Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 2: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

One of the things I admire about “The Way,” the Emilio Estevez–Martin Sheen film about the Camino, is how Sheen's central character makes friends with three other travelers, reluctantly at first. To me this shows how the journey of faith unites us. It is too early for Marian and me to have settled into such a mini-community of searchers like the four in “The Way,” but the people we already have met are the sweetest fruit of my personal journey.

Monday night, Blake sat near the clothes-drying rack behind the refuge in Roncesvalles. He greeted me with a smile too genuine to ignore. We struck up a conversation, in which I learned that he is from Toronto, studies geology in Halifax, and recently visited Taizé, the French spiritual community for young people famous for its repetitive liturgical singing. 

I had been telling Marian about Taizé, so when my short chat with Blake had ended, I went in search of her to introduce them. After half an hour I began to worry. Finally, deciding to leave things in the hands of the Holy Spirit, I sat down in the foyer to wait. Marian appeared through the back door a few moments later. She had a big smile on her face, because she and Blake had just run into each other out by the drying rack, and he had told her all about Taizé.

Tuesday morning, Marian and I made ourselves instant Nescafé in the kitchen of the refuge, then set off past the road sign that reads: Santiago de Compostela 790 km. At our first stop, a market, we ran into Simon and Sam again. The newlyweds from Newcastle-on-Tyne (Sam is a woman) were Marian’s cube mates from the night. Tuesday morning they were as effervescent as newlyweds, despite being (I guess) in their late 50s and not really married and (Marian attests) hung over.

While Marian was inside buying groceries, I chatted up Simon and Sam. Simon recently left his job as a social worker with “juvenile delinquents.” (“They call them other things,” he said in his broad Yorkshire accent, “but that's what they are.”) Simon said he had been “injured” (attacked?) on the job one too many times.

Sam left her husband of 25 years in September and met Simon in October. They decided to set off together without plans, beginning with the Camino. Asked why this was their first stage on a world tour that Simon said might include the Appalachian Trail, Sam answered, “The film, of course.” I said I had seen it four times.

“We've seeeen it four times a weeeek,” she said. “Have it on DVD. Cahn't get enuff of it.” (The liberal spellings reflect Sam’s Tyneside accent, which sounded Scottish to me. When I asked if she were a Scot, she looked at me as though I were from Uranus.) 

During the early morning, we trekked through farmlands and two lovely villages, striking for their cleanliness and order. As we passed along the side of a field, I looked for a place to pee. I glanced backward and saw a solo man gaining on us, so I veered back on track to let him go by. As he did so, I noticed a small heart-shaped pillow hanging from the bottom of his pack, embroidered with a smiley face. Something prompted me to call out to him, “I like your heart.” He turned back to greet us.

Over the next hour of walking the Camino together, I learned that Ricardo is from southern Brazil, an oncologist whose English is good because of a year in Houston. The heart he carried was for a lady friend, who had been planning to walk the Camino with Ricardo and several others until her husband had a heart attack two weeks before departure. She had been the first to pack her gear, and she was devastated. Ricardo agreed to carry the heart for her.

This reminded me of my friend Donald, who died a couple of weeks before my departure. Donald gave me a stone to carry for him to the Cruz de Ferro, inscribed with the word PEACE.

Arrived in Zubiri at four o’clock, Marian and I checked in at the Pension Benta-Berri, where the owner’s name is Maria Josefa — Mary Joseph. We checked in alongside Mike and Phil, a couple from Brisbane whom we met during our first day on the mountain. (Phil is a woman, short for Philomena.) When we went looking for a place to eat supper, we ran into Ricardo again.

Who knows what form our little community of friends will have taken when we finally reach Santiago de Compostela?

]NOTE: The next post in this series about my Camino is here.]

1 comment:

  1. It is surprising to discover how important people like Kerkeking, Estévez-Sheen or Coelho are to foster pilgrimage: a good thing, after all.
    You are not crossing the Basque Country: your crossing the kingdom of Navarra (some of the would like to unite with the Basques, but that's another question).
    The Basques and Catalans have always had an industrial development superior to the rest of Spain, but that happened in the 19th Century: Franco helped them to increase that lead. Now Catalonia is in dire straits, as the rest of Spain (the Basques are not much better).

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