(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 3, 2005
Day 4: Cizur Menor to Puente la Reina, 26 km/16 m

When I awakened, my IS was sitting at my bedside, dressed and waiting. He smiled at me. I sat up and smiled back at him. A new word had popped into my head that I thought might work. I was hopeful. “Today, I walk solo,” I said.

His face grew long with concern and rejection. “Why? Why?” His eyes desperately searched mine.

My heart ached. “I need time with me,” I said, tapping my chest.

His eyes bulged with understanding, and he quickly grabbed his bag. “Okay, okay,” he said standing.

I apologized. I thanked him for two days of travel. He clung to his bag hiding his face a bit, and then he left quickly, as if embarrassed.

I felt terrible and relieved at the same time. I got dressed, packed up and moved into the kitchen where I soft boiled two eggs and smashed them between an open baguette with slices of cheese. I had learned a new way to cut the bread from Simon: into a V so that the contents stay in the crevice. Brilliant. I put my breakfast on a napkin and sat back down at the internet terminal, indulging my addiction one last time. I quickly dashed off an email to my friend Karen in Exeter.

Subject: Just Passed Pamplona
Date: Wed Mar 3 07:52:23 2005

Karen:

I’m here, and I’m already famous—for being the girl who has managed to bring so much in such a little bag. People are envious. They all have too much and must carry it. Nothing at the moment that I don’t have. Except heat.

The little woman here said it’s supposed to be bad weather all week. We’ll see. So far no rain. Maybe I can take the cold if it’s also not wet!

The refuges are very doable. Small and packed with bunk beds but there are so few of us that it’s fine. I think they’ll get more crowded as we go though. The closer to Santiago, the more people, I suppose. That might be the place I find hotels instead. Otherwise, it’s a bit like camping in a cabin. They have blankets and pillows but that’s all. Toilets in another building usually. Showers. Sometimes even hot water though that’s been sparse!

My hair is fuzzy. Mostly hidden under two hats.

Loving you,
Tess

I hit the trail, and I immediately started singing.

First, Gary Chapman came to mind. I had learned about Gary Chapman when he was married to Amy Grant. I’m not usually a fan of Christian music but I’d discovered Amy Grant’s music in college, and hers was the first that didn’t make me feel like I was being hammered by the Jesus message. Although some of the lyrics were a bit preachy with an overuse of the word, “saved,” often the music infected me. Her husband, Gary Chapman, has written some of my favorite songs. And this one found me on the Camino. When I couldn’t remember all the words, I started making up my own.

OH GOD,
FATHER IN HEAVEN AND EARTH
I CALL TO YOU
LIKE DEEP CALLS TO DEEP
OVER WATER
SHOW ME
YOU’RE ON THIS MOUNTAIN OF GRACE
LET TENDER MERCIES
SHINE WITH THE SUN
ON MY COLD COLD FACE
DEEP IN MY SOUL
THERE’S A CRAVING
TO FIND MYSELF
IN THIS HAVEN
OH GOD,
AS I KEEP TRAVELING SO FAR
I TRY TO STAY CLEAR
AND WALK WITH AN OPEN HEART

I changed the words and I made up verses, and that song moved with me and through me as I climbed the hill up to the windmills at the top of Alto de Perdon (Hill of Forgiveness). It was muddy and snowy and icy as I climbed. The higher I got, the more it snowed, big beautiful flakes. I loved the whiteness. Despite the snow, the peak featured some of the best scenery of the walk so far with panoramic views back to Pamplona and on to Puente la Reina ahead. And of course, the winds were fierce, captured by the towering turbines spread out across the ridgeline.

Alto de Perdon also offered a tribute to pilgrims on the Camino with cast-iron cutouts of travelers on foot and on horseback, and this inscription, a reference to the Milky Way:

Where the path of the wind
Meets the path of the stars

I paused briefly, turning myself around and around on that spot at the top of the world. It was breathtaking. But it was crazy cold. So I continued on down the other side, thinking about forgiveness, and letting the winds of it blow through me.

That’s when I decided to start my practice of Naikan, a type of therapy I’d read about that was supposed to help you understand yourself and your relationships. The word Naikan is Japanese for “self-reflection” or “inside looking.” And the therapy is based on taking the people in your life, one at a time, and asking these three questions:

1) What have I received from you?
2) What have I given to you?
3) What troubles and difficulties have I caused you?

The Hill of Forgiveness was the perfect place for me to start. I began with members of my immediate family, each one in turn, and then I moved out from there. I didn’t take any notes, I didn’t make any lists, I simply dropped my thoughts, step by step, and asked for healing. But when I came to my grandfather, the one who’d molested me as a child, I was utterly stumped by the third question. The reverse of the question is purposely ignored—what difficulties have other people caused us? Naikan assumes we’ve already spent the bulk of our time in relationship focusing on this sort of victim mentality and that doing so is responsible for much of our misery. I myself had spent at least fifteen years linking my biggest problems to my grandfather. And once I’d moved past that to forgiveness, I certainly wasn’t going to pick it back up and carry it with me across Spain. But when I asked myself what troubles and difficulties might I have caused my grandfather, I hadn’t a clue. It was something I would have to consider again another day.

That day, I lay down on the Camino a trail of my frozen tears.

As I reached Uterga, I was belting out Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind to the hammering construction workers on scaffolding in the center of town. Billy Joel comes with me wherever I go, particularly my favorite song of his, Summer Highland Falls.

THEY SAY THAT THESE ARE NOT
THE BEST OF TIMES
BUT THEY’RE THE ONLY TIMES I’VE EVER KNOWN
AND I BELIEVE THERE IS A TIME FOR MEDITATION
IN CATHEDRALS OF OUR OWN
NOW I HAVE SEEN THAT SAD SURRENDER
IN MY LOVER’S EYES
I CAN ONLY STAND APART AND SYMPATHIZE
FOR WE ARE ALWAYS
WHAT OUR SITUATIONS HAND US
IT’S EITHER SADNESS OR EUPHORIA

I love the idea of meditating in cathedrals of my own. And I particularly love that regardless of the situation, we choose our emotional experience. Sadness or euphoria. I was choosing euphoria. Singing and walking and dancing alone—with a world of comfort and love surrounding me—it was a level of bliss I’d never tapped before. And what occurred to me was something that had happened when I was in Spain the first time. My encounter with the motor scooter man aside, I remembered that I was so starved for American music, I spent nights singing and dancing every song I could think of, always ending with Summer Highland Falls. It was a euphoric experience of myself that started there. And now I felt that I had come full circle. Despite a moment in Spain that was tinged in sadness, I was recapturing euphoria on this land again. I thought about running back up the Hill of Forgiveness and proclaiming my discovery, but I trusted that Spain knew my intention and accepted my pardon/perdon. Besides, it appeared as though there was sunshine peeking through the clouds ahead of me, and with it, the promise of heat. I smiled with giddiness and continued on. The snow turned into rain at the lower elevations so I stopped for coffee in a bar and changed into my rain gear. By the time I’d finished my coffee, the rain had stopped. So I marched into the next town and stripped it all off again.

In Puente La Reina, the IS sat waiting outside the refuge for me. He wanted to know where I was staying. There were two refuges in Puente la Reina, and I had thought of going to the far edge of town for the second one. He followed behind me. There was a church on the way, and I decided to slip into it. He stood at the door waiting. It made me uncomfortable. When I began to take my bag off my back, he rushed to help me get it off. I was about to lean my trekking poles against the wall, and he held out his hand so he could hold them for me. I felt monitored in the church so I let my eyes take in its perimeter before quickly leaving. My IS helped me put my pack on like a coat, and we headed off to the refuge… only to discover that it was closed, and so we traipsed on back to the first one.

That refuge opened into a large common room with a kitchen, a long wooden table and a gathering of comfy chairs. The blue-eyed Simon looked up from his seat next to a roaring fire. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful welcome. Off the entrance room was another with a collection of sinks, toilets and shower stalls. And farther still was a dormitory of bunk beds. The only heat in the place was produced by that fire. I threw my bag on a bunk and took a shower—a cold shower. Still, in the time it took me to finish, my IS had gone to town and located places that had internet for me. Unbelievable. And adorable. Sort of.

I went to the closest one and sent an email to Lauren.

Subject: tales from the trails
Date: Thu Mar 3 17:31:13 2005

Greetings from Puente la Reina where the hillside is green, the sky is cloudy blue and the bridge over the water is a sight to behold. Goodness, today, is it day 4?

I had real moments of bliss on the trail today.

Billy Joel has arrived. He is everywhere in my travels, and I belted out his songs all over the countryside. I actually went into my first church today but didn’t stay long. It was dark and cold. And I was eager to get to the refuge and sit. For me, my temples so far are the refuges and the people who arrive in them. My church service is the steps I mark off across the trail. I don’t need churches. Not yet apparently.

Today, I took the people in my life, one at a time, and reflected on what I get from them, what I give to them. It’s a Buddhist form of introspection where you reflect on people in this way, and you reflect on times in your life in three-year periods. I will do more of this in the days ahead.

Conditions today were both cold and beautiful. The peak was at the top of a hill called Alto de Perdon, Hill of Forgiveness. It was muddy and snowy and icy. A spectacular whitewash. I am giving in to the cold and letting it be my experience. I have been plenty warm so far, at least when I’m moving. I must admit that sadly I carried the IS all the way up that hill—I carried my thoughts of him, his feelings for me, my need for distance. It was nice that when I reached the top, I was able to let him go. The views back to Pamplona and on ahead to Puente la Reina where I’m now staying were stunning. I could actually see sun poking through the clouds and thought it might be possible to find heat!

Just as I’d managed to drop the IS, I have acquired him again. In Puente la Reina, he sat waiting outside the refuge for me. When I put my bag down, he rushes to take it from me. If I drop a trekking pole, he pounces on it to give back to me. When I put my bag on, he is there to help. Good grief. I’m not sure what this is, what his need for me is. I am trying my best to not be annoyed, taking it as something for me to understand, I just don’t yet. If I can send him ahead tomorrow with my bag, that would be something.

I’m amazed by how many different ways there are to walk—strutting, ambling, short steps—all depending on what hurts and what needs stretching.

I am off to the supermarket for provisions. I’m hoping to find a bottle of wine. Tonight, I would like some wine. Oh, goodness, there is a fire in the room, oh, a fire, and I want to sit by it, toast my feet and toast my soul.

You are here, dear Lauren. Tell me your favorite song and if I know it, I will belt it to the skyline.

Hugs. Big ones. Embracing.

Tess

Simon, my IS and I were the only pilgrims in Puente la Reina that night. We all sat silently watching the fire, reading, writing in our journals, smiling at each other. Neither of the guys wanted to share the bottle of wine I’d found. Simon said he wasn’t drinking on the Camino. We all washed our clothes and hung them near the fire to dry. I felt comforted by my companions once again—the silence of them, the purity of their intent. I wrote in my journal:

Sitting by the fire, the blessed fire. Warm now, but it will be cold sleeping since this is the only heat and it’s not IN the room. It’s just me, Simon and my Italian Shepherd tonight.

I bought a bottle of wine hoping someone would join me in it. But that was not to be. I must decide if I’ll take what’s left with me tomorrow, though that seems absurd. I’d like to, but I try not to carry anything extra. It’s impossible to buy a half bottle of wine here.

Perhaps I’ll get hotel tomorrow night.

This fire is like heaven. Not so bad when there is fire. And wine. And good company—either people or books or email. I long to hear from Maureen. Her words are so sparse.

Oh, mesmerizing fire.

I wonder if I want a man in my life at all. I’m annoyed with the IS, and it makes me reevaluate men. Again. But Simon is here, and he is quite something—his pink cheeks, his bright eyes.

Is God here? Did I come to find God—more of God in my life? I’m not quite sure why I’m here—to test my endurance? To talk about it later? I must pray for more. For guidance. For answers. Or something.

I haven’t heard from my family. So many friends emailing me but not my family. But then I have not emailed them either.

Why did I come?

Oh, fire, burn wisdom into me. Keep me warm.