Sunday, October 4, 2009

Real Peregrinos

Unlike wannabe's like me who stay in small hotels and stroll onto the Camino only after they're well awake and fully caffeinated, the real pilgrims who rely on traditional "refugios," aka "albergues," subject themselves to a much sterner set of rules in exchange for free lodging. The albergues won't allow anyone in before two, lock their doors at ten (that is, if you're still out eating or partying, you sleep on the pavement), won't let anyone out before six (that is, you're locked in), and boot everyone out at eight. Presumably this rigidity various sources (the locked doors provided security in medieval years when the Camino attracted all manner of lowlife, etc). But it results in a clumping of pilgrims on the path. During the busy season, there are the much-loathed sunrise streakers who race off at six to be queued up for a bunk, or a coveted lower bunk, when the doors open at two. But the vast majority hit the trail minutes before eight.

I decided to join the throng leaving Pamplona today, and almost made it. Starting at 8:15, I enjoyed the early-morning sun (sunrise here is about eight, with dusk about seven-thirty), and also having so much company. As I started up the climb to the fairly high ridgeline topped with wind turbines that was the advertised challenge for this 17-mile day, I was briskly passed by a young fellow with a Canada tag on his backpack and bedroll. I offered the suggestion that he seemed to plan to reach Santiago this week. He said no, but he had to get there by the 27th for his flight home (a week earlier than my target), and was therefore aiming to reach Estella tonight, 13 miles beyond my stopping point at Puente la Reina (that is, a 30-mile day). We discussed the idea of, in effect, doing a double-pilgrim-day every fourth day. He was behind schedule because, having started far back in France several weeks ago, he'd lost some days to a dog attack (the bite hadn't been so bad, but it had taken a couple of days to sort out the possible-rabies risk with his parents back in Calgary, and to eventually reject his mother's entreaties for a full vaccine regime), and more recently to blisters (aka the pilgrim's curse). We were halloed by a German couple John had met in France. While the wife exchanged updates with John, the husband told me how they have making their pilgrimage in stages from their home near Wolfsburg. After completing the stage through Germany, the next year they made did a stage through Geneva to the French border. But this spring as they were about to start through France, the wife broke a bone in her back. The doctor finally ruled out surgery, but said she would have to rest three months, and then could carry no backpack at all. So they used a service in France to carry her pack from town to town. Kurt, for reasons only a pilgrim will understand, carried his full rucksack and bedroll anyway. Today, having completed France, they were waiting to fly back home from Pamplona tomorrow (with plans to complete their pilgrimage through Spain next year). But because a day in Pamplona seemed too easy, they decided to hike up the Alto del Perdon and back to Pamplona.

Conclusion: There are some determined and intrepid souls on the Camino.