The morning ritual of the pilgrim is, itself, a fascinating thing to behold. In some places around the world the morning comes with sounds of birds singing or roosters… maybe a dog barking. In a albergue on the camino, it comes with pilgrims rustling through backpacks in the dark and the sounds of swearing in many languages as travellers bump their heads against the bunkbeds or stub their sore toes against the uneven floor boards. If you haven’t risen by 6:30, the lights come on. All pilgrims are required to be out of the hostel by 7:30 or 8:00 so the hospitaliers can get ready for the next wave of pilgrims to sweep in later in the afternoon. And there is a lot to be done.
(Statue walking out of Estella)
A quick inventory of the packing routine: toiletries to do your morning bathroom routines… This includes the full routine of footcare – which on the camino, is like praying to the gods who are looking over you. Any failure to adhear to the proper ritual is taking your life into your hands… You will need to repair any untended blister – including popping, draining and sterilizing new blisters, binding old ones with compede or moleskin and possibly a larger wrap. Then, there is the necessity of massaging in the vasoline to keep your feet soft and avoid excess rubbing inside your boots which makes you prone to blisters. All of this will be discussed in great detail by fellow travellers over beers at the end of the day. Any failure or reticence at due ritual diligence will bring upon you scance looks – really no different than ancient religious rituals in the earliest days of the camino in the 1400s.
Also critical is remembering to pack all the electronics you had charging overnight without any failure to remember the 240-120 adapters in the electrical outlets. Then there is the full slathering of sun screen needed for these heat laden strestches of the camino. If you still have any clothes hanging on the line from the previous days laundry, you need to get that.
For the last three days, Liz and I have began our day at 5:15 am and it takes us an hour to pack, do foot care, make a little breakfast and snack for the road and head out on the camino.
The early hours are the best. Cool. A flattering light creates a mystical ambiance over the horizon and it gives the town you are walking out of an unmistakable aire of beneficence.
Of course the day always looks a little brighter when it starts with a taste of wine. The Bodegas of Irache, just outside of Estella, contained a monastery where the priests tilled the grapes of the region and distributed wine from a fountain to the weary pilgrims. The monastery failed in the 1980s due to a lack of novitates but the winery that purchased the land kept the wine flowing from the fountain. Many pilgrims filled up their canteens for the long journey – or for the storytelling at the end of the day.
Happily enough, we walked off on the trail up to Monjardin. Up a winding hill, this ancient city remains much as it has been for the last 500 years. A castle on the top of the hill remains in its final conquered position. ’There are no kings or queens any more in Spain – we are free of that…’ reported one local elderly man strolling through Monjardin. He turned to the church with a sign of reverence. ’We are free now.’
A rock wall surrounds the city which is very impressive. Each of the rocks have to weigh at least 3-5 tons. How they found their place must be a very interesting and long and complicated story of freedom, how it was secured, for whom and for how long.
We are always trying to free ourselves from the things that bring us pain. One of the rituals of the path is to symbolically leave something at one of the markers designating how you have left some sadness or grief behind, or that you are remembering someone or something that has known, given or received pain. Of course, although it is less common, leaving footwear is a very fitting testimony.
Arriving in our destination – this day it is Los Arcos – has become a very wonderful ritual. There is the reunion with all our fellow pilgrims – many of whom we´ve met and had some lengthy conversations and forged some affection. There is a celebration of realization that we are reunited – one never really knows when you head out for the day whether you will see anyone in particular again. Some people are on the camino for a shorter period – only doing parts. Some travel ahead. Some lag behind. Some are injured. Nothing is taken for granted. And the days of walking are laden by each person with their own pervasive introspection. To arrive at the end of the day with a familiar face who you know has shared a little bit of your experience is exhilarating and sustaining.
The night in Los Arcos came to a close with Linda (the school counselor who carries a blender in her pack and walks faster than anyone else – a cross between a maverick and a mule on the camino… and Kevin, the religious studies teacher at an all girls high school in Miami.
After dinner, we were off to see the cathedral and receive the judgmental looks from all the elderly ladies of the town for not looking respectfully Catholic enough. The inside of the Cathedral was ornate with elaborate bronzed statues of the saints. Just the figures who could grant us the beneficent fortune of finding our laundry still hanging on the line, a good night´s sleep and safe journeys in the morning.