After breakfast in Puente de la Reina, Manoel, Sue and I separated, and until mid morning, which on the Camino is about 9.30, I walked alone. Then I met David, an Irish musician in his mid thirties, who lived in Paris with his girlfriend. We hit it off straight away, and I realised as the hours passed that I didn’t want to share him with anyone else. It seemed we could talk about anything, and our conversation flowed freely. We talked about life, struggles, heartbreak, personal histories, influences; we covered a lot in one day! I usually think of myself as an open person, but on the Camino that was not how I was at all. However with David I was completely open. I let him see me and I saw him.
After five hours of walking together and only one brief coffee stop we reached Estella. Immediately, I faced a choice between a further uphill climb into town to find a private albergue, or settle for the big municipal hostel that stood in front of me. Despite my preference for small homely places, my tiredness dictated my decision. Initially we waited in the street with a few other pilgrims for the scheduled 1 p.m. opening time, not realising it was in fact already open. While we waited I noticed that the ease I had felt while I had walked with David had gone. I now felt awkward about our arrival together, as that often meant sharing a bunk, or at least ending up in close physical proximity. I also didn’t want anyone to assume we were a couple. Quite why that had any importance I don’t know, but at the time it did.
Once inside the albergue, David placed his rucksack on the ground before he set about a comprehensive rummage through his belongings. I was puzzled about what needed to be so urgently rescued when we only required the usual items: a Camino passport and €5 in cash. Why anyone would bury them in their belongings I couldn’t understand. I didn’t know whether to wait for him to find whatever he was looking for or not. In the end I decided to register without him, and when I received my bed number I went upstairs, leaving him to continue his search in the foyer.
Shortly after arriving in the dorm, Dublin John appeared next to me. He had been allocated the bunk above mine, and as we prepared our nests for the night, we did our best to navigate around each other without touching. There was still no sign of David. I thought perhaps the rummaging in his bag had been a delaying tactic, and I wondered if I had lost him. Despite the connection I had experienced with him, or perhaps because of it, I was relieved not to be sharing close physical quarters with him – it was easier for me to share such confinement with strangers – but I didn’t want to lose him either.
We hadn’t eaten along the way, and even though I was really hungry, I delayed lunch further in favour of chores. That was a mistake! By the time I had finished washing, the supermarkets were closed for siesta, so any ideas I had about making lunch in the homely albergue kitchen were quashed. Instead, I found a soulless, empty bar along the street serving food, and while I could have explored the town afterwards, I had neither the interest nor the energy for more activity. It might have been a pretty town, but I was unlikely to see it, except on the way out in the semi-darkness of the morning.
Late in the afternoon, I observed a few people, including David and Dublin John, chatting in the garden, and although I wanted to join them, I hesitated. I questioned whether or not I should. Maybe David wants some space, I thought, and as I second-guessed what David wanted, I held back and denied my own needs. In the evening, Dublin John was rounding up people for dinner, but I wouldn’t join them – by then I had lost any ability for conversation.
With hindsight I have a clearer understanding of the events that triggered my reactions that day. In David I had found a kindred spirit, someone who spoke my language. He was the first person I was willing to confide in, and while we walked I felt held in a protective bubble, without interference from the external world. But when we were reunited with the world, it was a transition I found difficult to make; I felt challenged by the reintegration process. During the day when I observed David in conversation with others, I told myself not to be a burden to him, yet at the same time I felt burdened by what seemed to be required of me – assimilation into a wider group and the ordinary conversations of Camino life.