It wasn’t until this morning that blips of memories returned for these two hiking days. Many thanks to my Camino ladies for filling in the pieces. When images of September 12th did pop up in my brain, they all involved GRAPES.
Sounds nice, right? It was at first. The weather was lovely in the morning. Wine vineyards as far as the eye can see, endless rolling mountains of GRAPES. Julianna, Claire, Courtney and I picked a whole bunch and felt like wild thieves!
Well, there are certain conditions apparently necessary for growing wine grapes. And they are not conditions fun to hike in. It was hot, and there wasn’t a lot of shade. We were out of the festivities of Viana, and many of our friends stayed behind to see the running of the bull. But because of our time limit, we had to press on. Every now and then, we were reminded that we hadn’t just run off in an unplanned frenzy to walk across Spain. We did still have responsibilities, and we did still have a plane to catch in 4 weeks. It was as if in France we said, “Hey, we have a plan to catch in 5 weeks on the other side of the country. We have to walk there. We should probably leave…now.” Our injuries were hurting, and tensions were running a little high. No wonder I have trouble remembering this day.
Walking through the vineyards became like a natural walking labyrinth. The mountains were starting to disappear as we got closer to the infamous 3rd week (infamous because we heard you go crazy from the “boring” terrain). You could see further into the distance, thus taking away a bit of the mystery. This left more time for your thoughts.
I remember that there was always the fear I was “doing it wrong.” When you decide to go on a “life changing pilgrimage” it’s easy to put a lot of pressure on your self to make it life changing. I watched bits of an independent film before I left about a guy who had created a video journal during his hike. By the end, all he was talking about was how he never had any type of awakening, nothing huge ever happened inside him. He was wondering what all the hype was about. I personally thought he missed the boat of the whole thing, but I hope that he figured out things for himself later.
There was no right way to do it. You were just doing it. Whatever happened, happened. And even having these thoughts were part of the process of letting go. I wanted tangible results! The frustration itself was teaching me that I wasn’t going to get these, and I needed to deal with it.
When we reached Navarette, we claimed a bed and went out in search of an early dinner. I remember a tiff we had with someone outside when we told them we were from America. “Oh you are, are you? I think you mean you’re from the United States. A lot of us here are from America, but that includes other countries than yours.” A little bit harsh, but I got what she meant. It’s like being from Jersey and saying you’re going to “The City.”
But at the restaurant, we finally had a breakthrough. A moment I still remember. I ordered a glass of wine…and the cashier said in Spanish, “70 cents, please.” I thought I had misunderstood him. I looked at Claire. She nodded. The glass of wine was 70 cents. You know what’s great about walking through grape vineyards all day? Finding out that you’re in province where the “wine is cheaper than water.” I guess this refers to the price of water bottles. Since we were drinking from shady faucets from the ground, our water was still cheaper. Still. We drank a lot of wine. And I still like to find bottles of Rioja here in the states. But they’re usually about $10 a bottle.
Where we stayed and the details of the night are fuzzy but I know that ours spirits were boosted by the abundance of wine after such a hot day.
I do remember that we were feeling a little bit better the next morning, and it became a day about stories and space. As we picked up more friends along the way, sometimes it was difficult to find private time. As I said before, there was a delicate balance between having your own time and sharing the road with a friend. Today was a day full of welcomed stories though. We had met a few more characters recently: Tash, Carl, and Pilgrim X. Tash was from Australia but had lived a good part of her life traveling, and was planning on trying out San Francisco after the Camino. Lord, is she a funny person. Everything out of her mouth left us in stitches. I also remember us talking about how she could have never walked the Camino while in a relationship like I was doing. She preferred to cut all ties with home before doing something like this for herself.
We also met Carl, who became a close friend of Daniel. We called him Peter Pan because he collected feathers and stuck them in his hat as he walked. He also was one of the youngest hikers we knew, and a big energized ball of positivity.
Pilgrim X was a passionate woman, possibly in her 40s or 50s, who walked the Camino very quickly. She was extreme in everything she did, and probably didn’t know we called her Pilgrim X. Before we heard her story later that night, she came across as pretty intimidating. But more on that later…
In the town before our stopping point, we wandered through a small village and came up to a large stone wall. It was the side of a mountain and our hearts sunk. The elevation map didn’t say anything about this! Several hikers ahead of us who spoke another language, turned and saw our faces. With brilliant comic timing, they made clawing motions with their hands, pointed at the mountain, smiled widely and said “Climbing!” It may be a “had to be there” situation, but Claire and I died with laughter. They were clearly joking in reaction to our scared faces. We managed to chat with them enough to learn that there was a very easy pass through the mountain, and no actual climbing to be had.
When we reached Azofra that day, the town seemed pretty small, without anything that particularly stands out in my memory. Maybe that’s because we drank a lot…again. We arrived at the hostel to find the usual gang sitting outside in a courtyard with a few bottles of wine. They found out that the guy who owned the only convenient store made it and bottled it himself. It was 1 euro a bottle.
THE conversation to end all conversations
That night we made dinner with everyone in the kitchen and bought plenty of homemade wine. The English speakers all found one another. This was super lucky for me since I couldn’t pretend to understand enough Spanish to have a philosophical conversation. As the night went on, stories began passing around the circle. Where we came from, our religious beliefs, how we ended up on the Camino. More poignant stories emerged as the wine disappeared. If we ran out, a new person went back to the convenient store. Pilgrim X, who’s story I feel should remain somewhat private, told us about her daughter she put up for adoption at a young age. She spoke to a hypnotized group about her experience and how she had been reunited with her. It was beautiful, and I understood why she had such physical and emotional drive.
When the story turned to the history of the Camino, I had some interesting facts to add since I had gone on the seminar with Drew the year before. And to my surprise, everyone listened. I know that seems odd to be excited by, but for years, especially in college, I often felt that I wasn’t the best at speaking up in large groups. When a lot of theatre people get together, occasionally the louder ones take the stage of the conversation and it is hard to get a word in. I realized by the end of college how much this bothered me and how it had effected my confidence. So when this group of hikers from all over the world, and of all ages, sat there and listened to me, I was floored. It meant so much to feel like my words were important to people I already looked up to.
I told the group that the most shocking fact I learned in Santiago is that St.James, or the original bones they found (whoever you believe they belong to), aren’t even IN THE TOMB. I felt like I had dropped a Pilgrimage bomb. During my first trip, we were causally told by a nun that the famous remains had been removed for safe keeping. So if you wanted to be negative about it, thousands of people were walking to an empty grave. Obviously this only phased the group for a moment. The physical bones of a saint is not what the pilgrimage was about. Who cares if something is actually there. Look what the belief had created! Thousands of people from all over the world believing in something together and sharing their ideas until the middle of the night over countless bottles of wine. To us, that was enough.
We hit the wine threshold when Claire was speaking hysterical nonsense (I love you) and we when we got yelled at by the hostel. Our voices were keeping people awake so we all called it a night. Thank goodness for nights like these. They remind you why you follow what you love.