After an entire day off, I was restless. Andy wanted to take another full day off, but I wanted to get back on the Camino. We compromised with a short day, only about five kilometers. We knew there was a steep climb coming up at Alto del Perdón (because we finally started looking at the elevation profiles-what a concept!)
Our Australian friends Mike and Reuben left earlier that morning. While we were sad to part ways, Mike and Andy swapped contact info so that we could keep in touch along the way.
We made our way out of Pamplona and stopped at a sweet little albergue on the outskirts in the town of Cizur Menor. It was a sunny day and there was a garden with a clothesline so we spread out our tent so that it could finally dry all the way.
We were lounging in the grass when I saw something moving. I looked closer and it was a hedgehog! I was so delighted to see one of these little critters in the wild and I asked one of the pilgrims how to say the name in Spanish. “Puerco espín”, which is technically the word for porcupine, not hedgehog. But I like the way the word sounds like “spined pig”.
We had seen an advertisement at an earlier albergue for a service that would ship your pack ahead to the next stop. My knees were still strained and Andy’s feet were covered in blisters, so we decided we should tackle Alto del Perdón as light as possible. So I called the pack shipping service and made arrangements. I was nervous to coordinate this and even more nervous at the thought of being separated from our packs. But this felt like an exercise in faith and trusting that everything would work out.
The next morning, we set out with our blessedly light daypacks. This was going to be great! We continued on the path, putting more distance between us and Pamplona. The landscape shifted from suburbs into farmland, the path from concrete to gravel. I felt myself relax, excited to be on the trail.
The path started a slow climb towards the mountains. I could see farmland and wind turbines stretching for miles. The fields of wheat were waving in the breeze and we could hear the swooshing of the turbine blades overhead. It looks a lot like Oklahoma, and it brings me comfort. I can find home anywhere.
The climb to the peak was gradual and we took our time, enjoying the sweeping views. There were some rock gardens and encouraging signs along the side of the trail, as well as a vendor selling fresh fruit and refreshments.
When we got to the summit, I saw the iconic sculpture that I had seen so many times in pictures: metal cutouts representing pilgrims throughout the centuries. Here is “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”. It’s an apt description as the ridge is lined with wind turbines.
Mike had sent Andy a message saying that he left something for us there. We looked and found one of their foam gliders. They had tried to fly it off the side of the mountain but the wind returned it so they left it for us. We didn’t want to send it off, so we left it for another pilgrim to enjoy.
The way down off the mountain was rough, steep, and rocky. Downhill was the bane of my existence and my wobbly knees threatened to buckle every few steps.
When we arrived at our albergue in Uterga, I was overjoyed to find that our packs were there, safe and sound. What a great day!
Relieved, we settled in to enjoy some beers and ice cream while we journaled on the patio. It felt like we had found our Camino rhythm.
The next morning we ate breakfast and set out. The morning was cool and damp and the trail was covered in thousands of snails. They were everywhere. There was something enchanting about them creeping along in the morning dew.
I felt a connection with them as I too moved along at a slow pace with my home on my back. I did my best not to step on them-why should my Camino be more important than theirs?
We took a slight detour to visit Santa Maria de Eunate, an old church highly recommended in our guidebook. Then we stopped at a small grocery store in Obanos to buy the fixings for a picnic lunch. We ate our meal perched on a low wall surrounding the church in the middle of town.
One of the last towns we walked through for the day was Puenta La Reina, “Bridge of the Queen”. We stopped at the Church of the Crucifix to see the Y-shaped crucifix, the only one like that I have ever seen. Also in the church was a modern sculpture of Mary holding the broken body of Jesus. It had very few details but you could feel the agony and sorrow of Mary.
Our next albergue was in Mañeru and when we checked in we learned there was a communal dinner available. This wasn’t the case for every albergue, so when we found one that offered a communal meal, we were excited to be a part of it.
We enjoyed the dinner almost as much as we enjoyed the company. I counted at least four different languages being spoken around the table.
One of the policies of this albergue was to leave both boots and hiking poles outside the dorm area. Usually, I kept my hiking poles strapped to the outside of my bag when I wasn’t using them. But the woman running the albergue insisted they go in the bin.
When we woke up the next morning to get the day started, I realized with panic that my hiking poles were gone.
How is it possible that I’ve lost yet another piece of gear?!
I checked the bin again. I looked around at the pilgrims that were milling around to see if my poles were still in sight.
I saw another pair of poles that looked kinda like mine and decided that maybe these belonged to the person who grabbed mine. I wanted to imagine that it was an honest mistake and not a tricky move to upgrade. I took the cheaper substitute poles, hoping that I wasn’t just continuing the cycle.
The great hiking pole fiasco upset me more than it should have. For the first half of the day, I checked out the poles of every pilgrim we passed. I hoped that I would spot mine and I could switch them out.
Everyone would have a good laugh and we would continue on our way.
But I never found them and I accepted that I would have to finish my Camino with these crappy, cheap hiking poles.
And then I realized–why am I letting my attachment to this physical thing affect me like this? I still have poles don’t I? Am I that worse off?
Then the line from the Rolling Stones song drifted into my head and stayed there for the rest of the day:
“You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need”
The trail giveth and the trail taketh away, but at the end of the day, the trail provides.