Greetings from Castrojeriz, where the internet server dates back to Thomas Edison, but the spirit is bright. There´s a cat asleep in the bread box by the door, and a big, misbegotten dog asleep in the doorway. When anyone walks in the door they can´t help but step on him, but does he move out of the way?
It´s the clunky little places that the spirit is brightest, and where you find the Camino Senseis still hiding out. I have met a few lately.
First there´s Acacio, from the Albergue Acacio y Orietta. It´s best-known for its ties to Brazilian mystical author Paulo Coelho -- Acacio is Brazilian too. He follows this blog, and he and Orietta made me most welcome a few days ago, when the weather got violent and I was soaked from knees down by a sudden storm. (Yes, I did walk past the famously cozy albergue at Grañon. I looked in, and no one was there. I had a coffee, left a note to say hello... Grañon is like that. They don´t lock up, they don´t even hide the donation box. (they do take the folding money out every day, though!) It was too early to stop.
I crossed from La Rioja into Burgos/Castilla-Leon, where the clouds were waiting for me. I saw a weather report later, which said the gusts were 45 kph. Felt like freight trains. And the frozen rain... and all of this loveliness blowing straight into the face of every pigrim. Downright penitential, it was. (and it continues to be...) But my new Altus rain poncho did its thing beautifully. Everything under it stayed dry. Sadly, it does not cover my lower legs, but anyway...
Acacio was full of wonderful advice and comfort and joy. He told me what kind of publication the Camino needs next, that I already have all the needed material in hand, and that publishing is not going to be a problem -- he is always right about these things, he says. (He told a guy called John Brierly he ought to write a camino guide, and look at him now.) So we shall see. He gave me much to consider.
Next day I was not so well -- the tripes again. I went only as far as Tosantos, another place with a quiet reputation. And there I found Jose Luis, another Sensei, a deeply Christian one. The house is not heated. Bed is a mat on the floor of an upstairs room. We shared our food, cleaned up after ourselves, huddled in the kitchen and talked about Grace. (I am kicking butt in Spanish these days, translating heavily between it and English and German. Tons of Germans.) And for lunch who showed up but Carlos, the hospitalero from Grañon - the guy I´d missed a couple of days before. He is Italian and skilled and looking for gigs along the camino. I sent him to Moratinos, where the Italians there may be in need of a cook sometime soon.
We tracked down Ramos, the village lady who has the keys to the chapel dug into the cliffs above town. She gave us a tour, in exchange for a little donation to Our Lady of the Peak and three Hail Marys.
The next day took me over the Montes de Oca, where I met Rory, another curate, this one a Methodist South African youth minister now posted to York, England. We walked through the wide mudbog into San Juan de Ortega. We talked with Stejn, a big Swede who looks like that guy from Mission Impossible, about grace and confession and atonement. Rory must´ve gotten A-s in apologetics in seminary, he is brilliant. We would´ve stayed up gabbing a lot longer, but the cold in that old monastery could freeze the ___ off a ___. (they still serve garlic soup after church. I actually gave one of the readings at the Mass... in Spanish, even! A real first for me. It felt good to do it again.)
I walked with Rory and Stejn and Rebecca, a German girl, down the mountain and into Burgos on a glorious sunny Palm Sunday morning. It was MILES until we found a coffee, down in a valley in a happy little bar blasting Black Eyed Peas tunes. Stejn danced with a German lady... so weird to have "My Humps" echoing down the ancient streets, but also somehow apropos. In the next village we arrived just as the church service was letting out, and a little boy gave us blessed palms to stick in the tops of our packs and wave Glory all the way through the long slog into Burgos.
And in Burgos I got myself a hotel room! And Paddy and Kim came to see me! And they brought UNA with them! I gotta admit, I miss my little dog more than I miss anyone else when I am away. It did me enormous good to see them again, to scruffle my fur-bearing friend, and to pat my dog, too.
I will skip ahead to yesterday, when the route moved into Meseta, and the morning had skylarks singing to me and quails leaping and shouting... I was alone again, and happy to be back on my flat, rolling fields. At 3 p.m. i thought I might stop in Hornillos, as the sky was filling up again, the wind was picking up. But the restaurant closed, right in my face. And San Bol, the funky hippy hostel, was only 6 more kilometers...if it was open. I sat down for a snack to consider things. I opened a packet of nuts that Kim gave me in Burgos, and a note was inside. "Trust," it said. So I walked on. And on.
And there was San Bol finally, looking extremely spruced-up from across the field. There was a truck and a car outside. I rejoiced! But too soon. The truck was a carpenter´s van. The place was in the final stages of being completely renovated.
The car, a funny old DeuCheval, belonged to the boss. "We´re closed til tomorrow," he said. "Next place is Hontanas, 5 more kilometers." A downpour started pouring down.
"I am going to cry now," I told the guy.
"You can´t cry. I am going to Hontanas in ten minutes. I´ll take you," the man said. And who am I to argue with Divine Providence?
Long story short, the man is called Felix. He´s a local fixer, a camino supporter. He talked the council at Iglesias, the village in charge of San Bol, into making it a "proper" albergue. I a m not sure where all the money came from, but the place is transformed. No more pit toilets and baths in the spring, no wild parties, no more hippie three-week communal camp-ins and drumming circles and paintings on the walls of Mother Earth and her Children. In their place are electricity, hot and cold running water, bunk space for ten, fresh paint, a stainless-steel kitchen and espresso machine, and stunning views across the fields. You can stay one night for five Euro. Just like a proper albergue. Which is nice, if that´s what you want.
I´m going to miss the funky old place. A casualty.
Felix took me along to Hontanas, where the rain was coursing down and the streets were running in a torrent. A couple of German shepherds greeted us as we pulled up, snarling and snapping. An old man ran out into the rain and clubbed them with a stick. I wondered if this was not such a great omen, but then another door opened, and a familiar face smiled out... It´s Judit, the Romanian hospitalera I last saw at San Bol. Last summer she served there for nothing, living her dream of running an albergue of her own. And now, in Hontanas, Felix has put her in charge of Santa Brigidia, the newest pilgrim albergue on the trail. It´s opening today, too. But I got to be only the third pilgrim ever to sleep there (two of Felix´s friends were there last night.) It´s gorgeous, a sensitive renovation of an old finca, right next to the church. (And the freakin´all-night bells, but I won´t complain.) Brand new beds, showers, hot hot water, warm floors, and a storm screaming outside the double-pane windows. It was a little lonesome, but I managed. Judit worked all night downstairs, getting the place ready to open. She would not let me help her.
I think she may also be a sensei.
I am now on my way to Itero de la Vega, or maybe even Boadilla. Home gets closer. I am making more miles now, my body is adjusting to the walks. I am well. I wonder which wise person I will meet next.