Monday, February 14, 2011

After Fiesta Night Pilgrims Face Spiritual Challenge of the Meseta

Last night we American pilgrims showed pilgrims from Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, Korea, Finland, and South Africa how to party American Methodist Style! Our international pilgrim friends were astounded that we could have so much fun while practicing the Virtue of Temperance. Still, it was a late night, so the 7:00 mandatory wake-up at the albergue caught us fast asleep in our bunks.
Burgos Cathedral, one of Spain's finest,
as seen from the upper cathedral square.

We sleepily walked to the lower cathedral square and slowly awoke over chocolate croissants and cafe con leche. By 9:00 the Cathedral Museum was open and we stood in line to get our credentiales stamped and learn more about one of Spain's most amazing cathedrals

Then it was time to tour the cathedral and the city itself. We set our sights on the two major monasteries, the medieval city walls, and the statues of heroes like El Cid. Too many sights and sounds to describe here, but suffice to say that we deserved a good rest at our second hotel (only one night is allowed per albergue), the El Cid which overlooks the cathedral. Tonight was about resting, not partying, and we washed our clothes, luxuriated in our rooms, and then sampled the cuisine of this fine city.

The next morning it was time to face the spiritual challenge of the Meseta, the second major stretch of the Camino Frances route. The Meseta is a vast, remote plateau, known among pilgrims for its long, desolate walks. Although the terrain is blessedly flat, there are few towns, with those being quite small and sometimes nearly deserted. Fortunately our Camino is not in the summer, because once the vast green fields are harvested the reddish brown earth radiates the sun back at pilgrims and the long days' marches are oven-hot and dry.
Our pilgrim fellowship begins to spread out as we
walk gravel pathways in the early stages of the Meseta

As we left Burgos the sky opened before us like on the American Great Plains. We could barely make out mountains far away toward the west -- the Montes de Leon -- which we'd climb in about a week. The terrain around us, though, was nearly as flat as Nebraska. An occasional river valley meant a small drop and then gain in elevation, but each hour brought more of the same -- boot on gravel, boot on gravel.

With nothing much to see we came to understand the spiritual challenge of the Meseta. We've now told each other most all our stories about ourselves. We now know each other's oddities and delights. Now we have just the terrain to entertain us, and our own thoughts. The terrain holds few mysteries -- like an open, blank book -- so our thoughts begin to absorb us. Our minds turn to grand and petty grievances, to big and small dreams, to hungers and hopes, to losses and failures. The distance stretches out between us pilgrims and we begin to walk almost alone. The solitude becomes a test of character. This is the Meseta.
The town of Hontanas, tucked into a river gorge.
We welcomed the tiny, mostly-deserted town of Hontanas, tucked into a river gorge and almost invisible until we had practically stumbled into it. The town has many ramshackle buildings, populated mostly by pigeons and stray cats. Its business is mostly pilgrim traffic and we settled into the rambling albergue feeling like we might be among the last generations to experience this fading ghost of a town. As we settled in, we realized the albergue included an unusual feature: a few double beds in private rooms! Our group took a vote and decided the double beds should go to couples in our group, so we singles said our good nights to them with a little smile and slept in the comfort of slightly smelly and somewhat noisy friends and strangers from all over the world. 

View Cyber Pilgrimage in a larger map

(This completes this week's mileage. Congrats for Team Charles which has now pulled out into the lead. Pilgrims please remember to get your new exercise totals to Greta so that we can conquer the spiritual challenge of the Meseta and enjoy the fleshpots of Leon)

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