There’s very little room for mental or physical lazy-ness. Lights are on at 6:00 in the morning. All of the forty bunk beds start stirring in hopes of getting to one of the two bathrooms in the Refugio, before there’s a long queue. Days are starting to set-in to a routine: I lay out the toiletries and clothes at the foot of my bed every night; In the morning I get my stiff body down from the top bunk (they always save the bottom bunks for older pilgrims), grab my stuff and head to the bathroom, pack my bag and be out on the road by 6:30am. Mornings are the best times for me to walk. In the afternoons, my pace becomes painfully slow.
Today, for half of the day the route goes through a quiet dirt path at a pace that allows time and awareness to expand. I’m enjoying the freedom of walking at a little bit more comfortable pace with a manageable amount of uphill and downhill. By the afternoon, however, it’s contrasted by city sidewalks of Pamplona, a historical Spanish city of about population: 200,000. The largest city I’ve crossed so far. Clouds of pollution that hang in the air above are the biggest indication that you’re close to a city. Rolling meadows slowly turn into cement buildings where everyone is crammed together in unnaturally tight spaces.
|Streets of Pamplona, Spain|
As I enter the town, accustomed to greeting everyone I pass with a cheerful “Hola,” and getting an equally enthusiastic response in return, I’m surprised at the reactions I get. Most people just stare at me with a blank stare like I’ve broken some sort of a cardinal rule. While others are walking so fast that I don’t actually get see their reactions. I managed to get just a couple of smiles. Then I cross a group of guys, one of them yells out “Guapa,” which means pretty but it sounds so ugly coming from him because of the look in his eyes. I try to shake off that gross feeling and keep walking. The scene is the same as in any major city: streets filled with shops selling duplicates of everything from electronics to pastries, restaurants, and people chatting on cell phones, busily trying to get somewhere that they’re not. I’m ashamed to see a reflection of myself from my own life back home, and it scares me for a moment. Their eyes are either intensely looking for something or completely blank. It’s like they’ve all got the Stepford-wife syndrome. Most people seem to be sleepwalking, they’re moving, but there’s no one home. Everyone’s lost in the crowd. All of a sudden I feel like I can muscle out enough energy to walk over to the next town that is much smaller, instead of staying here as intended. The contrast between the pilgrim community against the regular city life seems too vast for the moment.
About five tiring kilometers later, there’s a small Refugio in the clean and beautiful Cizur Mejur. The town has two small mom and pop grocery stores that close for the afternoon siesta. They have more than enough for all my needs. A nice lady sells me some veggies to stir-fry at the kitchen in the Refugio, a baguette of bread, cheese, and some fruits for tomorrow. This is the most comfortable Refugio I’ve stayed at so far: A nice hot shower is my most favorite feature, so I can actually wash my hair; A small dryer so the thicker pants can be washed and dried tonight, and lots of friendly smiles – aching bodies, but friendly smiles. And eyes looking at you with such tenderness, and lips that ask how your blister is doing even though they don’t know your name, and may not ever see you again. These are the people who have come alive and are living their lives against all odds. They seem to remember that life can be a joy to live, not just a drudgery to go through each day but instead -- a gift to be unwrapped carefully and mindfully.