This blog is a record of my observations, experiences and crazy thoughts about my 800 kilometer pilgrimage across northern Spain: the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (April-May 2009).
Friday, June 05, 2009
Day 2 - Zubiri - Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Roncesvalles -> Zubiri = 21.5K (727.1K to go!)
I stood there staring at the abandoned leather boots hung on a tree branch adjacent to the rocky mountain path I had been walking on all morning. Why would anyone abandon such beautiful boots? I was forced out of my reverie by the sound of a team of energetic bikers pedaling up the steep slope behind me. I jumped out of their way and before I could regain my composure these hardy riders had disappeared down the trail.
This is my first day of walking and by midday, I already feel as if I have been on the Camino a long time. The learning curve is steep and the demands are challenging. But at that moment, I paused and scanned the horizon, taking in all the green beauty of the remote mountains, breathing in the scent of conifers and spring flowers and hearing the delightful sounds of sheep on the hillside. The bleating sheep and their tinkling bells never fail to soothe me.
Once again I was knocked out of my reverie, this time by someone calling to me. "Hey, are you "Ginn"? The one from the pilgrim forum?"
Here I am in an isolated mountaintop in a foreign country and someone recognizes me!
What a crazy life this pilgrim adventure is! "Yes, I'm Ginn," I answered as I turned to see just who was posing the question.
"I though so," said a young woman. "I heard you talking to someone earlier and you mentioned recruiting. I put two and two together and figured out it might be you."
I have been frequenting many Online pilgrim forums during my months of dreaming and preparing for my Camino. I guess it should be no surprise that someone on the Camino may intuit who I am.
I laughed and fell into step with this woman from Denmark. We immediately began an intense discussion centered on the boots I had been observing.
The boots were not the only abandoned property I had observed on the road so far. Many pilgrims over-estimate how much they are willing to carry and what they will actually need. The first few days of the trip become a time of serious purging. Pilgrims stop in villages, seek out the post office and reluctantly mail home unneeded possessions. Others simply leave them behind, like the pioneers of yore, leaving a trail of personal items behind them. Some stubborn pilgrims cling to their things, staggering under the excess weight and suffer from joint and foot problems as they make their way to Santiago. Letting go becomes a significant theme.
My own backpack is quite small. I have only a light-weight down sleeping bag, a pair of flip flops, a change of clothes, a change of smart-wool socks, a fleece, an excellent rain coat that covers my pack and a few toiletries and a battery operated camera (no charger needed). I did not even bring a towel - I plan to use my several bandannas to dry off post-shower. I do not have a guide book either - I will follow the arrows, use the Internet and consult others to make my decisions regarding the route and places to stay. I have little else really. My backpack itself is a 31Liter bag and weighs only about a pound. My pack and possessions weigh very little. I hardly feel it on my back.
My first day is proving to be quite a workout. I find myself saying a prayer of gratitude that I have a light load on my back. The day started early. Some pilgrims awoke at 0430! They rustled their bags as they packed and their headlights sometimes glared into my eyes. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to get a little more sleep. It was too dark and foggy out to begin walking just yet. Most of the pilgrims waited till around 0600 to get out of bed.
By 0700 most of us were on the road. It was still dark and the fog was intense. I stopped to take the traditional photo marking the mileage from Roncesvalles to Santiago. About 5K down the road (about an hour's walk)I stopped for coffee con leche and toast. Spanish breakfast (desayuno) is light and it is sometimes hard to find a place open. First breakfast in Spain is usually around 0800 and second breakfast is served around 1000. I remember this from my days at Torrejon Air Base. I love having two breakfasts each day!
I walked with 3 other pilgrims (peregrinos) most of the day - a Spanish man and his wife from UK and a German man. They have walked the Camino before. I was glad to walk with veterans. I have much to learn.
Early in the day we slogged through some serious mud. The mud clings to our walking shoes, making our feet heavy and awkward. I feel like I am wearing clown shoes! You slide around and frequently get mired down.
Manolo, my Spanish walking companion, wandered into the woods and emerged with a gift for me, one I would treasure for the entire trip: a beechwood walking stick of my very own! I had intended to buy one, but had delayed making a decision on what kind and how many. I have never walked with a stick before, but it certainly became evident how useful a stick is when navigating through slimy mud and manure on a mountainside.
"Your stick is tall now," Manolo said, "But, when you reach Santiago, it will be much shorter!" We laughed.
We walked on, fording streams. My thoughts focused on walking, but occasionally images of Hemingway popped into my head. This is Hemingway country for sure (Burgete). I also thought of the tales of Charlemagne and of Roland, blowing his horn in the forest.
Pamela (Manolo's UK wife) and Joe (the German) and I sometimes sing. We are not good, but we are enthusiastic. We sing Rogers and Hammerstein songs. And of course we sang "Climb Every Mountain" from "Sound of Music"!
The villages in these mountains are picturesque - clean, quiet, with window boxes and shutters painted in bold reds and blues. There are flowers everywhere. There is a small, lovely charming black and white kitten hitching a ride in blue cart filled with golden hay.
The walking is sweet, but after hours of it, I grow tired. I am ready to stop when we arrive in Zubiri. I stay in a utilitarian municipal albergue (6 Euro for my bed and 11 Euro for a pilgrim meal). The bathrooms are in a separate building from the open-bay, unisex barracks (16-20 bunks per room) where we will sleep. The showers provide no privacy - 6 shower heads in the woman's shower area with the men's shower area adjacent. And there is really no where to hang clothes while one is showering. Logistical challenges.
Upon arrival I washed my mud splashed trousers and cleaned up my shoes. No washer or dryers here.
It is, however, very clean.
The albergue I stayed in last night in Roncesvalles is quite a contrast to this spartan place. The Roncesvalles albergue is run by a Dutch confraternity. It has a lovely ambiance (see the photo in my previous post) which they enhance by playing classical music to waken us in the morning. They provide clean pillows and offere us use of a washer and dryer. The showers are private and there is Internet. The facility is beautiful (in a historic building) with dramatic chandeliers hanging from the arches above. (6 Euros for bed and 9 Euros for a pilgrim meal).
In Zubiri, I meet another American, a woman from California. She is travelling with her twin 10 year-old boys. I try to imagine the logistics involved in this undertaking.
Among others staying in the albergue are a woman from Poland, a Scotsman, many Germans, some Japanese, some Koreans, several Danes and a bunch of Spanish men traveling by bike. Many people, and each here for reasons of their own. And so many of them already working on their feet - blisters from the day's walk!
The lights go out early in albergues. In fact, most of the weary pilgrims are in bed before sunset. I sleep well on my top bunk. There may be snoring, but I don't hear it tonight.
In April 2009, I began my 500-mile trek across the rocky paths and mountains of northen Spain. I finished my walk on the the ancient Way of St James (the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) in early June 2009.
I consider this a pilgrimage of gratitude. Each step was an opportunity to express gratitude for the abundance life offers; each footstep, one of finding joy. It was a humbling experience. It was a character-building experience. It was a spiritual adventure and a physical one too - who knew I was such a mountain goat? I hope you will enjoy my rambling, stream of consciousness obeservations of my experiences as a pilgrim on this historic pilgrimage route that really is only the begining.
Of course veteran pilgrims know: the Camino never ends - once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim. So, wherever YOUR path takes you, I wish you "Buen Camino".