I am up for breakfast in this very nice gite in good time. It is vey strange to be contemplating the fact that this is my last day on the camino, that I will today have completed the 1,500 kilometre journey that I set out on over 5 years ago.
Robert tells me at breakfast that he did not sleep well and that there is a direct correlation between getting up too early (before the lights come on) and the number of plastic bags that one uses in one’s backpack. He quietly identifies several women with whom he will not share a room in the future. He was in a different room from me.
The camino from here to Pamplona runs along a valley which also carries the main highway and traffic north, so we are never out of earshot of the traffic. A German woman, tall, strong, in her early 40s, catches up to me and walks with me all the way into Pamplona. She takes few photos but when she does I recognise the pattern and ask her if she is an architect. She is. Claudia has her own business in her city not far from Frankfurt.
For most of the distance we are on the east side of the valley, running parallel to the highway and quite flat. We cross the highway and do a series of these annoying little hills that the folks in France like to use as the chemin. Then we enter the suburbs of Pamplona and walk through unusually well-marked streets to get to the centre of the city.
When we cross the last bridge before we climb into the old town Claudia turns to me and says; “Well, you are here. How does it feel to be finished?” And the answer is; “Quiet satisfaction” and it is quite true. It is the 29th of May and I have walked about 750 kilometres since the 22nd of April, about 6 weeks. I have been wondering for some time how I would feel, whether I would have the feeling of anti-climax that I had in Santiago five years ago. Happily I don’t.
We walk to the front steps of the Hotel Maissonave where I started in April of 2007 and then I feel completed. The circle is truly closed. Claudia takes a pictuure of me with the hotel sign, I check in, Claudia goes off to find her gite and I send a message home to Carroll and to the Hospice at May Court that I am in Pamplona and the walk is over. And I think; “Not bad for an old guy”.
After showering and changing into clean (cleaner) clothes I go to the train station, get my ticket for Barcelona, visit the cathedral to get my pilgrim passport stamped and head off to the Plaza del Castillo, where I make one tour of the Plaza and see no-one I know. I find a strategically located bar and sit there nursing a beer. Someone comes up behind me and covers my eyes.
It is Mirielle from Strasbourg. She and Marcel join me, then Robert shows up and he joins us. We all enjoy basking in the sun, drinking a beer – somehow they keep coming – until 6 when Marcel and Mirielle go off for some errand. We agree to meet here and figure out where will go for dinner. At 7:30 when they return I haven’t moved. So we decide to eat right here.
There is a little boy somewhere between three and four, black hair, black eyes, round face, wearing a red short-sleeved T-shirt and red shorts playing here just beyond our table. He has a red rubbery thing that looks like a bright red sea urchin and he is kicking it happily back and forth in an open space. He waits if people walk by and then gives it another good kick. I think that there might be a soccer gene and if there is, this little boy has it.
Dinner is about what you might expect in a tourist trap restaurant but it is flavoured with bad jokes in several languages. Mirielle and I speak French and English, Marcel speaks only French and Robert is about 15 percent fluent in French … but it works. After dinner I spot Claudia walking in the Plaza and I catch up to her. She is happy to join us. She speaks German, French and English.
Robert has to be in his gite by 10 – he missed the curfew in Roncevalles and almost got to spend the night outside, so he has been sensitised – and Mirielle and Marcel say goodbye and promise to be in Ottawa in September. I have to have the Thatcher gite stamp ready by then for their pilgrim passports. It is to include an upside-down turtle and a snail. I think there’s a message for me there.
Claudia and I sit for another hour and talk about all sorts of things. I really don’t want this evening to end. Eventually it starts to get chilly and even the Spaniards are starting to leave the Plaza. So it is goodbye to her, with a promise to keep in touch and back to my hotel for a well-earned sleep.