A Pilgrim Tale: day eleven


The rising sun paints the landscape in a watercolor wash of rose as we leave behind the Rioja and enter the province of Castilla y Leon. In the growing light, true colors begin to emerge. Chartreuse sunflowers nod under a pastel sky. Blue green kale flourishes against the distant, copper colored meseta.


In Belorado, we pass a church with one of the more striking accumulations of storks’ nests we’ve seen, yet.


Our goal for today is Tosantos, an easy 20.5 kilometers. We have read that there is an albergue there with much the same ethos as the one in Grañon, and that it is rather small. So we set a relatively aggressive pace (for us) in the hopes that we make it in. Turns out, we are the first two pilgrims to arrive. 🙂

The Albergue San Francisco de Asis has received pilgrims for more than 300 years. We choose two mats near the window in the timbered attic. We shower and do laundry, then head to a nearby bar for a cold beverage and a smidge of internet. (The parochial hostels are not big on the interwebs.)


We return to the hostel by 5:00 for a guided tour of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Pena. This unusual hermitage built into the side of a rock houses a precious 12th century image of the Christ child, and it is normally locked. We are blessed to have this opportunity to visit.

As our guide leads us across the road and up the hilly path, she wisely appoints Damien translator. It is decided that, if he translates her Spanish into both English and French, everyone can more or less understand one of the three. Watching him easily move from one language to another is a wonder. (Oh, did I mention his wife’s native language is Portugese? These two are pretty amazing.) I should say that at one point he looks at us conspiratorially and says, “I don’t understand what she just said but apparently it’s funny so please laugh.” 🙂


The church has an austere and awe inspiring effect. Once there was a school here. And hermits lived in solitary cells above the church. Inside, our guide chooses someone from our group to open the curtain which protects the image of Christ. The image is primitive, but lovely. Once each year, there is a solemn procession in which it is carried to the town below. It stays in the village church for a time before being processed back home.

Back at the Albergue, we assist with dinner preparations, then take a nap. At dinner, there are 19 people seated around the table representing 14 different countries. Our volunteer hospitalero loves music. He asks each of us to sing a song that is representative of our home. Most sing folk songs. The reluctant Hungarian twins, Judit and Rita, are finally coaxed into singing a children’s song with a great deal of laughter. Mike and I sing Rocky Top. The newlyweds add a dance to their number, of course. 🙂

Sitting across from us, beside the Hungarians, is Adam from Poland. This is our first time meeting him. But he will grow very dear to us between here and Santiago. And we will watch him take risks and be brave, and will get to know his humorous side. But on this night, he is relatively quiet. Still feeling his way.

After dinner, we gather in another attic room which has been made a chapel of sorts. Here we sing psalms and hymns in an assortment of languages. We read the prayer requests of pilgrims who have been here over the last month and offer them to God, and are invited to leave prayer requests of our own. It is a sweet and holy time. Like last night, and not like. So many ways of being with one another and with God.


In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.
~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage