(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.

I’d been keeping track of my mileage in my guidebook, writing down what day it was and how many miles I’d walked each day. I noticed that it was Saturday, which meant nothing really. I had no sense of time. I never knew what day it was or how long I’d been out there “following my bliss.” The notes in my guidebook told me that I’d been walking for almost two weeks. I was probably at the halfway point. Goodness, I thought, what else lies ahead for me?

After I toured the Castillo and was getting ready to head out, I saw someone approaching on the road, and so I lingered. As the figure got closer and closer, I recognized his unmistakable walk. It was Simon. His enormous grin was a like being warmed by the sun—welcome and comforting.

After he’d spent some time photographing the ruins, we wandered off down the road together. His companionship was just what I needed.

The conversation was good, both substantive and heartfelt. The more we spoke, the more I liked Simon. We talked politics a bit—democracy and whether or not it’s a fallacy; George Bush and my intense dislike and disrespect for him; my devastation regarding the war, how I’d protested against it and how it felt as if the Bush administration wasn’t interested in the least in entertaining alternatives. I talked about how my feelings for my country had changed as a result—they’d been indelibly damaged. I no longer felt entirely proud to be American, rather at times I felt embarrassed and ashamed by our collective juvenile, single-minded short-sightedness.

We talked about how satisfying it is to go inward, into ourselves, and discover more about who we are. We talked about faith. I told him about how my and my sister’s spiritual paths had diverged and how challenging that had been for me. I told him about my brother and how disappointed I’d been by his forceful aversion to conflict, the way he shut down in the face of difficulty, and the challenges of that.

He spoke about his family—an older brother and a sister. His sister had just gotten married and moved out; his dad was being transferred to another church and moving; and his brother had found a job hours away. There were big changes facing them all.

We talked about his need for silence on the Camino and my need for the internet as a means of communicating with my circle of friends. I explained to him that I’d spent much of my childhood in silence and long periods of my adult life alone—or at least feeling alone. My entire 30s had largely been a spiritual quest of understanding and self-reflection. And now, as I was moving out of that, I’d come to a recognition of community, which surprised me—me, the rugged individualist. I may well be a loner at heart but my need for community had deepened and expanded with maturity. People made me feel alive and nourished and sane and loved.

Simon, bless him, said that he felt like he was learning from me. He watched the things I ate and realized he needed to take better care of his body. At nearly twice his age, I enjoyed being able to lend him an older perspective. He was clearly a seeker who was open to discovery, and I was certain he was exactly where he should be. In fact, I was certain he was following his bliss.

We walked all the way to Fromista together. I was stunned to have accomplished another 20+ mile day, amazed that my body was carrying me so capably. We each claimed a bed in the refuge, and then I went to the local bar where they had an internet station. As I waited for my turn, I wrote in my journal.

I’m losing weight. My pants are falling off, and that feels so good. The food here is pretty challenging. I have to stop eating the pilgrim’s meals—too much grease. Not only does it taste terrible, but it’s wreaking havoc with my system.

I’m sitting in a bar in Fromista, a charming little big town, waiting for my turn at the computer. There’s too much smoke in this bar. Too much smoke in this country. At least there are people in this town. So much of the country seems abandoned. I thought I’d be going through bigger towns, more people, hotels, life. Not much life on the Camino. In many places the town survives on pilgrims. So odd.

I don’t know if I can make it waiting for this girl to finish using the computer.

When the girl did finally finish and I was able to log into my account, I had 21 emails waiting for me from my community. I burst into tears at the sheer volume of them. Unfortunately, the keyboard was so damaged I had a hard time typing. I was only able to send off one note before giving up.

To: Rob Roy
Subject: Re: Kisses to the Camino!
Date: Sat Mar 12 15:54:17 2005

thank you, thank you
the candle at st. johns means so much. the photo even more.
the keyboard on this machine is terrible, I can barely type. i’ll have to wait for the next stop.
kisses, tess

Unable to type, I decided instead to simply soak up my mail without responding. The first email was from my friend Brenda, the one who had also sent me on my Camino with an envelope of wisdom for each week. As I read it, it occurred to me that what my dear friend Brenda had provided me was a lot like what I was able to provide for Simon—depth, heart, years, perspective.

Subject: Re: intrepid trekker
Date: Sat Mar 12 11:02:15 2005

My dear Tess,
The blisterless Tess!
The No-bitterness Tess!
The clean and cleansing woman out on her journey, giving her goods away…giving herself away and leaving room for the new to enter…now, THAT’s a pilgirimage!

I love reading your emails. What I am reading from your missives is increasing clarity…and such joy. OOOOOOOO how grand it all sounds. Even the downer moment….where you write of being there for that feeling, and then an angel comes to you and offers refuge and laughter and friendship…how angelic is that?!?!!!
You are being guarded, allright.

Things here….all goes well, really. I have read and thought and prayed so often about so much, and I am eternally grateful to all that his been offered me and grateful to those who have offered it. My work, my joy at the moment, is in experiencing and observing the ways in which “I” “AM”. “Awareness” has new meaning, new power, new medicine for the energy I am experiencing. The call to myself is one that is teaching me much about courage and its rewards. The “goals” are fading and in their stead grows a desert a-blooming.

I had so wanted to go to “Death Valley” and experience THAT desert but cannot find a single place to lay my wooly head out there. The flowering, because of the rainfall, apparently, has not been this rich for over a hundred years. It seems with all the rainfall, the seeds deeply sunk in the desert….ones which have been laying there dormant for so many decades, are pushing up through the now wet land towards the sun and sending their own colorful offerings to it.

If ever a desert could bloom to me it is now. I still may do my own day trip….maybe even camp out somewhere….I have saved two days and one night for that purpose. Still thinking it all over, you know? Having so much freedom in my life at the moment is a bit like “kid in a candy store”…and I am watching myself so it doesn’t descend into “bull in a china shop”….or “shoplifter in a candy and china shop”!

I walked the beach the other day….driving by your “home” at 6:30 AM….all was quiet. The tide is very high these days. The surfers, black bobbers in the deep, soft, grey of the morning fog, gently rising, up-up-upping, in the swell and disappearing behind the long hump of green-grey water…visible again when the roar of white froth and foam reaches my yellow, trekking, swiss-cheese shoes!

My hairdresser yesterday was from Spain. I spoke to him of you. He is writing a radio show that honors women. He is the son and grandson of single women….His grandmother, still alive, runs a pensione in Spain. She was married and divorced three times and had nine children of whom his mother is one. He spoke feverishly, almost, of women who do not recognize their own contributions as essential and necessary. Simply put, he told of all he has learned from women…the women in his family, his friends, his clients over all these years, and what he hears from them is not what he receives from them. His grandmother and his mother exceptions to that experience. He receives their power and wants to send it back out to all women…to encourage and celebrate the female. He said: “You must all speak from your uterus!”

Mine won’t shut up these days.
It seems to be spirit bleeding forth….from the “essential” muscle of my being, the one which miraculously received, housed and sent forth two spectacular gifts to the world in my daughters.

Of all the journaling I have been doing of late (early morning, on the couch looking out to the hills beyond….) one excerpt jumps out asking to be sent to you. It’s from Kathleen Norris, author of “Cloister Walk”, and “Amazing Grace” among others.

“Prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you cannot imagine. To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of always grieving for what might have been.”

Great, huh?
I am experiencing my prayers being answered…..and I am grateful.

And now, I close this letter to you, dear Baldone (Italian for Bald One) with this piece from a poem by my latest discovery, Jack Gilbert. The poem is called “A Brief For the Defense” from his book of poems called “Refusing Heaven”…

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

Enjoy. Delight. Risk it all, accepting your gladness.
Love, Brenda

Another email was from my friend Jeanette who was writing a play about her experiences being assaulted. (You can read more about that event, from my perspective, here.)

Subject: Hola. Que’ tal?
Date: Mon Mar 12 13:40:28 2005

Hello my friend,
George Fox, the man who started Quakerism would say: Walk joyfully on the earth seeing that of God in each person.

Reading your emails, I think of you that way: walking joyfully, despite the weather or the tiredness. I actually had a thought I wanted to share with you. One of the things that resonates in your emails is your connection to your body. When you ponder what your purpose is on this journey, I think one thing that you could include is the appreciation of your body. You seem to be embracing and cherishing yourself, your physical self, and that feels so beautiful. You are beautiful.

I’m home sick today. I should be doing a bit of writing, but haven’t gotten there yet. We had the design run for the play last Friday. It was the first time we went through the whole thing with blocking. I learned a lot about what I can cut. I also realized how difficult it is for me to sit in the room with other people when the play is going on. What have I gotten myself into? It is so personal, yet I hope not embarrassingly so. But it’s going to be out there. And I have to trust that I can handle that. And I have to let go of wanting it to be perfect. I realize that I am growing and changing, and my script would change if I wrote it 6 months from now. This is what I have right now. This is good enough.

I pray for you every night. For your strength and joy and the continued camaraderie of the trail to be with you until you reach Santiago.

much love and big hug,