Days on the Camino, What I Miss (Part II), and a Secret to Happiness

Typical Second Breakfast, greatest time of day ever

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and probably what I have missed most upon my re-entry into the so-called Real World are two keys of the good life:  the simplicity of my days unfolding one day at a time, and a clear sense of purpose.  We are meaning-seeking creatures, and we don’t live by bread alone. We also live by purpose, which is another way of saying meaning.

It had been a long time since my mind was not continually gnawing over the future (or, just as unhappily, the past), but that is how I lived for a month while in Spain.  On the Camino, my mind was rarely occupied by anything farther into the future, or more complicated, than the next meal (prepared by others) and rest break (I was able to handle these on my own).  I had a very clear sense of what I was doing, and why, and I looked forward to each unfolding stage of it.

Days on the Camino

When I woke up in the mornings on the Camino, I didn’t have to sort through options about what to do – one of many types of decision-making tasks that researchers tell us are mentally and physically exhausting.  I also didn’t have to wonder what would happen that day.  I thought, if anything, about First Breakfast.

A croissant or drinkable yogurt, coffee, perhaps jam, fruit.

After First Breakfast, we would begin walking.  Where?  Easy:  just follow the yellow arrows.  As we walked, I would begin slowly to entertain fantasies about Second Breakfast.  The food was often similar to First Breakfast, or at least there was more of it (once, at 9:15a.m. I ate an entire medium pizza).  And about two hours after Second Breakfast, I was pining for First Lunch.  It sounds like a dog’s life, no?  Or a child’s.  This simplicity and living in the moment is part of what Jesus, a famous lover of food and drink and the common table, meant when he exhorted us to be like children.

Marie Anne's wonderful First Dinner in Cizur Menor. Me, Julio, Marie Anne, Carrie

During some of these walking breaks and even while walking, I would whip out my (paper) notebook and take notes, or, if we were in a café or near a boulder with good seating, I might even open my MacBook Air and start writing up notes (one of the reasons I chose my Air was that its Flash drive makes it turn on as fast as a paper notebook, or a cell phone – I just open it up and start using it – with none of the endless waiting and wailing and churning of Windows or of computers with hard drives).

Almost always after my shower in the early afternoon, I would lie on my back on whichever of the 30 beds I slept in while in France, Spain, and Portugal, my MacBook Air on my thighs, the purring of other pilgrims napping all around me, and I would begin transcribing notes from my notebook, then adding other thoughts and uploading the latest photos from our cameras to Facebook, and voila!  A blog post.

But “a blog post” doesn’t really capture what I was doing.  In fact, by writing and sharing my thoughts and adventures for an audience, however small (you know who you are!), I think I was living quite close to my purpose.  I am still refining that; I welcome your ideas.

I have missed that sense of purpose.  It was a slight purpose, getting up every morning to walk, walking, eating, observing, taking notes, reporting what I saw, but it was a very clear purpose, and it seemed, at the time, to be enough.

I miss expressing even my most mundane thoughts on a regular basis, and knowing someone is likely to read it, and almost as likely to be grateful for something in it.  I miss, that is, what people in certain circles might call a “practice”.  Flower-arranging is a practice.  Karate is a practice.  Yoga and meditation are practices.  Prayer and good works are practices.  Anything done mindfully, or with love, or both, puts us in practice of being fully human.

For me, writing must be one of my practices.  If I skip it, it’s like skipping exercise:  I can’t be fully happy.

Movement

I have missed the sense of freedom that comes with moving my body in healthy ways – freedom, say, from worries about gaining weight because I can eat as much or as little as I want to.  (My Camino pants are still quite big on me).  I’ve felt this liberation before, and I want to keep exercising so as to hold onto it.  Now:  how to do that in this urban wilderness that surrounds me?

Yesterday, I sort of stumbled on creating a day that felt a bit like the Camino:  it began when I walked over a mile to yoga.  Did yoga.  I then walked over three miles on trips to the bank, to Karma Café for an Indian lunch, and along the Jersey City waterfront walkway, reminding myself now and then to look up and appreciate that a short distance away, over the Hudson River on which Captain Sully crash-landed his plane, rose the concrete mountains of one of the greatest cities the world has ever known.  Then I stopped in a Starbucks to take notes and drink my first cold chai in six weeks, and continued to a federal building to pay the last of my 2009 and 2010 taxes.

Perceptions of Time 

After the sobbing at the tax office had subsided and I had gotten hold of myself, I saw that the next light-rail to Jersey City’s Heights left Pavonia-Newport in 24 minutes, and I did something absurd:  I decided instead to walk nearly three miles back to the apartment.  I remember Julio saying that his impression of Americans was that we would drive from the living room to the bathroom.  (Julio walks 250-300 days a year, sometimes across entire countries, or in Himalayas, and so on).  This 5K was for you, Julio!

Julio and I at, or after, First Dinner

I’m not disinclined to walk places anymore, because I’m not afraid of the discomfort of spending time so inefficiently.  That’s a big change.  It’s only partly a physical laziness that makes us drive.  Much of the reason we drive is because we are uncomfortable with the feeling we get when we do something inefficient, like walking, and then tell ourselves the following story:  I’m wasting my time.

This one story is a cause of much misery in modern life.

I was looking at Manhattan from Jersey City’s Heights the other

Under an hour, right, Julio?

morning and sized up the actual distance.  Based on my newfound experience in assessing how far away a village is and how long it will take to get there, I figured I could walk to Manhattan in under an hour, if there were a walking bridge.  It’s a shame there isn’t.  New Jerseyites are entirely denied the pleasure of walking into one of the world’s great cities.  They must either drive through a serpentine urban jungle, including underground, or dive underground with hundreds of other people in public transportation.

What I Miss, Part II

In a proof of the mathematical equation that says the grass is always greener, I offer the essay below as contrasted with what I said I missed just a few weeks ago while in rural Spain…

I miss other things.  Both of my cars are in Oregon.  One, the Land Rover, the World’s Most Expensive Ski Accessory, I want to sell.  Or to detonate, after first putting my HTC My Touch Android phone inside it.  The other, my BMW M3, I miss like my own child. I am reduced to public transportation here, or driving Adam’s Volvo, which is like driving an iceberg, or a continental shelf.

I miss a world in which a guilt-free nap is actually plausible.  Not that much has changed for me . . .  Of course, I don’t really need them anymore, since no one dares wake me up at oh-god-thirty.

I miss having feeling on two (or is it three?) of my right toes.  They still feel kind of tingly, if not entirely numb, just as they often did while walking in the Five Fingers.  And that was before I — “stubbed” doesn’t quite capture the crushing impact they made with a rock — on the trail.

I miss that on the Camino there was nothing more that could be done, with the result that I didn’t worry any part of the day about whether I could be doing more – a hallmark of the over-achiever, of the unhappy person.  Instead, for the first time in a very long time, I was doing all I could do – or all I was choosing to believe I needed to do.

In the Pyrenees

I know there is a secret recipe for happiness in that.

Walking at home…

It’s been a few days since we’ve returned. The first few days were busy with all the usual tasks. Mail sorting, bill paying, laundry, dusting, leave raking and shopping for groceries.

The day after I got home, a friend came to pick me up to drive to Grand Junction. T.V. station KREX wanted an interview with Carrie and I. Well, that was fun.


Also a reporter from the Daily Sentinel was there at the same time (click link to read). See the NBC11 News report.  It was on the news that Sunday night. KREX took some artistic license with the contents (and my name) but overall the word was out. Carrie had an interview with KKCO the next day and some more pictures of our journey were shown.

Sunday afternoon, Carrie, her mom, and her sister came, as did a few friends of mine, who wanted to meet Carrie. They wanted to hear what her impression and thoughts were. How or why it had changed her. That was a very nice afternoon, recalling and remembering our journey and as long as we get to talk about it, it hasn’t ended. My friend Carla stayed to help me write a letter to Marianne, in French.

All my friends and people I know, i.e. Post Office, grocery store, etc. tell me how well I look. They say I’m glowing. Perfect picture of health. (From their lips to God’s ear.) I feel really well. I’ve lost 5 lbs since I’m back. My body is shedding fluids. I’ve also started to take Avemar. This is a fermented wheat germ product and is to improve immune system as well as detox. I’ve seen a one-hour special, called Run from the cure“.  It’s about oil made from hemp that helps to cure or alleviate many illnesses. Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, apparently does not help in cancer cases.

Strangers called me and asked for advice for lifestyle changes, to improve their health. I told them that I’m working on getting a cooking class together and would love to show them how this can be done, making small changes and working up to the grander scale.

During those first days, I still felt displaced and out of sorts. I was missing the simple act of walking, of meeting pilgrims.  I was told when the P.E.T scan appointment was made that I was not to do straineous exercise. The long walk was the reason I had to wait 3 weeks for my body to become ‘resting’. I’ve tried. I really have, but yesterday, was a gorgeous late fall day. The special kind we have here on the Western Slope. My body was idling, revving to go. (What I did not miss, was the JAMON.)

So, I put my snazzy camino boots on and walked the path by the river. The San Juan mountains, south of me were snow covered and brilliant against the azure sky. Trees still had gold, green, yellow foliage. I could almost pretend I was walking the camino. Horses were in one pasture and then I saw a pair of foxes. Their ears came up as I passed but they stayed.

I was still thinking about some of the places I’d been, when some people walked toward me. Automatically I said ‘Buen Camino’.  They smiled and said “Good morning.” I chuckled to myself; maybe they thought I was Mexican.

I felt bad thinking about those poor people getting pounded by this freak snow storm, back East, when I was enjoying this perfect weather that we have here, oh, about 300 days out of the year.

It felt so good to just keep moving. I walked a measly 3.5 miles but felt so much better. I don’t think this will hurt anything? In any case, I’ll stop walking a few days prior to the appointment. It’ll all settle. Of course, now I’m also thinking what all these tests might show? But, I push those thoughts away. There’s no use on trying to analyze something that I don’t know. Would drive you crazy, if you allow it.

I suppose walking the camino at my age and circumstance may be a bigger deal than I thought. Or, perhaps it’s the curiosity of avoiding chemo that makes this newsworthy. Could be, because I did finish the walk. In any case, a reporter from “The Watch”, a regional newspaper called yesterday for an interview. This one is coming out Thursday and can accessed online. My 15 minutes of fame. But more so, everyone is anticipating the results of these tests. Waiting, wondering if all this walking has done something unique. I know it has, without results from tests. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the great weather and walks and even go up to the Black Canyon. I think walking there will be gorgeous right now.

 

 

 

 

Casanova Mato, Arzua, Pedrouzo, and Santiago

From October 12 on . . .

After some confusion and miscommunication about the transport of Quasimodo, we set off around 7:30a.m.  It’s still dark, with a full moon.  Going past a forest and up a hill.  Mist rising in the valley, and we’re walking with Rene, from Jena.  He’s into holistic medicine and also works with crystals.  Walking is brisk in the morning and our path goes uphill quite a bit.  I am truly amazed how hilly Spain is!

We stop at a store and I buy fruit and my beloved Spanish pepper.  Someone should import these.  When I think of the ones back home, in comparison, they seem plastic.  Temps were going up to 32C.  My whole body got hot as I still wore two pairs of socks (so as not to blister).  Also greased my feet and toes with Nivea.  We stop at one little bar and have a fresh and natural raspberry drink.  Oh, my, that was so good!

Mainly we walk through sunlit forests, but we’re still going up.  One particular steep hill — I dedicated this one to my cousin Renate.  Another for my sister, brother, and close friends.  There are enough hills here for half of the people in Montrose.  Sure was glad when the 17+kms were done today.  Now I’m sitting under an old gnarly apple tree, looking out at hilly landscape, and wide swatches of fall colors.  Birds are singing, and it’s another peaceful spot.

Stopped in Casanova Mato.  The refugio is right on the road.  There are only five houses here, and no store.  Carrie and I are ahead of Cameron, who took advantage of free wi-fi and stayed longer at the last spot.  The woman talks very rapidly in answer to my questions.  I tell her, “No habla Espanol.”  It’s nice and clean and has a kitchen.  This was put in as a joke, since there’s no store here.  We showered with the usual sound of ahhhhhhh.

Cameron caught up.  We were told that there was an albergue 1.5km away that would pick us up.  That was too far to walk, even for very hungry pilgrims.  We got a very good lentil soup — we ate two plates each.  Then meatballs, home-made fries, peas and carrots, all in a nice sauce.  Water, bread, wine.  A very reasonably priced good meal.  We are happy campers.  We were chauffered back and I told Carrie that I could purr like a cat now.

There are ten bunks total, and they’re all filled up.  I read a bit, and talked to a German woman next to me, who has walked from France, but by a different route.  The street light shines right into my face, and I had to put my mask on.  Then I woke up, out of a deep sleep, because the Spanish couples came in, talking, rustling.  Finally, quiet, until one of them starts snoring.  Deep, loud, and going on most of the night.  I was dismayed, thinking of the long hike ahead with barely any sleep.

Got up at 5:30 and got ready.  Again only one bathroom for all of us.  We left at 6:15, one cup of tea and one small piece of bread we’d brought from the restaurant last night.  Carrie was the only one who had a light.  Cameron lost his, and mine was empty, as I’d used it to read.  There was a full moon, but of no use, since we had to go through a very dark forest.  And so we trekked along.  After 4-plus kilometers, I shared the last bit of chocolate, which only made us more hungry.

Cameron figured we’d have to walk about 9km before reaching a larger place.  I was thinking of all these refugees who walk for days without food.  Finally, we saw a large city and we knew there was a bar open somewhere.  Having come up some more steep hills, I was famished.  We walked around a corner and there it was.  We could have pizza and sandwiches, and there was Internet and cafe con leche!  Almost paradise.

We stayed for over an hour.

Ten more kilometers to go.  I would never have guessed how many hills Spain actually has.  We’re going through lovely forests, but also steep inclines.  I dedicated each to a different person.  My heart friends:  Irene, Bonnie, Inge, Carla.  The next hills to Rowena, Jayne, and Willa Kay.  The last steep one to Cameron.  Then suddenly I felt shaky and dizzy.  We stopped and Carrie gave me a banana, and then we kept going.

The stench of liquid manure, pig farms, etc., is overwhelming.  As beautiful as Galicia is, so far it smells the worst of all.  In between, we would smell natural scents of hay, dry leaves, eucalyptus, fennel, roses, mushrooms, and even camomille.  We were ecstatic.  We arrived at the next town, but then decided not to stay in another dormitory with noisy people.

We took a taxi for a few kilometers to Arzua and checked into a hostel with nice, soft beds and towels.  After the usual shower, Carrie and I took off to find a grocery store, and when we did, and the automated door of the grocery store opened, we both said, “Ahhh, look how pretty!”  There were shelves of food, and it was very clean.  I went to the produce section and almost wept with joy.  Everything was there, and my wonderful red peppers too.  I bought grapes and cheese, bread, yogurt, tomatoes, salad, and dressing, plus plastic plates.  We came back and had a picnic on the bed.

We had found Internet (expensive as usual).  I also thought of the high prices they charge along the way for a small cup of coffee and a piece of toast, 3 Euros.  We haven’t seen much of this town, so very near Santiago, but we are too tired.  Carrie and I watched some Spanish soap opera, and laughed at the bad acting.  And since we didn’t understand, we made up our own dialogue.

I want to make sure of this distinction:  that we only know the food on the Camino.  I am not saying all food in Spain is this indifferent.  We don’t know how people eat elsewhere in Spain.  There simply isn’t any desire nor creativity to be different along the Way.  Cameron suggested starting a moveable deli, starting at one point and moving along to meet pilgrims wherever possible.

Pedrouzo

We’re in Pedrouzo now.  This is a very nice albergue.  Near new, clean, wooden bunks, sheets and pillows.  In the middle of the dormitory is a plant topiary with soothing water running.  There’s nice soft music playing overhead, and it’s truly an oasis.  The usual ritual followed:  I washed all clothes — in a machine – and hung them out in the fresh air and sun.  Then Carrie and I went looking for a grocery store.  Not many choices, they said, since it was Saturday.  But we found one and got the usual:  bread, cheese, grapes, and white asparagus for me.

We ran into Rene, who was staying there as well, and he joined us outside for dinner.  He talked of his journey, and disappointments.  How unfriendly, unsmiling the business people, waiters, etc., on the Camino had been.  He was upset at the cruelty to and neglect of the animals.  “You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat their animals,” he stated.  Then he asked me if it was true that people in the U.S. had the claws from their cats removed?  I said yes, I had seen a few without claws.  He said, “It’s just like ripping out your toes.”  He was visibly upset, put his face in his hands, and just shook his head.

Next morning, sure enough, the rustling and bathroom-goers started at 5a.m.  Then, as people walked into the hallway, a light came on automatically, and shone in everyone’s faces.  They need taller walls — the kind that go all the way up to the ceiling.  I got up at 6a.m., Carrie did too.  I went to the coffee machine to have a cup.  It made such a racket that I walked away so no one would know that it was me!

Cameron needed to work some more while he had wi-fi, but since it would be 20-plus kilometers, I wanted to leave at the agreed-upon time of 7a.m.  Carrie and I left and made our way, looking for our yellow arrow.  Here came the forest . . . deeep and dark.

She cranked up her light, and then we remembered that Cameron wouldn’t have a light.  Back she went a little way, left her penlight and a note.  I doubted that he would see it, but hoped that he would find some other pilgrims coming through.  After a while, Carrie and I agreed that we’d never have done this at home.  We actually felt safe here.

Finally, a different path, then forest again.  Then small hamlets started to appear.  Same slate-stone houses, with corncribs.  By now, we would know that if there were six houses, two to three would be in ruins.  After an hour or so we saw our first bar.  Stopped for cafe con leche and Carrie had a fresh OJ.  We waited 20 minutes, then moved on.  I told her that Cameron would catch up, probably singing, “She’s a lady, woh woh woh, she’s a lady.”

 

The End of This Way

Pedrouzo to Santiago – 18km

We weren’t in a hurry this morning.  For most of the walk we went at a leisurely pace, putting me in mind of the pilgrims to Canterbury, England, who once rode their horses and donkeys toward their destination at neither a slow trot nor a fast gallop, but somewhere in between, which is why we now have the word canter.

If you think Priceline (above) is confusing, definitely avoid Kemwel.com

I did start late, though, and so spent the first hour or so catching up to Mom and Carrie.  I had stayed behind at the albergue to try to get a car rental from Santiago to Lisbon, and I worked at this until I realized several things:  (1) Priceline’s notions of arithmetic are akin to Camino café-bars’ ideas about spaghetti Bolognese (2) car rental giant Kemwel.com has not yet entered the era of user-friendliness or common sense, to put it mildly, and (3) it is impossible to rent a car one-way in Europe for a price less than that of booking a private jet.

We’re at about the 42nd parallel, which is perhaps near the California-Oregon border in the U.S., but it’s still dark until well after eight a.m. because while the Spanish discovered America for Europe, they haven’t yet discovered Daylight Savings Time.

About forty-five minutes after Mom and Carrie had gone, I left Pedrouzo at a fast pace and found myself in a dark wood.  Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I . . .

I waited for some pilgrims who hadn’t lost their headlamps.  Instead I got pilgrims who had no lights at all, and one who tried to use his phone.  The wood was so dark that I couldn’t even make out the ubiquitous Pilgrim Litter Navigation System.  Once a group of ten of us had bunched up, murmuring in three or four different languages, we concluded via groupthink to take the wider path, a decision that, unlike the Bay of Pigs, worked out pretty well.  I caught Mom and Carrie about an hour later, and I was pouring sweat.  I don’t remember the song I was singing as I came up from behind, but they were convincingly disappointed that it wasn’t “She’s a Lady”.

A Spaniard on a bike asked us if we’d seen a group of four men, including one with a beard.  No, we hadn’t.  Why?  Well, the bearded man and a woman had fallen in love some stages back, and then they’d gotten separated.  The biker was trying to find the man to deliver a letter from the woman that included information on how to contact her.  Awww, how sweet, right?

No.  I am sorry, but better the letter is never delivered at all.  If two people allegedly in love can’t think to negotiate contact information, what hope is there that they’ll remember to have sex, or to stop at the grocery store on the way home?

Not long afterward, we passed a pilgrim coming back from Santiago.  He was walking back to France – that is, doubling his trip.  We’d already run into an Austrian woman, perhaps late 40s or early 50s, who had begun in Toulose, France — 750 kilometers before the start of our own walk.

For Second Breakfast, I asked for the Espaguetti a la Carbonara.  Based on my bolonaise experience thus far on the Camino, I knew this was risky; my espaguetti could arrive with octopus on top, and in a pesto sauce.  Mom, feeling lucky, said she’d have one too.  But the man at the bar informed us that, sadly, there was only one.  Mom looked at the man, then at me.

“What did they do with the other one?”

A few kilometers later, she left her despised orange shirt on a sign that had been vandalized beyond usefulness anyway.  We had walked twenty yards away from it when she said, “Oh, God, now it’s whining.”  I thought she was joking, but she turned around to go back and get it.  I took out my camera, but she had turned around again.  “There are people coming,” she said sheepishly.

We walked on.  She got shaky again.  “It must be this food,” she said.  “My body is just all messed up lately.  I’ve got to get back on my diet.  I haven’t felt so many problems in my body in two years.”

Reaching Santiago

There’s not much to say about the last stage to Santiago.  After the early forests and some brief bits of farmland in ruin, we walked on backroads bordered by some aggressively ugly houses, through sparsely settled suburbs, near an active firing range where all the suburban warriors were belting out double-taps, Navy-SEAL-style, and through Santiago’s outskirts, which, like a bride’s skirts, seemed to go on forever.  We were in Santiago itself, but instead of the steep final hill that some guidebooks went on about, we were tested only by a tolerance for boredom.  Said Mom, “I won’t feel I’ve arrived until I see the cathedral.”

With a little less than a mile to go, we took a break.  I took off my trail-running shoes and discovered my first blisters, including a 2” x 3” job on my right foot and several on my toes.  The unnecessary river crossing I had done two days ago had gotten my minimalist footwear wet, and they hadn’t dried out by yesterday.  I had worn them anyway, with wool socks, but wearing them at all may have been a mistake.  You never want moisture near your foot when you walk a long way.

I took out a pair of scissors and did the kind of surgery that makes fifteen-year-old girls blanch, and then I put on my FiveFingers.  They had done almost all the work that got me here, and I would not, as Yahweh had done Moses, deny them the Promised Land right on the verge of it.

On our way to the plaza of the cathedral, we met two Seattle tourists who seem to have felt sort of bad because they’d gotten to Santiago by car.  Mom chatted with them a bit before we had to answer the magnetic pull of the finish line just a few blocks away.

When Jesus Meets Me in the Sky

I was thinking of Julio’s words to me.  “When you get to Santiago,” he’d said, “the local townspeople will greet you and offer to take you to their homes.  You’ll have dinner with them and stay the night with them.  It is a tradition there.”

I could just envision it.  People would line the road like in the Tour de France, holding out bunches of wildflowers they’d picked themselves.  Small children would squirm on their father’s shoulders, and teenagers would clamber onto the first-floor ledges of buildings, or hang from fire escapes and drain pipes.  Everyone would cry out huzzahs and hosannas.  Sloe-eyed and slender Spanish women would blow kisses.  Old women would clutch at their rosaries.

I would pick up my poles and jog around the plaza in a victory lap, but the people’s joy would not be so easily contained, oh no.  They would lift us up on their shoulders and sing to us traditional Galician songs, songs so old they were once sung by Pagans, and they would parade us around the square.  When they finally set us down, all of us laughing ourselves to tears, a member of the Knights Templar would step out of the shadows and explain that the brotherhood still existed, after all these centuries, and could I please join – nay, lead — them?

The cathedral was well-hidden on the far side of Santiago.  Also hidden were the townspeople and their homes, the huzzahs and the women, young and old.  There were no tears, there were no kisses, and the Knights Templar remained a figment of Dan Brown’s imagination.  We would stay in a pension, the Santa Cruz, run by an extremely helpful Spaniard who insisted on walking us places rather than simply give directions.

The Cathedral, and a Sort of Finish Line

The cathedral seems situated for maximum impact.  You see only spires as you approach, and then the back and side.  Then you go through a stone archway into the plaza and face the building opposite the cathedral.  And once we entered the plaza of the cathedral, I focused on watching, and filming, Mom walking ahead of me.  I surprised myself by getting a little choked up, but I’m pretty sure it was because I forgot to take my meds.

“Oh, we’re here!” she said.

Mom holds out the credentials stamped by all the albergues on the way

“You made it!” I told her.  “You did it.”

I handed Carrie the camera and hauled my backpack over to Mom.  I set it down and extracted the two battered red carnations I’d stored in it since the night before, and when she saw them she started crying again.  She didn’t even care that the stem of one was now only eight inches long.  When I pulled out the sixteen inches of the rest of the stem, she reached for that too.

Our Seattle friends

The Video 

Our Seattle friends now materialized before us and took pictures. [Read our correspondence from over four years later, in November 2015 – opens in new tab].

“We’ve been here for days,” the man said, “and you’re the first pilgrims we’ve gotten to talk to.  You guys have really accomplished something.”  It was strangely wonderful to have some witnesses, to call them that, who were fully willing to join in something so late in the day and yet still get something from it, and who gave something back.

In the cathedral floor — where you go if you don’t burn enough karma, or whatever, on the Camino

It was almost as an afterthought that we toured the cathedral.  It did not impress as much as the ones in Burgos and Leon.  There are three world-class cathedrals on the Camino:  in Burgos, Leon, and Santiago.  Burgos boasts most of the gold in South America.  Leon, its magnificent stained-glass windows.  My favorite, though, was the one in Los Arcos, because that is where something magical happened, as a father mourned his lost son, and we were witnesses to his love.  What matters, in a cathedral, is simply who’s inside it.

Nearby, we found the Pilgrims’ Office and got our Camino certificates, in Latin, which, as I work it out, means they came straight from the Vatican.

But it ain’t over till the mochilas come home.  We still had to schlep across town and pick up Mom and Carrie’s backpacks.  They were at the seminary, which turned out to be down a steep hill, up a steep hill . . .

“I’m glad we’re not staying there,” Mom said as we got close.  “It looks like a prison!  Look at the bars on the windows.”

“That’s to keep out the nuns,” I said.  Carrie then learned that a

The Seminary

seminary is an all-male facility, which we know because it shares the same root as semen.  She will have so much to share in her school report when she gets back to Colorado!

We ran into Devin, of Canada, who had walked 60km in 24 hours and now had severe tendinitis in both legs.  “I saw the sign for 50 kilometers,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I could be in Santiago by tomorrow morning.'”  We saw the 19-year-old New Zealand woman who had sped across Spain alone, on a deadline to catch a plane to London.  And Mom was overjoyed to find Barbara of Bavaria, whose husband had surprised her for their 26th wedding anniversary by flying out to join her on the last three days of the Camino.  She had walked him for 35km the first day.  “You people have got to be crazy,” he said.

Reunion with Barbara of Bavaria – in Santiago

What Have You Learned?

“When people ask you what you learned on this trip,” Mom said to Carrie, “what are you going to tell them?”

Carrie held an imaginary microphone to her mouth and sang, She’s got style / She’s got grace . . . ”

I think that’s a job well done.  Go forth and prosper, little cousin!

Me?  I learned that Galicia, especially the countryside, is in a state of disrepair.  My friend Adam, a longtime student of Spanish and Latin American history, and who is right about things that don’t really matter exactly 63% of the time, says that Galicia was depopulated during the 20th century.  The guidebooks don’t often mention that until less than forty years ago, Spain was isolated and in decline under the right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

I learned that if you’re a Pope, you can fly into Santiago in a private jet, slide into your Popemobile, and, having materialized at home base, as it were, receive the designation of “pilgrim”.

I learned that miracles are possible.  For example, in the hurly-burly of travel, I had lost both the little rubber earbuds to my iPod’s headphones.  For weeks, I stuffed the hard metal tips into my ears.  They fell out easily.  It was a hard, hard existence.  But one day, as I was walking along, I saw, draped over a branch on one of the countless trees in Spain, a black wire.  As I drew closer, I saw that there was not one wire but several.  The tip that plugged into a music source had been ripped away, but there, before my eyes, were two rubber earbuds.  I crossed myself and harvested them, leaving the hard metal tips and the rest of the wires on the branch.  They fit my own headphones perfectly.

I learnd that if the collected works of E. Presley have taught us anything, it is that the primary anxiety of a waiter wearing blue suede shoes is that you may do anything you want to do but you should lay offa his blue suede shoes; that you can burn his house, and steal his car; that you can drink his liquor from an old fruit jar.  You can do anything, that you want to do, but you oughtta lay offa his blue suede shoes.

There is no destination.  Only the way.  Recall the book by the German comedian, if you can set aside, for a moment, the oxymoron.  The jacket copy said that since its publication, the number of pilgrims had increased by 20%.  If more people go on the Camino after my book about it, they will have missed the point.  There is no Camino.  There are only caminos.  There is no camino here.  The camino, the way, is wherever you make it.

“Buen Camino!”  We have heard that hundreds of times, from fellow pilgrims afoot, from bikers, and from the Spanish.  But at no time does it seem more appropriate than now, once we’ve reached Santiago.

“Have a good Way!”

Chief Expedition Videographer, Biographer, and Podiatrist

Food on the Camino | Camino Not Chemo!

Days on the Camino, What I Miss (Part II), and a Secret to Happiness

Typical Second Breakfast, greatest time of day ever

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and probably what I have missed most upon my re-entry into the so-called Real World are two keys of the good life:  the simplicity of my days unfolding one day at a time, and a clear sense of purpose.  We are meaning-seeking creatures, and we don’t live by bread alone. We also live by purpose, which is another way of saying meaning.

It had been a long time since my mind was not continually gnawing over the future (or, just as unhappily, the past), but that is how I lived for a month while in Spain.  On the Camino, my mind was rarely occupied by anything farther into the future, or more complicated, than the next meal (prepared by others) and rest break (I was able to handle these on my own).  I had a very clear sense of what I was doing, and why, and I looked forward to each unfolding stage of it.

Days on the Camino

When I woke up in the mornings on the Camino, I didn’t have to sort through options about what to do – one of many types of decision-making tasks that researchers tell us are mentally and physically exhausting.  I also didn’t have to wonder what would happen that day.  I thought, if anything, about First Breakfast.

A croissant or drinkable yogurt, coffee, perhaps jam, fruit.

After First Breakfast, we would begin walking.  Where?  Easy:  just follow the yellow arrows.  As we walked, I would begin slowly to entertain fantasies about Second Breakfast.  The food was often similar to First Breakfast, or at least there was more of it (once, at 9:15a.m. I ate an entire medium pizza).  And about two hours after Second Breakfast, I was pining for First Lunch.  It sounds like a dog’s life, no?  Or a child’s.  This simplicity and living in the moment is part of what Jesus, a famous lover of food and drink and the common table, meant when he exhorted us to be like children.

Marie Anne's wonderful First Dinner in Cizur Menor. Me, Julio, Marie Anne, Carrie

During some of these walking breaks and even while walking, I would whip out my (paper) notebook and take notes, or, if we were in a café or near a boulder with good seating, I might even open my MacBook Air and start writing up notes (one of the reasons I chose my Air was that its Flash drive makes it turn on as fast as a paper notebook, or a cell phone – I just open it up and start using it – with none of the endless waiting and wailing and churning of Windows or of computers with hard drives).

Almost always after my shower in the early afternoon, I would lie on my back on whichever of the 30 beds I slept in while in France, Spain, and Portugal, my MacBook Air on my thighs, the purring of other pilgrims napping all around me, and I would begin transcribing notes from my notebook, then adding other thoughts and uploading the latest photos from our cameras to Facebook, and voila!  A blog post.

But “a blog post” doesn’t really capture what I was doing.  In fact, by writing and sharing my thoughts and adventures for an audience, however small (you know who you are!), I think I was living quite close to my purpose.  I am still refining that; I welcome your ideas.

I have missed that sense of purpose.  It was a slight purpose, getting up every morning to walk, walking, eating, observing, taking notes, reporting what I saw, but it was a very clear purpose, and it seemed, at the time, to be enough.

I miss expressing even my most mundane thoughts on a regular basis, and knowing someone is likely to read it, and almost as likely to be grateful for something in it.  I miss, that is, what people in certain circles might call a “practice”.  Flower-arranging is a practice.  Karate is a practice.  Yoga and meditation are practices.  Prayer and good works are practices.  Anything done mindfully, or with love, or both, puts us in practice of being fully human.

For me, writing must be one of my practices.  If I skip it, it’s like skipping exercise:  I can’t be fully happy.

Movement

I have missed the sense of freedom that comes with moving my body in healthy ways – freedom, say, from worries about gaining weight because I can eat as much or as little as I want to.  (My Camino pants are still quite big on me).  I’ve felt this liberation before, and I want to keep exercising so as to hold onto it.  Now:  how to do that in this urban wilderness that surrounds me?

Yesterday, I sort of stumbled on creating a day that felt a bit like the Camino:  it began when I walked over a mile to yoga.  Did yoga.  I then walked over three miles on trips to the bank, to Karma Café for an Indian lunch, and along the Jersey City waterfront walkway, reminding myself now and then to look up and appreciate that a short distance away, over the Hudson River on which Captain Sully crash-landed his plane, rose the concrete mountains of one of the greatest cities the world has ever known.  Then I stopped in a Starbucks to take notes and drink my first cold chai in six weeks, and continued to a federal building to pay the last of my 2009 and 2010 taxes.

Perceptions of Time 

After the sobbing at the tax office had subsided and I had gotten hold of myself, I saw that the next light-rail to Jersey City’s Heights left Pavonia-Newport in 24 minutes, and I did something absurd:  I decided instead to walk nearly three miles back to the apartment.  I remember Julio saying that his impression of Americans was that we would drive from the living room to the bathroom.  (Julio walks 250-300 days a year, sometimes across entire countries, or in Himalayas, and so on).  This 5K was for you, Julio!

Julio and I at, or after, First Dinner

I’m not disinclined to walk places anymore, because I’m not afraid of the discomfort of spending time so inefficiently.  That’s a big change.  It’s only partly a physical laziness that makes us drive.  Much of the reason we drive is because we are uncomfortable with the feeling we get when we do something inefficient, like walking, and then tell ourselves the following story:  I’m wasting my time.

This one story is a cause of much misery in modern life.

I was looking at Manhattan from Jersey City’s Heights the other

Under an hour, right, Julio?

morning and sized up the actual distance.  Based on my newfound experience in assessing how far away a village is and how long it will take to get there, I figured I could walk to Manhattan in under an hour, if there were a walking bridge.  It’s a shame there isn’t.  New Jerseyites are entirely denied the pleasure of walking into one of the world’s great cities.  They must either drive through a serpentine urban jungle, including underground, or dive underground with hundreds of other people in public transportation.

What I Miss, Part II

In a proof of the mathematical equation that says the grass is always greener, I offer the essay below as contrasted with what I said I missed just a few weeks ago while in rural Spain…

I miss other things.  Both of my cars are in Oregon.  One, the Land Rover, the World’s Most Expensive Ski Accessory, I want to sell.  Or to detonate, after first putting my HTC My Touch Android phone inside it.  The other, my BMW M3, I miss like my own child. I am reduced to public transportation here, or driving Adam’s Volvo, which is like driving an iceberg, or a continental shelf.

I miss a world in which a guilt-free nap is actually plausible.  Not that much has changed for me . . .  Of course, I don’t really need them anymore, since no one dares wake me up at oh-god-thirty.

I miss having feeling on two (or is it three?) of my right toes.  They still feel kind of tingly, if not entirely numb, just as they often did while walking in the Five Fingers.  And that was before I — “stubbed” doesn’t quite capture the crushing impact they made with a rock — on the trail.

I miss that on the Camino there was nothing more that could be done, with the result that I didn’t worry any part of the day about whether I could be doing more – a hallmark of the over-achiever, of the unhappy person.  Instead, for the first time in a very long time, I was doing all I could do – or all I was choosing to believe I needed to do.

In the Pyrenees

I know there is a secret recipe for happiness in that.

Walking at home…

It’s been a few days since we’ve returned. The first few days were busy with all the usual tasks. Mail sorting, bill paying, laundry, dusting, leave raking and shopping for groceries.

The day after I got home, a friend came to pick me up to drive to Grand Junction. T.V. station KREX wanted an interview with Carrie and I. Well, that was fun.


Also a reporter from the Daily Sentinel was there at the same time (click link to read). See the NBC11 News report.  It was on the news that Sunday night. KREX took some artistic license with the contents (and my name) but overall the word was out. Carrie had an interview with KKCO the next day and some more pictures of our journey were shown.

Sunday afternoon, Carrie, her mom, and her sister came, as did a few friends of mine, who wanted to meet Carrie. They wanted to hear what her impression and thoughts were. How or why it had changed her. That was a very nice afternoon, recalling and remembering our journey and as long as we get to talk about it, it hasn’t ended. My friend Carla stayed to help me write a letter to Marianne, in French.

All my friends and people I know, i.e. Post Office, grocery store, etc. tell me how well I look. They say I’m glowing. Perfect picture of health. (From their lips to God’s ear.) I feel really well. I’ve lost 5 lbs since I’m back. My body is shedding fluids. I’ve also started to take Avemar. This is a fermented wheat germ product and is to improve immune system as well as detox. I’ve seen a one-hour special, called Run from the cure“.  It’s about oil made from hemp that helps to cure or alleviate many illnesses. Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, apparently does not help in cancer cases.

Strangers called me and asked for advice for lifestyle changes, to improve their health. I told them that I’m working on getting a cooking class together and would love to show them how this can be done, making small changes and working up to the grander scale.

During those first days, I still felt displaced and out of sorts. I was missing the simple act of walking, of meeting pilgrims.  I was told when the P.E.T scan appointment was made that I was not to do straineous exercise. The long walk was the reason I had to wait 3 weeks for my body to become ‘resting’. I’ve tried. I really have, but yesterday, was a gorgeous late fall day. The special kind we have here on the Western Slope. My body was idling, revving to go. (What I did not miss, was the JAMON.)

So, I put my snazzy camino boots on and walked the path by the river. The San Juan mountains, south of me were snow covered and brilliant against the azure sky. Trees still had gold, green, yellow foliage. I could almost pretend I was walking the camino. Horses were in one pasture and then I saw a pair of foxes. Their ears came up as I passed but they stayed.

I was still thinking about some of the places I’d been, when some people walked toward me. Automatically I said ‘Buen Camino’.  They smiled and said “Good morning.” I chuckled to myself; maybe they thought I was Mexican.

I felt bad thinking about those poor people getting pounded by this freak snow storm, back East, when I was enjoying this perfect weather that we have here, oh, about 300 days out of the year.

It felt so good to just keep moving. I walked a measly 3.5 miles but felt so much better. I don’t think this will hurt anything? In any case, I’ll stop walking a few days prior to the appointment. It’ll all settle. Of course, now I’m also thinking what all these tests might show? But, I push those thoughts away. There’s no use on trying to analyze something that I don’t know. Would drive you crazy, if you allow it.

I suppose walking the camino at my age and circumstance may be a bigger deal than I thought. Or, perhaps it’s the curiosity of avoiding chemo that makes this newsworthy. Could be, because I did finish the walk. In any case, a reporter from “The Watch”, a regional newspaper called yesterday for an interview. This one is coming out Thursday and can accessed online. My 15 minutes of fame. But more so, everyone is anticipating the results of these tests. Waiting, wondering if all this walking has done something unique. I know it has, without results from tests. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the great weather and walks and even go up to the Black Canyon. I think walking there will be gorgeous right now.

 

 

 

 

Casanova Mato, Arzua, Pedrouzo, and Santiago

From October 12 on . . .

After some confusion and miscommunication about the transport of Quasimodo, we set off around 7:30a.m.  It’s still dark, with a full moon.  Going past a forest and up a hill.  Mist rising in the valley, and we’re walking with Rene, from Jena.  He’s into holistic medicine and also works with crystals.  Walking is brisk in the morning and our path goes uphill quite a bit.  I am truly amazed how hilly Spain is!

We stop at a store and I buy fruit and my beloved Spanish pepper.  Someone should import these.  When I think of the ones back home, in comparison, they seem plastic.  Temps were going up to 32C.  My whole body got hot as I still wore two pairs of socks (so as not to blister).  Also greased my feet and toes with Nivea.  We stop at one little bar and have a fresh and natural raspberry drink.  Oh, my, that was so good!

Mainly we walk through sunlit forests, but we’re still going up.  One particular steep hill — I dedicated this one to my cousin Renate.  Another for my sister, brother, and close friends.  There are enough hills here for half of the people in Montrose.  Sure was glad when the 17+kms were done today.  Now I’m sitting under an old gnarly apple tree, looking out at hilly landscape, and wide swatches of fall colors.  Birds are singing, and it’s another peaceful spot.

Stopped in Casanova Mato.  The refugio is right on the road.  There are only five houses here, and no store.  Carrie and I are ahead of Cameron, who took advantage of free wi-fi and stayed longer at the last spot.  The woman talks very rapidly in answer to my questions.  I tell her, “No habla Espanol.”  It’s nice and clean and has a kitchen.  This was put in as a joke, since there’s no store here.  We showered with the usual sound of ahhhhhhh.

Cameron caught up.  We were told that there was an albergue 1.5km away that would pick us up.  That was too far to walk, even for very hungry pilgrims.  We got a very good lentil soup — we ate two plates each.  Then meatballs, home-made fries, peas and carrots, all in a nice sauce.  Water, bread, wine.  A very reasonably priced good meal.  We are happy campers.  We were chauffered back and I told Carrie that I could purr like a cat now.

There are ten bunks total, and they’re all filled up.  I read a bit, and talked to a German woman next to me, who has walked from France, but by a different route.  The street light shines right into my face, and I had to put my mask on.  Then I woke up, out of a deep sleep, because the Spanish couples came in, talking, rustling.  Finally, quiet, until one of them starts snoring.  Deep, loud, and going on most of the night.  I was dismayed, thinking of the long hike ahead with barely any sleep.

Got up at 5:30 and got ready.  Again only one bathroom for all of us.  We left at 6:15, one cup of tea and one small piece of bread we’d brought from the restaurant last night.  Carrie was the only one who had a light.  Cameron lost his, and mine was empty, as I’d used it to read.  There was a full moon, but of no use, since we had to go through a very dark forest.  And so we trekked along.  After 4-plus kilometers, I shared the last bit of chocolate, which only made us more hungry.

Cameron figured we’d have to walk about 9km before reaching a larger place.  I was thinking of all these refugees who walk for days without food.  Finally, we saw a large city and we knew there was a bar open somewhere.  Having come up some more steep hills, I was famished.  We walked around a corner and there it was.  We could have pizza and sandwiches, and there was Internet and cafe con leche!  Almost paradise.

We stayed for over an hour.

Ten more kilometers to go.  I would never have guessed how many hills Spain actually has.  We’re going through lovely forests, but also steep inclines.  I dedicated each to a different person.  My heart friends:  Irene, Bonnie, Inge, Carla.  The next hills to Rowena, Jayne, and Willa Kay.  The last steep one to Cameron.  Then suddenly I felt shaky and dizzy.  We stopped and Carrie gave me a banana, and then we kept going.

The stench of liquid manure, pig farms, etc., is overwhelming.  As beautiful as Galicia is, so far it smells the worst of all.  In between, we would smell natural scents of hay, dry leaves, eucalyptus, fennel, roses, mushrooms, and even camomille.  We were ecstatic.  We arrived at the next town, but then decided not to stay in another dormitory with noisy people.

We took a taxi for a few kilometers to Arzua and checked into a hostel with nice, soft beds and towels.  After the usual shower, Carrie and I took off to find a grocery store, and when we did, and the automated door of the grocery store opened, we both said, “Ahhh, look how pretty!”  There were shelves of food, and it was very clean.  I went to the produce section and almost wept with joy.  Everything was there, and my wonderful red peppers too.  I bought grapes and cheese, bread, yogurt, tomatoes, salad, and dressing, plus plastic plates.  We came back and had a picnic on the bed.

We had found Internet (expensive as usual).  I also thought of the high prices they charge along the way for a small cup of coffee and a piece of toast, 3 Euros.  We haven’t seen much of this town, so very near Santiago, but we are too tired.  Carrie and I watched some Spanish soap opera, and laughed at the bad acting.  And since we didn’t understand, we made up our own dialogue.

I want to make sure of this distinction:  that we only know the food on the Camino.  I am not saying all food in Spain is this indifferent.  We don’t know how people eat elsewhere in Spain.  There simply isn’t any desire nor creativity to be different along the Way.  Cameron suggested starting a moveable deli, starting at one point and moving along to meet pilgrims wherever possible.

Pedrouzo

We’re in Pedrouzo now.  This is a very nice albergue.  Near new, clean, wooden bunks, sheets and pillows.  In the middle of the dormitory is a plant topiary with soothing water running.  There’s nice soft music playing overhead, and it’s truly an oasis.  The usual ritual followed:  I washed all clothes — in a machine – and hung them out in the fresh air and sun.  Then Carrie and I went looking for a grocery store.  Not many choices, they said, since it was Saturday.  But we found one and got the usual:  bread, cheese, grapes, and white asparagus for me.

We ran into Rene, who was staying there as well, and he joined us outside for dinner.  He talked of his journey, and disappointments.  How unfriendly, unsmiling the business people, waiters, etc., on the Camino had been.  He was upset at the cruelty to and neglect of the animals.  “You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat their animals,” he stated.  Then he asked me if it was true that people in the U.S. had the claws from their cats removed?  I said yes, I had seen a few without claws.  He said, “It’s just like ripping out your toes.”  He was visibly upset, put his face in his hands, and just shook his head.

Next morning, sure enough, the rustling and bathroom-goers started at 5a.m.  Then, as people walked into the hallway, a light came on automatically, and shone in everyone’s faces.  They need taller walls — the kind that go all the way up to the ceiling.  I got up at 6a.m., Carrie did too.  I went to the coffee machine to have a cup.  It made such a racket that I walked away so no one would know that it was me!

Cameron needed to work some more while he had wi-fi, but since it would be 20-plus kilometers, I wanted to leave at the agreed-upon time of 7a.m.  Carrie and I left and made our way, looking for our yellow arrow.  Here came the forest . . . deeep and dark.

She cranked up her light, and then we remembered that Cameron wouldn’t have a light.  Back she went a little way, left her penlight and a note.  I doubted that he would see it, but hoped that he would find some other pilgrims coming through.  After a while, Carrie and I agreed that we’d never have done this at home.  We actually felt safe here.

Finally, a different path, then forest again.  Then small hamlets started to appear.  Same slate-stone houses, with corncribs.  By now, we would know that if there were six houses, two to three would be in ruins.  After an hour or so we saw our first bar.  Stopped for cafe con leche and Carrie had a fresh OJ.  We waited 20 minutes, then moved on.  I told her that Cameron would catch up, probably singing, “She’s a lady, woh woh woh, she’s a lady.”

 

The End of This Way

Pedrouzo to Santiago – 18km

We weren’t in a hurry this morning.  For most of the walk we went at a leisurely pace, putting me in mind of the pilgrims to Canterbury, England, who once rode their horses and donkeys toward their destination at neither a slow trot nor a fast gallop, but somewhere in between, which is why we now have the word canter.

If you think Priceline (above) is confusing, definitely avoid Kemwel.com

I did start late, though, and so spent the first hour or so catching up to Mom and Carrie.  I had stayed behind at the albergue to try to get a car rental from Santiago to Lisbon, and I worked at this until I realized several things:  (1) Priceline’s notions of arithmetic are akin to Camino café-bars’ ideas about spaghetti Bolognese (2) car rental giant Kemwel.com has not yet entered the era of user-friendliness or common sense, to put it mildly, and (3) it is impossible to rent a car one-way in Europe for a price less than that of booking a private jet.

We’re at about the 42nd parallel, which is perhaps near the California-Oregon border in the U.S., but it’s still dark until well after eight a.m. because while the Spanish discovered America for Europe, they haven’t yet discovered Daylight Savings Time.

About forty-five minutes after Mom and Carrie had gone, I left Pedrouzo at a fast pace and found myself in a dark wood.  Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I . . .

I waited for some pilgrims who hadn’t lost their headlamps.  Instead I got pilgrims who had no lights at all, and one who tried to use his phone.  The wood was so dark that I couldn’t even make out the ubiquitous Pilgrim Litter Navigation System.  Once a group of ten of us had bunched up, murmuring in three or four different languages, we concluded via groupthink to take the wider path, a decision that, unlike the Bay of Pigs, worked out pretty well.  I caught Mom and Carrie about an hour later, and I was pouring sweat.  I don’t remember the song I was singing as I came up from behind, but they were convincingly disappointed that it wasn’t “She’s a Lady”.

A Spaniard on a bike asked us if we’d seen a group of four men, including one with a beard.  No, we hadn’t.  Why?  Well, the bearded man and a woman had fallen in love some stages back, and then they’d gotten separated.  The biker was trying to find the man to deliver a letter from the woman that included information on how to contact her.  Awww, how sweet, right?

No.  I am sorry, but better the letter is never delivered at all.  If two people allegedly in love can’t think to negotiate contact information, what hope is there that they’ll remember to have sex, or to stop at the grocery store on the way home?

Not long afterward, we passed a pilgrim coming back from Santiago.  He was walking back to France – that is, doubling his trip.  We’d already run into an Austrian woman, perhaps late 40s or early 50s, who had begun in Toulose, France — 750 kilometers before the start of our own walk.

For Second Breakfast, I asked for the Espaguetti a la Carbonara.  Based on my bolonaise experience thus far on the Camino, I knew this was risky; my espaguetti could arrive with octopus on top, and in a pesto sauce.  Mom, feeling lucky, said she’d have one too.  But the man at the bar informed us that, sadly, there was only one.  Mom looked at the man, then at me.

“What did they do with the other one?”

A few kilometers later, she left her despised orange shirt on a sign that had been vandalized beyond usefulness anyway.  We had walked twenty yards away from it when she said, “Oh, God, now it’s whining.”  I thought she was joking, but she turned around to go back and get it.  I took out my camera, but she had turned around again.  “There are people coming,” she said sheepishly.

We walked on.  She got shaky again.  “It must be this food,” she said.  “My body is just all messed up lately.  I’ve got to get back on my diet.  I haven’t felt so many problems in my body in two years.”

Reaching Santiago

There’s not much to say about the last stage to Santiago.  After the early forests and some brief bits of farmland in ruin, we walked on backroads bordered by some aggressively ugly houses, through sparsely settled suburbs, near an active firing range where all the suburban warriors were belting out double-taps, Navy-SEAL-style, and through Santiago’s outskirts, which, like a bride’s skirts, seemed to go on forever.  We were in Santiago itself, but instead of the steep final hill that some guidebooks went on about, we were tested only by a tolerance for boredom.  Said Mom, “I won’t feel I’ve arrived until I see the cathedral.”

With a little less than a mile to go, we took a break.  I took off my trail-running shoes and discovered my first blisters, including a 2” x 3” job on my right foot and several on my toes.  The unnecessary river crossing I had done two days ago had gotten my minimalist footwear wet, and they hadn’t dried out by yesterday.  I had worn them anyway, with wool socks, but wearing them at all may have been a mistake.  You never want moisture near your foot when you walk a long way.

I took out a pair of scissors and did the kind of surgery that makes fifteen-year-old girls blanch, and then I put on my FiveFingers.  They had done almost all the work that got me here, and I would not, as Yahweh had done Moses, deny them the Promised Land right on the verge of it.

On our way to the plaza of the cathedral, we met two Seattle tourists who seem to have felt sort of bad because they’d gotten to Santiago by car.  Mom chatted with them a bit before we had to answer the magnetic pull of the finish line just a few blocks away.

When Jesus Meets Me in the Sky

I was thinking of Julio’s words to me.  “When you get to Santiago,” he’d said, “the local townspeople will greet you and offer to take you to their homes.  You’ll have dinner with them and stay the night with them.  It is a tradition there.”

I could just envision it.  People would line the road like in the Tour de France, holding out bunches of wildflowers they’d picked themselves.  Small children would squirm on their father’s shoulders, and teenagers would clamber onto the first-floor ledges of buildings, or hang from fire escapes and drain pipes.  Everyone would cry out huzzahs and hosannas.  Sloe-eyed and slender Spanish women would blow kisses.  Old women would clutch at their rosaries.

I would pick up my poles and jog around the plaza in a victory lap, but the people’s joy would not be so easily contained, oh no.  They would lift us up on their shoulders and sing to us traditional Galician songs, songs so old they were once sung by Pagans, and they would parade us around the square.  When they finally set us down, all of us laughing ourselves to tears, a member of the Knights Templar would step out of the shadows and explain that the brotherhood still existed, after all these centuries, and could I please join – nay, lead — them?

The cathedral was well-hidden on the far side of Santiago.  Also hidden were the townspeople and their homes, the huzzahs and the women, young and old.  There were no tears, there were no kisses, and the Knights Templar remained a figment of Dan Brown’s imagination.  We would stay in a pension, the Santa Cruz, run by an extremely helpful Spaniard who insisted on walking us places rather than simply give directions.

The Cathedral, and a Sort of Finish Line

The cathedral seems situated for maximum impact.  You see only spires as you approach, and then the back and side.  Then you go through a stone archway into the plaza and face the building opposite the cathedral.  And once we entered the plaza of the cathedral, I focused on watching, and filming, Mom walking ahead of me.  I surprised myself by getting a little choked up, but I’m pretty sure it was because I forgot to take my meds.

“Oh, we’re here!” she said.

Mom holds out the credentials stamped by all the albergues on the way

“You made it!” I told her.  “You did it.”

I handed Carrie the camera and hauled my backpack over to Mom.  I set it down and extracted the two battered red carnations I’d stored in it since the night before, and when she saw them she started crying again.  She didn’t even care that the stem of one was now only eight inches long.  When I pulled out the sixteen inches of the rest of the stem, she reached for that too.

Our Seattle friends

The Video 

Our Seattle friends now materialized before us and took pictures. [Read our correspondence from over four years later, in November 2015 – opens in new tab].

“We’ve been here for days,” the man said, “and you’re the first pilgrims we’ve gotten to talk to.  You guys have really accomplished something.”  It was strangely wonderful to have some witnesses, to call them that, who were fully willing to join in something so late in the day and yet still get something from it, and who gave something back.

In the cathedral floor — where you go if you don’t burn enough karma, or whatever, on the Camino

It was almost as an afterthought that we toured the cathedral.  It did not impress as much as the ones in Burgos and Leon.  There are three world-class cathedrals on the Camino:  in Burgos, Leon, and Santiago.  Burgos boasts most of the gold in South America.  Leon, its magnificent stained-glass windows.  My favorite, though, was the one in Los Arcos, because that is where something magical happened, as a father mourned his lost son, and we were witnesses to his love.  What matters, in a cathedral, is simply who’s inside it.

Nearby, we found the Pilgrims’ Office and got our Camino certificates, in Latin, which, as I work it out, means they came straight from the Vatican.

But it ain’t over till the mochilas come home.  We still had to schlep across town and pick up Mom and Carrie’s backpacks.  They were at the seminary, which turned out to be down a steep hill, up a steep hill . . .

“I’m glad we’re not staying there,” Mom said as we got close.  “It looks like a prison!  Look at the bars on the windows.”

“That’s to keep out the nuns,” I said.  Carrie then learned that a

The Seminary

seminary is an all-male facility, which we know because it shares the same root as semen.  She will have so much to share in her school report when she gets back to Colorado!

We ran into Devin, of Canada, who had walked 60km in 24 hours and now had severe tendinitis in both legs.  “I saw the sign for 50 kilometers,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I could be in Santiago by tomorrow morning.'”  We saw the 19-year-old New Zealand woman who had sped across Spain alone, on a deadline to catch a plane to London.  And Mom was overjoyed to find Barbara of Bavaria, whose husband had surprised her for their 26th wedding anniversary by flying out to join her on the last three days of the Camino.  She had walked him for 35km the first day.  “You people have got to be crazy,” he said.

Reunion with Barbara of Bavaria – in Santiago

What Have You Learned?

“When people ask you what you learned on this trip,” Mom said to Carrie, “what are you going to tell them?”

Carrie held an imaginary microphone to her mouth and sang, She’s got style / She’s got grace . . . ”

I think that’s a job well done.  Go forth and prosper, little cousin!

Me?  I learned that Galicia, especially the countryside, is in a state of disrepair.  My friend Adam, a longtime student of Spanish and Latin American history, and who is right about things that don’t really matter exactly 63% of the time, says that Galicia was depopulated during the 20th century.  The guidebooks don’t often mention that until less than forty years ago, Spain was isolated and in decline under the right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

I learned that if you’re a Pope, you can fly into Santiago in a private jet, slide into your Popemobile, and, having materialized at home base, as it were, receive the designation of “pilgrim”.

I learned that miracles are possible.  For example, in the hurly-burly of travel, I had lost both the little rubber earbuds to my iPod’s headphones.  For weeks, I stuffed the hard metal tips into my ears.  They fell out easily.  It was a hard, hard existence.  But one day, as I was walking along, I saw, draped over a branch on one of the countless trees in Spain, a black wire.  As I drew closer, I saw that there was not one wire but several.  The tip that plugged into a music source had been ripped away, but there, before my eyes, were two rubber earbuds.  I crossed myself and harvested them, leaving the hard metal tips and the rest of the wires on the branch.  They fit my own headphones perfectly.

I learnd that if the collected works of E. Presley have taught us anything, it is that the primary anxiety of a waiter wearing blue suede shoes is that you may do anything you want to do but you should lay offa his blue suede shoes; that you can burn his house, and steal his car; that you can drink his liquor from an old fruit jar.  You can do anything, that you want to do, but you oughtta lay offa his blue suede shoes.

There is no destination.  Only the way.  Recall the book by the German comedian, if you can set aside, for a moment, the oxymoron.  The jacket copy said that since its publication, the number of pilgrims had increased by 20%.  If more people go on the Camino after my book about it, they will have missed the point.  There is no Camino.  There are only caminos.  There is no camino here.  The camino, the way, is wherever you make it.

“Buen Camino!”  We have heard that hundreds of times, from fellow pilgrims afoot, from bikers, and from the Spanish.  But at no time does it seem more appropriate than now, once we’ve reached Santiago.

“Have a good Way!”

Chief Expedition Videographer, Biographer, and Podiatrist