Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camino Eight – The Hospital of the Soul

06.06 a.m. I leave North London and walk 20 kms to Hornillos del Camino with my full pack.  I am suitably amazed with myself!  A man led me out of Burgos, passo del Rio, to turn right where the cockleshells were clear.  I walk alone for a couple of hours, no rain, wondrously cool and Yves stops to tell me all about his wondrous randonée chariot made in Lille .  I reach Tardajos, meeting up with Vanessa and John along the way.  As we eat breakfast and the Lovelies share their woeful tales, the other Frenchman walks by with his donkey.  The French!  They are so inventive. 
Vanessa has pulled a tendon and we walk slowly together, further on the three of us picnic on the poncho.  It is a pretty walk, wheatfields and poppies, corn cockles and cornflowers line the path. We reach Hornillos del Camino and neither of us can walk another step.  Vanessa takes a couple of my heavy duty Ibuprofen and when the pain in her leg has gone she heroically sets off to find a private Casa Rural as the only albergue was full.  The Casa is a splendid new house built by two generations, the third generation was three months old and winning over all who coo-ed at his gurgling smile.   Our room was large, heated, three new beds covered with thick duvets and luxurious satin counterpanes, ensuite and we had the use of an extremely well-stocked kitchen and fridge.  The young couple’s generosity was touching – we were almost the first guests of their brave venture and while we all know pilgrims are a ready income many walkers can be selfish, demanding and disrespectful.  I would love to think the kindness of this family is never abused, their golden generosity never tarnished.

Vanessa was fairly bouncing after the Ibuprofen and cooked a superb pasta filled with all manner of good things.  She invited a stray Norwegian to join us; the woman had a stentorian voice and found herself highly amusing.  She didn’t pause for breath after speaking but rocked herself into an insane laughter before taking up the previous thread and continuing her confused anecdotes at a volume of decibels just short of an invitation to murder.  She was oblivious to any hint that John, Vanessa or I just may have had wanted to say a word or two ....  I ate and fairly scooted upstairs to the silence of our room.  

Today is the second day of walking the Meseta and we are off to Castrojeriz, 20 kms ahead of us.  It is pure magic to walk.  10 degrees C, slight breeze, lowering clouds, chiaroscuro of dancing light and shade as the wind jostles clouds across the sun.  We all leave at the same time but soon separate as we find our own pace.  I pass a man on crutches, hospital crutches, but he has a mochila so he intends walking the Camino.  A rainbow arcs across the sky right over him.  

Ahead a plump young woman wearing star spangled black leggings smiles happily as I pass her and tell her how lovely they are!  Poppies pose in perfection; birdsong, similar to a pardalote follows me.  I stand for a long time trying to see the source of this surprising sound as I know it is definitely not a pardalote, but even as it accompanies me I am unable to catch sight of it in the thick waving wheat.  A frisson of nostalgia ripples like the wind in the wheat across my storehouse of memories:  I would spend hours watching these tiny birds burrow nests in the coastal sand dunes at the foot of my garden near the Kingscliff coast forty years ago. 

We all three walk into Hontanas as the church clock strikes ten, spend a moment or two photographing the shrine of St Bridget.  I completely forgot, if I ever knew, that she and her husband went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the 14th century.  When they returned to Sweden her husband died and she became known for her works of charity, particularly toward unwed mothers and their children.   Birgitta became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and devoted herself to prayer and care for the poor and the sick.  I stayed with the Brigidine Sisters of her religious foundation last Christmas when I went to Assisi.

In the main square of this hamlet a surprise – Ela and Christina, last seen with Paulo Coelho!  I introduced all these Lovelies to each other and they both warned us to bypass the first café, the coffee was lukewarm.  They had spent a miserable night in the albergue that was full, back in Hornillos. 

The second and third bars were closed but from the last came a divine smell of food.  We forgot the coffee and had hot fresh chicken soup for the soul and bought pan du chocolate straight from the oven to take with us for picnics.  As we sat there John, ruing the loss of his camera, said that in the Middle Ages there had been a Papal Bull stating that pilgrims who steal from pilgrims will burn in hell.  A most restorative thought.  The Jacotrans driver came in with mochilas for the albergue, saw my walking stick and recognised its menomic of red and white polka dots, smiled and said: “your mochila is safe with me”, and drove away to deliver mine to Castrojeriz.

We paused to explore the atmospheric ruined Abbey of San Anton, niches of little Santiago statues and remnants of Tau crosses gave a special sense of being surrounded by Presences, and not quite as alone as we thought we were.  The great doorway held significance for early pilgrims and alms of food would be given them as they passed on to ... Castrojeriz with its single street of three kilometres. 

That’s half way to the next village!  We take a room for three at the Albergue de Peregrinos, a splendidly restored barn and mill that also offers a pilgrim meal.  We shower, refresh and go to explore.  John and I walk to the end of the village, and prove what happens when one walks and talks in two’s or three’s or more – we miss the essentials. 

On the return walk – can I imagine adding all these extra kilometres to a walk of what will be for me, with detours, 800 kms, I must be daft – we meet Vanessa who excitedly tells us of an enchanting encounter at the Hospital of the Soul.  We had walked right passed it.

Hospital del Alma, a house with no doors.  How could I have missed it?  It was a miracle.  Mau and Nia met some years ago on the Camino and eventually they settled here and opened their extraordinary home, a renovation in process, their creative selves and their love for the Camino to all who were led to enter the open front door.  There was a front door, only.  Mau said there had been so many doors close in his life he wanted to live only with open spaces under the lintels.  We were invited to wander at leisure, help ourselves to the cakes and teas and fruit spread on the rough hewn table.  Their home was filled with curiosities, cottage antiques, salvaged charms of painted and decorated panels, fabrics, textures, flowers, herbs, fragrance: rose petals in bowls of water, incense, holy silence, a photographic exhibition.  Paths, paved, cobbled, sgraffito’d, led around the garden to the caves at the back where Mau and Nia had built the Wild Chapel, placed the Laughing Cross.

The Camino, said Nia, whose beauty held me spellbound, is not done with our feet, but our Life.  They spoke of chasing shadows, those ephemeral will o’ the wisps named success, fame, fortune ... well, success, fame and fortune have all escaped me. 

Being in the presence of Nia and Mau I felt a sense of being enriched in my  0wn presence. 
I used to feel that in the presence of my friend Bahli when she was alive; she too would give meaning to the tessarae of my own fragmented existence which gives me grave cause for concern at times.  I look back over emptiness and a few colourful dots.  Bahli said those few colourful dots were what gave her faith in her own journey.

After such blessings I spent a sleepless night – it was about now that I learned microsoft had blocked access to my email so thoroughly I was unlikely to ever contact my world of friends ever again. John had tried every which way unsuccessfully to access it through his laptop.  I fretted and counteracted my thoughts, fretted and counteracted with positive alternatives the whole night through. I was so cross with microsoft, how can they do this, I argued to myself, to a nearly 70 year woman walking alone 500 miles across northern Spain, in a country whose language she doesn’t know?

 Would the nerd who blocked it do this to his mother, his grandmother? I fumed.  I knew I had to really stress now so I could let the whole scenario go tomorrow – which is another day.  It worked; I finally rose, dressed and pronounced – well, that’s it then, I’m free to walk without bothering about blogs, friends, or anything else.  For a nano-second I wondered if my long silence might prematurely invite the Requiem Mass I’d left with Father James, but sent the thought packing.  So what if it did ... Resurrection’s not new ...

To be continued ...

Z xx

No comments:

Post a Comment