We are officially through the Maseta, beyond Leon (the final city we will pass through before entering Santiago de Compostela), and well past our halfway point! We can't believe it, but we just counted, and today completes our 22nd day of walking, leaving only 13(ish).
Every morning our day starts off with Mary asking in a perfectly serious voice, "So guys, I was thinking ... what would you guys think about going for a little walk today??"
And then we walk.
The Maseta was long and flat, and generally along a path running parallel to the highway, with large loose stones all over it. Essentially, I think I didn't look up for four days, because every time I did, I tripped. We took far fewer pictures, and our distances decreased, while seeming way further. It was flat and straight, and we walked.
One night we stayed at a quaint "donativo," a pilgrim hostel running on donation only, which usually provides crowded bedrooms and rickety beds, but far makes up for this with wonderful hospitality and community meals. This was no exception, and we dined outside with everyone at our hostel, and our fabulous three hosts -- Camino volunteers who take shifts and spend three weeks per summer serving pilgrims at this albergue. We prayed together in the chapel, and then headed outside where we blessed our meal, and then ate mounds of pasta, bread and salad (in that order), followed by watermelon. At this point our hosts passed out a piece of paper with lyrics on it ... and then reappeared on the front porch in front of us decked out in costumes, wigs and crazy glasses. We cracked up simply because they were having so much fun! They got us all, a group of 40 or so from all over the world, to sing this funny pilgrim song they had written, which was hilarious even though I had no idea what I was singing.
Then they yelled, "FRANCES!" and called all the French pilgrims to the "stage," handed them toilet brush microphones, and instructed them to sing a song from their country. They got us all singing a song about the Champs-Élysées; Slovenia sang a sweet children's song, and then they yelled "English!!"
This consisted of Mary, Rachel, and myself. Apparently this group wasn't good enough, so Julia, Robert, and someone else ended up in our group as well, which greatly complicated things as we now had to sing a song in English that we all knew. We sang a really inspiring rendition of Hakunah Matata from the Lion King, for lack of anything else, and because our Disney song skills have been improving vastly this last week in the Maseta. Then Robert and a Danish guy graced us with a performance of "Barbie Girl" from the 90's, in which Robert got really into it when he sang, "...you can brush my hair ..." and brushed his hair with said toilet brush microphone.
"... Do you think he knows what that is ...?" Sanne whispered to me.
We walked a very non-descript road the next day, and stayed at a hostel with what you could call our "Maseta Pilgrim Community." There were a group of us who began the Maseta on the same day, and all seemed to be walking at the same pace, as every day we would see the same group at our albergues. This was fun and encouraging, and also kind of funny. On our second Maseta evening, Robert found a guitar at the Albergue, and the courtyard turned into a giant sing-along. Pilgrims sat scattered all around a courtyard, surrounded by laundry dying on lines, potted plants, and vending machines, on plastic chairs.
Around 8 PM, a very intense looking Spanish woman entered the courtyard and set a large box of things down on a stool with purpose. She then pulled on a pair of hospital gloves, and grabbed Robert, twisted him around in his chair, and grabbed his foot. She then began poking and prodding his foot with her fingers.
"Does this hurt?"
"Does this hurt?"
Does this hurt?"
Robert's blood-curdling scream could be heard down the street.
He jerked his foot and howled. The Spanish lady held on, never even flinched, and looked at him with a steady look that only said, "Really?" Really. She then pulled out a sterilized needle, antiseptic, and bandages, and went to work.
After Robert, she set to work on the rest of the courtyard with a level of efficiency that left me in awe. At this same time, my feet had swollen to about twice their normal size, and I was sitting with them propped up in the courtyard, hoping to get the swelling down. Julia asked her about my swelling and she came over asking, "What did you walk in?"
We pointed to my Birkenstocks, which I did wear that day even though I now have running shoes, because I got a nasty toe blister the day I walked with Eva, the speed walking German.
"WHAT!!" yelled the lady, grabbing one of my sandals. She then took a giant step backwards, moving as if to heave my left Birk up on top of the albergue roof.
At this moment, my life flashed before my eyes.
"Nooooooo!!!!!" I yelled, sort of frantically lunging/falling out of my plastic deck chair. "No no no! Please! No!"
Until this moment I had not realized how attached to these shoes I am. Without them, I saw my Camino coming to a rapid halt. Everyone in the courtyard by now was staring at us, with her holding my shoe up over her head, and me begging for it back. She is, however, a very helpful woman who not only returned my shoe, but also added gauze pads to the bottom of my shoe liners in my running shoes, to even our where I put pressure. I'm not sure it's helping, but it's certainly not hurting.
The next day we walked into Leon, our final city before Santiago de Compostela. Leon was a total opposite experience to us than Burgos was, evident immediently. From the moment we entered the city limits, people we passed started not only saying, "Buen Camino!" (something we never heard in Burgos), but cheering for us as well! Groups of people we passed started clapping, whistling and calling out words of encouragement, as if we were finishing a marathon. Two nuns in a car slowed down for a stoplight, rolled down their windows, and blessed us from the car. Our albergue welcomed us, and then began a new event in our Camino:
We were napping in the early afternoon when our Slovenian friend Tina came back into the room and quietly took her sleeping bag off her bed. "I got bit by bed bugs!" she whispered, "and they're taking me to be sanitized!"
This made me immediately think of the scene in Pixar's "Monster's Inc." where one of the monsters becomes contaminated by touching the sock of a human child, and immediately the cleaning squadron is upon him. He is put into a yellow plastic hygiene tent, hosed down, sanitized, and finally let go.
Fortunately it wasn't this way for Tina, or our friend Amanda, who both went through this. This was, actually, a very convenient place to discover bed bug bites, which they probably contracted days before. Their sleeping bags and clothes were washed, and their backpacks sterilized, all with the help of the Camino volunteers. This, however, was not an isolated bed bug incident.
We got to explore Leon on the eve of Sanne's birthday. Rachel and I went to Mass at the gorgeous cathedral, which took our breath away. We were so sure this was the Cathedral that Fr. Robert Barron used in his "Catholicism" series, until Mike showed up and told us that's actually in France. It was, however, fabulous, and Mass always provides a beautiful solace that can be found nowhere else. We walk in exhausted, beaten down by the day, and tired -- and we leave refreshed and filled. God never fails to supply for our every need.
That evening we walked to see a concert done by, we assume, a local high school orchestra in the city square. We went out to a tapas bar with many of our fellow pilgrims who had just walked the Maseta -- Spanish, Slovenian, Belgian, French, Israeli, German, and Italian.
The next day we walked a road that was not the Maseta, but pretty much looked like it except with some trees. (These are very, very helpful when you have to go to the bathroom along the way! That was challenge #37 of the Maseta.) We ended at a rather sketchy albergue, that sort of looked like it had been an experiment of the 70's, gone slightly wrong. This was okay with us though, because it was cheap, and there were beds.
Mary was napping in the other room when suddenly we heard a yell, "KATIE!!!!"
I ran in to find Mary laying in bed, pointing with a horrified face and wide eyes at the bottom of the bunk above her.
"Is that ..." she whispered, pointing at a small, crawling bug above her.
"ROBERT!!!!" I yelled, for lack of anything better to contribute to this situation. Robert ran in, looked, and said something I won't repeat on this blog.
"Google it," he said, and a quick search confirmed our suspicions. However, our albergue hosts were suspicious.
"We don't have those," they said. We all insisted we had seen it, and they cleaned the room -- but these things are pests. Also, their bites (very itchy and in patches), tend to materialize hours to days after they bite.
Today I woke up from my afternoon nap to discover a patch of bites on my shoulders.
"It's Mosquitos!" said Julia.
"GET AWAY!!!!" yelled Sanne.
"Oh honey ..." said Rachel.
"Here," said Mary, handing me a dress of hers so I could throw all my stuff in the washer and dryer that is conveniently at this albergue. The creation of bedbugs is something I would like to ask God about one day, but Fr. John just reminded me of the story of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch survivor of the Holocaust, who learned to bless the bugs in her prison cell because they prevented the prison guards from coming in to search them, and allowed herself and her sister to keep their Bible. She was so far ahead of me!