Three planes, two buses, and thirty hours put my feet on the ground in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. Along the way, I met a plethora of people, lost my Shake Shack virginity at JFK, and slept like a champ by overdosing on Ambien. My first albergue (pilgrim hostel) was perfect and served mountains of crusty bread and fresh squeezed orange juice as ammo for the Pyrenees that separate France and Spain. The weather was not ideal for a 16 mile stroll with 5,000 feet of elevation but accepting things as they are is lesson number one on the Camino. Mind memory kicked in when the wheels hit the ground as I immediately immersed into pilgrim mode. Like I never left the path.
With rain poncho in place, I began the early morning ascent towards Spain. A dear pilgrim friend (Bonnie) from my first trip sent me a message just prior to leaving. She suggested that I trade the “Buen Camino” greeting for “Ultreya”. I was not familiar with the term which means onward. Less than one kilometer into the walk, green chalk letters spelled that word on the black pavement. I was carrying many pilgrims from the previous walk in my heart and wondering about new strangers that would become lifelong friends
I spent some time walking with Sarah and Graham. Sarah, of course, lives in Boise, Idaho and was raised about five minutes from my house. These two young lovers met at college and were molding life by traveling the world. Griffon vultures randomly drifted through the cloudy sky. Towards the summit, a group of seven appeared as stealth bombers at eye level. I could hear their motionless wings gliding through the air. I arrived in Roncesvalles around 3:00 and enjoyed a plate of eggs, patatas fritas, and my first cup of creamy espresso. My evening sleep was not an issue in a building full of spent pilgrims.
Liquid sunshine was the theme of my second day of walking. Light to heavy showers were intermittent but never dampened my enthusiasm. I took a morning break in a little bar where I met a dear friend on my previous trip. The establishment was filled with 15 local men jammed into two of the three tables. The wine was flowing and the chatter was loud. I bet they will be doing the same thing tomorrow morning.
Endless fields of grain filled the horizons. The rain made most of the barley heads droop but were quickly awakened with vibrant and furious gusts of wind. The Camino fields were alive and dancing throughout my second day of walking. I had not been in Spain for more than 48 hours and was already finding gratitude in the simplest of places. Walking in the rainy wind and watching wheat blow. Deep roots with tapered heads that attach to nothing as the wind pushes them around. So uncomplicated.
My third day began with a happy head and some unhappy knees. I decided to focus on the mind and hoped that the knees would be coerced into cooperation. I passed through the colorful city of Pamplona and eventually filled my wallet with some Euros from the ATM. The first one did not work and I had a mini-mental tantrum. Gratitude for having Euros quickly trumped the access issue. A DJ Drez tune helped me up a hill to the Alto del Perdon with a classic remix of Buffalo Springfield’s For What its Worth. There is something happening here.
I ended the day at Albergue Jacques in the Paulo Coelho suite of bunks. My roomie for the night was a young man from Austria named Drew. His stink proceeded him, but at this point, it was common. I was not likely producing my own rosy scent His exposed skin was beet red from the hot day’s sun. He took me up on my offer for a dose of sunscreen but was relieved when he found his own supply in his over-sized backpack. He was soft spoken and had a gentle kindness. En route to the laundry room, we both chuckled at the vending machine in the lobby. Only on the Camino would a person find ponchos next to Gatorade, chorizo, and Frito’s.
On the initial trip, I was first out of bed and had a bit of a plan for each day. With three days under my belt, I never walked in the dark and had not even glanced at my guidebook. The previous trip stripped all fear from this journey. The elixir of the unknown was swirling in my soul and it felt great.
To be continued……..