Mansilla de las Mulas or “The Full Camino”

I’ll always remember where I was the day that Bishop Duca was installed. As you’ll remember from yesterday, I checked myself into the Albergue on a whim since it was named for St. Clare. Since I didn’t want to keep the fellow pilgrims up with internet streaming late at night (Spanish Time), the hospitaller said that she had a private room for a few Euro more. “Sure,” I said.  And up I went.

The routine of a pilgrim usually shapes up like this:

  1. Find your bunk / bed and the nearest power outlet for charging devices.
  2. Peel off your socks and do a quick external foot check.
  3. Take a shower.
  4. Collapse on bunk/bed for unsolicited nap.
  5. Root around for food of some kind.

So, I set my mochilla on the floor of my room, surveying the quaint yet fresh look of things. The wind was billowing the curtains gently, inviting a post-shower rest. It was so storybook perfect.

After the shower, I put on my non-hiking clothes and sprawled on the bed to catch up on the news and this particular day, to determine my strategy for viewing the installation. I would be comfortable, it seemed, which would be nice after a few days of being crammed into a bunkhouse.

As I checked my email – nothing pressing, thankfully! – I caught sight of something out of the side of my eye. Hmm, looks like I picked up a tick on the trail. So, I dispatched it and continued to get things set up for a one-man viewing party. And then another “tick” caught my attention. This one was larger.

Oh no.

I had been given a room with ... bedbugs.  These little critters are largely harmless to humans, but they’re basically crawling vampires that generally nocturnal (i.e., you don’t get to see them until it’s way too late and too late) and are darn near impossible to eradicate once they get into your stuff. Many pilgrims have gone several or all Caminos without encountering them. I, however, received first the hospitality of the Franciscans in Carrion de los Condes, and now I was permitted to receive the penance of a Franciscan in Bercianos del Real Camino.  And I got the Real Camino, let me tell ya.  As soon as I discovered the harsh reality, I hung my mochilla on the peg on the back of the door, prayed that none of my items placed earlier on the bed were charming enough to provide a habitat for the creatures.

Here are some things that I realized as I watched the installation of the bishop: (Spoiler alert: very few of these things had to do with him!) I knew that I couldn’t sleep on the bed. I knew that I had to be up very early since I had 17 miles to walk. I knew that there wasn’t another albergue nor another bed to be had in such a small village. I knew that I had my nylon sleep sack which might provide a foil for the foul beasts that had plunged me into a Stephen King movie.  I mean, I really felt like I was in The Overlook Hotel of The Shining.

I attempted to sleep in a rickety wooden chair, which I did for about an hour until I realized that my back would be useless on the trail if I continued to stay upright.

Okay, Decker, I thought, you’ve got to get your body in a horizontal position for at least four and a half hours. So, I cracked a melatonin tablet in half and, like a hopeful caterpillar, spun myself into my sleep sack and pulled the pillow pocket over my head on the floor in the middle of my room. It was there that I slept until my eyes popped open at 5:28am. As I emerged, I observed a rather consternated bedbug returning to the safety of its apartment complex inside the mattress and a lone Stage 2 nymph (Oh yes, you can bet I did some Wikipedia research) retreating across the floor, perhaps to its neighborhood inside the chifforobe filled with musty blankets.  I checked myself for bites (none that I could see!  I did have a control group on my upper shoulder from my brief innocent recline on the bed), shook out my sleep sack over the bed, quarantined it and my clothing in a bag – thank you Ziplock brand ziplock bags – brushed my teeth and beat a hasty retreat from Bercianos.

So freaked out was I, (because, you know, there is always a danger of what are termed “hitchhikers” or bedbugs that find the dark interior of your clothes or mochilla as inviting as an open bar on a cruise ship) that I walked the 17 miles nearly straight through without a break. Whatever adrenaline I had was gland juice well spent.

I checked into the albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas, right tired. After an evening of what was a delightful “family style” accommodation, meal and the inevitable table discussion about religion,  wherein you might be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church is responsible for all the suffering in the world and could fix all the problems if it just sold off a few gilded churches (Honestly, folks really do think that there’s a giant subterranean vault underneath every parish where the pastor, á la Scrooge McDuck, have a swim nightly. Many at table refused to process the reality that The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the face of what they might term, all too idol-ly, Mother Earth. This might be a whole ‘nuther supplemental post, stay tuned.), I nipped off to bed and made for León and a layover day in a hotel to meet up with Fr. Ryan.

You might wonder why I haven’t written in a few days. Well, that was it. Here I sit, with my feet soaking in the bathtub, facing the harsh reality that I’ve only got about a week’s walk left in them. While they’ve been good to me, I think it’s time I’m good to them.  As the schedule goes, if I set out tomorrow from Léon I’ll have about 12 days of walking to Santiago. I don’t think that my tendons nor my ankles at this point have the ability to withstand the harshness of the climb. I’ve got my blisters under control and have purchased ankle supports for the path ahead. But I’m also facing the reality of damage to parts of my body that I’ll need for the next three months and presumably for the rest of my priestly life.

Fr. Ryan is still without suitable shoes, since The Bestards (yep, the’s the shoe name, as you’ll remember) let him down and Spain (nay, Europe) doesn’t sell a size 14 EE shoe, sandal, or dinghy. So, he’ll have to be in a Standard Earth Orbit of some kind until my arrival Santiago.

That said, I’m making the choice to jump forward in time again to Sarria, which is the hopping on point for the “short” trip to Santiago. It’s the shortest distance you can travel and still qualify for the Compostela, which is the certificate stating that the bearer has indeed made the journey. As you know by now, the Camino isn’t about total miles travelled, it’s about allowing The Spirit to lead you to the destination. With that in mind and mindful that I’ve still got more sabbatical to encounter, that’s the reality coming into view before my eyes. So, I’ve walked around 102 miles thus far and Sarria to Santiago is about 62 miles. I gotta say, that’s more that I ever thought I’d walk in one stretch, which is no joke across varied terrain.

I’m still trying to convince myself that I’m not cheating somehow by doing this, but my feet don’t really care what my brain thinks. It’s yet another little humiliation that has been a persistent teacher.

In taking it to prayer, which is where this entire spiritual sabbatical begins and culminates everyday, there is peace in the decision. I know that whatever next step to Santiago I take, The Holy Spirit will lead and there are manifold graces to be had.

As I prepare to rest in Léon this evening, know that the events taking place in Our Holy Church continue to unfold and become part of my offering of prayer and penance. There will be time for me perhaps to address them, if God Wills. Know that those of you especially who are my parishioners are near to my heart as we suffer together these wounds against Our Lord. Read again as I do and meditate on the Prophet Micah, who announced the coming of The Messiah and how to prepare for Him:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
 (Micah 6:8)

Let us continue to both love and do what is good, pray for Our Mother, The Church, and seek clarity in these times where much has yet to be revealed.

Until next post, Oremus Pro Invicem!