The Road to Santiago.

October 27, 2002

Roadside Pilgrim Memorial.
Fallen pilgrim

Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero

Today the clocks were turned back to standard time. That extra hour of sleep was sure welcomed.

Before I left, I wished everyone buen camino. Cormack told me that he decided to stay on an extra day because his feet were still bothering him. The disappointment on the face of one of the young Spanish girls was obvious. Then I said goodbye to Rudy and told him that I would try and see him in León.

Today the weather was good for a change. I decided to go only 17 K to what was described in the guidebook as one of the better albergues. After the past week of misery, I had to get back to a point where I enjoyed el camino again.

The walking was easy. That's why I was surprised when I came across a stone memorial with a plaque on it. It was dedicated to a German man who died at that spot a few years earlier. It happened in the summer — probably from heat stroke. I realized that one pilgrim's stretch of nice road could be another's torture depending on the time of year and weather.

I stopped for breakfast in a small pueblo called Bercianos. It was an enjoyable restaurant with a pleasant proprietress. I had café con leche, two slices of tortillas española (a type of quiche) and zumo de naranja (fresh squeezed orange juice). My blood level was pretty good (100) so I calculated my dosage based on the carbohydrates in the tortillas and the juice.

The two young Spanish women from the albergue were there and saw me taking the insulin. One told me that her brother was diabetic since the age of 11. I asked her how he was doing, she said that he died last year at the age of 21. When I asked if it was from diabetes, she said no, a car accident. Sometimes I forget that there are other things that can kill.

I left the restaurant and went merrily on my way until two hours later. I was just like the Energizer Bunny when the batteries run out — I slowed down and just couldn't take another step. I tested my blood and it was down to 67 — I was hypo. I sat down, ate some chocolate from my pack, and rested for about 30 minutes. Eventually I felt better and was able to continue. But I realized that the old figures for calculating dosages were "out the window" and I would need to be more careful.

As I continued on, I tried to clear my mind and concentrate on the landscape. Later, I went past a series of ponds filled with black waterfowl known back home as coot. This made me try to figure out where the expression "crazy as a coot" came from. Perhaps it's from the way they bob their heads back and forth when they swim — perhaps from a pilgrim with too little on his mind.

Optical illusion
Later on I saw one of those things that could be interpreted as a milagro (miracle) by a tired and receptive pilgrim. Off in the distance I saw a heavenly bridge of tree boughs. Actually it was an optical illusion. All along this section of the camino was a straight row of sycamore trees, about 18 to 20 feet high. The trunks were free of limbs up to about 12 feet. Since the bark was a light gray, the trunks of the trees off in the distance blended in with the gray clouds and appeared to disappear. Thus in the distance, it looked as if a bridge of boughs was strung across el camino. I was ready to build the church of the heavenly boughs.

About 2 K just before the village of El Burgo Ranero, I met an old man on a bicycle. I asked him how far it was to the town. He then gave me a brief Spanish lesson informing me of the correct way to ask the question. He proceeded to give me instructions for a shortcut to the albergue. When I got into town, I followed his directions and quickly found the albergue.

After checking in about 2 p.m, I went to the restaurant/bar across the street to get something to eat. But all they had were boiled eggs and cold fried shrimp. I needed something more, so I went to the supermercado next door to buy some vittles. The store was closed but an old man told me that it was always opened, even on weekends, so I rang the timbre (doorbell). Soon a woman appeared from around the corner and unlocked the door. I bought a bottle of wine, a package of soft cheese, and some pavo ahumado (smoked turkey).

I went back to the albergue and found José cooking lunch. He offered me some and I politely refused. He seemed surprised, almost offended, and so I decided to have some of his lunch if he would share some of mine. He was cooking some that appeared to be stew and told me that it was ternera (veal). After a few bites, I realized that it was from veal, but was actually callos (tripe). (Tripe is just a fancy word for innards!) I hate tripe! So, when José said, "¿Dudley, es bueno, no?" I responded, "Si," which I figured wasn't a lie since I was using the English meaning for no instead of the Spanish.

In Spain the word "no," which is technically a negative, is often used to punctuate the positive. For example if someone makes an obvious statement, or one that you agree with definitively, you would add, "¡si, claro, no!"  which translates to "but of course." It is similar to our Yankee expression in New England. When you want to say that something tastes good, you say, "not too bad!"

MaryAnn, a Swiss woman about my own age, was having lunch at the same time. She had an interesting tale to tell. She has a very controlling second husband so she decided to walk el camino to give herself time and space to work things out in her mind about their relationship. She didn't tell anyone that she was leaving her home until the night before she left. She said that her husband told her that she couldn't go. He was shocked when she said that she had already purchased her ticket for Burgos. I think it took a lot of courage for her to step out on her own — literally.

After lunch, José left, saying that he was feeling good and wanted to continue on to the next albergue. He left and I was sure that that would be the last I saw of him. He was young — in his late twenties — and about 6 foot, 6 inches tall. With his stride and strength, he could really travel.
Later that afternoon an old man came and announced that if anyone was interested in seeing the local church, he would be opening it at six o'clock. This is common on el camino. Since there are so many churches, large and small, which have historical importance to el camino, often a caretaker with the key opens the church for the pilgrims to see. So, just before 6:00, a group of us marched over to the man's house and knocked on his door. He appeared in a clean white shirt and tie and had on what was probably his best suit jacket. In his hand was a large cast iron key. He opened the door of the small church, switched on the light and proudly ushered us inside.

The entire interior was new. Beautiful woodwork: the ceilings, the floor, and the new pews. The little man pointed to the stained glass windows, which he explained were made in 1998. But he was most proud of the new addition to the statue of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers. The statue was a polychrome, wooden carving of undeterminable age. On one side of the saint's feet was a model of a pair of yoked oxen. On the other side of the saint was the new addition — a toy model of a John Deere tractor! We tarried long enough to be polite but then hurried back to the albergue.

When we got back, the old man, from this afternoon, showed up on his bicycle. I told Gundrun about how he helped me, she started to laugh and said that he did the same with her. I had this image of an old man who, everyday, gets on his bicycle to go looking for pilgrims to help.
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