Monday, 3 December 2012

Keith is shot. Carry On.

A group of New Age type pilgrims is "cleansing" the Camino these days, preparing the Way for the new ether energy that´s going to enlighten our lives in days to come.

Another group -- well, three of us, anyway -- is cleansing the camino too. We are picking up all the trash along the trail where it passes through Palencia province. I am sure the other group´s work will have a  more lasting effect. Still, ours is gratifying enough. It is certainly exciting. Especially when firearms are involved.

Yesterday morning I met up with Bruno, the Italian innkeeper over at Albergue San Bruno, and Keith, the Yorkshireman who last year also volunteered to help with this annual enterprise. We synchronized our mobile phones, stuffed our pockets with bin bags, and armed ourselves with a broomstick with a nail in the end. We used the car, to better cover more country. Following complicated logistical arrangements laid-out the night before, Bruno took the car and dropped off Keith in Calzadilla, then drove back and parked the car in Terradillos. He walked from there  to Ledigos. Out on the far end, Keith walked from Calzadilla de la Cueza back toward Ledigos. I walked from Moratinos to Terradillos, where I took the car and picked up the other two. (We are, obviously, university graduates.)

About 20 minutes into my stroll down the camino, my telephone signaled a text message. It was Keith, whose phone number is English. The text said:

"I´ve been shot. Shaken but OK."

Holy moley, I thought. It is hunting season. Some drunken idiot was out firing away at quails and got Keith! What does "shaken" mean, exactly?  I´d better drop my trash bag and get to Terradillos and get in the car and get him!

Then I thought, No. Terradillos is two miles away, on foot. This is some kind of joke. Some bizarre straight-faced English thing. I am not going to fall for it, because I have asthma and running to Terradillos in the morning cold might kill me. And if it was a joke, it was not funny. I have seen a few shooting victims. I have had guns pointed at me. It does not make me laugh.

I texted back:  "No way."

And the answer came back: "Yep. Fine to carry on. K."

Carry on. How exquisitely English!

I picked up trash the whole way to Terradillos. I drove at reasonable speed to where Keith should have been, and there he was. Blood was running from a corner of his mouth, he was shaking like Lionel Barrymore, but the rest of him looked OK. He climbed into the car. We picked up Bruno and took him back to Moratinos, and took young Keith to the health center, where I struggled to translate the whole tale to the doctor.

Keith was walking up the camino. A hunter with a rifle under his arm was walking toward him. Just as they passed, just as they said "good day," the shotgun went off. It blew a great hole in the path between them, bits of lead flew every which way, and Keith felt like someone had thrown a rock at him, hard. The man dropped his gun and cried out in anguish. He embraced Keith, wiped his face with his hanky, apologized profusely, gave him his telephone number. By then Keith realized no great damage was done -- he might end up with a fat lip, was all. He walked on, picking up litter. He bled on, too. When I picked him up he looked pretty scary.

The doctor cleaned him up, filled in some papers, spoke quietly to Keith. He was more concerned about the trembling than about the little wound on Keith´s face. Like a few other Englishmen of my acquaintance, Keith was more focused on getting a drink than anything else. We went to Pili´s, sat down, breathed. Keith unwound a bit. He picked bits of lead out of his jacket and laid them on the tabletop.

"You know what? I could have been killed," he said. "I´m damned lucky."

Damn straight, I told him.

This morning we drove in the wrong direction, over to Bercianos del Real Camino. There we met Rosa, a doctor who chucked it all to open an albergue on the camino, who has dealt with one disaster and rip-off after another but who is still bashing away at it. She had fresh wood mushrooms in a basket, and a beautiful brown nanny goat. We stopped at Manfred´s cross, a marble memorial to a German pilgrim who died on that spot in 1998. Someone or something had knocked it over and broken it into three pieces. We took tools and steel and silicone cement and stuck it back up again.

We turned around again and headed to Calzadilla de la Cueza, where we started picking up litter once more. It took hours. We drove slowly west to Carrión de los Condes, we picked, we stuffed bags and bags of bottles and cans and wrappers into the back of the van, 17 kilometers worth of pilgrim castoffs. We saw a flock of two dozen quail, and not a hunter in sight. We worked against a backdrop of crystal-clear, snow-topped mountains and perfect blue sky. We arrived at what is usually the most trashed picnic area of all, and found that some fabulous pilgrims had been there before us. Four big bundles of trash, improvised from baling-twine and sheets of black agricultural plastic, were stacked neatly along the road, as if they knew we were coming. God bless their hearts.

When we finished, our trash bags filled a dumpster bin right up to the top.

And then we had lunch. Potatoes and field mushrooms, sopa castellana, asparagus and fried-egg sandwiches. The work continues tomorrow, when we carry on west from Carrión.

Thanks are in order: The Annual Palencia Camino Clean-up is organized at The Peaceable, executed by volunteers, and financed by donors large and small from around the world. It´s not too late to buy us lunch! There´s a donation button over to the right.  

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