Early Morning Late Start
At 6:00 a.m. I quietly climbed out of my bunk and stuffed my sleeping bag into its sack. Downstairs, the dining room was set for a continental breakfast, but as early as I arrived I would be one of the last to leave at around 8:00 a.m.
I didn’t want to miss Leyla and her group, so I waited…and I waited…and I waited until finally, from the big dining room window, I watched the last remaining pilgrims buckle up their packs and fumble with their poles.
“She must have already left,” I thought. To confirm I asked one of the hospitaleros if he remembered seeing her.
“Oh yes, she was the first one in here at 5:30 a.m. She’s long gone,” he said. His name was George. He was the man who led the meditation the previous night.
I felt sad to have missed Leyla, also a little hurt since it was implied that I should join her group on the walk to Viana.
At dinner we had all played a game with a tiny bible. We each had to flip through the book, open a page and then blindly point to some text. Whatever the text said was a personal message that we would contemplate on the walk and then share. The text I pointed to has since disintegrated in my memory. I guess it wasn’t the most important part of the game to me. At the time I was just happy to hang on the outside of a Camino family and when it didn’t pan out the text didn’t seem all that important.
There would be no way to catch Leyla and her group now. They were 2.5 hours ahead of me, so I relaxed and chatted with George. He was a fellow Canadian from Kelowna. This was his last day volunteering at the albergue before walking himself. He was looking for something in particular, a piece of property in Nájera to build a pilgrim retreat on. Normally, pilgrims are limited to one night in an albergue to make space for the new ones arriving. George’s dream was to provide a place of refuge for pilgrims to rest for more than just one night; pilgrims who are tired, sick, injured or simply confused about their Camino.
The landscape this day was stunning as usual with young vineyards and vast fields scattered with poppies. The road was mostly dirt lined with wildflowers although there was a short section along a highway.
Again I spent a lot of the walk in my head with memories and particularly the question “Why do I want to walk the Camino again?” followed by “I’m not sure I really want to be here.”
As beautiful as it was, I didn’t feel ready to let go of my old journey.
The word STOP on both the stop sign and the road was like the answer to my question, “Why do I want to walk the Camino again?” STOP. I had a perfectly beautiful journey the first time. STOP. I’m not sure that I really want to be here. STOP. I don’t want to walk this again. Then…STOP.
I contemplated what I hoped to gain by walking the Camino again and what I was afraid of by doing so.
I also observed what was happening to my old memories thus far.
I was hoping for an easy answer to the nagging questions in my mind, but nothing seemed to help; not the scenery, the freedom to be there walking, not even the connections I had made the previous night or the possibility of new ones ahead.
I was beginning to realize that maybe I wasn’t ready to have a new experience on this path.
The poppies in the field below reminded me of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy said, “I’m so sleepy, I can’t run anymore,” before she laid down in the field and closed her eyes.
Stories of coincidence and synchronicity from my first Camino came to mind as I passed.
My 2013 journal read…
While I window shopped I thought about my red sandals and decided it would make me feel better if I pretended I was like Dorothy with her ruby red slippers following the yellow brick road to Oz, except I’m wearing red sandals following yellow arrows along a famous pilgrimage route to Santiago, but without the added worry of the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys.
Come to think of it the gargoyles peering down from the top of the Palacio de los Guzmanes did look like they could jump off, swoop down on me and carry me away at any moment.
The following morning, less than a minute after leaving the hotel in León, the lyrics from the Wizard of Oz theme song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, resonated out of a bar. They stopped me in my tracks.
The Camino in some ways parallels the Wizard of Oz. Camino families, fueled by camaraderie, strive to reach Santiago for personal reasons just like Dorothy and her gang of unlikely friends quested to reach the Emerald City for a brain, a heart, courage and home.
I thought about Dorothy’s determination to find home. Maybe that’s what many are doing out here, trying to find that sense of belonging somewhere whether here, there or perhaps even within themselves. Maybe I was too.
I walked straight through Los Arcos, another place that held special memories. It was where my Camino buddy and I had spent the night in an attic; the only accommodations left in town.
We had walked the streets telling stories after enjoying a pitcher of sangria.
I didn’t want to linger in places where memories resided. In some way I felt like doing so would erase or change them.
The man ahead of me caught my attention. He seemed peaceful. Clearly he was enjoying his walk.
Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things – Walt Disney
Family crossed my mind at the sight of these trees standing rooted together in the field. I missed home and my family.
These boot memorials, so to speak, seem common along the Camino as pilgrims discard old boots that aren’t doing their job anymore.
Boots and shoes are the greatest trouble of my life. Everything else one can turn and turn about and make look like new; but there’s no coaxing boots and shoes to look better than they are – George Eliot
The photo above speaks volumes about George Eliot’s quote. Not only was the old boot on the post clearly given up on, but the man up ahead seems to have given up on his own boots. He is wearing sandals and his boots are tied to his backpack. Obviously there is a problem with them and his feet. Perhaps the boots caused him blisters. His boots haven’t yet met the same fate as the one on the concrete post, but they could be well on their way.
After arriving in Viana, I soon found out that there were no available accommodations.
Many pilgrims could not find a bed as there was a bike race in the area. None of the albergues, hostals, pensions and hotels in both Viana and Logroño had vacancy. Even the churches were beyond capacity and would not take any more pilgrims. Luckily, after hours of searching, even on Airbnb, an hospitalera at the Albergueria Andres Muñoz gave us mats and a place to sleep on the floor in between bunk beds.
The group of us was happy to finally have been given a reluctant ‘okay’ to stay.
The floor was hard even with a mat, but it was much better than sleeping outside on a sidewalk, something I would experience soon enough.