Finding the Camino Spirit
The rain continued all night. We woke up and were shocked when we realized our bodies weren’t totally wrecked. What luck! Maybe the Camino wouldn’t be so hard after all.
We made our way downstairs to take full advantage of the breakfast spread. We had learned our lesson about hiking on an empty stomach. So, we ate as much as we dared, then made sandwiches for later, wrapping them in paper napkins and sticking them in the top pockets of our bags. We grabbed some fruit, feeling satisfied that we could stave off Hiker Hunger for a few hours.
We took some time to visit the church and collected a couple more stamps in our pilgrim passports. Then we pulled on our rain gear and continued on the trail.
Andy and I were chatting as we walked along in the rain. I was giving him primitive Spanish lessons, the only kind I was capable of. He confused “jugo de naranja” (orange juice) with “jugo de araña” (spider juice?). We were laughing at the mental image when another pilgrim came upon us.
Lyndon, our new pilgrim friend, was from Australia. He was on a schedule to meet up with his wife in Pamplona to celebrate their wedding anniversary before he resumed his Camino. He was so warm and friendly. We were sad when we realized we had booked different stays that night and probably wouldn’t see each other again due to his schedule and pace.
I knew it was unreasonable to want to stay surrounded by all the people I made friends with along The Way. But it was already hard to say goodbye to someone I liked, knowing I may never see them again.
We parted ways in the next town, Espinal, and checked into our hostel. It was a short day, but after our intense day crossing the Pyrenees the day before, we wanted to take it easy and pace ourselves. We settled into the common space and spread out our socks and boots to dry.
That night we had our first communal dinner–a family-style dinner for pilgrims. Plates of food, baskets of bread, and jugs of wine appeared on the table. As the wine flowed, so did the conversation. It amazed us how quickly a table full of people of different nationalities could shed their shyness and enjoy a meal together.
Ah, yes. Here’s that Camino Spirit I was looking for. I want more of this.
A few minutes into the meal, I realized that the woman sitting right next to me was from a neighboring town in Oklahoma. As we talked more, we learned that we lived about 15 minutes from each other. Fancy that, meeting your neighbor on the other side of the world!
We learned that some pilgrims who crossed the mountains right behind us got caught in the storm that rolled in. They had to take shelter at the top of the pass. One of them, an older man from Virginia, said he had genuinely feared for his life. He was so shaken by it, he called off the rest of his Camino. We felt so lucky to have beaten the storm across the mountains.
The Way Provides
The next day we woke up and left only slightly earlier than we had the day before. We were still adjusting to this routine.
It was still raining, so we moved slowly and steadily onward.
Around lunch, we stopped for a pilgrim meal in Zubiri. We were feeling pretty good, so we wanted to keep moving. When we got to the next town, we learned that there were no vacancies because one of the large albergues was closed for renovations. A woman we met told us that stranded pilgrims were getting taxis to Pamplona.
It was only 15 kilometers to Pamplona, but to us, it was an entire section. We were dead set against taking any other transportation unless it was an emergency. And this didn’t constitute an emergency to us.
We kept walking and came across an inn. I knocked, reviewing my primitive Spanish phrases in my head.
A man opened the door, already annoyed that I was there.
Me: “Hola, hay dos camas?” (Hello, are there two beds?)
Before I even finished the question he was shaking his head and started closing the door on me.
Me: “Tenemos una tienda. Conoces a donde…?” (We have a tent. Do you know where…?)
He waved his hand, gesturing to the rain-soaked landscape we had been slogging across for several hours. As if we were standing in the middle of a grocery store asking where we could buy some food.
“En El Camino.” Door closed.
Well. Alright then. “On The Camino” it is.
Wild camping isn’t encouraged in Spain, but we didn’t have a lot of options. We reasoned that as long as we were off the trail, not trespassing on private land (as far as we knew), left no trace, and packed up early, it was probably fine.
It would have to be.
We set up camp in the rain in a very soggy field. We moved quickly and carefully, trying to keep our things as dry as possible. Then, we settled into our sleeping bags, thankful that we were able to create a dry space to rest. And thanks to the big pilgrim lunch we had, we weren’t too hungry.
All our basic needs were met.
As I fell asleep I was piecing together the phrases I would use in the event an angry farmer came across us. Or the police. I didn’t let myself wonder what wildlife we might need to be concerned about.
Water, Water, Everywhere
The next morning we woke up to our tent surrounded by standing water. Miraculously, we were still dry inside the tent. Thanks, Big Agnes! (side note: Invest in good gear and take good care of it!)
It rained all night and the field we were in was flooding. The creek near the trail had morphed into a rushing river overnight. And it was still raining. Water was everywhere.
We packed our bags and dressed inside the tent before beginning the dance of packing down our tent in the rain and standing water.
So much water.
We cinched our rain flys over our bags then shrugged them on over our rain gear.
As we got back on the trail, we saw that the river was starting to flood the path in spots. And in some places, the deep, rushing water was so close to the trail that one misstep could be serious.
Suddenly I felt the full weight of my pack.
If I fell in, would I be able to get out of my pack before it sank me? Would Andy be able to help me or would I be swept away? Would I be able to help him?
I started to panic.
I had never been afraid of water before, and have always been comfortable outdoors. But I felt so exposed. So vulnerable.
I shouted ahead to Andy to stay to the left, hugging the far side of the trail, away from the flooded river.
He turned around because he couldn’t hear me over the rain and muffling rain gear.
“STAY TO THE FUCKING LEFT!”
He recoiled at my response, unaware of the anxiety that had built in me.
In the split second between my outburst and his reaction, I realized just how scared I was. I realized I was shaking. I told him I was scared of one of us falling in and being swept away.
After a quick regroup, we pushed on to get as far away from this flooding river as possible.
Dry Out and Regroup
Only two kilometers from the flooded field where we camped, we crossed a bridge and found a cafe and albergue. It was still early in the morning. Several pilgrims were finishing their breakfasts and coffees before they resumed the trail.
There was a fire blazing in the fireplace and I sat near it, hoping the heat would drive away the rain that was haunting me.
We ordered breakfast and coffee and I asked if there was a bed available for the night. The woman raised an eyebrow and said “yes, but it’s still morning.” I said I know, I don’t care, we’ll wait. I needed to dry out and clear my head.
We waited through the breakfast rush and learned from pilgrims that showed up after us that the trail had flooded after we passed through. The police had closed the section and pilgrims were having to reroute along the road or take transportation to the next town.
The woman running the albergue had her husband get the rooms ready early. We moved our damp gear upstairs, freeing up space in the cafe for the lunch rush.
We took showers and laid out our gear to dry. From our window, we could see the river continue to swell. I was so thankful to be dry and indoors.
That night we enjoyed a very intimate pilgrim dinner with our only two roommates, Mike and Leo, and the man and woman who ran the place. We enjoyed a home-cooked meal and a couple of rounds of patxaran, a liqueur from the Basque region.
We also learned that while we camped in a wet field two kilometers away the night before, this warm, dry little albergue had full vacancy.
If only we had kept walking, we could have had a nice, dry place to sleep. And maybe I wouldn’t have experienced my breakdown.
But that wasn’t meant to be a part of our Camino.