Archives for posts with tag: pilgrimage

I’d be hard pressed to come up with another story that approximates the level of conflict, intrigue and drama as the one I just wrote. So it’s possible that my follow-up can really only be a disappointment. Perhaps the one thing working to my advantage is that the conclusion of the Jeanette story was a disappointment for so many people. I’ve gotten great emails expressing outrage and sadness. I love that people have cared so much.

The morning after finishing the last installment of the story, I was awakened at 3 AM to sirens, flashing lights and police helicopters swirling above my neighborhood. Periodically, an announcement would blare out from the darkened sky telling us to stay in our homes, that suspects were at large. This continued, unbelievably, for just over four hours. The police had to swap out their “airships” three times because the onboard fuel only lasts two hours. With nothing else to do, I reached for my iPhone and followed Venice311 on Twitter to get live updates from the LA Police Scanner.

It seems as though three guys broke into a local Best Buy, loaded a U-Haul with stolen electronics and were chased by the cops to my neighborhood where they ditched the U-Haul and started running. Police established a perimeter, tracked the thugs by heat from the airship above, brought in K-9 units and after four hours they had all the guys in custody.

Go LAPD!

Unfortunately, when the sleep-deprived neighborhood clued into the details, pretty much everyone was stunned to discover that they’d been kept awake since 3 AM for a truckload of electronics. My neighbor shook her head over the fence and said, “That’s it? I’m sorry to say but with all that activity, you’d at least hope someone had been killed.”
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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.)

A week after my encounter with the groping Spaniard, I limped to the Estacion Maritima in Palma de Majorca, boarded a boat back to Barcelona and got on the first train leaving the country. From my window, I watched as we crossed the border into France, and as I looked over my shoulder I thought, I’ll never set foot in Spain again.

Eleven years later, I read Shirley Maclaine’s book, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. Here’s what she writes about the book on her website.

There is a famous pilgrimage that has been taken by people for centuries. It is called the Santiago de Compostela Camino across northern Spain. It is said the Camino lies directly under the Milky Way and follows the ley lines that reflect the energy from those star systems above it.

The Santiago Camino has been traversed for thousands of years by saints, sinners, generals, misfits, kings and queens. People from Saint Francis of Assisi and Charlemagne to Ferdinand and Isabella to Dante and Chaucer have taken the journey, which comprises a 500-mile trek across highways, mountains, cities and fields. It is done with the intent to find one’s deepest spiritual meaning and resolutions regarding conflicts in Self.

Even before I’d finished reading the book, I knew I would take the journey. It seemed so like me to be drawn to something so extreme and arduous and atypical. But I hated that the trail happened to be in Spain. Of course it would be: never say never.
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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 5, 2005
Day 6: Irache to Torres del Rio, 27.5 km/ 17 m

When I awakened, I felt more rested than I had in a week. I threw open the curtains and looked out the window. And I shook my head in disbelief. It was snowing. Like a blizzard! A foot of snow had already accumulated, the tree branches were wrapped in ice and a thick fog hovered. I did the only thing I could think of—I took another bath and prayed for better weather!

All my clothes had dried, thankfully, and they smelled fresh and clean. Same meager provisions, but an entirely new week ahead.

The restaurant opened for breakfast at 7:30. I wasn’t expecting much because the Spanish don’t really do breakfast. But I was hoping for something, anything, that would get me through the morning. I was famished, and I had no idea how far away the next town was and what I might find to eat there. I entered the restaurant promptly at 7:30. No one was there. I sat down at a table anyway and studied my guidebook. Ten minutes passed.

I heard noises in the kitchen so I poked my head in and inquired, in terrible Spanish, if breakfast started at 7:30. “Si, si,” the young man responded, smiling. I sat back down at the table and waited. No one came to tend to me.

I went back up to my room, packed up, put on my snow gear and checked out. By the time I returned to the restaurant, a woman was just arriving, tying a smock around her waist. She quickly set a mound of fresh fruit in front of me followed by small packages of bread and muffins. I was delighted. I inhaled most of the fruit and put everything else in my pack as I headed out.

The cold hit me like a slap. But the snow, huge flakes wafting down all around me, took my breath away. It’s impossible to be disappointed in the face of beauty. The fog blended with snow to create a veil, and step-by-step, I moved through it.

Should I have been surprised to find the footprints of my Italian Shepherd leading the way? I laughed. And then my eyes filled with tears. He just kept guiding me. And his presence, at a distance, was such comfort to me. I recognized his boot prints immediately. His gait. Where he liked to walk on the pathway. His prints were fresh. I felt like an animal tracking an animal. And then I thought of that story of footprints in the sand. God was laying down a trail for me—not that I couldn’t find the trail, it’s so well marked—but his prints guiding me were just so beautiful to me. With every step, I felt overcome with forgiveness for men—the men in my life.
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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 6, 2005
Day 7: Torres del Rio to Navarette, 34.7 km/ 21.5 m

When I awakened, Martin was still on his bed, and I was on mine. We smiled at each other and said good morning. We went down to the kitchen and made breakfast with the Canadians. The meal was slightly less festive if only because we knew it would be our last together.

I was certain that when I hugged them goodbye, I would never see them again.


Martin and I left the refuge together. We were greeted by Torres del Rio in the sun, and it was a paradise. Tiny cobbled streets formed a maze around the town’s most prominent feature—an octagonal church from the days of the Knights Templar. And the views surrounding were simply breathtaking.


We both stood for a long moment in awe. And then Martin asked the most beautiful question. “Is it okay if I walk with you?”

I met his eyes and smiled. “Thank you for asking,” I said. “I would love that.”

And so I walked with tall, handsome, sweet, 24-year-old Martin, from Cologne, in school studying economics, my German Knight. I told him about my Italian Shepherd—how I was trying not to be annoyed, but I didn’t understand his interest in me.

Martin looked at me sweetly, cocked his head and said, “Well, it’s obvious. You are beautiful!”

I was stunned by that. I certainly didn’t feel beautiful. I had yesterday’s mud on my pants. I’d slept in the shirt I was wearing. And let’s not forget about my hair, or lack thereof. Perhaps it’s been a long time since Martin’s seen a woman, I thought.
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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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(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 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 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 17, 2005
Day 18: Leon to Hospital del Orbiga, 33.3 km/20.7 m

Leon was the biggest city on the Camino, which meant it was also the best shopping opportunity, and I spent part of the night searching for good insoles to replace the ones in Simon’s shoes that were blistering his feet. To no avail.


If I was in the US, I could have gone into any drugstore and spent 15 minutes in front of an entire rack of insoles trying to make a decision on which to get. But in Spain, hours went by, and shop after shop, with not one pair in my midst. It was the biggest difference between me and my fellow pilgrims: gear. I had spent real time and money making very specific gear choices before I left, and so I was prone to noticing what others had selected. “Waterproof” was the word that might have been the first real differentiator, followed by “weight.” For instance, my pack, made by GoLite, was made of parachute material that was both light and (largely) waterproof. The amount of handy pockets on the outside as well as the netting and straps and loops on which to hang things were all clearly added by people who’d gone before me—not necessarily on the Camino, just out in the wilds where small details become godsends in an instant. I seemed to be among the very few with such thoughtful godsends.

GoreTex was another favorite word of mine. Along with SealSkinz—socks and gloves. But CamelBak was like a revolutionary invention to those who saw mine. Imagine: a pliable bladder filled with water attached to a suck tube—it meant no fumbling with bottles. Ever. Mine was the only one I saw for the entire 335 miles to date. (And since I’d spent the night adding up all the mileage numbers I’d scrawled in the margins of my guidebook, I knew the current distance).

It shouldn’t have surprised me that insoles were not to be found. I did spot a nice pair of orange socks, however, and I stood longingly contemplating them. One of my outer sock layers (the black Pearl Izumi’s) was reaching retirement (the heels were threadbare). I certainly could have gotten more mileage out of them, and I wasn’t looking for their replacement, but when I saw the orange socks, the official color of my Camino, the black ones were doomed. The orange socks seemed to be the perfect size and thickness. And they were crazy cheap. As soon as I got them, I sat outside the shop, pulled off my GoreTex boots, ripped off the Pearl Izumis and bid them farewell. The next 200 miles were going to be traversed in orange socks!

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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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