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Camino Frances (Part 3) : Pushing through the pain...

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

I had been told that within the first week of the Camino I could expect to be challenged at all levels: physically, mentally and spiritually. Sure, I thought... how bad can that be? Boy was I challenged; spiritually, mentally and physically. All this on Day 3 of my Camino.

I started out well, having had a great breakfast I loaded up my back pack and headed out. No more walking with a day pack, now was the time to carry my load.

It was a magnificent morning. There was a crispness in the air and a light snow blanketed the fields and trees.

I had a song in my heart and skip in my step. I was walking for the first time on my own #solocamino #camino, carrying my back pack, not knowing where I was going to sleep that night or even how far I would walk that day... and I was feeling fantastic!

Not even this sign could dampen my spirits or overwhelm me...

I can't begin to explain the beauty of walking through fields, glades and valleys. There were pilgrims in front of me, pilgrims behind me. Those that passed greeted with "Buen Camino" to which I cheerily responded "Buen Camino". I came to understand that the tone with which this is said is a great indicator of the mood of the pilgrim and how open or shut they are to company. Quite amazing that two words can reveal so much.

I spent probably the best part of the morning walking and chatting to various people along

the way.... light banter always starting with: "so where are you from?" as not many recognised the South African flag on my back pack. Its a practice to sew your country's flag to your back pack and you will find that many pilgrims who don't know your name will call to you by country. "Hey South Africa!" and this is usually to call you to join them or walk with them.

I had come across Mari, an Australian pilgrim (thats her in the distance) who was literally slow strolling. I thought I was walking tortoise pace, but she made me look like the hare! Her back pack was heavy, unbalanced and looked like it held all her worldly possessions. I drew near and greeted her, "Buen Camino" and she responded slowly, sad and almost lost. I couldn't help myself, and asked if I could walk a while with her.

At first we were quiet but then as the rhythm of our steps sounded in the air, we started chatting and she opened up. Again I found myself listening, leaning into her story, appreciating that my life and recent experiences paled in comparison to hers. My heart went out to her and I felt her pain. Mari had been retrenched not once but three times in the past year. Fed up with her life, she took the last of her money, packed her belongings into her back pack and headed to Spain to walk the Camino. She had no time limit and didn't know how far she would walk or how long her money would last. All she knew is that when she had answers, she would know that it was time to go home. I admired her so much and felt so small in that moment. (I would bump into Mari later on my journey and encountered a different person to the one I walked a few miles with - a woman with an answer). I moved on, my pace a little faster than hers and I sensed our interlude was over.

The day had gone so well, before I knew it I was at Alto Erro some 6 kms (3,72miles) from

Zubiri a small town 21 kms (13,2 miles) from Roncesvalles. I was elated. I was not tired and had thoroughly enjoyed the hills, putting into practice zigzagging and using my poles correctly. I stopped for refreshments and a break at a "kiosk" I found in the middle of nowhere. I would come to enjoy this along the Camino as many locals set up these types of businesses to provide for pilgrims.

Little did I know how this last stretch would challenge me. It was not long before I encountered the steep shale downhill to Zubiri. I had never walked on shale before, but nothing prepares you for the strain it puts on your knees and feet. The shale causes you to slide and this is exacerbated when carrying a load on your back. I tried the techniques Marco had taught me - not even that helped. Within the first few kilometres/miles my left knee gave in. I had searing pain each time I stepped on my leg. I knew that an old injury (compressed cartilage) had reoccured. Those last kms/miles took me a few hours and each jarring step was like a red hot poker being driven up my leg. The tears streamed down my face and here I was convinced that this was the end of my Camino.

Not far from town a couple offered to take my back pack to lighten the load so to speak. I couldn't knowing that it was too heavy and that it was my load to bear. What was it that the Universe was teaching me here? Why was it not easy to accept help? I felt so alone, so small in the grand scheme of things. I couldn't positively respond to other pilgrim greetings choosing to rather mumble.

I dragged myself step by step into Zubiri. Not having booked ahead, every Albergue I found was 'Completo' (full). I expected that I would have to sleep in the open. I moved on down through town and found a Farmacia (Pharmacy) which, can you believe it, was closed! Closed at 3:30pm, really? This was my introduction into the Spanish siesta culture. I would soon learn that everything, and I mean everything, shuts down between 2pm and 4:30pm each day. The Spanish emerge around 5pm and then pretty much socialise and dine into the night.

As I was about to collapse in a heap of uselessness, when like an oasis in a desert, I saw the flags of a new Albergue just across the way. I knocked and when the door opened, I stood there, tears running down my face - I couldn't be refused. The owner took my pack, immediately set me down and helped me remove my shoes. He brought me some freshly squeezed orange juice and assured me that he would arrange a bunk for me. The next thing he arranged for a Physio to come see me. She worked for about an hour on my knee and directed that I should rest up for a day or two or at least refrain from carrying my back back for a while. Needless to say I opted for the latter. They arranged for pain killers and a knee brace from the Farmacia. I was so grateful to them. What an amazing Albergue, what an amazing owner.

I learned this day that I don't need to carry a load, I can put it down and walk unburdened into my future. I learned too that there are people around you that are there to provide you support and care when you need it most and I learned that you are never alone. When I think back clearly on those last kms/miles - there were many offers of help which i didn't hear or turned down: guilt/pride/self-persecution?

21.9 kms (13,5 miles) achieved. I did make two key decisions that day: a) I would preplan my walk and book accommodation ahead of time and b) I was going to slack pack the rest of the Camino. With these decisions made, I had a very good night and a much needed rest.

Tomorrow would be another day...