Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 3. From Madrid to Burgos

Juan and Maria Eugenia left early for work, and a bit later I walked down to the nearest metro station to meet my friend and traveling companion for this adventure, Raúl. Raúl and I went together to engineering school, from 1972 to 1976, but after school we drifted apart, and it was not until a couple of years ago that we touched base with each other. He found me in the internet, we started to correspond, met in Tijuana (where he was doing a consulting job), then he and his wife Georgina came to visit me in California, and finally me and my niece Maya went to visit them in Mexico City. On that latter occasion we traveled together through central Mexico, and it was during that trip that the Spain adventure was conceived.

We were all excited and thought this was a trip that we could do with our daughters and their husbands, and despite the protestations of Georgina we planned the grand tour of Spain. Then came the bad news: No, so sorry, neither his two daughters nor my own Faby could afford the time or money, and Georgina thought we were insane and wouldn’t hear about our crazy plans. And so it is that two older and perfectly sensible men are embarking in a quest, perhaps not unlike that of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance and his faithful companion Sancho. Who is who in this duet is something only time can tell.

As I started saying, Raúl and I met at the metro station, walked back to Juan’s house to repack the few things we are taking together (2 shirts, 2 underpants, 2 pairs of socks, one pair of shorts, two biking shorts, two biking shirts, and assorted toiletries), and after saying goodbye to Estrella and Armando went back to the metro and ultimately the bus station. We were in luck: A bus was departing in 15 minutes, and by 2 pm we were in Burgos, where we had to pick up the bikes. Friendly natives directed us to the FedEx office, and after one bus ride and some brisk walking we reached their office and took possession of the bikes. Everything was going perfectly, until Raúl noticed that the company had not sent the pedals. Rats! No problemo. We asked our local informants, and they directed us to a bicycle shop about a mile away.

The bike shop was closed (here a lot of businesses are closed from 2 to 5 pm), but we were able to leave the bikes in charge of yet another friendly young man, had a bite to eat, and then came back to the now open shop. We felt great about being recognized right away as pilgrims of Jacob’s Way, and after a few minutes we were fully equipped to start our adventure. First we biked a couple of miles to our hostel, dropped our gear, and called a cab to take us see the sunset at the XII century church of San Juan de Ortega. The church has the sarcophagus and remains of San Juan de Ortega, but is better known for a bassrelief of pilgrims praying to Our Lady, and for the spotlight effect that the setting sun, filtering through an open window, has on the different scenes of this relief. I should mention that when we got there we found the church closed. We asked the young keeper of the hospital de peregrinos (pilgrim hostel) if we could see the church, but he told us that the church closed at 5 pm. Not to be deterred we fell in conversation with him, and learned a lot about the Camino and the pilgrims in it. He also showed us the hospital, and explained how the whole pilgrimage system worked. After a nice 10 minutes of conversation we said goodbye, took photos outside of the church, and were ready to go away when the nice young man came to us and said, “Oh, I cannot let two pilgrims come this far and not see the church. Come along and take as long as you want.” So we did, admired the effect of that last beam of sunlight, and reverently said a prayer for the intention of those who we are doing the pilgrimage for. Our new friend then gave us a very wise piece of advice: “As you walk along keep an eye for the weary and the thirsty, and share with them your bread and water. Then you will be a true part of the Camino.” Words to live by.

We finished a wonderful first day with a fabulous meal of fish soup, fried fish for Raúl and a yummy lamb stew for me, dessert, and a bottle of wine. And all this for only 20 euros! We are certainly going to enjoy our trip!

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