Archives for posts with tag: spain

For Thanksgiving of 2000, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend time with family who had congregated there. It was a blessed respite from all the running around I seemed to be doing, and I longed to curl up in the corner and just be.

When I arrived, my sister-in-law, Amy, was just finishing reading a new book written by Shirley MacLaine called, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. There was a striking photograph on the cover: a small Shirley from a distance, with backpack and walking stick. We all passed the book around and devoured it with glee. As I read, I would spend long hours on the road with Shirley, and then copy passages into my journal, ways in which I connected with the thoughts she was writing about and the transformation she was undergoing. It occurred to me then that walking an ancient path along a holy energy site was something I would do, too. But the thought of traveling 500 miles on foot was daunting, to say the least. I said to myself maybe I’d do it for my 40th birthday, still five years away. It was a romantic idea and blessedly far into the future.

Funny thing about time: it keeps unfolding, and so five years passed. I kept wondering if I’d really do it. I was drawn to it as an idea, as a part of my personal story, something to tell people I’d done. The actual doing of it seemed frightening to me. But since I’m attracted to pursuing things that frighten me, I held it out as a possibility, if not a reality. I tried it on a bit, floated it as an idea among friends and decided that if I committed to the idea by telling people, there’d be no turning back. I didn’t tell a lot of people though, just in case. And I had an out. I’d broken my ankle, undergone surgery, and if I decided not to walk the 500 miles, I could blame it on chronic ankle pain.

There was another idea I was trying on, too.

Years ago, my friend Sandy was going through a divorce, and as a way of releasing the old in order to re-emerge anew, she decided to shave her head. I listened with awe to her process of shedding her identity and her feelings of empowerment by this act of defiance and strength. I felt myself drawn to doing the same thing. It was an idea, and as I traveled a timeline toward 40, these two ideas came together – shaving my head and walking across Spain.

Somewhere around August of 2004 it occurred to me that I could begin growing my hair as long as possible only to cut it all off and donate it to someone with cancer who had no hair. Another romantic idea, and the hatching of a plan.

I’ve never been bald before. I was born with a lot of hair and for the majority of my life, it’s been long and full and blond and lush. People have always commented on and coveted my hair. And so it seemed to be just the thing to give up, along with comfort and familiarity and language and responsibility and materialism. To expose my head as I exposed the deepest parts of myself in this month-long “journey of the spirit” seemed to root me into the reality and excitement of marking a transition, not just in terms of time and age but more powerfully symbolic of a new beginning within. And having told so many people was not just helping hold me to my commitment but also a way of understanding how vital it is that we share ourselves and our intentions so that others open a space and help us transform ideas into realities.

On Valentine’s Day of 2005, I pulled 18 inches of blond mane into two ponytails, braided them tightly, took a deep breath and cut them off.

I thought it was going to be a disaster and that the next year of my life would be a painful process of regrowth. I wasn’t quite prepared to be not just enamored by the way I looked, but completely in love with my bald head. It might be the first time I truly ever saw my face.

And I think it is my best look ever.

Before leaving for Spain, I traveled to New York to visit friends. The Christo exhibit of orange flags in Central Park greeted me. And one night, I did an amazing thing. I took a bath. At night. I had rarely taken baths at night because I didn’t want to deal with my wet hair before going to bed. But one night, late, all I wanted to do was soak in the tub and crawl into bed.

I lay in that water for a hour. It was so incredible. All the lights were off, only the flickering light of a candle lit the room.

There was a razor on the edge of the tub. I had used clippers the shave off my long locks, but it left stubbles and now there was new growth from a few days. So I sat in there in the warm water, and lathered up with shaving cream. I closed my eyes and just kept feeling the pattern of growth and all the different directions my hair grows out of my head. And I shaved my head to go against the grain, all the while keeping my eyes closed. It felt sacred. Beautiful. Some kind of rite of passage. It took me at least a half hour. And with each stroke, my head felt like glass.

The touch of my hand on my bare head. The transfer of heat. All the new sensations.

This head, mine. I lay back in the water and held my head, cradling it. I felt as though I was a baby coming out of the womb.

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.


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.”

(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.)

Yes, I’m a smart girl, and I know better than to hitchhike. And, let’s be clear, there are no excuses. But I’d just come from a month of traveling the backroads of England where kindly strangers pulled over to the side of the road offering me a respite from the obvious heft of my bag. Some of my best travel stories are born in these moments and these people who wanted only to share their time with me. I’d kept looking for ulterior motives in them to no avail. And so my guard was down. I wasn’t careful. And Spain is not England.

So there I was—with my thumb out.

The man slowed his bike, and I got on the back. I told him where I lived. He nodded, and we were off, dust kicking up in the shadows of our past. He kept trying to talk to me. In Spanish. No comprendo. He tried again. And again. I thought he was making polite conversation. Mi Español es muy mala, I offered. And then he said something I understood: Yo y tu.

The man began driving recklessly and laughing. Talking and laughing. Speeding up. Slowing down. And laughing. He used his left hand, the one with the wedding ring on it, to reach around behind him, and grope me. It was the most fun he’d had in a very long time. I knew this from the echoes of his delight.

With no weaponry of my own, what I had in my arsenal was only my anger. And I can tell you that I have never had more of an instinct to kill. Never. When something like this had happened to me before, I was first a defenseless child and then a floundering teen. So now understanding what it would take for me to put back together the pieces of myself in the aftermath of violation, I would sooner imagine mine being the hands of a murderer. And so I did. I looked at my hands, shaking with fear and fury, and I pulled the nylon strap from my camera between them, testing its durability. In one swift move it would be around his neck.

But I knew it would be better to get off the bike. If I choked him while he was driving, it could get ugly. I looked at the ground moving beneath my feet. Stop, drop and roll; just like a fire drill, I thought.

I noticed that if he groped me he wasn’t paying attention to his speed, and he’d slow down. I waited for his hand to reach back toward me again, and that’s when I did it. I threw myself off the bike, hit the ground and rolled into the ditch, disoriented. A thousand pieces of information barreled through my head, processed, evaluated and sorted entirely apart from me. Everything was suddenly useful or not useful. Black or white. Right or wrong. Good or evil. I evaluated the weeds, dirt, grass, sticks, pebbles. There was nothing with which to protect or defend. And nothing with which to retaliate. To torture. To brutalize. To maim. I clawed a handful of small stones as I rose from the ground, an animal. I could dart into the field and lose myself in tall reeds, but a momentary flash of forewarning had me raped and bloodied and dead, my body never recovered, my parents forever wondering. I could run down the road in the opposite direction heading for nowhere, hunted. Or I could be the hunter, engage the enemy, launch the battle.

I looked back at the man on the road, on his motorbike, stopped, watching me over his shoulder, idling. My eyes bore into him, ready.

Don’t. Fuck. With me.

(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.

(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.)

Preparing for the Camino was a game of weight management: accumulating the most possible gear in the smallest pack. Because I’d have to carry everything on my back, I could only take what was essential. I studied the climate charts for northern Spain. March promised average temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees. As for rainfall, I was to expect to get wet.

I began to scour the sporting goods stores looking at tags not just for pricing info but more specifically for weight. I discovered that as the weight went down, the price went up. So I made a list of what I liked and promptly set up an eBay account. Soon, I was a frenzied bidder, and packages arrived daily.

I selected a Go-Lite backpack made out of parachute material. Not only did it weigh in at only a pound, but it was also water resistant.

In the end, I could take only what would fit in it:

  • Waterproof jacket, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof pants, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof socks, Army-issue, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof gloves, SealSkinz
  • Waterproof shoes, Merrell, Gore-tex
  • Underwear, mens’ Patagonia boxer briefs, 2 pair: one to wash, one to wear
  • Sports bras, Patagonia, 2 pair
  • Socks: 2 pair thin cotton Pearl Izumi low cut, 1 pair Smart Wool hiking
  • Pants, Sierra Nevada quick-dry, zippered to convert to shorts
  • Long underwear, Patagonia Capilene
  • Shirts: 2 Capilene silkweight t’s, Capilene lightweight longsleeve t, REI fleece
  • Towel, small quick-dry, REI
  • Bandanna: bald head protection, face mask, tourniquet if necessary
  • Sun hat, packable
  • Cloth slippers: for nighttime walks to the bathroom
  • Sunglasses, polarized, Tommy Hilfiger
  • Sleeping bag, lightweight, with silk insert
  • Camelbak bladder
  • Platypus collapsible SoftBottle, 2
  • Compass with temperature gauge
  • Pocketknife
  • Pepper spray
  • Pack-It Compressor bags, Magellan’s, 2: takes air out, lends water protection
  • First-aid kit/toiletries: blister kit, Bandaids, tape, gauze, pain patches, Betadine pads, antibiotic ointment, wet naps, aspirin, Benadryl, ear plugs, eye mask, matches, sunscreen, laundry detergent travel packs, tooth brush, toothpaste, deodorant, Vaseline (I was told that if I put Vaseline on my feet every day they wouldn’t blister)
  • Trekking poles
  • Journal and Camino trail book tucked into a Ziplock bag
  • –No camera

I loaded the pack and put it on the scale. It was 17 pounds (including the water).

I hadn’t trained specifically. I had run and cycled and lifted weights for years, but I never went out walking with a backpack. The only thing I tried to prepare for was learning some Spanish. I’d taken a year of it in high school and forgotten most of it. So I checked out some Spanish language tapes from the library. It soon became clear to me that I was woefully inadequate and not likely to get much better.

(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.

(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.

(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.