The opera Carmen is filling the room as I sit in a comfortable chair documenting these past few days. I feel uplifted by the music and hospitality that permeates the Hostal Hispano here in Najera, the welcoming atmosphere distinctly put in place by Anna who runs it. I can testify to her warm-heartedness, and she carries this quality readily on her Spanish face.
This wayward pilgrim is in a very different place today than on Day 11, specifically due to the kindness of strangers. If you track on the graffiti map below, you’ll see I haven’t made it very far in distance miles since I left Logrono after two days of resting my resistant foot. It’s hard to tell what the map is tracking since there are 20 possible villages or towns to lodge between Logrono and the city of Burgos, not one-fifth that’s shown. I’m likely at point 18 shown on the map now.
Unless a pilgrim wants to sleep in a field, the amount of foot travel each day is gauged by the distances to be undertaken between places where there’s lodging. On Day 11 I left Logrono and walked 20 km to Ventos, my right foot speaking ever more loudly as the miles went by. I’d been fooled by its silence when I’d embarked that morning. I arrived at the only Ventos albergue in early afternoon run by an Austrian woman with lockstep efficiency. I pled for a lower bunk. It was evident I was having trouble. Her partner showed me to the 3rd floor (American). No elevators in these places. The women’s bathroom and showers were on the 2nd. But I was happy to have a ground bunk. I was also happy when another woman was shown a bunk later. Otherwise, I would have been the only female bunking with 8 men. No problem really. I just would have felt under-represented.
I knew by nightfall that I was in real trouble. I could put no weight on my foot without significant pain. Some of these albergues have stringent rules about leaving your walking sticks at the door, along with hiking boots. (The latter I understand.) Consequently, I had no support in getting around. Still no swelling on the foot and no injury done. A sign was clearly posted that pilgrims must leave by 8 AM and the albergue would close. The next morning I waited in the lobby, other pilgrims departing. A few I’d met in earlier days expressed empathy at my predicament. I intended to prevail upon the Austrian manager to help get me to a doc, unlikely there was one in this tiny village.
She finally showed up. I placed my petition before her. She confirmed I’d have to travel to Najera via taxi to the health clinic, gave me a map and called a taxi which would arrive in 20 minutes. Then she told me I’d have to wait at the bar down the street because she was closing. I said nothing, but perhaps I looked resigned because she relented. When the taxi came she told the driver where to take me even though I told her I could handle it. As I settled myself in the back seat, she reached out and laid a hand on my shoulder and told me all would be okay. That light touch of acknowledgment finally filled my eyes with tears when nothing else had.
No one at the health clinic admissions spoke English. French was rolling easily off my tongue but no one spoke that either. My Spanish was hiding. Times of stress, I suppose. Finally, the admissions tech sat down in front of a computer and accessed Google translate or similar. He typed out questions. I circled the answers. He set me up for an appointment with a doctor within the hour, never exploring how I would pay.
The doc opened his door to me 30 minutes early. How often does that happen? Gentle demeanor. He had no English, no French. But by then my Spanish wasn’t quite so shy. I was able to tell him it was all a mystery. He pushed around on the foot, not finding much either. He sent me to x-ray. No stress fracture. Thanks to the gods…nothing. He asked did I want to continue the Camino to which I said, “Of course.” He replied that there was nothing to be done but take the high dosage ibuprofen I already had…and stay off my feet for 3 days. I thanked him and asked how I pay for services. He waved me down to admissions. To which, I asked the admissions tech the same question. He asked if the doc gave me a paper. He didn’t. “Then there’s no charge,” the tech said.
Really? Anyone reading this from the U.S. knows that would never–repeat never–happen at home. And I would have had to fill out multi-paged forms with medical history and insurance. Not 3 strips of paper each holding 1 question with a circled answer. I felt like a person in need…not a commodity.
Then I found Anna. She somehow pulled a room out of her hat when they were full, apologizing it was on the 3rd floor, toted my pack up for me and gave me ice for my foot. I like it up here under the eaves. It’s quiet. The window opens to the sky and pigeons cooing.
I’m one to find metaphors in what presents itself externally. It’s the way my mind works and has served me well as learnings for my inner life. I can’t ignore the mystery issue is with my right foot–the one that represents moving out in the world. I also find it interesting that there’s an empty, derelict apartment building immediately next door that looks like it’s been that way for years. Quite an unusual thing here, I’d say. It got my immediate attention. I spent some time shooting images of it last night when I ventured out for food.
Sometimes there are things we need to leave behind, that we’ve grown beyond. And we may not even know they’re still hanging out in the psyche until we’re presented with such…or slow down to consider.
This morning I went out to get some info at the tourist office. Afterward, I passed by the Santa Maria la Real Monastery and stopped to read the sign by the door. A man appeared out of nowhere, opened the heavy door to the church and motioned for me to go inside. He didn’t do so himself.
I was the only one there and sat down in a pew to gaze around. No sooner had I done so than silent tears began to stream, going on for awhile. This used to happen to me off and on in my early days of meditation 30 years ago. I never knew why then. Nor was it revealed to me today.
I can thank my foot for this slower walk that brought me to this unexpected place specifically…and receiving the kindness of strangers. I also have a further recognition of whatever surrounds me and keeps me protected.