Near Larrasoaña, Spain – February 26, 2017
A phone vibrates. Bodies shift. Headlamps comes on. Beds squeak. Zippers open and close. Someone flips the lights. Day two on the Camino begins.
I get up, bleary eyed, exhausted from the second night of unfamiliar noises, and begin to pack. Around me, a dozen others pack too. I don’t know all the names, not even most, but faces feel familiar. We share smiles and good mornings. I recognize color schemes and backpacks. The line between strangers and friends begins to blur.
The Camino weaves Won Gyu and me together through a few small towns. He has a bright smile to match the morning’s clear sky. I drag him to two bakeries in search of excuses to eat sweets. We find some sort of giant almond cookie to eat as we walk. We pass the three Germans sitting in a town square eating bread and cheese. We say goodbye near an sunny bit of grass between towns.
I walk alone for a bit, to the next town, then find a warm place to sit in the square. I want to write a bit, slow down, ration out the miles instead of gobbling them up hour after hour. Winter is gone, I tell myself. There is no need to push, I tell myself. But months and months of racing south, of shrinking days have carved into me the instinct to walk, to always walk, to relish movement. Meandering is hard, like holding a light switch halfway.
The woman from Argentina appears out of a small store. I wave and we trade names. Jorgelina gives me the excuse to walk again and I take it. The two of us head out into rolling hills. Spanish words come back to me in spurts, like there is a little man somewhere in my brain rushing through dusty archives to find forgotten documents.
We talk Spanish and Argentine accents and I ask questions to fill in the missing documents the little archivist can’t find. What’s the word for this or that? How do I pronounce it? When does calor and caliente mean temperature hot, not sexy hot. We laugh about coger not being slang in Spain, how following the shells marking the Camino has a different meaning in Spanish when you translate shells to conchas.
We drift apart on an uphill and I wander alone past large stones that are said to be the footprints of Roland, Charlemagne’s legendary knight who is famous in songs and epics for fighting and dying defending Christianity from the Moors. The truth is he died fighting a Basque army upset at Charlemagne for destroying Pamplona’s walls. But better stories often win over truth.
I wander the streets of Zubiri with the two older guys from Kentucky. It’s the last town with albergues open for winter before a long stretch to Pamplona. I draw the best Spanish speaking straw and translate for us as we ask around. The words are still in and out, my mind grasping at them through the fog, but each sentence, each missed reach drags them a bit closer.
We find a place to stay, but I drift on alone, walking a few more miles, searching for a quiet spot in the trees, the weight of the tent in my pack buying me a night away from creaking bed frames and snoring pilgrims. Darkness drops. The stars pop out. I curl in my sleeping bag and listen to the forest around me, familiar and calm. In a moment I am dreaming.