In the morning we walked to Pamplona, our first city. I ran into Maria and chatted with her for a brief moment before running off with the girls to get breakfast. I didn’t know it then, but that would be my final conversation with her. One thing the Camino teaches you, by nature of necessity, is how to let go. Of people, places, your past. The present demands it be so.
We stopped at a small bakery near the entrance of the city. The owners were friendly, the chocolate and pastries delectable.
This was the first day I distanced myself from the group. At our usual lunch time, I decided to continue walking. I felt the need to recenter myself, to have some alone time. I told the girls and they understood – they even encouraged it – and I walked on.
The landscape opened, and I could see for miles on end in every direction. Small farms and grainy fields, naked mountains and green hilltops decorated the horizon. As I walked into the vastness, I felt a growing sense of calm, a clarity of mind, and a strengthening of body and soul.
I arrived at our destination, Zariquiegui, much sooner than expected. Marieke arrived shortly after as did Matilde and Franca, and we checked into a small albergue located within a bar. We reconvened outside and chatted over drinks – I with red wine, Marieke with her milk, and Franca and Matilde with their beers. Afterwards we separated ways and explored town on our own. I walked up a small hill overlooking Zariquiegui, wrote, and meditated.
On my way back down, I noticed Marieke on a curb listening to music. I went over and asked if I could join. She said the music she listened to was unusual and “not fit for [my] American ears,” but she eventually conceded her right earbud. I enjoyed the melodies but didn’t understand a single word – it was all in French.
After dinner, we went up a hill at the edge of town and laid in the grass for awhile, gazing at stars, telling stupid jokes, enjoying our newfound friendships. In the distance, tiny orbs of light were giving shape to the unknown.
It was a moment I didn’t want to end. We were all high on life, drinking from the cusp of time and infinity, somewhere in the depths of a beautiful and wonderfully dark universe.