Saturday, April 27, 2013

Manjarín and Ponferrada

June 27th

I didn't make an entry in my journal for the next week. It was at about this point, where I calculated I was about two weeks from the end of the Camino that I began feeling the abyss: the end of the Camino. I knew I should just be enjoying each moment, but I’m a “futures” kind of guy—I’m always and forever thinking about what’s coming. From my vantage point here on the Camino, I had no idea what the future would bring and, while I was planning to remain in Spain and was looking forward to it, still, the idea of the end of the Camino was depressing to say the least. I was enjoying every day and feeling more attached to Maria each minute, but I knew all this was coming to an end and I began feeling the lump in the pit of my stomach as I had each Sunday night when I was back in the real world, thinking about the coming week of work and stress. I was still having wonderful experiences and felt I was walking at the edge of heaven, but everything comes to an end and the horizon was now not so far away.

For whatever reason, I stopped writing in my journal for about a week so I’ll have to rely on my memory, a few photographs I took, and small notes in my guidebook for a while.

The entire pueblo of Manjarin
From the Cruz de Fierro, the next “pueblo” you pass through is Manjarín, which must be the smallest pueblo in Spain. It comprises one house which is the dwelling of what is reputed to be the last Knight Templar. My guide book informs me that this was a camp and rest stop for Roman troops. It says there are few comforts here, but much ambiente templario, (Templar ambiance) and is a place the pilgrim may or may not like, but will leave with a definite impression of some kind.

They were right, and my impression was haunting and mystical. The medieval music playing barely audibly through hidden speakers added a magical touch. There was a sense of great age and wisdom in the small shelter. How that’s possible in an old building I don’t know, but it was there, as well as a sense of welcoming and relaxation. It would have been perfect to just spend a few years there, but we had to move on.

The fortress at Ponferrada
On June 27th we arrived in Ponferrada, a city that owes its existence to the Romans and nearby gold mines. Much later, in 1082, the local bishop ordered an old wooden bridge over the River Sil replaced with one of iron, bringing more commerce to the city. Then, about a hundred years later a fortress was built and occupied by nuns to protect pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was about this time, if memory serves, that I discovered Pulpo de Galicia - octopus prepared in the Galician style. I've never been much of a fan of cephalopods as a food, but I've changed my mind. I don’t know what they do to it or how it’s prepared, other than the obvious sweet paprika and olive oil, but it was wonderful. Maybe it was a combination of the Galician ambiance: cool weather, rolling, green hills dotted by ancient pueblos, the hint of a Gaelic heritage, complete with bagpipes. I rarely passed up an opportunity to sample the local pulpo at each bar I stopped at. It became my favorite tapa.

As I walked through this beautiful, lush region of Spain, and as I think back with help from the photos I took, I felt, and can still feel, an attachment to the country that I've never been able to muster for anyplace I've lived in the United States. When I was a child, my family moved frequently, owing to my father’s job, so I never had the opportunity to develop feelings of home for a place. Even when I got older and my family stopped moving so much, I didn't feel any attachment to a city, a state, or even the country in which I lived. I chalked this up to having lived the gypsy life, never settling in one place during those early years of life when we develop attachments to the land, a region, or a culture. Feeling an attachment to a geographical region was not even in my capacity to imagine. But here, in Galicia, it was immediately easy to comprehend how people could feel oneness with their pueblo and with Galicia, how one could feel that absent their homeland they would be incomplete.

I had never had that feeling, but nevertheless I missed it and envied Gallegos and all Spaniards for having it.
Signs of encouragement are common on the Camino

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Foncebedon and The Cruz de Fierro

June 25th (continued):

The night of the dream noted in my previous post I slept the entire night. This was unusual  unusual on the Camino as well as in "real life." On the Camino I'd normally be awakened by the sound of snoring or, as in "the real world," just because my body told me to wake up for some inexplicable reason. Nothing unusual, that, but walking across Spain I would ask myself why, after walking 25 or 30 or 35 kilometers and being completely exhausted, I could not sleep through the night. But this night, June 25th, I slept and it seemed that I dreamed the entire night. 

After the dream of the music test, I dreamed of a girl who had a problem with a pain in her left hip. (My friend Maria was experiencing a problem with her left hip: it was in pain much of the time.) In my dream another girl had a natural, herbal cure for the suffering girl’s ( Maria's?) hip, requiring that I place an herbal compress, over several treatments, directly into the hip socket. For the final treatment, the “healer” summoned a crow that would bring the herbs in its beak, but what the crow was bringing for this treatment was something different: It was not the cure, but an herb that, once placed in the ailing girl’s hip joint would kill her. Somehow, the plot was discovered and the suffering girl avoided the deadly herbs, but the girl who summoned the crow to bring the herbs began shooting at me with a six-shot revolver. She fired five shots at me and missed each time. Running, I entered a room where there happened to be another person. I have no idea who it was. I shut the door and waited for the sixth shot.

There the dream ended. I have no idea what it meant, but because it was so vivid and because I remembered it so well I noted it in my journal and here. Maybe someone out there who is reading this has an interpretation.

I then had another dream directly after that one. In this one, two wolves had come out of nearby woods and were endangering my mother’s house and property. I was in a horse-drawn carriage explaining to my passenger (I don't remember who it was) that these wolves were a danger to my mother and I had to deal with them. I pointed out to my passenger that these were not “mere” coyotes, but were dangerous gray wolves. They made no threatening moves during the dream, but I knew they would be a problem in the future and I had to deal with them, and the sooner the better.

Venison, wine, salad, great Celtic music - what
more could one want?
Qué día, “What a day!” I noted in my journal at the end of that day. We walked the last four kilometers, more or less, uphill, and were all very tired. We stayed at the albergue Monte Irago in Foncebedon. We had passed up the previous pueblo and albergue, choosing instead to walk the extra few kilometers to get to Foncebedon because my guide book said there was a very unusual and wonderful restaurant, the most unique on the Camino, in this pueblo.

My guide book was correct. The ambiance was indescribableCeltic music, old world décor, with a stone mosaic of a goose in the middle of the floor. I had a wonderful dinner of venison which must have been in a marinade for two or three days; it was incredibly tender and indescribably delicious. Celtic music, candles, wonderful food: I was in heaven.
Mosaic on the floor of the restaurant

This pueblo, Foncebedon, had been abandoned for several centuries but had in the last decade or so, been resuscitated due to the pilgrim traffic. There was not one, but two albergues, each offering dinner, in addition to the restaurant referred to above. From the outside, it still looked like a ghost town, but the twenty-five residents of the pueblo had created an extremely comfortable and inviting rest stop on the Camino.

The next day Maria and I reached the Cruz de Fierro, the Cross of Iron. This is a significant stop along the Camino, a place of rich tradition where pilgrims leave a stone that they have carried at the foot of the cross and say a prayer for their own blessing, or for the blessing of another. I had carried, for myself and people I loved, several stones across Spain in a small pocket in my back pack, intending to leave them with prayers at the foot of the Cruz de Fierro.

I didn't take any pictures of the Cruz; it was too powerful an experience, too holy a place. (I include a picture here that I took from the web. Thus, the photo is of a bright and sunny day when my day there was overcast and rainy.)

Thinking about places and experiences too powerful to desecrate with a camera, I'm reminded of a group of people I crossed paths with in this region: three walkers and their companion in a wheel chair. The wheel chair was rigged with harnesses that allowed two people to pull while the third pushed. As I wrote “Que día” in my journal, my difficult day of climbing hills, I thought of these people who pushed and pulled their friend along a the Camino, a challenging walk for one person in good shape, but ten times more for those pushing and pulling their wheel chair-bound friend through the Pyrenees, across the llanura, through rain and wind, up and down the hills of Galicia, and more. The Bible says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."

No, but those who push and pull their friend in a wheel chair over hundreds of miles on the Camino de Santiago are a close second.

Cruz de Fierro (picture taken from the web)
It’s difficult to imagine the emotional impact of the Cruz, of the hardship of the walking, the blisters, the feet screaming in pain by the end of each day. Just as it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the sense of peace as one experiences solitude, simplicity, and silence of the Camino, to experience the love and comradeship of other pilgrims one meets along the way. Some experiences, some feelings, can’t be described. John Steinbeck himself couldn't begin to convey the emotions that surround a pilgrim at the Cruz de Fierro, much less what surrounds one throughout the entire Camino. After completing three-fourths of the trek, more or less, and experiencing feelings I never could have imagined, when I finally arrived at this point, I admit that I wept at the foot of the cross, saying prayers for those I love and for whom I carried stones across Spain.

As I removed the stones from the pocket in my back pack I had carried with me for family and friends and sat under the eve of the small chapel pictured above, rain falling silently, I said the Pilgrim’s Prayer for each, with their stone in my hand, picturing in my mind's eye the person for whom I was praying. I tailored the prayer to meet each person's circumstances. Not all of us make a pilgrimage to the city of Santiago, but we are all, each of us, on our own pilgrimage to our own Santiago: 

Lord, you who recalled your servant Abraham out of the town Ur in Chaldea and who watched over him during all his wanderings; You who guided the Jewish people through the desert; we also query to watch your present servants, who for love for Your name, make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela,

Be for us

A companion on our journey,
The guide on our intersections,
The strengthening during fatigue,
The fortress in danger,
The resource on our itinerary,
The shadow in our heat,
The light in our darkness,
The consolation during dejection,
And the power of our intention,

So that we under your guidance, safely and unhurt, may reach the end of our journey and strengthened with gratitude and power, secure and filled with happiness, may join our home.
For Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Apostle James, pray for us.
Holy Virgin, Pray for us.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Back on Track

In an earlier post I mentioned that the first couple of decades of my life I thought that music would be my life. I majored in music at the University of Iowa. My instrument was voice. I had dreams of being an opera singer but I learned through 5 years of voice lessons that I didn’t have the volume and sound quality to project over an orchestra. I think I could have trained the larynx and associated musculature to do what they needed to do, but I don’t have the nasal “mask,” that porous part of the skull that acts like the sound box of a guitar, violin, or any stringed instrument. You can use the finest violin strings and bow but if the strings are strung over a cardboard box, Paganini himself couldn't make a decent sound. I, in effect, was trying to sing with a cardboard box as my resonator.

I also saw myself as a choral or orchestral conductor, but that takes a certain personality that I don’t seem to have. There is an old joke that goes like this (I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version):

A great violinist dies and goes to heaven. He finds himself sitting in the Heavenly Orchestra, ready for rehearsal and waiting for the conductor. He’s somewhat surprised and disoriented but quickly figures out where he is and what’s going on. He leans over to the violinist sitting beside him and asks, “Who’s the conductor?”
The other violinist replies, “God.”
The first violinist says, “Really! How is God as a conductor?”
The other violinist replies, “Well, he’s pretty good but, you know, sometimes it seems like he thinks he’s Toscanini.”

A good conductor has to think, no believe, that he’s God or Toscanini, take your pick. What’s more, he has to convince the rest of the orchestra that he underestimates himself. Think about it. You have a violinist, or a trumpet player, or a cellist, or any instrumentalist in the orchestra who has studied his instrument most of his remembered life, if not more, and has studied music maybe at a Julliard or New England School of Music. They know their stuff. There are 50, 80, 100 of them sitting in front of the conductor and he has to tell them how to do their jobs. He has to tell them that his way of playing the piece is better than their way and get all of them to perform as he wants. And for that to work, they all have to believe that the conductor knows best. The conductor, the great conductor (and why be any other kind?) has to inspire faith among the members of the orchestra that they normally reserve only for God.

By the time a person completes a bachelor’s degree, he knows whether he has that personality. I admit, not every conductor in the world making a living as such has that talent. But you have to have at least some of that to get started and that’s simply not who I am. I remember getting confirmation in the mail that I had completed all the course work for my bachelor of music degree and thinking, as I held the paper in my hands, "Now what do I do?" I was engaged. I was going to be married and have a family and I didn't want to lead a family through what I knew would be a difficult life of no money and no security.

So I decided it was time to grow up and I went back to school to get a Master of Business Administration degree, an MBA: the key to financial success. Except I couldn't stand it and I left after three semesters of part-time school.

During those three semesters I had taken a course in computer programming which was just enough to get an interview with Control Data Corp. in Chicago, which was hiring a few people for a team to travel the state of Indiana converting credit unions' data processing systems from Merchants’ Bank of Indiana to my employer's. Merchants' was leaving the business of deposit and loan data processing for credit unions and had endorsed Control Data as their successor and there was a lot of work to be done in a short time. That was my entry into technical project management where I've made my career ever since.

Moving forward just a few years from the start of my technical career, I began having a recurring dream that was to continue with me until June 25th, 2012. There were actually two dreams, but both meant the same thing:

In the first, I have to take a university final exam for a class that I forgot I had registered for, or that, for some reason, I had never attended. Whatever the reason, I had to take a test in some subject I was not prepared for and about which I knew absolutely nothing.

In the second, it’s opening night for a play or a musical for which I have never rehearsed. Again, either I forgot or didn't know that I was in the play. But here I am, opening night, I’m due to go on stage in a few minutes and I have no idea what my lines or my songs are.

I haven’t studied Carl Jung, but I can interpret those dreams pretty easily: I’m someplace where I don’t belong. I’m a fish out of water, unprepared, going the wrong direction. In the dream, the exams for which I was sitting were for subjects I have no interest in,  typically math or science-related. What am I doing taking math and science courses? My heart’s not in those areas. As far as the other dream goes, I might like to be in a play or musical, but I left that life behind and haven’t done anything in that area for decades. I didn't have those dreams once or twice. I had them countless times over the course of 28 years. They played over and over like a number one song on a pop radio station. 

It didn't take very many years into my career, only five or six, to figure out what those dreams were telling me: I was going in the wrong direction, was in the wrong place, I had made a turn in my life that took me off the path I had planned for myself before I was born. (That’s my belief, take it or leave it.) But what could I do? I had responsibilities and felt trapped. I returned to school to complete my MBA and almost changed to the MA in music theory and history program but I chickened out and finished my MBA in 1990.

Walking the Camino in Spain, having left the world of project management and corporate America I felt goodbetter than good, and it was an every day thing. I was relaxed, purposeful, happy; no Prozac required. I had decided to remain in Spain and find work as an English teacher. I've volunteered as an English teacher for immigrants, had taken teaching courses, receiving a certificate in teaching English as a second language. I enjoyed teaching, was fulfilled by it. Later, in Granada, I met people associated with the university there and discussed various topics in music history with them and got names of professors to follow up with to begin to study music history. I spoke with the director of the choir of the Granada Cathedral about being part of the choir after September (I don't have an opera voice, but no chorus has ever turned me away.) Things were falling into place and I could see that I was getting my life back on track in my adopted homeland. 

June 26th, 2012. I woke up in the middle of the night after a different dream, one that I remembered in detail.

I was in a classroom taking a final exam, but this time the exam was in music theory 101. I was confident. I knew my stuff. The dream continued to where I received my score on the exam – 100%! The professor couldn't believe that anyone scored so high; no one in any of her classes had ever managed to get that score.

Back in my undergraduate days I received a 4.0 average in theory classes. I took CLEP exams (College Level Examination Program) to pass out of my university core courses and tested out of all of them except one science and one speech class. Therefore I had time to take extra music classes and by the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I had taken several graduate music theory and analysis classes, receiving A’s in all of them. I only say that to indicate that if I have a talent, that's where it is. In my dream I was in my element, back home where I was supposed to be. But I was in a basic music theory class which I interpreted to mean I was back on track, but I've wasted a lot of time and lost a lot of ground. I’m going to have to back up, retrace my steps, and re-learn things I've forgotten. 

But the important thing is, I was back on my Camino. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

El Burgo Ranero to Villandongos del Páramo

June 22nd to 24th

Walking through Mansilla de los Mulas, I stopped at a church to contemplate and rest. Not sure which was my main intent. I had considered stopping in León for an extra day of rest, but once I got there, with the crowds and busy streets and another grand cathedral (YAC, Yet Another Cathedral, as I noted in my journal), I just wasn't in the mood. I had been thinking that a day of rest for my worn out feet would be good, but by the time I got there, I decided that the tiredness and soreness were just a fact of life and I knew that resting another day wasn't going to make them any better. They were what they were—flat, misshapen, not really up to the task which I was demanding of them.

If the Camino was a microcosm of my life, then I was represented by my feet. Like them, I wasn’t really cut out for what I was doing. I was ill-prepared for the journey and didn’t really know where I was going, what each day would bring. The walking, like life itself, was at times difficult and painful but I had no choice but to go on. By early afternoon of each day my feet would be tired and in pain, but I still had kilometers to go. I just put my head down and took another step, then another, then another, until I reached someplace where I could rest for the night. The Camino was a bridge: I knew what I had left on one side but I had no idea what was on the other side. My faith told me to find out, and that something good would be waiting for me. I had overspent my budget and had given money when I didn't have it to give, but I knew things would turn out OK. Take another step. Right, left, right, left…

I made an entry in my journal on the 23rd in Puente de Villarente while having a Shandy (beer mixed with lemonade), eating a few slices of jamón Iberico (it’s not just ham in Spain; you have to know what type of ham), and enjoying the chance to rest. I had just gone to the store with Maria to get something for dinner, but then I realized I had some food left over from the previous day and felt foolish for buying more when I was beginning to think I ought to watch my money a little more closely. The truth was I went with her because she asked me if I wanted to go with her. I hadn't seen her all day and missed her so what else was I to do? We were in a small town but there were two grocery stores and a panadería, a bread store. But at 6:00 in the evening there was no more bread to be had in town. The people in the stores were so matter-of-fact about it. You want bread? You better get it in the morning when it’s fresh and before they sell out. No more until tomorrow. I had never come across a grocery store being out of bread. I’d have to get used to this if a life in Spain was on the other side of the bridge.

I passed through León on the 24th and continued walking after a brief lunch of sardines on the Cathedral steps. It felt good to take my shoes off and just sit in the open air with my can of little fish, watching people, and not having to be concerned about waiters or checks or other
Sardines on the steps of Cathedral of León. It just
doesn't get any better. 
restaurant-related stuff. I was in the mood for simple. I was also in the mood for some solitude and to get the heck out of Dodge (Le
ón), so I got right back up after finishing my lunch, put my boots back on my miserable feet and began walking—in the wrong direction. C’est la vie. I had only gone a few hundred meters when I discovered my error. I felt bad, though, because another pilgrim passed me and asked if I knew if the Camino continued the way we were walking. I told him I thought so. Then when I found out I was wrong I hurriedly tried to catch up to him to inform him that the Camino lay in the opposite direction but he was a fast walker and I couldn't find him. Maybe he ended up in Montserrat. I'll never know. 

I finally arrived at the albergue in Valverde de la Virgen to find it closed, shut, out of business, and by the weeds growing around the building, it seemed to have been in that state for quite a while. That was at the 24 Km mark of that day’s walk and the next town was another 8.4 Km away. (I won’t mention my feet again in this post, but you know what I’d say if I were to say anything, ¿right?)

Señor perdóname, porque he pecado. (Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned.) I stopped at the next bar on the road to have a cold beer (have I mentioned recently how much I enjoyed drinking as much cold beer as I wanted on the Camino without having to worry about gaining weight?) and to ask if there might, by some remote chance, be another albergue or pension in town. The answer was no, there was not, but sitting at the table next to me was a young couple who said they would be happy to give me a ride in their car to the next town where there was an albergue. Thanking the Camino for giving me exactly what I needed when I needed it, and thanking the couple profusely for the offer of help, I readily accepted and enjoyed a quick, 10-minute drive to the next albergue which would have taken me over 2 hours with the condition of my feet. (Again, I’m not mentioning what condition they were in—I’m leaving that up to your imagination.) Managing just for this night to give up all pretense of eschewing any transportation other than my own two feet, I arrived at the municipal albergue in Villandangos del Páramo, feeling a little guilty, but managing to deal with those unhelpful emotions with another ice cold beer.
After a long, hot day in Valladogos del Páramo

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Beer and Debussy

June 21st

I've been one month on the Camino. I started “sauntering” from Montserrat the morning of May 21st, and it's taken me 31 days to get to Sahagún. This day I walked solo for the most part and I caught up with Maria about six or seven Km before the end of the day. Beth had stayed behind for a little more foot recuperation and planned to take a bus to Sahagún. The bus was full, but remember what I've said about the Camino providing what you need when you need it: she was offered a ride in a car. Funny how things like that kept happening. We dined on pizza and then the girls went back to the albergue to rest while I stayed in the bar and enjoyed a non-lager beer for the first time on the Camino.

A couple of notes:

1. Yes, Maria and Beth are grown women, mujeres in Spanish, but I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to refer to them as mujeres. Chicas (girls) was just fine with them, so chicas, girls it is.

2. I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., where variety in beer is a concept held to be more sacred than the 1st and 2nd amendments. Here, the average bar will have on tap at least one IPA, one Stout, one ESB, one seasonal, two lagers and their accompanying “lites,” for those who haven't yet learned how to drink beer. That’s just your basic bar, and just what’s on tap. Then there will be another dozen types of beer in bottles, and it’s not at all uncommon to find a bar with more than a dozen types of beer on tap and 25 or more selections in bottle. Beer is serious business around here.

In contrast, I found the normal bar in Spain to have one beer on tap and occasionally hard cider and Shandy, which is a mix of beer and lemonade (and surprisingly good, in my humble opinion). This was the case in small towns and larger cities that I passed through while walking, and even included Granada where I spent another seven weeks after the Camino where I, of course, had the opportunity to visit a number of bars. If you want variety in beer in Spain, your best chance is to find an Irish bar. There you’ll be offered on tap at least Guinness Stout, an IPA or ESB, an Irish Red, and the normal Cruz Campo, Alhambra or whichever brand is the local favorite lager on tap. In Spain, I suppose, variety in beer just isn't that important. But when it’s 100º outside the beer is cold, even in Irish bars, and that’s what counts.

As I walked to Sahagún the land was flat but the wind was strong, making the day’s walk tiring. I found that walking a little better than an average of 26 Km a day normally wasn't physically difficult on any part of my body except my feet. With that said, there were a few days around this time where I wasn't tired from walking, but mentally exhausted from fighting the constant wind.

But the wind was what helped to bring about one of those memorable Camino events. 

A little background:

Prior to my selling out for the life of a normal working stiff, I had dreamed of being a musician, had majored in music in college, and fully intended to make a life of it in some way. Music had been something very special to me, had given me a reason for being, but the practicality of the world after university pulled me down to Earth and I became just another occupant of a cubicle in Corporate America.

Even though music is something near and dear to me, I had set out on my Camino intending not to use my MP3 player to listen to music as I walked. Rather, I just wanted to listen to whatever sounds occurred around me and inside me. Additionally, as God is famous for His still, small voice, I didn't want to take a chance on missing it should He choose to say something important to me. However, at about this time in my little saunter, after about a month, I decided to allow myself a little music if the spirit so moved.

The particular day I was referring to above and a few others like it, I couldn't hear the music because the noise of the wind in my ears would have overpowered it. But there was another day, somewhere near this point in my journey—I didn't note it in my journal but the memory is as clear as if it had happened yesterday—where I was walking alone early one morning with the sun still low in the East and wheat fields all around me. There was more than a breeze but less than a wind and I was listening to Debussy’s La Mer, a symphonic tome poem evoking images of the sea.

You can't see movement in a still picture,
but I like the image. 
There were a few moments, moments of magic, of ethereal emotion and other-worldliness that occurred on the Camino. This was one of them. As I walked alone, listening to Debussy’s tonal images of the sea, I watched the wind move across the tops of the wheat fields and saw, not wheat, but the ocean, with waves and crests undulating in perfect harmony with the music, as if the score had been created exactly for what I was seeing right then and there, as if I was meant to start the music at just the time I did in order to synchronize the motion picture in front of my eyes with the music in my ears. There was rhythm in the movement of the wheat; it was dancing to the music. The wind and the motion of the wheat were perfectly linked to the highs and lows in the music, the irregular pulses, the ebb and flow of consonances and dissonances. The emotion of the music was reflected and amplified through the dancing of the wheat in the wind. I was lifted and carried into another existence for just a few moments while Debussy’s music played in my ears and God danced in front of my eyes.

I had come to walk the Camino to find God, but He was in the music all along. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Oracion de la Amistad

Jesucristo Maestro y amigo, damos la ruta por un mundo de odios y rencores. Nos de miedo la soledad. Queremos ir en compaña: protege nuestra amistad. Busca entre nosotros confianza total. Ayúdanos a superar el rencor y la duda. Danos un corazon para comprender y ayudar a todos los demás.

Jesus Christ, our lord and friend, give us (show us) the way through a world of hate and rancor. We are fearful of solitude. We want to be in your company and under your protection. Discover among us complete confidence. Help us to overcome rancor and doubt. Give us a heart to understand and help all others.

This was another prayer given to me by a stranger along the way. Things like this, receiving help, encouragement, various little gifts of all kinds were common. I suppose this is one of the things that makes returning to the “real world” so difficult. It’s not as if one never receives help and kindness from strangers outside of the Camino, but it’s rare. It’s not a day-to-day, quotidian event. It’s easy to forget that we’re all in this together when we’re rushing to and from work, taking the kids to soccer practice, trying to balance work with relationships. On the Camino, work, traffic, soccer practice, conflicting obligations, and the rest of the world’s distractions are far away, over the horizon, on the other side of the ocean. The pilgrim has the time and the luxury to be in the moment, enjoy solitude or relationships as he chooses. The only obligation is to be and continue walking each day. It’s a magical place, a place that doesn't exist in the real world, at least not in a world that I've ever experienced outside of the Camino.

June 19th or 20th. I had lost track of the days; my journal and guidebook relate conflicting dates when I was at the same place. No pasa nada.

I got to Carrion de los Condes and checked into a large albergue in a convent run by, naturally, nuns. It was a well-equipped, large albergue with two kitchens and a courtyard complete with chairs and tables for outdoor eating and a half basketball court for those who, after a day of walking, still had enough energy to play basketball. (Count me out.)

Maria and Beth had taken a taxi here from Boadilla del Camino because Beth was still having extreme difficulties with blisters on her feet. The next morning she had decided to stay an extra day at the convent to rest and allow her feet to recuperate a little more. Truth was, her feet needed much more time than just an extra day or two to heal, but she was determined to keep walking. As I think back, having helped Beth with her feet, dressing her blisters, her intention to keep walking was nothing short of heroic. I would have stopped. I don't know how she kept walking, but she did. I went to the bus station and got the schedule for the bus to the next stop, Sahagún. The nuns took good care of her while Maria and I continued walking, although she started out a little earlier than I because she wanted some solitude, which I completely understood.

I got a late start, taking some time to make the arrangements for Beth to stay at the convent and going to the bus station to get the schedule for her. Things were a little disordered compared to the normal morning routine and it was here that I first left my hat and sunglasses; I had forgotten them in the restaurant where Maria and I had breakfast. We ate and then went to a post office to mail various things we didn't need—I, a pair of shoes I had intended to use for “evening wear” that no longer fit because my feet had swollen, along with the aforementioned book of Camino photographs, and Maria, her camera that she rarely used and a few other small things that were taking unnecessary space in her pack. I realized that I had left my hat and sunglasses in the restaurant so we returned and retrieved them. Then, at the albergue, discussing the plan for Beth’s transportation and where we would meet, I set my hat and sunglasses on one of the beds in the dormitory-style room. The day was cloudy and not too warm, and I was getting a late start so I left somewhat hurriedly. It wasn't until a few hours down the road that I realized I was walking hat-less and sunglass-less. Later, when I caught up with Maria who had a phone that actually worked throughout Spain (mine only worked in the largest cities), she was able to call Beth to ask if she might have noticed my sunglasses on one of the beds in the dormitory room. Sadly, they were nowhere to be found. I assume, and hope, that someone found them who needed a good pair of “antique” Ray-Ban sunglasses. The hat I had bought for 2.50 Euros so I wasn't concerned. But the sunglasses were another story.

I try to see a purpose in everything. The sunglasses were a gift from a previous girlfriend, the woman of Spanish descent I mentioned a way long time ago, maybe the first or second post of this blog. They were vintage 1993 or '94, one of the first gifts from her very early in our relationship. Other than memories, the sunglasses were the last remnant of my relationship with her, a relationship I had been trying to get over for a decade. I viewed the loss of the sunglasses as symbolic of the end of that relationship—finally. From here, everything about my life was completely new. I had been reborn with virtually nothing more than my birthday suit and a backpack.

Leaving Carrion de los Condes I learned the meaning of a new word: desvío: which my on-line dictionary defines as detour, alternate, or “long cut, the opposite of short-cut.” That’s the one I remember. It’s a small word, seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, appearing on a sign as I exited the town. I thought nothing of it, in fact, I’m not sure I even noticed it, but Maria told me later that it was there. No matter now. I followed the arrow that said “Camino desvío” and found myself on a busy, ugly, noisy highway for about 15 kilometers. By the time I finally stopped to ask if I was still on the Camino, I found that I had taken a small detour. Why there is a detour on a busy highway I’ll never know, but after a few hours I came across a welcome sign pointing me back to the normal Camino route and I took it, happy to be away from the highway and back to a peaceful walk. In the past I would have been upset, angry, full of invective toward myself for taking the wrong route and causing myself extra work. But that’s not what I remember feeling. This was just another day on the Camino. I had been lost in a large nature preserve on my first day, later I had been lost in desert in Aragon. I might get lost again. This was a microcosm of my life. I let it go and continued walking, still enjoying the walk and  met up with the normal Camino route after about an hour and found, much to my surprise and elation, Maria. We walked for a few kilometers but she wanted some solitude for a while so I stopped at a very comfortable little bar with, of course, outside seating, overlooking a long and ancient bridge crossing a small river. I enjoyed a beer (or two) and tapas while Maria continued ahead.

Because of the late start I only walked to Calzadilla de la Cueza. It should have been 17.5 Km but with my little detour I’m guessing it was a little over 20.

Back to present day. I’m sitting in a room I’ve just rented, a room in a boarding house near Seattle where I’m living and working, hopefully for another 105 weeks. I’m literally counting the weeks until I return to Spain to make my next pilgrimage from the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona to Rome, passing through Montserrat so I will have walked, albeit with a three year span in between, the entire distance from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic across the northern part of my adopted homeland. I freely admit that after a few glasses of wine my emotions are a little more pronounced, or might I say, a little more free to express themselves. I’m missing Spain. I’m missing the Camino. But most of all I’m missing the friends I left behind. For one brief, shining, short period of my life I was happy and felt bonded with a small group of people such as I've never felt before. 
Somewhere between Carrion de los Condes and
Calzadilla de la Cueza on the Camino