The River Arga
The Albergue Zaldikko, in Zubiri, was comfortable and friendly. This being only my second night staying at these simple dwellings, I am impressed by the breadth of services, considering the price; usually under 10 euros, or $13.00. It was the first Albergue when you come over the bridge into Zubiri from the Camino trail, and there was a simple bar/restaurant just around the corner that served the Menu de Peregrino for the pilgrims. I’ll just say that the local draft beer was delicious and nutritious after walking about 14 miles.
I’ll speak of it now and then I’m just going to leave it alone…. The Albergue Zaldiko, like most I expect I’m going to come across in each town, had a laundry service (they’ll do it for you), showers, sitting area with WIFI, a microwave oven, and a café machine that cost less than 1 euro. Ok, you might know where I’m going, and, yes, I did walk the distance from Roncesvalles to Zubiri, as I will each day walk out a pressing distance, but is this really a PILGRIMAGE, or a vacation. As I walked along towards Pamplona, I couldn’t help but think of another time – maybe 800-900 years ago – when pilgrims were working their way to Santiago just as I am now. I have trails, they probably didn’t. I have trails with markers, they probably didn’t. I’ve got my waterproof boots, ergonomic backpack, and special lightweight clothing. They’ve got some rags stuffed in a bag and hanging on a stick slung over their shoulder. And of course, I’ve got this super-duper, lightweight ultrabook computer – full windows 8 touch screen – that can reach out to about anywhere in the world. They can always yell, and maybe some wolves will hear them and ponder what goes with human fricassee.
So my point is, and I can already see the statistics around me as I watch other pilgrims and find the opportunity to talk to them, a PILGRIMAGE, for contemporary men and women is clearly a state of mind accompanied by a sensible deprivation of worldly comforts and services.. The deprivation part is simple; I’ll have braised oxtail rather than prime rib. I’ll drink water rather than soda. I’ll walk rather than ride. I’ll forego having someone carry along behind me a refrigerator stuffed with my favorite goodies. I actually have only two pairs of underwear, and I guess I’ll rinse them out in the sink and hang them on the end of my bed when I go to sleep. Oh yeah, I’m sleeping in a room with four to one hundred other pilgrims; who all stink as badly as I do, and snore, as I do.
“Oh Jeffrey, I forgot to make my usual appointment with Susannah for my facial today! Oh Jeffrey, what am I going to do now? You know Jeffrey, I feel just like a pilgrim. Let’s have turkey for supper.”
Ok, I’m getting tired of my attempts at humor. Deprivation obviously isn’t the key factor here, because deprivation is relative to what you’re accustomed to have access to on a daily basis.
No, a pilgrimage is a state of mind, and in today’s modern world, it is being redefined as a journey with moral underpinnings of an absolute nature. Simply put, it’s Christ. I’m seeing this in the faces of the pilgrims out here, and I’m hearing this in their words. It’s there in all the languages and in all the multitude of reasons why one is out here to begin with. There is a common and sincere desire – a search – for the absolute; something they can hang their hat on and know it won’t be stolen or out of fashion in the morning. One pilgrim can call it Buddhism, another can talk about being between jobs, another can note their children are all grown up and have moved away, while another is too fearful to stop walking; believing the absolute can only be experienced in walking The Way. (I’m hearing of a man that has been walking The Way for two years straight; just going back and forth between St. Jean and Santiago de Compostela.)
Not all out here are pilgrims. Many come just to walk – staying at interesting, little hotels, and dining on the fabulous Spanish food – so they usually walk a section of The Camino; say from Pamplona to Logrono, or Sarria to Santiago. Others are bicycle freaks, and they show up in packs to swarm the hillsides with their “uumph, uumph, uumph” pedal strokes and chiming bells that sends you to the side of the trail so they may pass. But I can see that most of the pilgrims are here to capture a period of time they believe they can never receive in the modern world; a moment in the absolute and not the relative.
I’m here for that absolute. I’m here to learn how to hold onto the absolute in a relative world. I’m here to discover what it is that I must give up in order to follow Christ. The story in the Gospels where the wealthy, young man comes running up to Jesus and asks Him what he must do in order to receive eternal life is the story of all of our lives; a story in which we all must write our own ending. “What is it that we must put away from ourselves in order to please God, and thus find happiness and peace?” That’s the pounding question, and the answer will always be unique to each of us. That’s why there will be more than 135,000 pilgrims walking The Way this year.
Let’s look at some of the photos I took during this stage of my pilgrimage.
Something that’s missing in the photos I’m showing here, is something that requires your presence out here, in the rural land of Spain. As I walked along the many narrow paths I frequently heard the gentle “clank, clunk, clank, clunk” of cowbells hung about the necks of cows; slowing grazing their way through life. It might be far away on the wind, or just beyond the stiff brush alongside the trail that I walk. And when I heard it, these past three days, I found myself resetting the “who I am” into the “who I want to be”. What clinched it was the farmer – the steward – that came walking up the trail towards me, giving me his gentle nod of respect and moving on to his career as a human being created by God – a steward of God’s land. For me, it was both mind-blowing and reassuring. “Mind-blowing” in that our modern world promises us everything and guarantees us that we don’t have to steward anything. “Reassuring” in that true happiness is about the simplest to achieve when you understand that to tend to what God has given you, and not what man has given you, that is the key to life. God has gifted us all to the measure we have been created for as a unique person. When we tend to our gifts, and not to our desires, we are the stewards that God has asked us to be.
Here’s a few more photos as we approached Pamplona, and finally in the old city of Pamplona, where we encountered a Catholic procession for the communion of young girls and boys. Two persons I met out on the trail, Allison and Kate, along with myself, will be staying at the Jesus and Maria Albergue for the evening. Should be interesting as it holds over one hundred pilgrims in an ancient building that has been retro-fitted in modern accommodations and numerous bunk beds.
Buen Camino and God Bless – Reese