Camino Debrief – The Middle Third
June 4th to July 14th, 2013, I walked the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago, Spain. The middle third of the Camino is the Mesetas, which run from Burgos to Astorga as part of the flat plains on the plateau of central Spain. They say this portion of the Camino tests your mind. My body would pass the test (with challenges) of the initial third, but how would my mind do? Well, I have to admit the middle third was my most challenging part on the Camino and I am still trying to figure out why. I guess that mind is working overtime as it can’t even figure it out. Brierley describes it as “peace and quiet of the endless crop fields.” Perhaps it is that quiet which wakes up the mind?
The hike into Burgos was one of the longest I recall. After being in nature, seeing animals and plants and having terrain to navigate, the city seems harsh. And walking into Burgos we couldn’t find the path along the river so we walked the industrial area that goes for 5 kms that somehow seemed like 15 kms. So do stop locals and do your best to find the path along the river into Burgos.
Burgos was our first planned rest day. Once you get into the older part of town near the cathedral, it is lovely! Initially I wanted to stay in an albergue the first night and then do a hotel the 2nd night, but Ron reasoned that you have to be out of the albergue by 10 AM and you can’t check into the hotel until near 3 PM, so we’d have to carry our backpacks around. He voted for the hotel the first night and then the albergue, but once I sat in the wonderful deep bathtub it was the hotel for two nights!
During our rest day it rained. What a perfect thing to have it rain on a day we weren’t walking! I had a massage and we found a wonderful place that had a “real” salad, so we ended up going there for lunch and dinner. The cathedral in Burgos was magnificent with so much to see. We lucked out that it was a free entry day too!
By the time we hit the Mesetas Ron and I became walking partners. The weather was moderate mostly in the 70’s and 80’s and clear without rain or much mud. The wind cranked up a bit, but never got intense. We were lucky as often the Mesetas can be hot and windy, and shade is rare.
It was flat. And with flat it was less strenuous on the body, but way less for the eyes to see. Perhaps that is why I had a harder time? I am very visual and the Camino has taught me that some of the most beautiful sights are those you have to work to get to. The beauty of the Pyranees mountains was now replaced with the nothingness of the Mesetas.
The skies were blue with aqueducts and wheat, barley and oats around us. Bored people stacked stones to say they had been there. At night I slept like a baby. By day I had the rhythm of the Camino rolling through my veins (get up at 6 AM, out to walk by 6:30, stop for tea and a pastry or bite to eat near 8 or 9, walk, stop for a cold drink and to use the restroom near 11, arrive by 1 or 2 PM at the next nights albergue, shower, get a beer, nap, chat it up with others and share a meal near 8 PM, lights out by 10 PM).
There is no clear point at which one agrees to walk with another. It is something that evolves in its own organic way. Many people you get to see at multiple points in a day, some you will walk with for 30 minutes and never see again, others you forgot you knew will bring a bright smile to your face when you see them in Santiago.
Over time Ron and I realized that 22 kms per day was our “sweet spot” for walking. It was far enough to feel we made progress, but short enough to savor the walk and have a valuable afternoon and evening before starting the next day. I learned from my initial rest day, due to the blisters, that a rest day is good for the soul. Ron helped map out a plan for walking about 22 kms a day with one rest day a week in the bigger towns of Burgos, Leon, Sarria and Santiago. That really worked well for us.
It was nice to have a walking partner. Ron would help me get my canteen out until I later learned I could do it myself. I’d help him with his canteen. It was someone to bounce ideas over with, someone to talk to. And although we walked together, we seemed to have plenty of alone time where one of us was ahead, or we just were quiet.
It was during the Mesetas that our stories rose to the surface. Ron and I talked about growing up, dating, marriage, kids and our tattoos. The other person mostly listened, but occasionally had a question that allowed us to go deeper. Telling our stories was healing. It’s nice to have all that time walking in which to reflect and it’s nice to speak about it after reflection.
It was while we were on the mesetas that I turned 56 and Ron turned 55. My birthday was spent in one of my least favorite places (Municipal Albergue in Hornillos del Camino), not knowing that San Bol (a very cool place to stay) was just another 6 kms ahead. But at least the bed bugs didn’t get me and I was able to gracefully turn a year older while Ron treating me to dinner. Ron had a nice birthday just 6 days later in Reliegos. I started telling folks we were going to dinner to celebrate his birthday and before you knew it, 10 people from all over the world gathered to share in the celebration.
Temperatures ranged from 41 to 85 degrees F on June 25th as we walked 22 kms from Ledigos to Calzada del Coto. So layers are a good thing on the Camino, well layers are actually a good thing in everyday life really, no matter where you are!
And during this time I began to get the lesson that “I don’t need to control things to feel safe.” I took on allowing life to unfold without needing to control it. Allowing versus hoping for a specific outcome. Realizing safety is a concept we hang onto so tightly, but rarely are we faced with outright unsafe situations, rather we worry about our safety in our minds, when that energy could be better spent elsewhere.
As I was leaving the Mesetas I saw this quote from Byron Katie that seemed appropriate.
Know that the only important house to clean is your mind.
So even though the Mesetas were my toughest section on my Camino, I got through it without many challenges, other than less terrain changes and less to occupy my eyes with. It did draw me inward and allow me to explore my beliefs and my limitations so I could release some of them that no longer serve me. I think the Camino is transformative on so many levels and I am oh so grateful for having the opportunity to walk it!
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