Today our fellowship of "Camigos" suffered a sad parting as Julia and Robert pushed on ahead and Rachel, Mary, Sanne, Marie (resurrected from her blister issue) and I stopped for a rest day. It's funny to say that we're so sad, because in the scheme of things we only knew each other five days -- but the Camino is funny that way. After walking so far (over 150 miles now), suffering, pushing ourselves, encouraging one another, laughing, and facing so many challenges together, it feels devastating to separate from friends. We may, of course, run into one or both of them again and we hope to. We had begun to feel like a little family of pilgrims; there were a lot of hugs and tears involved in this parting. After we got past the initial goodbyes, we had to stop in the park later to cry and let it go. So there we were, five of us on a park bench, crying about this parting, and bicycle pilgrims were zooming by calling, "Buen Camino!" and probably thinking how lucky they were to not be walking, as we were clearly mourning our lot in life.
After a couple more days of 4 AM wake up calls and 12-hour walking days in 100(ish) degree heat, we're pretty tired -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Camino demands a lot; in a sense, it demands the entirety of your will. It breaks us down, bonds us, and forms us. Physically, we are all worn down and have a variety of strange injuries including bug bites, scrapes, blisters, heat rash, mysterious peeling lizard skin, and sore muscles. The middle finger on my right hand has gotten stung by two different poisonous plants in two different occasions, and for some reason the muscles in my ankle/Achilles heel will no longer permit me to wear my boots, so I have been, and still am, walking the Camino in my Birkenstock sandals with my boots tied to the sides of my pack. With socks on. I look really cool. I do know, though, that an American group of Franciscan Friars hiked this in Chaco sandals, so they pass before me as inspiration! It's actually been quite comfortable so far.
When you walk for hours upon hours every single day, one unavoidable thing that happens is that you get a little delirious. We are no exception to this, and (at least in our non-separated group) we were/are also pretty loud. Each day we laugh to the point of crying about things that would make little to no sense if I repeated them. We have laughed uproariously at Sanne rocking out on the trail ahead of us, headphones in, using her walking poles as an air guitar (earlier today she actually smacked into Marie, and as explanation said, "Oh no! So sorry! That was the bass."). Two days ago while we were sprawled in the dirt, oppressed by the heat and hours from any town, miserable and taking a group nap, I woke up to see a shiny white sports car making its way toward us on the Camino. I started laughing because here it was, brand new, surely air conditioned and I imagine filled with people listening to music and drinking cool, fresh drinks, passing us, sweaty, feet aching, bandaged, dirty and exhausted, looking like we just collapsed and died next to a swampy stream. "Buen Camino, car people!" Last night someone who was walking with a donkey stabled it in the courtyard outside our room, and at random intervals it began making very loud donkey noises (which sound kind of like someone blowing a trumpet really, really badly). Julia was sleeping with the fan on her feet and when I woke her up her first words were, "Is there a wind storm?!"
These moments, silly as they are, are hysterical to us because they are what creates the fellowship and support that keeps us going. It's impossible to walk this route without a sense of humor, I think, because the whole darn thing is so completely inconvenient! EVERYTHING GOES WRONG, ALL THE TIME. But by "wrong," I mean that your shower goes ice cold right after you get shampoo in your hair, and then heats up again right when you rinse it out in temperatures resembling the North Pole; donkeys hee-haw outside your window at random intervals and scare the day lights out of you; you limp in the most creative ways you could ever imagine, and every time you need to get something you have to dig it out of the giant abyss called "backpack." Sanne's smells like cheese and mine has breadcrumbs all through it. Also, there is a very inconvenient thing called siesta, which doesn't exist when you're walking, and inadvertently happens nearly always right when you get into a town and want food NOW.
One other type of suffering that deserves its own paragraph: upper bunks. The word makes us shudder, much like the word "downhill." This is an unavoidable fate that hits at least one or two people every night. Let me tell you, because I assume that most of us have not slept in a bunk bed since we were 7: upper bunks are much harder to get into after the age of 10. They are also neither fun, nor cool. Also, the upper bunk you had at the age of 7 probably neither rocked, squeaked, swayed, leaned, and was not directly above a bed populated by a 50 year old snoring man. And it probably has a ladder, foothold, or some general way of helping you get into it. And you were not so sore that you walked like Quasimodo, constantly.
But these things ARE Camino in a very real sense -- and the most extraordinary and beautiful thing is that, though we acknowledge these challenges, we laugh about them, thank God for them, and no one complains. Even two days ago when we were so hungry we felt comatose and the one grocer in town never came back to reopen his store after siesta, and we waited for hours ... not one word of complaint. Instead, everyone reached into the depths of their bags, pooled what food we had together, and we blessed our meal and ate with joy in one another's company. This is an amazing thing to be a part of.
We arrived in the city of Lorogne yesterday and got to stay at a Catholic Church with an adjacent albergue -- for free (we left a donation). This building was wonderful -- we had our own "secret passage" into the enormous church, which we all went through (Catholics, Christians, atheists, agnostics, and everything in between) to say night prayers with the Spanish priest who led us over. This was completely optional, but most people went -- including most of our friends. Religious or not, it was moving -- because essentially, in this walk, we are living prayer (even when some of us are rocking out to headphones and singing in Dutch).
Lorogne is the first city we've seen since Pamplona, but an entirely different experience as this one was not brimming with a festival. After we power-napped, we all headed into the city, where we nearly raced into the first frozen yogurt shop we saw. We ate our treat with our feet in a large fountain, which is probably illegal, and we apologize. The following episode is also probably illegal.
As I was sitting on the rim with my back to the fountain, Julia came up behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. "Do you have any electronics?" she asked. "YES!!" I yelled, knowing she wouldn't pull me in with my cell phone. But then, oh so quickly, Robert grabbed my feet, Julia removed my purse strap from my shoulder (that's when I knew this was getting real) and grabbed my arms, and I was suspended above the fountain. Until Robert accidentally slipped on the wet marble and dropped my feet, and I got a Spanish fountain baptism. Thanks, guys. They are some great amigos, looking after my electronics and passport that way.
As we walked yesterday, five of us decided to take a rest day today, which is why we separated, as the other two didn't want to quite yet. This originated with the idea that we would stay in Lorogne another night, only switching hostels (only one night is allowed per pilgrim hostel). Then we decided that we would sleep in, and just walk to the next town, and then stop. It turned out that town was 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) away. And then we woke up at 6, because people were moving, donkeys were braying, and there was chaos. We also got a little stressed about the 30 kilometers tomorrow holds, and wanted to cut some time off of it. This was perhaps a bad idea, because once you start walking, it's hard to stop, now that we're used to it. 8 miles now seems like a stroll -- and we realized we were crossing into danger zone when we started talking about "just going the remaining 15, and meeting the others there." No.
We forced ourselves to stop -- and wonderfully, there is a street festival (much smaller) in the town we stopped in. This means, in other words, cheap food, beautiful art and culture, and music to listen to through the albergue window as I lay on my (upper bunk, you guessed it) bed with ice on my ankles.