I stayed late in Leon, catching up on my writing, picking up a few supplies in town, stuff that I had left behind. I picked up a new pair of Ray Bans in town, then walked to a sporting goods store on the outskirts, that was close to the camino to get a new long sleeved pullover, as I had lost the old one somewhere along the way, and it was getting cooler as we neared the coast.
It seems as I journey on, I am more conscious, my actions more germane, thoughtful, dare I say, I’m a bit more graceful. I mean that in the sense as I’ve come to define grace: not just being like a finalist on Dancing with the Stars, but existing in a state of grace.
It’s kind of like, usually, we’re fighting against the grain, doing battle with the forces of nature. And I guess my definition means your just more in tune with the flow of things, and so you go with it. Maybe it’s that you’re listening to your heart, instead of that immature voice in the back of your head.
Evidence of this is in my packing. Out here, you learn the ritual of packing quickly, and how to prepare for leaving early in the morning. It makes for a more graceful exit from the auberge, not waking your fellow pilgrims, those who have chosen to sleep in. In the beginning, this process was about as graceful as a fish riding a bicycle.
Since you’re usually in a room with at least 4 other pilgrims (often more) you create a routine quickly. Mine is as follows (take note those who have decided to take to the camino based on this scintillating account of my journey).
Lay out clothes you are going to wear the next day-
underwear (I wear the underwear I slept in, put on clean the night before)
overshirt/jacket if it’s cold.
In your pants, pack the following when you return from dinner:
Front right pocket: Cell phone, and Brierley
Front left pocket: Reading glasses, loose change
Lower right pocket (cargo type pants): iPod and headphones.
Lower left pocket: Snacks (nuts, trail mix)
Rear right hand pocket: Wallet.
In your backpack:
Top small pocket: passport, pilgrim passport
Top large pocket: towel, sleeping bag liner (a lightweight, thin liner that substitutes as a sleeping bag). In my case it’s no thicker than a sheet, but it’s bedbug resistant (something I read has been a problem in the past but I haven’t heard of anyone who has been affected this trip). Since it’s hot here in the summer, a full on sleeping bag isn’t necessary
The main compartment of the pack:
MacBook is in its own small backpack
Pack the stuff you’re not going to use on bottom, although this stuff can be accessed clumsily by a zipper on lower/bottom of compartment if necessary)
ziplock with underwear (3 pair)
ziplock with socks (6 pair- I double up on the socks when hiking),
ziplock with t-shirts (3), long sleeved overshirt (for mountains),
short pants (my one pair of hiking pants are long pants but the bottoms zip off converting them to shorts).
bag with toothpaste, soap, etc
bag with phone charger, etc
Left pocket of waistband: headphones and other misc electronic stuff
Right pocket of the waistband: flashlight.
I have a separate water bladder/backpack that I attach to the outside of the pack. If I was to do the camino again I would rethink my water portage. The hydration backpack was cumbersome, and always got in the way.
Also hanging on the outside are my flip flops. You put them on in the afternoon, after you remove your boots, to air your blistered and weary feet. Your toes and arches usually break out in the hallelujah chorus. Make sure to be sensitive to the, uhh, olfactory receptors of the other pilgrims when transitioning from hiking boots to flip flops!
Anyway, since I screwed up and my alarm didn’t go off, I found I had 2 less hours than I thought I was going to have in Leon. So I got a fine machine made espresso from the office/lobby of the place and rushed through some writing for a few hours, did some other business, and finally got out of my hotel by 1130.
I found an ATM in the busy plaza. People were hustling and bustling, doing their thing. As I was reaching into my wallet for my card I looked up and there was Bridget walking towards me, showing off her newly manicured toenails. I may or may not have mentioned it but we ran into each other a few random times on the path, or maybe at a cafe, so this was another of those funny coincidences.
We both laughed and wished each other a buen camino. She was sort of like the 3rd Kento (if you’ve been a loyal reader up to this point you know what I’m talking about), popping up unexpectedly somewhere along the way. She was staying an extra day in Leon so I probably wouldn’t see her again.
I left the center of old Leon and felt more at ease on the outskirts, where life wasn’t as harried, but shit still seems to get done. I walked over to a sporting goods store (found once again by good ol’ American type advertising) and bought a new pullover to replace the one I had lost, since I was headed into the mountains, in fact to the highest point on the camino.
I left the store and walked towards the camino but couldn’t find it, although I knew it was close by. So I got out my phone and was checking out the GPS, trying to coordinate it with my guidebook, when a young girl with a backpack walked by with some authority, and it seemed like she knew where she was going, so I flagged her down.
She was tall and blond, I figured she might be from California, but no she was Polish. She chastised me for using the GPS, it being very uncamino-like. We walked out of town together as she told me about her country, her life, and how she was untethered by a schedule. She was sort of meandering, but we were moving too slowly for my western sensibilities. I stopped for some lunch and she moved on.
As I walked through and out of La Virgen del Camino, sort of the last outpost out of Leon, and into fields, I saw her off in a field just wandering. It seemed like she had followed a wayward path and was coming back to the camino. I waved and moved on. It was already later than when I usually like to walk, and getting hotter by the minute.
Just out of La Virgen del Camino, I took an alternate route that didn’t straddle the highway. It meandered through fields, then hit a roundabout. But none of the roads leading out were going to towns that were in my guidebook. As I was trying to figure out which route to take, a car that was swirling around the roundabout honked its horn and pointed.
I followed the car and it got off the roundabout where there was…the ubiquitous yellow camino sign. Again the camino provides. Maybe it should have provided a better guide book. Like a new friend who you find hanging around too much, Brierley was beginning to get on my nerves.
At least the road was paved for awhile, which my blisters thanked me for. After awhile though, as it got hotter, the path turned to dirt and rock.
I walked a few more kilometers through fields into a small quiet town called of all things Fresno (actually this neck of the woods looked sort of like Fresno on a good day, just no raisins). The road I was on was a dirt road between farm towns, so there was virtually no traffic short of a dude on a moped whining by me at a good clip.
At this juncture I should mention the scallop shell. It’s the symbol of the camino and everyone has one tied to their backpack. It’s said to be a metaphor, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims travel from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
However, it is open to interpretation. One other thing that is fact: The pilgrims of yore would carry a scallop shell to drink from (dipping it in streams and rivers) and eating from it. As the camino becomes more popular I can see a new line of scallop shell plates and dishes for sale at Crate and Barrel.
I had decided that I wouldn’t purchase a scallop shell, but wait until the camino provided one for me. As I mentioned, I was somewhat of a mess when I got to Madrid, and then to St Jean and the beginning of my trek. The best way to describe my state of mind might be spiraling out of control, but sort of in a good way.
I felt I was on my way to learning things about my myself through my marriage (I’m not going to say “failed” I’m going to call it “a learning experience”), and the last year of my life which began to turn me around due to therapy and my relationship with Amanda. I was waking up.
Anyway, I didn’t think I deserved a scallop when I arrived in St. Jean, so I didn’t purchase one. (thinking I didn’t deserve the scallop was sort a hangover from the end of my marriage. I always felt like I deserved nothing, because I was a piece of shit).
So I left the status of my scallop shell up to the camino. I’ve mentioned that an oft-uttered phrase is “the camino provides”. So I decided that if I allowed the camino to show me the way and make it’s way into my eviscerated heart (no easy task) and start teaching me the lessons I came here to learn after walking and reflecting then…well…the camino would then provide. I wasn’t quite sure how but I decided to leave it up to the gods, and that saint buried at the end of the road.
After a few more k in the hot sun, without much shade, I hit Oncina. I walked through the town. Must have been siesta. There was not a sound in the town. I passed by a silent playground. I expected to see one of the swings on the swing set gently swaying back and forth and the echo of children off in the distance, like in a horror movie. The only sound was that of dirt under my feet as I tramped another few of my million steps on the way to Santiago.
The path turned into a nice, dirt road, without too many rocks. As mentioned earlier, I was walking later in the day and now it was getting really toasty. But I was walking through what had now turned into manicured fields of shorn hay and wheat which made me realize that I was getting closer to the town.
I wandered into town, stopping to get sprayed by a sprinkler that was watering shoulder high corn. I looked around and saw…some good ol’ American style advertising (have I been trained by the Americancorporatocracy, or what?).
Tio Pepes’ signs led me right to his doorstep. I asked for Tio Pepe, but the broad behind the bar shook her head “no”, but took my money and my information anyway. At each auberge they take your actual passport and recored the number in a book, and then stamp your “pilgrim passport” with the stamp for that town.
I took a shower and went down to write, when I ran into Clive and Jerique and John. Clive had seen me drag in and invited me to sit down. A Welsh gentleman with a quick laugh, a slightly cynical sparkle in his eye, and a bushy grey mustache, he was instantly likable.
Plus, he had the additional attribute of speaking English, which was becoming more and more uncommon as I moved along. Then he launched into some Longfellow. It reminded me of how beautiful life can be, if we can just push away the clouds to see things clearly and embrace the things that we know are true and right, that are meant to be.
After a beer or two we went in and had dinner- the usual pilgrims meal. Clive told me that he had seen me drag in earlier and that I had looked haggard. And I was, due to the later than usual walk in the late afternoon heat. We had a good time finding out about each other and our journeys. Later on after retiring, I went to sleep with a smile on my face and dreamt for the first time on the camino.
A Psalm of Life
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow