Fifty thousand footsteps a day

poppies in the wheatfields - Navarra

poppies in the wheatfields - Navarra

After two weeks of walking, something in me changed. It might have been the colours of the wheat fields, the golden tinge on the sheaf, the poppies splashing red, the yellow mustard weed, the thistles, the purple of the lucerne. It reminded me of a quote about Matisse – things in his works didn’t have colours, the paintings themselves did. It was the landscape, the scene, the bigger picture.

The staggered planting of the wheat fields produced three effects; the young vibrant green, the golden on the turn and the maturing plants, darker, browner. I was walking a lot, 50,000 footsteps a day echoing in my head like amplified heartbeats. The rhythm was having an effect. The wheat fields were my life. I saw it in three distinct stages – the youthful, bursting growth and energy, now so long gone; the golden days, beginning to fade; and the worn, tired rusty maturing – the reaping stage.

We’d met an artist, a colours woman from an Australian/Portuguese/East Timorese palette who, out of the blue, told me the Camino goes in stages like your life – juvenile, adolescence, adulthood, old age. That seemed kind of weird, too coincidental. Could she have known what I’d been thinking?

I’d mused about my heritage, thought it about time I visited Norway, In the next town, two Vikings in leather sombreros approached me. They were from the same town my great-great-grandfather left when he emigrated to Australia. They wanted my name, said they’d put it in the paper, find me some relatives. The colours woman said neither things were coincidental but the magic of the Camino. I didn’t know, thought it best not to think too much, just keep on walking.

I started looking at the villages. There were little towns with big bell towers on their churches, black and white migrating storks, coming north from Africa, building huge nests on top of every tower, their nests big enough for other smaller birds to share.

Burgos though, was a city, had a spectacular cathedral, good mussels and an imposing history. But walking through the outskirts, along the busy motorway, was horrible, And boring. And after that we had to cross the meseta, a plateau with a reputation for monotonous expanse. Yet the first couple of days turned out to be some of the best walking we’d had in two and a half weeks, one morning along a canal out of Boadilla del Camino,where donkeys once towed boats full of grain. The low light of the early morning sun reflected off the water, creating a haunting ambience.

Some of the albergues had improved too, the staff friendly, the atmosphere more amenable. People seemed more adjusted, maybe it was me. But then the meseta hit us. The long plain to León set in.

We spent a Sunday morning walking alongside a motorway, then went onto a small road under young plane trees, flat and straight all the way to the horizon. Mid afternoon, under darkening skies, I asked a sheep herder, standing around his flock, if there was going to be rain. He shook his finger, hoy no, seemed certain, and I reckoned he was. We stopped in Bercianos, had a couple of beers and some wine, a bocadillo, patatas bravas and watched Rafa Nadal win the French Open, then pressed on in the evening light in an effort to reduce what sometimes seemed an insurmountable distance. We did 35 k’s that day, stumbled in to find the municipal albergue full. It was too cold for our tent so we stayed in a private albergue where the showers were as cold as the wind.

Trains were all that kept the next day interesting, though they went by only occassionally, the mind going all round the world, anywhere but the Castilla-León meseta.

The city of León was a turning point. We’d reached a kind of stage 2, though only just over half way to Santiago de Compostela. We met others who questioned why they were doing it too, some of the landscape tedious to say the least. But we’d started something. We had to finish. And anyway, maybe it was just the endless walking messing with us, challenging us, tempting us to find reasons to justify quitting. But it was too great a way to see Spain. There were towns we’d never have experienced if we hadn’t walked through them, driving would be too quick.

The Cathedral at León was almost magical, from the outside immense but colourless, from the inside an explosion of colours in the multitude of stained glass. I could see how pilgrims would have been mesmerised. In the 19th and 20th centuries we have photos, magazines, tvs, movies. Our worlds are all about colour. The early pilgrims, seeing light spill through the ornate glass, must have felt privileged, and been awestruck. I could sense that. Yet it wasn’t like the landscape or the stained glass had the colours. It was more the journey did. It was the journey that was the road to Santiago.

Leon cathedral

Leon cathedral


~ by Drifting, Rambling on July 7, 2008.

One Response to “Fifty thousand footsteps a day”

  1. “When you walk across the fields with your mind pure, then from all the stones and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you and become a holy fire in you”.
    Ancient Hasidic Saying:

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