Today started out so well, so I’m not sure when it took a turn for the worse.
I woke up after a good night’s sleep in the parochial albergue; somehow, in a large room of 35 people in bunk beds, no one snored. No one even tossed and turned, or maybe I was just sleeping very soundly.
Once I woke up and packed most of my things, I went upstairs to the dining room where breakfast was spread out. The table was set with plates of toasted bread, strawberry and apricot jam, butter, crackers and cookies. There were large Italian espresso makers boiling coffee on the stovetop, with milk and sugar containers next to the mugs.
It was such a treat to start the day with fresh coffee, and as soon as I walked into the streets of Logrono, I felt so good: my legs were strong and my feet felt great. I passed by a bar where I saw bins of fresh bread; I bought a loaf and said hi to a few other pilgrims I’d recognized along the way. The man spoke only Spanish so I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me, but then he opened a plastic bag and offered me a cookie. I walked through Logrono eating the cookie, and it seemed as if every time I got to an intersection and couldn’t figure out the way, someone would point me in the right direction.
But then things went downhill, although it was mostly just my attitude. Dark clouds had been gathering and soon it started to rain (the first time I had to walk in rain so far on the Camino); I was stuck in a cluster of Pilgrims (I would move ahead, then stop to drink water or add/take off a layer, and others would catch up); the walking felt hard. Too humid in the rain, too cold without a jacket. I was uncomfortable. I was dragging.
And I just couldn’t get away from everyone. Sometimes I don’t mind walking with others, but today it just felt like there were so many people around. I wanted to feel like the path was more spread out; I like walking and only seeing a few people ahead or behind me (or better yet, no one).
I found a large tree and a big pile of rocks to duck behind to use the bathroom; I couldn’t have been more than two minutes but when I came out from behind the tree, it was like a tour bus had dropped off a few dozen people. I have no idea where they came from, but there were pilgrims all around, walking with daypacks.
I finally made it to the town where Mira and I had been thinking about staying; it was small, with a few streets and two bars and one albergue. I passed one bar and looked inside to see about a dozen people I knew. Then I walked up the street to the other bar where some locals were hanging out. I got a coke, sat outside at a table, and started writing in my journal.
It’s a strange contrast here, to be on a pilgrimage and want to experience solitude and space, but to also be part of this large community that is so welcoming and warm. I’ve loved the people I’ve met, and part of me wants to follow the typical stages and stay where I know everyone will be. It is so wonderful to walk into an albergue and be greeted with smiles and even cheers.
But today I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to be apart from everyone. I was sitting at the bar, thinking about this, when a beautiful Italian boy pulled up on a bicycle (I think stuff like this only happens in the movies, and on the Camino). He took off his helmet and set his things at a table, then turned to me and gave me a big smile and an “Hola! Buenos dias!’ We each sat in silence for awhile, and then started talking. He must have been young- in his early 20’s- with dark curly hair and clear blue eyes. We talked all about the Camino and the experience and where we were from and what we do and then quickly, like things usually go here, we talked about deeper stuff. About the same things I’d just been writing about: solitude versus community. Making connections and then losing the people you make connections with.
Mira came up to the bar and we decided to keep walking to the next town. We said goodbye to the Italian boy- Jeremiah- and he gave us each big hugs. As we walked away he called out after us, ‘I hope you have a beautiful life!’
My day turned around after this. I was still a little grumpy and craving some time to myself, but I was able to drop most of my negative attitude. The clouds cleared away and we walked on a path that looked out to a panoramic view of the mountains. I listened to music, and then walked with Susie and Mira into Najera. We decided to splurge and stay at a private albergue, in a room with only 2 bunk beds (a good choice, because we later saw the municipal albergue with 90 beds in one room, many of them pushed together. And rumor had it that there were at least 6 people snoring loudly that night).
We went out for wine and tapas, then did some grocery shopping. Before making a big salad in the albergue kitchen, we took a bottle of wine and a bag of potato chips down to the banks of the river, where we stretched out on the grass and talked about life. I continue to be amazed at the potential for meaningful conversation on this trip, and how easily people open up about their lives and the things that they struggle with.
I thought about how I’d been tempted to be alone all day: to walk by myself and to stay in the tiny village and to go off and write and do my own thing. And if I’d chosen to spend my day that way, alone, it would have been okay. But sitting with Mira and Susie, drinking an amazing bottle of La Rioja wine, hearing incredible life stories… that felt right.
And it made me think about what the Italian boy said: that even if the connections are fleeting, the encounters are beautiful.