Walking West – Reality

Day 12 – Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca, 13.54 miles


A difficult early morning, pre-endorphin ascent led to this spectacular sunrise.
“…we go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure.” – from Walking, by Henry David Thoreau
Hospitality should be the norm for the Church.

Water Bottle, strike 1 – Coffee and breakfast were available, so I made sure to stock up before the cold walk out of town. While waiting in line I realized that I had left my water bottle by the side of my bunk bed. After getting my coffee-to-go and my Napolitana de Chocolate, I trudged back uphill to grab the errant bottle. The breakfast and water bottle mission put me way behind my friends, so I walked alone for the first 6 kilometers or so.

Hot Coffee in Dixie Cups – I caught up with my tribe at the El Oasis del Camino donativo. I ordered a banana and another cup of coffee, but before serving me, the man in charge asked me where I was from. When he learned I was from Texas he grabbed my arm and walked me to his car. There he proudly showed me a Texas-flag Pin gifted by some other Texan pilgrim. Then it was back to business, he gave me a banana and poured hot coffee into a small dixie cup. The coffee was somewhere between the temperature of the sun and molten lava. 2 questions immediately sprang to mind; 1) Can I have a larger cup? 2) Can I have a cup with better thermal protection? I chose to ask neither…one of the best lessons from my first Camino was to NOT impose my expectation/desire/customs on anyone or any business along the Way. Life is different out here and I am learning that openness and humility and gratitude are good practices. I gratefully took the tiny cup and held it with my index finger on rim at the bottom of the cup and my thumb clamped down on the rim at the top. This method ensured I only lost 2 fingerprints due to the heat. 15 minutes later the coffee was cool enough to drink so I slammed the coffee shot and was ready to move on.

Church Tours – Finally through the 12-kilometer town-less walk, we arrived in San Juan de Ortega where we immediately had more coffee and a proper breakfast. After the break, my friend Joe and I toured the old Iglesia de San Juan de Ortega. It was a beautiful old building but mostly unused.

From San Juan de Ortega, we continued walking towards Atapuerca, our destination for the day. On the way, the path goes through Ag├ęs. Here Joe and I decided to take a detour to see the town’s church. Usually, the churches are right on the Camino, but this one was several blocks off and tucked away on the outskirts of town. Like the church in San Juan de Ortega, the Iglesia de Santa Eulalia was beautiful, old, and mostly unused.

After the self-guided tour, we chose to walk through the town instead of the route directly back to the Camino. 3 blocks downhill from the church, we encountered a little old lady. She asked if we had been to the church. When I answered yes, she wanted to know if we had gotten stamps for our credencials and what we thought of the building. It was easy to see she was proud of the church and very happy that we had taken the time to visit. She wanted to know our names and where we were from, and a nice conversation followed. She then guided us through the streets of the little town to ensure we made it back to the Camino. It was a delightful exchange that happened because we chose to leave the path.

Lodged in Atapuerca – My intention early in the day was to go through Atapuerca, cross the mountain, and stay in one of the villages on the other side. Upon arrival at the Albergue El Peregrino Atapuerca, I immediately decided to stay…I was really enjoying my time with the Camino fam and to walk 4 or 5 kilometers closer to Burgos (destination for the next day) wasn’t worth the effort today. It was a good decision.

We had a good afternoon/evening in Atapuerca. Good in a different way than my time here in 2017. Part of our time was spent up the hill at the Iglesia de San Martin Obispo, another old, beautiful, and mostly unused church. The third of today. It caused me to wonder about the history of these churches, what was it like when the towns were thriving? Did they ever think the good times were going to end?

Snorer – Anyone that has spent more than one night in an albergue has a snoring story (unless you are a snorer, then you are oblivious to the noise). There are as many types of snores as there are different types of pilgrims. I believe it would make a worthy subject for a Camino podcast, along with recorded snore samples. Anyway, the albergue in Atapuerca was a nice, efficient layout with small rooms with 6 beds tucked in the room. The small rooms mean that you are very near your roommates. The pilgrim next to me, a lady from the US, was the loudest snorer I have ever heard in my life. Though not a doctor, I’m certain she had respiratory problems. Her snoring stopped abruptly around midnight, so abruptly that I thought she had died. I spent the next 30 minutes watching her chest to see if she was still breathing. She was, and she slept quietly until 5 am when her alarm went off, waking everyone in the room. Though it makes it hard to get to sleep, the ubiquitous snoring doesn’t really bother me. It’s as much a part of the Camino as foot blisters, shoulder chaffing, sunburns, and shin splints. The struggle.

Reality – One of my favorite things about a pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago is that it helps to put me in a proper relationship with reality. The reality is that sometimes I forget things. I could have argued for a different coffee cup, but the reality is he didn’t have any other options. The reality is nothing lasts forever. The reality is there will be snorers in any albergue on the Camino. To be in a proper relationship with reality means that you receive the conditions as they are with humility and eyes wide open.


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