Robert Ward

Santiago Peregrino (pg 21)Santiago Peregrino (pg 21)

After days of driving rain and lightning storms, it was a splendid morning for walking. I climbed and climbed, looking back often to admire the widening panorama of farms, pastures, green slopes. I felt alive, invigorated, light as air, though part of that was my empty stomach. No worry. My map showed villages ahead (Othatzenea, Erreculuch, Untto, such gnarled Basque names) where surely I would find a bar or shop. In fact, by my figuring, I should be getting to – what was it? – Othazenea any minute. I scanned the landscape for the village church spires, but there were only farms and cows. Finally I checked my map. There was no way around it. Othatzenea was the three houses back there on the left.

No worries. I’d be in Erruculuch soon enough. Erruculuch. Now there was a name. I tromped along, burbling, “Erreculuch, Erreculuch,” like a demented parrot. After half an hour or so I came upon two farms and a barking dog. And that was Erruculuch. My stomach snarled. “Why didn’t you buy some bread last night?” “Patience,” I told it. “Patience.” I had a saving grace. There was a pilgrim refuge in Untto, which surely meant somewhere to eat. I wouldn’t be there till past noon, but it would be worth the wait.

In Untto, the cheerful sign on the refuge read: “Closed till May.” There were no shops. There would be none now till Roncesvalles. There were doors. A pilgrim can knock on doors for help. But I was too timid, or too proud, or maybe I thought it served me right to go hungry. I went on. It was a beautiful day and I was crossing the Pyrenees. In six hours, when I sat down to my first meal of the day, I would truly appreciate it. Till then I was fasting. That put a nice spin on it.

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