If I had to describe the first section of my Camino in three words I would probably choose the words: excitement, adaptation, exploration. For the second section the following words seem appropriate: frustration, attachment, hope.
Let me start this blog post with a short visual summary:
So let’s pick up where we left off last time: Pamplona – the capital of the Spanish province Navarra.
After FINALLY a good night’s sleep I got woken up by loud music. My first thought: jeez, damn you other pilgrims who set their alarm to 6am – and then take forever to switch it off!! …but no, wait. It was not someones alarm. Casa Paderborn holds a special surprise for you. Religious chants as wake up music. And no ,we are not talking about some fun gospel songs but rather some very traditional church music. I usually don’t like to think in labels – but the first thought that crossed my mind was: jeez… obviously, out of all places the German place is the weirdest. And here is the thing. Quite often I think that the concept of nationalities and the social identities that come with it does not really apply to me (obviously, because we do grow up in certain cultural environments and collective consciousness we pretty much all get affected in one way or another) . But in moments like that I almost feel ashamed – even though, quite obviously, it has nothing do with me: It’s like: why are you so not cool? The Germans obviously have to remind you that this is all very serious. That you have to get up at 6am, listen to church music and pray. Yes… it’s all very serious… dear God…
Outside Casa Paderborn though there is not much seriousness around. The streets of Pamplona that morning looked like a mess – they were covered in trash. When I walked through the town a few workers were busy hosing down the streets – and then there were some left-over people from last nights party – who either were still not ready to go home – or alternatively just could not find their way home any longer.
That morning the Camino was super busy. It was pretty much impossible to walk on your own. Either you ended up walking in a group of other people or there was someone right behind you, right in front of you or right next to you. I felt stressed – extremely stressed. So I took one of the first opportunities to escape. I spotted a church in the outskirts of Pamplona – on a little hill overlooking Pamplona. And I decided to take a rest until the continuing stream of pilgrims had subsided. From my little elevated position I watched hundreds of other pilgrims slowly making their way up that hill – Camino peak hour. For the strangest reason (and yeah, politically incorrect – but hey, my mind does not care much about PC) my mind compared it to the stream of refugees that was shown on TV in 2015. I must have waited for almost an hour – but the stream of people only marginally subsided. But I knew I had to walk for almost 25 km… so it was time to join the circus…
It was a nice walk though – see pictures above. Around lunchtime it got really hot – so I decided to stop for a beer in one of the many little bars along the Camino. And guess who was also in that bar? Some of my Camino friends. That is one of the nice things about the Camino. Even after only a few days you are finding yourself in a kind of Camino community. Pretty much wherever you go you bump into people you have met before. Even in busy Pamplona I bumped into a few people. That made me think: damn, I think I know more people here than I know in the city I live in. And I like this feeling of being part of a community – especially when you can choose whether you feel like hanging out with others or whether you rather want to be on your own.
And then there are all these little surprises on the Camino. Just when it got really hot and I thought I was about to die of thirst all of a sudden I met this young chap who sold his homemade lemonade right next to his family home.
When I finally reached my destination for the day, Puenta la Reina, I felt exhausted. Walking in the heat is just so much more tiring than walking in colder weather. I have no idea why the busiest time for walking the Camino is summer. I mean, why would anyone want to walk in 30C?
Check-in, shower, clothes washing followed. While walking in the heat is not much fun, at least your clothes do dry quickly. And while showering, I spotted it: a massive tumour-like looking blister on my big toe – OH NOOOO… I tried to ignore – but you will see that ignoring it was maybe not the wisest decision of my life…
By the way – blisters turned out to be one of the most popular topics on the Camino, but I will talk more about that later. And even the vending machines along the Camino were
Puenta la Reina (literally the “bridge of the Queen”) is the first town after the junction of the Camino Frances and the Aragonese Way. Queen Muniadona was the queen who gave her name to the town and the bridge. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino de Santiago. Perfect place to have a beer…
What followed was a delicious paella, beer, sangria filled evening with lots of new and old Camino friends. Camino friendships can probably be compared to your time in kindergarten where friendships were made instantly – and let go of instantly as well.
Back in the hostel some people had gathered outside for a little jam session. Bonfire atmosphere. Later on I was approached by a man – a very annoying man – who for some reason must have heard me speak in German and immediately thought that this would mean we are friends. I am always surprised that people think that way. Oh – you grew up in the same country as I did – we must be friends. Just because you have some things in common in your life does not make you friends, does it? And yes, I do understand that the feeling of having something in common does bring a certain familiarity with it. Maybe we all just want to meet little version of ourselves to feel better about us?
The next morning (after another sleepless night) I chose to wear my sandals. Remember the monster blister? Yeah… and who would have thought that that decision was a decision that carried more consequences than other decisions? That’s a funny thing about life, right? Every moment we make decisions. Most of them don’t carry a lot of consequences – and sometimes you are aware that they will carry consequences. But sometimes some decision that seem rather insignificant turn out to much more significant than you would have imagined.
And here is what happened:
I had already walked for about 10 km when the Camino signs started to become a bit confusing. There was a dirt road and right next to it was a little path – that had become overgrown with some thorny bushes. However, the arrow pointed more towards the small path – and exactly that moment there were no other pilgrims around, so I chose the small path. I was busy making my way through the thorn bushes when it happened. And it happened quickly. The path was a bit uneven and I twisted my ankle – I heard a popping sound and the next moment I found myself on the ground. For a moment I felt sick – like I had to throw up. When I felt a bit better I assessed the situation. I was rather close to tears (and hey, I ALWAYS want to be strong), so I did not react when a few other pilgrims walked past me – they were on the dirt road and I was behind the thorn bushes so they could not see me (obviously no-one else followed the arrows into the thorny bushland). I slowly got up to see whether my feet/legs were still functioning somehow. And I was surprised to find out that – yes, they were. And that was the first time my walking stick came in handy – well, walking poles make good crutches. Walking uphill and downhill was rather painful but otherwise I felt I was OK. I soon joined a group of pilgrims I had met before – whose walking pace was very slow – perfect for me. After an hour of walking I decided that maybe I should have a look at my ankle – I mean, I did not want to see it – but yeah, I thought maybe I should. And surprise, surprise: my ankle had swollen to the size of small apple. Oh dear. Thankfully, one of the people I was walking with worked as a nurse, so I received some great first aid treatment. Although I usually prefer to do my own thing and am not really a person who is part of a group I was extremely grateful for being accepted into this group on that day. It is good to know that although you are kind of alone on this planet you are not really alone and are being looked after and supported, when needed. Even by more or less complete strangers… Anyway, I walked for another 15km that day – along with this very nice group of pilgrims.
Before I started the Camino I had told myself that I was eligible to a maximum of 5 nights in private rooms. When I arrived in the beautiful town of Estella that afternoon, I came to the conclusion that this was a good time for a private room (which set me back 30 EUR). Shower (ahh… my own bathroom) and then I took a closer look at the damage done … and decided that it might be a good idea to consult a doctor. The hotel owner somehow pointed out the directions to me – in Spanish – and I somehow found my way to the medical centre. While the doctor was very nice (at least she seemed very nice – maybe she was cursing me all the time in a very friendly tone) she only spoke Spanish. She spoke very slowly – but yeah, if you don’t understand a language even that doesn’t really help. I kind of figured out that she wanted me to go to hospital to get the injury x-rayed. And I also understood: NO Camino – What?? Noooooooooo, maybe I didn’t understand that correctly. She organised a taxi and I was on my way to the clinic. More Spanish – more confusion. They made me sit in a wheelchair which I found rather ridiculous considering I walked for another 10 km after the injury happened. While waiting, a man lying on a stretcher was being wheeled past me – blood everywhere. His family was with him. Another pilgrim – cyclist. Although it does sound horrible, but I did feel a bit better after considering this poor guy’s fate – his Camino was definitely over. After spending a few hours in the hospital – it seems always the same, whether you are in a big city or in a provincial hospital somewhere in Spain, you just have to wait for a looong time – I was being wheeled back to the taxi. Nothing broken but with a massive bandage wrapped around my leg. On the hospital discharge letter it read next to the section Tratamiento (Treatment): cold on the uncle. 10 min max. Yeah… cooling down an uncle is always helpful… When I limped back to my hotel room I noticed people on the streets staring at me – or more precisely my bandaged leg. I figured I look severely injured. The doctor in the hospital had told me I should rest for 5 days before reconsidering this trip – but I was just not ready to give up. Maybe the doctor was wrong- yeah, or maybe she said something different and I just did not understand her… that must have been it. So the first thing I did when I got back into my room was to take off that massive bandage (yeah, call me stupid) and put on a very thin elastic bandage – ahhh – much better. All I knew was that I was in urgent need of a glass of wine – or two – or three. And as if fate kind of started to prepare me for the next chapter of my Camino – I did not see any familiar faces when I ate my dinner on the main square of beautiful Estella.
That night I slept like baby… no snoring.. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. But for some reason I woke up at 5:50am. Probably my body had gotten used to this crazy wake-up time. The next 3 hours I spent assessing the situation and considering my options. I figured out that I could walk without pain to the bathroom and back and that reassured me: if I could walk to the bathroom without discomfort I could easily walk for 25 km… that made sense – definitely. But seriously, I was just not ready to give up! I was not even ready to just hang around in Estella for a day or two and lose my Camino family…
So – I was back on the Camino.
While walking through the streets of Estella the next day I hoped that none of the hospital staff would see me – yesterday in a wheelchair and now back in hiking boots with my backpack on. But it did not take long before the Camino offered another surprise: a wine fountain!!! I mean, come on, that is paradise. And it does numb the pain as well. How wonderful. The wine fountain belongs to the winery Bodegas Irache. The winery was founded in 1891, however, its vineyards go back to the 12th century. At that time it supplied wine to the royal houses of Navarre in northern Spain. In 1991, Bodegas Irache built a “Wine Fountain” — a little tap on the outside wall of the building where those walking to Compostela can help themselves to a cup of wine, or water. The fountain pays homage to the 8th century Benedictine monastery by giving modern day pilgrims an example of the generosity shown to early pilgrims. And that was what I really needed that day: a bit of generosity.
There were hardly any other pilgrims on the road, except of the annoying German pilgrim who had approached me a few days earlier. When I spotted him I instantly tried to hide behind some bushes. Jeez.. out of all people, why was HE the one pilgrim who was about? Although I wanted to take it slow due to the injury I almost felt like I was being chased by this guy. He would appear behind every corner and I saw him in every village I passed. So yeah, I limped as fast as I could to escape his boring conversations.
I was surprised that I did not feel much pain. The walk was beautiful and I was so glad that I had not given up.
My destination for the day was the beautiful town of Los Arcos. I was being greeted by a rather rude Austrian hostel owner. After observing me for a little while she told me that I was being stupid for continuing my Camino. I obviously ignored her. She was probably right – but, who cares: bitch ;)! She did, however, help me pop the horrible blister on my foot. Just watching her made me almost faint.
The evening included paella, beer and lots of laughter. Pretty much everyone from the Camino community had gathered on the main square. It was so nice to be surrounded by such a good group of people. However, when I returned to the albergue later that evening my foot felt really painful. Thoughts ran through my mind: Will I really be the first to leave this community? I felt this attachment to the group and I really struggled to let go of it. I had learnt a lot about attachment and impermanence when studying Buddhism – and there I was struggling with it – again. Great!
The next morning my body had decided my fate. My foot was all swollen, painful and even adorned with some beautiful colours.
And that was that. I was still not ready to give up but I was now ready to change my plans. I had told myself I would never take a bus on the Camino – but hey, never say never. And so I found myself sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus to Logrono – skipping a 30 km distance.
The funniest thing was that I was not the only one waiting for the bus. There was a group of Koreans – who were pretty much all limping. And there were a few other pilgrims too. A cyclist, who passed, just stared at that big group of people – yeah, check out the real pilgrims. 🙂
In Logrono I got myself a private room – nice!! However, the drawback of having a private room is that you have a lot of time to worry and think about things. So I kept myself busy checking pretty much every website online that had information on ankle sprains. My goal was to find a website that told me that I only had a mild ankle sprain and that there was no problem at all. The only problem was the actual evidence when I examined my foot… After I had spent a few hours in my room worrying, I decided to go for a little walk. And funny enough, I almost immediately bumped into a few other pilgrims of the Camino community. We spent the entire afternoon hanging around on the main square and we had so much fun that all of my worries dissolved. More and more pilgrims showed up and by dinner time we were a group of around 20 people. LOTS of fun and delicious paella.
It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon/evening and it was a much better way to spend my time than sitting in a room worrying. And all of a sudden it was also much easier to decide how to proceed. See, that is the thing. Quite often, I find, when you think about something or worry about something and you cannot find a solution – it helps to do something else and interrupt the worrying and thinking process. It is much more likely that a solution will come to you when you are relaxed. Maybe it will not be the perfect solution but at least some sort of solution – and maybe this will open up a new perspective to you.
And that is what I decided to do: I was not ready to give up. But: I knew I had to rest and take it easy and let go of my initial Camino community. So I enjoyed that evening with them – and then stayed in Logrono for another 2 days. And they were 2 beautiful days. I finally found some time to read my book and due to the fact that it was Easter a lot of events and parades were taking place.
One word on the Easter Parades: One of the most striking, and perhaps most eerie spectacles are the Nazarenos (as being seen in the video I posted) in their tall, pointy hats and matching robes with their faces completely covered, apart from their eyes. Although they are frequently compared to the Ku Klux Klan there appears to be no connection whatsoever between the two – only the Nazarenos came first. The origins of the customs remain a mystery but the purpose is simple – their faces are covered in mourning, and also as a sign of shame for the sins they have committed throughout the year. Although this does sound quite grim, the atmosphere was actually quite jolly and people were having a really good time – including me 🙂
So far I had walked 140km, 30km by bus and was 10 days into my trip.
To be continued…