Tosantos was amazing! We walked the 5 kms from Belorado after sending the last email to the refuge, which is run by St Franciscan monks in a very old double story house. The hospitalero - Luiz - welcomed us by taking our backpacks and showing us the room upstairs where we would sleep on the floor. He then told us the 'traditions' of the refuge. Everybody must help cook dinner which would be at 8pm. Then we will have a blessing in the small chapel upstairs and then we must all help wash the dishes. In the morning, we are not allowed to get up before 6h30 because the wooden floors make much noise and we will wake everybody if we try to walk on the floors. The male pilgrims took over the kitchen and cooked a traditional 'bread' soup that consisted of potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions poured over old bread broken up into small pieces. It was quite delicious and the salad they served made of left over potato, tomatoes and onion was made especially for me - being the only vegetarian in the casa.
After dinner we all climbed into the attic - no kidding - which wasn't high enough to stand up in but we all took off our shoes, crawled through a half sized door into a small room with benches around one side, a small statue of St James and a crucifix. We were all given a prayer sheet in our language and each one had to read a section - in German, Italian, French, Spanish and English. Then we were each handed a small piece of paper with a special prayer written by different pilgrims. The one I had to read was asking for God to help her son who has a kidney disorder. Very touching. Sleeping was a different thing! The snoring was awful and we got very little sleep. Breakfast was also provided by the priest - who I forgot to mention was a very young man who was ordained only 2 months ago. These 'donativo' refuges are run solely for pilgrims to Santiago and we find it amazing that people are prepared to volunteer to cook and clean up after us, out of the goodness of their hearts. There are so many groups - church, municipal, associations like the Amigos of SantÍago - that work behind the scenes to keep the camino accessible for pilgrims from all over the world. There are as many reasons for walking the camino as there are pilgrims but it is up to the individual what they get out of it. I thought we would want to stay in the newer more modern albergues but I now feel that we will seek out the small, volunteer albergues which are more basic but far more spiritual.
Today we had a spectacular 25km walk through the forests of Monte de Oca. Since Najera, we have been climbing - from 485m up to 1 135m. We are in a little place called Atapuerca and will walk 20km to Burgos tomorrow. The weather has been stunning. Coolish mornings, clear skies from about mid-day and cool nights. Anneliese had a better day today although her feet are still quite sore. Marion is in her element! She gets into a zone where she just goes and becomes a part of the camino. Before I left, I posted a short Hasidic prayer on the blog - "When you walk through the fields with your heart pure, then the souls of all the plants, and the stones, and all the living things, come out to make a holy fire in you". The first few days were so wet and muddy that there wasn't much chance of any fire, let alone a holy fire, in any of us! The last few days, however, we have felt the Holy Fire of the fields, the vineyards, the forests and all the living things. I have taken photos of a slug, a snail, a spider, a field mouse and even a little squirrel. Our paths are mainly cross-country and we are really getting into the ZONE now. It is almost a pity that we have to walk into a large city tomorrow but I need to post a few brochures home, find a telephone that works and we will then walk back into the countryside.
From Burgo to Leon the camino almost flat lines at about 850m after which we will climb to the highest point just after Leon at the Cruz de Ferro which is about 1500m. (In 2002 Clare, Georgette and I left a stone in memory of Hansie Cronje who died in the aeroplane crash the day before we arrived there), I will tell you more about the tradition of leaving stones at the base of the cross in another email.