Day 6 of walking is finished, and I’m still feeling good. I walked a lot with Mira today, and we decided to finally go “off stage”, and do a little more than was recommended for today’s route. So we walked about 29 km from Estella to Torres del Ria, and we were commending each other for doing so well. The bulk of the walk was great, and it was just the last few kms, with the sun shining strongly and some road walking, that felt a little oppressive.
I’m sitting on the terrace of the albergue where we’re staying. It’s a small place, in a small village, off of a side street and tucked away. The view out of the back looks past the church and onto golden weight fields. There is a storm in the distance, with dark grey clouds on the horizon and a cool wind blowing. 20 minutes ago, there was a sliver of a rainbow beside the church.
Mira is sitting here, along with a Polish couple, and they are all writing in their journals. There are only 26 beds in this albergue and the place isn’t full; it’s a quiet and relaxed night, especially compared to the last few.
Yesterday’s walk was from Puente La Reina to Estella- about 20km- and the scene at the albergue, once we got to Estella, was kind of crazy. It was a big municipal albergue, with about 75 beds, and most people that we’d met over the past 5 days were staying there. I think people are getting more comfortable with each other and more social; in any case, the Koreans were having wine parties, people were hanging out in the courtyard and the lobby, there was a lot of singing and laughing and merriment.
I was enjoying talking to everyone. With each day I either meet someone new or have a conversation with someone I’ve seen along the way, and at this point, it’s hard to move through a part of the path, or an albergue, or a town, without stopping to talk to someone.
I’d set up my bunk in Estella (top bunk, again), and was intending to take a nap or do some writing, but I never actually made it to bed. I walked into our room- which held 26 people- and started talking to Connor, the boy who walked his first Camino day barefoot, and is on this trip with his brothers and mother. Somehow the conversation turned to my hair and how much I wished I had some shampoo, and the next thing I knew he had gotten a small packet of shampoo from his mother and handed it to me.
I walked to my bunk with the shampoo and a big smile, then saw three heads poking up from their top bunks like little eager birds. It was the group of teenaged American girls who were on a summer school trip with their history teacher and his wife, and I think they just wanted to talk to someone. I walked over and said hi, and asked about why they were walking the Camino. When I found out that they were on a school trip, I asked how they were doing so far. Instantly, the youngest, a blond 15 year old named Lani, said, “It’s hard, and I’m really homesick.”
The three girls launched into accounts of their past 5 days: the things they hadn’t expected, how tough the walking was, how they missed being at home with their friends. I loved talking to them, and just like I had reminded Steve and Peg, the other night, of home, these three teenaged girls reminded me of my ‘normal’ life.
“Someone farts every night!” Mimi told me. “We’re keeping track, and so far it’s happened every night.”
I nodded in agreement. “It’s hard to sleep with all of these noises, isn’t it?” The girls all nodded at me, their eyes wide. “We never expected that it would be like this,” Emily said.
I’m impressed that teenagers are doing this. Kids are, too. There’s an Irish couple with two small children (the mother nearly gave birth to her daughter on the descent into Roncesvalles, which gives the difficulty of that day a whole new meaning when you think about doing it 9 months pregnant). Connor, the barefoot pilgrim who found me shampoo, has a 12 year old brother, Matthew. I’d gone out to explore the town of Estella, and when I was returning to the albergue, ran into Matthew and his mother. We talked for a bit, and then she asked if I would mind walking Matthew back to the albergue while she searched for a grocery store. So Matthew and I walked down the cobblestoned street, and he talked about how there’s a house in Germany that’s constructed entirely of gummy bears. “Just think!” he said. “If you get hungry, you could take a bite out of the wall!”
I think about what it’s like for a 6 year old to do this walk, a 12 year old, a 15 year old. And any of my discomforts and concerns seem so small in comparison.
The last two days of walking have been good. Yesterday was probably the hardest day; I walked over 6 miles before I had my morning coffee, and I was just grumpy by the time I found a town with an open bar. But then I had a very large cafe con leche, and the biggest piece of potato and onion tortilla that I’d ever laid eyes on (along with a piece of delicous bread). After that breakfast there was definitely a skip in my step, and the afternoon’s walk was good.
The Italian guy, Paulo, has been walking with me, but I think I might have gotten rid of him today. He’s not a bad walking companion, but I’m not sure that he’s on this pilgrimage for quiet reflection. In any case, he caught up with a group of California girls who were giving him the eye, and I think he’s enjoying the attention. Hopefully, this means that I’ll have more solo walking time in the next few days.
It still feels like I’ve been walking for weeks, rather than just 6 days. But I think that’s because so much life is packed into these days: the waking and the walking and the conversation. The food and the exploration and the connections. I’m still marveling that I’m walking across such a large space: that I can look behind me to see where I’ve come from, and know that this line I’m making, this path, will continue for a long time. I’m pretty excited to see what comes next.