WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS A GRAPHIC PHOTO AND DESCRIPTION.
Some people dread it and skip it altogether. Others—like me—are curious and fascinated by it. I am talking about the Spanish meseta, the seemingly endless plain on the Camino de Santiago. Some say the Camino is in three parts: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. The meseta is the mental stage so people either lose their minds, find themselves, start hallucinating, or give up and go home.
They are far fewer villages and hardly any trees, mountains or shrubbery of any kind. If you walk the meseta in spring and summer at least you have boundless fields of green wheat and wild flowers. But in the fall, the meseta is like an old man’s face. The wheat fields are stubble and the earth itself is dry, aged, creased, tired—ready to turn over and turn go to sleep for the winter. But fall demands it stay awake and the sun shines without mercy on the already arid fields.
I parted from Moritz one morning in Navarette when he decided he simply could not walk on. We walked over 100 miles together and he was brutally exhausted. I, however felt a magnetic pull to keep walking. So I went on alone. This was not an easy decision for me. For one thing it was just fun walking and talking with him. For another it was nice that Moritz was naturally good on directions and I didn’t have to pay so much attention to the road. So honestly, I was a little bit nervous about going alone—more work.
Nevertheless, I reminded myself that I would much rather be lost on the Camino de Santiago then driving in downtown Seattle on a rainy night. Making that comparison helped me to pack up and carry on.
But most of all: after Burgos, the meseta began. That was something we wanted to walk together. But things change. So it was with a heavy heart that I set off.
I managed to make it to Burgos with a woman from New Zealand I met on the trail. I will call her The Kiwi. We got along great and I thought, “Well, I could walk a long way with this new friend.”
Except for one thing.
I had a horrible time understanding her because of her accent. And English is her native language! Approaching an albergue she said, “I hope there are lots of bids.”
And I thought, “Bids? Are we bidding on bunks now?”
Or looking into a café to see if it was open, I asked, “Is anyone in there?”
“I can see someone’s hid,” she said
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Then how do you know anyone’s there?”
“I can see their hid!”
I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that every bed was a “bid,” every head was a “hid,” every check a “chick,” every peg a “pig.” And so on.
That coupled with the fact that she often walked just slightly ahead of me made conversation difficult. In one day I’m sure I asked a hundred times, “What’s that?” You’d think I’d get used to her accent, but I felt like I had to work so hard to understand her. Each day I understood less and less, and each day she got more and more irritated.
Also, unlike Moritz who liked to stop eight thousand times a minute to take photos, The Kiwi liked to walk fast and skip things. So she skipped the scenic routes in favor of ones that got us there faster. These routes were often next to noisy roads so our communication stopped altogether.
Finally we reached Burgos where she announced she had reservations in a hotel. After many nights of sleeping with twenty to fifty other people I decided I, too would spring for a private room. It was bliss. So quiet.
And that’s when I heard the crackling—in my ear. It was as if a tiny frustrated writer was scratching on parchment then taking the sheet and crumpling it up. Every time I turned over I heard crinkling.
Then I had my Ah-ha! moment and got up and did what horrifies doctors everywhere: I stuck a bobby pin in my ear.
Now here’s the part that may disgust many of you but there will be some readers who will vicariously experience tremendous gratification. I pulled out what seemed to be half-eaten carmels, bottom-of-the-bag potato chips or embryonic dragons. What a difference! I could hear an ant fart. Even the air seemed loud.
Even though it was one o’clock in the morning, I immediately sent a photo to The Kiwi explaining that now for sure I’d be able to hear her and I was so sorry. It wasn’t her accent it was my ear wax! I was thrilled.
As I lay there waiting to fall back asleep, I thought about what else keeps me from hearing others. I wished I had some kind of mental bobby pin to dig out my opinions, biases, and preconceptions. If I could remove my judgments and intolerance perhaps I wouldn’t have to work so hard to understand some people. I fell asleep thinking that in comparison, removing ear wax was pretty easy.
I woke up the next morning and read a text from The Kiwi sent a few hours earlier. She said she had a “wonderful sleep and felt energized so decided to walk. We’ll have reunion drinks!” she wrote.
But of course I never saw her again. Who could blame her?
That meant I would be walking the meseta alone. No one to talk with for miles and miles. The meseta. Alone. So be it. In a depressed state I went in search of my first café con leche. Sipping my coffee I felt the buzz of my cell phone. It was text from Moritz.
“On my way to Burgos! I consider to go to the municipal. Where do you stay?”
Oh, my God thou hast not forsaken me! Yay.
We had dinner that night in Burgos and the next morning set off. Here is what I learned walking the meseta with Moritz: companionship is not about talking. There were long stretches of time where we walked in a companionable silence—no words said at all. The endless road ahead seemed sacred—not something to be avoided.
We didn’t lose our minds, hallucinate or give up and go home. Did we find ourselves? Maybe in the safe silence we found parts of ourselves that we had never met before.
I can’t help but think of Jesus and his followers walking those dusty roads together. They must have enjoyed the same safe silence with him. They didn’t lose their minds but I bet they often thought they were hallucinating. I’m sure that some of them gave up and went home. I know they heard God but for the most part didn’t know it.