Camino de Santiago.
It was the shortest day so far, in terms of kilometers. Only thirteen, but we spread them out, coughingly and limpingly spread them out so that we ended up coughing and limping into Navarrete at about the same time as the people who left from Viana, the town about nine kilometers before our starting point, the city Logroño. Jenny is coming down with a cold and I have a bum left knee (Dad, some tips please) and so this is why. Jenny--I call her Zhenya--was born in the Ukraine but grew up in Ottawa, she studies insects, particularly butterflies, and we met on the train to St. Jean Pied de Port. She was eating cherry tomatoes and I was eating a panini, and we have been together almost continuously since then. Most of the time we are talking about food (today´s topic: Russian foods her grandparents are going to cook for me when I go one day in the future to visit them in Canada), or eating food. I prepared myself to walk the path alone, really, but so far it only makes sense to walk with Zhenya.
And we have met so many others, it is like the Canterbury Tales. There is Genevieve the beautiful older French woman who bops along with her pack always a little askew, talking to everyone rapidly in French, about alternative routes they might want to take, whether or not we think there is a good supermercado in the next village, or how steep the next climb will be. We shared some peanuts with her early on and ever since she has been our comrade, offering to share her tuna pasta (exactly what it sounds like) with us or pay for our hot chocolates. Then there is Annie, an actress from LA who is one of the leading characters in a documentary that is being filmed of the pilgrims. Zhenya and I have been interviewed a few times by her crew, but generally it´s Zhenya talking and me kind of awkwardly nodding and wishing I had more time to think.
Maybe this will help. Here is a map of the Camino.
We are now just past Logroño, and not quite to Najera. We started in France, in St. Jean Pied de Port. Last Thursday, on the most beautiful day we´ve had so far, we walked through the Pyrenees into Spain. It was a long upward-tending walk, but beautiful. Zhenya told me things about bugs, we lay in the grass because she says this is a good way of being in a place and it was true, and we edged through the muddy snow sometimes pointing at the trees that grow horizontally out from the hills and played twenty questions and sometimes didn´t say anything and sometimes didn´t even think anything. At Roncesvalles, there was a Pilgrims´ Mass in the church, where the priest said a prayer we didn´t understand, for all the pilgrims that were at the beginning of their journey. Or peregrinos, which is what we are in Spain. Each day, except today, we have walked somewhere between twenty and thirty kilometers, stopping at nights in towns fully equipped for peregrinos, with hostels called Albergues that have sometimes eighty or a hundred beds in a big room. Earplugs have become my most prized possession. We buy food along the way and stop to have picnic lunches each day, usually grainy bread, piquante chorizo, cheese, fresh or dried fruit, and the cheapest chocolatey packaged cookies we can get our hands on. At nights we cook in the albergue kitchen, share a bottle of the local red wine (now it is Rioja!), check in with the people we keep running into and meet the new ones, and talk about intentions for the next day.
[Zhenya just asked if ailments is spelled like that or like alements, and we decided that we will now trade in the first for the second, which fits in perfectly with talk of cheap Spanish wine...]
Then there is the French man with the little heart stickers on his wristwatch, saying it´s either hearts or it´s darkness in life, you can choose either hearts or darkness. We were in Larrasoaña and one of a trio of German girls had just burst into tears at the computer and we were eating peanuts with Annie and a French Canadian boy who only brought one pair of underwear but made room for a dictionary of Swahili because he wants to go to Africa, and the French man, who had been walking with his friend for a month already from Arles, also said you must stop and take a shower to changer des pensees. The next day in the morning when it was uncertain whether it would rain or not, we walked briefly with a Danish man for whom it was not the shower but the war in Yugoslavia that changed his thoughts. We are among the youngest on the Camino, I think this is generally because universities are still in session and the weather is optimal for older folks, and everyone we meet is teaching something.
Then there is the Australian guy Glen who first thing in a new town sits down in the nearest cafe and gets a cold beer from the tap. He says you can look at the Camino as a very extended pub crawl.
We have to get to the store before it closes, so I end this here. I will say that I am content here, doing this. Tomorrow we will get up and walk to Azofra, and I really can´t think of a better way to pass the day...