The Camino del Norte: Lezama to Bilbao, 11km
I walked out of the Lezama albergue alone and followed the main road for several kilometers to Zamudio. There, I made a hard left and headed for the mountain separating me from Bilbao. It was a beautiful morning, the temperature was cool with a slight wind blowing from the north and it was one of the few days when it wasn’t raining.
The sullenness was still with me as I climbed. I was trying hard today to relax and just live with it, to let it run its course. I ran the events of the past several days through my head, looking for a clue as to what I’m doing here and why I’m starting to reject the whole trip. I still feel bad about Mary, she’s going through some recovery from her divorce and is trying so hard to be upbeat and friendly. She told me this morning before I left that she was taking my advice and quitting the del Norte when she reaches Bilbao. She’s going to catch a bus in the morning to the Camino Frances.
While walking the Camino Frances last year I’d found some insight into my own motivations and values. I’d always been a wanderer, taking off on adventures, or mis-adventures, with little planning, with no ultimate goal as far as what I might find on the other end. The problem was that when I’d returned from these odysseys I’d sink into a depression. I was dissatisfied. With what, I don’t know. Last year, I finally realized that these adventures need to have a higher purpose. Some kind of goal or destination that I could learn something from. In the past, my journeys were really my attempt to separate myself from others, to escape. I shrouded it in rationalizations on how I wanted to learn from other cultures, to experience others ways of life. In some way that was true. But, when you drop yourself into a foreign land, oblivious of the customs, the language and even the most mundane ways to get from point A to point B, your ability to really connect with people is pretty limited. This trip, walking the del Norte, was my effort to pursue a destination. My goal: to finally connect with people.
Throughout this trip, I’ve been pushing myself to ask deeper questions of those around me and to share my thoughts and feelings openly. When I’d met Joquin and Patrick on the trail back on my second day, I pushed to learn more about them. I asked personal questions about their families and their values. They shared somewhat but there was a limit to their openness and they soon moved on. I’ve now tried with Mary. She’s spoken freely but her candid openness scared me. By sharing, we become vulnerable, even by listening I felt vulnerable.
I hiked over the peak of the mountain and was presented with a sprawling view of the large city of Bilbao. It was all down hill from here. Hurray! Not really. The down hill hikes are much more painful on my knees. I can climb all day, going down I have to stop a lot to let my knees recover. I’m realizing I’m carrying too much weight for this environment. I would have been fine on the Camino Frances, but the northern route is a bit too much. I’ve been here in Bilbao before, but I now have a completely different perspective. Last year Elaine and I flew into Bilbao from Seville. It’s the closest airport to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where we started the Camino Frances. From here we caught a bus and then a train to reach our starting point. Today, on foot, the city looks a lot bigger. I descended down through the city streets following the yellow flechettes. At one point I stalled. The street ended at a T and there was not a single arrow in sight. Left or right? I consulted the map, backtracked, and then walked back to the T and searched again for arrows. Nothing. Soon I heard a familiar voice from behind. “Good morning, Joe!” It was Mary, she’d caught up with me once again. “Hi Mary! I’m stuck. I can’t figure out which way to go.” Mary points down at an old faded yellow arrow on the curb by my feet.
I’m a natural born navigator, I can find my way in and out of any environment. I can find the most subtle clues to lead me in the direction I need to go. Not on THIS pilgrimage though, something’s changing inside of me and I’m not sure I like it. And now I’m depending on a women with greater stamina and speed to lead me in the right direction. Okay, I was seeking vulnerability, but I didn’t expect to feel it so directly.
Mary and I meandered through the streets working our way toward the center of town. All it took was one confused look on one of our faces for a stranger to stop and point us in the right direction. We reached the city center just before lunch and found a cafe for a meal and wifi access. I used my limited Spanish to order tapas at the counter while Mary connected her iPad to the network and pulled up a map of the city. As I returned with food and drinks and sat down, Mary asked, “Hey, do you want to share a room together? I just found a nice pension just down the street.” I reply, “That sounds real tempting but I really want to go find the albergue to meet some more pilgrims.” I didn’t tell her that I’ve been a bit uncomfortable sharing a room with a women, and I suspect Elaine would be even less comfortable with it. It’s one thing when circumstances push you into sharing a room, it’s another when you go voluntarily.
After lunch, Mary and I work our way over to the Tourist Center to get some maps and advice on the sites to see. Afterwards, we step outside. It’s time we go our separate ways. As is typical on the Camino, our time together has been short but the connections are always deep. We talk about how we’ll keep in touch and how we’ll send pictures back and forth of our progress along The Way. We give each other a hug and go our separate ways. We both know our experiences together on the del Norte will linger in our memories as one more facet of the mysteries of this pilgrimage. I realize the route is not so important as the beliefs and intentions of the pilgrims who walk it.