Sunday, March 9, 2014: I believe in serendipity. I also believe in fate. I believe that sometimes in life, especially when we are at our lowest, we are presented with chance encounters to remind us that we’re being looked after and to give us the courage to continue on.
On my Camino, these encounters always presented themselves in the form of an animal. On my first day of hiking, a gimpy-legged cat kept me company and showed me love while I took a break. He was clearly handicapped, but he purred like every other cat, expressing his happiness from receiving a good head rub. I met a second cat later on in my journey who clung to me and would barely let me leave our pit stop (pictures to come in a follow-up post).
In Astorga I met an animal that not only brightened my day, but who also seemed to possess restorative powers. His name is Bufón, and he’s a twelve year-old horse from León. Meeting Bufón changed my life.
I met Bufón’s owner, Lisa-Marie, at the albergue I was staying at in Astorga. Originally from Germany, Lisa had travelled to Spain to complete her own pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but she was going to do it on horseback. Her grandparents gifted her with a Spanish horse for her twenty-first birthday, and it was Bufón who they chose to guide Lisa on her journey.
Bufón and Lisa are going to remain together for a few years as she’s planning on moving to Seville once she’s done her travels, where she’ll study animal health sciences. Go figure 😉
Lisa and I clicked from our first meeting, and that same day she introduced me to Bufón (whose name translates to “joker”). She had been in Astorga for a few days by that point and was keeping her horse in an animal/work shed nearby. I was still sick and weak, but when Lisa invited me to meet her horse I couldn’t refuse.
I’ve always loved horses, however I’ve always been equally afraid of them. In the few encounters I’ve had with them prior to meeting Bufón, I kept a safe distance. I couldn’t tell you if it was their size or their innate power that frightened me, but for some reason or another I couldn’t make myself get close enough to even pet one. Bufón changed that.
I can still remember the first moment him and I made eye contact. Lisa took me to the building where he was housed, with the intention that we’d take him for a walk. She opened the huge door and I gingerly stepped in, unsure of what kind of horse I was about to meet.
There, in a stall adjacent to the nearest wall, stood a rowan horse with a beautiful brown mane and silvering fur across his chest and hind. For me it was love at first sight. With courage I’ve never possessed, I slowly walked right up to Bufón and let him sniff my hand. Once he was used to my presence, I pet his face and neck, letting him know I wasn’t a threat. I think he might have even nudged me with his massive head.
Lisa couldn’t yet ride him as he needed to get his shoes replaced, so instead we took him for a walk around the complex, taking turns with the reins. It honestly felt like I was walking my dog. I’ve grown up with Dobermans, so needless to say I’m used to big dogs. Bufón just felt like a bigger version of my Tia back home. Hell, they’re even the same colour.
Being a Spanish horse, Bufón followed Spanish commands, so I even got to practice the language with him during our walk (here’s your Spanish lesson for the day: “¡Ven aca!” means “come here”. Works well with animals and small children).
We walked until the sun set, letting him wade in a nearby river to get refreshed. Bufón was going to get his shoes replaced the next day, so Lisa and I planned for me to join them in the morning prior to my train departure for Sarria.
On my final day in Astorga, I woke up with hope. I no longer felt lonely, low, or “woe is me”. I even had a spring in my step. It’s almost as if those two and a half days in Astorga and my chance meeting with Bufón restored not only my health, but my courage and determination. The only souvenir of my sickness was a nasty chest cough.
I met Lisa at the shed as we had planned, arriving around the same time as the horseshoe man (sorry, I’m not sure what they’re actually called). We watched as Bufón’s two remaining shoes were removed and his new ones were attached. There was an obvious change in his mood once everything was done. It was like seeing a kid put on their new shoes for the first day of school. Lisa even gifted me with one of Bufón’s horse shoes to remember them by.
She couldn’t wait to finally go for a ride so before the horseshoe man had even left, Lisa was already trotting around the complex. We took the same route as the night before, and once we returned back to the shed Lisa surprised me with the question: “Do you want to try riding him?”. My immediate response was “NO! But thank you!”. Then a second later I followed up with (mind my language), “Fuck it! Let me try!”.
I was only on Bufón for two or three minutes maximum, but those few minutes were both terrifying and exhilarating. Having no experience with commanding a horse, Lisa helped me by leading him with his rein. However, at one point she let go and started running so Bufón would follow her. I thought I was going to fall off and die.
Once I made a not so graceful dismount and was back on my own two feet, I felt strangely…whole. It actually felt like all the heartbreak, confusion, and pain from the past two years had been washed away and replaced by pure happiness. My heart was pounding and the adrenaline was pumping. Bufón even stepped on my foot, leaving an imprint on my new hiking boot, and I barely felt any pain. I was in a state of bliss.
It’s now three months later and I’m still missing Bufón. I’ve always had an affinity towards animals, but Bufón…well, that fucking horse left an imprint on my heart and soul like I’ve never quite experienced. I can’t even explain it. I know it may sound silly, but after my time with Bufón I felt like I could actually continue on my Camino. I no longer doubted myself.
Leaving Lisa and Bufón that day was hard, but because of them I was able to get on that train and continue on to Sarria. I was ready to reclaim my role of peregrino, and I did it with a smile, now knowing that I was courageous enough to overcome lifelong fears. I felt renewed.
I also believe that my chance encounter with the pair left me with a new good luck charm — Bufón’s horseshoe, which now hangs above my bed.
Check it out: Lisa has a Facebook page dedicated to her Camino with Bufón! Read more about her travels here.