On the 15th day of walking I walked to Burgos with Jon and Martin of fly-killing fame. We parted ways because they wanted to walk on and I wanted to see the city today.
I saw the Burgos Cathedral, which is second in size only to Seville’s. I saw the Museum of Human Evolution which was fascinating, especially in conjunction with the trip to the church.
I always go into the churches on the camino, and often, standing under the vaults and domes and windows, I realize, Humans made this. You can get intimidated by the grandeur and the distance of the tradition from yours, perhaps, but still: every chalice, every sacristy, every vestment, every hermitage, every gargoyle, clock, and sconce? Some dudes made it.
That makes those great structures all the more divine, and all the more silly and flawed. And when I went to the museum (which is here because Atapeurca, which I passed through yesterday, is the site of cave systems which contain the oldest human fossil record in Europe), I saw how beautiful brains are, how beautiful it is that we evolve and create as we are created. I saw sculptures of more hominid species I knew existed, and maps of our migration, and the geological unfolding that allowed the cave systems in Atapuera to harbor our ancestors’ remains for so long, and I thought of the cathedral and its many iterations over the centuries, and how all of it exists in the same ever-changing world.
But when I was at the museum, I was exhausted. My feet hurt, not from blisters or any trauma, but just from walking 300 kilometers. I was dehydrated and my brain was in no condition to be a proper witness to the majesty of others’.
And that frustration with my tiredness and lack of interest led to the best realization: I’m a human and I’m doing something amazing too. My feet ache so much because for 15 days, they have been my only transportation. No cars, no trains, no elevators: for 15 days, all my travel has been powered by this human body I’m in.
My human body is fascinating to me these days. I mean, I was confident enough with it before this walk, but now I’m also in awe of it. It craves profound motion and profound stillness. It is always ravenous and there hasn’t been a meal set in front of me that I have not finished. It knows when to want beer and when to want water. It knows when to eat bread and when to eat a packet of sugar and when to eat a plate of blood sausage. It always hurts and yet is always getting stronger. It withers if I go too long without moving or too long without stopping.
Tomorrow I walk out of Burgos and onto the Meseta, marking, in my mind at least, the middle of this pilgrimage. The Meseta is the massive, ancient interior plateau of Central Spain. Pilgrims begin crossing it after Burgos and go until they reach Leon, about ten days later. Or they take the bus.
They say it’s boring. They say it’s like Kansas or some state in the middle of America you don’t visit unless you have family there. They say it’s a mental game.