Thursday, May 17, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 4: Pamplona to the Way of Forgiveness

The events of this, our fourth day on the Camino, are unbelievable to me still. The day looked like it would be a disaster, but it ended a miracle. 

I did not sleep last night. That is not a figure of speech. Though I prayed to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph while lying wide awake in the Pamplona refuge named Jesus y Maria, with my St. Joseph staff tucked safely beneath the bunk, I did not sleep a wink. About the time I was doing my morning Mass readings, between 5 and 6 am, I decided to offer this day for my pastor, Fr. David Barnes, who had told me that sleep deprivation would be his biggest worry if he ever walked the Camino. Did I listen?

Shortly before leaving the refuge at about 7am, another disaster: I had a verbal confrontation with a woman who had a German accent. When she barged ahead of me at the bathroom, for which I had been waiting five minutes, I resurrected just enough high school German to say, “Ich warte! Fünf minuten!” while pointing at the single stall. I think this means “I wait! Five minutes!” and not “Ick, warts,” but I'm not sure. She was flustered and although I succeeded in getting into the toilet ahead of her, the encounter did not end well.

Marian and I trekked together through Pamplona and out of the city. As we left a coffee shop, I thought I heard someone shout “Bullshit!” This is not a term you usually hear yelled on the streets of a Spanish city, but I ignored it anyway. Again the shout came: “Bullshit!” I turned and saw that the shouter was Simon, of Simon and Sam fame. Like proverbial bad pennies, they keep turning up. On the Camino, people appear, then disappear, sometimes forever but sometimes to reappear unexpectedly. Simon and Sam and Marian and I have been turning in a revolving door of encounters since Day 2.

Simon thought his play on our family name was hilarious, and so did Sam, who laughs irrepressibly about everything. As we headed uphill toward Cizur Menor, Simon regaled us with tales of his latest pub crawl last night, which reportedly included a fight with “a bloke who was absolutely lashed.” Marian told me later that just as the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, the Brits seem to have at least as many words for drunk. Sam giggled incessantly over Simon’s stories, then offered her own choice bit of English slang about an all but nude Continental European woman in her cubical at the refuge who was “fluffing about with her lady garden.” I didn’t want to ask.

Marian and I stopped for a break, and Simon and Sam sprinted on ahead. When we resumed walking, we met a slower-moving couple, Pierre and Marie, from Pau, France. While Marian, who speaks no French, walked ahead, I engaged them. Pierre explained that they are walking to Santiago de Compostela from Le Puy, France, the starting point of the first recorded pilgrimage to Compostela in 951 AD. Given their ages, they are doing this in manageable chunks, one week each spring and one each fall. They hope to live long enough to finish together, perhaps within two years.

I asked them why the Camino. Marie just shrugged and said, “We've been walking together for fifty years.”

You mean hiking, I asked?

Et dans la vie!” she answered. And in life! Now that they are nearing the end of their lives, she went on, they feel called to the Camino de Santiago.

On our way uphill to Alto del Perdon, we stopped in the last village for a break. There ensued a series of those odd reunions that seem to occur frequently on the Camino. As we sat in a park, characters from the first three days slowly filtered into the square in front of us. There were Song-Mi and Philip from the refuge in St. Jean Pied de Port! There was Brook from our night in Roncesvalles! There were Noah and Adva, the Israeli girls we met walking into Pamplona yesterday! These were not the last reunions of the day. Read on.

We headed uphill to the Alto del Perdon, or Heights of Forgiveness. If you have seen the movie “The Way,” you may recall a scene on a hilltop where there are about a dozen life-size, iron silhouettes of pilgrims all headed in the same direction (see photo). In the film, a pair of bicyclists go by, and the overweight Dutch character, Yost, says, “You mean you can do this on a bicycle?!” That's Alto del Perdon. Marian and I sat and chewed sunflower seeds and had a short conversation with a young man from the Dominican Republic. He was astonished that we are a father and daughter traveling together.

“Why?” he asked incredulously.

“Why not?” Marian answered.

We had agreed to stop early today because of my lack of sleep last night. So we headed downhill to the village of Uterga and found our way to an inn named Camino de Perdon, Way of Forgiveness. This met our primary requirement, a private room with two beds. I could not risk another sleepless night in dormitory-style living. After Marian made me lunch, I crashed for a two-hour nap and came downstairs to find her chatting on the patio with Alex.

Alex is becoming one of my favorite characters on the Camino. I noticed him on Day 1, a young Asian man in a Yankees ballcap, and I said something silly and typical of a Red Sox fan trying to jest with a rival. From then on, every time I saw Alex (I did not know his name yet) I called him New York, and he called me Boston. Finally, yesterday, outside the refuge in Pamplona, I approached him and asked for his name. This afternoon, there he was again, talking with my daughter, partly about the miserable blister that is causing him, a marathoner, to limp along like a doddering elder.

As we talked, I suddenly heard another voice calling my name. It was Ricardo, the oncologist from southern Brazil, who is carrying a small heart-shaped pillow to Santiago for a friend. As he approached us on the patio, joyfully calling my name, Ricardo held the heart out to me. “I am so happy to see you, Webster!” he said. Then he told me that because he has to break off his Camino halfway to Santiago, he wants me to carry the heart all the way to Compostela for his friend.

I was very moved by this. We never really know the impressions we make on others, but there was something about our conversation on Day 2 that moved Ricardo. Perhaps again it is that I am traveling with my daughter. Ricardo too, has a daughter, Isadora, 15, of whom he is proud and who he hopes will one day walk the Camino with him. In any case, I accepted the honor of carrying the heart pillow to Compostela.

Marian then told Ricardo about Alex's blister. As a doctor, Ricardo carries emergency medical supplies, and within a couple of minutes he had Alex outfitted with the right materials to heal the wound.

About this time, Marianne walked up—the German woman I argued with over a toilet eight hours before! We quickly kissed and made up, which I guess is why they call this place the Way of Forgiveness.

When all these encounters were over, I finally logged onto Facebook for the first time today. I discovered that this is the anniversary of Father Barnes’s ordination, a fact I did not have in mind when I dedicated my day on the Camino to him before dawn.

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

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