LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – From August 15 to August 22 Father David Sanchez covered ground from Belorado, Spain to Calzadilla, Spain, wrapping up the sixth week of his pilgrimage to save the steeples of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Butchertown.
Week six began with a couple history lessons as Sanchez encountered a monument marking the graves of victims of the Spanish Civil War and walked past the town of Atapuerca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the earliest known fossil record of humans in Europe. In the town of Burgos, Sanchez toured a restored medieval cathedral and enjoyed a home cooked meal before embarking on a treacherous stretch of El Camino.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Excerpts have been taken directly from Sanchez's blog at wherespadre.org.
“It was a very difficult path: physical and mental. We started walking at 5:30am. We have a lot to cover. I felt back in the Podonis Walk in France. We walked it high Speed (6 km/ hour)till San Juan de Ortega.
“We reached 1,120 m up at the Alto pick. Before it was the monument to “los caidos”, those who died during the Spaniard Civil War. It is not a monument, but a graves mark for those executed in the silence of the night. It was so painful to hear Pedro about how many men were taking from their homes and taken to this hill and others remote areas. They found so many common “fosas.” No one has ever explained this genocide. There was a death silence on this hill. Listening Pedro, I could hear the voice of the men-begging for pardon. He lost his grandfather, and other members of his family this way. Today, Franco is a killer, for his followers a saint. The fascist Spain wounds still have not been healed.
“Arriving to San Juan de Ortega, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It was cold, and the bikers were complaining.
“We asked the owner of the coffee shop to sale us bread, but he said no. Therefore we ate our lunch without bread.
“For many the church in this village has many magical powers. Queen Isabel of Castile, was a barren woman, after she visited the church in 1477 she conceived a child.
“We passed Atapuerca. It is official site of the earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe. We ascended to Cruz de Matagrande, where pelegrinos have started to build an amazing maze of stones. I added mine.
“From here we had the best view of Burgos. We passed Villalval, but did not entered, over the village. Arriving to Cardeñuela Riopico, there was something not right. The shelters were very commercially advertised. The town had celebrated its festivities last week, and they had kept all the banners and flags hanging on Main Street and homes.
“Two more km on the road was Orbaneja, where Mariano and Simona’s house was, Pedro’s parents. The house was on El Camino. They invited me to stay for the night. Simona prepared lunch and dinner for us.
“After lunch, Pedro gave me a tour to the Carthusian Monastery of Miraflores. It was a gorgeous place well preserved. The place had a rose fragrance. The monks prepare a rare incense that is preserved under ground for three years. It was for sale, but it was very expensive.
“We toured the Real Monastery of Las Huelgas, but the nuns closed the public access today on the Feast Day.
“Now was the time to visit the Burgos Cathedral of St. Mary. It is a jewel! They really invested a lot of money to restored it. They charge 4.50 Euros to have a audio tour. It is a place to go and see. It is a medieval Cathedral with a Renaissance spirit. I asked Peter if he knew a small chapel to attend mass in town. He took me to the chapel of Mary, the Divine Shepherdess. Really? Mary was wearing a shepherdess dress and hat, baby Jesus in her arms is playing with a sheep.
“It was a very joyful mass. Fr. Javier must be a composer and singer. He was amazing, and at the end of mass he passed a copy of a song that we all sang with his name on.
“After mass we went for a city walk, and I saw a familiar face at the distance. He was a French young man that started with me in LePuy, France. We had been together in so many “gites” of France. It is a small world! We sat across the city shelter, and we talk for hours.
“Returning to Pedro parent’s house, dinner was ready for us. It was like eating at home. There house was like the house I grew up. It was a very special time.
“I woke up at 7am, Pedro was ready. The night before Pedro’s Dad, Mariano, told me that from Orbaneja to Burgos was the most dangerous road of El Camino. Therefore, Pedro wanted to take me to Burgos. I appreciated that, but it was my Camino. He understood. I walked from his home to Burgos. It was 9 km in hell road. Pelegrinos are pushed to walk directly on the road passing the Burgos airport, crossing heavy car intersections, and am industrial avenue. It ends in the neighborhood of Villafría (the cold village, literary translated).
“Coming from Burgos last night, Pedro made me aware of two business men that change the arrows markers on the road every day. When we passed last night, one of them painted it black over the yellow arrow that guide the Pelegrinos. By this morning the sign has two arrows pointing left or right. Pedro recommend me to take the road, but I took the left to discover that some one had pulled out all the signs. It was terrible. I had to go on the road all the way to Burgos with only God.
“I must confess that their is a commercial war in every village I have entered in Spain. It is very sad. People wants to sell you an experience that only you can have for free. You make the Camino. Many shelters want to jailed you and put you in bed by time. I never saw that in France. The French shelters are more concerned of healthy issues. Backpacks stays out of bedrooms, because bug’s contamination. Only today, the lady of my shelter asked me to put my backpack on a plastic bag. I applauded that. I had been attacked by bugs in Spain several times. France also has better roads marks for el Camino than Spain. I really don’t know what is the official road mark since I entered Spain. I pray every day for whoever took a can of yellow spray paint and decided to make the marks that I follow.”
The demands of the trail have changed since Sanchez’s full-day hikes through France and over the Pyrenees Mountains. With less-challenging terrain, Sanchez now has more time to reflect as he enters the latter stages of his pilgrimage.
“Walking days are now shorter. I would start at 5:30am, but by 10am I have already finished . It is not a physical task any more, but the last month of reflections.
“I thought that it will take me 78 days to walk from LePuy to Santiago. Now I only have 450 km to reach the end of the road. My goal is to reach Santiago on my 50th birthday. Therefore, I have around 33-34 days to get there, an avarage of 15km/day.
“There are to many things to think on this journey. The solitude of the morning flashes ideas, thoughts, fears, and adventure in my mind. What to do next?
“Leaving Rabé this morning was troubled. No because the roads signs, but the mistrust I sensed in the neighborhood. They don’t trust each other. Walking in the village and talking to them. Every one had a different version of their reality. They don’t talk to each other, therefore they live together in insolation. Even their church was closed to visitors.
“As I ascended the first hill, I was covered of fears. Fears that the world would come like them. I just prayed for them as I passed a small chapel at the exit of the village. I also pray that you will not become like them too.
“When I reached the plateau, a strong cold wind covered me. It was so strong that I had to use my walking sticks and press then to the ground. It was coming from the northeast. Suddenly, I started thinking about human temptations. Why there? I do not have a clue. It was just the wind and me. Something that I had experienced during the past 35 days is that there is not time for temptations when your mind is focused in a good cause. The daily exercise and prayers on El Camino has created in me a very healthy path physical and mental.
“The plateau was not large enough to keep thinking about temptations. I ascended to Hornillos. It was a small dusty village lost in time. The coffee shop was opened, and the owner was sitting by the window waiting for the costumer. I was just 9 km from my destination, and passed quietly.
“After Hornillos, I started to pass the walkers that stayed at that village last night. There was a large hill to ascend. After that we all walked on a new plateau till Hontanas.
“You knew that you arrived to Hontanas because of the church’s steeple cross. Hontanas is in a hole literally, around maintains. The quality of life here is amazing. All the shelters are beautiful. Tomorrow I will not be ascending the mountains. It looks like there is a passage among them for 10 km to the next village.”
After missing the Perseid meteor shower—known as the Tears of St. Lawrence in the Catholic faith—due to shelter rules along the trail, Sanchez was able to enjoy the busy night sky in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 18. After an easy day on the trail, Sanchez found himself in the friendly village of Itero de la Vega.
“It is very difficult to enjoy the stars when the shelters close the doors at 10:00pm. Because of that missed the Tears of St. Lawrence from August 9-12. It is a display of falling stars close to the Feast day of the Saint. This years astronomers expected 100 stars per hour. Wow!
“This morning leaving the shelter was like snow was falling. Temperatures were closed to 40’s. I was not sure if it was dust on the air or the air was frozen. I just walked fast to keep myself warm.
“When I reached the ruins of St. Michael, I turned my lights off. It was in the middle of nowhere. Wow! It was a spectacular show on the sky. Every star was so bright like someone polished them. I wanted to stay there, but the temperature kept me moving.
“At the distance, I started to listen music in the dark. A prominent building was in the rising. It was the Abbey of San Antón (see Instagram account: wherespadre). It was a magical place.
“I went to breakfast across of the church dedicated to the Virgin of the Manzanos. It was a lovely time talking to the locals early in the morning. There was there a woman in her 60’s that loved Ricky Martin and Cheyenne. She made me laugh so loud when she told me yo say hi to them in my next visit to Puerto Rico.
“Passing the town was a big cliff to hike. It was easy for me. Going down, I just run it. Several km later, I turned my cell on music of Ruben Blades. The first song that came up was “Pedro Navajas.” It finished with the phrase: “life give you surprises, there are always surprises in life.” Then I passed by the old St. Nicholas” hospital. It has been renovated by an Italian group. They do not have power, but offer shelter and food to the pelegrinos. They want to offer an original experience. What original? I am not sure. I read that they have a ceremony before meal of the washing of the feet. I walked in to see the place. It was beautiful, but I passed the river next to it, and entered the Palencia region. I found a place at the municipal albergue of Itero de la Vega. It was only 5 Euros, but it had everything I needed. I took a nap. By 1pm I was woke up by all the little children of the village that were playing all kind of games at the church patio across the street. There were 20 of them. The town came to life. They played there for 3 hours. I stopped at the grocery store for some toiletries and cookies of course. Later I returned to a local bar to eat dinner. It was not till 7:00 pm, when women from all the village started to showed up at the bar. I though, well maybe it is bingo night. No, no, it was card games night. They take it seriously here. And please do not look at them when they are playing, it is a business. I decided to have a short walk and went to the bar located at the entrance of town. To my surprise, all the men were playing cards there too. I stopped and chatted with the observers. I made a comment that the women where faster moving the cards at the other bar and they laugh. Players commented that thinking always take time, and women don’t think! Well, it was their opinion of small town. I went to the bar and ordered a beer. I went outside to listen to my music, when a group of women passed by me walking by the streets. One of the went to a tree and picked up something to eat. After the walked away, I went to the tree to see what she was eating. OMG!!! It was the same fruits I loved to eat in France. I ate like 20 of them. Here they produced more. All the branches were full of them. I have saved some seeds. I hope they can make it home. I still don’ know what it is. Returning to the shelters the teens were walking and talking by the streets. There were like 20 of them too. It looks like a healthy town and every one is connected.
“There were only two more pelegrinos from Korea with me. I chatted with them returning to the shelter, and we went to bed.”
The next day’s walk took Sanchez alongside the Canal of Castile, a canal initially built in the 18th century to link the agricultural region to the Bay of Biscay, but later used as a large irrigation system. The day’s hike ended in the town of Frómista, where Sanchez passed the day with local villagers.
“Arriving to Frómista was all an alchemist journey of water, air, earth and fire. Passing the town of Boadilla started the Castille Water Channel. It was a piece of human art next to the dusty Camino. The winds were strong today, and the Sun rays were warm enough to have a pleasant walk. It is at the top of my list scenes on El Camino. I took several pictures that you can see on my Instagram account.
“The Castille Water Channel provides water to the valley under it. A channel system that was built in the XVIII Century that helped the agricultural region, and still today in use.
“Last night at the Itero De la Vega, we were only three peregrinos there. Two Korean young students and me. They started to walk before me this morning, but I reached them at the Water Channel in Boadilla.
“There were few people walking today. It looked that everyone started late, because the cold temperatures in the morning. The Frómista municipal shelter was full in the afternoon.
“Passing the water channel, I entered a bakery. Faces again looked familiar. Two young women were running it. They were from Cuba. They knew the name of every single person in the village that entered the bakery of all ages. I sat at the counter, and ate a delicious crab meat sandwich with two glasses of fresh orange juice. It was around 10am, when Pilar arrived. OMG! It was comedy time. One Cuban lady greeted Pilar with the question? Pilar are you going to read in Church today? The other asked: Pilar have you seen Father today? Pilar answered cannot be posted here. I almost felt of my sit. It was so bad and so funny that I kept myself as an incognito priest. I was sure that I would see her in church later today . Pilar is in war with the local priest. She made, created and invented so many funny stories of the local priest that I had to jump into the conversation. I just follow the lines. I could not stop laughing. It was hilarious. She will talk about his vacations in the Canary Islands. What he will wear at the beach, and so many funny things. I did not want to be the town priest in her mouth. She was so beautiful dressed with a Sunday Church dress. She had the look of my Tia Minga. I was enchanted by her sarcastic humor. There was something in her that caused me to embraced her with love.
“The village shelter would open at 2pm and mass was at 1:00. What to do???
“I toured the Romanesque church of St. Martin in the center of town, and sit in a manor plaza across the street. An Italian man that was walking the past 10 days around me came to me and said good bye. A taxi was waiting for me across the plaza. The first day we met. He will not talk to any one. He would not have his backpack on el Camino. He was always well dressed, and wore a Panamanian hat. Two days ago, he needed to open himself. It was not a confession, but he trusted me all his life. I think he saw me at one of the churches and he knew then that I was a priest. Life surprises me…
“Then, Maina showed up with two lambs. Maina has been walking El Camino for almost 2 years, back and forward. She was a teacher in Marsella, France. She was a woman of deep faith. We had an amazing conversation about God, life, and the lambs of course. We talked for almost two hours. She was so full of love for the world. When she left she kissed me on the forehead, and thanked me for all my answers to all her questions. She works in a village 3 hours on El Camino that I will pass tomorrow.
“I went to church, and waited for the priest to arrive. He was running late. He has 10 parishes to care for, 10! There was another priest from France waiting. We both concelebrated with him.
“After mass I went to the municipal shelter. After doing my daily rituals, I went out for lunch. I returned to the shelter And took a nap. It is around 6pm when I heard people talking in the shelter patio. They were having a good time. I heard a women say something about her son coming to visit her this week. He is living in a special home and they were going to bring him to visit her. Then, I heard someone say something about the priest that was in church today… Oh no, it was me. From my bed I said: hey I am here, no one talk about me with out my permission. They started laughing. I went to look from the second floor balcony. It was Pilar and her two friends. We talked about why she did not read in Church today. The other two friends laugh. They invited me to go down. We talked, we laugh, we cry. Pilar had three boys. Two of them with physical problem. The third died at a local fair. She needed a life. She needed love. It is how I can put her life. I knew from my visit with her at the bakery that she is just holding there. And she holds strong. Just thinking about all her pain, made me cry.
“After chatting with them I went for dinner at El Chiringuito. It has the best ribs. It is run by a young man from Burgos, and a young women from Bolivia, SA. She knows how to season the meat, he knows how to treat the guests. It is interesting that the locals don’t go there to eat, because they are outsiders. Their place was full, because peregrines have heard about how good is their food.
“A young man from the albergue joined me at the table. He was an architect from Paris. Interesting enough to discover that he wants to be a priest. Now you know what our conversation was about.
“It was close to 9:30pm and we needed to make it back to the albergue. I took my cloth from the patio, and put it on my backpack. It was time to go to bed.”
Sanchez wrapped up his sixth week on the trail with a 17-kilometer walk from Villalcazar de Sirga to Calzadilla that tested his tolerance of dust and heat.
“It was a desert in all the senses. Not even water to drink. Dust, and sun hit you in all directions. The only comfort you will have was to find another human being to talk to you. I was lucky, but in the last 500 meters. There was nothing here.
“Walking from Villalcázar de Sierga and passing by Carrión de los Condes were the party was last night, you will enter into yourself. Carrión de los Condes was a small villages with a strong past. Today the past was all in ruins. Only the Convent of the Carmelites discalced was alive. I don’t know how many nuns they have, but there was a lot of people outside talking behind the old Benedictine Monastery that now the village uses as a hotel. From there you will see nothing.
“You will have to know yourself to handle 17 km of dust, sun and solitude. Your feet will be hitting the hard gravel and you will not see where are you going at the distance because of the heat.
“Arriving to Calzadilla was glory. I walk faster to pay 5 Euros to have a bed for the night. There was a pool in the shelter. It was to capacity. I just relaxed in the shade after daily ritual of showering and laundry. The owner of the bar-groceries next door was one of the most welcoming people I have met on El Camino. He was a gentle man running his business, but took care of everyone like one of his kids.
“I ate at the other side of town and the fish was delicious. Then I talked to couple of peregrinos and I went to bed.”
You can see select excerpts from Father Sanchez’s blog every week right here on WHAS11.com.
Sanchez’s full blog and additional photographs can be found at wherespadre.org.