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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Saints and Cynics Day 6: Burguete to Zubiri

Burguete to Zubiri 19km (157km cumulative)

It's inevitable, really. After the ecstasies of crossing the Pyrenees, the second stage of the Camino Frances has the potential to go a bit 'after the Lord Mayor's show'. For the past five days the mountains have been in the foreground, creeping ever closer until you could touch and feel them. From now and for the next three weeks they'll be in the background, on the horizon, tempting and tantalising. It's enough to make you weep.

The Road goes ever on and on ...

Back in 2012 all this was new to me and such was the intensity of the experience as I hiked across the Pyrenees that the following few days exist in my memory as little more than a blur, a landscape I could barely recall. So, four years later I was expecting ... well, not disappointment but certainly a lowering of excitement levels as the Camino filed down the Arga valley towards Pamplona and hordes of pilgrims followed its line. 
Landscape and memory, like the glorious decade that was the 1980s, the way we remember our environs isn't often the way it might have been. We spin an alternative narrative to the events as others might have recorded them, which doesn't mean to say that one's the truth and the other's a wilful falsification. In 2012 this stretch of the Camino had its vitality eroded - or perhaps 'sucked out' - by the presence of the adjacent Pyrenean 'elite' landscapes. These Navarran foothills live in the shadow of their illustrious neighbour and back in 2012 my gaze was forever directed north, towards the spectacle.
But you know what, you can re-walk the same trail over and over again and every time it's a different creature, revealing some hitherto invisible trait. When it comes to landscape, familiarity most definitely doesn't breed contempt, rather, it deepens one's presence, blurs that thin line between subject and object. I become the land, the land becomes me.

The first stages of the day's walk and the path has become playful. Unlike yesterday this isn't serious stuff; time to chill out and lighten up. A footbridge here, a set of stepping stones there; the grandiose canvases of yesterday give way to a track that ducks and dives, ebbs and flows.

The hills have shrunk in size but they can still pack a nasty punch. The pilgrim, still congratulating herself for her exploits over the Col de Lepoeder, still conjuring up tales she'll spin to her mates back home in the pub, in front of a blazing log fire, thinks she's done it all. But the path has a trick in its tail and, when you're not looking, it's liable to spring a surprise or two. This ascent, small but juicy, packs a mighty punch and will suck the life from limbs still delicate after the previous days exertions.

One of the great joys of this Camino is the trajectory of the path itself, sometimes snaking, sometimes hitting out in a straight line but always carving its presence in the landscape.  You can look back and see from where you've come, you can look ahead and see where you're going. You can take the landscape out of the Camino but you can't take the Camino out of the landscape; the track puts everything in its place.

As if I ever would! Second time passing this sign, it now seems almost oxymoronic

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