(I’m behind on writing and posting, but for now here are a couple of posts from Days 4 and 5!)
Today started perfectly: an open bar at 6am just across the street from the train station. I had a grande cafe con leche, a yogurt, and a croissant. I was ready to tackle another difficult day.
I left the bar with Iria (Spain), Amy (England) and Richard (France); before I left for the Camino I’d heard that the route out of Deba was confusing. A local who wasn’t too fond of pilgrims had taken to painting over the yellow arrows with black paint. The others had been given maps when they checked into the albergue, but the hospitalero must have forgotten to give one to me. In any case, I decided to leave with the others in case finding the way was tricky. We didn’t have much trouble and it seemed like yellow arrows had been replaced over every black mark that the local had made (and we knew we were going the right way when we saw trees covered in big black splotches).
The four of us walked together for just about the entire day- we stopped and took breaks together, we started back up together. Our paces were a little different so we were often spaced apart, but never far away. It reminded me of the day last year when I walked the Dragonte route, the only time on the Frances when I walked all day with a group. There were times in the day today, like last year, when I wished I were alone, but in the end just that one day of walking together bonded us. It’s amazing how it happens- we rarely even talked, we just walked along and cheered when we made it to the top of a difficult hill, or turned to make sure that no one was being left too far behind. We shared snacks with each other, we stopped to talk to other pilgrims, but we never really strayed from the group. I don’t think I will have a lot of days like this, because it’s just not my preferred way to walk the Camino; so often I felt like breaking away and being free and alone.
But I’m so glad I did this today. We all ended up in Markina- I arrived a bit before the others and found a grocery store, then came outside to see the others (including Misako) sitting at an outdoor table in front of a bar. They waved me over and we talked about plans for the evening- they were planning to stay at the albergue in town, and I was planning to continue for another 7kms to a medieval monastery.
Iria and Richard both considered going with me but in the end decided to stay. Richard seemed concerned that I would be going alone, and I took the chance to explain that sometimes, it’s really important for me to be able to go off on my own here. I went into the bar to pay for my cafe cortado (more coffee for an extra kick to push me along!), they got their packs ready to check into the albergue. When I came out of the bar they were all standing there, waiting to say goodbye.
“I’m sure I’ll see you guys in Bilbao, in two days,” I told them. Misako and Richard looked doubtful, but I knew better. I might not see them in Bilbao, but I’m almost positive that I will see them all again, at some point on the Camino. It’s just how it works- you think you are saying goodbye, but a Camino goodbye is rarely a goodbye.
As I walked away, I thought a lot about my choices to be alone versus with others on the Camino. Almost instantly, I passed under a bridge and saw these words:
Last year this was probably the biggest thing I struggled with, wanting to sometimes be alone but not wanting to lose the friends I had made. Wanting to form really close relationships yet always be able to make my own decisions and go my own way. I felt like I was just beginning to figure it out and then I arrived in Santiago. So this year, it’s been on my mind from the beginning.
And what I had today was something I never really had last year: a Camino family. I made so many friends and made so many connections, but I never had a group.
What I had today felt like a Camino family, the way I imagined it would. I’m not sure exactly how the five of us came together, we don’t always communicate well (I try to translate in French for Richard but I don’t do a very good job, and often he walks along not understanding what we are saying). We might not stay together and in fact probably won’t- we all have different timelines and paces, Amy and Iria have friends coming to meet them for part of the way.
But leaving them today felt a little sad, and I was so happy to feel like, for at least a few days, I had belonged to a little group.
The last kilometer to the monastery was all uphill on rocks (this is starting to become a trend), but when I arrived I nearly gasped. It was perfect. Nestled in the mountains with amazing views (also becoming a trend) were a church and a cloister that were nearly 1,000 years old, all part of a large compound surrounded by manicured lawns and wooden benches sitting in the shade of old trees. The albergue was around the side of the building- two rooms of beds, one upstairs and one downstairs, and an area outside with tables and chairs where pilgrims were already gathered, drinking beer and eating pastries. The majority of the pilgrims were French, and they were happy about it (I’m pretty sure that I heard a ‘Vive la France!’ tossed about once or twice).
I went to a short mass in the church at 7:30, and then we ate dinner together at 8:00: a large pot of rice and lentils, loaves of bread, pitchers of water. Simple food but staying and eating here was all by donation- we could give as much or as little as we wanted.
After dinner I stood outside talking to Eunie from Korea and her husband James, from Australia. We talked about how we would never want to hike the Appalachian Trail or the PCT because of bear fears, and how we wished humans had the capacity to hop like kangaroos.
Another good Camino day: Camino families and Camino “goodbyes”, walking alone and finding more community.