Written: Tuesday, May 22 @ 20:49
It’s been a few days since I posted. We’ve either been out of touch, or I’ve been too tired to write. I also ran out of battery power for my keyboard – so much for the fancy Li-Ion batteries.
We are now in the small village of Poblacion de Campos outside Fromista. I just lost the last post I started several hours ago. It disappeared when I reconnected my keyboard. Ah well, I will perhaps write a shorter story now, given more time to think about it.
We just enjoyed an absolutely wonderful dinner. I guess we need to rethink those disparaging remarks we made about the Martin Sheen movie being a bit inaccurate about the big tables with wonderful peregrino meals. This was just such an occasion. We’re splurging tonight and staying in a fairly upscale hotel adjacent to and managed conjointly with the albergue. My pop sent a note the other day about “money only being money,” and we’ve kind of taken that to heart. Sleeping in a big room with a bunch of other snoring people is something we just can’t quite get used to.
Anyway, back to that meal. The two women who run this place cooked up a marvelous paella with shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, and fish that was frying away out on the patio when I was writing the lost post. They kept bringing more and more food. They brought soup and bread to begin, and then carried in the giant pan of paella. Salad came along in there somewhere, and then finally, ice cream with caramel, coffee liqueur, and almond cookies. With the ever present vino tinto, we are stuffed! More marvelous than the food, I think, is the community around the table. There is such an amazing mix of language and culture at a Camino table like we experienced tonight. There were Germans, Italians, an Australian, a Korean, and we two Americanos. Everyone is so very different and yet coming together with this shared experience.
We’ve had a journey since I wrote last from our trip into Burgos from Villafranca. That was one mighty long pushing day that resulted in some much larger blisters on Kat’s poor feet. We spent a difficult night in Burgos, staying near a busy area of plazas and bars where the revelers were out till at least 3 in the morning. We didn’t get much sleep and both woke up grumpy to a rainy morning. We’d enjoyed sunshine up till about the day before Burgos, and then the rains began that just ended yesterday afternoon. So much for the magic charm of Edgar from Germany, who I think I mentioned earlier. He said if stayed dry all last year during his Camino and would likely do so again this year so long as he was on the trail – perhaps he took a hiatus somewhere back there in Nagera where we last saw him.
So, we headed out of Burgos two days ago – grumpy and with quite sore feet. Mine too, by the way – I’ve developed a rather bad case of tendonitis in my achilles on my left foot. I have no idea where that’s come from as I can’t remember injuring it anywhere in the recent or distant past. It’s been swelling up something fierce and causing me fits from time to time – thank goodness for Europe’s over-the-counter 400-600mg ibuprofen and the wonderful 5% ibuprofen gel we’ve found!
We only made it about 13 km to Rabe de las Calzados. We lucked out there, though, as the last two peregrinos to get into a local private albergue. We came in just behind a Slovenian couple we’ve seen along the way from St. Jean and were placed into the one remaining room with just the four of us. It was almost a snore-free night! Those two are a bit crazy, though. They were up to an alarm at 0400, hitting the trail early to beat the crowd.
We had a fine evening at the albergue with a communal peregrino meal that was nice, although nowhere near the fine fare we had here tonight. Arriving so late, we were the second shift and sat at a table with a relatively local Spaniard from Galicia who we tried to talk with in my very rough Spanglish. That discussion petered out part way through the meal, and we were joined by an Australian who ended up having some interesting opinions about matters I’d been pondering throughout the day, interestingly enough.
I think I’ve left off the last post wondering about my relationship with religion and some of my feelings about the various expressions of religion, Catholicism in this case, that we’ve been seeing here along the Camino. I did do quite a bit of thinking about all of that two days ago as we were making our way out of Burgos. We visited the quite famous and magnificent cathedral there in the morning before taking off, so all of that was fresh on my mind.
I really started with the following questions to myself: Why am I so angry at all things having to do with religion, and how does that relate to my feelings about and toward God?
What I came to through the day was that I’m pissed off because I feel like I got suckered for quite a long time. From very early memory, I was told about God by a whole lot of well meaning people who related to me what they thought I should know about God. They taught me what to believe in a lot of different ways. They taught me about right and wrong and what those concepts meant in the eyes of an almighty creator. Over time, I’ve ended up coming to the conclusion that quite a lot of that was pure hogwash as far as I’m concerned now. All religions that I’ve encountered and read anything about so far are systems of belief based on nothing more than what a bunch of people have agreed to codify and present for a bunch of other people to follow along. As I posted quite some time ago, there are really just a couple of things that I think I believe at this point about God. All the other stuff that I have believed in the past is out the window, and I’m starting fresh toward wherever I’ll end up in my own belief system.
Upon getting to what I think is the root of my anger about religion, in general, and Christianity, specifically, I also came to the conclusion that I needed to get over my arrogant self. Arrogance again! That’s the heart of this whole Camino for me! So what if I got sold a bill of goods that turns out to be so much crap?!? I can start afresh just like anyone else can and explore what I believe and don’t believe. So what if a whole bunch of other people decide to believe a certain way and pour their energy into creating giant idols to that belief system?!? It’s there right and prerogative as free human beings to do so.
I started in the Cathedral in Burgos to look at all the Catholic Church’s treasures in a new light. I started seeing them as art instead of some weird and possibly misguided interpretation of who God is. I started seeing the pure human emotion and anguish, heartache and beauty behind the sculptures and paintings that adorn these churches, large and small. Let the world and every human in it view and interpret life around them, both the seen and the unseen, in any way that they see fit. Let them put their energy into whatever it is they see fit to!
Tranquilo, in all things, tranquilo. That’s the lesson of yesterday and today.
But first, let me return to the Austrailian we met in Rabe de las Calzados. So, this guy comes over and starts talking in broken Spanish and English about the White Christians of the Caucasus and the Pope who burned them for daring to defy the Roman Catholic Church. He gets into a somewhat heated argument with a Spanish guy who has just entered the Catholic priesthood and the guy who was sitting down to dinner with us. That tapers off with those two guys taking their leave, and the Australian sits down with us, happy to speak only English for a bit. He goes on at some length about all manner of things, but at the center of his “argument,” is his beef with the Roman Catholic Church and all the evils they have committed through time. We end up having a somewhat interesting conversation about all this with me basically summing up what I’ve just been pondering along the Camino. Sure, the institution of the Roman Catholic Church as well as church institutions in general have done all manner of unspeakable things over time. They’ve murdered and molested and committed every manner of sin they damn the rest of the world for every day. But at the root of it all is human nature that spawns and maintains the institutions behind which the individuals hide and commit their atrocities. It’s awful and should be combatted at every turn, but I was left feeling that this Australian guy was expressing a lot of the same sentiment that has kept me bound up for some time. He ranted about the evils of the institution that he felt should be abolished and went on to say that humans would one day come to their senses and evolve the ultimate “right” governing philosophy that would somehow bring everything into harmony.
What hogwash! Humans are humans; we’ll do stupid things that hurt each other at all different levels. If there is a God, and I still believe there is, he somehow decided when he created us to not exactly live directly amongst us in the same way that we live with each other. But his heart that is larger than our hearts does still come through his creation in some way to sit down around a table of paella and share thoughts, experiences, feelings, and love.
I know I’ve been rambling along; evidence of need for still more pondering. However, I do know this: I don’t have to remain pissed off at the Church. Let the church be the church. Let the people who want to be part of the church be where they want to be.
Tranquilo – in all things, tranquilo.
That’s the lesson from the Ruinas de Covento de San Anton. That’s where we stopped yesterday for a brief respite in the afternoon. As I said, it’s been raining here quite a bit. We slogged through a section of cloying, sticking mud yesterday for over a kilometer of the Camino where the wonderful folks who maintain this trail need to do a bit more work. It stuck to our boots till we were walking on “platform shoes.” We had it better than the peregrinos de bicicletas who we now hear riding down the trail with a “squeak, squeak, squeak” after trying only partially successfully to wash the mud off at one place or another.
We stopped along the way at the ruins of an ancient convent where there is an albergue managed by local volunteers as a donativo – pay only what you can. There is something all together magical about the Convento de San Anton that drew us in. We unpacked our sleeping gear and joined the local volunteer on duty in his afternoon meal of boiled green beans, potatoes, and onions. Through the language barrier he sent us off to our siesta and took off to his own home. We kicked back and tried to sleep in the simple accommodations of a dozen bunks, but the damp and cold eventually overcame our resolve to tough it out in that magical place with no hot water but the promise of a truly unique and marvelous experience. We left out “lo siento” note and headed down the road to Castrojirez.
A couple of things happened there before we left, though. I’m still pondering it, but my tendonitis condition seems to have taken a turn for the better. There are ancient stories of the healing properties of springs in the area of San Anton and the healing power of prayers of the nuns who used to inhabit those ruined walls. Though still swollen and somewhat difficult, I walked away from our siesta at the albergue at San Anton with almost no pain at all. This small miracle continues through today.
The other thing that stuck with me was the encounter with the Italian biker. This guy in tight shorts walked into the kitchen at the albergue where we were sitting and listening to the local volunteer playing “House of the Rising Sun” on the guitar with his own lyrics. He waltzed on up to the stove without so much as a “con permiso” and tried to fire up a burner to heat some water. He wasn’t successful but thought he was, to which the keeper of the albergue proceeded to give the guy a lecture on how he might blow up the place if he continued. The word he started with and continued to utter throughout was, tranquilo – which translation should be pretty obvious – “Be tranquil, my friend.”
“Tranquilo” has been with me since that time. We made our way to a wonderful little hotel – casa rural – on the outskirts of Castrojirez a few kilometers from the Convento de San Anton. I waltzed along on my pain-free ankle. We splurged on the hotel for the night – money is only money, after all – and enjoyed the best hot shower yet in Spain. The sun broke out and revealed all the wonder and beauty of the local church and the ruins of an 11th century castle on the hill. It was a wonderful, romantic night for both Kat and me, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
It was tranquil. And this morning, we made our way out, initially tranquil as well. But then the adversity of hitting an ATM that didn’t work, not being able to find another, and getting into a brief marital spat over what to do now that adversity had broken the tranquility. Tranquilo, always tranquilo. It’s not the destination that counts. As the keeper said yesterday, “It’s not about getting to Santiago in a great big rush, hugging the statue of Saint James, getting your compostella, and running along.” It’s about the journey. It’s about the tranquility encountered, embraced, and brought about along the way.
So, we called ourselves back together after our spat and stepped into the adversity together. We walked back into town, found a different cajeria automatica, got out some more cash, told each other “I love you,” and found some tranquilo along the way. Every time my neck hurt or my back hurt or when my ankle started smarting again finally today, I sought and found tranquilo. I lived in the moment; I lived in the next step. I lived in the next copse of trees spied over the hill or the next field of poppies and other wildflowers seen amidst the endless fields of wheat and barley. I lived in Kat’s smile as she looked up from her own seeking of tranquilo. And now, I live in the tranquilo of sitting down and writing out these experiences to look at later down the way.
Now, how do I take this all back to the real world when I am in the midst of all the adversity that life has to offer? How do I be tranquilo, always tranqilo?
We made it all the way to Poblacion de Campos today. That puts us a little ahead of schedule for our 31 days on the Camino. The blisters on Kat’s feet are healing or on their way to healing. My ankle seems to be holding for the time being. We’re learning to be tranquilo with ourselves and with each other. We’ll see what lessons tomorrow has to bring. I’m still carrying my arrogance rock in my pack. We don’t come to the Cruz de Ferro where I plan to cast it off for some days yet. I wonder what new ways I’ll encounter my arrogance tomorrow.e