(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 16, 2005
Day 17: Mansilla to Leon, 19.1 km/12 m


The night was my most challenging on the Camino so far. The refuge was full, and it was the first time I had to sleep on a top bunk. The worst part, however, was that two German elephants, unaware of their size and their noise, made sleeping spotty. Earthquakes and tidal waves thundered through the room. I crammed in earplugs and managed some winks, but I awakened with a headache from the pressure of having foam in my ears. I still managed to reach the REM stage, but unfortunately, I had one of those inane dreams that made the night seem to stretch on forever.

I dreamed that I was part of an Apprentice-type competition against two other teams. Our job was to produce an infomercial, and my team’s product was a magic pen that got stains out of everything. Jim Carrey was on my team. He was the host, and I was the director. Unlike the other teams, our product was easy to demonstrate, however, my team was the most inexperienced. In the frenzy of the competition, I neglected to prepare a good price point for our magic pen, which I suspected was going to be our downfall. I woke up before discovering who won the competition.

My first thought was, I’m on the Camino and this is what I’m dreaming about!?

The morning was filled with the chaos of dozens of people showering, packing, dressing and finding a place to make breakfast. I expected that the closer I got to Santiago, the more full and frantic the refuges would be.

I left before Simon. It was a short day’s walk to Leon, the largest city on the Camino, and I wanted to get there and spend some real time in one place. Simon was planning on staying an extra day there. He wanted to sight see, and he also wanted to slow down his pace so that he didn’t arrive in Santiago on Easter weekend. I felt the same. Symbolically it seemed interesting to get to Santiago on Easter, but the crowds of people I expected to flood the place didn’t interest me at all.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 15, 2005
Day 16: Sahagun to Mansilla, 36.9 km/23 m


I woke up, went to the bar for some coffee and wrote in my journal.

When the coffee is good here, it’s really good. Smoke everywhere. Just put your trash and cigarette butts on the floor. Hang out in bars all day, all night. But the coffee can be so, so good. It is this morning.

I took another bath. Good way to start the day. I put the leftover wine in a ziplock. We’ll see if it makes it. I am so loving being here, walking, discovering, wondering, praying, aching, laughing, grieving… I am holding the questions. I don’t know if answers exist. But to hold questions. Muy bien.

Like:
Are we destroying the world?
Is siesta and inefficiency better than commercialism?

They smoke American cigarettes. Marlboros. Not a Starbucks in sight.

This morning I have many options of refuges but I think I’d like to get to the farthest one so that my trip tomorrow into Leon, the biggest city on the route, will be a quick 12 miles. At this point, 12 miles feels like a vacation.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 14, 2005
Day 15: Carrion to Sahagun, 40.8 km/25.4 m

It was my third night in a row without heat but I’d long since learned the art of burrowing into my sleep sack. As a result, I awoke well rested. I was also still feeling full by an evening of friendly nourishment. Fela, Tanya, Andreas and I rose and began packing to leave. I lathered my feet with Vaseline, my morning routine, and they all gathered around me to marvel at their condition. It seemed that everyone was having problems with their feet—except me. They were as amazed as I. Tanya had to invest in a new pair of shoes, and she and Andreas had resorted to traveling a few days by bus and taxi to give themselves a break. I was relying on gratitude, prayer and luck.

As I tied my shoes, Fela said, “Boy it’s nice getting up in the morning and not having to wonder what you’re going to do today.” We laughed and laughed and then said our goodbyes. I suspected I’d never see any of them again.

I left Carrion only to discover that it was another perfect day on the Camino—not too windy and, lo and behold, sun that tried its best to break through the gray rain clouds. It looked as though the rain might hold off, so I was contemplating walking another epic day. I’d scanned my guidebook to find the next town with a hotel since I’d been longing for an evening of hot baths and a bed big enough to stretch out in. Unfortunately, if I was intent on making that dream a reality, I’d have to walk a marathon. Literally. I decided that it was worth a shot.

As I walked, I easily slipped into another daily habit—thinking about the richness that all the people in my life brought me. And a few of the disappointments. After two weeks of walking, I was taking note of the striking difference between the depth of love I was receiving from my friends and the absolute absence of any communication from my family. I was feeling increasingly hurt by the disparity and working hard to release my sense of abandonment. I was questioning how to let go without it being the resounding disappointment it felt like. At the same time, I was looking at my own responsibility in the nature of our many misfires. I’d not been able to talk about the trip with my family much before I left. I wasn’t able to really explain why I wanted to do it or what it meant to me. I was horribly withholding, not because I’d intended to be but because I felt misunderstood so much of the time. As a result of all the silence within my family, I felt as though they weren’t much interested in my thoughts and plans and dreams. When I’d told my father years ago that I wanted to go to film school, he brought home articles and statistics on how difficult and impractical that career path would be. Rather than having a discussion about any concern he might have for my wellbeing, rather than feeling his love and concern, I felt shot down. It’s how I felt about a lot of the choices I’d made in my life. As I walked the Camino, I wondered if I’d made bold decisions and was drawn to extreme experiences just to have something register on the familial Richter scale. I realized that in some ways, being loud and radical and offbeat was the only statement I ever made.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 13, 2005
Day 14: Fromista to Carrion, 21.7 km/13.5 m

The Fromista refuge didn’t have heat or hot water. I’d slept well but obviously opted to pass on the shower. And I was looking forward to a short walk to Carrion—an easy, flat 13 miles. It had been two long days across the flatlands of the meseta, but it had been blessedly warm with winds that kept it from getting hot. I couldn’t imagine walking the Camino in the summer. Much as I’d been surprised by the cold, it seemed far preferable to the heat of summer.

I exited the refuge and stopped in the plaza outside the church one last time to admire the trees—trees whose branches reached out and clasped each other creating a fingered canopy. Not one tree stood isolated and alone; instead they were all linked together. I smiled, appreciating the beauty of nature that so aptly reflected my web of community and our intricate interconnections.


After I’d exited the smoky bar the night before, I found Simon sitting among the trees watching the last vestiges of light disappear with the setting sun. I sat down next to him, and we enjoyed our dinner together. We’d each been to the store, and we laughed when we discovered that we’d gotten the same thing: a baguette, a can of tuna, a tomato and a chunk of cheese. It was becoming our meal of choice because it was readily available, inexpensive, light, easy to carry and filling. Instead of slicing the bread in half for our sandwich, we carved a V into the top to create a crevice that held everything more easily. It was one of my favorite discoveries on the Camino.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 12, 2005
Day 13: Hontanas to Fromista, 37.8 km/23.5 m

When I awakened, I decided to hit the trail early and get to the next town six miles away for breakfast. The day was spectacularly beautiful and the first real warmth on the Camino so far. I stripped down to just my pants on the bottom—no under layer—and a t-shirt under my coat on top. And even that had started to get a bit warm. The sun on my face was a welcome phenomenon, though I could feel that it would eventually penetrate my sunscreen if I wasn’t careful.

It was an easy, flat, two-hour walk on a road build by Romans to Castrojeriz, a town that puts forth a spectacular display nearly the entire way by offering its Castillo standing sentinel in the distance.

I stopped in a bar for breakfast—the basic pastry and coffee combination. The castle ruins rose up on the hillside out my window. I watched the sunlight hit the blades of grass. I marveled at the ancient stones that made up the walls around me. I thought of the people who have moved through, sitting in the same seat, drinking coffee from the same cup, maybe even thinking the same thoughts of somehow being totally removed from the world and totally immersed in it at the same time.

In my guidebook, on the Castrojeriz page, was a quote from Joseph Campbell: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all along waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

I pondered the idea of bliss and if I was following it. Despite hoping that I’d put myself on a track that was leading to abundance and creative fulfillment, it was hard to really know. I certainly was pursuing a dream, but I was about to turn 40, and the dream hadn’t really materialized in the way I’d imagined it would. Thus, I was on the Camino looking for answers that might bubble to the surface in the midst of silence.

Silence. I’d had a couple days of it, at least while walking, and now I was hoping for some companionship.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 11, 2005
Day 12: Burgos to Hontanas, 30.3 km/18.8 m

I’d had diarrhea for a couple days. I suspected it was due to the lard the Spanish use for cooking, which liquefied into a horrible orange oil. It seemed that everything arrived in a pool of horrible orange oil. I could live with the diarrhea, it hadn’t been terrible, but when I awakened, to be frank, the inside of one of my butt cheeks was raw and inflamed. That’s when I discovered that it’s impossible to walk without moving the inside of your butt cheeks. I pulled the roll of sports tape from my bag and did the best I could knowing the tape probably wouldn’t stick for very long. I was grateful to be walking solo, that’s for sure.

Jaime came down from his quarters upstairs and offered a warm, easy smile. I told him I’d need another hug from him before I left. As he embraced me, he said that his hugs heal people. I didn’t doubt it.

I asked him if anyone served breakfast at that hour, 8:30, and he said the café next door was open. “Wanna join me?” I inquired boldly.

The Spanish aren’t as keen on breakfast as we are. They tend to like a thimble of espresso to wash down their bland, lifeless pastries. I, on the other hand, like a pot of strong coffee and a plate of something that’s sizzling—eggs are nice. For the Spanish, a fried egg and a plate of French fries is a dinner order. But Jaime hooked me up. He knew the café staff, of course, and he had them make me a vat of Americano coffee to accompany two eggs and toast.

And then we settled into the task at hand—to exchange as much of ourselves as we could over eggs and coffee.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 10, 2005
Day 11: Ages to Burgos, 24.5 km/15.2 m

As I was making eggs for Martin, Simon and I, my Italian Shepherd popped into the kitchen to say goodbye. He was leaving ahead of me with no discomfort or fanfare. He no longer needed something from me, and I no longer guarded myself from him. We were finally able to share a sweet smile and a friendly hug.

The morning was a visual feast. We were greeted with spectacular views and a layer of frost blanketing them. The grass, the fence, the trees, the stones—everything was coated with a shield of ice. It was cold, of course, but I didn’t mind it.


The top of the first hill in Atapuerca was shrouded in a fog so dense we couldn’t see 100 feet in front of us. The thickness of the haze made everything appear in black and white, and walking through it was like entering an Ansel Adams photograph.

I lagged behind, letting the boys go ahead. I needed some time of silence and internal discussion. I was still thinking about the change in Martin’s behavior. He was hardening. His jabs at me had an edge, an unkind one. I knew he was sensing rejection and reacting to it, but it still surprised me. At times he acted as if he’d laid claim to me and could therefore be cruel. He’d become a fighter, and he was fighting me. Any time I got close to complimenting him, he’d reject my words, sometimes with a harsh, “Liar!” He was clearly pushing me away, and it saddened me.

I watched Martin and Simon in the fog ahead, and I saw myself in each of them. In Simon, I saw my serenity, or at least my quiet contemplation. In Martin, I saw so much more. I saw the part of me that opened so eagerly and closed so quickly. I saw my fear of rejection in the face of desire. I saw the fighter in me—fighting attraction, fighting being known, fighting tenderness and vulnerability. I was growing farther and farther past all that, and I trusted that Martin would, too, but I probably wasn’t going to see it. In ten years, I suspected he’d be quite a catch, and some lovely young woman would reap the rewards of him.

I thought about my initial attraction to him, and how much I’d thought about kissing him. In the real world, I would have likely slept with him too soon. In fact, all of my past relationships had been shaped by a race to the bedroom. Yes, I was an active participant, sometimes an eager one, caught up in the frenzy of enticement, giving in to expectation. But that was not my real desire. I had never once gone to bed with a man when I was entirely comfortable, open and ready. I kept attracting men who assumed I knew exactly what I was doing, that I was completely in control, that I could take care of myself. I never gave them the impression that I could be hurt. I had traded sexuality for intimacy. If I hadn’t, maybe I could have discovered sooner the ones who weren’t yet capable of intimacy. And maybe I could have spared myself some heartache.

In the real world, I figured that once I’d slept with Martin I would have tolerated his distance and cruelty because I would have been too fully invested. On the Camino, I thought about all those things I have tolerated in men, and I made a promise to myself to not to do it again. I also decided that I would not harden to Martin. Instead, I would allow him his edge and remain tender in spite of it because I knew there was a softness inside him that wanted only to be loved and accepted, just like me.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 9, 2005
Day 10: Belorado to Ages, 30.2 km/18.8 m

Martin woke me in the morning. Somehow I had slept through the sound of the entire refuge clearing out for the day. Martin hovered above me nervously and touched my shoulder. Everyone else had left already, he told me, and he wanted to catch up with them. I stared at him for a long, cold moment. “That’s youth talking,” I said, and I wasn’t nice about it.

On the one hand, I adored the idea that he and Simon wanted to travel with me; on the other hand I thought, Whose time schedule are we on?

I crammed my swollen feet into my shoes, and when I stood up they didn’t feel any better than they had the night before. I threw my things into my bag as the boys waited, eyeing me. I moved toward the door as if I was trudging through wet cement. Everything was an effort.

Outside, the sun was blinding but at least it was sun. As we walked away from the refuge, I thought I might be in real trouble. My muscles felt like they would snap at any moment. My legs were as useful as stumps. Every step felt like I consciously had to tell my brain how to lift my foot and thrust it forward. Perhaps the boys shouldn’t have waited for me, I thought, but I kept throwing myself onward and, miraculously, a half hour into the day, I was fine.

In fact, I was more than fine; I was spectacular. The walk was simply gorgeous, and nearly all of it uphill—in the snow. But oddly, it was probably the warmest day yet. The sun sparkled gloriously from every facet of the melting landscape, and I walked on the edge of ecstasy knowing my boys were so close by.


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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 8, 2005
Day 9: Azofra to Belorado, 41.4 km/ 25.7 miles

The best of times:

The day started beautifully. Martin, Simon and I set off from the refuge together. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to begin to know who this blue-eyed Simon was. He was in the refuge in Roncesvalles that first night. That meant that he and I had started walking on the same day. And oddly enough, we were keeping the same pace. I was drawn to him, and this was my chance to begin to know him.


Martin must have felt him as competition, which he wasn’t since Simon had no sense of competing in him. But in Simon’s presence, Martin began to lose his confidence and allure. As he competed with Simon for my attention, he grew younger. He began to flirt more overtly but less attractively. His flirtations were backhanded and juvenile. I still thought of him as adorable, but he was showing another side, a younger side. He was, after all, just 24.


Simon was clearly more introverted. He was much more of an observer than a player. He was quiet and thoughtful. I could feel in him a depth that seemed more solid than Martin’s. Martin probably floated a lot on his good looks. Simon took nothing for granted.

We walked together, the three of us, in silence and in conversation. And I fell in love with them both in very different ways. Their packs were of equal size. Martin was taller. He tended to walk with his arms folded across his chest, his head down. His steps were long and measured. Simon had one trekking pole that he stabbed the ground with. His steps were shorter and faster. He took moments to look at the sky. And he took photographs (in fact, many of the photographs in this blog are Simon’s). They were so different, my two companions, even in the way they walked. And I found each of them so beautiful.

Martin already knew of my desire for the internet. Every town that we approached was a new opportunity for me to check in with my people. And finally, in Santo Domingo, I got my chance.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 7, 2005
Day 8: Navarette to Azofra, 23.5 km/ 14.6 m

Week one was behind me, and with just over 125 miles logged underfoot, I’d discovered a few important things. 1) Sleep is the most incredible reset button. I’d never slept harder and deeper in my life. And I’d never slept without moving. 2) Carbohydrates really do sustain a body under physical exertion far longer than protein. 3) I have about a 4-hour tolerance for just about anything; then I begin to unravel. 4) The accumulative effect of silence, remoteness, meditation and escaping the familiar is extraordinarily powerful. 5) People all over the world are essentially good at heart.

When I awakened to begin week two, I remembered my first dream of the Camino. I dreamed that my friend Maureen was pregnant, and because she’s an actress on a soap opera, she was concerned about how much weight she would gain. I took it as a symbol of something growing inside her—she was giving birth to something within. I liked that thought. I lay on the bunk remembering as many details as I could and doing my best to translate the language of dreams. It felt comforting to have spent some time with Maureen, in whatever world. It had been days since I’d had access to the internet, and I missed getting a small touch of home.

As I lay there, I became aware of how much my Achilles hurt. It burned actually, and I remembered that it had awakened me during the night. It was the same ankle I’d twisted the day before, and I hoped that the pain had passed. But as soon as I stood and bore weight, I knew it would be another tough day on the Camino. I was grateful, once again, that I had trekking poles to help keep me upright.

Leaving Navarette


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