“Nats, magic happens in the Camino,” Esther, my Catalan friend once told me. She has the gift of foresight, I concede because a series of “magical moments (though they may sound insignificant) happened right at dinnertime last night and today, my first day of my Camino.
I stopped eating fish more than a decade ago. I know this sounds crazy but it’s the way it is, I dont eat fish. Anyway, it was too early to hit the sack at six in the evening last night, so I went out for a walk. I bumped into a restaurant that offered a menu for pilgrims at €9.5. The waiter led me to a table with two middle-aged ladies and a thirty-something man. The man and the woman are from Denmark and the other lady is from Bilbao. All three of them except me had already started their Camino in France. The conversation started in English but later on, mother and son shifted to Danish and the Basque lady and I in Spanish. It turned out that the restaurant had already decided what food to serve us.
For starters, we had zucchini soup. Not bad, actually.
The main course arrived. Fish! With French fries as side dish. I looked at the fish staring in front of me. f@#%! I saw the couple at the other table return their plates to the waiter and he came back with two plates of fried eggs. I was tempted to do the same but then I thought otherwise. “I am doing the Camino and I am going to eat this freaking fish.”
“This is a trout. Trucha in Spanish. In Basque country, we normally serve this rolled with a piece of ham,” the Basque lady proudly informed us. At first, I ate my fish minuscule by minuscule. Followed by a swig of red wine to wash away the fishy taste. But then, I realized it didnt have this fishy-thingy that usually makes my stomach churn. I ended up eating everything to the bones.
The earplugs didnt work. I called it a day at nine, the earliest in ages. But at half past nine, I was awoken by a cacophony of all kinds of snores: the baritone snore, the falsetto, the rattlesnake snore, the roar of the lion, the whistle and the shy snore. The lights went out at exactly ten o’clock. All of a sudden, the sound of thousands of flipflops and rubber sandals squeaking against the floor enveloped the whole room as if there was a stampede of wild ducks running for safety escaping from a gang of wolves. This time though, the destination was not the swamps, but the toilets!
I woke up at half past five, took a shower, got dressed and prepared to take my leave. The Dutch volunteer opened the door of the albergue as soon as he saw me ready and set. “That way. Buen Camino!” There was nobody outside. I couldn’t see anything except the fog that had wrapped the whole courtyard. It looked creepy but I walked on following the yellow arrows.
I got lost after just walking for several meters. The arrow disappeared. There was no one to ask. I stood there hoping for a miracle. I took out a banana and munched it slowly. Two minutes later, two ladies appeared and I discreetly followed them. After thirty minutes, I was already inside a forest. It was dark and yes, foggy. But fifteen minutes later, it is as if a curtain had been drawn and gave way for the light to pass through the trees. It was oh so bright and such a beautiful view.
I passed by small villages, vast fields, rivers, creeks and walked on steeps paths. Then I got lost again after making a turn. I was facing three paths. No yellow arrows, mind you. I stopped. I could only hear birds singing. I listened and listened hard. Then I heard voices from afar, two ladies. I walked to the direction of the voices and I was on track again. I reached the end of the path leading to a two-way street. “Where is the freaking arrow?” I stopped and listened. I saw a figure from afar and I walked to his direction but I realized he was not a perigrino. Then out of the blue, a man in uniform, a policeman no less, came out of the building and pointed at the arrow in front of me. “But it was not there before!”
So here I am, already clean and full at four in the afternoon in a small room somewhere in Zubiri. I have walked 23 kilometers in six hours. My feet are aching and I can feel the strain on my shoulders. But then, I feel happy. I have made friends with lots of people along the way too. Tomorrow I will be up again at six. My next destination is Pamplona.
So how did I get to know about this place? I was sitting on a bench in the town square looking at my list of albegues and hostels to spend the night when a familiar face came towards me. The Basque Lady! “Nats, at eight euros! Go! I am staying there too.”
Another night in a room sharing with forty people, my fellow peregrinos. And yes, I am ready to get lost again but then, as what Esther said, there is magic in the Camino.