THE ESSENCE OF EL CAMINO
4th June 2014
The Camino is as much a physical challenge as it is a mental one. That evening we went to bed in Estella tired, aching and drained. We woke hardly feeling any better. Even more disheartening was the empty dormitory we woke to at 7,30. Everyone had already set off and we were still there complaining. With some effort we managed to get going driven only by a true desire to reach the next bed.
We didn’t yet realise that the day would soon take turn for the better. Within half an hour of setting off we reached the Monasterio de Irache, where waiting for us was the famous Wine Fountain. A sign instructed us to drink wine from the fountain if we wished to arrive in Santiago with strength and vitality. We symbolically drank from our shells and carried on. Our mood immediately improved. We decided to head for Los Arcos via an alternative route passing through the mountains rather than down in the valley. The moment we stepped under the shade of the first trees we knew we had made the right decision. There is only so much farmland you can take, here in the woods we felt at home. As we got higher the views became spectacular, the whole valley stretched out below us, ever-rolling fields of wheat and barley, olive groves and vineyards. We could see our destination lying far ahead in the distance.
We reached Los Arcos in the early afternoon. All day we had walked light heartedly, the Camino now felt right under our feet. We had overcome whatever mental obstacles had been holdings us back, and were ready to fully embrace this pilgrimage for what it really was. Not a long hike but more like an inner path. I can now understand why the Camino has touched so many people and meant so much to them. And so, still in the right frame of mind, we walked on.
An hour out of the town, lying in a field in the distance, we saw what looked like an abandoned hut. Our minds thought as one and we decided that this was going to be our shelter for the night. The hut resembled a trullo, the famous houses ofate and relaxed in the shade of a tree, the town of Sansol lying on a hill in the distance. When the sun had set we retired to our five-star accommodation. Tired but content we quickly fell asleep, the hard ground and tight quarters didn’t phase us.
The sun peaked through the holes in the wall and woke us early. We set off on our way heading for the city of Logrono and a more comfortable bed. All day we walked through farmland under the blazing sun and could not have been happier when we crossed the bridge and reached the shade of the town’s streets. A local man came to greet us and recommended we head for the parish albergue where pilgrims could stay for free or donate whatever they could. It far exceeded our expectations. Clean and equipped with a kitchen it was perfect. But it didn’t finish there: dinner and breakfast were also included.
The volunteer working there was Italian, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries she asked if we wanted to cook dinner. We accepted and with some help from the priest, whose cooking skills far exceeded our own, we made pasta and salad to follow. Together with the other thirty pilgrims staying there, we sat down to eat. After dinner we were invited to a short 10 minute prayer in the church of Santiago where we would also receive the stamp for our passports. That night we slept well.
We set off late this morning, without looking at our guide or setting a destination. We were ready to take the day as it came. The night before the priest’s words had confirmed the conclusion we had already come to by ourselves.
Walking the Camino is but symbolic of an inner path we are on and that for me maybe started long before I set off from St Jean Pied de Port. Is this act of walking a way of taking the time to think about certain things and hopefully arriving at the end having a greater understanding? Anyway, all I know right now is that I must walk on to Santiago.