Day 5: Solitude

"Man was not meant to be alone"...but sometimes he is.

Or, the day I realize I am not as introverted as I thought.

Move over, Day 3. Day 5 takes the cake - it's just as long, a little harder, and a lot lonelier.  

In an attempt to catch up with some other pilgrims from my "family", I take a bus into Pamplona and have WiFi with a side of breakfast at Ogi Berri (as an American, I laugh a little inside when I say the name...but it translates to, "new bread").  Unfortunately, my attempts to connect with the others who had spent the night in Pamplona are unsuccessful. 

Overwhelmed by the sudden intrusion of a large city, I quickly set off on my own towards the next destination, Puente La Reina. As I reach the edges of Pamplona, an overwhelming sense of loneliness suddenly weighs on me. A long straightaway stretches ahead into what might best be called the suburbs, and in the unexpected quiet, there's hardly anyone else on the road. 

Perhaps most pilgrims left early or stayed in Pamplona, but by the time I make it to a small, deserted park on the other side of Cizur Menor, I single-handedly devour the Kinder eggs I had brought to share with anyone I happened to walk with that day. 

On the edge of town, as the path turns toward descendants of Quixote's giants, through vast, glowing fields of sunflowers, a pilgrim passes me, walking the opposite direction. Though he only utters a brief, "Buen camino," what I hear is, "I understand" and "you're not alone."

As soon as he passes, the tears come, because, once again, I am alone. 

By early afternoon, I arrive in Zariquiegui, which sits just before the final ascent to Alta del Perdon. The bar at the albergue San Andres offers a welcome break, and I stop for lunch and a siesta on the grass beneath the bell tower of the church next door. I am honestly not sure if I will continue. 

After a long nap, I continue towards Alta del Perdon, accompanied only by the eerie murmurs of the wind turbines rising up on the ridge ahead. Finally reaching the iconic sculpture, an albergue owner and his young daughter, from Urtega, offer me ice water and take my photo by the towering, wind-blown pilgrims. 

Dreading another descent, I turn down the steep, rocky path on the other side of the ridge. The wind turbines cede their role as companions in my loneliness to the butterflies that flit around on this section of the path. 

Ten hours after I begin, I come upon Urtega. By this point, fatigue and stomach cramping warn that it would be unwise to continue on to Puente La Reina, so I decide to abandon my plans and give up for the day. As with every town I have passed through today, Urtega appears to be deserted, but I finally come across the albergue called Camino del Perdon. Turning into the yard, I am surprised to find S, from Denmark, resting on one of the patio chairs. She greets me with a smile and a hug, and says the sweetest words I have heard so far on the pilgrimage: "the rest are inside." 

I hurry into the bar to find the Danes and the Americans with cold beers and playing games around one of the wooden tables, and I am flooded with relief and joy. I'm home!

And it's the 4th of July. 

Once we settle in, we are treated to a feast in the back dining room, another memorable meal of the pilgrimage, properly concluded with a boisterous sing-along to the national anthem by Americans and non-Americans alike. 

Some of us decide to take our sleeping bags out to the chairs under the awning on the front patio, drifting to sleep just as we begin to hear a light rain begin to fall. We wait for a time with the soothing rhythm and the delightful coolness, before gathering up our things and returning to our bunks for the night. 

Life can be lonely, but the loneliness won't last forever. 
Life can defeat us, but in the surrender, sometimes we find our greatest treasure.