My Life as a Traveler


It was the most beautiful sunrise ever. The tops of the foothills of the Pyrenees surrounded by clouds.

Breakfast was at 6:45am. Bread, jam, coffee with warm milk, juice, yogurt. A suitable breakfast for crossing the Pyrenees. The boys donned their packs and were headed up the hill about 20 minutes before us. It’s a 10 mile walk today, less steep to the pass, then a steep rocky trail down to the Abbey/Refugio of Roncesvalles. We have all day to get there.

So, up the hill we go. We start out at a good pace, passing a statue of the Virgin Mary (so we had to get our picture with her) on a pile of rocks adorned with flowers. Yesterday, we saw sheep and goats. Today, the fields around us have herds of cows and what look like wild horses, reminiscent of the wild ponies of Chincoteague, Virginia. Over the next rise and fairly close to the road, we saw a horse with what looked like a flag coming out from under it’s tail. Turns out, this horse had just given birth and we watched in reverence as the mare licked the baby clean, bit off the umbilical cord, and, with the help of some juvenile horses, urged the newborn to take his first steps.

You know, they say the experience of walking the Camino is similar to your life. The first couple of hundred kilometers, you are a child learning to walk. After that, you are a teenager, rebelling, but at the same time wanting help but not knowing how to ask for it. Toward the end, you are an adult, able to handle some of the most daunting elevations. At the end, we receive our Compostela and celebrate a life well-lived as a knowledgeable elder. The little pony taking his first steps was us, really. It was hard going up that hill, but fortunately, there were other pilgrims, some who were in the same boat as us and some who had done it before to help us on our way, just like the other horses were surrounding the baby as he tried a number of times to stand.

After about 3 hours, we saw a French woman sitting on the side of the road, her ankle hurt, waiting for her friends to come fetch her by taxi. Fortunately for her, our walk was at this point along a road. Past the cross that marks the point where we leave the road and climb the hill that leads us along the magnificent beech forest, one of the largest in Europe, to the Spanish border and eventually to the pass, where we head down to the abbey.

We make several stops to rest, one of which is near a hut where walkers can escape the bad weather. It’s filled with trash, sad to say, and we are thankful that the rain of Bilbao has turned into sunshine with a breeze. Susie is checking her feet for blisters and Mary is trying to make her camera work, since it wouldn’t start this morning. Suddenly, a butterfly flew by – Susie’s feet felt better and Mary’s camera was able to take pictures again! The Butterfly of Healing – one of the miracles of the Way.

At the top of the pass, the Col, there are two ways to go down: a very steep rocky trail which eventually evens out into a forest path or a winding road 2 kilometers longer. We look down the rocky trail and can see what looks like an ambulance heading off down the road. We say a prayer for the pilgrim, whoever it was.

We are mighty tired now, and it is hard to stop to rest when we know we are only a few kilometers from our first stop. Finally, we see the parking lot, then the Abbey itself. We have never been so happy to see civilization. And to make things even better, we see Morgan running out to meet us.

Wait. Morgan running out to meet us??? The boy who does not want to be recognized as traveling with us? His first words were, “Mom, we have a problem. Dominic fell and the ambulance took him to Pamplona. Here’s the number for the taxi. You have to go there to OK his treatment.”

My heart skipped a beat. The Abbey staff helped us get a taxi and we all piled in with our packs, as well as Dominic’s. Morgan told us his story during the 45 minute ride. Turns out they had been having a great walk, even detouring off the trail when they felt like it. They reached the top of the pass a couple of hours before Mary, Susie, and I. As they started down, Dominic tripped and fell. At first he made a joke and tried to get up, but he couldn’t. Morgan made him sit, elevated his leg, and after trying to call 112 (Spain’s 911) himself but not being able to speak the language, he enlisted the help of one of the pilgrims passing by who could speak English and Spanish. He did not know the Spanish word for “Emergency” – Socorro! The ambulance came and took Dominic to the local hospital, where it was determined that it was not a mere sprain, but broken bones that would require surgery. The ambulance guys took Morgan to the Abbey and Dominic to Pamplona, almost 50 kilometers away.

When we got to the hospital, Dominic had just come out of xray and was very shortly admitted and rolled up to the second floor. The doctor on call was a bone guy and spoke English quite well. He explained that Dominic broke his fibula and tibia and required surgery as soon as possible. I then called his mother, Carmen, who was upset and scared, to get her permission. That given, Dominic went into surgery within the hour.

In the meantime, Mary and Susie went to the pilgrim albergue in the old town of Pamplona, a 15 minute taxi ride away. I checked into the nearest hotel and Morgan made himself as comfortable as he could in the reclining chair in Dominic’s room. Two hours later, Dominic was out of surgery, a plate and 7 screws in one bone, 5 screws in another, and a broken talus tail (not exactly sure what that is) that will heal on its own in the cast. Dr. Miguel was happy with the surgery and said that they needed to keep Dominic in the hospital for the next day, but he could go home on Saturday. Dominic was in recovery and Morgan would be there in the room to keep him company.

It was 9:30pm when I got to the hotel and started researching flights. Dominic had a free ticket with our USAir (Star Alliance) points, departing from A Coruna, not Pamplona. A free ticket has no fee for changing, but the seats can be limited. Both Iberia Airlines (who flies out of Pamplona) and USAirways reservations were closed until morning. Maybe George can help again, using his frequent flyer status, but he wasn’t home. It was almost midnight when I finished the email to George explaining what flights we needed to get Dominic home.

You know, that newborn pony struggled and struggled to take that first step. And he still stumbled after that. For all of us, we were born as we crossed that pass and looked down into the valley. But these first steps are not easy.


2 responses

  1. jlgartful

    I am so sorry to read about Dominic’s injury. How disappointing that he won’t make the rest of your trek! Sending him healing thoughts and hoping the rest of your adventure continues smoothly.

    May 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

  2. karin galvin

    Wow. Poor kid. I hope he’s doing okay. Will Morgan go home with him?

    May 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm

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