still in Madrid, the remnants of squad haVe dispersed physically, still together in my heart
May 4th – A Weird-Ass Day, or, Something to Talk About
“I have been angry my whole life. After the camino, I just don’t want to be angry, ever again.” – Victoria Elleby
Wayno: Jackson, how do I get that guitar professor to—
Jackson: Get her in the sack?
Wayno: Well, yeah, no, but using the Jackson technique.
Jackson: Hmmm… Have you had any contact with her?
Wayno: Just eye contact.
Jackson: Your in man.
Amber: I was thinking about that last night in bed. Anyone know how Wayno’s butthole is doing?
Evan: Dude, he will not shut up about it.
I have been playing with the idea of this blog post for about three weeks, I have been stuck on the idea of how, or even if, I should tell this story in full on this blog. I want to finish this thing off for a post for every day I was on the Camino but I need to deal with this situation first. Here we go.
Woke up late, on purpose. Our four story Albergue let us sleep in til 10 and Evan, Jackson and I were the only pilgrims in the place to take advantage of this little extra bonus sleep. After starting off we resumed our usual business of blowing past all the pilgrims on the camino full throttle.
One of the groups of people I sped past was the posse of teenagers that has been loomin’ the last few days. Their whole class was kicking it on the side if the trail when I come through randomly recording them with my camera. Again we did the mutual, “American who does not speak spanish, yet leads a high five parade through their midst.” thing and they of course reciprocate. Also I ignore the Guitar Playing Professor Babe intentionally per Jackson’s request. I see her and the other leaders of the program smiling at me in my periphreals and I raise my eyebrows to myself, but I can’t help but thinking that Jackson’s “play it cool and ignore someone to draw them to me while making as little effort as possible maneuver,” is never going to work.
I catch up to Evan and Jackson eating at a cafe and I stop for a little break.
About half hour later the teen mob rolls through. More laughter and Spanish greetings I can’t translate verbally, but non-verbal cues say more than enough: fun, play, joy, touch, laughter.
A Spanish teenage Oly dude-bro in training, with a Spurs jersey and backward hat on, throws his hands in the air as he passes me and gives me the strangest shout out I have had in over a month on the Camino.
I burst out laughing in surprise and asked Jackson and Evan if they heard what I thought I heard. They assured me that was what he said. I now chance a look at Guitar Playing Professor Babe who is now beaming at me as she passes at the rear of the class. What the fuck is going on?
Alright so after a few more kilometers Paul and Amber creep up from behind and surprise us. It is good to see them. The sun is out and we are laughing and having fun. For shock value I tell them that I have befriended the group of spanish high school kids who had stayed at our alburg a couple of nights ago. Paul’s reaction was strange, but not unexpected.
“No.” He said, then made a face as if to continue, before pausing, shaking his head, and saying again:
I was confused. I knew they were annoying that one night in Portomarin, but he seemed to genuinely dislike them. I asked him to explain his distaste for their company.
He told a story that involves someone this group of kids using a Spanish word for faggot. Not cool. Paul is gay and one of the coolest, kindest, funniest classmates/pilgrims/people I have had the pleasure to walk with on this trail. For him to be on the business end of sexual discrimination and bullying pisses me off. I need to organize this data and process. Let’s see:
1. Kids show up at hostel and annoy Evergreen students. Bad.
2. Kids show pilgrim kindness to me on trail, my change of heart begins. Good.
3. I record their concert, relationship grows. Good.
4. A student uses the n-word as a term of endearment for me. I laugh. Bad-bad. Once for the racism, once for the amusement of others racism on my end.
5. The Guitar Playing Professor Babe seems down with the Waynster. Good.
6. These kids are verbally abusive to my friend Paul. BAD!
7. I am looking more closely at my racism/acceptance and amusement at someone using the N- word in Spain. Good. (Not the using of the word, but my examination of my foolish and easy embrace of it.)
So I take all of this data and plug it into Brian Liu’s experimental Rube Goldberg, Bocadillo, Weather and Deductive Reasoning Machine to see, using pure wizard and banana logic, what I need to do next.
The massive warehouse sized contraption whirrs on into the night searching for cracks and angles into the equation. None are to be found. Once it spit out a piece of paper with what appeared to be a secret identifying code but only turned out to be a recipe for mediocre ranch dressing.
Kids, looks like Ol’ Wayno’a goin to havta figure this on out on me own.
And I don’t know what to do. The more I think about this the more frustrated I get by the array of contradictions. The more I try to write about it the more I spin my wheels. I guess the best thing to do at the moment is to report what happened honestly. Admit my mistakes. Defend, support and be an ally to my friend. And try to start a conversation with these kids if the opportunity arises.
Post Camino Spoiler Edit: The opportunity to have a conversation about this came and went. I never saw this group of kids or their babe-a-licious professor ever again. So now the remaining questions are mostly connected to the casual racist comments that I sometimes make and/or find amusing when not in the company of minorities. If there is a lesson to be learned, this feels like a valuable piece of evolution to strive for in the future. We will see how brave I can get.
So the day continued on and somehow got even weirder with the following anecdote. Paul, Jackson and I were descending a hill and a small compact car was coming toward us. It stopped and reverse parked into a grassy field next right along side the Camino. The car was idling and the driver was standing on the passenger side of his vehicle, facing the trail, half blood prince in hand, jerking it in broad daylight.
At first I was confused and unsure of what I saw. I turned to Paul and Jackson who were wide eyed, quiet and moving faster down the trail, leaving this gross fucking pervert in the dust. I asked them if they saw that shit. They had. Paul thought that maybe he was just using the bathroom. I mentioned that personally I normally don’t stroke myself while taking a leak. Paul and Jackson made it less weird by turning it around with humor.
“Well maybe you have been doing it wrong all this time, WAYNO!” Said Paul.
“I only pee if I have a hard on dude.” Said Jackson.
On a serious note once we got to the albergue I asked Paul, our best Spanish speaker if I called the police, would he be able to translate. He thought for a minute about the words he would need to use and shook his head no. Oh well.
But I did get to relay this tale to Ashlynnn who also had a masterbating pilgrim encounter up on the norte. So we now have that experience to share between us. Ah, cheers to the rapport that perverts and wanksters unwittingly create with their degenerate and rude lifestyle choices. Thanks boys.
Dinner was with Paul, Evan and Amber. Evan brought his cards along and the four of us played poker while we ate. The nice bartender traded two euros for 50 2 cent pieces and 100 pennys which we will use from now on as poker chips in our little tournaments. Fun. But Not for me, as Paul Fey crushed the table and beat all our asses into submission with his brutal play. Nice work Paul.
After Paul dismantled everyone at dinnertime poker we decided to head out for a walk. The evening stroll around town featured Evan and Paul as my accompanymen. We staggered about cheerfully when Paul spotted a pro-style foozbomb table in a bar. We went inside and stuck a euro in that bad boy. Paul and Evan played first and were deadlocked in an intense overtime barnburner. Sudden death style. Evan managed to get the last shot past the goalie and jumped up on the table, pumping his arms and making cash register noises like the Purple Pulpo Prince of all Galicias. But he forgot that I had next game against the winner and, I do not know how to say this in any other way, but I absolutely melted Evans faces at the foosball. I had his ass in the fetal position before the game was even over. Paul’s said that there was no way for Evan to catch up after I was ahead 4-0. But I had to shut his ass out otherwise the bragging rights would not be complete. After sealing the deal with a game ending final shot Paul had this to say, rubbing even more salt in Evans litany of over competitive Camino induced open wounds.
“Now Wayno has beaten you at foosball; and, jumping off of bridges.”
Evan could only hang his head and wipe his tears on the passing yellow arrows at the truth in this statement.
Perverts, racism, gay bashing, Evan losing to Wayno twice in one pilgramage, the longer this Camino goes on, the stranger shit gets. Good thing I only have two more days to go.
May 3rd – I Don’t Want to Walk Today
I woke up and could immediately feel the physical ramifications (deep penetrating soreness) of yesterday’s bridge jumps deep in my ass. Fuck! Things got a bit better once I stood up and moved around. Thankfully the days activities would not be about sitting around but would mostly include standing. Such is life as a pilgrim on the Camino.
In news completely unrelated to my wrecked bootyhole, today for the first time on the Camino I did not feel like walking. It was a rare feeling. The walk has been goin great. Even on rainy days or lonely days or days indoors I have looked forward to the next days walk with positivity and eagerness. But about halfway through this 20k day my feet felt like I had already gone 40. There were a couple of good moments that lifted my spirits though. The first happened when Evan was approached by a cat that only wanted love. Evan scooped the little guy up and named him Jamboree and walked with the cat cuddled up in his arms. Evan asked me to put the cat on his shoulder, which I did. But Jamboree did not seem to like that very much so I lifted him up and tried to set him on the ground. The cat did not seem to care one way or another, but Evan squealed like a bratty little kid who dropped his ice cream cone on a pile of fuzzy white dog doo and snatched the cat out of my hands quick. Everyone laughed as he walked away with Jamboree, consoling the animal with some variation of:
“Don’t listen to them Jamboree. It is just me and you in the whole world. I love you more than yurts always. You my best friend. You my best friend!”
Another moment happened when I was walking with a handful of random gummies, munching them as I strolled. I held my hand out to a Spanish woman I wás passing.
“Ohhh, Frambuesas!” She plucked the raspberry candy from my hand and put it in her mouth.
The last moment worth mentioning came in the form of the batch of high schoolers who stayed in our hostel last night. I was walking with Evan and we saw the group lounging in the yard of a cafe alongside the trail. Some of them waived at us and said “Beun Camono”. I returned their greeting and they seemed amused by the exchange. But it did brighten my day and helped me finish off the one day of the Camino that was not met with an abundance of enthusiasm by me.
We found our hostel and for the first time on this pilgramage, we were turned away because it was full. I saw the familiar piles of bags and suitcases cluttering up the lobby and smiled at the silliness of yesterdays surprise encounter with the Spanish class of kids, my initial judonment/annoyance at them, and their warmness toward me on the trail. We left and found a four story hostel in the middle of town. It was modern and as Jackson would say, “yurt as fuck”. At check-in the man looked at my credentials and saw all the stamps, starting at St. Jean and said with genuine enthusiasm, “Wow! Wonderful!”. That was a new one. I had not gotten that reaction from a hospitalero before.
After a shower and a napski I went on my solo evening stroll through town. This has become one of my favorite parts of the Camino. Back in the beginning of the camino, Cooper and I sort of made a habit of walking through town early on and even if our feet hurt and we just wanted to stay in bed. So whenever Coop is not around I continued the exploration of these small villages on my own. I wandered the streets for a while until the sound of unseen singing pulled me in its direction. It’s no wonder beautiful sirens lure in unsuspecting travellers in the old tales. When you do not know a place and you are wandering around, you are drawn towrd not what you know, but what you can see, smell, taste, feel and hear…
“Go to sleep ya little bay-buh.”
After making several turns I found the steps to the local church packed with what I am affectionately referring to as my kids. I approached smiling and paused in front of them and as they sang their Camino de Santiago pilgrim songs. Their faces lit up with smiles and they waived at me with enthusiasm. I waived back and started recording them with my phone.
After their song ended I gave them a rousing applause and walked up a tiny path they left on the stairs for people to get past. I told them they were great in a variety of simple ways and slapped hands with many of my homies as I passed. At the top of the stairs I saw the kid who had a football yesterday and asked him if they were going to play later.
“You mean soccer?” He said in spotless english, pandering to my obvious Americanism.
“Yeah, soccer. If you play can I join you?”
“Yes! But there is no pitch, in this town.”
We had passed a dank-ass soccer field on the outside of town about a kilometer back. I informed him of this fact but he said they did not want to walk that far backward. Fair enough. But the foot is in the door. We are totally going to play soccer against these hilarious little shits. I am already envisioning an evergreen v. Spanish high schooler battle in Santiago. As Amber Stinson would say, “Ohhhhhhhh buddy.”
I continued into the church at the top of the stone staircase.A man was kneeling and praying up at the front. There was a cluster of about 8 women sitting in the pews. An old man walked over to a modern stereo system and started up some church music. I was not feeling like sitting through an entire mass in a language I did not understand on such a beautiful day. Or maybe it was because I would still hear the singing wafting in from outside. I hopped up and moved to the exit but accidentally hit the edge of my shoe on a confession booth with a loud hollow *bang*. Everyone watched me with stern irritation as I tossed a fistful of loose change euros into a donation box to amend my clumsy ways and returned to the outdoor singing of the high schoolers.
This was much more my style. I perched high above them on a stone wall and each time they finished I would applaud. Whenever the faculty needed the students to clap along I would gladly join in. It was a direct contrast to the stiffness, and quiet and rules and weight of the impending church service I just dodged. I spent a great deal of time that evening thinking about the difference between those two events and my preference between them. A group of kids, playful, fun, light, singing together, giving me attention. Versus a church full of older people, somber, foreign, heavy, maybe searching for answers, possibly resenting my outsiders presence.
Plus the instructor who was playing the guitar and leading the hand jive was probably the single most beautiful person I have seen while walking across Spain . We kept making eye contact while they were singing. Maybe she thought I was a creeper leching around a bunch of teenagers, but I don’t think so. I made no move. Left it alone. As Brian Liu would sing, “You are the prettiest girl… On this Street. You could be a… Part-time-model.”
In any case I resisted the usual temptation to go and chat with her. Leaving it alone for now.
After dinner that night Jackson, Evan and I were returning to the alburg and the zombie herd of hilarious teens were moving straight toward us. In the vanguard were three kids kicking the footie around. As they moved closer I mockingly played mad defense against them and pretended to steal the ball away. They are so fun. More high fives and smiles. I am starting to love these little fuckers.
I lay in bed thinking about those kids and the church service I dipped out of prematurely. About why I move away from the harder thing? Church service. Why I move toward the lighter, breezier easier interaction? Singing, laughing kids. I probably have more to learn about myself and sprit and suffering if I experience them all first hand. But continuing to make the first easiest choice is probably keeping me from growing in new and unexpected ways. At the same time I know what I like. I move toward what I like. Do I sacrifice what I like doing for the unknown? How much pull does fear of missing out on the things I like, dictate my choices. More questions. More questions from the Camino Random Question Generator. Which, when it actually spits out answers, usually comes out in the form of, you guessed it, more questions.
Yesterday I asked (professor) Bill “so why is goodness the thing?” I know this sounds like a stupid question. I had to ask because it is one of the questions remaining after I’ve boiled down a stew of thought, a meal of contemplating just how I would cope with the unavoidable weirdness of existence. This question of “why goodness” is greasy rime at the bottom of this pot. Why goodness? Why are we designed to seek this state of goodness and not to be in some other state? Evil, for example (I can hear the arguments from here). Or some other state that I cannot even imagine? Bill’s response was: “It beats the alternatives”. Fair ’nuff. That’s where I stopped too.
Some thoughts are simple thoughts that float on the surface. It seems at times like they might even be in our way. Eager to clear our vision and search for the hidden stuff (which mush be important) we dismiss the obvious. Though obvious does not dictate lesser value and simplicity does not dictate ease. We are creatures who expend vast quantities of energy to return to the simple truths that we are told as children. Share, love, laugh. The scope of our consciousness may nuzzle against infinity but it is maybe not so deep as we would wager? Maybe it is wide and flat like a great cake pan. Or a glass bottom pool giving the illusion of height when sitting at the bottom, hungover the unimaginable. I wonder if we’re born this way. Doomed to a heuristical burning up, eagerly constructing another pair of wax flappers while the stumps on the first pair smolder. Or, maybe we don’t have to dive so deep or flap so high to find some really useful lessons. Like Love. And yes, I’m using the great wide (great wide cake pan?) expanse of Love including the romantic (of course) and every imaginable form of Love from mother to child and the Agape of the Greeks and Love that the Buddha and Christ are.
Nothing that I say is remotely original. I am writing this to show off my belly flops in the shallow pool. Watch me grasp at floating rings. I am only trying to write the sentences that fit my feeling so I can unfurl a bit more and show my colors. I am not writing for myself. I am writing for you and you are reading for me. And once again we’re back to collaboration, back to the dirt simple truth that people stand a better chance of stumbling on goodness when truly together with open hearts. Check your nearest Yogi tea bag for truth. Talk to a preschool teacher. Or a preschooler. A curious child will quickly and intuitively asks the most fundamental and unanswerable questions ever mustered; theology, science, philosophy – all things considered (although that is a different story). Go listen to a love song. Go watch a love film of which there are legions. Read a poem. Love drenches our culture and society but I feel like I have just taken my first sip, just begun deciphering. For example, I have just now realized that Love doesn’t exist in a clenched fist. Love conquers all as “they” say, so it’s surrender or not at all. That took nearly 30 years. Do I learn my next lesson at 60? No – I am convinced that this is a process of building and healing. The treadmill is escapable, but only with the love and kindness of others.
I think we crave convincing. We want to make sure that we’re not special. Ideally we would all have a chance to burst through the briars and lay claim to some undiscovered great truth. Our legacy secured, the vain hope of reward is filled by finding that the road to truth is indeed paved in gold, a yellow brick road. But this ain’t the case. The path is muddy, or maybe bricked in on a good day and on a bad day it’s at best a trail of breadcrumbs left by someone else. It is understandably difficult to accept that a trail of soggy crumbs can lead the way to a bit of goodness. All this assuming the birds don’t get to the crumbs first, bird brained as we can be.
Watch the clip below to understand my experience of revelation while walking. Bill Murray being kicked in the testicles will save me paragraphs of heavy handed writing. I’ll let you work out which character embodies el Camino and which the pilgrim. This clip is from the film Scrooged, described by IMDB as a “dark and surreal” re-telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Also, In the 1951 rendition of A Christmas Carol Alistair Sim does a wonderful job of portraying this sudden, shovel to the face realization of the obvious and profound lessons of wide angle Love.
Watch me –> Scrooged
As Bill Murray resists being changed towards greater Love he can’t help but get angry and gripe and turn combative. He still thinks he has some right to be a miserable curmudgeon. He can’t accept how stupid he has been to miss the lessons that flit at the tip of noise. I’ve had many face-palm moments of understanding on the Camino. The good ones have left me feeling like a complete idiot. A grinning dolt cackling at having found the truth and murmuring in amazement – “Today the sky is blue!!” I can only be self deprecating in this. It’s truly funny to me, and the recognition of my buffoonery is both amusing and distancing from cruel and stupid lines of thought. Much of it is Me talking to myself. Something I do on a regular basis. There was a day that I was surprised to find myself (and myself is what exactly? Also, different story) moderting a debate between two other voices, also both me. So please, humor me and read the following with a light heart and a smirk. Gracias.
Observe the complex majesty of my grand revelations.
Amazing observation #1
Me, to me: Reflection is not just aimless thought. The point of reflection is to learn something and then use the lesson learned you nincompoop.
Me: Love is important.
Me: No, no – LOVE is reeaaalllly important!
me: “yeah dude, I know.”
Me: NO YOU BLITHERING NINNY LOVE IS WHAT BINDS HUMAN EXISTENCE TO ANY SHRED OF MEANING.
me: “Oh! OHHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!!”
Me: Being nice to people is important and good. In fact, you should be nice to people all the time, even if they don’t seem very nice, because they need the niceness more. And niceness isn’t about an expected reward so don’t even think about being nice to earn future favor. Be nice even if it seems a bit detrimental to you, niceness is not about self interest remember, or else it wouldn’t be nice to do. It would be selfish. And, alongside thinking nice things you should do nice things too. Perhaps even each day you could do nice things. OoooooKaaaaay?
me: “oh. right. Ok yeah I knew that.”
A real gem
Me: Oh you have an ethic brought about by experience with the world and relations with others? You should maybe live it instead of engaging in activities opposite to that ethic? Hmmm?
me: “Dang…yeah…I didn’t think of that before. That sounds like a good move. I’ll do that.”
On the day I was to arrive in the myth-bound city of Santiago I considered neither eating nor drinking to really dig deep and grind out some hardcore, inscrutably genuine pilgrim kilometers. In this twitch of foolery I nearly missed my chance to celebrate all I had learned by eating an ice cream at the summit of Monte de Goza (Mount Joy). This jut of topography allows the first peek into the city of Santiago de Compostela. So I bought an ice cream bar. I ate it. I collected myself and breathed full, two-lunged breaths. I strolled along with my double chocolate hazelnut bar, tears rolling down my face and bursts of laughter escaping between snatches of ice cream. Hunks of the chocolate carapace calve off the bar and stick to my pants. I looked, I am sure, like a complete lunatic for at least the second time this trip. At this thought I laughed even harder, and began drawing truly curious looks.
“It is the best joke there is, that we are here, and fools—that we are sown into time like so much corn, that we are souls sprinkled at random like salt into time and dissolved here, spread into matter, connected by cells right down to our feet, and those feet likely to fell us over a tree root or jam us on a stone. The joke part is that we forget it. Give the mind two seconds alone and it thinks it’s Pythagoras. We wake up a hundred times a day and laugh.”
Suadade: This bit of regional dialect was passed to me by my Dad (Tom) while we talked yesterday. thanks pop! Go ahead and read the Suadade article. It’s short and will be useful to your reading of this post. Also, it’s an awesome concept that puts a name to what I often feel. I love the painting by Almeida Júnior, too. Click me –> Suadade
And if you really want to go for the multiple approach method (it’s the Evergreen way) here’s a sampling from the jazz station I’m listening to as I type all this:
If Stan Getz doesn’t work for you find a song that fits the mood of misty nights and elctric lights.
I’ve been here in Santiago for nearly a week, and Newton’s first two laws make themselves known. A body in motion wants to keep going, a body at rest wants to stay at rest unless of course outside forces come into play. Which they always do. So I don’t know what Newton was on about (kidding, mostly).
I had planned to leave yesterday from the damp and cozy (strange combo yes?) Roots n’ Boots albergue with the rest of my class mates. Our next and ultimate destination is the coast of Finisterra, the end of the ancient world, stewed in Pagan and Galician tradition.
During this time in Santiago we met for three days to swap stories and engage in writing and reflecting. Professor Bill encouraged us to relax into our writing and play with our ideas in small groups. The point was not to edit drafts but to polish a few “germs” (sentencesto) into “gems that fit”. That is, fit what the writer wishes to truly convey to the reader, and not what the writer feels like they wish to write. This type of collaborative, reader powered writing I find to be a refreshing and powerful tool for writing. “There is not plaigiarism amongst friends” Bill says. Assuming everyone in the group has the courage to be revealing, and the willingness to play with their ideas without attachment, the results lead to words that sing a little song rather than mutter along.
As I geared up to leave town and begin the walk to the coast Newton’s external forces make themselves known. I see emails from Sally and Jeff, a couple from New Zealand. We had walked many days together and they would be in town that evening. So I stayed. And we laughed, and chatted, and discussed and ate and drank.
Then I ran into Claire (NZ too) from two weeks prior and we laughed, chatted, discussed and ate and drank.
This morning I ran into Hannika (Holland, I don’t have a picture with her) and we laughed, chatted, discussed, and ate and drank.
I have kept a list of people that have been guides to me on the Camino, whether they were aware of their agency or not. All of the folks listed above are people inscribed on this list, none of them I thought I would see again and all of them I found in Santiago. So that’s why I’m still here and why I don’t regret in the least that I’ll have to bus (instead of walk) to the coast. Being able to meet my guides again is the same as the collaborative writing exercise, work done and done well in the dismantling of the walls that border the useless no-man’s-land gulfing our lives.
There is so much that I could write. But I won’t. In the attempt to recall every conversation there is an essence of the experience that hardens and becomes the borders of a story replete with beginning, middle – end. Too easy to make the thing into a story that morphs and warps at the edges of what happened to justify bootstraping itself into a parsed blob of writing. I do believe the power of a meeting can be (nearly) captured by the pen. However I do not currently have the time or fortitude or skill to even try at that type of creation.
So… as I’m not up to the task I’ll ask for your help in writing the conclusion. I suppose I’m asking as much as a writer can, I am asking that you Imagine your own ending, Imagine a guide from your own life and you will know what I cannot capture here in writing. Think to Suadade, that untranslatable feeling and all its nuances that elude the tongue but the heart is comprised of.
Imagine someone in your life, someone whom the very thought of causes you to catch your breath short. Their image, their starlit smile in your mind causes you to press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and squint to keep welled the tears that congregate on the brim of each lid. Imagine that you can hear the echo of their laugh now. You are laughing again, dancing again, talking as the sun sinks low again in the ancient throes of know and be known. Imagine the impact of their words, their body, their spirit. Imagine the love they caused within you, the pain of not being able to express this love, and the exultant joy of breathing now the whole miasmatic cloud of feeling life…
…ease out of your imagination and look around you. You don’t see your guide standing across the room or napping on the couch, but you could have sworn they were there with you. Is that them making noise in the kitchen? The sound of their bare feet on the wooden floors slashed by the afternoon sun? No. But all the same they have visited and once more bestowed their gift to you without any hesitation, though you may never see them again. Finally, do not imagine but know that you too are this, this guide, to someone else… whether or not you have any idea at all.
Today I woke up at 5am, because I had the idea that it would be nice to walk as the sun was rising for my last day. This was a nice idea that was thwarted by rain, but after a few moments of disappointment I rallied my excitement. Today was the day, the day I made it to Santiago.
Excitement was bubbling in me, and I flew through the kilometers this morning, even with the rain. Every time I saw a waymarker that declared the distance, I couldn’t believe it. 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, I was really doing this. Then the kilometer markers started to go missing as some very delighted pilgrims before me had pried the markers out of the posts so that they could keep them as souvenirs.
Then I saw a sign declaring seven kilometers to go, and I’m not sure how to describe how I felt. It was just the beginning of how I felt when I arrived at the cathedral, but more on that later. I took a great picture, which for some reason loads onto here upside down, but here it is anyway:
Anyway, I ate lunch around there, and continued on.
I started hurting on my way into Santiago, and I limped slowly towards the cathedral. On my way there, I saw several pilgrims, Christie amoung them.
Christie is German, but speaks good english and spanish, and also has a dog with her. But what’s more, she helped me out a lot on a day when I thought my camino was over, a day when I thought I’d be throwing in the towel. Seeing her was knowing I had made it. Against all odds, we both had made it, and were seeing each other in Santiago. I remember the first time I saw her was on a cold and rainy day when she had a cold, being told that her dog could not stay in the restaurant. That was on the way to Zubiri. We crossed paths again and again, I watched her dog in León, and we walked together for short periods of time before she would overtake me.
We embraced, talked a little, and then she gave me directions to the cathedral, telling me just how close I was.
I started crying as I walked past the person playing the bagpipes in the tunnel just before the cathedral. The music was beautiful, and it fit so well in these medieval streets. I walked forwards, and arrived in the square, sobbing.
I was so happy, and proud of myself. I had made it. My feet, my aching body, carried me and all the belongings I needed over the 800 kilometers from France. I walked it. I did it, and here I was, in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. When I set out on this journey, I knew that I would do it, I just wasn’t sure how I’d make it. I knew that I was strong enough, and stubborn enough for when I didn’t have the strength. And fuck, I am more stubborn than I knew, or stronger than I knew, or both. I was completely overwhelmed.
There was only one thing left to do, go into the cathedral.
Now, this may seem like a tangent, but bear with me. When me and my family went to the Grand Canyon, we had a strange issue. We couldn’t find it. We had checked into our hotel, which was inside of the park, and it was just a short walk to the canyon rim. It was maybe half a mile, and we had such a hard time figuring out what direction the Grand-freaking-Canyon was in, and it was honestly pretty embarrassing. This was me with the cathedral door.
In my defense, the cathedral is under construction and the big door in front is closed because of it. Tears in my eyes, I wandered in and out of the square, having difficulty actually following the directions I was given. But as I wandered into the square again, I saw a few familiar faces.
I don’t remember any of their names. I also didn’t run to them, because a slow walk is my top speed at the moment. But I did my fasted slow walk over there.
Me and the person who from now on shall be known as Red for the color of her coat embraced. Red and I had only had one conversation, although it lasted for hours. And yet, she was a close friend who I had not expected to ever see again. “You made it!” She said. “I made it!” I sobbed. She began to cry as well, and tourist pulled out their cameras and flashes went off. I know it seems like this would make the experience shallow, but it only became deeper. I was a spectacle, maybe, but my meaningful experience transended myself. I meant something to other people, perhaps only a quick picture worth of meaning, but it was all connected, ancient pilgrimage and smart phone cameras, the world is amazingly complicated and diverse.
I tried to keep this attitude as I shelled out two euros to store my pack so that I could enter the cathedral after I eventually found the door. I reminded myself of a few lines from one of my favorite poets, Chris Chandler: “And you ask, “is nothing sacred?”/Well, no./But if nothing is sacred, what does that make everything?”
I guess I’ll leave it at that.
We’ve arrived in Santiago! About 20 km out of Santiago a small, scruffy, amazingly well-behaved Spanish dog began following us, practically unstoppable and never looking back. After almost 10 km we came to realize how strange that was and that he was likely lost, we we decided to take him to the vet as soon as we arrived in the city and determine what the best move would be. The friendly veterinarian posted a photo of him online in hopes to find his owner and informed us if nobody contacted within 21 days that we’d be allowed to adopt him. He has become very attached to us very quickly, she assured us that this happens often when dogs have large litters of puppies that roam the towns around Santiago de Compostela, at least once per year. Her matter of fact attitude about the possibility of adoption and immense interest in educating us about the necessary systems grew my confidence both in the pup and in my desire to study in veterinary school. She gave him a deworming pill and some anti flea medication, loaded us up with a bag of food and we were on our way again! We searched for a hostel or albergue that would accept us with the dog, through the sunshine and the eventual torrential downpour with no avail. He was wet and dirty and still had fleas, I can understand why they wouldn’t allow it. After about 2 hours of knocking and asking and being rerouted again and again, we found a doggy boarding business. With the fear that he already had abandonment issues, it was decided we wouldn’t leave him there. One of the men who ran the business caught us outside in order to welcome us into his home for the night. His wife loaded us up into the large van parked outside with her 4 and 2 year old sons and made sure we were cozy, dry and warm inside their guest room. They’d recently purchased the large house so that they could renovate it into a magnificent family home and hotel for dogs. We bathed our dog, who we’ve been calling Guapo (handsome) and were treated to a delicious homemade dinner. They had a large, fluffy white dog named Fantasmo (phantom) and the two played for hours, running around the house with the small children until all four of them were completely exhausted. Once we went up for bed, Guapo squeezed between Hunter and I in bed and fell fast asleep. In the morning we were dropped off back in town and directed to our class’ albergue. The man who runs the albergue has been allowing us to keep the dog in the back garden and has taken a liking to Guapo. As the weather grew colder and rainier he insisted that Guapo could sleep inside in a storage closet for warmth. It took us hours to walk him and stay with him until he was finally ready for bed and then the moment we tried to leave he began barking and panicking inside the closet, scared and alone. We stayed with him outside for awhile to stop the barking and not bother the other pilgrims upstairs. After a couple hours of Hunter staying with him outside I came down I curled up and slept with Guapo in the closet. We took periodic shifts as the only way to close the door was to be locked in. Even crammed in a closet, cuddled on the tile floor with spiders and in the dark I was the happiest I could have ever been in the moment and into the morning that feeling hasn’t wavered a bit. The opportunity to care for and adore this precious, lonely puppy has opened my eyes more than ever to my need to go into veterinary practice. I want to learn how to care for dogs and cats and many other neglected animals worldwide. Happy May 12!
Today I will meet up with the entire class in Santiago. Here, we will gather our thoughts, share stories, write self evaluations and drink wine. We will be together and I look forward to witnessing the unfolding of our hearts. May it be so.
John Brier Brierley’s guidebook to the Camino Frances warns that those entering the square of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela will feel a variety of emotions on a scale from elated to depressed. When I arrived at the end of the Camino on Thursday I couldn’t really put myself anywhere on that scale. We arrived in time for mass but instead found ourselves just taking off our packs and sitting on the ground in the center of the cathedral. I wanted to be the kind of person who was overcome with emotion and fell to her knees, or even the person who wiped away a single stoic tear. Instead I just wondered how we were going find the apartment Tracie booked for us; I just wanted to know where I could take off my backpack and sleep. I couldn’t bring myself to feel much of anything at all.
While in Santiago I wasn’t really the ideal pilgrim. I got my Compostela and put it in a protective little tube, but I didn’t go to mass or hug Santiago or even enter the Cathedral. I barely looked at it. I kept telling myself I would go to the next mass, would see the statue of Santiago later that night, but I avoided it for two days. I couldn’t big myself to do any end-of-pilgrimage activities because my pilgrimage didn’t really feel over. I had been planning to go to Porto with a small group of people but suddenly it didn’t feel like an option; I had to keep walking. So the next morning I woke up early and laced up my boots, leaving before I had a chance to change my mind. Part of my really wanted to go to Porto and sit in cafés and wear normal clothes, but something more insistent was telling me I wasn’t done yet. I hadn’t had my big emotional ‘The Way’-esque breakthrough yet. Time to go to Finisterre.
The first day was beautiful despite intermittent rain; the route is green and surrounded by woods and stone ruins covered in moss and vines. Spent the night in albergue where I didn’t recognize a soul, which was more depressing than the impending storms. Being alone on the road is easy, being alone at night is hard. I had a long conversation with a German man entirely in Spanish because it was easier for him to understand than English. The next day again I walked alone, and after 33 kilometers on asphalt roads in rain I limped gratefully into the first albergue in Olveiroa. I planned to get to Finisterra the next day. 31 kilometers was a long day but I had already walked many longer ones. But on the third day, after just 15 kilometers, I was reduced to a hobbling wreck. The tendon on the front of my right ankle hurt so badly with every step that I was biting the inside of my cheek to distract form the pain. This thing that had never bothered me before was suddenly so bad I could barely walk.
Upon approaching Cee, a city just about halfway between Olveiroa and Finisterra, I considered stopping early because of the pain–something I have never done before on the Camino. Stopping at 11:30 was so difficult I actually started limping toward the Camino again, but immediately ran into a man I had met the night before, Jens, who encouraged me to stop with him in the next town. I wanted to say no, but as we walked toward the door of the albergue I was on the verge of tears with pain. I had walked eight hundred kilometers, across the entire country of Spain. I had reached Santiago de Compostela in good health, and now for so,3 reason everything was falling to shit. Why right now? Why could I not just make it the last 14 kilometers to the ocean?
Sitting in my albergue there are a few people I recognize, friends of Brian. One of them sighs and says to me, “I don’t know, my brain is just kind of in pieces right now.” Another looks at her blistered feet, which had been completely intact in Santiago and developed blisters only in the last two days. A third realizes he’s lost some clothing and laments, “Ugh, everything is falling apart!” I echo the sentiment. It seems like everyone who continues on this route is encountering hardships they didn’t really expect to have to face after a month of walking. One boy looks at the girl sitting across the room wistfully. They fell in love on the Camino and the walk to Finisterre is likely the last time they will ever spend together. The relationships people have formed are ending, their bodies are starting to weaken, and they’re losing the stoicism and mental fortitude that got them to Santiago.
Maybe that’s the beauty of the walk to Finisterre. We’re all here because we weren’t ready to stop in Santiago. We didn’t get enough to feel satisfied and go home. We’re still chasing that last little bit of change, and the Camino provides. I didn’t get what I needed after 800 kilometers so the Camino kicked it up a notch. Maybe what I needed to was a little more hardship. Maybe that will be what it takes to convince me I’m finished.