Day 23, December 17th, 2011
Mom would be so proud of me right now.
I arrived in the albergue in Puente la Reina at about 5pm after a 31km walk through rain, snow and sleet. It was like the Pyrenees were taking wet shits all over us. Patrick made it, too, I saw him as the brother was walking me over to the albergue.
Located at the confluence of the Caminos Aragones and Frances, Puente la Reina is a hub of pilgrim activity. The first two buildings I saw were private albergues. I'm in a different one, though, with nine other pilgrims. Nine! When the brother took me to the albergue (I arrived late and it was locked), I was almost totally overwhelmed by the sudden noise. The bunkroom was filled with people laughing and joking, wringing out wet clothing, making tea for each other, and bandaging themselves after conquering the Pyrenees. It smelled like wet dog. Mom would be proud because I cooked dinner for everyone.
Dinner was an interesting affair. The albergue here, run by the church, has a kitchen, and I volunteered to go searching for food. Jean Luc and Wanwoo came with me, two fellow pilgrims and new friends that I had just made in the albergue. A strange trio we made, speaking just enough English to communicate with each other and just enough Spanish to communicate with the locals.
Many stores were closed. Finally we found a artisan bakery that was open, where we purchased several large bags of pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, cheese, bread, and a big bar of almond choclate to split amongst the ten of us. The owner was very patient with our indecision and fairly terrible Spanish, even though she was about to close up – it would have been a hungry night if she hadn't!
Back in the albergue, I began cooking. There was a little bit of milk and Spanish chocolate, so I boiled the milk and made chocolate to tide everyone over while the water for the pasta boiled. Unfortunately, the electric stovetop was being a bit wonky and finally quit altogether before the water was boiling. We tried everything we could think of to get it working again, short of actually disconnecting it from the wiring of the building and reconnecting it (the substantial risk of fatal electrocution finally dissuaded me – Spain is not known for having talented electricians, and this albergue was no exception). It was beginning to look like a wet, cold day was going to be followed with a hungry night . . . finally the other pilgrims told me to go ask Jean Luc for help.
Jean Luc is a young man from France, about my age, who has been walking a considerable distance. He's been camping most of it in the wild, like Marten (the first pilgrim I met, from Essen), hence his massive pack (it has a tent and a kitchen in it, two things I've sorely missed). He's a quiet, thoughtful individual, and while I didn't know exactly what he was going to do to fix the stove (and save our dinner!) I followed the advice of the other pilgrims.
He was sitting on his bunk, facing away from me, when I entered the bedroom. It took a few tries to get his attention – I realized exactly too late that he had been practicing a form of Indian meditation known as Vipannasa and that I had just interrupted it. After a few profuse apologies (which he smiled and brushed off) I explained the situation to him. Jean Luc and I returned to the kitchen, where he took one look at the stove top and touched the power button just as we had done a hundred times.. It flashed back to life in an instant. Dinner was delicious.
I figured out later that the stove could get confused by too many quick inputs on the little touchscreen at the front, and that when it did it would lock up until the burners cooled and then reset itself. That's why it worked when Jean Luc tried it – they'd cooled sufficiently to reset. So it wasn't a miracle, exactly . . .
He and I fell to talking later. We had both journeyed through fairly remote areas to get here, and were both amazed and slightly overwhelmed by the number of pilgrims present in the albergue that night. He liked my stories of Catalunya and Aragon, and asked if he could borrow my guidebook for the Camino Catalan. I ripped out the page with the remaining distances to Santiago and gave it to him – it wasn't like I was going to need it again any time soon, after all.
Note: I never saw Jean Luc again. I found out later from the others that he took my guidebook and set out towards Barcelona, backwards along the path I had just taken. The Camino Frances was too crowded for him. I hope he made it.
So many stories! So many soulful individuals.
Tomorrow, I tread softly. Today is a day of harmony with the trail. I have been fighting impatience so much since my victory over San Juan de la Pena. I have been gaining strength and power; time to gain wisdom.
Expenses, Day 23
Trip Total: 511.16