Written two nights ago. I owe you photos. No time now to work on them:
We woke early today — 5am. We set out from Nájera before sunrise, and saw that young Spaniards were still in the streets from the night before (clubs get started very late in Spain). As we passed one drunk girl yelled, “Peregrinos!” We were walking about three feet from her.
Leaving so early, we got to enjoy sunrise over the farmland. The sky was clear, just contrails from planes and a few wispy clouds here and there.
When the sun is out I’m Superman. My pack is weightless; I toss it around with one hand like it were a pebble. The camera doesn’t hang from my neck, it floats effortlessly at my waist. The muscles in my legs feel tight but never weaken or threaten to give out. My pace is quick.
We all were like this. We crossed kilometers faster than ever, stopping only to enjoy the views of the rolling green and brown and yellow hills, the sun-kissed vines reaching up from the soil, the distant snow-capped mountains.
We passed through a golf resort town. The tilt-up repetitive architecture reminded me of Florida. All buildings the same, parking lots between.
At one point, as I heard a distant church bell ring many times nothing to do with the hour, I asked Michele what day it was. Sunday, he told me. So I’ve been walking a day more than a week, and I’ve traveled more than 200 kilometers.
I find that I begin to understand Italian a little better every day. And I’ve learned a handful of words and phrases and verb conjugations. I can see how eventually, immersed for an even longer time, I could come to speak it. That could be a life well spent, no? Immersing yourself in other cultures and learning their languages and customs. That would be a happy life.
The simplicity of it reinforces what everyone always says — happiness isn’t the best TV or the fanciest car or the biggest paycheck or house. But as often as we all repeat that mantra, do we live by it? Happiness isn’t found in a 401K account either, but we’re told to do whatever work we must to build one up so that we can be happy later in retirement. What a concept! — wait until you’re old, then you can be comfortable and happy on the growth of your portfolio. Unless wealthy fools screw with the market in their efforts to make more billions than they have already, as they’ve been known to do from time to time.
I’m comfortable and happy right here right now with a pack on my back and the dirt underfoot and the sky and the grass and the faces of my friends. Life can be cheap and simple. I could live happily just on my savings, instead of blowing a big chunk of it on rent in LA while I look for work. I could make a life of this if I really set my mind to it.
But would that be enough for an ambitious person? Sarah caught up to us outside the golf town. We walked together at her quick pace and talked. During the conversation I mentioned that what I think I’ve always wanted was to be part of creating something bigger than me, and meaningful. Something that continues contributing to the world after I’m in my grave. Can you do that if you forsake everything to live a simple life?
Are happiness and ambition incompatible? Can’t be, that would be a cruel trick. I’m missing something about this. Maybe it will come.
Tonight we stay in the albergue parroquial, which is attached to the church. The hospitaleros are kind and generous. As I washed my clothes one spoke to me about how it is a blessing in disguise that I lost my job, because now I can be here. Silver lining. She’s not wrong.
Dinner will be at 8, all of the pilgrims together in the dining hall. It should be lovely. Our room is simple. All 15 of us will sleep on floor mats, and I’m glad. The shower water was cold and the floor uncomfortable on my feet, and I’m glad. But tomorrow I will bid farewell to Chiara and Lidia, and I’m sad.
After speaking to Sarah today I’ve decided that tomorrow I’ll travel over 30 kilometers, leaving very early, to continue my Camino with her. Chiara and Lidia will end their Camino tomorrow, perhaps in Belorado or perhaps farther on. Danilo will continue past even me, more than 40 kilometers. He wants to be in Santiago by May 22, I believe. Michele will decide in the morning how he feels about keeping up with either me or Danilo or continuing at his own pace.
Writing about saying goodbye to everyone makes me sad, so right now I won’t. I’ll deal with that later when I have distance, figurative and literal. Tonight will be a beautiful night, I think.