I am sitting here overlooking the valley from which I just walked four hours – three of those hours were uphill! But, I made it. My first day of walking on the Camino. I was worried about this day (and tomorrow.) It is the steepest climb and it is before your body gets the message that you plan to torture it indefinitely and acquiesces to this whim.
But, I did it. I’m so proud of myself. And it wasn’t terribly terrible. The view helped. Once again, I so wish I lived far enough in the future when cameras surely will be invented that can capture the smells, sounds and feel as well as the sights.
Just imagine, cows grazing in hilly pastures clanging their cowbells with each bite. The air is thin but thick at the same time. I can feel the thinness as my breath matches the click clack of my trekking poles. Yet, I can feel the thick warmth of it as it heats up my body and seems to perch on that little spot between my upper lip and my nostrils. The occasional welcome breeze carries whiffs of hay and moist grass and cow manure and green. Yes, green has a definite smell – trust me on this.
Let me rewind to the last time we left off in Iceland. I had a reservation for a guest house near the airport but we got back from chasing the Northern Lights too late to make the last bus back to Keflavik. I found a hostel near the bus station and checked in at 1:00, tiptoed into a room with handful of other men and women, crawled into the bunkbed (that had nothing but a fitted sheet and a pillow) and fell fitfully asleep to a chorus of alto and soprano snoring for a measly three hours.
I woke up at 4:00, took a cab to the bus station at 4:30, arrived at the airport at 6:00, hopped on my flight to Paris at 7:45, barely caught my connecting flight at 1:50, landed in Biarritz at 4:30, grabbed my backpack with just enough time to catch another bus to the Bayonne train station, rode the train to St. Jean Pied de Port and walked into my albergue five minutes before “the family” was gathering around the communal table for dinner. It was a long day but I was literally shaking with excitement. (Or, maybe, it was the four cappuccinos I drank to get me through the day.)
Joseph was the hospitelero for the Belail albergue (translate, “hostel” for pilgrims.) He was born for this job. Hospitality oozes out of his pores. He conducted the “getting to know you” time with delightful games, thought-provoking questions and an aperitif. I was in love. :) After the requisite introductions, he had us go around the table and speak our intention for walking the Camino. I said, “I THINK my reason is to experiment with meeting life as it is, not as I’d like to orchestrate and/or manipulate it to be. To slow down, pay attention, be quiet, flexible and open.”
I sat next to Chris at dinner. This is his third time to walk the Camino. The first time he walked was because (in his words) he was a “Desktaur” – half man, half desk. One day, he had an epiphany that he wasn’t really living so he up and quit and headed out on the Camino. The second time he walked was to process grief. I asked him to tell me in one word why he was walking this time. He didn’t even have to think about it before he declared, “Wisdom.” He asked me and I, just as quickly, answered, “Trust.”
He told me about a “don’t miss” albergue in San Xulian. I asked him if he would make a list of all the “gems” he’s discovered on his previous treks. He started to share and then he stopped himself and said, “Wait a minute, didn’t you just say your journey was about trust and that your intention was to meet life as it happens? I’m not going to get in the way of that. You just walk and trust that you will find your own “gems.” Why in the world he is walking for “wisdom” is beyond me because that was definitely some wise advice. And it was just what I needed to hear. Not what I wanted to hear but certainly what I needed.
After a delicious vegetarian dinner, I retired to take a shower and get ready for bed. Oh, the joy of hostel showers. There is barely enough room to stand up with your arms by your side and suds up before the water turns from cold to freezing. Did I mention that you press a button and the water comes out for 15 seconds and then it stops and you have to suds up and press it again to rinse off.
Let me just mention that jet lag combined with a chorus of snoring is my new least favorite thing. What foolishness did I speak about being flexible and open and meeting life at it is? I finally gave up and got out of bed at 4:00 and snuck downstairs to write in the dark until Joseph put Gregorian Chants on throughout the hostel to wake everyone up. I want to wake up this way everyday for the rest of my life. I was suddenly back in a good mood.
Our Camino “family” said our “au revoirs” and “buen caminos” after a breakfast of French bread and homemade jams. I visited the Pilgrims office and received my first official Camino stamp! Then I set out to find the sporting goods store in town to buy a sleeping bag and a new water bottle. (I accidentally left mine in the bus hostel.) That took me two hours and, at least, twenty wrong turns! And, I’m not exaggerating. I wish I were. Have I mentioned that I am utterly hopeless when it comes to directions? This is why I could never live in a large mansion. I would get lost trying to find my way from the bedroom to the kitchen. Why did it not cross my mind before now that I was going to have to follow directions for 500 miles across a foreign country? I’m now worried about more than my plantar fasciitis flaring up. That is the least of my worries I may get lost in the Pyrenees before I even make it to Spain!
Eventually, I find the store (I had passed it twice. Not kidding.) I’m now on my way, or more precisely, The Way. Oh, so this is why pilgrims leave at 6:00 in the morning. The sun is heating up fast when I finally get on the (right) road at 10:30. By 11:00, I’ve stopped and “adjusted” a half dozen times. My poles are too long, then they are too short. I need my sunglasses out of my pack and then I need my sun hat. The sunglasses retainer annoys my ears so I remove that. Oh, wait, did I forget to put on sunscreen?
All along the route, at least twenty-five locals wish me “bon jour.” I feel like “Belle” from the opening song of “Beauty and the Beast.” I stop about halfway in Hutto to spread out my picnic of a baguette, cheese and apple pastry. I’m calling this carbo-loading for the multiple marathons I will ultimately walk over the next few weeks. Which brings us up to this moment. I’ve showered, washed my clothes in the sink, met a handful of friendly folks and we are getting friendlier by the minute as I’m learning that the wine flows freely on the Camino.