Day Two. First official walk...to the beach!
I found the second pair of shoes I thought I hadn't packed...packed among the tangle of socks, quick-drying underwear, sunscreen ,hats, flashlights, anti-blister kit, and a bunch of other things I threw into the very professional backpack that is my home away from home. I have too much stuff.
As soon as I ventured out of my night's lodging, I realized that this guy's back is going to really grow some muscles. And like Matt Damon on Mars, I wondered which of my possessions I could jettison to lighten the load. Well, none yet. I paid good money for that stuff. But I know that I brought some smiles to people in Bilbao this morning as I tried to walk out of their city with dignity without toppling backwards with my burden!
It made me think about all the things we accumulate in our lives. All the stuff I have back in my room, which has already been weeded down from my moves of the past few years. You don't want to throw things out because 1) you might need them in the future, 2) you are sentimental about them, 3) you paid good cash moneys for them, 4) you don't want to bother going through all that junk. If Jesuits kick the bucket with their boots on, the minister of the house (a Jesuit who is designated to deal with all the practical stuff of the community) is usually the one who has to go through what you leave behind--sometimes not an easy task. A lot of it winds up on the "free desk", a place in every Jesuit house where you can put the things you no longer want or need. I've gotten some real treasures there, mostly stuff that I don't really need but which I think would be cool to have. It's not the Jesuit ideal of detachment to things, for sure, and although my backpack is a lot closer, I still have too much! Imagine if we all just carried around the most basic things. It would allow us to concentrate on what is really important--taking care of each other, getting food, good water, housing, healthcare to everyone, sharing our love. And recognizing the beauty around us.
That's what I got to do today--taking in the beauty along the route. From Bilbao to Pobena, a little town beside the ocean: the day was filled with sunshine and refreshing breezes as I passed through little towns, between green green mountains, past horses and donkeys munching grass in pastures. There were lots of bicyclists on this path, all dressed in those professionally taut shirts and biking shorts, serious stuff. I tried smiling at them, but they were all business. I had more fun acknowledging my presence to dozens of older men out for walks on the path, all shirtless under the hot sun. From a distance their aging chests and hardened faces were daunting, but when I approached them and uttered a strong (and clearly accented) "HOLA", they were often a little startled and broke their stride, but they usually found a smile, and suddenly they were someone's favorite grandpa.
At one point in the middle of a very isolated mountain stretch, I rounded a corner and came upon four men all dressed in road maintenance uniforms and all fast asleep on the grass next to their truck. At first glance it looked like they were victims of some alien invasion, felled by ray guns, and I wondered if I might be walking into an ambush by weird looking beings. I couldn't help taking their picture, and walked quietly past them, assured that they had all decided to take a nap during their lunch break. As I walked the next few kilometers, I tried to imagine their lives. Did they have wives, ex-wives, children? What were they dreaming about in those grasses beside the road? What did they think about these people walking for hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage? My father was a blue collar worker, and I often saw him come home on summer evenings from repairing industrial refrigeration units in Manhattan, looking exhausted. I have a great appreciation for all the men and women whose hard labor allows us to function with ease and convenience in our world.
I encountered my first fellow pilgrims, two middle-aged guys. I saw them enter the path from a rest stop just ahead of me. I was a little relieved to see that their backpacks seemed equally large. They had walking poles, and they looked like the real thing (maybe it was the walking poles), but just as I was about to catch up to them, they took a detour off the path. I didn't want them to think I was stalking them (although I kinda was, I was trying to catch up so I could talk to them), so I just continued on the route. I started thinking about those walking poles. Should I have gotten a pair? They looked so professional. Maybe I should have...nahhhh. It would be two more things I don't really need to carry, and I don't want to look that much hard core anyway.
The best part of the walk was at its end, when I walked into the surprise of Pobena--it's wonderful beach, filled with families and their children, young couples, teens with their friends. I spied an ice cream stand, and immediately rewarded the end of my day's walk with two scoops of dulce de la leche ice cream. Man, did that hit the spot. And then I got a room right away in an awesome little pensione right across from the beach. The water was warm warm, and everyone was enjoying their day (even the topless women, yikes!).
Time to get these bones to bed, ready for a longer walk tomorrow. I just saw a weather report. Looks like storms ahead...gotta get the rain poncho ready!
Thanks for a good day, Creator of the Universe (and dulce de la leche ice cream!).