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  • Will

big boys don't cry

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Photo: a 2m line of caterpillars, nose to bum.

Following on from such is life, day 15 - 20, Monday, 22nd – 27th April 2013

Jaca to Puente La Reina , 131km – 5 days.

These were slow days, slow and empty days. I didn’t know it at the time but these days were like reading the last few lines in the chapter ending the first part of my pilgrimage.

I was finding an inexpressible joy in almost everything I was experiencing. I loved watching the water form droplets on my eyelashes as I walked through the water colour grey early morning mist. I would stop and suck in lungful’s of petrichor, the beautiful earthy aroma when the sun heats the wet earth. I watched in fascination as a 2m line of caterpillars, joined nose to bum crossed my path, why do they do that? After nearly being deleted from existence in a snow blizzard in the Pyrenees, I welled up at the slightest provocation. It could be a weird-looking tree, a cat stretched in the sun, a little old lady sweeping her doorstep, all brought a catch to my throat and a sting to my eyes.

Photo: the track leading to a remote hilltop alburgue 1 day out from Jaca.

Photo: an old hospital from the middle ages, near Galar.

It was in these micro experiences I felt I was being kissed gently to wakefulness.

For the first time in my life, I felt the “inside me” and “outside me” were in sync. These empty days were a classroom where I learned, unbelievably late in life, I had never quite mastered emotional vulnerability. As a child, I was taught “big boys don’t cry”, and spent a lifetime perfecting this self-harm strategy. It turns out it’s the little boys who don’t cry.

One morning, I bid farewell to the breakfast table. Giuseppe waved his hand in front of his face. I wasn’t sure if he was shooing a fly or making the sign of the cross. Later that day, he misjudged the height from the pavement to the road. Luckily the ground broke his fall. I found him sitting on the concrete outside the next refuge. His knee looked like a water balloon. Arrivederci Giuseppe, my favourite deranged Italian pilgrim, I teared up.

A few days later, I was saying goodbye to the five beautiful French nuns. Out of fifteen pilgrims, I was the only one heading west, all the others were turning north to Pamplona. The smallest nun was also the best at English. She took my hands in both of her tiny wrinkled hands, looked directly into my eyes and with a huge sunshine smile and whispered “we call you Mr Calf”. A reference to my very slightly overdeveloped calf muscles, I teared up, I teared up a lot.

I had been warned that traffic on the Camino would increase 10-fold when I reached Puente La Reina. I had to believe it because it was dropped into the conversation so matter-of-factly. The problem was, I just couldn’t imagine 10x15 pilgrims. One hundred and fifty travellers, how was that even possible? Where would we all sleep, wasn't it going to be crowded?

Photo: the road leading into Puente la Reina, it was all about to change.

It’s odd isn’t it, the way one moment, one glance, one hesitation, a turn left or right, can change the whole trajectory of your life? These slow and empty days were closing this chapter and I had no idea how the next chapter would read.

At least it would be an amazing start, the next town had the most fantastic bridge.


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