Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Camino Stories: The Pole in the Rain

Alto de Perdon

Having spent the previous night in Pamplona, we had a leisurely breakfast , bought ourselves some yoghurt and fruit for our lunch, and a little before noon set off on our journey.

Soon we reached the campus of the University of Navarra ‒ at the main office of which we were able to get our Credencials stamped – and then, having passed through the suburb of Cizur Minor, we came upon a peaceful wooded area where we could hear the calling of birds and buzzing of bees. It was almost as if we were entering a sacred area belonging to Nature. We even came upon a peaceful waterhole reminiscent of the one near Patanangala in Sri Lanka’s Yala nature reserve where my son Shivantha and I had spent many a happy family holiday during his childhood.

It was at Patanangala that one afternoon Shivantha (then five years old) and I had left the rest of the extended family behind at the bungalow where we were all staying and walked along the beach where quite serendipitously we came across one of the most beautiful sights we had seen – the estuary where the river waters met the sea. There were no other humans to be seen – just hordes of colourful butterflies, a group of white storks at the river’s edge, a few water buffalo lazily immersing themselves in the warm water, and on the far side a family of elephants contentedly helping themselves to their evening meal of leafy branches broken off the jungle trees.

Holding my hand and with his eyes incredulously wide open, my five-year-old son, who was at the time well versed (thanks to his grandmother) in all the Bible stories, exclaimed, “Tha, is this The Promised Land?”

This ‘Promised Land’ in Yala became part of our family folklore – one of those treasured memories that father and son share and years later still reminisce about. I used to say that when I finally pass away, I would like him to take my ashes and return them to the earth at this place in Yala.

And now on the Camino, so many thousand miles away from Yala and Sri Lanka, father and son stopped for a while to savour the scenery – and reminisce about a long ago time and a far away place that we called The Promised Land.

From here our route climbed upwards to the summit of the Hill of Forgiveness (Alto de Perdon) with its metal sculpture of windswept pilgrims and a row of wind turbines that emphasise the importance Spain places on eco-power. While we were making our way down from the summit it started to rain – a drizzle of raindrops at first which soon turned into pelting cold rain. We put on our raincoats and, with raindrops smudging our spectacles (why has no one yet invented windscreen wipers for spectacles?), trudged downward along the muddy path.

It was here that we came across a man fallen by the side of the path. When we saw this human form covered in a blue raincoat lying in a muddy puddle, with the rain falling on him and the muddy water trickling downhill and soaking him, my first thought was, “Is this creature alive?” We stopped, and when we were able to make out the rise and fall of the man’s breathing, we roused him and asked if he needed help. Although we repeatedly offered to help him get up – me asking in English and Spanish and Shivantha in French and Italian ‒ he said he was OK and declined our offer of assistance. I decided to leave him and walk on – there is little we can do to help a person who rejects our offer of help – but my son was not happy, and even after we left the fallen pilgrim Shivantha kept turning around to look at the man, still lying inebriated in the mud with the rain falling around him and the muddy water trickling past him.

As we kept walking and Shivantha kept turning round to look, we saw the three Austrian pilgrims who had been some distance behind us stopping to talk to the man. When Shivantha saw the man shakily getting to his feet, he turned around, left me and walked back to the spot.

The next thing I saw was Shivantha marching back towards me, carrying his own pack on his back – and the man’s pack (soaked with water and cowdung) strapped to the front of my son’s chest! Supported by the old Austrian, the man himself was staggering along. I could see him shivering and his teeth chattering. Like this the two of us and the three old Austrians (a man and two ladies) walked on with him till we came to the albergue at Camino del Perdon in Uterga, where we checked in and handed the man we had found in the rain to the care of the hospitaleros in the albergue. As we picked up our packs to go to our rooms, he turned to Shivantha, raised his hand and said slowly, “Thank you much”‒ which probably represented almost all the words of English he knew. The incident reminded me of the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan – the only difference being that my son did not offer to pay for the man’s board and lodging at the inn.

The man, we discovered, was named Jasek, a pilgrim from Poland who for some reason which we never discovered had gone out from the albergue that afternoon and had been seen seated by the path with a cask of white wine which he had consumed completely.

Thanks to our friend Fahdi, our group of compañeros – twelve in all – ws able to arrange a five-roomed house for ourselves at the cost of €50 for each very comfortable room. The others kindly gave us the biggest room which had two beds and an attached bathroom with Jacuzzi. This was exactly what Shivantha needed to clean himself of the mud and dirt he had acquired carrying the drunken man’s pack!

We finished the day with a hearty pilgrim dinner at the Camino del Perdon albergue – steaming lentil soup, fried trout, apple tart with ice cream and some very acceptable red wine. While seated at dinner we saw our Polish friend, now cleaned up and looking warm, seated at a table by himself having dinner (without wine). He looked much healthier than he did when we first saw him – and managed to give us a smile and a wave.

My son had taught me a valuable Camino Lesson: Along the Camino – as along the journey of Life – be ever prepared to help a stranger in distress. Even those who may reject your initial offer of assistance can be helped.

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This entry was posted on July 28, 2020 by in camino de santiago, Pilgrimage, spirituality and tagged , .
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