There was an amazing still quality to the morning as I walked through the town of Estella. I felt present to the awakening of the day while the town’s residents were still mostly asleep, except for the early morning delivery workers. In my normal everyday life, when I step out of the house the city is already fully alive and active, whereas on the Camino, I got to experience each day slowly unfolding, and it was a beautiful, precious thing to witness.
After a gentle start to the day I came upon a painted yellow arrow that didn’t fulfill its promise, which is to direct pilgrims out of town while remaining on the Camino. As I stood trying to figure out the direction it was pointing towards, Monika from Brazil arrived on the scene. She was on her own that day, whereas normally she walked with her boyfriend and his father, and until that morning we were Buen Camino acquaintances only. Without a common language we communicated with gestures and a few words agreeing which road to take, more in hope than certainty. After a couple of kilometres, the absence of Camino signs and other pilgrims became concerning, as we found ourselves in a part of town that was as dead as a dodo. There wasn’t a living soul to ask directions of, but rather than retrace our steps, we kept going in the hope that once we reached the edge of town, we would be reunited with the familiar yellow arrows of the Camino. It was a risk that paid off, as soon afterwards we knew we were on the right track when we reached the Bodegas Irache landmark.
Mid morning, when I was alone again, I went into the church in the small village of Villamayor de Monjardín. Inside I rested my rucksack against a pew and waited as my eyesight adjusted to the darkness. The church was held in near total darkness as the narrow windows were more like slits that allowed in very little daylight. Gradually three men came into focus: two pilgrims and a man with a Camino stamp standing alongside an altar of lighting candles. While I searched for my Camino passport, the two pilgrims left and I walked over to present myself to the man with the stamp. He immediately clasped my hand and held it while he said a few words in Spanish. I beamed as the sincerity of his blessing landed within and I felt elevated to another world by his powerful, loving presence.
Walking away from the church my heart felt full, and as I looked across at the vines in the fields, I saw what was around me through new eyes. I felt oneness with nature and I wanted to walk alone to savour the grace of the moment, however I could see Swedish Ann just ahead, waiting for me. When I reached her, I didn’t have the heart to say I wanted to walk alone. I told her about my experience in the church, but I felt a bit cheated that the spell I was under had been broken.
Soon afterwards I walked ahead of Ann; her pace was too slow for me, whereas the previous day I had willingly fallen into step with the quite gruelling pace set by David. That hadn’t suited me either, but I had stayed with him and as a result my left leg was sore.
After lunch I caught up with Manoel who was also walking alone. At first I didn’t know if I wanted company, but I discovered that walking with Manoel was actually very comfortable. He was undemanding company, and it was easy to walk with him in companionable silence or talk as the mood took me. When we arrived in Los Arcos, Manoel phoned Sue to get her location and we followed her directions to the private albergue where she was staying.
The hospitaleros, a husband and wife team, had converted a house previously owned by the woman’s grandmother and had named it Casa de Abuela (Little Grandmother). As soon as I stepped into the intimate family kitchen it felt familiar and homely. Bread was baking in the over and through the glass oven door I could see that it looked like a large doughnut. Upstairs I was sharing a small dorm with Manoel, and Elisabeth from Paris while Sue was in another room. We also had the luxury of having the hospitaleros do all our washing by machine for an extra fifty cents. Washing clothes each day is very much part of the daily ritual, but washing by hand doesn’t really get clothes clean – at least, not the way I washed them.
The afternoon was comfortable, lazy and carefree. I had lunch in the albergue kitchen, followed by conversation and map reading with Monika, my Brazilian friend from the morning’s adventure, along with Sue, Manoel and Elisabeth. Afterward I went for a walk, found a bank to get some money and sat in the square with some Australian pilgrims having coffee. When I returned to the albergue, the kitchen was quite and I chatted to the male hospitalero while he did his chores. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated what they offered, in their attitude and their facilities. I also wanted to know more about the bread! I was in luck – he was about to make a second loaf for our breakfast in the morning. This was a level of hospitality that I hadn’t experienced till then and that afternoon I became the apprentice bread maker at Casa de Abuela.
Looking back, I can see that Day Six had everything!. In particular staying in Casa de Abuela was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable experiences of the whole Camino for me. A week in, I was beginning to find more of myself, I felt more available to others and sharing the journey changed it completely.