A Non-Pilgrim’s Progress

8. Oktober 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar


Since I left Bilbao on my two trusty wheels two days ago, I’ve made good progress and can today lay my ear down on the hard mattress of a 25€ hostal room in Burgos. The time spent in the Vizkaya capital was well worth it, not only for the savoury pintxos and the three hours invested in the Guggenheim Museum, but also for the visit at the BAM teacher’s college. Marijé and Ane gave me such a warm welcome and were so keen to exchange views and experiences, it turned out to be a real ERASMUS feast. More than that, it also added a valuable puzzle piece to one of my sabbatical pursuits, namely visiting schools with a strong language profile. The brief but revealing tours at the two schools in the Bilbao area showed me – as in Finland – that it takes a bottom-up commitment and tons of teachers’ dedication to make a CLIL programme (or whatever you call it) a success. In one upper secondary class they were using Keith Kelly’s MacMillan book – again closing a circle of my very own, had I not visited Keith, making a 350 km detour to Plovdiv three years ago?  

I have been asked more than twice on this trip if I am heading for Santiago de Compostela, if I am doing the Camino de Santiago thing on a bicycle insted of Pilgrim’s sandals. Even though today I borrowed the famed hikers’ path for three kilometres to avoid a massively busy road, I can’t say I am. No, contrary to the impression I myself had had when I first set out in 2011, I am decidedly not a pilgrim. This is not only because I’m an avowed atheist, but also because I can’t say I have a single destination, there to lay my hand in the groove carved out of the stone by the sweat of the many. I define my destination myself, and it may be Gagausia, or then again not. I really go into every kilometre I cycle as if it were the epitome of the journey. Today, for instance, I’d read about the deadly N1 highway between Miranda del Ebro and Burgos, which is taken by thousands of truck drivers who avoid the safer but toll-paying motorway (severe accidents guaranteed). I saw this as a sign of common sense and plotted a course on small roads across hills and up river valleys which turned out to be more strenuous but also more varied and absorbing. Every mile of landscape comprises potential memories of other stretches over the past years – only to show itself as unique and special, take the barrancos with their combination of nature’s sandstone carvings and willow as well as poplar trees trailing their twigs in a stiff breeze, all under a melancholic yet bright autumnal light.  

Also, I don’t feel I’m being watched by a benign god, who is ready to forgive my sins if I only turn into my own inner self – they say thirty days of pilgrimage are enough for humans to open up and become someone else or to find their true self. Well, I’ve been at it for thirty plus years (or 157 cycling days in this series) and I can’t say I want to change or dig much more deeply into my entrails. I thought that wasn’t it remarkable that nobody ever travels from Santiago back to Roncesvalles or further. The Goretex and Icebreaker-clad pilgrims all head for the purported tomb in Europe’s extreme west, looking one way. The real revolutionary then would have been the helmeted, presumably young, quad racer who whipped his vehicle down the Camino eastward, whirling up a big cloud of dust in the face of the pilgrims and myself. Despite the grit between my teeth, I found this rather amusing.

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