The city seemed exhausted by the job of keeping up the performance of serving endless expectations and the anticipations of countless dreams.
We set off in the dark. And the cool.
Someone at dinner last night had told us to be careful of getting lost in the dark, and we did have to back track, double check and at one point we went for a while without seeing a sign but then there was a large one right ahead.
It wasn’t till we hit the road and only saw signs for Pamplona that our first doubt crept in. But Pamplona was where we were heading, so we trusted we had to end up where we needed to be. A little later we saw some reassuring pilgrims. However, they were stepping onto our path from the actual pilgrim’s path. We learnt, It took us a couple of days to realise the large signs are cycling signs.
Harry remarked that this time we’d been lucky, Ben pointed out we used our heads too though.
We were back on The Way and it was a gorgeous narrow track that rose up from the fields high into the hills above.
Suddenly an anxious woman appeared on the path ahead who asked us if we had passed anybody in the last hour or so. To be honest, I was slowing so most people were passing us and we hadn’t.
A little while later we met a man on his knees on the ground, in tears, with that same woman impatient hovering around him. We managed to gather that he had lost his companion, and didn’t know if they were ahead or behind, or indeed safe.
About an hour later Ben asked if Harry was alright? He seemed sad. He was ahead of us again, and then he stopped. By the time we got there he was crying. His arms hurt from the backpack on his sunburn he said, so I took it off him and Ben covered his arms in lotion. Endearingly our little stubborn, hard-head, who had been impatient, and sometimes judgemental of Ben softened under the care, responded to both of us being there for him.
He stayed close to us for the rest of the walk into Arras. He asked me if I was OK carrying his pack and, seeing how well he was doing, I told him my legs were a little broken but my mind was Kung Fu Panda strong. But, in truth I was glad to see the end of the trail turn into a bridge to Arras as I was beginning to lag behind.
On our way into the town we saw a very old man bent over shuffling up the street, and staggering into the wall he was walking along. A young man leapt up from his coffee to help.
Watching him I realised I had slowed to a shuffle and I was in pain. It really took me a moment or two to realise, I really wasn’t going anywhere. It was one of the hardest things to do to turn to my son, the one I’m supposed to be there for and ask him to take back his pack. I needed help, I could no longer carry both.
The next moment the old man had collapsed, a cafe chair was brought, the local police were on the scene and we had to step out of the way for a land rover with a Red Cross on its side.
Harry had to stay till he was sure the man was OK, meanwhile I was had to find a way to the next stop. We were still in the mind set of achieving the stage set for the day. But I couldn’t walk anymore. We thought to take a taxi to Pamplona and a local lady said it was quite far away and offered to accompany us.
Then a bus passed by and we figured one would surely go to Pamplona, and our companion told us they did from right at the end of the street we were on and ran every 15 mins.
The city had a certain smell, of groomed people and dry cleaned clothes busily worn to the soundtrack of heeled shoes.
It was also big, the marble pillars holding up the ornate gold ceilings seemed such a contrast to the trees reaching up into the open skies. We heard music for the first time in a week, it drew us like moths, but the musicians were passed like so much detritus in a day.
The streets also seemed worn from having to hold up the lifestyle of a city, patched over with grandiose gestures.
The boys noticed the city also seemed full of old people, it is also true that it was a working day and the old are visible sitting out enjoying the sights and the life. Ben said the city seemed exhausted by the job of keeping up the performance of serving endless expectations and the anticipations of countless dreams.
The boys didn’t like the old, like so much life living without being noticed. We talked about seeing everyone as a story, every life has been lived and has seen so much, and to see the courage old age takes.
I know I am trying to bank memories with them to keep me warm on that stoop, I just hope they are there and remember we once had a story.
We took the bus to the end of the day.
We ended up at Mirabelle’s in Cizur Menor. An utterly unremarkable place run by an extraordinary woman who peers out from under the brim of a baseball cap to assess you as you walk in with uncanny accuracy.
She has her routine as she sing- songs her way through the “hot drinkings and cold drinkings and Wi-Fee [sic]…” Then she told me to bring my boots at 6pm and she would fix my feet.
She also mentioned that we could get our backpacks transported to the next stop for free on condition we stayed at the sister Albergue at the next stop. In fact the service was available for the next two days.
Which is exactly what I had been secretly wishing the whole bus ride here.
And we didn’t have a preference of where we stayed as we had come with no plans, willing to let each day lead us.
Maribelle tended the blisters on my feet, she had clean syringes and assured me she’d send me on with mine, doused the blisters in iodine and plastered them.
It is an incredibly humbling experience to have your feet attended to.
She then taught me how to tie my boots to keep my feet from slipping forward and causing the blisters on the balls of my feet as her father had taught her. She told us how she understood so much of what he taught her now, his wisdom earned with experience of a long life lived she was now appreciating.
She also put sanitary pads on my insoles to absorb the sweat, its important to use night strength apparently. You can not predict what you’ll learn on any given day.
Her hostel is an absolute haven, the town is a new satellite feed to the city with very little heart, but hers is big enough for all.
We found out later she sees each day as a puzzle that she tries to solve by placing people carefully together in her dormitories.
It was a tough call, especially as it would cause us to have to make up a day somewhere, but I had to have a rest day.
Those Little Voices were still yakking away in the background with their schedules and benchmarks and bars, and Harry was upset with me. He had grown fond of the people we’d travelled with and didn’t want to lose them. It was then that we asked him what the real reason was that he was crying that day.
It turns out he’d made a small connection with the Italian who lost his friend and really felt horrible for him. It made him realise what it would have been like if he’d lost us over the Pyrenees, and he was the one who had hoped this experience would bind us further yet was the one who had been impatient.
We saw the Italian in the restaurant we went to for dinner that night and were able to ask him if he had been reunited – happy to report a happy ending.
Having made the decision to stay we were up late, past 9pm and Maribelle told us about her time in London and how she loved the church because she could hear beautiful music for free. And she loves ballet.
She also said she has learnt not to judge people and what she sees most on The Camino is loneliness, “many lonely people walk the Comino because there is a sense of connection or even connections that are real, and it is safe. Many old people walk it for these reasons.”
PS Harry was still agitated with the pull between those we had been travelling with and my need to take a day out. We could only get him give in to it by suggesting perhaps we were to going to meet those we were meant to meet for the next stage.
That turned out to be possibly true.
It’s been a day of contrasts and clashing needs.
PPS I’ve been telling everyone all day “my legs are broken” in Spanish, ie “me gambas es roto” .. Until I remembered; gambas means prawns!
Yup! Everyone was confused.
I am a broken woman..