64. “Always Go Forward” or “Go Back:” Common Sense on the Camino


I know that sometimes the temperature might be in the 90’s. I know that there are albergues which have bunkbeds for 160 peregrinos, but only in two or three rooms. I know that the next albergue, or even the next hostel, pension, or hotel, might be 6 miles. I can usually find sufficient information; however, I don’t always react wisely to what I know. I don’t always use common sense.

I awoke after somebody switched on the overhead lights at 5am. Within five minutes, ten or so other peregrinos were waking up, stowing their gear in their bags, and leaving the albergue. After lying in bed for another 30 minutes, I decided that I might as well do the same. So, around 6am, I began walking the 22 kilometers from Puente la Rei to Estella early in the morning. As I was entering the main square, I heard ten men repeating a phrase after one of their group said something. I thought “odd.” When I walked to the other side of the square, I saw them stop at a church. They began singing a beautiful harmony which I assumed was a religious hymn. “What wonderful music to start the day!” Little did I know what else I would say later that day!

Because of the dark clouds, I assumed that there was a good chance of rain. Because I could see rain the near distance, I finally stopped and put on my rain jacket and covered my backpack with a poncho. When the rain came, it really came. It was a hard, driving rain. Then the temperature quickly dropped. For a few minutes, I felt sleet rather than simply rain. Unlike a few other pilgrims who had stopped under a tree, I kept trudging on toward Estella.

My plan was to stop at the local Tourist Information Office marked on the map as being on the far side of town. As in Logrono, I hoped the office would help me find a place to spend the night. With the rain, I realized that my soaked clothes needed to have plenty of space to dry.

After walking past the two bridges leading to the downtown area of Estella, I looked on my side of the street, and on the other side of the street, for the tourist information office which was indicated on the map. I didn’t see it. In the pouring rain, I kept walking since I thought: “Surely it will show up soon!” Gradually, I realized that I was no longer in a commercial area but a residential area. I had that wet, sinking feeling that there were not going to be any more places to spend the night.

What to do? I finally saw a bar. A patron understood the universal sign for sleeping, tilting one’s head horizontally, placing your hands under one’s head, and closing one’s eyes. I pointed in both directions. Toward the direction I was headed, he said “Two-three kilometers.” Toward the direction that I had already walked, he said “One or two kilometers.” Again, what to do? On the one hand, I generally operate under the principle: “Always go forward.” I never wanted to re-walk that distance the next day. My feet might not forgive me! On the other hand, I heard the words “Go back!” I was very cold, very wet, and wasn’t sure that even if I kept walking that I would find a place to stay. Reluctantly, I decided to walk back to Estella. But, then, where would I stay in Estella?

As I walked toward Estella, I passed a convenience store/ gas station. I thought, “Well, I might as well stop and see if somebody inside can help.” I was not hopeful since I did not expect much help or even sympathy from a young kid working behind a counter, to be honest. I was surprised when I found a 40-ish man working the counter. When I asked “Tourist Information Office? Hotel?” I was even more surprised when he smiled, reached under the counter, and pulled out a map of Estella. He marked where we were and where the newly located Tourist Information Office was. To be sure I got started in the right direction, he walked with me out of the store and pointed in a specific direction. I thought “What a nice fellow.” Praying that the Tourist Information Office would be opened, I found that it was not only open, but also staffed by a very helpful woman. She only needed to say “You are looking for a place to stay? Two hotels, only three minutes up the street.” I stopped at the first hotel. It actually had a room!

I don’t always act with common sense. I could have been strong-headed and kept walking. I would have changed my goal for the day, but I wouldn’t have to retrace any steps. I would have ignored the changing weather conditions and their effect on my body simply to avoid repeating any steps. Fortunately, I recognized the new situation, my limits, and the danger to myself. I knew that I needed to trust the good residents of Estella who had welcomed and assisted cold and wet peregrinos for many centuries. I thought “Well, they have one more peregrine to welcome today!”

Our term “common sense” is, at times, another way of stating the classic virtue of prudence. In classic discussions, prudence is not the same as being a “prude.” Instead, it is being able to adjust to situations and in those situations, act wisely according to one’s goals and values.

Prudence is not an uncommon virtue in our lives. Students know to allow time to research and write papers. Faculty know to investigate “best practices” to find helpful ways to improve their teaching. College administrators know to compare their schools with peer institutions as they set goals and determine priorities.

We frequently know that we must understand our situations as well as our goals. The challenge, however, is to act properly given that knowledge. I knew that I needed to walk back the one or two kilometers to find a bed. I also realized that I had to fight the urge to keep on walking. Acting with common sense is not always easy!


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