Roncesvalles to Zubiri

Photo cred: Christina Kosyla

The tired mind is an unruly mind. This day–of which I have very few photographs, zero of the actual hike (though Christina snapped a few)–sparked only a handful notable memories before we reached our destination. They all got covered by an insomnia-driven frustration and anxiety.

I never saw the culprit who snored his way ’til dawn, for I finally fell asleep two hours or so before our scheduled departure. He left before I could catch a glimpse of him.

My knee and the back of my ankle was a mess, sending me yelping in pain every time I straightened or bent either in the wrong direction. And outside, a thick mist made it hard to see even a few feet ahead.

We took our time getting out the door, hoping the rain would pass. The body goes through a rough transition the day after the Pyrenees. In any other situation, you’d rest, let you muscle develop. But here, no, you just keep moving. After a rather slow breakfast, we took off, Christina immediately far ahead, understandably not wishing to stick with someone hobbling at my pace for so long. Besides, I wasn’t much company.

The familiarity of the beautiful Basque country made things even more difficult to emotionally bear. Even though I’d only crossed through this path once in my life, I remember the details of the Camino more clearly than I remember where the F line goes on the Lower East Side. I’d missed this home of mine, and I was missing it due to the plague of insomnia and injury.

I dragged myself through the morning, eventually spotting a sweet village tucked into the shadow of another mountain in the distance. Second breakfast saves lives. My spirits climbed the moment Christina and I ducked into a friendly cafe, ordered a steaming cafe con leche, and sliced into a Spanish tortilla packed with cheese and chorizo. Their wifi was quite strong, and I sent a sleeping Ben a message for his morning yet to come.

Fueled by potatoes and kindness, I felt like a new woman heading out for the next phase of our walk, a beautiful storm brewing on the horizon. As we cross the next peak, a sideway thunderstorm blustered with warm wind, and I closed my eyes in relief after so many days of humidity. I didn’t mind the rain. It was a quick storm, and just what we needed.

I’d like to say that my spirits remained this high throughout the day, but my body was in bad shape. After six more hours of painful trudging, my trusty walking partner had to boost me up with a bottle of coca cola and some punchy jokes. I couldn’t tell you about the scenery or anything else that afternoon other than my rage. I so wanted to enjoy being here, I’d wanted this for so long, but it seemed the Camino was starting to tell me to go home. Everyone wants to hear that you’re spiritual pilgrimage is all daisies and wisdom, but it isn’t. It’s also anger, and blisters and at times, panic.

Zubiri, a quaint town on the edge of a river, sat at the bottom of one more steep, knee-cracking hill. The second albergue had room for us, and even featured small room with nearly-private showers–a massive luxury this early in the trip. With the state of my knees and feet, having a chance to stand in a hot shower for more than two minutes seemed decadent.

In addition to its lovely set up, our room had the roommates to beat all roommates. Here, we met a few Camino family members for the first time. There were the twins from Oregon (Califonia? Washington?)–two 19-year-old identical twins walking to meet their mother for the rest of their journey, Pat from Queens (yes, a third Pat), Steve from England, who loved a good glass of white wine, and Mick, an Irish Santa-Clause of a man with a rolling backpack and the ability to speak for an hour without stopping, making you laugh between each sentence without even realizing his own talent for humor.

Seeing the state of my feet, Mick sat me down and showed me how to properly drain my blisters with a needle and thread. He gifted me a packet of disinfectant wipes, some tape and a sewing needle to aid my future issues. I brought his kind presents up to the top floor, both the tend to my feet in privacy and to take in the sight of the mountains we’d finally descended. Ben and I chatted a bunch, sending each other photos of our faces that day–a new tradition.

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Upstairs, we met Hannah and Grace, a mother-daughter team from the US, and I could immediately tell we’d be great friends. Hannah had just finished the Appalachian Trail, raising thousands of dollars for a charity in the process. When people back home find me to be extreme in my decision to hike the Camino, I tell them about the people I meet there.

We spent the rest of the evening hiding away in the local bar from a wild, exciting rainstorm. I felt at home, comforted by good stories, a new family of strangers and a cold supply of cheap Spanish beer.

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That evening, I launched back in time to my sleepover days as our room burst into uncontrollable laughter for nearly two hours, entertained by the comedy stylings of Mick, Steve, Pat and the two twins. The moment the room fell into silence, an earlier joke returned to everyone’s brains at the same moment, sending the room back into hysterics all at once.

Steve, who’d overheated on his walk over the Pyrenees, decided to lay down to take a break, only to wake up to two Romanian women fanning him, pouring water into his mouth while–in his words–taking a selfie with him like in Weekend at Bernie’s. He said he saw his saviors earlier that day who, without a shared language between Steve and the women, shared a good laugh and a wave before going on their way.

Mick told the story of his damaged knees and his rolling backpack, including the crowds that had helped him push his wheels up the more difficult rock trails of the mountains.

The stories went on and on, and I wouldn’t dare to try and duplicate their brilliant delivery. I just know that I’ve rarely laughed that hard in my life. If it weren’t for the end of the Camino days, the walk may seem like pure torture at times.

When the laughter finally died down, I’d like to tell you that I slept, I really would. I’d like to tell you that the madness of my knee finally ended, or that my ankle and blistered healed overnight. I’d also like to tell you that these hilarious men didn’t snore, or that one of them clearly wasn’t the motorcycle from Roncesvalles. But I can’t tell you that, dear friends, because the worst day was yet to come. I lay awake, nearly in tears, waiting for morning to arrive.


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