Burgos Cathedral is the most beautiful ecclesiatical building I have ever seen. Mind you, my experience is not all that vast, but it does include, now, Notre Dame and St. Mark's Venice. The Burgos albergue is another matter. We couldn´t sleep, what with the young Italian cyclists swaggering about in their lycra and the Germans uproariously congratulating each other on discovering Navarrean wine. Clemency had an added problem: a rash on her legs was getting steadily worse. One of the Italians suggested ice, so she set off to find some. Asking the hospitalero and showing him why elicited great interest. A crowd gathered. A nurse. An interpreter. Several people with strong opinions. After much Mama Mia! and Ai Carramba! we were told she had to visit the hospital in the morning. OK. 7 am a taxi was called and off we set, but not before I washed my glasses and had the frame fall in half in my hand. The taxi dumped us at a large modern building which housed some sort of city clinic and we waited the 50 minutes until it opened in company with Burgos' halt lame and sick, at least the poor halt lame and sick. 10 minutes after the advertised opening time the electronic door opened and we entered to find a row of unsmiling women in white coats seated behind glass partitions. We went to the first who wasn´t remotely interested in Clemency´s legs, Clemency, the fat that we were pilgrims or the fact that we came from New Zealand. She wanted our insurance policy details. I gave them to her, but they weren´t acceptable. We would have to pay in advance for a consultation and then claim the money back. I pulled out my wallet, but that wasn´t the way things were done. She gave us a form, in Spanish of course, and told us to go into the city, deposit 72 euro at a certain bank, and then come back. At this point we both simultaneously began to internally form sentences which included the words ´"bugger", and "this" and the phrase "for a row of".
It was one of those times when I felt utterly powerless and helpless in the face of a vast and intractable machine.
We left and caught a bus towards what we hoped was the city centre and wondered what we might do next. We wandered aimlessly a bit in circles and then though coffee might help and went into a bar. Whereupon we were visited by an angel. A Californian angel with long blonde hair. We had met her a few albergues back and, like everyone else on the camino, thought we would probably never see her again. She breezed into the room like a comet with a trail of light behind her. "Hey you guys, I was on my balcony and saw you. What are you doing here?" We told her. We showed her the legs. She asked why I wasn't wearing my glasses. She went back to her hotel and, in her perfect Spanish, asked the guy at the desk about pharmacies and opticians. She led us to a pharmacia and entered an intense conversation with the pharmacist and Clemency, and we emerged with some remarkably inexpensive cream to combat the probable cause: an allergic reaction to Clemency's hiking trousers exacerbated by the extreme heat. She led us to an optician who looked at my specs and said she could fix them and they would be ready in 30 minutes.
In the time until the glasses were ready we retired to a bar and ordered coffee. Then there followed an extraordinary conversation which arose from questions about why she was in Burgos and what had been happening for her. There was an important life issue for her which had reached a point of decision. This day wasn't about us and our small needs it was about her and a potentially life changing decision she had to make then and there. An angel is one sent and we had been sent, to act as parents and pastors and listeners for half an hour. We left after 45 minutes knowing we had been part of some great scheme of God´s that centred on this young woman. I don't know how it worked out for her but I know what I hope for.
The ointment is working. Yesterday we walked across the Meseta to a magnificent pilgrim village, Hornillos del Camino, which, apart from the power lines and the occasional car, looks exactly as it would have done in the 15th Century. Behind the village is a monastery which would have been ancient when the village was built. A series of small monks' cells clusters around a ruined church and refectory. The whole complex is what? 1,000, 1,200 years old? and yet it is all used by local farmers as storage space and barns and patched up with a mix of odd modern materials to keep it functional.
Today, further across the meseta we are in a grotty little rural town which swelters under the unrelenting ink blue sky. The shadows are small and hard edged. Everything is dusty. The storks nest untidily in the towers. The place is closed for siesta. I'm not sure why we're here. That's the thing about being sent.