I’m in the kitchen of an albergue in Belorado, drinking hot tea and watching the rain fall outside. Sitting around the long table are the Italian family (with the two sweetest and well-mannered teenagers I’ve ever met), Susie, Helen, Mirra and Alfred (the Frenchman notorious for his snoring. Supposedly, people have been avoiding the albergues where he sleeps, or they ask to switch rooms. I’ve heard how wonderful of a man he is- during the day- and so far it’s true. He has a deep voice but is soft spoken, and he made a large pot of tea and instantly offered me some when I sat down).
Besides Alfred, I know this group pretty well. I talked with Susie and Helen waiting for the bus in Bayonne, and I’ve walked/interacted with them for the past 10 days. I met the Italian family about 5 days ago in our albergue in Puente La Reina. The father is Italian and the mother is English, and our paths have crossed with them over and over. Three days ago I said goodbye to them, thinking that I wouldn’t see them again since Mirra and I were planning to do a short stage and get off track from the group. But we’ve learned that you can’t really plan or control things here, and maybe that’s for the best. Things- despite not going according to plan-are working out really well. In any case, we keep running into the Italian family and showing up in the same albergues, and it’s been wonderful to talk to them. I love the kids, and am so touched to see their kindness and care towards others. They were supposed to end their Camino today and take a bus to Burgos, but are staying just one more night. We joke about how tonight might be the ‘final goodbye’.
Mirra and I have planned our walks together, though our actual walking is usually done separately. She will end her Camino in a few days, so for now, I’m enjoying her company: our conversations about this time in our lives, our pre/post siesta wine and tapas outings, cooking in the albergues, and switching off on who gets the bottom bunk.
I wonder what my Camino will be like one week from now. Most of the people who are sitting around this table will be back to their normal lives, and most likely I will be walking with and talking to new friends. That’s both an amazing thing, and a bit of a sad thing.
Yesterday’s walk felt wonderful (especially after my stormy mood the day before). The skies were clear and the day grew hot, but most of our walking was done before the heat of the day. I walked about 30 km, a longer day because of a detour to see an abbey in Cannas. We ended in Santo Domingo, and it was probably one of my favorite places on the Camino so far. A small town but with plenty of bars and beautiful squares and a great church. The chicken church, as I (and many others), like to call it.
There’s a legend about a pilgrim and a chicken and a miracle that dates back to the Middle Ages, and the story is long and interesting but way too much for me to write out at 10pm (which is a late night here). In any case, the church has been keeping live chickens since 1350 (I think they rotate every few weeks), and I’d heard about this church awhile ago and it was on my short list of Camino must-sees. And even though it cost 3 euros to go inside, it was wonderful to see some chickens and think about the power of belief and miracles.
Everyone I loved was in my albergue last night, and it was totally unplanned. Mirra, John, Christy, Ibai and I had dinner together: an avocado, tomato and cucumber salad, bread and wine, lentils with mushrooms, cherries and chocolate for dessert. We sat outside in the courtyard until 10pm when the nuns chased us upstairs and told us to turn out the lights. I slept soundly, and for the first time on the Camino, was so comfortable that I wanted to stay in bed when my alarm went off in the morning.
Today’s walk was also good. I’m feeling strong, and except for some slight knee pain, am doing really well physically. A 20 km day feels so short, and I usually just want to keep walking.
Mirra and I stopped in a small town to try out a tiny albergue with only 10 beds and a communal meal. We were there by 10:30 and not a soul was around, but the sign on the albergue said ‘completo’. We didn’t believe it, so we waited there for nearly two hours. The day was windy and cool, but sunny while we waited, and we sat on the benches outside eating cherries and writing in our journals. Eventually a few other Pilgrims showed up, one called a number for the albergue to find out that there were, indeed, no beds available.
We packed up to leave but then heard music, and from out of nowhere a dozen boys in costumes were dancing their way down the small streets with the entire village following behind in a procession. It was Santo Domingo day (he’d been born in this tiny town), and if we hadn’t waited for the albergue we’d never had seen the festivities.
We walked on, and after another 9 km ended up in a town where most people were staying. We once again picked an albergue that had most of our favorite people, and now we’re sitting here quietly, listening to the rain and drinking tea. Two guys just joined us- one from Switzerland and another from Germany, Helen pulled out a deck of cards, and the Italian boy is explaining how to play a game called ‘killer’. Time to go.