The windmills of Spain were getting larger. We first glimpsed those ubiquitous, white monoliths of sustainable energy four days earlier when we’d crested the top of the Valcarlos pass. At the time, I never imagined I’d ever walk to them.
Today’s walk would be all uphill and I awoke fretting about the ascent, the heat, and the lack of available water. There would be no shade today. I filled up my backup bottle just in case we couldn’t find agua potable along the way. I donned my white silk shirt and wide-brimmed sunhat for protection from the sun.
As ready as I could be, I walked with my friends out into the day to see what awaited.
Isn’t that the crazy thing about worry? All these nerves got my innards in a twist. In reality, it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes it’s a lot better. What a lot of energy wasted.
I was dreading that hill so much I never paused to think what might await me up there. Maybe something good.
So we walked. Because that’s the pilgrim’s job.
Exiting Pamplona seemed to take forever. The concrete sidewalk meandered through a well-mown park, past playground equipment and a manicured stream. We stopped for provisions at a supermarket.
And then, just like that, we were walking through agricultural land. It’s as if there’s a line on the ground over which no development shall pass. City and then – boom – agriculture.
What a relief.
We made our way up through the scenery, mile after mile of gorgeous waving green fields, pale, crunchy gravel beneath our feet. A helicopter appeared, tracing the Camino path.
“Do you think someone is hurt?” I asked Katrin.
“It says 112 on it,” she replied.
“What does that mean?”
“That’s the emergency number.” It’s Europe’s 911.
We continued to walk as the helicopter went back and forth above us, several times. I wasn’t freaked out just yet, but I sent up a little prayer that they find whoever they’re looking for and hoping the pilgrim was okay.
Eventually, the craft went over the rise ahead and didn’t return.
When we crested the hill, surrounded for miles by young wheat, we could see the helicopter hovering over an ancient ruined castle in the distance. As we slowly passed by, we could see a person rappelling out of the craft and attempting to land on the ruins. Then the helicopter circled around and a second person came down the cable. Then another circle and another rappeller.
And suddenly I felt as safe and protected as I possibly could. If I needed rescuing, here was evidence that Spain’s finest were well-trained and competent. They knew the Camino path and knew how to jump out of perfectly good aircraft.
It might not have been a sign from the Divine that I am safe, but I took it as one anyway. Worry accomplishes so little.
A local man out for a walk chatted at length with Marisela. She translated later that he was concerned about the lack of facilities for pilgrims, namely bathrooms. He was afraid we’d get a bad impression of Navarre. What a thoughtful concern on our behalf.
As it happened, his thoughts were well-founded. In the tiny berg of Zariquiegui, we had access to one very broken, fragrant port-o-john. But a pilgrim is grateful, even when there’s no toilet paper. Fortunately, we wouldn’t go thirsty. The village fuente was brimming with fresh, cold water in front of its picturesque church. We filled up our bottles and proceeded.
And there were the famous windmills, closer than ever. I marveled. I’m going to walk under them at last!
The climb was rocky and steep, but the breeze whisked away the sweat and kept us cool under the unrelenting sun. One step at a time, we arrived at the top of Alto de Perdón, the hill of forgiveness.
The wind whipped through my hair and clothes. I looked back at how far we’d come since the beginning. I could see the snow-capped mountains we’d crossed four days ago and Pamplona visible in the distance. So much walking. I was overwhelmed by my accomplishment and tears sprang to my eyes.
Staring at the immense windmills near us, I felt like I’d crossed an invisible finish line. We posed for photos in front of the art installation, goofy and elated. This hill of forgiveness filled me up with joy and a sense of accomplishment. I’m doing this!
When we turned to the west, imagine my surprise when I discovered another row of turbines a week’s walk away. Ah! There are more! I thought I’d just crossed THE line of windmills.
Yet if I focused on how far there was to go, I might lose hope, so we proceeded down the other side of the mountain. Brierley gives this descent another exclamation mark. With every size cobblestone imaginable before us and no solid path available, it took forever to navigate. But I had no injuries beyond a sunburned nose.
My journal entry from that day is written by a contented, clean pilgrim sitting under a patio umbrella. Not a worry on her mind, not a windmill in her sights, and in full knowledge of Spain’s emergency resources. I was present and content.
I was starting to realize that the only one who could rescue me, is myself.