The Route we Walked

The Route we Walked

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day 11 - 16th May 2009 Grannon - Tosantos

Distance walked - 21kms

Weather - sweltering degrees

‘Picking up a baguette at the Panaderia of Jesus, where you know the bread has to be good, we walked away from Grannon to the sound of the church bells ringing - sending the pilgrims off on their journey.

Today we were walking into the new region of Castilla y Leon towards Belorado. Belorado was a huge town in medieval times and was the first town granted permission from Santo Domingo to establish stalls to sell to travelling pilgrims

The walk today was fairly easy with gradual inclines but the sky was cloudless and the sun beat down on us pilgrims relentlessly. Today of all days Aurelia decided she wasn’t going to wear a hat and was quite amused by her new game of how far she could throw her hat from the carrier. Her mother and father were considerably less amused after playing the game for 3 consecutive hours.

Nick’s knee was still bothering him and I had new blisters on my feet. Worse was that we had lost some weight walking and now the hip belt was loose on my waist. I had difficulty doing it up tight enough and as a result the carrier was squishing a nerve in my shoulder making my right arm go numb. Nick and I had kept our eyes out for a new carrier as we walked through towns but no one had any idea of where we could find a baby hiking carrier. Some sales assistants did make the helpful suggestion of Barcelona - which was the complete opposite direction.

The road extended through field after field of wheat and the highlight of the morning walk was an unexpected icecream stall in one of the small town squares. These townsfolk - along with 6-7 feral cats - were all determined to benefit from the visiting pilgrims. The girl at the icecream stand was doing a roaring trade on the day we passed through and there were no complaints of commercialisation ruining the pilgrim experience from us - where ice cream is involved there is no taking the higher ground.

With our hats and shirts drenched with water and wet bandanas around our necks and, with Raya in her UV50 swimsuit and still fighting the hat - we arrived in Belorado by 2pm and sat in the town square to redress my feet and discuss whether we would walk on.

We met Kate and Emma lying down on the town square bench - taking a brief break before they walked the next 12km.

Belorado had HEAPS of albergues - several which were brand new, Î5 Euro and had swimming pools. We passed many familiar pilgrim faces who were already settled into the albergues and kicking back with a cocktail in hand by the time we walked past. Lots of them called out to us to stop and come and join them for a swim.

Aah the temptation to stop at one of these albergues was so strong we nearly succumbed but, on principal we said no. I know it seemed ridiculous when it was sweltering degrees and they had swimming pools but this time, as there was no icecream involved we were taking the high ground!!

As we had been walking through the seemingly endless field of wheat we had seen a car come driving through the fields along the narrow dirt track. At first we had suspected that a Spanish farmer had finally had enough of thousands of strangers traipsing through his fields but the Spanish have endless patience and a real spirit of hospitality for pilgrims of Saint James. Instead as the car drove near to us we could see people hanging out of the car windows thrusting business cards for their ‘brand new albergue with a swimming pool’. Whenever the pilgrim accepted the business card they were quick to offer the use of a mobile phone to the pilgrim to call ahead and book their room.

Neither Nick nor myself agreed with this calling ahead to book a room. In our mind this is what tourists did for hotels, not pilgrims. It encouraged people to race from town to town and fail to listen to their bodies and pace themselves accordingly. Every pilgrim has something they hate - for many it is the cyclists who speed past them during the day and take the beds in albergues in the evening - but this was our particular pet hate.

So sitting in the main square, replacing the wet gauze on my weeping toes we weighed up our options while Aurelia bum shuffled around amusing the locals - and herself!!

Tomorrow’s elevation map showed a huge climb and any extra distance covered today would only make the following days walk easier. We also knew that if we walked on to Tosantos we would find a warm welcome at the albergue and our friends from the previous evening - if they too had resisted the temptation of the swimming pool.

Walking - a far cheaper way than driving across Spain.

Fuelled with caffeine and sweet biscuits we resumed the walk onwards to Tosantos. The last 6kms was uneven road and my feet and shoulders were glad to finally reach the town. Even a top 5 game of ‘ Top 5 chocolate bars’ and the subsequent heated debate between Bounty and Kit Kat had not proved adequate distraction from the discomfort we were experiencing.

Aurelia had also grown increasingly restless as we walked and she was ready to be out of the carrier and crawling free.

As we reached the albergue we were greeted with the warm welcome we had anticipated and our friends from the night before. Oh it was so lovely to have finally kept pace with our friends and the pain of the last 6kms faded away as we found our sleeping space. Like the previous albergue there were no beds only mattresses for us in the attic sleeping quarters but for once we were bunking down next to friends, not unfamiliar faces.

Once we had braved the ice cold showers - and I really do mean ice cold - we went to sit in the sunshine to warm up. Aurelia was delighted to be free on the grass and have a new captive audience at her disposal.

As parents it was interesting for us to watch how different cultures interact with children. The French generally seem to be very reserved and the hardest to be won over by Aurelia’s charms but she loves a challenge. The Germans and Danish are warm but respect her personal space and let her move over towards them. The Spanish however don’t hold back at all. As soon as they see Aurelia there are normally calls out of “Guapa Chicka” and they rush forward to scoop her into their arms. If Aurelia holds out her arms for us or tries to wiggle free they will pinch her cheeks and dance around till she is laughing and giggling. If that fails some form of sweet food is offered and at this point Aurelia is their friend for life. It I also interesting to note that the Germans and Danish are happy to follow games led by Aurelia and they would always let her choose the books to read. The French were really into singing her songs and the Spanish people preferred to create the games or activities.

Tarki the hospitalero came outside and asked if any of the pilgrims wanted to go to the church in the rock for a short tour. While it was an invitation it was obviously expected people would attend and as Tarki said it would be short we were happy to attend the local tour to see the church the townsfolk were so proud of - it really was the only thing which could even vaguely pass as a tourist attraction.

We walked across from the albergue and met the elderly, deeply religious woman who was the tour guide. Our 5 minute tour turned out to be a 1hour tour where we walked up a steep hillside to reach a small cave which had been turned into a small chapel who knows when. We were all sooo glad we had thongs on and of course at the end of the day a pilgrim who has walked 20-30kms wants NOTHING more than to walk up another hill.

One of our fellow pilgrims was a lovely Brazilian girl, who now lived in Italy, who spoke both Spanish and Portugese. Her name was Lucia and she was beautiful both in appearance and spirit.

Aurelia was quite taken with her, she has a real gift of discerning a persons’ character. Lucia was amazed we were doing the pilgrimage with a baby. We were amazed she was doing the pilgrimage with a dog.

We got talking as we walked up the steep hill. She was doing the pilgrimage as a way to see Spain while she worked out where her relationship with her Italian boyfriend was headed. She knew what we meant about having become celebrities on the camino -her dog had meant a similar notoriety accompanied her - but not such a positive one. Albergues would not let her stay because of her dog and as a result she was often left to camp outside albergues in a tiny tent by herself. While we had to stop to give Aurelia breaks during the day she had to do the same for her anxious dog - who wasn’t coping well with the walk so far. He would use all his energy early in the day and then lie down and refuse to move for hours forcing Lucia to wait for him till he was ready to continue. Nick and I are both dog people but we felt this was taking it a little too far.

I asked Lucia if she was finding the camino a lonely experience and she admitted she was and was thinking twice about continuing. She didn’t think her dog would cope with the heat of the mesetta and because she couldn’t take her dog on a bus, like we could take Aurelia to skip the mesetta, she was beginning to realise that her pilgrimage may have to come to a premature end. She was planning to take the dog to a vet to get an expert opinion as to whether she could continue with him. It was also interesting to me that the cost of the dog’s passport to travel from Italy with vaccinations was the same price as the cost of Aurelia’s UK visa.

As we reached the top the tour guide gave Lucia a hard time for having brought the dog up the hill, even though the dog would wait outside. However once the tour guide realised that none of us spoke Spanish she quickly changed her tune and became overly friendly towards Lucia so that she would do the translating.

Many pilgrims complete the walk of St James for religious reasons however this particular group of pilgrims were not religious at all. Once we were in the church we realised the ‘tour’ was really just an attempt to hit up pilgrims for money donations. We all sat in silence while she went into lengthy detailed description of the Virgin Mary on the altar. When Nick made a joke about the Virgin Mary being the only virgin left in Spain the woman realised her chance of getting much money were slim (from us she was getting nothing our wallet was in our packs) and so she brought the tour to an end - but not before she said three lengthy prayers - looking at Nick for most of the time - most likely praying for his heathen pilgrim soul.

Once back in the albergue everyone went downstairs to help make the communal dinner and Nick jumped at the chance to have a lesson in how to make traditional Spanish paella.

The dinner downstairs was wonderful. We had a nicoise salad, paella cooked in a huge communal pan and then baked apples for dessert. Once again the gift of hospitality was evident. It was a simple communal meal and it wasn’t the presentation of the table or the complexity of the meal which made it memorable - the meal was made with simple, local produce, it was the positive energy which made the meal. I am learning this lesson and hope that it is one that I carry home with us. At home throwing a dinner party means cleaning the whole house, then choosing dishes that complement each other and timing the cooking right so the meal can be served on time while still cooking food which fits into the budget. The wines that match the meal have to be selected, knowing this will be talking point at the table, and no wonder by then the whole activity seems a huge hassle and the hostess has no energy left to enjoy the evening. Throw looking after a small child into the mix and this is why I think parents of young children limit their entertaining in the home.

However here in the albergue, where the budget for the meal consists of what the pilgrims the night before donated (neither the church or the state provides funding for paroquial albergues - and all repairs on the albergue are done by volunteer pilgrims eg cold showers because the plumbing was done by a pilgrim volunteer plumber), everyone comes together to help create the meal. They put their love and energy into the process and therefore enjoy the meal because they were involved. The wine has no label but people are just grateful for it to be provided and what vintage or grape kind is irrelevant - it is just about drinking for simple enjoyment.

Tarki also began the meal with a great rap style grace. It was not about being religious but about showing thanks and the rap involved banging the table as loudly as you could with your hands - Aurelia LOVED this form of grace. The aim of the Fransiscan tradition was to bring a positive energy to the food and the meal - and it worked. Once the rap was over everyone had a smile on their face and noisy conversations broke out across the table as people were served.

After dinner we all went to a tiny prayer room with a beautiful stained glass door. The doorway was at hip height deliberately made low so as to remind you to be humble and lower yourself on entering the room. Lucia’s dog, nervous at being away from her tried several times to get into the prayer room. Nick escaped the prayers by nominating himself to put Aurelia to sleep and supervise her.

Tarki played Franciscan monk music, dimming the lights, lighting candles and asking people to sit in silence for 2 minutes to reflect on the day just walked. He too enforced the message that no pilgrim can rush the camino - it will slow you down to the speed you need to walk to learn the lessons it had in store for you. Perhaps this was why our packs were so heavy and we had blisters - we were missing the lessons.

We all took turn to participate in a multi language service and then to read the requests/prayers of pilgrims who had passed through before us. Prayers for healing, prayers for family members with cancer, heart wrenching requests from people desperate to find the answer to life while walking the camino otherwise they were planning to end it all.

It was a moving experience and helped us feel connected to the hundreds of other pilgrims who had passed through this same albergue and shared in the same hospitality that had been shown to us.
In a subdued mood we all went our own way to bed.

The great food, friendship, hospitality and reflection meant that everyone slept soundly and we were all still in our sleeping bags when the sun shone through our window at 7.30am the next day.
The next morning when we woke it was the first time that we had to sadly wish people farewell. The lovely German ladies were returning to Germnay and didn't have time to walk any further. They read Miss Raya makka pakka and there were tears.
Finally we wished Lucia, Tarki and the dog farewell and begun the important question "to mesetta or not mesetta". That was the question.