Day two… The altar of forgiveness…


Cizur Minor to Urtega

They say that everything happens for a reason. Maybe my coming on this trek has a purpose… Other than to show me how much pain I can actually be in. God is famous for his desire for suffering, and I am suffering. God…. Am I suffering.

Today I got up before first light. Two hours before, because I knew that the altar de Pedron was going to kick my ass…. And kick my ass it did. I rose from my bunk jet lagged and wired at four am and was on the road at five. Putting on my pack was hard. It was so heavy. I couldn’t believe how heavy it was.

I was also eager to beat the rain which was supposed to fall. Yes. Weather reports here are a cruel taunt to make you think it will actually be cooler. And to be fair, it was cooler.

Starting in the dark was both exciting and hard. I was the first pilgrim out. I groped my way out of Cizur Minor with my $7 headlamp on, and I can’t believe how happy I was to have it. While I was told it was waaaay too dim for much night stuff, it was awesome. The Spanish are awesome at marking the way for pilgrims, and only once was I in doubt on my way. By six, t he first pilgrims passed me. A bunch of speedy Germans. Like all Germans, they moved with a sense of purpose, like this was yet another fight one must plow through.

More and more went by as I heaved my bulk up the mountain. Sometimes, I could only go about ten feet/four meters before I had to rest again. It was rough and it was steep. I truly don’t think I have ever sweat so much in my life. One foot in front of the other. It was sooo hard.

What made it worse was some of the men who went blazing past with barely an acknowledgement other than a dark look as to tell me I didn’t belong on his path. Yes. There is sizeism on the camino. Never from women. Women look at me and are like…wow! Go you! Men get that snarky ‘spandex is a privilege and not a right’ expression. Fuck’em.

But then you have these moments of such amazing kindness. I met this Italian man half way up, and we talked, but he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Italian. He was from Como, but a native of Calabria, where I am thinking of living. It is amazing how much you can communicate with someone through mime and smiles. He was genuinely happy to see me on the trail, and wished me buen camino with a big smile. He soon went on his way around a bend in the path. When I made it that far, he was still there and had a handful of blackberries in his hands. He had picked them for me from the bushes at the side of the trail, I think because he was worried about me. It was such an act of kindness, I can’t even articulate how it made me feel.

Another neat moment was a Polish fellow who wanted to tell me something, but again, until we found that we had German as a common language, wasn’t going so well. I have to say, after five months in Canada, my German is really vanishing. We chatted as the sun rose (or he chatted as I gasped for breath!!) and then said perhaps he would see me again, and wished me a buen camino!

Half way up the altar is the village of Zariquiegui. When you walk into town, there is a water fountain there. I had forgotten to fill my camel bladder when I left the hostel, so for the last km, I was out…and water was never so much in need. I filled it from this fountain, and it was literally the best water ever.

The best ‘blank’ ever is a theme on the camino. Every shower is the best shower ever. Every meal is the best you have ever had, and hot water that tastes of rubbery plastic is a joy with every squirt in your mouth. When I got to the fountain, I ate my breaky of a day old sandwich I made the morning before in Pamplona, and while I can’t actually call it the best Sammy ever, because the bread was older than Jesus at that point, it was pretty damn good.

I sat there for a while, talking to pilgrims as they passed, because I really needed the rest. I am not used to being so out of shape, but to be fair, Canada wasn’t so healthy for me. Pounds up and walking down. C’est la vie. Met this great couple from South Africa there who were very excited when I said I was a military historian. The gentleman had to mention that he was a boer and did I know about the boer war! More British oppression of… Well… Everyone! Damn you, England! My nickname of ‘Birdie’ sounds really cool in an Afrikaans accent.

I finally made it up to the top, where the famous statues are. I shouted for joy! It was so hard to get there, and you think that getting up there will make it all ok. It sort of does, but I also felt pretty broken by it. People came up, took a picture and trotted off down the other side. I gasped more. I also took pics for people! It was a great experience… Might have been more so without the truck parked there, shilling for an albergue and selling drinks. That felt needlessly something that I can’t define!

Met another super sweet woman, a little younger than my mother, with MS, and we ended walking down together! To me, she was a dynamo! She was even caminoing in a trekking skirt. I think it was a macabi? Totally cool, but if I did that, my thighs would be ground beef… Or to use the German word, hackfleisch.

But then… Horror of horrors… Going down the mountain was as bad as going up! Sleep, slippery rock face! I planted my walking sticks in and went down. Black diamond trekking poles with anti shock! I can’t say enough good things about them. I have to say that when I have my poles going, I feel like the huge, un gangly spider machine from the remake of Wild Wild West! Goes through my mind every time I get going down hill and it never gets old!

Pulled into Urtega and collapsed for the night. Man… Best shower ever.

altar de Pedron

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