A complete lack of knowledge as to how the day is going to unfold! Happily, this notion has characterised my initial waking thoughts each morning of the pilgrimage thus far.
Of course there are a few important “givens” to our daily routine, the most important being that it will involve walking at least 30km. From the moment we arrived in Bilbao on 2nd June after enduring a 27 hour long coach journey from Birmingham, Peter and I started our month-long journey on foot towards Barcelona. The only stipulations are that we travel via the Ignatian shrines of Loyola, Javier and Manresa, and that, possessing no money, we rely solely on the generosity of the people we encounter for our food and lodgings. A second “given”, connected to the first, is that the start and finish of each day involves a close inspection of one’s feet! The counting of blisters, careful washing of toes and the rationing of plasters and bandages has become part of our daily ritual.
Life on the road has trained my eyes to look at the world in a very different way. The distinction between motorways (to be avoided at all cost), main roads (use only when absolutely necessary) and country lanes (the best) are of vital importance to the peripatetic pilgrim. The abundance of public drinking water taps in Spain has been a life saver. Upon entering a place where we intend to spend the night, I find myself “eyeing up” church porches and doorways as possible places to lay down our sleeping bags (we did not bring a tent, deeming it too heavy to carry). Alas, sometimes sleeping options are somewhat precarious. On our second evening, we found ourselves sleeping in a cemetery at a place called Elgoibar (see picture to left which shows cemetery entrance). Peter took the mortuary chapel, and I the toilet block. Unfortunately we were roused the following morning by a slightly bemused but very understanding cemetery caretaker!
Something that cannot be factored into the planning of the day ahead, but which has remained a constant, are the endless examples of providential grace. So far, we have never been without food! When reserves are running low, provisions come our way. On one hot afternoon, we were taking a siesta in front of a church having eaten our few remaining morsels of stale bread for lunch. The parish priest came up to us, taught us a few Catalan phrases and then insisted on treating us to dinner at a bar. On another occasion, we were talking to a road sweeper who having heard what we were doing gave us bread, ham and tuna for sandwiches. Another elderly gentleman gave us a 20 Euro note.
As time passes, I have certainly detected within myself an increased sense of indifference about where our lodgings and food will come from, content with the knowledge that they will be forthcoming, in some form. Coupled with this is a profound gratitude for the kindness which people continually show us, English beggars in Spain.