome change.
I arrived in Hontanas, another classic pilgrim village tucked away in the Meseta. I have to say, everyone was complaining about how horrible the Meseta was going to be - hot, no shade, boring, all flat, etc. - but it didn't seem hellish to me. Next was the town of San Anton, a place that Roger from Belgium recommend I stay but it was too early in the day so I stopped and took some pictures of the amazing San Anton Alberge. It is one of the most splendid ruins along The Way of St. James. As you pass under St. Anthony's archway, you can still see the recessed alcoves where bread was left for pilgrims of old. I remember thinking "what is it with bread here?" I ended up eating more bread in these 40 days than I have in the past 4 years. The tradition continues with pilgrims leaving messages here as well as bread. This was the ancient monastery and hospice of the Antonine Order founded in France in the 11th century and connected to the work of the hermit Saint Anthony, the other patron saint of animals. The Order's sacred symbol was the T shaped cross known as the Tau and now referred to as the Pilgrim Cross. The Order was known for its ability to cure medieval scourges by using the power of love in its healing practice. Needless to say I felt a strong connection here!


I passed under the archway that so many millions of pilgrims before me have passed and sought out the first place with "chairs and umbrellas" to eat lunch. It was here that I ran into Raphael from Spain again (picture) and we had a fantastic time drinking a new drink he introduced me to "Tinto de Verana" which is like a red wine spritzer but much better! It was very yummy and very refreshing :) He knew a couple of the girls seated at the next table, and I saw the young German and Swiss guys from the night before. We were all examining our injuries. My right toe blister still hadn't peaked yet and my left one inspired a chorus of "ohs" because even though it felt immensely better, it looked horrific. Raphael had a dent in his ankle due to the highness of his boot in back and he was hurting.

Raphael and I pulled ourselves away from what could've been a wonderful afternoon of doing nothing but drinking Tinto de Veranas and headed onward. He was going to Castrojeriz, I had no set destination. He needed to find a bank and so we parted, wishing each other a "Buen Camino" while giving the customary European kiss on each cheek and saying goodbye. One never knows if or when one will see another pilgrim again and so each moment is cherished, each goodbye as if it could be the last. As soon as I left town, I could see Castrojeriz in the distance and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Everything still seemed so vacant, not a pilgrim on the road, and the emptiness presented the mystic allure that I've only seen in travel posters. Talk about living the dream! I walked through amazing vistas today and took pictures, here they are...

I reached Castrojeriz during siesta time, tired myself, but still with energy to go on. I sat by the fountain on the main road and immediately saw Helen and Lawrence from Ireland so I went to join them at their table for awhile. We traded stories while they drank their cerveza grandes and I had my demi-bouteille of wine and nibbled at my saucissons. One of the sentiments along the Camino is once you sit down it's very hard to get back up. I don't always feel that way, in fact I love sitting down and resting, and so if you decide to get up again then you decide to do it. But, not wanting to lose any of the momentum I had left, I hoisted my pack on my back, bid them farewell, and set off. The signs told me the next village was 9.7 kilometers. When I arrived in Fuente del Piojo it looked kind of sketchy, apparently I was getting deep into back country now, so I decided to go on to the next one, a mere 2 kms further, giving me a total of walking 21 kms today.

As I entered the perimeter of a town who's name I couldn't pronounce, I couldn't help thinking that the main alberge, situated at the entrance of Itero de la Vega, was hideous. There were plenty of chairs and tables in the courtyard but no umbrellas and everything was scattered about. I walked by and caught a glimpse through the hanging laundry into one of the dorms and it left much to be desired. I thought to myself, "go investigate the town, you don't have to take the first place you see." When I approached the patio, there was Lauren from Washington with the German girl from last night and an Irish woman I just met. Lauren had an infected blister and decided to head to the next town (8.2 kms away!) so she could see a Farmacia first thing in the morning. I told her I had just passed a pilgrim hospital on the edge of town and it was open and much closer but they were already planning to take off. I said I was going to explore the town and they said "there's really not much to it" and gave me a frown. I headed to the only other alberge in town and sure enough, it too was seedy looking, so just as I started to semi-panic over not being happy about where I might sleep, I saw the only other gig in town, a grocery store, and hobbled down the only other street.

The grocery store owner became my angel that day! He said to me "peregrino, peregrino, private alberge" and after we ascertained that he didn't speak anything other than Spanish and I didn't speak Spanish, it became like a game of charades with him first escorting me back out into the street. He took me next door to a beautiful townhouse and led me upstairs and showed me two rooms with two single beds each. He said I could have the room because no one else was there for the same as one bed for 15 Euro. I couldn't believe it, just last night Lauren was telling me about an amazing place she had all to herself when she was on her own, and here was I, having a similar experience. I like taking note of coincidences like that :) I went back downstairs silently praising my good luck while he stamped my passport and signed me in. He was a sweet guy, a Spaniard in his 50s, kinda crazy like the Ramon character I must say, but harmless, and wondering what he could do to get more pilgrims. We then went back to the grocery store and when I asked about a bottle of wine, he sold me a wine bottle made out of plastic!! That was it, I had my wine receptacle from now on, and no heavier than another plastic bottle full of water!! I was so excited I bought a bunch of stuff, thanked him profusely and headed back out.

I saw the girls leaving, wished them well, and said they should stay with me, but they wanted to go on. It was then that I breathed deeply and enjoyed the fact that I had a nice place to sleep tonight. That was one of the biggest accomplishments one had to achieve each day, find suitable shelter. And just like there was a mild form of angst each morning about the unknown accommodations that night, so was there angst each afternoon about finding that place and even selecting a bed. This was the adventure part of the travel.

I headed back to the first alberge and inside the bar area, discovered groups of older local men playing cards. I like this local flavor so I had a glass of wine at the bar and some potato chips. Someone said pilgrims crave salt because of all of the exercise each day. I sat awhile then headed to the other seedy place. It too was filled with locals and not as bad as on first glance -- or perhaps not as bad because I knew I wasn't sleeping there. Just then I saw the Hungarian woman from last night and we waved while she went into her room, which was right by the outside bar, and hence very noisy. Thank you God for my grocery store angel! I went inside and it was like a museum from a past time. The woman owner served me and I wandered around looking at relics of juke boxes, pinball machines, keno-type gambling games, stacks of magazines, shelves of figurines, and walls of pictures. I like the locals. I sat outside and observed awhile longer, bid the women "Adios" and as I walked by the men, could hear a few "ooh la las" on the way out.

Just around the corner was my private oasis, and it appeared just in time because it started to hail! Again for the second night in a row. I immediately thought of the girls out there. Oh man, not good. They would take cover, it would pass, or they would turn back, they'll be fine. Either way, they're making memories. Note to self: if you see Lauren again, ask her. I went back to the room for a wonderful shower -excellent shower here, private bathroom, private alberge, I had the whole place to myself - and locked my room door. I didn't need my earplugs, I was in pilgrim heaven.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."  
- Henry David Thoreau