On Camino Wednesdays I’m sharing day to day recollections from the journal i kept as my friends and I walked the Camino de Santiago, September/October 2019, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. Part ONE. Part TWO. Part THREE. And part FOUR.
On September 6, 2019, I walked from Zubiri to Pamplona, Spain with my friends Bill and Derrick.
The night before had been a restless sleep. Our room was hot and every time I moved on my top bunk it creaked and squeaked. Negotiating room temperature would become a skill to develop as we shared large and small rooms with fellow peregrinos across Spain on our way to Santiago.
The entry in my journal says, “We were only about 15 minutes late getting out. I had been promised an easy day with little hills. But there were some hills and I did not take it well.” The Camino Bible” tricked me like this more than a few times. We started a day’s walk with a commentary that assured us that it was “mostly flat” only to find that meant it was “sometimes up hill and up hill again and one more hill after that.” At that point in the journey, despite all the walking I had done in preparation, alone and with my friends, I was realizing how desperately out of shape I was.
Early in the morning walk we came to a village with a small, ruined church that was being excavated and restored by volunteers. We stopped and listened to one of the volunteers describe the work. It was interesting. It was sad. It was impossible not to see the contrast between the amazing vistas, the natural views across valleys and along mountainsides with the small mission churches that were often neglected and in poor condition.
The city cathedrals ahead of us would tell another story.
As we walked into Pamplona we chose a more scenic route than the traditional Camino road. We followed Bill’s MapMe app to our accommodations for the night and it took us down along a scenic river route. Locals, recognizing us as pilgrims, kept stopping us and trying to re-direct us to the Camino path. We tried to communicate that we knew what we were doing and they would switch over to English for us but when we persisted they would smile, and walk away, shaking their heads over these three confused peregrinos.
As we walked through downtown Pamplona we met up once again with the lady who purred. She invited us to stop and eat with her and share a bottle of wine with us. When a lady who purrs in her sleep invites you to join her for a bottle of the local wine on the Camino de Santiago, you stop. Derrick translated, she shared some of her story and we all laughed and drank at a sidewalk table in Pamplona and watched other pilgrims walk by as we enjoyed the beautiful Spanish day.
After our wine, we stopped in a Pamplona church building. I wrote, “It was beautiful. People faithfully worshiping Jesus, day in and day out. Loving, having babies, getting married or not, living, dying…it made me realize how small and silly all our ‘church growth’ stuff really is.”
We splurged that night and stayed in a more hotelish accommodation. It was 15€ each and my wife wouldn’t have stayed there to save her life. We shared a common bathroom with the rest of the floor (and maybe the one above us) but we had our own bedroom and our own beds. We rested, showered and then went out to explore Pamplona. We walked through the streets full of people, beautiful buildings, a cathedral and bocadillo shops.
I stopped in one shop for a bocadillo y jamon and just outside we ran into another new friend, Antony. In a city jam-packed with tourists and pilgrims and locals it was a moment that would become common on the Camino, you suddenly and unexpectedly and joyfully run into another pilgrim you’ve met on the way. A medieval fair was underway and we were treated to costumes, music and local culture.
It was amazing. It felt like a gift.
That night we went to bed but didn’t stay asleep for very long. Outside the city came alive as we tried to sleep. The volume went up. And then went up some more. At one point, around two or three a.m., it sounded like a fight broke out on the street below our window. An angry mob. Maybe a riot. While I lay in bed listening I thought through the ways to bar the door, make our escape out the window turning sheets into a rope, I thought about sending my wife one last text message – and then – silence. It didn’t die out slowly, it just seemed like it was turned off. And finally, we went to sleep with the strong smell of cigarette smoke oozing through our adjoining wall.
My back ached. My butt had a cramp in it. My feet hurt. I was afraid of the mob on the street. But on that night my greatest pain was in my heart, I missed my wife and my family and I felt so very far away from them.
How long is too long for you to be away from those you love? How far is too far to go from them? What happens when absence makes the heart grow sick instead of fonder?