Calm after the storm
After a good night’s rest and a big breakfast, we said goodbye to the other pilgrims and our gracious hosts and set out on the trail. The rain had stopped and the sun was fighting through the clouds. I was in a better headspace but we were both still tired, not yet used to the rhythm and physical demands of the Camino.
Our guidebook told us the trail split at Zabaldika, with one route going to the Church of St. Stephen and one route continuing through town. We were curious, so we opted to see the Church of St. Stephen. Because of the heavy rains, the trail leading up to the church was slick with mud. It took some struggling and stabbing with my hiking poles before I reached the top.
An elderly volunteer greeted us and invited us to remove our packs and step into the church. It was so quiet and peaceful. She smiled and handed us printed copies of something. I looked down and read the first side, The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim (displayed below). It broke me and I started to cry.
I realized how shitty my attitude had been these first few days. Crossing the Pyrenees was mentally and physically hard. The flooding river had rattled me. And I was down on myself for not being able to log as many miles as everyone else. I had too much gear and moved too slowly. I felt like I wasn’t doing the Camino right. Like I wasn’t meeting expectations.
Standing alone in that quiet church at the top of a muddy hill, I realized I had been focused on the wrong things. I had been worried about everything but my own heart and my own spirit.
I was preoccupied with the physical things that were weighing me down and ignoring the other heavy, non-physical things I was carrying.
I turned the paper over, trying unsuccessfully to blink away my tears.
On the back of the paper was a sort of prayer for the Camino (displayed below). It was exactly what I needed at that moment.
We enjoyed a few moments of solitude in the church, then thanked the volunteer. We hefted our packs on and started the slow descent down the slippery hill.
The pack was still heavy, but my spirit felt lighter.
The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, when you contemplate the “camino” and you discover it is full of names and dawns.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic “camino” begins when it is completed.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, when you don’t have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “camino” a life and of your life a “way”, in search of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
- Blessed are you pilgrim if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
- Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” holds a lot of silence; and the silence of prayer; and the prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you.
The journey makes you a pilgrim. Because the way to Santiago is not only a track to be walked in order to get somewhere, nor is it a test to reach any reward. El Camino de Santiago is a parable and a reality at once because it is done both within and outside in the specific time that it takes to walk each stage, and along the entirety of life if only you allow the Camino to get into you, to transform you and to make you a pilgrim.
The Camino makes you simpler, because the lighter the backpack the less strain to your back and the more you will experience how little you need to be alive.
The Camino makes you brother/sister. Whatever you have you must be ready to share because even if you started on your own, you will meet companions. The Camino breeds community: community that greets the other, that takes interest in how the walk is going for the other, that talks and shares with the other.
The Camino makes demands on you. You must get up even before the sun in spite of tiredness or blisters; you must walk in the darkness of night while dawn is growing, you must just get the rest that will keep you going.
The Camino calls you to contemplate, to be amazed, to welcome, to interiorize, to stop, to be quiet, to listen to, to admire, to bless…Nature, our companions on the journey, our own selves, God.
Welcome to Pamplona!
On our fifth day of the Camino, we got to Pamplona. It’s the first big city pilgrims encounter on Camino Frances. It felt surreal to be walking into a city when just a couple nights ago we were sleeping in a tent in a flooded field. The chilly, rain-soaked days had given each of us a slight cold so we stopped at a pharmacy. We were thankful to find relief in the form of, individual serving, cough syrup sachets. Genius!
As we were trying to find our way into the city, we came across two other pilgrims. They were a father and young son from Australia and we learned that they are a family of performers. Mike, the dad, was a children’s magician and his son Reuben was a juggler. Definitely, the most colorful characters we had met so far. They were delightful and Mike’s unique blend of dad jokes and Australian humor made it impossible not to smile.
We hadn’t made a reservation for the night, but we had an albergue picked out based on its good reviews (super clean + super fast wifi). Mike and Reuben decided to join us and we were happy to have the company.
Once we got our gear stowed away in our bunks, we set out to explore Pamplona. It was a bright, sunny day as we walked the same streets where the Running of the Bulls happens every July. Thankfully, we were there mid-May and there were no bulls to see (or run from).
It is easy to understand why Pamplona captured the attention of Ernest Hemingway and others over the years. The old quarter is within the medieval fortress walls. Its narrow cobblestone streets and traditional architecture are enchanting. As the sun goes down, the streets come to life with locals and pilgrims alike. They blend together and crowd into the bars for wine and pintxos, or small bites.
After exploring the city for a while I realized that my knees were really feeling the strain of the first few days. So we decided to take some time to rest in Pamplona. I felt conflicted about taking it so slow. We had already taken two short days. Taking an entire day off so early in the Camino would mean a major deviation from what the guidebook recommended. But I knew that if I was going to complete this journey, I had to listen to my body and give it what it needed. And what it needed was some rest.
So I bought some knee braces and for the next day and a half, I rested in my bunk. I enjoyed the fast wifi and iced my knees with bags of frozen peas that Andy brought me from the grocery store. He also brought wine.
Maybe slowing down wasn’t such a bad idea.