I had a great American style breakfast with Iri and Luke. Then off I went around 7:15am. Though I did have a bit of an upset stomach throughout the morning, things settled down and I had some good distances and pace. My blisters seemed under control, I made excellent speed up a steep hill, and soon found myself in a large expansive forest of oaks.
While in the forest, I passed a vendor who gave away food and hand squeezed juice donativo (for donation). I got a banana, donated a euro, looked over her various totems there in the middle of the forest, and tarried on.
Later I encountered a monument to the Spanish Civil War. Not only did it memorialize the casualties, it served as a tombstone to a vast unmarked shallow grave discovered during the conflict. I prayed for the victims of that and war who are killed or driven from home in fear and violence.
I chatted briefly with many: Michaele and Flavia, Nicole from Haiti/Quebec (who again was stopping at every church to pray), New Yorker but originally from the Domincan Republic George who has been hanging out with other New Yorkers Wei and Wei, various older French travelers, a young man with his music headphones on, and something like Michael from Poland.
I got to San Juan de Ortega in good time, grazed on some chorizo, cheese, and bread for a picnic. I watched as a high end cycling tour group of mostly Americans set up a rather fancy picnic. I tried to not be judgmental but I find it hard to imagine a humble, prayerful pilgrimage when you have caterers at your ready. I try to recognize that just as the beach is shared by quiet seekers and sports fans, the trail by hikers and cyclists, the cathedrals by the faithful and the tourists, so too must the Camino. But it is a distraction when you see those with different intentions.
As I was ready to leave, I ran into Linda from San Diego again. She's such a trip. She knows everyone on the Camino. I discovered she's a retired physician and I learned more about her recent first time experience volunteering for a couple at a small donativo albergue on the Northern Camino. Antonio caught up with us and the three of us continued to Atapuerca, another 6-7km.
We found a couple stone and grass labyrinth just at the summit before descending into the village Agés. Linda, the labyrinth coordinator at her church, and I were thrilled and walked it.
We checked in and ran into Iri and Luke. Boy they are fast walkers. Also, I finally met Denise of Long Beach who people wondered if we traveled together. After laundry and a short rest, a group of us went to take a tour of the Atapuerca excavation site.
The guide gave a lot of detail but spoke way too fast for me. I caught this and that sentence but I really need to practice listening to fast talkers. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see this slot canyon where the first human beings migrated into Europe. The excavations go on during the day and it's during the night that we can visit without interrupting them.
Had a delightful dinner with Linda, Uli (from last night), and Gies (pronounced Hees) from Holland. It was lots of fun and he, an avid cyclist and town councilor, described his greatest accomplishment of bringing the Tour de France through his small region or county a couple times.
And then he got serious. When he sensed we were faithful types, I think, he offered why he was walking the Camino. In short, less than six months ago he was in a 3 week coma from a bacteria while vacationing in Curaçao. He lost 40 pounds and his wife was three times told he would not live. He did, returned to the Netherlands, and began a physical therapy to recover lung capacity and strength.
Five weeks ago, he was deemed healthy again. And when he was deemed healthy, he went and bought tickets and was on the Camino by himself less than 3 weeks later. He finishes today in Burgos and will on Friday meet his wife in Madrid for a week of vacation and celebration.
I cannot imagine his journey. I was nearly in tears as I realized that his Camino was an unabashed walk of gratitude. He wasn't sure if he was thanking God, his nurses, his family, or what. But it was all about thankfulness. When he gets to Burgos, he decided, he will put down some thoughts that he's been pondering and write a poem to his many grandchildren about his love for them and his gratitude.
A Camino of thankfulness. I feel like I broke bread with Lazarus last night and my soul feasted.
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