Archives for posts with tag: journal

(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 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 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 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 18, 2005
Day 19: Hospital del Orbigo to Santa Catalina, 28.9 km/18 m

Simon and I were up and ready with the sun. As I was making breakfast, Manfred joined us, his hair askew, his eyes slanted from sleep. He was still hobbling, and he thrust himself into the chair as if the music had stopped and he didn’t want to be caught standing. He admitted that he had attempted too much, and he was going to take the day off, hang back, rest, travel more slowly to Compostela. He hung his head in shame as he spoke, which made me sad. Walking the Camino is not a competition. Perhaps that was the realization he had come to. Or would come to.

I said goodbye to Manfred, knowing I would not see him again, and Simon and I left together. We walked through the woods in silence, and when we came to the old Roman bridge at the edge of town, we found the note that Manfred and I had left for Simon the night before. Although he’d not seen it, he had decided to stay at the remote refuge anyway. It was kismet that kept bringing him to me, I thought.

Out of Hospital del Orbigo, the landscape began to roll again with gentle hills, and we moved up and down through the sparse landscape toward Astorga. The sun arrived and the temperature climbed to 70 degrees. For the first time, my jackets were both stuffed into my pack, and my sleeves were rolled up.


Simon, with his careful eye and expert camera, logged our journey on film while I wrote down scattered thoughts in my journal.

The villages in Spain are dying. Old people with sad eyes and so little. The Camino can’t sustain them. I see why it is moving closer to the roads; there may be no refuges to support the pilgrims at some point.

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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 19, 2005
Day 20: Santa Catalina to Molinaseca, 42 km/26.5 m

When Simon and I, the two lone guests at the Santa Catalina refuge, awakened, Simon happily announced that he’d had four dreams during the night. It was exciting news given the fact that we’d all been sleeping so hard it made remembering dreams difficult. Having one felt like an event, but four of them was a galactic supernova from the netherworld.

Santa Catalina was smack dab in the middle of nowhere—meaning mostly that it would be a long walk for food. It did, amazingly, have an outdated, coin-operated computer in the refuge, however. I’d poked around on it the night before but didn’t manage to access my account. I tried again in the morning, to no avail. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if I had to live without email for a while but I had grown accustomed to it. And getting error messages seemed odd.


I headed out with my companion Simon, undeterred, knowing that after a few flat, boring miles, much of the day would be spent walking uphill. And if we thought the day before seemed desolate, today’s journey appeared as if World War II had swept through and only the ruins remained. There would be a bar and restaurant, with beautiful wood and tile inside, surrounded by nothing but rubble. El Ganso was the first of the hauntingly abandoned villages with their crumbled piles of stone, and then after a few signs of life in Rabanal del Camino, we came to Foncebadón. Once a thriving farming community, the exodus came in the 60s and 70s, and the few holdouts remaining relied on pilgrims for their sustenance.


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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 21, 2005
Day 22: Villafranca to O’Cebreiro, 32.9 km/20.4 m

I’d walked for three straight weeks, averaging nearly 20 miles a day. When my bag and I had crossed the threshold of the Villafranca refuge, we’d ambled 401.5 miles together. Otherwise, I’d carried pain, questions, boredom, songs, joy, bliss, disbelief, wonderment and more than a few men.

It’s possible that Day 22 was the turning point. Of course I didn’t think about that at the time. Maybe I didn’t even know it until years later, sitting down to write about it. But on Day 22 I discovered something else about myself—something else I hadn’t known before.

It seems that I have untapped reserves of determination.

You see, the route to O’Cebreiro wasn’t just the steepest ascent of the Camino—a grueling 5-mile climb along a forested dirt path—it was the steepest ascent of the Camino in the rain. And to be clear, it wasn’t just rain; it was driving rain that would ultimately become a bombardment of hail in swirling gale-force winds.

It began gloriously enough. The drizzle that carried me along the highway out of Villafranca singed the surrounding mountainside with a dewy glow. Patches of green earth rolled out across the landscape in a visual masterpiece. I took it all in, but I was well aware of the forecast. I knew the weather would tire me, and I didn’t feel as though I could afford a long day. So I figured that as long as I felt strong, I would run.


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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 22, 2005
Day 23: O’Cebreiro to Sarria, 47.7 km/29.6 m

I awoke to the early morning beauty of O’Cebreiro and a stunning river of fog that trickled through the mountains. The town had marked my entrance into Galicia, and it was clear that it shared the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and Scotland. Despite being surrounded by the cutest round, stone houses with their straw rooftops and the endless shop windows advertising delightful wares, I was eager to hit the road and take advantage of what promised to be a dry day. I had a quick and nearly flat 6-mile jaunt that rose slightly to the second highest peak on the Camino, and then it was all downhill for another 20 miles or so.

RiverOfFog
My body had once again miraculously repaired itself during my 10 hours of deadened, uninterrupted sleep. I certainly hadn’t expected to put in another long day after the beating of yesterday, but the views that floated along with the river were so amazing that I couldn’t stop myself from ambling across the uncluttered countryside. The biting, bitter cold pressed into me, aided by a ferocious wind, but the absence of rain felt like a blessing. I burrowed into my coat but kept my head up, delighted.

pilgrim
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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 23, 2005
Day 24: Sarria to Hospital de la Cruz, 38.1 km/23.7 m

I was eager to hit the road early after a night of too many people. I’d grown accustomed to the desolation of the Camino, to a limited selection of familiar faces, to the nothingness of the trail and the idleness of thought upon it. So now, as the number of pilgrims swelled, I was resisting their intrusion. I judged the people around me as being drawn to the novelty of the Camino not the work of it, the weariness, the unending boredom. How could you truly experience the Camino—and come face to face with either the emptiness of yourself or the fullness—if you traveled like a touring group of hikers on a weekend camping excursion?

I judged them, yes, but I also recognized that we each get the Camino we need. I just wanted mine to be less crowded. I’d also wanted it to be warmer and drier, but as I dressed, I could already hear the rain pattering the rooftop.

Way2Porto
I started early enough to escape the masses, and I slipped back into the comfort of my solo trek. The rain was steady and growing ever more insistent but, coupled with the fog and the clouds and the mesmerizing rhythm of my footsteps sloshing through the rolling terrain, I was overcome with gratitude for the beauty of nature and all its many expressions. I hadn’t expected it to rain too hard or too long so I’d neglected to put on my waterproof socks. That was a mistake. Because soon enough, the rain came with such ferocity that I felt like I was walking under the nozzle of a firehose.

bootsAs the hours passed without a moment’s pause, the magic drowned, and once again it was a walk of endurance. The conditions were testing both my body and my gear. I worried that the “waterproof” label on my pack was a false promise so I found shelter under a canopy of trees and secured everything first in ziplock bags, then inside plastic. My shoes of course were soaked through, and my feet were sodden. And even though my pants and jacket were still managing to shield me, they clung to me with a penetrating clamminess that made me feel drenched regardless.

After four hours, I was, quite simply, miserable.
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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 24, 2005
Day 25: Hospital de la Cruz to Melide, 29.7 km/18.5 m

There’s really no good sleeping in a full refuge. People and their night noises kept me on edge. So at the first signs of morning, I was packed and on the move. Of course, I didn’t have a crumb of food and nothing was open yet so I decided to make a three-hour beeline to Palas del Rei for breakfast. About halfway there in the tiny village of Eirexe, a sleepy Martin appeared outside the refuge talking with a few other pilgrims. He grinned when he saw me, opened his arms and said, “I’ll take that kiss now.”

I don’t know, something about the look on his face, the cockiness, the performance in front of his friends or, quite simply, my own fear of him made my defense shields go up. I turned my head as he approached and gave him a hug.

He said he wanted to walk with me, which I was open to, but he wanted me to wait for him to shower, pack his bag and get ready. I still had more than an hour’s walk to my next meal, so I told him I’d walk slowly and he could catch up. When he did, he was jovial but distant, which was more than likely my fault. I listened to him talk about nothing for a very long time. Then I finally asked if we could address the emails, and we sunk into a real conversation. I was able to tell him that for the first two days of my time with him he was sensitive and adorable, but the more attracted to me he became, the more possessive he was. I felt claimed by him, and he got aggressive in his behavior. I was no longer able to be open with him. He listened intently and compassionately. Then he copped to it all and apologized. He agreed that the more attracted to me he became, the more his behavior changed. He said he didn’t know what to do with his feelings, that he knew he was being rude at times but couldn’t stop himself. His teasing was an attempt to deflect his fears—feelings for me he didn’t know what to do with. I liked his honesty and defenselessness. He was able to express how much he’d thought about me and his behavior toward me, and how frightened he’d been of me. It was all very beautiful.

We stopped for breakfast and sat across from each other a little like old lovers. What had transpired between us was over for me but still, the reconnection was warming and welcoming.

Martin
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