Camino del Norte Part IV

After those first few days, I scarcely recorded the details of every day and didn’t take as many photos. I was so in the moment and so happy.

After that 4th day, Kim and I stuck together for the rest of the way. We would walk the whole day- sometimes with the whole “crew”, sometimes just one or two of them, arrive to the albergue and normally see the same few faces at each stop.

Bob and Anne (the nicknames we gave to Willam and Dorothy), Nick One and Nick Two, Cynthia and Juan (a father daughter duo from the same city as Jaco), just to name a few. One thing that we all wanted to make sure of in our ‘main’ group of Kim, Jaco, Yuning, Sylvan, Sophie and myself, was that we were all going to end up at the same place every night.

Evenings consisted of a shower (sometimes cold, sometimes warm, sometimes too hot), relaxing for a while, and then either going to a grocery store to get food to cook, or sitting down for a Menu del Dia specifically priced for peregrinos. Sometimes we would buy a few bottles of wine and share them with other peregrinos in our albergue.

When we reached Bilbao, the first big city in our path, we were pretty tight-knit and in fear of losing someone from the group due to any unknown variable. We arrived early, and most of us went about exploring, doing laundry, getting a pinxo here and there. When we regrouped back at the hip youth hostel in which we were staying, we decided to go out together that night. We got all dressed in our best Camino attire, decided on a meeting place at 8pm, and sprawled out our separate ways again to explore before meeting.

When we reached our meeting place at 8 pm, Jaco said that he had passed a square where a bunch of old people were dancing around. It was a weeknight, and the city was pretty dead, so having no other viable options, we decided to check out the spectacle. He led us to the square where he saw them but there was no one there. We had begun to walk away when we heard music coming from a small theatre across the street. Curious and desperate for something to do, we said ‘what the hell’ and walked in. In the theatre were the people Jaco had told us about. There were maybe 50 of them. A man was standing on the stage with a microphone excitedly shouting out the next dance or step. They were dancing some sort of circular folk line dance. After every song they changed to a different dance. Each one had and intricate pattern with steps complete with snaps of their fingers every now and then. It was evident that knowing each dance came with some sort of pride, and only the oldest folks out there knew the most challenging dances.

I stood there for a while sort of laughing and watching the expressions on the faces of the participants: frustration from not knowing the steps, concentration, but most of all – pure bliss. I thought to myself, these people probably do this every week… will I do stuff like this when I’m old? At that point I was accustomed to the easy satisfaction that the Spanish get from the simplest pleasures of life, like walking through a plaza or enjoying a fresh cup of coffee at their usual café. This moment allowed me to reflect on a realization I had made during one of the past few days walking through the quiet Basque countryside: life is as rich or as dull as you perceive it to be. Stopping in bars (cafes) along the way, I saw little old men and women sitting there, dressed to the T, enjoying coffee or beer with a pinxo (small tapa) or tarta (cake), chatting with their friends, maybe smoking a cigarette. They would seldom acknowledge the presence of us peregrinos, even though many of these towns’ economies are supported by our business. That’s hardly what I noticed though. I noticed the time they took to drink their coffee, to talk, to just sit. Then they would walk down the street slowly – at a pace you would never dream of seeing in a big city- and just enjoy the day. Their lives are rich because they savor the simple things. Now, I don’t know these people personally, and I’m sure there’s some other social complex that propels them to the same meeting point every day, but that is beside the point. Did you know that in regards to life expectancy, Spain is the healthiest country in Europe? They must be doing something right.

Anyways, we stood there for a while watching, drank some cañas, and considered joining in on the ritual. After some time, we decided to move on to the next bar. We wandered aimlessly around for a while, went to a few other bars, and then headed back to the hostel.

The next day, Kim, Sophie and I decided to check out the Guggenheim before taking a bus to our next destination. Here’s my favorite piece from the museum:

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