30 May – A Last Day in Pamplona



Victoria (dark) and Patricia (blond)

I arrived here yesterday and I will leave tomorrow for Barcelona, where I will meet Carroll on 2 June. Today the only thing planned is a dinner at the Iruña Restaurant with the two German girls, Patricia and Victoria. They stopped yesterday somewhere short of Pamplona and are coming in today from the north, so we arranged dinner together. The Iruña is where I ate one night in 2007 while waiting for my errant backpack before leaving by foot for Santiago, so I remembered its name and location in the Plaza del Castillo. The Iruña is also a place that Hemingway made famous in ‘A Sun Also Rises’, written mostly here in 1926. Hemingway features on every menu at the Iruña, so they are doing him a reciprocal favour.

I am sitting at a strategically placed table in a cafe at the corner of the Plaza del Castillo. I think that anyone I know will have already passed through Pamplona and will be on their way to their destination. I order a beer and am sipping on it when I spot two guys I know. I cannot for the life of me remember who they are but I catch their eye and they turn and walk in with cries of; “Guy, Guy”. We greet each other with big hugs and then I try to figure out who they are. It takes a while as they give me increasingly obvious clues – it’s like a TV game show, and then I have it.

They are two of the three brothers from Campuac back in late April. The third brother arrived by car with all three wives and in the morning we all walked off on the chemin for a couple of days. They are Pierre and Jacques, the two brothers who are walking all the way to Santiago. Why are they so late to be here? They ought to be at least 100 kilometres farther along the camino by now. It turns out that one of them has developed a sore shin that requires a day off every few days to recuperate, but he is determined to walk all the way, so here they are. They enjoy a beer with me, then leave to walk on for a few more kilometres today to a place called Cizor Menor, five kilometres beyond Pamplona.

I go back to my hotel for a siesta – I am in Spain, after all, then about about 6:30 I walk back to the Plaza to meet the German granddaughters. As I walk across the Plaza, I meet the Dutch woman who had so much trouble with privacy a few days ago, along with her friend who has now joined her. I hope that her issues will diminish as she travels the camino. The gites (albergues in Spain) don’t pay a lot of attention to personal privacy.

As soon as I sit down in front of the Iruña, Patricia and Victoria appear looking radiant in their skirts and their youth. We order a paella for three and cannot eat more than about half of it. It is a bit of a trick since there are whole shrimp in the shell and big pieces of chicken in the paella and we are issued nothing but a fork each, plus one big spoon in the paella. So it is very Mediterranean to pick pieces out of the paella with our fingers, dismembering the shrimp from its shell and using only the right hand of course in the paella. I do hope we all remembered how to clean ourselves using only the left hand.

After dinner we head off just outside the Plaza for ice cream. The ladies insist that since I bought dinner, at my request as an honourary grandfather, that they buy the ice cream. I acquiesce and we all get a variation on chocolate. Mine is chocolate with orange, always a favourite with me. We sit together on a bench and eat our ice cream as I wonder if I will ever see these fine young people again. We exchange offers of a pilgrim welcome if they get to Ottawa or I get to Leipzig. I do hope that it happens.

Eventually it starts to get quite chilly and we reluctantly – at least for me – say goodbye and head off to our various beds. In the morning I leave for Barcelona where I will meet Carroll in a couple of days. I am reluctant to have this journey end, although it must end, as all journeys do, even this magic one we call life.

What have I learned on this journey across France? One of the first lessons is a realisation that, five years ago when I wrote rather smugly in ‘A Journey of Days’ that “There are no new lessons learned, just the same old lessons relearned”, I assumed that the lessons I noted then were all the lessons there were for me to relearn. What I have learned on this journey is that I will keep on learning new lessons or relearning old lessons as long as I draw breath. So I AM both older and wiser now than I was five years ago.

A major lesson is the need to be able to withstand setback and failure. In 2011 I intended to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Pamplona, about 850 kilometres. I walked (and rode) only about 130 before deciding to pack it in and go home. My reason was valid. I thought that I was experiencing potentially serious cardio-vascular problems and the Aubrac plateau was a very bad place to have medical difficulties.

There was often no cell phone coverage and I believed that a minor heart problem there could turn very nasty. All those little jokes about the tasteful little memorial to the Canadian pilgrim (me) didn’t seem quite so funny all of a sudden, especially since I have passed several tasteful little memorials to other pilgrims who died here and didn’t expect to.

Of course you know that the medical community in Ottawa tested me thoroughly and found no underlying cardiac problem, but I do have now and probably had then, diabetes. It is controlled with a pill every morning and a little care with my diet. Like not too much ice cream.

There is a big difference between having a failure and being a failure. Having a failure is a temporary condition, a setback if you like while being a failure is a statement of a life condition. I had a failure last year, but I am not a failure because of it.

There will be many more lessons but I have to think more about them and get them straight in my head. I am too tired right now to do them justice and, since I now accept that there many be lots of new lessons, I am reluctant to miss any. So they will come later.

I appreciate all of you who have kept up with me as I walked and all of you who contributed to a Hospice, either the Hospice at May Court in Ottawa or a hospice wherever in the world you happen to be.

This physical camino is over but the one inside of me is well and strong and will help guide my life. Bye for now.

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