the del Norte/Primitivo route.
Spain: From Irun to Santiago de Compostela, 500 miles.
Post 26; June 26, 2016, Sunday
Day twelve: Santoña to Guemes.
Always a backliner.
The perfect guidance.
I’m fighting hard to make my mark on the lingo of the Camino. I insist I was the first designated “backliner.” Along with Amelia, Amber, Achilles, and a few others on the 2014 Camino de Santiago, the Francés route. A “backliner” is a person who is so enlightened, sophisticated, sensitive, adventurous, inquisitive, and just plain fun that they are always the last to leave in the morning for the trek for the day, and as all the other trekkers plod out of town in some sort of competitive way to get to the next destination as soon as possible, we . . . the backliners . . . are above that, we stay back, sit and have coffee, a tortilla, or whatever that Spanish thing is, watch the town square come alive with people, kids, dogs, birds, and whatever, that we . . . okay where was I? . . . oh, yes, and soak in the town that we have already reached and want to savor one more hour or so, or two hours or so just right there . . . where we are. And so here I am . . . in total “backliner” mode. Sunday morning, June 26th, sitting at the most adorable little café on the main town square in Santoña. “Peter and Pam” is the name of this place, and it is awesome. I think I’ll backline for another hour . . . or so.
I know, I know, sometimes I’m the very first to leave town, and sometimes at 4:00 a.m., but then, I am designated as a “frontliner with a backliner state of mind.” Yes, my backliner friends, an international community, know what I’m talking about and there are many passwords and secrets among us: like how to make a vegan salad par excellence shaken together in any recently found baggie and with veggies we just bought at a local stand. These are serious secrets. Let me give you just one typical joy of being a backliner:
So, last night I was basically the very last person to reach the public albergue in Santoña. And there were no beds, only a tent, that I would probably have to share. So, with Carlos’ help and guidance, and leaving him squenched into an all-male six bed closet of bund beds with six guys (including Leo and Diego), and some world class snorers, I made my way to the public square which was crazy alive with fun, excitement, a Fiat car show and an . . . albergue: Albergue de Peregrinos La Bilbaina. And, I was the last to check in, and I got a room all to my self, and with a view of the square, all facilities, washer and dryer, and other trekkers in not so crowded rooms, but in some sort of Zen peace, and I think I found heaven, or close to it. 12 Euros, total price.
Occasionally, we backliners are accused of just being slower than most others: and there you have it, those that take a certain condition and make it better.
And so last night, I went to a pilgrims’ mass with Carlos at the Church of Nuestra Señora del Puerto, and then had dinner with Erin and Andrews (yes, a girl, “Andrews” with an “s” on the end), two girls (here I go again), from basically Colorado and South Carolina, and a few other states, making them quintessential American girls, or women, whatever. . . . They are going all the way to Santiago.
So, I better get going. Enough of the backliner state of mind, for now. Geesh! It’s late morning, I think. I refuse to look at my Apple watch.
One last thought: Santoña is beautiful. I should move here.
. . .
Now I’m trekking, really just walking, with the two Koreans. They’ve been with us along the way, on and off. They’re fast walkers but I’m keeping up, mostly because they will occasionally stop and completely marvel at a structure, admire the tall walls, the big door, and try their best to interpret the signage and talk in very quick Korean, so, I finally say, What is it?, and they say they don’t know, and then I, using my incredible powers of quick translation and observation, while looking up at the great and wondrous walls say: “It’s a prison.” And they marvel at my conclusion and say: yes, yes, it’s a prison. Maybe the barb wire, police, guard towers, and cameras were the tipoff. But, get this, if you can get them to talk much, they tell me that they’ve been trekking since April, and all the way from Salzburg Austria. Yes! And basically, they are Catholic, and on a very special renewal Camino. Their “Catholic” names are Staphano and Andrea, which thankfully they told me because their Korean names sounded sort of like grunts or coughs (I mean no offense), but seeing my confusion, they gave me their “Catholic” names.
You know what’s sad? We’re barely out of Santoña. We’ve only made it to Berria. For going so fast, we’re sure going slow.
. . . okay, back to the path.
I just texted Carlos and Leo; they must be miles and miles ahead of me. The loneliness of a backliner. Okay, put my phone away, back to the path.
And so I trek, and it is a trek with the Koreans over that intense uphill mountain between the beaches, Punta del Brusco, rocky, steep, and you need your poles. But we make it over, and then back to the beach on our way to Noja where they decide they’ve had it, and are staying. I, the master trekker, decide to carry on alone . . . but first a drink with Rosita at the local bar (we fall in love), before the trek to San Miguel de Meruelo, where I catch up with Carlos and Leo, involved in a very spiritual endeavor—watching the France v. Ireland soccer game in the, what?, European Cup, or Euro Cup, or the Eurosomething or other. Remember, Leo is French and soccer is religion. And so here I sit again, strategizing the final leg to . . . the famous “Guemes Albergue.” See pg 96 of Perazzoli/Whitson. Everyone’s talking about how great this albergue is, but do we rush to get there? No. We labor in a bar watching a soccer game. Reminds me of the 2014 Camino when the World Cup was going on. There were celebrations and riots in the street. — And just now, the bar has erupted!! France just scored and tied the game with Ireland. This bar must be all France fans. It’s 4:19 p.m. on the Camino de Santiago. Would St. James approve? —And the bar erupts again! France just scored again, 2-1 against the Irish. This place is crazy, but not me . . . I’m thinking about . . . the path. The Way. And another beer arrives. Rosita texts me; am I married? . . . I wonder if she’d like my cats, CJ and Bentley?
. . .
When we leave the bar at San Miguel de Meruelo, we still have to trek at least 9.6Km. . .
to Guemes Albergue. Which seemed to go on forever, and yes, it was beautiful countryside, lots of cows, goats, horses, fields, dogs, farmers, and the list goes on.
But, everything that has been said about the Guemes Albergue and it’s host, Ernesto Bustio, is true. Totally true. This is truly the complete Camino albergue experience. As Carlos, Leo and I trekked up the long hill to the albergue we were greeted from afar, by two volunteers, as if saying, yes, yes, this is the way, turn at the fence and take the last long walk up the path to the best albergue on the Camino. We were ushered in with cold water and guided to our wonderful room, then shown the showers, then invited to the opening speech and introduction by Ernesto himself who delighted in telling us the long history of this amazing Camino albergue. 9000 guests stayed here last year, and the cost is “donation only. Whatever you think it’s worth, you drop in the box whenever you feel led.” Nothing has a price here. There are about, guessing, 40 pilgrims here. And we talk and talk about everything imaginable, but mostly how just being on the Camino — changes people, you, and me. There are so many people to meet and Judith from Germany takes me in, and jumps between German, Italian, Spanish, and (for me) English without missing a beat as she navigates the discussion between Ernesto and several of us. There seemed to be a natural flow from the wonderful and filling communal pilgrims’ meal into the hermitage to discuss the paintings on the wall that so vibrantly depict the Camino transition from
chains and pain, through all the stages the journey takes until . . . liberation, and I was given a picture of me and Ernesto standing in front of the painting, liberation.
There is so much to see here and take in. World travelers have come through here. Visit the albergue library and see. Find your liberation. And see how Ernesto turned his liberation into what we should all turn it into . . .
being there for them.
giving them just a little, perfect measure,
Because it’s always, still,
. . .