A year ago today, we left the pension at Zubiri a bit later than our fellow pilgrims, at almost 10:00 a.m. with the sun shining bright! The walk was mixed; we followed a muddy and rocky path; at one point it was so steep that the local Friends of the Camino had built steps to help the pilgrims, but we found them slippery. I ended up walking along side the steps; we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. The air was brisk and clear. Along the way, we stopped several times to rest. Before getting to Larrasoaña where we had a light lunch we went through some tiny hamlets: Eskirotz, Illarratz. We crossed the Rio Arga. The terrain was different in the lower elevation but the path was still tricky. We met some dogs: they run wild but mostly they just bark or come looking for food. Reminds me of Oreo, the barrio dog at my Mom’s in Laredo, a dog with a mind and a heart of her own. Today is my friend Sandra Cisneros ‘s birthday and I am walking with her in my heart and mind. She had a fundraiser/birthday party and asked guests to wear their pajamas–she’s got a new book coming titled, Writing in my Pajamas, hence the theme for the party. The year before, in 2009, I went to the fundraiser/birthday party and had a good time–we were to wear “leopard”–all I “wore” was a leopard print purse. She is present in my thoughts as I carefully step on the rocky path, or go up the very long stairway that seems to go up to heaven. I took photos of the yellow arrow markers along the way. The arrows appear in strange places, on the ground, on fences, on tree trunks, We are constantly on the look out for them so that we don’t get lost.
As we walk towards Pamplona, we go by other tiny towns,Akerreta, Zuriain, Iroz, Zabaldica–there is no doubt that we are in Basque country. The street signs are in Eskerra and Spanish. This region, Navarra, is where the Ramón side of my family originated many generations ago. Navarra, tierra de diversidad is what the sign read at the Pamplona bus station. Did it refer to the Basque?
We walk along the river crossing bridges at several points, so that the rushing waters are on our left at one point and later on our right; the Camino crisscrosses the river. I had been saying, “Vente, Becky, no te quedes” each time we went over running water, but there were so many streams, creeks and rivers that Becky begged that I stop; and I did stop voicing the old incantation my grandmother taught me; but, I said it to myself quietly, under my breadth so she wouldn’t hear me: “Vente Becky no te quedes”–3 times; and “Vente Norma, not te quedes”-3 times. I remember Bueli saying it each time we crossed the Rio Grande–asking the person’s spirit not to stay with the water spirits.
We eschew the highway path and stick to the old path through pine forests, and we ask permission each time we enter what feels like sacred space. It is at one of these spots where I feel Sandra’s presence and I know I must share what I am learning with her. The ground is carpeted with leaves and it is cold, but not as cold as it has been other days. The spirits of the forests greet us, and I can hear a lone bird way up high in the tree tops. Suddenly, I feel as I am flying up there. too.
We arrive in Pamplona by bus. In the small town of Arre, we take a city bus into town, and are dropped off near the cathedral where the city-run Albergue Jesus y María is located, on calle Compañia. The bus was packed but people were considerate and admired our bravery–doing the Camino in winter! “Que valientes!” one middle aged woman said to us as the bus careened through the city streets. She then offered that she had walked it once, but not in winter. There is another albergue open, but Xavier and Fank will be at the city albergue waiting for us with hot onion soup! So that is where we are headed. We walk the few blocks amid holiday shoppers; it is a drizzly evening, Becky with a boot that is coming apart is having a hard time. I am wet and cold and we just want to get there.
Before taking the bus, we stopped at a shoe repair place, but the zapatero looked at the boot and exclaimed “No se puede hacer nada; tendras que comprarte botas nuevas.” The boots had taken a beating, that is true, but that was not reason to fall apart. They were the same boots she had worn 4 years earlier, so perhaps the boots had done their job and it was time to replace them.
As we arrived, Xavier and Frank were leaving, and they warned us not to take the cots near the door as there is a rumor that the summer bed bug infestation is still here; those front cots have them. Two French men arrive and take the cots near the door; we warn them and they move farther back. Soon Xavier and Frank are back with the provisions for making the onion soup–simple: flour, salt, onions, cheese. We have showered and changed and we go up the stairs to the kitchen to eat with them. The conversation takes various quick turns from politics to religion to stories of how Xavier’s mom taught him how to make the soup, which by the way is delicious. We share our cheese and they have bought bread; it is a delicious meal with great conversation. We find out that Frank is unemployed. He was working in Switzerland — or was it Sweden?–he had just been laid off but he didn’t want to return to Germany, so he came to walk the Camino. He is not a believer and he and Xavier get into a heated discussion about the Church and organized religion and how spirituality has little to do with either one. Xavier wants to come back to the Camino. He is seeking a life of service. He is teaching himself Spanish. We speak mostly in English with a little bit of Spanish.
The soup was everything I had hoped for and then some! Lesson: All good things are worth waiting for in life as in the Camino!
MEDITATION FOCUS: We walk alone in our own boots. Each step we take takes us closer to the goal. These are messages for me. The other messages for Sandra haunt me. As I walked and meditated I felt “at one” with the universe, as if on a high. My higher self is ecstatic about being on the pilgrimage. I rejoice and am grateful!