El Acebo to Ponferrada: More Jamón and What I Miss

Snore Journal. There was no sawing last night, only a light filing. Mom and I both got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, but the water was off. I had a devilish headache and I was cold. My pillow was so hard and so thick that it was like trying to lay my head against a wall. I couldn’t sleep. In the morning I felt sick. Was it the wine I had drunk at dinner? But I had drunk a lot of water, too, and not that much wine. Mom thought it was the prior day’s exposure to sun, and, indeed, the first time I got sick on this trip had followed a day of high exposure. What’s more, though I used to be unaffected by altitude, that began to change about ten years ago, and we were nearly a mile high the day before.

The usual banging, clanging, zipping pilgrims were at it again. Sometimes it’s good that I don’t know which language pilgrims speak, or how to speak it. Because I want to say, you know, “Really?” Which doesn’t translate into anything.

One pilgrim had taken the bunk above me late in the evening. I never saw him, or her. This pilgrim was in fetal position, head and face covered, trying to deny the reality of the noisome day. Remembering how cold I’d been the night before, I covered the person up with my blanket. Then we left.

We made a small circle around El Acebo in the morning. An albergue had trickily painted the same yellow arrow to lead pilgrims to it, and we followed it long enough to realize that it made no sense. When we got in the right trail, we could see the lights of Ponferrada and its neighboring communities far below. Today would be one long descent.

We walked opposite a line of hills to our left that looked like smoothly sloping rocks

Morning, West of El Acebo

bearing green, orange, and yellow lichen. The patches of trees interrupted by open spaces also gave the hills the look of worn suede. In between these hills, many miles away, and us, there were many velvety arroyos, folds in the earth, also ablaze with fall colors.

The signage in the last few stages of the Camino has not been as good as in the Basque Country. There, the yellow arrows, concrete markers, and cairns were frequent and visible. Frequent signs also indicated how far the upcoming towns were. Not so on this side of Castilla.

The bananas here have thick peels, and even when the peels are fully yellow the bananas are much firmer.

Our noses are all running again. Mom takes out a tissue every few minutes, until she runs out of tissues. She recommends them to me, along with what she thinks may be the benefit of their menthol aroma. But my thumb, placed over a nostril, is far more efficient, not to mention satisfying. Without using a single tissue, I clear my nostrils without even slowing down. Of course, the single-nostril blow is not available to women. That would be disgusting.

At around 8:30 we passed through a tiny village where I engaged in a call and response with several very tardy roosters. Judging from the performances they turned in, they were the understudies. We stopped in the town square. I took a picture of a dog on one of the three-foot micro-leashes favored by some Spaniards. (Later, we’d find a dog in its “yard” – perched on a little ledge between the bars on a window opening and the window itself). Mom sat down to work on her toe bandages. “I really don’t like feet,” she said.

At nine o’clock we left the shade cast by the mountains behind us and walked into the sunlight. We stopped to sit on slate near a tree, in the cold, and had Second Breakfast.

As we neared Ponferrada, we came upon a group of Dutch women contemplating their guidebook. “It says there is a shortcut of 1.8 kilometers,” they said, adding a new and exciting dimension to the concept of going Dutch. “Somewhere to the right.”

We came upon two Spaniards who were consulting their map for different reasons. The older one dropped his stick and I bent down to pick it up. “No, no, no!” he said, indicating his younger companion, a man in his fifties.

“He’s your step’n’fetchit?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” he said. Mom explained that the Dutch behind us had said there was a shortcut. We consulted the man’s map without success. Mom suggested we ask a dark-haired woman coming up behind us.

“Not the Italian!” the older man said. “She doesn’t know anything. She’s stopping the cows to ask.”

“Let’s just go,” I said. “We are here to walk.”

The Power of Now

There comes a time during every day’s walk when we are ready to be done with walking. And yet the irrefutable reality is that we are not. So what we want, as Eckhart Tolle would put it, is “more future”. When we want the walk to be over, we want to be in the future, not here and now. And as soon as we want to be somewhere, or somewhen, else, there we are, outside of ourselves, away from the only time there is, which is right now.

So when my feet are sore, I stay with them. I watch the pain with detachment, almost curious, as if the pain and I are separate. I don’t resist. I think of the training in walking meditation I got at a Shambhala Center in Portland. I feel the roll of my foot, the pressure on the heel to mid-sole to the ball. I note the soreness in my hips from carrying the pack. And, strangely, the pain doesn’t hurt as much. It’s just a signal from my body to my mind, but my mind is capable of hearing the signal, as a parent might hear the cry of a child, and decide it’s not bad enough to warrant concern. It’s nothing to indulge in. I don’t need to stop or to sit down.

Ponferrada — on a Sunday

Someone will need to explain to me the Spanish concept of Sunday. My understanding of market economics tells me that if there is demand for, say, food on a Sunday, someone will keep open a restaurant that cooks and sells it, for a profit. But not in Spain. We search for over an hour, walking past hundreds of tables of Spaniards drinking coffee and alcohol, but all we can find are the same bocadillos that have plagued us since the Basque Country. Jamón with queso. Jamón with asparagus. Jamón with octopus. Jamón with comic books. Jamón with tuna. Jamón with jamón. The author of “Forrest Gump” probably relied on a memory of looking at menus in northern Spain when he wrote this dialogue for Pvt. Benjamin Buford ‘Bubba’ Blue:

We finally found a Telepizza®, where Carrie and I ordered oily pizzas and Mom got a previously frozen pasta that had been warmed up for the occasion. “It doesn’t matter,” she shrugged. “I’m starving. As Oma used to say, ‘Der Hunger treibt’s hinein.’” The hunger will chase it in.

We decided to go to a hostel (hostal) rather than the albergue. I had just recently learned that there is a difference beyond translation. An albergueis a dormitory with many beds, like the operating room in “M.A.S.H.” A hostel may have the same, but also offers individual rooms. On the other side of the castle formerly belonging to the Knights

The former castle of the Knights Templar in Ponferrada

Templar, we found the Hostal de San Miguel, and sprang for the 25-Euro single and 39-Euro double.

The private room was just what I needed. It remedied some of what I miss most. I miss a real bed. I carry a heavy pack during the day, and at night I sleep on mattresses that bow beneath me. I miss going to sleep only when I want to, and sleeping as long as I wish. I miss waking up in the morning to silence, and darkness, and not having to get up too, or rush, or listen to fierce zippings and full-throated bellowing in the dark. I didn’t care that the bed was so hard my frame didn’t even dent its surface, or that my feet hung off it, or that there was no trash can or shower curtain. I didn’t even turn on the TV. I don’t miss TV because I haven’t watched it in years. I’m reasonably confident that I won’t say, on my deathbed, “God, I wish I’d caught that fourth episode of ‘Lost and Desperate Housewives of the New Jersey Shore’”.

What I Miss

I miss my car. The M3, that is. I do not miss my Land Rover, the world’s most expensive ski accessory. Let us begin there. In fact, I miss my M3 prospectively, for many months into the future, because it will be parked in Oregon while I live in New Jersey for the foreseeable future.

I miss my zero-gravity chair. It’s a few days from going into storage in Bend, Oregon.

I miss talking to my friends on the phone.

I miss yoga.

I miss my frequent talks with my friend Tedd [sic]. He appeared in a dream I had on Sunday night. In my dream I am explaining to him what he needs to know in order to take over the Camino for me, and to help Mom on my behalf. For some reason that isn’t clear in the dream, or that I have forgotten, in the dream I’m not able to accompany Mom on the rest of the journey. Tedd, committed and devoted friend of mine, has stepped in to take over. I am explaining to him how I attach my camera pack to my waist, and tell him to be sure to take plenty of pictures. Dream-Tedd does not ask me, as Hank the Dutchman did, how the camera pack, which does hang a bit like a codpiece, interacts with my “manhood”, as he put it.

I also miss my friend Adam, even the way he calls from the bathroom for one of his scissors, or a steak knife, because he refuses to buy a proper nose-hair trimmer, or the way he bellows at me from the other room to hurry in and watch him do a push-up.  In another week I will probably even start to miss his near-constant reports on the opening and closing of his pyloric valve.

He instant-messaged me on Skype recently, asking how it was going. Very well, I said. Except for the food.

Cameron: Spaghetti = oil + paprika. Not a hint of tomato sauce.
Cameron: Plates SWIM in oil.
Adam: They do cook a lot of things with olive oil.
Adam: Ponferrada was one of the bases of the ancient Spanish economy, and still an important industry.
Adam: Not many olive trees in northern Spain, but the south is a huge grove of olives.
Cameron: Someone needs to cut them all down.

Comments Closed