Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pilgrims Stop in Burgos to Celebrate Pilgrim Grammy Night

It's Pilgrim Grammy Night in Burgos. We took our boots off and
put our party on in our first Big City stopover. See if you can identify
Lady Gaga, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and ????
Some may be wondering why we haven't seen many posts on the Cyber Pilgrim Blog lately (thank you, Jackie, for yours). First, let me assure you it is not because of sloth. In fact, when we came through Najera, our first night after Logroño, we stopped at the Monasterio de Santa Maria del Real there and heard a delightful sermon on "The Virtue of Diligence." Although he preached in Spanish, this priest clearly was eloquent and convincing about the case for keeping our pilgrim noses to the grindstone. I especially found his words about the average amount of time Spaniards watch television (which is actually much less than Americans due to the low quality of Spanish TV) to be inspirational. I immediately determined I would no longer watch "Millionaire Matchmaker" reruns from this point on -- I will wait only for the first-run episodes. I'm debating whether to cross "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" off my list, too, but am anxious not to appear extreme based on a inspirational sermon.

Crosses in the fence outside Logrono. Why are they
protecting the cars from us
No, it definitely was not because of sloth that we haven't posted. To be honest it was . . . .well . . . . lack of WiFi. We learned after we left Logroño's highways that we had momentarily left Western Civilization behind us. We made crosses out of sticks and wove them through the chain link fences that protected the roaring traffic from contact with pilgrims. The crosses, though, were almost like a "good bye," because once we left the side of the road we entered into miles of farmland -- vineyards -- that made us feel that we'd stepped back in time. We walked the gradual climb up to Navarette, then the long, steady climb to Najera. Here we found a small town of 7,000 that is closely connected to the pilgrims of this time and times past.

The Monasterio of Santa Maria del Real (where we heard the sermon) is a fabulous medieval edifice, built on the site where the son of King Sancho the Great followed his hunting falcon into a cave and there discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary. The cave is now part of the church, and as we walked through the building after the service we noted pilgrim motifs -- scallop shells and gourds -- carved into the centuries-old choir pews. We remembered that our walk follows the trail of millions over centuries who sought to find the spirit on the road to Santiago.

Monasterio de Santa Maria del Real -- not the first
sermon on the Virtue of Diligence we'd ever heard.
After Najera it was more walking on remote roads, with an entire day's walk punctuated by only one little town (Azofra) prior to our overnight at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Your humble author was happy to see this little town, and only partly because he convinced us to bag the albergue bunks and instead to stay in one of his favorite Camino hotels, the Hotel Parador in Santo Domingo. In Sandy's first Camino he left his walk here in order to meet his wife, Gail, who was giving a talk in Copenhagen. He took a bus to Burgos, then a train to Bilbao, then a plane to Copenhagen so that he could surprise Gail at her hotel. Sure enough, she was shocked! As he arrived in Copenhagen he realized, though, that he had left his favorite hat at the Parador in Santo Domingo. When he returned after a couple of days of watching Gail give lectures in Copenhagen the hotel had nicely kept his hat wrapped in a plastic bag at the desk awaiting his return. Since then he's always had a soft spot for this place. Besides, it is right across the square from the church which has such an interesting story.

The church's story goes like this: About 1000 years ago a family was walking to Santiago and they stopped at Santo Domingo. A village girl immediately fell in love with the family's eldest son and, when he spurned her advances she ran to her parents and accused him of indecencies. His parents flew into a rage, had him arrested, and later that day the young man was hung (to death, presumably). His family continued on to Santiago (we all know about pilgrim timelines) and, upon their return, were surprised to see their son hanging from the rope -- alive! They ran to the bishop to ask him to cut down their son. The bishop, who was just about to dig into a dinner of two beautiful roasted chickens, said, "Your son is as dead as these chickens on my plate," at which point the birds jumped up and ran out the door. The bishop was startled and immediately had the son cut down from the gallows. Ever since that day two (live) chickens are always kept inside the church. It's said that if they cluck while you are in the building you will have a fabulous Camino. It's said if they don't cluck, you will still have a fabulous Camino.
Vast fields of green just outside Santo Domingo

I have done my duty and told you one of the Mandatory Camino Stories. As you can see, not all stories of the Camino are completely plausible, but they are always, well, weird.

Off we went the next day to Tosantos, a worthy distance goal of 28 kms. Here we came to understand the unbelievable beauty of the Spanish countryside. The vast distance of plains, with waving green fields of grain, was breathtaking. After a good, long day of walking with a brief stop at Grañon (a beloved pilgrim stopover because its albergue is housed in a church) we arrived at the tiny village of Tosantos to find a black-haired hospitalero who invited us to cook dinner with him after we'd finished our laundry. We cooked a dinner of beef stew, with various members of our group cutting meat or vegetables, and after a time our hospitalero friend had whipped it up into a sumptuous feast. Before we could eat, though, he asked if we would follow a member of the local church up to the grotto above the town where the statue of the Virgin Mary was kept. We headed up the hill on the other side of town and sat in the cold cave as we were told, in Spanish, about the miracles caused by the Virgin through the statue.

We returned to the albergue and dined on beef stew over pilgrim chatter to a boom box CD of Taize music. After dinner we were invited to the uppermost room at the albergue and there we read aloud the written prayers of pilgrims who had stopped here three weeks prior. As our hospitalero explained, these people had now made it to Santiago and by saying their prayers we would be praying with them. We were surprised at the stories included in the prayers -- stories of sins committed or sins suffered, stories of addictions or endings -- and after our prayers we wrote down our own prayers with the same openness and vulnerability, knowing that pilgrims who followed us three weeks hence would read our prayers and make them their own.

Our next night's hideout after the plush digs of the
Santo Domingo Parador Hotel
The next morning we left Tosantos behind, headed to the nearby town of Villafranca del Montes de Oca, which is the gateway to another mountain pass. Here your humble author reminded our group of what one pilgrim encountered along this road about 800 years ago. As he walked the lonely path through the woods he happened upon a pack of wolves tearing away at the flesh of a dead pilgrim. With one voice the entire group told your humble author to keep his mouth shut now for the rest of the day, but whenever there was a rustle in the woods our groups eyes all quickly darted in the direction of the sounds.

As we came down from Montes de Oca free of wolf bites we arrived at the town of Atapuerca, a tiny village with two bars, three albergues and one world-famous museum. After the busloads of schoolchildren left in the afternoon we stopped by the museum to discover that Atapuerca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the place where some of the most ancient hominid bones in Europe were unearthed by anthropologists. Delightfully, the museum's video about these early human-like beings was all in English (produced by the BBC, no less). We stood in awe as we watched and realized that these valleys and mountains were home to "people" for thousands of years before us.

After a night at the albergue in Atapuerca it was time to make our assault on Burgos. There's little to say about walking through the industrial suburbs of one of the Camino's major cities. This town, birthplace of Francisco Franco and the city where Ferdinand and Isabella sent Columbus on one of his voyages, is one of two large metropolises we'll visit on the Camino. What does that mean? Pilgrim fiesta!

Given the Grammy Awards happening this very night back in the US of A we decided to hold a Grammy-themed event at a local karaoke bar just off the cathedral square. Everyone unpacked their gowns and tuxedos from their packs and spiffed up for a night of singing and reminiscing about American Pop Culture. Yes, the city of Burgos has one of Spain's finest Gothic cathedrals. Yes, it was the home of El Cid. Yes, we were surrounded by culture. But tonight, it's pilgrim fiesta night and we're taking off our hiking boots and putting our party on!


  1. One has to hand it to the USA Methodies on the Pilgrimage, they have style and are not afraid to show it.

    In the past I have stayed at the Parador and have struggled to convince my traveling companions that staying at the Parador was really not so good, the sheets were not so crisp, the water could have been hotter and my lack of sleep that night was not due to the snorers or the bed bugs, but the damn Bells. Not being one of the Roman Horde, I do object to being woken every hour, on the hour by Catholic Bells especially when us Cornish Wesllians don't bother with bells at all. We persuaded Charles a long time ago that we would give up the bells if he would turn a blind eye to strong drink and in the spirit of Cornish unity, the bells were ditched!!

    Still, Santo Domingo is a little oasis of civilization on the way to Burgos and as one sits back in a comfortable chair (well actually, any chair will do so we can rest the tootsies) one can begin to hope that you actually will make it all the way to Santiago.

  2. Covey, I'm glad we share a fondness for the Parador in Santo Domingo -- what a great place, and not as expensive as other Paradors.

    The first time I noticed the hourly night time bells was in Cirauqui and I was stunned that the priest would get up every hour on the hour to ring the bell, I guess so insomniacs would know how much sleep they are not getting. That's true Christian charity and a lesson in diligence that we Protestant pastors who sleep through the night must carefully ponder.