From the moment we left our room in Pamplona, we were winging it. Dave and I both had light packs with minimum supplies for a month of walking, a vague map and very poor sense of direction. After two kilometres (kms) of wandering residential streets, we found our first shell – the symbol we will be tracking, following, trusting for the next month to get us about 700km west across Spain, along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail to Sanitago de Compostella.
The morning took me through phases of shock: I started pale-faced and quiet, daunted by the journey ahead. I then found comfort in cussing and storming (‘What the F are we doing? We are crazy! Why the F did we think this was a good idea?) before embracing nervous laughter (suddenly rocks were quite the comedians).
But as the path wove through Pamplona, under graceful poplar trees, past glowing fields of yellow, calm came. A gentle wind hushed through young green crops, the clouds shifted silently overhead, the trail revealed itself without question or pause, and the church bells echoed through the basin behind us. Both Dave and I eventually found our rhythm: Dave ahead, steady and straight, and me plodding behind, distracted by flowers, trees, rocks, photo ops and aperture changes.
Other delights of the day included olive groves, vineyards, white and orange villages perched on picturesque ridges and the crunch of gravel underfoot.
Six hours and 25kms later, we had arrived in Puente La Reinus-Gares, at our first albergue. We were tired, sore from our packs, but exactly where we wanted to be. But the joy of the Camino is not just in the trail, but in the space and time it gives each traveller. The late Spanish dusk left us hours to sit in the sunshine and meet fellow pilgrims, share jugs of sangria, practice our terrible Spanish and just… slow down.
It was only 5am with the first pilgrim started rustling between the bunks. 31 other weary walkers still slept, but one was keen to get moving in the dark Spanish morning. By 6am zippers were slicing through the dark, sleeping bags were being stuffed into their rolls and hobbling bodies tip-toed through the shadows. By 6.20am someone had decided that the lights should be on, all pilgrims should wake and that the day was ready to begin. So the day began.
With my pack and shoes back in their bruised places, I found the first 30 minutes of walking gave me the most promise. The morning breeze carried a feeling of hope, whispering secrets about the trail ahead. Within a few hours, it was apparent we were seeing a different Camino than from the day before; one with more black roads carrying heavy unnatural sounds of people who travel faster, in machines, with wheels, not feet.
But past noon was the best time. I stopped after about 10km, after a steep little climb, filled my bottles from the Plaza Mayor fountain (with the supervision and encouragement of a kindly old Spanish man) and greedily stuffed a zucchini tortilla in my parched mouth. From there, it was down hill, along flat paths lined with wildflowers, winding through pastures past a windmill and an aqueduct, skirting proud poplar trees and providing an overall sunny view of life and Spain.
I whipped out my earphones for the first tunes of my Camino, walking with a bounce as Cat Steven sung ‘we’ve come a long way, we’re changing day to day…’. Somewhere in those last hours of the hot Spanish day, I realised I had been grinning for kilometres, so much so that my cheeks were starting to ache more than my feet. Life is glorious at times. I took that realisation, and the poppy-spotted view of the idyllic Spanish countryside, and stored it in my bank of happy moments to be called upon on a rainy, dark, uninspiring day, sometime in the future.
So now, I write to you from another sleepy dorm bed, surrounded by pilgrims who are exhausted, excited, on a journey, just like me. My body is weary and my heart is content but my mind can’t stop thinking about what joys the Camino of tomorrow may bring.