Day 20 rest day

A day off walking and time for some foot care. We’ve been walking fast especially first thing in order to keep warm and the pounding has hurt our feet. Time to repair and reflect.

The hostal Moratinos is superbly well run by Daniel and Martina: clean, efficient, simple but smart. For example there is underfloor heating which is pure luxury after weeks of those cold tiles. And last night we ate spinach omelette without chips. Muesli for breakfast. Yum.

Lots of nice things in Spain.
Cafe con leche
Estrella beer
Good ordinary wine “water to refresh, wine to fortify”. Ok can do.
Very smart pharmacies. No matter how decrepit the town: there may be 70s window displays, falling masonry, dogs running wild and free, I guarentee the pharmacy will be sparkling clean but sparsely stocked. They offer tiny tubes of Vaseline, a lubricant we slather on religiously everyday and which we need in industrial quantities. There will also be a large display of Compeed, magic skin.
I am back on food and feet: let’s try to raise the tone.

Churches, bell towers, corbels (Look it up. We had to.) Immense gilded altar pieces under huge vaulted stone roofs. Every village has one and The Way passes many. Sadly I get very little sense of the presence of God or even much spirituality. It may be that as this is not my tradition and so it leaves me cold, but the truth is it does not warm me.

I do feel wonder at the skill and artistry shown by people in an age where mere survival was precarious. But mostly my wonder is at the natural landscape. Northern Spain is stunning. While it is unseasonably cold, spring is underway and the sky is full of birds. Swifts and swallows, buzzards and storks. Yes storks! Building their nests on the church tower, up and up, and how are they not blown away in this blasted wind?
Wild flowers, rippling wheat and barley.
Birdsong on the wind.

Very few cars pass us. I know that will change as we carry on.
Walking across the meseta is mesmerising. Our friend Sue did the Camino in September /October when all was brown and scorched: she found it sublime. Our meseta is verdantly alive but strangely empty nonetheless. We have lots of thinking time. We keep a regular walking pace which allows thoughts to flow freely. Now and then I look northward where, under the clouds, lie some menacing looking mountains, to my shame I can’t name them. They are still covered in snow. Surreal is the word that springs to mind.

Helen and I often refer to The Lord of the Rings. We have a sense of journey and a desired goal. The countryside plays its part in this: sometimes it feels dark and menacing as if it could swallow us up. We’d disappear and it would be as if we never existed. Sometimes, like today, the places we stay are so warm and benevolent, we don’t want to leave. This feels like Rivendell or the last homely house before the sea.

We are entering the second half of the Camino and are more aware now of the challenges and pitfalls than we were. But the pull to Santiago is very strong. We so want to walk there. Our fellow walkers are encouraging as they face their own doubts and health problems. We urge each other on. I am sure this all sounds very cheesy but I don’t care. It’s something very real, not slick or glamourous. Not very 21 st century. But strangely more and more people are choosing to walk the way and the infrastructure is struggling to cope with them . There are three places to stay in this village of 30people. Tonight we are going to eat pizza at the other albergue. Yum.

Update on Camino

Things we like
Sleeping somewhere different every night. We’ve slept in albergues and apartments. In hostels and a swanky hotel. We walked into Granon and looked at the donativo albergue which offered forty yoga mats side by side on a church floor. And walked on. Later we heard someone we met decided to sleep in the yoga mat cupboard. Smart move. 

Further up that street was a Franciscan donativo hostel which Helen looked into and said yes we’ll take it. Then over lunch it came out that the ‘room for two’ had no door and no floor. Under construction perhaps. It was all a little dark and dingy and hostage like she said. Made her think of John McCarthy and Brian Keenan. And she wouldn’t have said yes had she not just turned down the offer of the yoga mat.
No one else appeared to be staying in No door No floor. We looked up the street for one of our favourite characters, Pilgrim Pete who we first spotted at Stansted, who’s been keeping pace with us over the weeks now. Weirdy beardy scout leader type. Big staff. And big heart. We decided if he or another male pilgrim turned up we’d stay, otherwise we’d rescue our rucksacks and run.

No one came, so we made our excuses and walked another 8k to the chocolate hotel. A truck stop, a transport cafe with rooms. Very unprepossessing, very cheap, a vibrant citrus colour bedroom and the best sleep we’ve had yet. 

More likes
Our fellow pilgrims. 
Pilgrim Pete whose name I think is Art. Looks like a cartoon but I instinctively like him. 
Calgary Dave. 
Sad Gerda, not her real name. 
The symbiotic sisters from Brazil who share food halfie/halfie all the time.
A young Spanish man with a neat backpack and nice bum. 
Kevin and Sharon, lovely ordinary people who are walking and praying for a sick friend.
Heinz, a retired German banker who said this was his last Camino and he had no religious faith at all.
A group of three French couples who are doing the Way ten days at a time over several years to mark and honour the death of a friend. They will finish in two years In Santiago by which time one of them will be 77. 

Two daughters from New York, with their dad, Tom, 82!

So many people swinging in and out of our path. We don’t see them for days and then they appear at the next dinner table, smiling and waving as if we were friends. Which we are, for this short while. 

iPhone post from Burgos

We slept last night in Burgos in a hotel from which I can see a corner of the splendid cathedral. Yesterday was a long day: up before dawn because of yet another blessed snorer. Otherwise the albergue was delightful, attached to a hotel it served wonderful hot tasty food on its pilgrim menu. My favourite dish so far lentils and chorizo soup. Mostly you get hake and chips – fries really- I am learning to differentiate I am eating so many. And lots of white bread. Oh and half a bottle of vino tinto thrown in. 
I didn’t intend to write about food and sleep but they are two of our main preoccupations. 
Walking into Burgos yesterday we were pretty much exhausted 38/40k in very hot sun and sketchy food. The last 10k took us past the airport up a long dusty track during which we listened to Van Morrisson and picked up the otherwise flagging pace. After that we sheltered behind a container and swigged some water and scoffed some almonds. Then the long march into Burgos along the river bank. It was the most scenic and shady route, the alternatives looked grim, but it was long. 
My inclination is to just go for it but that does turn the whole thing into a route march as Helen remarked. Her phrase is ‘Dig deep’ which is useful and we had to. 
After a small eternity of walking past gushing streams and being overtaken by wizened joggers, we accosted three little spanish ladies and asked them to look at our map and tell us which bridge we were on. To our dismay they turned back a page! But not long now they reassured us, maybe two kilometres? Mmm. Kind but not true. 
Eventually we began to see portentous stone buildings and some lovely simple street art and sculpture. We knew we were nearly there. Over a stone bridge, through a magnificent arch (I am running out of superlatives) and wow the cathedral … Even better, sorry to be shallow, our hotel. 
I love the walking. I love getting up and seeing the sunrise over the mountains behind us. Our packs are feeling lighter. ( Everything is metaphor on the Camino).The distances are getting longer and we are getting dustier. Our clothes need a washing machine, not a rub through in a sink. 
Entering the city we were tired and smelly and grubby looking. We passed clean normal people which we of course are. Usually. It was embarrassing. 
This is our choice. At any point we could pull the plug and come home. But along the way you see people who have no choice. Lets face it every day we see them. They may well be obsessed with food and sleep and keeping their small number of possessions safe. Almost certainly they would not choose go unwashed. 
Many many people old and young smile at us and wish us a Buen Camino. It is so heartening that small moment of connection. And if nothing else in my shy self conscious English way, I might try to emulate that.

Day 10 Camino blog by iPhone: bear with

Today we’re in Viana, in a flat attached- loosely – to an albergue. Albergues are like youth hostels and mostly our experience of them has been good. They’re clean and friendly. Personally I like the ones with bossy rules eg don’t wash your boots in this sink: yes too right, I love it: lights out at 10 pm, doors locked till 6am.
Our first stop was run by the Dutch confraternity. Super organised and spruced despite 100+ dirty tired pilgrims coming through every day. One volunteer did our washing and drying for 2 euros. Although since then we’ve had hospitalero Josu who will do it for half that and peg it out. Weird and best not to think about it. We indulged him anyhow.
The dutchies were great and organised us rookie pilgrims, waking us gently a woman walking through the immense and mixed dorm, singing a sweet Taize song at 6am. This did seem harsh as we had staggered over the Pyrenees in vile conditions only the day before, but there’s no pussying about. On your way pilgrim.
Actually Helen and I were glad to leave, we had endured the semi final of the European snoring championship up our end of the dorm. UK were eliminated in the first round.
Some South American interlopers won that night but since then, in Pamplona a gorgeous young man from San Francisco has put in a truly massive
performance which has gone down in Camino legend. He was accompanied
by his mother who slept next to me – I thought she was the culprit – she apologised in the morning and hoped that we could spend some time together later on the camino. Not if I see you first I thought, having spent the night with ears bulging with plugs and head wrapped round with scarves, under my pillow.
Since then however despite the pilgrim meal which features mucho vino, we have slept well. It might have something to do with the 20+km a day we’re all walking. Everyone’s tuckered out and asleep by ten. Very civilised. Like.
We’ve slept in a monastery, a sparkling hotel room, a cathedral sized church in Pamplona, a pension in dismal Zubiri (crap food, great wine), a swish apartment in Estella, a swimming cubicle with bunks and a Heidi like eyrie in Los Arcos, with Josu. Only he was downstairs, rinsing out our smalls and making cake for our breakfast.
But here it’s furnished with stuff from grannie’s attic, curling orange lampshades and arcopal plates and it all feels a bit damp, dark and outdated. We are nine here. We all cooked pasta tonight. Helen are I are inthe living room in twin beds behind smoked glass doors. The others have proper bedrooms but some have double beds: we didn’t want one of those as Helen told
someone, “We are married, but not to each other.”
It’s raining and so it’s difficult to love Viana but to be fair I think it’s a (another) pretty town on a hill with a (another) stonking great church and if the sun were shining it would be lovely.
I am so enjoying the walking despite huge tiredness and sore feet. Every day when I release the laces of my boots my toes wriggle like a child’s and press sweat happily onto the cold tiles. Every morning I pack and review my stuff and wonder what I can send home to lighten the load. Nothing yet, but I am hoping to lose my sleeping bag soon as the weather improves. Hint. Please God.
Still the countryside is beautiful and lush after the grim winter we’ve all endured. Everything is bursting into life and the birds unimaginably busy. Frogs are courting and making a lot of noise about it.
We are walking and talking and laughing a lot. I realise how much we laugh. There are many quiet reflective people, contrasting with some crazy Japanese who sound angry all the time, a Korean woman in a poke bonnet quietly doing her rosary. An Australian couple listening to the Beach Boys?? Lots to smile about.
We are happy to be walking across northern Spain in pleasant company and pretty good health. We don’t know where we’ll be sleeping tomorrow but it will be ok. Viana is ok, it’s given us what we need tonight. Food and shelter and companionship. Thank you.