The Road to Santiago.

October 18, 2002



San Juan de Ortega to Burgos

Before I finished packing, Inga again put salve on my shoulder. After that, she went to check on Rudy. One thing that I have really come to appreciate is that the pilgrims tend to look out for each other, even though they might have been total strangers the day before.

I went outside the monastery into the dark. There were a number of packs leaning against the wall but no one was in sight. Since the bar wouldn't open until 8, I knew where they would be. I pushed open the big wooden door and stepped into the kitchen where we had had the garlic soup. And sure enough, around the table were the others, drinking coffee from bowls rather than the typical small Spanish cup — now that's what a call a cup o' Joe!

After coffee, I said goodbye to Rufino. He was walking to Burgos which would be his last stop. Inga would meet him for a weekend in Burgos and then they would fly back to Frankfurt. They calculate that they have covered about one third of the way to Santiago and would continue on another time. I made him promise to send me an email via my web site when he got home. Then he set out for his last stretch in the dark.

Not wanting to walk in the dark, I hung around for some time. During the night I had seen a van parked outside of the bar. I had seen it before in Belorado and was curious since the albergues don't permit pilgrims to be supported by a team driving in vehicles. This wasn't the case. The driver Helmet Radolf is the president of the Sankt Jacobs Bruderschaft (Austrian Confraternity of Saint James) and works in conjunction with the Austrian Red Cross and the Spanish Cruz Roja. His van was a regular little clinic with oxygen, medicines, and other first aid equipment. It seems that twice a year he rides back and forth along the camino picking up injured pilgrims and transporting them to the next albergue. Inga, as well as Rudy, would ride to Burgos with him in the van. (It's comforting to know there is this kind of safety net.)

We exchanged business cards and I asked him if there were many problems each year. Other than foot, ankle, or knee problems, seldom anything serious. Occasionally during the hot weather there might be some heat exhaustion problems, but not if the pilgrims took their time. There were two deaths due to stroke last year, but that was considered very unusual.

When the bar opened at 8, I joined Rudy and Inga for coffee where I said goodbye to them both and wished them luck. Before long Helmut was honking the van's horn, anxious to get started.

I left as the sun was beginning to light up the church. About a kilometer from the pueblo, the path veered up through a forest. It was obvious that the forest had been planted because all the trees were in straight rows and perfect columns — kind of weird, actually. In several places the path had big puddles and lots of mud, so I walked along the forest floor. It was there that I saw something for the first time — frost. I thought to myself, next time I had better drag out my gloves.

After the forest, I walked through a series of pastures. As I walked up over the crest of a hill, I could hear the clink of cowbells. Sure enough on my left about 25 feet away, seis vacas (six cows) were making their way along the path. Remembering that this is cow country, I gave them the right of way. Over the second hill, I found what they were looking for — the rest of the herd. There were over 100 cows standing patiently, waiting for farmer Jose to come and open the gate. There were mamma cows and baby cows. I didn't see any daddy cows (I know that they are called bulls!) but I do know that mamma cows can be down right protective of their young. Fortunately these were dairy cows and the young were old enough to be the bovine equivalent of the obnoxious adolescent. Still, I was on their turf and a little apprehensive. But, hey, I spent two summers on my uncle's farm and I could speak cow — I could handle this. So I stepped out confidently while using my best low-pitched farmer's voice — "Say, boss, boss, boss! Yo, boss, boss, boss! Good boss, boss, boss!" The cows meekly stepped aside and before I knew it I was through the gate. They just stood there, chewing their cud, thinking there goes another foolish pilgrim.
Cave man.
As I approached the village of Atapuerca, I could see a large sign with what looked like a woman's face on it — perhaps some local celebrity or a famous historical person. As I got closer I decided that whomever she was, she was one ugly babe. Then I realized that she was a he. And not a '60s radical hippie type, but your basic Neanderthal type youth. It seems that Atapuerca is famous for its paleontological diggings and nearby caves. Near the sign in the middle of the field was a monolith sticking out of the ground. It made an interesting contrast to the 12th century church in the background. As I left the spot, I was sure that the eyes of Grog were following me with that suspicious cave man mentality.

Immediately after the town, I came to the Sierra de Atapuerca, which I knew I had to climb. It wasn't a bad climb since the weather was cool and the footing not too rough. But I have come to hate upgrades so the anticipation was worse than the actual climb. Soon I realized that something strange had happened. I found myself counting out the steps in German. After a week with all those German volk (sic), I found German words popping out from the back of my memory after a 30-year hiatus.

After the Sierra, the way was down hill and easy going. At one point I saw Helmut coming back from Burgos. He gave out a hearty wave. The last hour and a half were a long, boring walk through the industrial section of Burgos.
Burgos from afar.
It was three o'clock by the time I got to the old section of Burgos. I walked all around the cathedral looking for the albergue, but couldn't find it. So I took the first decent two-star hotel near the cathedral that I could find. (Spanish hotels are strictly rated by price from one to four stars, so you can generally anticipate the price range before entering.)

As soon as I got into the room, I hooked up my computer and dialed up my email. I then took a long hot shower, after which I set the alarm clock for a nap. I set the alarm for nine o'clock so I could be at a restaurant for the 10 o'clock dinner. I was in a big city. There were no pilgrims' specials available. I was back on Spanish time.

At midnight I got into a nice big comfortable bed and enjoyed the peace and quiet of again being alone. I slept like a log.
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