Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

April 28

April 28th, 2016

April 28

image

Calzadilla de la Hermanillos to Puente de Villarente 32 km. A day out on the big empty. The first 25 km were through slightly rolling fields broken by a few canal crossings, but really just path and sky. It ended finally on arrival in Reliegos and the Torres bar which was covered with hippie graffiti, blasting blues, and made the best coffee so far, a high point in an otherwise blank day. It was, and has been, all about the walking and not about seeing. Unlike the Appalachian trail green tunnel, this is a green plain, but the effect is the same. Walking, you turn inward, only opening out when a bird, or wind, or stand of trees intrudes. Beautiful Albergue tonight with only a few pilgrims, but some of my favorites.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 27

April 27th, 2016

April 27

image
Calzadilla de la Cueza to Calzadilla de la Hermanillos 35 km. Another day on the flats, with only two details that stood out. For some days there have been what, for lack of a better term, I’ll have to call hobbit houses–dwellings built into the rise of a hill, part in, part out of the earth with chimneys, vents, and the like rising from the sod above the hill. Another feature that emerged today was the round barn. It is unclear to me whether they are simply storage barns or if they serve other functions–livestock shelter, etc, but I will make an effort to see one up close. Walking on long open stretches near roads does put movement in the context of transportation, and I guess a movement, a shadow, a gesture by another walker prompted a deep memory. I remembered with remarkable clarity an incident from my youth, the first moment when I really thought about walking as a means of transportation. I was young, probably under 10, in my family’s house on Summit Ave. in Woodstock Virginia. I’m sure my father was at work and I don’t recall where my mother was– if she was out of the house or working somewhere out of earshot. There was a knock at the door and there stood an old man I had never met but who was clearly a farmer. He had a tanned, deeply lined face, a faded hat, and heavy worn shoes. He carried a box full of something green, and asked if I wanted to buy some water cress. I didn’t then know what water cress was, had no money myself, had never purchased groceries for the family, and found myself alone. I’m certain I fumbled about, embarrassed, and ultimately declined the proffered greens. He turned slowly, walked back out to the road, only to walk a few yards before turning into the next driveway. I watched as he went to each of the remaining three houses on the block before walking down the road lined with tall pine trees toward downtown. He was stooped and his tread was slow, but had gravity and dignity. I remember wondering why he was walking instead of driving. He seemed otherworldly, and in many ways he was. A child of privilege–my father was the town surgeon–I understood nothing of the rigors of farming or the economy where he labored, but what struck me most was that, at that young age, I understood that I did not understand. I have since walked the world and probably have taken on a bit of that stoop, but I wonder now if I really understand any more than I did then.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 26

April 27th, 2016

April 26

image
Fromista to Calzadilla de la Cueza 35 km. The meseta, the plain these days where I walk, has many old canals which were once used for transportation but now primarily serve irrigation with weirs that divert water into long heavy concrete aqueducts. The fields remain rapeseed and hay, beautiful, green but boundless, slightly rolling, flat. As in most long-distance tracks, it is easy (and often necessary) to fall into a pattern, rising at the same time, resting at particular points, stopping at regular intervals. On the Camino, the pattern is enforced by the existing support structure– the availability of food at points during the day, towns with albergues at good endpoints. However they can contribute to a certain numbness. For example, the albergues will lock their doors at night, usually around 10:00, which usually is perfectly acceptable. The old adage that hiker’s midnight is 9:00 pm holds here, though the Albergue practice does make me feel as if I’m in high school with a curfew. Still, I have found myself generally amongst the rest of the pilgrims, heading up to the bunkhouse soon after dinner, checking email and settling in for an early evening. Tonight I ate with my friends Gloria and Rudy. Both live in Italy though Gloria is originally from Porto. After dinner we walked up the hill to a bell tower full of swallows next to a cemetery. Gloria and I stayed, feeling the evening wind slowly picking up at our backs. Spread out before us was the broad, slightly rolling plain– flat and green– in stark contrast to the mounded clouds above the horizon. We waited as the sun sank and the colors came up. Purples moving to pink and orange, intense light drawing sharp lines on the vapor. Then the moment when the pink circled the horizon, only then to turn black, and we hurried like delinquent school children back to the Albergue door which remained unlocked. Sometimes people show you what you should have been seeing all along, but for habit, desire for comfort, and a little laziness. These people need to be cherished.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 25

April 27th, 2016

April 25

image

Today was a walk from Hontanas to Fromista, 35 km. The bar across the street opened before 7:00 and the woman who had worked so hard all the evening before was there, baking croissants and making cafe con leche, so I stopped and had a “grande.” The walk out was magnificent, the sun slowly rising at my back, the temperatures too cold for what I was wearing, but I knew it would warm if I hiked hard and the sun continued to rise as it tends to do. The trail wound through fields, showing its age as it was a trench next to the fields up to my right. They grow hay for the sheep and I guess for cattle in other regions, a wide, coarse grass which was as I walked exactly at eye height. The temperature hovered just above freezing so there was frost at the base of the blades, but at the tips, on every one, was a single, perfect sphere of water, drops glistening the the light that was just beginning to flood the shadows and illuminate the moisture. It was a textbook picture of fluid dynamics and an artist’s celebration of reflected light. Walking is a privilege because it puts you in a place to see such perfection.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 24

April 27th, 2016

April 24

image

Burgos to Hontanas 31 km. A damp misty walk out of Burgos, wandering narrow streets through to the river. Early on a Sunday morning, I passed an old nun, sweeping the stoop in front of a blank-walled convent. We both stopped, exchanged muted greetings, then on she swept and on I walked. Mid-morning coffee was in a village bar where the proprietor gleefully showed me his wall of multi-national notes and bank notes, with a section with American money including a two-dollar bill. I wished I had a note to give to him, but he had a tiny gold plastic Camino medal on a string to give to me. I’ve never worn jewelry–no rings– and resisted even wearing a watch for years until teaching demanded it. (What I loved about Duke were the clocks in the classrooms). But now I have my tiny medal on a string around my neck and the green string the old woman in the Nepal gompa tied about my neck after I toured the library. Hontanas was a wonderful town, with a great restaurant just across from the Albergue. I spent the evening taking to Amber, a Canadian woman who now lives in the French Pyrenees and is walking for a week or so. She had washed her face and somehow gotten glitter all over it so we talked while she sparkled. Late evening the three North Carolina pilgrims I met in Villafranca arrived, so they, Amber, and a lone Italian man and I enjoyed out pilgrim meal before an early night to bed.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 23

April 23rd, 2016

April 23

image

Zero days are best spent with quiet wandering. Burgos is a beautiful old city particularly when clouded in early morning mist. Shoes in the mud rack, so I strolled in socks and sandals which among trekkers is perfectly fashionable. The old city is massive stone gates, squares, all circling the cathedral whose many spires just showed themselves in the early fog. Along the river are sculpted evergreens looking like Edward Scissorhands found employment here, and a magnificent two-story carousel. Spent the morning in a coffee shop catching up on email and writing about Whitehead only to walk out into the bright sun and a crowd of Saturday saunterers. In the square by the cathedral I stopped to watch a pack of four-year olds kicking a mini soccer ball around. Of course they start early here. Just before noon I visited the cathedral. Today, for the first time in history, they were having a beatification in Burgos, the five martires de burgaleses. My rusty Spanish did little to further my understanding of their martyrdom but I’m fairly certain it had something to do with the Spanish civil war. It was a fascinating and solemn event befitting its setting. Late afternoon was Spanish league soccer on the TV and listening to battling brass bands as they moved with their entourage from one square and venue to the next. All in all a satisfying, productive, and physically lazy day.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 22

April 23rd, 2016

April 22

image

Last night’s Albergue was an odd one. Villafranca Montes de Oca does not seem a prosperous town. Many of the houses are closed up and in disrepair, but someone has renovated a large old hospital as a fairly upscale rural hotel, with an Albergue up in the attic. They clearly want to cater to upscale patrons, but walkers are probably their bread and butter. They served a great pilgrim meal in a high-ceilinged restaurant with great service and even better wine. What made me smile was the ambient music– it sounded like a church choir singing U2 songs. Did spend some time talking to three retired women from North Carolina on a big hike, and met a pilgrim from Portugal who walks almost as fast as I do. Morning came early as a group didn’t understand how voices carry down stone hallways. I had a long walk today to Burgos, so I rousted myself out of the top bunk and got on the way before anyone else, cresting the hill up above Villafranca as the sun came up. Today’s walk was much different from yesterday. All morning I was away from the highways, first going up through a wild forest (mostly scrub oak) intermingled with some cultivated pine. There was a moment when the red sunrise shone on the pine treetops, making them first appear as if they were going through some sort of die-off. Then I realized it was the light, really magnificent light. Soon after a deer crossed my path, halting briefly in a thicket without seeing me. Moments later it tensed and bounded away. The first wildlife except for birds I’ve really encountered, but the birds were plentiful, with cuckoos calling all morning and a hawk rising almost at my feet. I thought it was red-tailed but that might have been more reflected sunrise. After summiting, the trail wound down to Ages with, as in all towns, a great stone church. The bells struck nine as I entered, echoing off the hills. The rest of the morning alternated walking through forest–mostly pine plantation with muddy access roads–and small villages. Some of the trail followed the border of military training land and at least showed some evidence that sheep grazed up there some time, but I still don’t understand livestock here. I pass barns full of animals, and they have hay piled to the sky, but no pasture land– no fencing, almost no sign of livestock life. Very curious. Later I began to catch pilgrims who had started at later points on the way. It was a drizzly day, so most people were in rain gear. Large ponchos tend to predominate here, I guess because people aren’t carrying much other weight, so they can afford the extra pounds. Unlike long distance treks where people tend to have interesting, often unusual gear, the Camino is dominated by equipment twins. People–often couples–clearly have decided to take a great walk, and gone together to the outdoor equipment store, purchasing matching packs and rain gear. Sometimes I wonder how they keep track of what belongs to who, but there is something endearing about it all. The latter part of the day became the familiar suburb hike, ultimately skirting the Burgos airport, then following a highway another 8 km to city centre. My guidebook recommended taking a local bus from the airport to town, and since I had already logged 32+ km, I decided to cheat, to yellow blaze, and follow the book’s advice. The city Albergue is good– well laid out and had washing machines. As I unpacked, I realized laundry was necessary, so my later afternoon was spent in the washroom which at least had beer (80 cents) in the cold drink machine. Dinner was tapas with Michelle, a triple-crown hiker and fellow pilgrim, in a bar beside the cathedral which dominates this part of town.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

April 21

April 21st, 2016

April 21

image

Another longish day–36km from Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Villafranca Montes de Oca. There was a very large crowd at the Albergue last night. The muddy boot room was piled high with wet, dripping shoes. This morning I had breakfast before leaving–more of that great Spanish coffee and iberica ham–so I walked out in the middle of the bubble. The path in front of me looked like first graders lining up for the lunchroom. After about an hour, things began to thin out as the landscape opened up. Crossed today into a new region, leaving La Rioja and entering Castilla, and the plains are no longer broken by forests or steep valleys. Nothing to stop the wind which was in my face all day. Rain threatened but never materialized. The architecture also shifted. The Way passes through many villages on this stretch and, while stone still predominates, there now is also a lot of exposed timber frame infilled with stuccoed brick. Between villages the Way was a wide gravel and clay path, often paralleling the main highway through the valley. I was able to see long distances ahead, the yellow path dotted with pilgrims. Although the comparison is obvious, it is hard not to see the “Walking Dead,” with a flood of pilgrims lurching toward salvation. Although they are all quite lively in the evening, pilgrims tend to walk with a dull, rocking trudge that clearly resembles the television drama (though I don’t cringe when one approaches).

 

 

T. Hugh Crawford

April 20

April 21st, 2016

April 20

image

Rain– all morning, but not too hard so it was good hiking weather. The temperatures stayed cool and the way was mostly on dirt which didn’t really turn to deep mud, so it was soft. I realized how the hard pavement of these last days has been pounding my feet and knees, so the soft track was a welcome relief. Again it was miles of grape fields interspersed with some olive groves along with hayfields. I haven’t seen any pasture land so far, but today I passed a large barn clearly full of sheep, almost like an enclosed feed lot. The lambs were bleating, but sounded as if they were feeding– clearly not a slaughterhouse. The soft track helped me make my longest day, almost 39 km. (Though I am feeling it tonight). I keep wondering why I cannot get into a good thinking rhythm on this trek. Unlike other long distance hikes, there are many distractions– a village every 5 km or so– and a constant stream of walkers. The people in the villages walk a lot and always have a smile and an “hola” or “buen camino,” and there seem to be pilgrims every 50 meters. Even when I’m walking alone, it is as if there are others very close by. Clearly good thinking on the Camino requires some focus and discipline. But today was taxing, so I think I’ll just read a bit.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

Seo wordpress plugin by www.seowizard.org.