At breakfast, we meet an old French woman who has walked already 5 weeks, from Le Puy-en-Velay, and she complains about the dinner at the casa rural. She paid 11 euro for a small meal with no wine, and for vegetables, it was just lettuce from the garden outside. We’re glad to have skipped it. She complains about the breakfast too, but it’s too late to do anything about that. Its 4 euro, which seems high given that its basically bread and coffee.
On the road, we pass the Americans who beat us to Pura Corazon, an older mother and son from Pennsylvania, along with two Jans (Janet and Janice) and a woman from Australia.
In Zubiri, where a medieval pilgrim named Domenico Laffi was robbed*, and which Jack Hitt called a “wretched hamlet,” we met a man who, on this his third Camino, began by simply walking out of his front door in Sweden. With more than 3,000 km already under his belt, the 700 to go seems like a short ways.
“When people ask what I was thinking, I said ‘not much’, because that’s the only way. The mind cannot hold it all in.”
Viktor’s first Camino was in April 2014, the Camino Frances, and his second was the Camino del Norte. He has a website, Every Step Counts, where he raises money and updates followers on his progress.
The road from Zubiri to Larrasoana is more like I’d expected, hot, sunny, and dusty, walking between two roads, between two tall columns of dry grass. The Pyrenees and just around them were full of woodlands, cool, shady, misty. I already missed the green mossy forests seen yesterday and earlier in the day.
Before Larrasoana, pilgrims gather in the shade by the fountain. We see a blond woman who smiled at us at Zubiri bridge, (we later learn she’s Belgian/Russian – but for now I mostly note, with surprise, that she’s walking in skinny jeans). Other pilgrims stop and rest, or refill their bottles and pass on. Ours is a silent communion. We speak quietly to our traveling companions, but not really to pilgrims from other groups. There is a Spansh couple and an older American man, besides the woman from Zubiri. A sign across the street informs us that we should not poop in the yard.
We walk on, but my feet are killing me. I took some wrong steps on the mountain, and feel pain in my right knee, my right ankle, and up near my right hip. Our goal is to walk 22.5 km to a convent run my nuns of the Sacred Heart. Dorcinda would like to press on another 9km to Pamplona, which would catch us up to the pace in our guidebook, but I refuse.
We make many stops to ease my cranky ankles, and linger too long each time over beer or coffee or orange juice.
On the way to Zabaldika I try to stop at an earlier hostel, but they’re full up. There are two women on the road ahead, a French mother and daughter. The mother keeps looking back, as if suspicious. My legs hurt, and I doubt my ability to make it to the nunnery, which seems far away and poorly marked. It is very hot.
In the last town before the convent, we finally catch up with the French women, and they are getting directions from a cheerful old Spanish man. He at first seems to be offering them a place to stay, but is actually encouraging them on to the convent. He points to a patch of trees in the distance. “See, you can just make out a bell tower,” he says. We see nothing of the sort.
I realize that the French women actually don’t speak Spanish at all, and are thoroughly confused and growing frustrated. They both speak English, the daughter better than the mother, and so I offer to translate. We realize we’re heading towards the same place, and join forces, with Dorcinda in the lead. The mother is exhausted, grumpy, while the daughter is somewhere between cheerful and sarcastic, with more energy to spare. They meant to stop at Larrasoana but missed the turnoff at the bridge and walked right on by. It was a long way to go for the mistake.
We arrive around 6pm, and again I translate. The hospitalera at Zabaldika is fussy, repeats herself several times, and consults with the nuns on what to do, since there are four of us and only three beds. After asking the nuns, she decides we can stay, as long as one of us sleeps downstairs on a couch. The younger french woman (something like Mariposa? Marisol?) volunteers. I offer three times, but she insists more strongly. Dorcinda and French mom end up in a room together, while I end up in the common room. (It later turns out that I’ve gotten the better end of the deal – the French mother is a champion snorer. That may also explain the younger Frenchwoman’s eagerness to sleep on the couch).
I help set out plates for dinner, then the younger French woman and I are pressed into service gathering more laundry so that the nuns can do a full load. “Mas ropa! Buscame mas ropa!”
We meet a Scottish woman, Eileen, who seems nice, but turns out to be a bit of a nutcase. She tells Dorcinda all about a religious experience she had on her last Camino – something about walking with a woman who was a real pill – she had an evil spirit about her – and through the grace of God she was able to walk with her all the way. Seems like an underwhelming sort of awakening, but I can’t bring myself to pay attention enough to be sure. She’s not pushy though, and seems relieved and eager when Dorcinda asks about her experience, as though she’s been dying to tell someone but is cognizant of the fact that it will appear a little kooky to nonreligious listeners. She is kind enough to give up her bed and sleep downstairs when a final guest, a Hungarian woman, arrives at 6:30. The woman who greeted us frets further, saying “que horror!” when she realizes that not one but TWO guests will be sleeping downstairs. At dinner, we talk more with the French women, the daughter says she is about to start her masters degree in sustainability and something else, and she plans to leave her mother in Burgos. Her brother intends to take her place and will walk with mom after that. The nuns invite us to an after dinner prayer, and we agree. The French girl pretends to be very interested in a neighborhood cat, but her mom sees right through the ruse and insists that she come. She had the right idea, though, and we all soon regret our decision to attend.
The service, simple enough, takes forever since we end up translating everything into Spanish, English, French and Russian. I see on the program that they intend to ask us about why we’re walking and our experience so far. My heart sinks. That can’t be right. An older Spanish woman reaches the same conclusion, and, bravely, walks out during the nun’s introduction. Eileen snorts in disgust and goes to close the door behind her. We are trapped. The younger french woman, despite her reluctance, is tapped to read the sections in French, an even younger (18-20 yo?) blond Russian woman named Masha reads in Russian, from her own Bible, an overeager Englishman named Tom is picked to read in English (he loudly volunteers to read in Spanish, happy for an opportunity to show off his facility with the language, and entirely missing the point of the nun’s request). Meanwhile two old nuns switch off reading and translating in Spanish.
Tom’s attitude is increasingly annoying. He reads his section of the prayer dramatically, like a priest on his first day on the job, or a student in an acting class. When he tells of his experience walking the Camino, he says, first in Spanish, some baloney about Jesus interceding on our behalf, not like a lawyer who’s nitpicking around the definitions of the crime/sin, but as someone who says simply, ‘Tom did wrong, but I love him, he’s mine.’ That’s what the Camino taught him. He’s walked for only a few days and leaves tomorrow – I guess he’s just here to show off his Spanish and pal around with religious folks from other countries. Although we’re going to see a very different Iago, I’m reminded of the words of the villain from Othello – one may smile and smile and be a villain (Edit – OOPS that’s from Hamlet!). I want to slap that smug sonofabitch.
Masha is also incredibly annoying – she talks about how the Camino has taught her to let go of her plans, just walk and trust in God, and good things happen. That night, she harshly reprimands an old Spanish woman for not turning the light out fast enough at bedtime. Other than Masha and Tom, no one seems too eager to speak, especially after the additional lag of translation. The nun calls on a man from Valencia, essentially saying “Hey Valencia, what have you got?” He is shy and demurs, but the nun compliments his singing voice from the hymn we sang at the start – you sing so well, why don’t you express yourself with a song, she cajoles. No luck. She moves on to New York, and I reluctantly speak up, rushing through some thing about how my job had become my life, and I was spending all my time working for another man’s desires, another man’s pocketbook, and I was walking to take a break from those responsibilities and explore what else I could be dedicating myself to. I choose not to attempt to translate my story into Spanish, leaving the job to one of the old nuns, who takes her sweet time with it. There is the dutiful nodding of heads, as though I’ve said something wise. We repeat this show of mute appreciation after every speaker has his or her turn, no matter what they actually say. At the final prayer, there’s something in Latin which repeats again, and again, and again. And again. Eventually, me and the younger french woman start giggling whenever a new round starts up, as if to say “This again?? We just did this one!” The whole thing takes just over an hour but feels like far longer. I’m too worn out to write by the end of it.
At bedtime, Tom makes some loud jokes about how creaky and noisy his bed is, and a Spanish family laughs. For maximum comic effect, he tosses himself around some more, making yet more unbearable creaking noises. I am glad I don’t have to see his punchable face. Sharply at 10, the young Russian insists on lights out, annoying an older Spanish woman who’s fussing with her bag. I again rely on my trusty earplugs.
* The Camino de Santiago: A Cultural Handbook quotes Laffi as writing: “The bridge is guarded by soldiers, better described as thieves and murderers. As it is a deserted spot, they will strip passers-by of their belongings. Persons of high rank are made to pay, that is, made to give them a ‘tip.’ Anyone who refuses gets brutally treated. They will break open our head with their sticks and wil sometimes get rid of people by makng the river their grave.”