“Living in the moment” has a downside. There I was drinking in the dawn… smelling the sweet, home-heating, wood smoke… shivering from the bracing chill of a 3C morning when it occurred to me that I had not paid attention to the way-markers.
Cow-like I had followed another pilgrim who was also “in the moment.” We were most definitely taking the road less travelled. With a church on every hill and a steeple on every church, we could hardly get lost, but every extra kilometer takes a year off my life.
The wrong turn had much to recommend it. Not the least were the cement, irrigation ditches burbling merrily with water. There seems to be no lack of rain and water in Northern Spain. The irrigation system is state-of-the-art and apparently built under the auspices of the regional government. Quite the contrast to Colorado’s haphazard ditches which given our three-year drought, are lucky to run at all.
Judging from the landscape, Northern Spain has escaped the recession that has crippled the rest of the country. Navarre and Rioja are lush with vineyards and agriculture. Lucky for them that everyone is still eating bread and drinking wine. Lucky for them that they had no beach-front, property boom based on dodgy financing.
I have seen no small farms or farmhouses. Everyone lives in the small villages – still medieval in character. Beautiful buildings just waiting for someone with a ton of money who is interested in restoration. I wish that I had a ton of money. The villages are mixed in that many of the homes are centuries old; other homes are new and gated. My guess is that the old houses are peopled by families who are slowly being replaced by machines, and their children, in search of a future, have left for the cities and more promising employment. The new, gated houses are owned by the men who have bought the machines.
Watching the grape harvest I see the writing on the wall. In one field, workers are harvesting the grapes by hand. In the next field, one man drives a lumbering, New Holland, grape picker which straddles the rows of grapes. Mechanical “fingers” pluck the grapes from the vines and convey the fruit to the hopper on one seamless operation.
As we enter Castile (so named for the many castles built in defense of the Moors) you may wonder how it goes as we begin the third week of our pilgrimage. For the most part, we stay in arbergues which we would call hostels. Some are municipal, others are religious or private. We must vacate by 8:00 a.m. We have yet to sleep in a private room. Rather, we sleep in co-ed dorms. The density of beds so close together is claustrophobic. The toilets and showers have been both uni-sex and separate sex. Usually there is a kitchen. We wash our clothes in the bathroom sink and then drape them here and there. Invariably, they are still damp in the morning, so we safety-pin them to our backpacks or wear them. Sooner or later the wet clothes dry via body heat.
Not to say that I am disappointed in walking El Camino, but I did have unrealistic expectations. Walking on average 16 miles a day under the load of a heavy pack keeps us pretty busy. I had expected more time for contemplation/reflection. But we have to keep truckin’. There’s always another hill to climb, and we want to arrive at our next destination in time for a bit of a lie-down before washing our clothes, getting a bite to eat and falling into a dreamless sleep. We move too fast to immerse ourselves in the legends, the history and culture.
Our fellow pilgrims are mixed in terms of ages, cultures and languages, but good-will, aches and pain bind us together. Many are walking El Camino over a number of years as their work schedule and vacation days allow. I think the bits-and-pieces way would be preferable to our walking The Way in one go.
I’ll save my thoughts on the religious aspects of this pilgrimage for another blog, but you are never far from some person’s impromptu art as an expression of spirituality. Yesterday we were passing a wood recycling mill, and wood shavings lay in and outside the facility. Someone had picked up two shavings and inserted them through the chain link at right angles to one another. Other pilgrims followed suit, and soon a good length of fence was covered with crosses.