Day 3. Larasoanna to Pamplona. 16.5 km ( a short day’s walk)
And so today we have taken the easy way. A short 16.5 km walk to Pamplona, famous for its bull running and apparently, until yesterday, it’s fiesta-ing. It felt as though the whole city was sleeping off a hangover as we trudged through its beer-stained cobbled streets this morning. Bunting and flags with pictures of blood splattered bulls hung lopsidedly from half closed windows, sleeping figures curled around empty beer bottles, collapsed in the park. One of the biggest parties in Spain over for another year.
It is strange how quickly you become part of some ancient journey, how after only 2 days, sweaty and ruck-sacked, we felt out of place in a big city built for bustle and busyness.
The Camino had brought us here along narrow stoned tracks and past meandering rivers. We had climbed wooded hills and stared across valleys to the mountains opposite. And on the way we walked with our fellow hostel dweller from the night before, who wakes each morning telling herself that today will be even better than yesterday.
We walked too with a traveller from Japan.
She is a peace keeper for an international charity and spends her life being flown to war-torn countries where she tries to re- unite members of families who have lost each other in the confusion and horror of war.
She walks with determination and concentration, a reflection, perhaps of the calm way she puts back together the pieces of broken families. She has brought child soldiers home to desperate parents, reunited siblings who have been thrown to different ends of the world, found lost children and watched them run into their mother’s arms.
” There are few people,” I say, ” whose jobs truly make a difference. You are one of those people.”
” Perhaps,” she says, her eyes never leaving the path.
“It must be such a hard job,” I add.
Almost imperceptibly, she shakes her head. ” Oh, my life is easy.”
I imagine the horror and destruction she has seen. The heart-breaking news she must sometimes deliver. The families torn apart who she can never put back together.
” That depends how you define easy,” I say.
She shrugs, staring intently at the single file path ahead.
Like everyone else, she is walking El Camino for a reason.
What she has seen, all that she has lived, the sadness and the heart-ache she has shared, has left her with a restless passion that cannot find a home.
She has tried competetive, sailing, running marathons and is about to climb Everest – but nothing can fill the emptiness .
” In Japan, I don’t fit in anymore,” she says. She finds that she no longer believes in the values that hold her nation together. Nothing seems to make her feel anchored or grounded enough to stay.
She has tried to find love, searched for a partner who can wrap himself around her and keep her soul from drifting. – but no one seems strong enough to hold it down.
” I think perhaps,” she says, ” that I have never been in love. I have liked several people a lot- but I have not missed them when it is over, only the life we never had.”
I listen to the rush of the fast-flowing river we are walking next to. It is ageless and constant and comforting.
War is temporary, unpredictable and destructive.
I look at my companion and understand that it is not only the essence of a nation that can be ripped apart by war but the heart of an individual.
We leave her and our hostel-sharer in a cafe and head on towards Pamplona.
I hope that the Camino can fill her emptiness.
I hope it begins to fill her life with colour and certainty.
I hope she finds a love strong enough to soothe her restlessness.
If the Camino can provide a sun hat just when it is neeced, it can definitely piece a shattered soul back together and return the passion to a beating heart.
She still has 760kms to go.
That should be long and far enough.
Quote of the day:
” I have worked in many dangerous, war-torn countries but the only thing I truly fear is bedbugs.” … Camino pilgrim
Today’s top tips
Start early even when your journey is short- that way you avoid walking in the heat and your aching muscles will be glad of a longer rest.
Stand your phone in a glass if you want to listen to the music you have on it, it works like a speaker.