(Written 3 days ago)
The hostel I stayed at last night was wonderful. The place is called Casa Paderborn, run by a pair of charming German women named Anneliese and Uschi, who are engaging and very efficient! It was only 7 euro, 10 including breakfast, which I readily signed up for. It is the least expensive of the hostels in Pamplona, the homiest, and sits alone in the park on the East side of town, right on the river. It is also just below the large fortified walls of oldtown, a very short walk! Yet there were few pilgrims there, thankfully for me! As is my customary strategy, I just rolled into the center of town until I became hopelessly turned around and then found a cafe with wifi and looked up lodgings. Yes, I hit the jackpot. Uschi is more quiet and reserved, but I talked with Analiese a lot, about a lot of things. We talked about healthcare, languages, this area of Spain, interesting things along my route, books, and Pamplona in particular, of which I was ignorant.
Pamplona, of course, as it is assumed every American is aware, is the famous Spanish city of “the Bull Run,” the legendary gory, paganistic ritual we all have heard of and probably seen second-hand.
I cannot help thinking of Crete and a certain Minotaur- it as if some vestige of Greek culture from the Age of Taurus found its way to Spain… Earnest Hemingway also spent a lot of time there: he has a statue, a café, and a street named after him! I can say nothing in defence of my ignorance, but I also was none-too excited, I’m afraid… I have been yearning for the woods of late, beginning to see cities as only places to stock up on food and struggle to navigate. I must admit, Hemingway is not one of my favorites… I can feel the collective cringe, but it is how I feel. I am excited to get to France. Each new region is permeated by a different frequency of vibration, and I am excited to see what’s on the other side of those mountains! As with Portugal, I feel as if I have been in Spain for a month!
Once I made my way out of the labyrinth, it was smooth sailing, now angled South toward Jaca, which, when pronounced correctly, sounds right when the word “loogie” is said after it. My tendons were a little tender, and I am back on ibuprofen. I must mention that I paid 7 euro in Portugal for anti-inflammatories, but for a greater quantity of stronger dosage, which is actually “ibuprofen,” I paid less than 2 euro here in Spain. Odd. Once warmed up I felt good, but did not do too well taking it easy, for I rode about 100 kilometers today, with a lot of hills! Today has been spent in one of my usual haunts, the aptly named, “Middle of Nowhere.” No towns, no stores, no restaurants. When at last I entered what seemed big enough to call a town, I felt very, very deep… until I saw a billboard for McDonalds. What a buzzkill.
The reason I rode so far today is because there was only one hostel a suitable distance away. It warmed up today, and as I made it into this very small town, I realized I was quite tired and a little dehydrated. Today is the first in a long time in which I rode in a t-shirt and felt hot in my tights- meanwhile, the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains are coming into view, so I tried to soak it in! I arrive in town, and find the hostel. This town is very nice, with good stone construction of houses, shops and roads in a classic medieval layout. I roll up and hear lots and lots of children. Hmmm… I look around and see a sign that says the “hall” is reserved for the school from 3-6:30. Unsure of what to do, and none-too anxious to test the waters, I wait, for it is 5:45. I stretch, eat, and read. Around 6:15, the sounds of children disappear, and I hear what sounds like dishes being rounded up. I peek in the window and the lights are off, with a figure leaving out the back door. Hmmm… I try the door. It is open. The building is empty, however. I read the signage, but the message is vague… something about the lady in charge coming by in the afternoon, but it is the afternoon, almost evening. Perhaps it is a matter of calling a number and someone showing up, which is a common small-town practice.
At a loss, for I see no number and have no phone, I lock my bike to a bench outside and go to check out the bar. I round the corner and here is another Peregrino, wonderful! I ask him if he is looking for the Alburgue, but he is not, he said something about popping in to take some pictures of the cathedral before heading back to Jaca and catching a bus to Barcelona or something- I don’t know, he was talking as if I was a native speaker, which is to say, fast and casual. He has a phone though, and for some reason the numbers to call for the hostel. We try both, to no avail. Ah well, I copy the numbers down and thank him for trying.
I pass the bar, which looks closed. I wander around the town for a little while, not nervous, for I have all the time in the world. This place is deserted. I find a fountain and fill up my water bottle, then try the door just for the heck of it as I pass the bar. It opens. There is a turtle-esque man in a tiny bar watching with intense interest a Spanish-dubbed Western-flick starring none other than Ronald Reagan. “Estas abierto?” He shrugs and waves at the bar accompanied by a “si,” as if to say, “Yeah, sure, the door is open, so I will sell you a beer, of course- what a strange, formal way of asking…” He pours me a glass and we watch the end of the movie. I then ask him about the alburgue. “Is the door open?” “Yes.” “Then you can stay there.” Somewhat taken aback, I sit down and finish my beer. As I pay the man, I ask again, just to make sure: “So I can go in there?” “Of course, don’t worry yourself. The door is open, you can sleep there. You look responsible (or ‘as long as you are responsible,’ I’m not sure), we are relaxed here.”
Okay! I pull my bike inside and take a look. There is a dining area and a washer/dryer on the first floor, and a kitchen, which is locked. I go up a flight and there is a set of men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers. I go around the corner and there are two bunkrooms. There is some dry mud on the floor in one, and it looks like a bed or two is used. I climb another flight of stairs and there is an open hangout area with futon chairs and a couch on one side, a table and chairs on the other, which looks like a crafting area. This building is like the town grange hall, from the looks of it, and it is nice, with murals and such!
Well, I am a little wary, but I unpack my stuff, set up a bunk and carry my bike up the first flight of stairs. I take a shower, and the water is very hot! All the lights work, probably the heaters too… This place is a ghost hostel. I say that because it is empty, yes, but primarily because it seems to be the last holdout of open goodwill, kindness and trust! I have not been asked to pay by anyone here, although the only person I have talked to was this barkeep. I actually just went over there for a sandwich, but the door was closed… I will try again at seven I guess. Itlooks like maybe they clean this place once a week, or as needed? Either way, it looks like no one has checked the bunkrooms in a day or two. What a strange thing this is, what a charming, quaint place… it feels too good to be true, of course. I can’t help thinking of “The Children of the Corn…” I tell you, if I survive tonight, I will have crushed my budget today. I have spent 3 euros so far. If the bar stays closed, it will stay there, but I hope not. A sandwich there is the only food in town, and the beer!
I did succeed in spending more money at the bar. I checked again, and the door was open. The place was full of people, to my surprise, and they were speaking what sounded vaguely like English… I wade through the crowd and order a beer. I listen a moment more, and confirm that they are in fact speaking english; English english. I strike up a conversation, for I am astounded to find six rowdy Englishmen in this quiet little town. I ask them, quite forwardly, what the hell they are doing here, for it is a pertinent question. It turns out that this is a very popular location, due to the mountains, for gliding. Not paragliding, but riding in a glider-plane. This itself is unusual, and I probe them about this. I had actually seen them on the ride today: I looked up and saw two planes, one that looked like a Cessna, and the other like some sort of drone or something. I realized the one was towing the other and deduced that it was a glider, which I found unusual and intriguing, and it took some concentration not to crash as I watched them. So here they were, the very people!
One of the two men I spoke with was amiable, working class type, genuine. The other was, as I came to find, a backwards, mildly evil, acolyte of the Cult of Mammon; he was a wealthy prig, to put it simply. He was handsome and charming, that is, before he started wearing that inevitable “shit-eating grin” that says “I think that I am handsome and charming” and totally puts one off. I ended up breaching the subject of economy as a way of continuing the conversation, as it was not so much organic as fueled by the strange means of our crossing paths. He talked about how it was great that America had discovered “shale gas,” which is fracking. He complained about the green movement in the UK stopping their own extraction of it, and went on to speak of “service economies” and how the English speaking countries would stay on top, always have been and always will. I was somewhat shocked to hear it said explicitly, but not surprised that such a man held such views.
This type is a manifestation of what one might call “innocent evil,” a man blind to his own soul, unwilling or unable to listen to his subconscious or his heart, whose life revolves around money and power. There is nothing wrong with doing well for yourself in the world- on the contrary, it is vitally important to make your own way in life, to develop useful skills, to cultivate value for yourself and your community. People who do this for the wrong reasons, those who care first and foremost about money, status, and power live out a philosophy of fear and mistrust. It is a life of paranoia and profound emptiness, spent chasing after ideals and running from one’s demons. It is a process of selling out, searching for ever novel diversions to try to fill the hole only spirituality and community can fill. We should pity these people, for they are broken, but it is hard, because they are expressions of destruction, fear, egotism. Their lives are pitiful, unworthy of man, and there are many of them. His character was revealed in a very short period of time, and towards the end of the conversation. It is to a degree our own fault, for we participate in and validate many of the traits that produce such malformed creatures in Western society. Yeah. I will have you know that I feel no contempt for this man, these are simply observations.
He did, however, enlighten me to the political motivations behind Brexit. I am learning a lot about European politics and they are fascinating, for there are many, many parallels. He bought me a beer though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
I ate a giant sandwich after the English retired, and spent a very creepy night in the Alburgue. I didn’t want to lock the door in case someone needed in, or wanted in, as it was not my building and I was here out of the town’s generosity, but this was precisely what I was afraid of, someone entering. After getting spooked by errant sounds coming from outside and upstairs, I drifted into a heavy sleep.
I made it through the night, and I must say quite digressively that it felt nice to walk around a random three-story building in my underwear. So much can happen in the Middle of Nowhere.
From me to you, a peculiar happening in a quiet corner…