{camino: day 3} espinal to zubiri

I skipped breakfast in Refuge Haizea and left Espinal directly at 8:00 a.m. I decided to carry my backpack today rather than sending it ahead; little did I know what a rough day it would be, with little payoff in regard to views and a major emotional upheaval. It would be one of the worst five days on my Camino.

I walked on narrow paths between wire fences bordering sheep and cow pastures and under a heavy sky that threatened rain all day without delivering.  I walked on paths through mature beech and pine forests and crossed stepping-stones over the río Erro.  The landscape changed elevation numerous times, peaking at Alto Mezquiriz, dipping to the río Erro, rising and dipping and rising again.

At around 10:30 in Viskarreta, I stopped at a café for a potato tortilla, orange juice and café con leche; this breakfast would become standard fare for “second breakfasts” on my Camino, although this was my first today. I used the WC for the only time during the entire walk. I walked past an ancient-looking cemetery with a stone cross at the gate.  Today’s path was rough, covered in either gravel or large loose rocks, surfaced in cement patterns imitating paving stones, or paved in uneven or weird ways.

In the cute town of Linzoain, I sat on a stone wall and ate Havarti cheese and chocolate I’d bought at the supermarket in Viscaretta.  The wall bordered a pelota court (frontón). Pelota is a Basque or Spanish game played in a walled court with a ball and basket-like rackets fastened to the hand. A scruffy black dog came to visit, nudging us and begging for a petting.  Annette from Ireland, who Ingrid and I had met on the descent from the Pyrenees, sat with me on the wall and smoked an electric cigarette.  Several other pilgrims stopped to chat as well.  It was a nice break from my backpack, which was making my life miserable.

Back on the woodlands path, stony at first but eventually turning soft, I had a nice chat with Pather from Ireland.  We commiserated about Trump and all the nationalism in America, Europe, and throughout the world, beliefs seeking to divide us rather than build bridges.  He took off before long and I walked in shade scented with pines and boxwood.

I chatted a bit with a group from California who had been at Orisson: Anne-Marie, her husband Gary (who was walking after double hip and double knee replacements), their daughter Kaylee, and their friend Beth. Ingrid had connected with Anne-Marie at Orisson, while I’d felt disconnected.  This is often the story my life. I see people relating well to one another, and I’m standing on the outskirts, feeling baffled by my own aloofness.

At the last high point, Alto de Erro, I stopped for lemonade at the mobile cafe Kiosco. At an outdoor table, I chatted with Peter from Charlotte, NC, his daughter Beth, and her husband Matt; we had passed each other numerous times on the path.  Beth works as a fitness coach in Manhattan, coaching clients in all areas of fitness: spiritual, nutritional, and physical.  I shared with her that my oldest son had dallied with the idea of being a fitness coach but chose a butchery apprenticeship instead.

The worst part of the day was from the mobile cafe down a perilous and steep rocky path 3.5 km through woodlands to Zubiri.  I feared it would never end. It was a rough scree-covered descent, taxing and ponderous.  My knees and toes took a serious beating. I kept expecting to catch sight of Zubiri, but with a dense cover of trees crowding the mountainside, I saw the town only when I was right down on it.

Coming into Zubiri, I crossed the Puente de la Rabia, a medieval bridge over the Río Arga.  Legend had it that any animal led three times around the central arch would be protected from rabies. This is also the likely site of a former leprosarium.

Here, Joy from Orisson told me she’d walked with Ingrid, who had already checked into her place in Zubiri. “She missed you today,” she told me. I wondered how on earth Ingrid had passed me without me seeing her, as she’d started 4 miles behind me in Roncesvalles.

The place I had reserved in Zubiri was an oasis in an otherwise ugly town: Hostel Suseia, the pilgrim’s home. It was nearly a mile off the path, meaning I’d have to walk back to Zubiri’s entrance in the morning.  I was assigned a top bunk for the first time.  It was so crowded that one lady planned to sleep on the floor.  Four Australian ladies I’d met in Orisson couldn’t find a bed anywhere in town.  They had carried their packs for the first time today, as I did, and they were not happy. They decided to take a taxi to Pamplona, my destination for the next day.

The pilgrim dinner at Suseia was a wonderful gourmet meal: a salad with pomegranates, quiñoa, greens, and tomatoes, followed by a cold tomato cream soup garnished with cucumber, bread with chorizo, and polenta in tomato sauce.  Desert was a refreshing chilled lime pudding.  The gentle and welcoming owner, Aya, served dinner with loving-kindness. I would encounter several fellow pilgrims I met at Suseia numerous times in the following days, especially the newlyweds Claire and Matt, and Lisa and her brother Josh.  I also met Pat from Seattle, who I’d meet time and again on the early part of the Camino.

After dinner, my husband called with distressing news.  Someone I dearly love, who lives a great distance from us, called feeling worthless. His money was gone, and he’d applied for a job at Subway (a chain sandwich shop) and was rejected. In desperation, he considered committing robbery, questioned the point of living, and ranted about the “system” and how the world needs to change, how he’s a shaman and hears the voices of angels. At one point in their conversation, my husband told him he was crazy, at which time our loved one hung up. Later, in follow-up phone call, my husband got so upset, he was the one to hang up.

I was devastated by news of this call, although we have heard our loved one express such bewildering thoughts on numerous occasions. As much as I have wanted to believe he is idealistic, gifted and possibly in tune with something in the universe to which most of us are oblivious, I was paralyzed by his description of “voices.” No elaboration was offered. I would have liked to ask, but it wasn’t my phone call and I would be too terrified to find the truth, What exactly are these voices? Are they the voices that a poet, an artist, a musician call inspiration, intuition? Voices that creative artists describe as speaking through them when they write or paint or compose? Or are they the “voices” used so often when diagnosing mental illness?

Suddenly, after this phone call, I found myself straddling a threshold between two worlds. One was the world of my all-too-real life, telescoping backwards to my childhood and currently to this ominous moment with my loved one and forward to a foreboding future: the childhood during which my mother believed people were out to get her, walked in front of a neighbor’s Volkswagen van, was committed to a mental institution and underwent electroshock therapy, drove herself into a tree, unsuccessfully attempted suicide other times, and sat for entire days at our kitchen table in a smoke-filled zombie-like state, drinking wine while on anti-psychotic medications; the present day with my brilliant and gifted loved one who continues to make decisions we don’t understand or feel are productive, who wants the world to change, utterly and completely, at this very minute, and who can’t seem to figure out how to get along in our deeply flawed society; and the unknowable future, where he could go on making self-destructive decisions, or worse, commit a desperate and devastating act.

The other world, on the other side of this threshold, was of course the Camino itself, a world removed from real life yet, at the same time, a reflection of it, a world where there was possibility and hope that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other, offering prayers and sharing with pilgrims, all could be righted in life.

I told my husband I would cut my Camino short and come home on the next plane if my loved one would check into a hospital for evaluation. I would remain helpless if his attitude stayed the same; he doesn’t believe in so-called “mental illness,” distrusts the “system,” and believes messages he receives are gifts. Unless he wanted to get help, there would be no reason for me to return.

So, I would continue walking, and praying.  My husband suggested maybe this was where I was meant to be during this trying time.  I would take my Camino one day at a time, and if I needed at any point to return home, I would.

Still, I was heartbroken, shattered. I wept in the dark entryway of the hostel among jumbled hiking shoes and poles hanging on pegs. Pilgrims came in and out; there was no space to be alone, so when some asked me what was wrong, I confided in them about what was going on.

I felt angry about the unfairness of it all.  Why should I have to suffer through this in childhood and again, now, as an adult?  Well. Of course. Life simply isn’t fair.

I can understand fears about being labeled and stigmatized, about the impreciseness of medications, about being shocked or locked up.  I can understand the fear of losing one’s essence on powerful drugs and treatments. I saw the effects of these on my mother. I had these fears myself throughout my teens and 20s, worried about the hereditary nature of her illness. Although I am not a firm believer in the remedies available, I feel at least some attempt could be made to try them, or at the very least, to talk to a professional.

Full of angst, I tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep, finally taking a Valium to calm myself down.  At about 3:00 a.m., I woke up, heart racing, and took another half Valium.

The problems with my loved one would become a near constant on my Camino and I often shared with other pilgrims my fears, worries, and even my hopes.  I would find consolation from many compassionate people, some of whom would share a related story that was highly personal, without offering unwanted advice. After a deep talk, they would often disappear on the horizon and I’d never see them again.

It was almost as if my fellow pilgrims were angels that dropped in to console me. For that I would be eternally grateful.




house in Espinal






beech forest


gargantuan slugs


cafe in Viscarreta


potato omelette and bread, OJ and café con leche


cow and machinery


house in Viscaretta






On the way to Linzoain


dog in Linzoain


leaving Linzoain




mixed woodland


steep rock outcrop to Zubiri


steep rock outcrop to Zubiri


mixed forest




path to Zubiri


tomato cream cold soup garnished with cucumber


lime pudding


pilgrims at Suseia with newlyweds Claire and Matt at the left end of table, and Lisa front right and her brother Josh front left

*Day 3: Thursday, September 6, 2018*

*26,437 steps, or 11.2 miles: Espinal to Zubiri (15.3 km)*

You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.  In this case, one of my intentions for my Camino was to write using all my senses to describe place and to capture snippets of meaningful conversations with other pilgrims.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, February 11 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, February 12, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂