Through the window I see
Sun-bathed flowers and untouched rock,
Blades of grass and untrodden walks,
I ask of you Time
To yield your determined hand
So I may dance
Forever with Infinity.
I ran into Matilde and Franca while departing from Roncesvalles. They were headed in the opposite direction, back toward the albergue, when they called out to me.
“Phiiiiilll! Heeeey we’re gonna make some tea! Would you like to join us?”
The words of a wise hospitalero echoed in my mind: The Camino will give you everything you need. Surrender to the Way. Be open to what comes your way, he said. In other words, say yes to life unless you have a good reason not to, and there never is.
We went back inside and attempted to start making the tea. Matilde and Franca fiddled with the stove while I stood and provided moral support. Unfortunately the stove proved to be beyond the ability of my fellow Germans, so I gave the task a go myself - I failed miserably. Having failed, I went to find Matilde and Franca and discovered them chatting with a young Belgian near the vending machines in the adjacent kitchen.
I introduced myself and joined the conversation. The Belgian’s name was Marieke. She seemed excited about the fact that we were young and spoke fluent English, unlike many of the other pilgrims. Some minutes later, Franca and Matilde went back into the kitchen, leaving Marieke and I to ourselves.
Marieke was in her 2nd year of medical school. She came to the Camino seeking balance, answers. It was her 3rd one, though she had never walked its entire length. I was captivated by her acute sense of self-awareness, her clear display of buoyancy, and her attentive hazel eyes.
The day was gray and rainy, a complete contrast to the sun-painted stroll of the prior. We decided it would be a worthwhile idea to walk together.
I walked with Marieke while Matilde and Franca trotted together a few meters ahead of us. Marieke was wearing a clear, plastic trashbag she claimed to be a poncho. “That’s not a poncho, that’s a trash bag!” - it took her awhile to warm up to my humor. Once we moved beyond the formalities, Marieke and I began to talk about almost every imaginable topic a human-being like me loves: psychology, purpose, meaning, meditation, freewill, learning, being. Eventually we exchanged the intellectual brevity for emotional depth: we talked about pain and love, relationships and ourselves, the finitude of our time in this world. In essence, we got vulnerable.
I realized that I, without a doubt, was growing attracted to her. I tried to brush it off because I didn’t want to feel this way – “this is not why I’m here,” I hopelessly convinced myself. But love and attraction don’t work like that, and I was reminded to surrender to the Way. “The Camino will give you everything you need,” echoed the Hospilatero. But was this something I needed?
As we walked on, I grew increasingly aware of the beauty around us: the colors and smells, the rhythm of my footsteps, the movements of nature. My senses were heightened, and I felt incredibly alive. Marieke too was clearly captivated –– by the droplets of water hanging from the leaves, by the dewy smell of the moist air, by the simple joy of feeling free. We moved in constant awe and admiration throughout the day. And before we were aware of it, we were in Zubiri.
The single shower in our albergue was occupied. Matilde and Marieke informed me that there was a shared shower room downstairs in the other building. So I went, believing that it would be unoccupied by other pilgrims since we had arrived later in the day. As I made my way toward the other building, I saw another young pilgrim walking toward it too, equipped with clean clothes and a small bottle of shampoo.
“Oh boy. I’m going to have to shower with another dude. Wait, there must be stalls. Yeah, it’s all good.”
There were no stalls. Only a long aisle with a single curtain hiding a row of shower-heads.
We went inside. He acknowledged me with a quick head-nod, and I nodded back. We stepped into the aisle. I turned my back to him and began to take off my clothes; he did the same, I think. I claimed a corner while he the other. And then we started showering, no more than six meters apart. I took my time, hoping that he would finish before me. He must’ve had the same thought, because we both stood there for several minutes, showering together in silence, serenaded by nothing more than the clashing of water against our exposed skin. Finally, I made the first move and finished my shower. He continued. I dried myself off, put my clothes on, and scurried out from the building. I reported my experience to the girls, and they went hysterical.
I saw him again later, and we gave each other a quick nod of acknowledgement.
“A man on the Camino told me he was walking because he wanted to find peace: peace with himself. Peace with nature. Peace with God.” – Marieke
The girls and I went to get a drink at the local bar. There we ran into Stefan, the tall, lanky, 18-year-old Texan. He had been drinking since 2pm and was clearly inebriated. We ate pizza - Spanish pizza! - and bantered on about our respective home countries.
Marieke left early to catch some alone time, and I went and did the same. Back in the albergue, I reflected on the day and wrote in my journal. Later, I went into the kitchen and found Marieke in the corner, writing as well.
While lounging around, I talked to a woman in her 60’s from the States. We exchanged some stories, she about her career and children, I about my recent adventures and worries for the future.
She reassured me, “It’ll work itself out, so don’t worry so much. Hell, I’m still learning how how not to.”
I never grew tired of telling my stories to different people. Each retelling refined or redefined the meaning I had derived from my experiences. I thanked the woman for listening and sharing her own stories.
Franca and Matilde returned from the bar, and we went to where Marieke was sitting. Later we enjoyed a community dinner with the other pilgrims and went to bed.