So I’m in Spain. I came out early to suss out El Camino (aka Santiago de Compostela), which is an old medieval pilgrimage route through the North of Spain, and also a tour I am leading in a few days. I haven’t done the whole thing before, so I thought it best to come early and do it, despite the trail being “well-marked” and easy to follow…
I started my walk just outside of Pamplona, but my destination was a small church that my group would be commencing their Camino from – Santa Maria de Eunate. After walking on the path for about an hour, I saw the church from a distance. And I saw my first good sign just before the smaller path to the church, which was “Puente la Reina 5.5km” – the town I was headed. So I made a detour off my path to the church which was so lovely and interesting I ended up spending about an hour there. When I got back on the road, it was already late in the day. I went back out to the path behind the church which I had come from, which seamed natural to do – natural to an idiot I guess. But I was none the wiser. I was super high off of being on El Camino, and I could see no one around and the sun was shining and the tall grass was blowing and I was walking through the rolling hills – I was doing it! And I was very happy!
Then I came to a fork in the road, with no signage. Hmm… El Camino is a walk that thousands of people do, every year, and as I mentioned already it is a well-marked path. You will always see a sign to indicate which way you should be going – especially at any decision point. So I thought this was a bit weird, but I took a 50/50 shot and walked down to the right. I won’t bore you with the details, but I got lost for about 2 hours, and ended up back at the initial fork in the road.
I took of my backpack off and left it on the side of the road as I jogged down the other way to see if I could see any Camino signs. Still no signs! I sat down, then it dawned on me. I had seen many pilgrims at the church, why hadn’t I seen any since I left – we were all headed the same way? And why was there no sign of human activity anywhere? No houses, no pilgrims, nothing. I looked at the brick shelter I was sitting in front of, and considered the very possible reality that I may have to sleep in it, since it was already 7:30pm. Would it really come to this? I was so mad at myself, and I was hungry, the kind of hungry where you start envisioning piping hot KFC and mashed potatoes being thrown into your face. I looked through my backpack for my granola bars I had brought, I couldn’t find them anywhere of course. Angrily I started taking out all my clothes, my socks, my underwear, boxes of tampons, my shoes, books, everything that was not a fucking granola bar. But I finally found it, and it was glorious. I sat in the exploded mess from my backpack which was all over the road – alone, hungry and lost.
Deep in thought, I finally concluded that I should walk back all the way to the church I had come from, and then hitch-hike, most likely the dark, to Puente la Reina (sorry mom). It was a really depressing thought. The one day I had to figure out how to do the walk I had completely failed. I was a loser, the most ridiculous tour guide anyone could ever ask for, and a gross sweaty mess. I packed up all my crap back into my backpack and I started walking back, shoulders sunken, with the sun going down on my left hand side as a gentle reminder that I was going the wrong way, going backwards.
When I was about half way back to the church I saw a vision, a white van speeding along the road, the first sign of humanity that I had seen in hours. I jumped up and down waving like an idiot. I didn’t even ask him for a ride, I was too embarrassed, but I did ask the way to Puente la Reina. It was down another road that I had missed. Turned out that sign that had said “Puente la Reina 5.5km” was actually signalling me off the path. The driver, who also happened to be an extremely handsome man, offered me a ride to Puente la Reina. I was so tired I could barely string my limited Spanish words together, but I said yes, and he dropped me off. Like a handsome knight in shining armour. As the dust settled, and he sped away, I wondered just how gross I actually looked.
I made it to my hotel, which was adorable and old romantic worldly, much like the rest of the Puente la Reina. The following day I met a friend who I had met in Pamplona, who was arriving on foot, a fellow real pilgrim. I told him the story of how I got lost, and we had beers and laughed about it, because no one gets lost on El Camino – really. We were standing on an old Roman bridge, watching the sunset, and the Spaniards fishing and the kids playing soccer on the grass below us. Getting lost isn’t such a big deal, everyone has their own Camino, and you all end up in such a beautiful place anyway. Even the idiots.