September 6th, 2013. Hike today: Pamplona -> Puente de la Reina (14 miles)
(Wikipedia) Peregrino: A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system. In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beautitud.
6am, alarms go off. The snoring stops, and the excitement begins. The first lights flicker on in the albergue and the first ambitious Peregrinos slip out of their sheets, usually in just their underwear, and into their clothes for the day. Teeth brushing begins, a quiet and considerate flurry of slow bag zipping and flaps dangling trail down the aisles between the beds. Even if I hadn’t planned to get up until 7 it is nearly impossible to lay still when the older Peregrinos are getting their start at half 7. So I wake up too. I stand in a row behind a long mirror with usually 3 sinks and brush my teeth next to all the other Peregrinos, men and women. Bathrooms are rarely separated but each shower is separated in its own stall, usually with a dry spot where you can also hang your clothes after you shower. The water is usually warm and showers always happen around 3pm, directly after the days hike ends and the rush to find an Albergue with availability begins.
If you are lost in a town, or can’t seem to find the usually well-marked yellow arrows or shells aligning the street, all you have to do is look for backpacks. If you haven’t lost your way too far, you can usually stand still and wait for the backpacks. Just follow the large backpacks. At least as Peregrinos we can all band together as a group of people who are walking through small towns where everyone else is dressed nice and looks civilized while we are trudging by with large packs and living on camping supplies. We band together as people sharing a common goal, to conquer the day’s road, obstacles and mountains. The Camino is a test of endurance, of fitness of not only the body, but also of the mind. The first day out, the hardest day, saw the end of the Camino for a few Peregrinos. Sometimes, while climbing 75-degree angle hills you just hunker down, pull your pack up and stare at the ground in front of you. Breathe. It is a test of perseverance and trusting your body to get you through things. The body is an amazing machine and is capable of much more than people give it credit for. Not only do you have the standard equipped body functions, you have adrenaline to run on when strength runs out!
We find our way out of the hostels in the dark and make our way into the Spanish sunrise. Kent and I specifically don’t really have a set spot to stop; we don’t have reservations for where we will stay. We walk until we are tired, we stop when we need breaks. We, in comparison to lots of Peregrinos do not make numerous coffee stops along the Way but move at a rather aerobic speed and get a full days work out of our 14-19 miles. We walk, amazed each day more by the Spanish, more specifically basque countryside that we are walking into. “Ah how is our Colorado girl?” Asked one of the older American couples on the Camino today, they keep track and remember names of people they come across. Each day we pass people we’ve met before. It’s a sort of small community of people, all struggling the same and going through the same adventure together. And then eventually they disappear, they stop off in some town and we never see them again, or maybe they stop the hike.
The first night out, after climbing to Roncesevalles there was a line of women for the small, two- stall bathroom. A line out the door for both men and women, because in that Albergue municipal, there were separate sides for each. I look at their bare feet on the cold, wet Spanish tiles of the floor and notice how foot after foot contained blisters, on the toes, on the ankles. They wiggle their aching feet on the cold floor, feeling again how good it feels to have free feet and toe wiggle room. Blisters on the first day out cant be a good sign. I am fortunate enough to not yet had a mark on my feet although my arches are hating me for shoving them into proper fitting arch support shoes day after day. I feel like a work horse strapped down with my two straps across my body, harnessing all my energy into that pack to get up mountains.
Then, as usually some of the first to arrive in a city Kent and I quickly find our albergues, the cheapest ones for 5 euro or less. We get our Peregrino passports stamped, sometimes show our actual passports and head up to grab our beds, I always get the top, Kent always insists on the bottom. Realistically it is easier for me to climb up to the top anyway, so I don’t fuss. We grab our shower bags quickly and rush to the showers before the next hoard of hikers come. The showers are amazing, dirt and sweat caked our necks and hair runs off down the drain and is replaced with fresh smelling soaps.
We put on “street clothes” or “going out clothes”. Really everyone has probably just one shirt, sandals and pants that aren’t fancy quick dry and allows them to fit in with society. I brought a pair of shorts and a girly shirt. I like to look like a girl again in the evenings after sweating all over everything all day. Or, as Brian, our recent hiking buddy from Ireland said it today, “horses sweat, men perspire and women glisten.” I’m alright with that. My tattoos were glistening in the sunlight all day under the Spanish sun. Spain closes around 2pm and doesn’t open its stores up again until 5. It’s the daily siesta time and is perfect for the life of a peregrino. Spanish people always seem so relaxed.
We shower, rest in the courtyards after scrubbing our clothes in the sinks, hang them out to dry and rest with our feet up outside. This time is crucial. It is time to relax, to stretch, to sit finally, and to reflect. It’s time to write postcards. Lots of people write in diaries, some read, and some check emails on their cell phones. Most people have Quick-Dry clothes so they dry quickly, and then they head out into the city to explore. Then, as 5:00 rolls around Peregrinos make their way into the city and buy food for the evening, or for the coming day, and then go rest and hang out at the Albergue again. Then comes dinnertime. Often people cook together in the Albergues kitchens, which are usually equipped with everything that we need. On some special nights we go out for cheap tapas and local wine with our new friends. As 7pm rolls around, the steady hum of snoring seeps through the hallways and the lights go out, even though many Peregrino’s stay up until 10 or so, enjoying the city or hanging out with friends.
At the latest, lights out at 11pm and the doors of the albergues shut. Sunrise comes around again, and it all starts over.