Pamplona Spain is famous for being a watering hole and inspiration for Ernest Hemingway as well as the place where you can “run with the bulls”. Based on the photos I’ve seen around town it’s also a place where excessive alcohol consumption and bad ideas lead to permanent physical impairments. Of course for some, running with the bulls is the fulfillment of a life long dream and who am I to judge. But there is not enough Sangria in Spain to get me drunk enough to run down these slick, cobblestone streets in front of a huge animal with long piercing horns that’s being poked from behind by a guy with a stick.
Pamplona is also the home of the “Jesus y Maria Albergue”. On two floors of a beautiful, multi-century old building with high arched ceilings they have crammed enough bunks to house over a hundred pilgrims or “peregrinos” and at this time of year every bunk is filled by 3pm. I had a top bunk that was only three finger-widths away from the bunk of the pilgrim to my right who had a bad cough. The bunks are so close that at night it is not uncommon to find someone else’s foot or hand resting on your mattress.
To my left, on the lower bunk sat an injured pilgrim who’s name I never learned but who’s stories I enjoyed. She was thin and attractive with that dry, friendly sense of humor that seems endemic in Australian travelers.
She started her Camino in Le Puy France and had already hiked over eight hundred kilometers by the time she pulled up lame in Pamplona with a serious foot infection. It was giving her trouble for a few days but she wanted to get across the Pyrenees before seeing a doctor knowing that the diagnosis and treatment would bring her hike for this year to an end. When she finally saw a physician her bad leg was twice the size of her good one.
Although she’s Australian, for decades she had spent three months out of every year in France piloting her private barge up and down the waterways in that and surrounding countries. She owned the barge with her ex-husband and the deal was he would pay most of the expenses but she would be responsible for maintenance. As a result, over time she learned how to fix, maintain and replace everything on the barge. But they recently sold it so this summer she decided to walk “The Way” from Le Puy France to Santiago de Compostela Spain, around 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles).
The leg of this adventurous sixty or maybe even seventy something was much improved after three days of rest and antibiotics but her vision was not. She also has a progressive eye disease called macular degeneration that robs you of your central vision and therefore affects your reading and color vision. But neither her leg infection nor her vision loss seem to dampen her spirits or willingness to try new things. While she sat on her bunk with her foot elevated she tapped away on her smart phone making travel plans for the Christmas Holidays and I have no doubt that a year from now you will find her back in Pamplona ready to continue her walk to Santiago.