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Day 9: Another Stranger in Town

(Originally posted on 31 August 2016)


What a strange day this one..

I started the day at 5:30 am in order to be at Burgos by 11am.

Burgos is one of the main cities along the Camino. Even though Atapuerca (the town I started from), is physically close to Burgos, passing through the center of the city took me longer than expected.

There are two ways to reach Burgos from Atapuerca, through the wilderness, or through the suburbia. I had to choose the latter, because I am wearing running shoes throughout this trip (rather than mountain hiking shoes), which function better on pavements than dirt tracks. After 6 miles across the industrialized suburbs - factories, roundabouts, asphalt and polluted air - I arrived at the center of Burgos.

I was instantly caught in the vortex of the city life. I stopped at an ATM to withdraw money, then in a supermarket to buy a conditioner, then in a pharmacy to buy some medical stuff, then in a bar to have a coffee, and then in a pastry shop to spoil myself with some churros. Had I spent even longer in the city, the list of stops could have become endless.

I felt that the city was eating me alive.

The contrast is obvious. In a small town, you are more or less free to set your own rhythm of the day. Yes, maybe you would check emails and organize some calls, but everything is largely within your control, subject to your choice, your time, and your breath. In a city, it is the opposite. It is the world around you that controls you, when to wake up, where to visit, what to buy, when to work, eat or sleep, etc.

Such contrast is amplified in a pilgrim's experience. In cities along the Camino, such as Pamplona, Burgos or León, almost everything you were used to changes around you. The roads in these cities are not full of backpacks. It is much easier to find a wi-fi connection. Most of the bars do not provide the sillos (the unique stamps that certify your pilgrimage credential i.e. the piece of paper I am posting with my diary every day). The citizens don’t say “Buen Camino!” when they pass you by. You get lost because it is almost impossible to discover the signals on monuments, paths and boulevards. Not to mention that shops are everywhere, full of souvenirs of all kinds, artifacts, t-shirts, sticks and gadgets, you name it. Overall, these big city stops along the Camino appear more touristic than spiritual.

In Burgos I was not a pilgrim. I was not Marco. I was just another stranger in town.

Nevertheless, I had the opportunity to pay a little visit to the marvelous cathedral, an architectural crown jewel of the Gothic Age. The sight of it would leave any visitor absolutely speechless and breathless. Of all the distractions offered by my short encounter with the city, this undoubtedly has been my favorite one.

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