Blisters And Deep Thoughts On The Camino – Part 2 (by Nathan)
The first week of walking was filled with excitement, but quickly like the sharp pains of our blisters, the reality of our undertaking throbbed at our hearts and minds. We slowly made our way through Narvarre into the Rioja region of Spain. The sun would slowly awaken from the horizon and steadily beat down on us from overhead. One step at a time, we moved further westward. The novelty of walking across Spain was worn out and we had time, lots of time to fully interpret, analyze and entertain the great thoughts and reasons for undergoing a pilgrimage.
“Pilgrimage” is a metaphor for life- there will be hardships, joy and glory with the finished effort. And this walk will be used as an opportunity for me to assess my life, my goals and my expectations for the upcoming months, years and decades of my future. I created a set of questions that I read to inspire thought, conversation and debate in my head throughout the day:
1) What are you carrying (material belongings, anger, stress, negativity) that is not necessary?
2) Where are you going in life/career/family/etc?
3) Are you being greatful for health, partnership and the hospitality of your hosts?
A walk like this can be done for millions of reasons. Most traditionally a pilgrim hoped to be absolved of his sins upon arriving to Santiago. Although, I won’t be denying this privilege, I hope to gain a better understanding of who I am, who I want to be and how to get there. I find myself relating to the most common age group on the Camino (50-60 yr olds). Like me, they have changed or ended jobs and the Camino serves as a canvas to draft the plans for what comes next.
The fountain of wine that Carmen described, was a highlight to my first week on the trail. For the next week we walked our way through one of the agricultural strongholds of Spain. Hill after hill and field after field were bright green from the vineyards or tan from the stalks of recently cut wheat. It appears that spaniards survive off of two things: wine and bread. Carmen and I enjoyed both of course.
One night we enjoyed a wonderful evening camping between the vines outside Logroño, another night in the pine forests near San Juan. Our dinner of local delicatessen treats was eaten peacefully a few hundred feet from the trail. Every night in our tent was filled with the uneasy sounds of a strange place, but the stars welcomed us each morning and we walked on.
The mornings have become the best time to walk. We have began the routine of the peregrino, awake by 5:45am and we begin walking by 6:30. This means that the sky is still very dark, and the path only subtly lit by moonlight. The light very gradually increases its intensity and by 8 we embraced by the golden light. By 9 we are pulling off long sleeves, lathering on suntan lotion and shielding our faces with our funny floppy hats.
The abundance of grape vines have been wonderful for snacking. I did not want any bad karma with Dionysus (god of wine), so I only ate the bunches that “naturally” fell off on their own (yes, this does happen).
Some nights we turn in the tent for a hot shower and mattress to sleep on. There are municipal and private albergues in almost every town so it has been easy to find a place to take off our boots and put our feet up. One place in Azofra was wonderful; the rooms were private and simple and the sun was brilliant as it beamed onto the hallway outside our room.
We pass through dozens of tiny towns and medium cities. Every couple hours there is winding road leading through some ancient village. The stone buildings huddle together with impressive density. The people walk the streets repeating “buen camino” to every pilgrim that passes. Sometimes we stop for a café cortado, other times we walk on through. Each village has its own charm and hundreds of years of history of being on the Camino de Santiago.
The camino has been a pleasurable and powerful experience thus far. There has been time to look deeply inward as well as a time to admire the history of a beautiful country. The details of the towns are enriched by the footsteps needed to view them – slowly a town enters into view over the horizon, and slowly the buildings come into focus. Each step forward reveals another ancient building, a roman foundation or a vast farmland. Then the towns, the people and the land are just faint memories; they disappear slowly and shrink in the distance. There are still 350 more miles of Camino ahead.