Buses are quicker but a lot can be missed.
Camino Day 12
Buenos Dias Los Amigos,
Today’s stage took us from feeling guilty, to feeling very guilty and then on to I don’t feel quite so guilty anymore!
Well I decided today, between bouts of alcohol induced nausea and trying to force headache tablets down my gullet, to take the bus from Burgos to Leon. This was not an easy choice to make but, in the end, I simply do not have enough time to do both stages due to my work commitments back home.
Given the fact that I really need to be back in the UK by the 5th October, and the belated recognition that I am not quite in shape enough to complete a 30 day Camino, I have decided to complete the stage between Leon and Santiago de Compostella and thus complete the most important leg of the Camino. In “holy” browny-point terms, you only have to reach Santiago with 100 kms under you belt, so I am pretty sure I have already qualified for a spot on the guest list at the Pearly gates. I also hope that my good deed with Dominique has assured me a priority pass and free champagne all night at God’s right hand!
This morning was a bit awkward because, although all of the pilgrims in our group had decided to take the bus to Leon, there were still several other colleagues, mostly unemployed or retired, who had decided to take the plunge and challenge the Spanish Meseta. It felt very much like one of those movies in which the white citizens of some embattled African state are evacuated by the UN to safety, leaving their local friends and compatriots to fend for themselves against the marauding rebels.
There was very little conversation as we all walked to the Municipal bus station in Burgos and, when we encountered Alan, a pilgrim departing into the heat haze, we waved awkwardly in a "we will be right behind you, once we’ve found a place to have coffee and some breakfast" kind of way.
Of course this being Spain, the bus was delayed so we were forced to sit around making small-talk with one another, trying to convince ourselves that God would have wanted us to do this, and would have provided buses throughout the Middle Ages if only petrol had not been so damn hard to come by!
As the bus eventually pulled out of the station, everyone staring straight ahead and trying not to look suspicious, I noticed with a groan that the route was going to take us along the Camino path all the way out of the city! My reserves of guilt were spent completely when, as we rounded a bend in the road, I spotted Mabel and Candice hobbling slowly towards certain death in the desert, completely oblivious of the air-conditioned, musically accompanied holy wagon bearing down on them from behind, with their former partners in Camino crime comfortably aboard! Now I felt awful, truly bloody awful and, even though my reasons were valid and correct, I began to wonder if I had sold out and lost sight of why I had started out in the first place!. Yes we were still walking nearly 700 kms, but Mabel and Candice would die in the heat of battle and who would be there to lie to them!
The guilt lasted until the first town about 10 kms down the road. At first I thought we were in for trouble as 3 of the pilgrims we had walked with for the past 10 days were sitting at the bus stop, no doubt readying themselves to give us a religiously inspired haranguing before once more stepping into the furnace of the Meseta.
The bus had a capacity for 55 people and there were only 9 people on board, so there was nowhere to hide – we were cooked and our fate was sealed – everyone prepared for instant excommunication and worse. John, Emma and Louise got up as the bus stopped, threw their bags into the luggage compartment and took 3 seats right near the front of the bus, not even acknowledging a single person aboard. I have to say I have not been so stunned on the whole Camino – from the look on Larry’s face I could see he was having the same reaction!
John is another Catholic priest, and had sworn blind not 10 hours earlier that he would NEVER miss a beat of the Camino and all its glory. Now, sitting stiff-backed in a "Jesus spoke to me after we finished smoking cigars and drinking last night and told me the bus was the answer" kind of way, John was reduced to the part of hypocritical bus-taking pilgrim, rather than the rest of us standard type sinners behind him! I wanted to go and remonstrate with him but Pablo, the bus driver, was trying for the "most Pilgrims G-Forced to death in a single day" award so I hung on for grim death and tried not to scream as we hurtled along in a blur of speed and light!
Over the next 100 kms, I realised that I had done the right thing. By the time we reached Leon, every seat on the bus was taken by sweating, straining pilgrims and people were standing up and down the aisles. Every one of them had set out to walk the Meseta and every one of them had subsequently come to realise that the Camino does not give you extra credits for taking on the challenge. The Meseta is a dull, flat, utterly lifeless and boring stretch of land that even the Spanish are not interested in. When you start the Camino, you do so enjoy the challenge, scenery and the culture – not to walk 180 kms beside a Spanish motorway with nothing more than service station food and refugios that haven’t been cleaned since the Spanish Armada, for solace.
My hunch is that, since the introduction of the petrol engine, far fewer pilgrims have completed this stretch of the Camino than anyone is allowed to know, and I have to take my hat off to Alain for so courageously and stupidly having done so 2 years ago. All I wanted to know was, seeing my companions sweating on the bus here, whether there was a bus involved there too Alain?
We arrived in Leon at around 3.00 pm and everyone vanished instantly into the maze of alleys that makes up the centre of the old town. I think everyone wanted to restart their Camino in their own way, and my way involved checking into a refugio run by nuns.
I have since realised that my sense of humour and character is not necessarily the best for winning over the sisterhood, and my twin questions of "are there any younger nuns?" and "can I have an en-suite bathroom?" (largely said to try and impress a couple of young Dutch girls) were met with a stare that could have stopped St. James, Jesus and the whole of the Christian movement in its tracks. In her 235 year life, Sister Maria has not suffered bullshit artists readily and she was not, I belatedly realised, about to start now!
Tomorrow we will head out for Santiago, which will be about 12 to 14 days of hard walking, made harder by the introduction of the newly relocated Himalayan mountains, with Mount Everest placed slap bang in the middle of our path. I am looking forward to getting back in the saddle and blowing off the feeling of inactivity brought on by a days rest. I have invited my father to come and join me for the last 5 days of the trip and I await an answer as to whether he will join the path of St. James and El Burro – I hope he will and I think he will enjoy it!
Once more I would like to thank all those of you who have written to me – I am amazed and deeply appreciative to all of you who have taken the time to read my words and for the kind words in reply.
Adios los Amigos and Buen Camino,
The Burgos to Leon section started off green but quickly turned to flat stubble fields of harvested grain. The walk would be the same for days and looked to me, from the bus window, to be a match for where I grew up in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley in California. Those who had done that section said it was possible to do mega miles per day, no ups or downs, good surfaces and nothing to distract one from walking. My figures show the distance to be around 186K or about 110 miles, 3 or 4 days walking time at the pace we’d been doing.
Corn, sunflowers, wheat and other grains and something that could have been sugar beets, seemed to be the main farm crops. Apples, onions, cabbage, lettuce and lots of Brussels Sprouts filled the backyard gardens. We passed through villages with new housing and old people, many of the new villages some distance from the rest of the population base. There didn’t seem to be much for the old people to do except sit, wither away and die. What a shame, so much information and experience there and just wasting away.
The bus rolled on and we dozed off. James had e-mailed his father asking him if he’d like to accompany us the last 100K or so. His dad hadn’t given him an answer but he was thinking about it. I never seemed to have a lot in common with my dad, maybe something like this would have helped us to be closer. The problem would have been his health, too many cigarettes and too much alcohol took their toll on him and the last 25 years of his life he wasn’t up to much physical exercise. A shame to trade the possibility of an active life for expensive habits and virtual immobility by age 45. It was nice of James to ask his dad. I hoped it would work out.
I was glad to have Burgos behind us. Cities are OK once in awhile but not my primary interest. The hotel and the hot bath helped me get some of the toxins out of my system. Staying too long in the city would only have subjected me to them again. Pork, sugar, cigarettes and coffee were the norm and getting anything else to eat or away from them in the cities, was almost impossible.