So I know I have some catching up to do since I fell into weekend mode after a crazy few days as a fake receptionist. But I’m very happy to report that my memory has yet to fail me with my recount of the Camino. At the risk of this becoming an endless blog post about three days of hiking, I will sum up the 8th and 9th.
Day 5: What do I do with a day off??
When we woke up in Uterga, we were pretty pleased we decided to make it a short hiking day. Hiking plus a hangover is no picnic, though I think I missed the worst of it somehow. Nonetheless, without the drive to fight the clock, it took us a lot of time to get out the door. Signs lined the edges of the fields of grapes warning hikers not to do any snacking. I see why they had these signs. Because we ate the grapes. It was impossible not to.
We stopped very early in the day. Puenta la Reina was supposed to be our destination the day before, so we had some time to explore the town. The albergue (Spain’s name for hostels. Actual hostels were more like bed and breakfasts) had a backyard so after settling out our things, we plopped ourselves down in the sun.
I had been pretty good about journaling and definitely wanted to document all of the drunken breakthroughs I had the night before. But I felt strange. I checked my facebook for messages and didn’t have anything new. That made sense, to everyone else, it had only been a few days. But to us, it felt like years had gone by. We were using every second of the day and so time took on a new quality. I started to battle with my urge to be back with the rest of society and my loved ones. I developed this fear that I was being left behind somehow. I graduated college and instead of moving to New York to launch my career, I put all responsibilities and relationships on hold. Who was I to think that everything would be waiting for me when I finished?
Courtney and I chatted for a bit and she led us in some much needed yoga. She also taught me a wonderful lesson. I went to St. Michael’s Catholic school for 6 years, and never retained the memory of what the deal was with St. Michael in the first place. Courtney told me about his story in the Bible and how when she was feeling overly attached to things she couldn’t control, she prayed to St. Michael to slash the lines that kept her bound to all of these unhelpful attachments. Whether you’re into the stories of Christianity or not, it’s a very nice message. I couldn’t control how my family was, if my friends were all happy at home, if I would have a job after the hike, or how my boyfriend was feeling. So I used this hopeful idea, and it helped me relax in my afternoon of thought.
That night we went to our first Pilgrims’ Mass. The irony of this whole Pilgrimage thing is that we were rarely able to go to church. The mass times were during hiking hours, and breaking the schedule could keep us from having a place to sleep. Also, since many of the towns had a population of 200, most churches opened once a week. But this mass was for the locals and extended afterwards to bless the Pilgrims. As I sat in mass, not understanding a word of what was being said, I felt the most peaceful I had since I arrived. I grew up going to church and sadly, never felt that peaceful during mass. I started going to a Buddhist center for mediation in Sarasota but church to me equaled looking at my watch and thinking about my grocery list. But now, it’s like all of my stress from the hike disappeared. Church was a haven after walking in the heat all day and being lost with your thoughts. Claire loosely translated what was going on, and since the mass stays the same for the most part, I got the jist. The important part was that we realized why people have found comfort in the ritual of going to mass, especially hundreds of years ago.
Day 6: The Day of Completion
The next morning we prepared ourselves for a long walking day. The guidebooks described the day as “A stretch of wasteland: no trees, small villages, or many places for water.” Great! Sign me up. We realized that the date was 9/9/09. Courtney taught us that 9 is considered a number of completion, and so today’s date represented the end of something for all of us. Being day 6, we were nearing the end of our first week of hiking. We all picked something that felt complete for us, something that needed closure. This sparked some deep conversations and Claire and I paired off for a long trip through some wasteland.
It sure was wasteland. My mom joked before I left that in her mind she imagined me struggling through the windy Sahara desert. I told her of course that there was no such thing as a desert in Northern Spain. And yet, here I was. Occasionally there was a hay stack that cast a shadow for a break from the sun. But large hoards of hikers would also gather there to well..pee..and so it wasn’t a pleasant place to chill for long. But Claire and I got on one of those “silly relationship stories of our past” conversations and the time flew.
Later in the afternoon, when we assessed where we were, the group melded back together and we started on our final 5 K or so. This day had taken us longer than usual and we were slightly concerned about beds. Also…it was HOT. So so hot. We knew we were moving into some mountain terrain so these final hours would be a push. We saw our first bit of green and entered into the town of Estella. After crossing the the standard ancient stone bridge, we entered the very large public hostel to only hear….there we no beds. It was completely full. Nooooo. That is the WORST feeling. I started to fear we would have another night like in Zubiri. “There’s another tiny hostel at the top of the mountain.”
We looked up and saw that the Camino continued through the town up a steep hill. If there was a bed there, we were willing to make the climb. But our hopes weren’t high for an even smaller place. But we rounded the corner and found…
One of the best hostels ever
A middle aged woman with an American accent greeted us at a small house. She was there with several Pilgrims, her husband, and a large Spanish man named Luis. “Come on in and take off your shoes! We’re making appetizers!”
Our eye widened. As if the great old traditions of hospitality had never left Estella, we were treated like they had been expecting us all day. The sleeping area was simple, very summer camp-like. But no one wanted to spend time there. Outside was a long picnic table, covered over by a make-shift tent. A man was sitting with his guitar and several hikers were around him waiting to sing. Luis was the cook and owner. He was walking the Camino several years prior but when he got to this hostel, decided he never wanted to leave. The owner passed it on to him and he’s been there since. The married couple was part of a volunteer program through the Friends of the Camino and were helping for a week before carrying on.
I took a quick snooze and listened to the cheery music outside. When I woke up, everyone was setting the table for dinner and Luis was in the entrance way stirring a large pot of pasta that smelled like heaven. He was a large sweaty man, and was cooking shirtless. I have tried to recreate this recipe many times but I’ve never been quite on…
We were asked to go grab some wine so we ventured into the sweet town and bought a few bottles. We also grabbed a pair of purple children’s sunglasses for me because I kept sitting on all the pairs I bought. The adult sunglasses were too expensive so I got some really sassy purple ones. Claire had big yellow ones fit for an 80’s soccer mom. They were also the cheap option. Everyone now and then we would switch so we could see the world in different colors.
When we got back, the epic group dinner began. The pasta was godly, and there was an endless supply of wine. So many of our favorite hikers had caught up with us. After dinner they announced that there would be shifts for doing dishes. I was grouped up with the two lovely Korean girls from the first day. We still hadn’t found a mutual language, but every time a dish slipped or we were splashed with water, laughter was how we communicated. That and silly faces. After dinner there was more drinking, more music, and just complete joy. It was a donation based hostel but I think everyone gave way more than was necessary since it was such a unique and incredible place. Tomorrow was another mountainous day but no one seemed to mind. It was hands down one of my favorite nights.