Today was to be one of the most beautiful walks out of a town up to now on this, my personal chautauqua. The previous night, I had ended up at the municipal auberge in Ponferrada. Every town has one and it is the standard- bunks, showers, a place to hand wash, a kitchen to prepare your own food, some dude in the bunk above you snoring.
I stepped out in the dark and walked across the parking lot adjacent to the auberge and got fueled (my usual cafe con leche) and headed over to the camino- many of the auberges where smack dab on the camino, this one was more camino adjacent (like the places that are in Hawthorne but say they’re Manhattan Beach adjacent).
As I walked towards the camino I passed a new auberge with some pictures of the place in the window. For a few euro more I could have had relative luxury. My guess is the place even had paper towels in the paper towel dispensers. When I ran into Clive and Jerique later, they confirmed it’s pleasures, since they had happened upon it and stayed there.
I snaked through a few streets then came upon a castle that looked like it was straight out of Disneyland, or that crazy knights in shining armor restaurant in Buena Park with the Lipizzaner Stallions. I’ve never been, I just remember the TV ads screaming about the Lipizzaner Stallions, and I could never figure out why I was supposed to get excited about Lipizzaner Stallions.
The castle actually dated back to the Knights Templar- a real thing, not just something Dan Brown made up for the Da Vinci Code (I’m one of the 14 people on earth who hasn’t read the book). Apparently they were the original wall street guys, and came up with financial techniques that were an early form of banking, amongst other things, so should be revered by us out in the west.
I walked by it the castle half expecting to see a guy trying to pull sword out of a stone or at least a dude with some white breeches and a codpiece playing a flute and dancing around like a madman. Or maybe I was just flashing back to the last Jethro Tull concert I went to decades ago.
Just after the castle, the camino snaked through old Ponferrada- several beautiful little plazas that looked like sets from movies, they were so picturesque and perfect, not to mention well lit. There was a sign for a hostel which means I may have been able to stay at a place right in the heart of this beautiful little city. I cursed Brierley who I had been using to inform my choices on places to stay up to this point.
Over the past few days I had began to notice that his information regarding the auberges sucked. I’m pretty much going to rescind my application with the pope for his sainthood. There were often considerable more auberges than he mentioned. From what I understand, since the camino has become more and more popular over the past few years, things have evolved considerably. But hey, I had bought Brierley’s 2016 guide and I expected it to be relatively up to date.
He also seems to favor the traditional (usually the municipal) over the private auberges, which incidentally have probably been popping up due to supply and demand, again relatively recently. I decided that from now on I would do more research and be better at choosing where I would stay. Hell, the municipal auberges were for the kids, I could afford a few more Euros and sleep at a private place. They both offered the same amenities, just a little nicer. It’s like the difference between Motel 6 and Best Western.
I walked through old Ponferrada in the coolness of the morning, it was still dark, and the sun was behind the mountains to the east. About 15 other pilgrims were in front of and behind me- they were stacking up like 767’s at Kennedy in the afternoon, as more and more people joined the camino. Like me, some started at St Jean Pied de Port, the jumping off point for the traditional “Camino Francis”. But others do shorter versions, or walk the camino segment by segment, coming back year after year.
In addition, there are several other Caminos, and most merge with the one I was on. If people do shorter segments, they often start at one of the larger cities (Leon, Astorga, Logrono). Many walk only the final 100 k, since walking the last 100 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago means that you can request your Compostela, or certificate of completion of the pilgrimage. All in all, this means that as you move along the camino, more people join in.
The route I was on- the one that started in St Jean Pied de Port in France and ended in Santiago was the old, traditional route. Many of my new fellow pilgrims looked like they were out for a day hike/jaunt. Hell, they didn’t have any of the the determined look, the blisters, or the stench of us “real” pilgrims.
After walking through this beautiful, old part of Ponferrada, the path traveled alongside a river lined with trees. It was idyllic and ancient and unyielding, and reminded me of an old Dylan song;
People disagreeing on all just about everything, yeah
Makes you stop and all wonder why
Why only yesterday I saw somebody on the street
Who just couldn’t help but cry
Oh, this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow
Apparently Dylan had more time on his hands than I did. After the castle, the beautiful little ancient city, and the idyllic river I walked by, I wondered if the morning could get any better. Maybe if there was another spigot with free wine flowing…
After leaving the river, I climbed up out of this beautiful little valley where the city lies and hit daylight. The path paralleled one of the arteries feeding into the city, but not too many cars interrupted the morning, as it was still early. Soon the sound of the river would be replaced by that of noisy cars.
What do blisters have to do with epiphanies you might ask. Well, I think its only after the blisters have healed, when you’re calloused, you’re lean, your kind of floating that you can even be open to epiphanies. Before that, you’re fighting everything, mainly yourself. Kind of like what we do in life, in general.
But at some point, you finally have to give in, give yourself to the camino. Then your blisters will heal, your mind will calm, and you can look at yourself knowing that your existence on this mortal coil means something, and that you are loved. My blisters hadn’t quite healed but were well on their way…
After about 5 kilometers I met up with Clive and Jerique again as we entered
Fuentes Nueves. We didn’t stop, and soon we were walking through small farms, talking about the mountains in the distance we knew we would be climbing soon, the highest point on the camino.
The part time pilgrims (as I was now referring to my clean and perfumed co-walkers) were falling behind. I watched an old, stooped farmer drive up on a little tractor, stop and unlock a chain, and drive the tractor into a field to go to work. It struck me as something he had probably been doing all his life. His father probably did the same.
In the end, how do we value our lives, the lives we’ve lived? What about that little farmer, perhaps working those fields every day of his life, compared to us and our hyper-speed, stressed out lives of great import? I’m probably romanticizing the life of the farmer, and perhaps stereotyping the lives of us modern folks. I guess it’s up not up to me (or anyone) to judge.
I guess most of us don’t look at the big picture, look at things this way. We are brought into our lives, we learn the ways of our world, we deal with shit, hopefully we enjoy some shit, get to live and love a little. I guess it is what it is. Both lives are just different, one no better than the other, one getting no more out of their life than the other. Hopefully we’re each souls passing through a body during a lifetime and picking up a few pointers about life along the way.
I left Clive and Jerique behind, walking ahead. After another kilometer or two, I stopped in a small town named Cacabelos. I was by myself and I stopped to get a snack. It was after breakfast so there was no one around. I set my pack down under a window and, well… on the window sill was a scallop shell.
There was no string (traditionally they have two hills drilled through them and a sting placed through to hang from your pack.) which made it seem even less like it had fallen off a pack or someone had left it. No one was around so I decided this was the camino presenting me my shell. I grabbed it and threw it in my pack. It’s funny, I had thought a lot about the changes I had started to make, the things the camino had taught me. So I guess it was time for me to receive my scallop shell (I wrote of the significance of the scallop shell in a previous post).
After leaving with my shell in tow and getting out of the village, I started walking through rolling hills which became more and more planted with grapes. I realized I was walking through the heart of Bierzo, probably the 2nd most known wine region in Spain, behind Rioja. At one point the camino went through the middle of a vineyard, where I caught up with some jolly Italian dudes who were laughing and carrying on. We had sort of a conversation (one of the guys spoke some english) but it didn’t matter, their laughter was infectious and made me smile and laugh. Music and laughter are two universal languages…
I happened to catch up with Clive and Jerique again just outside of Villafranca de Bierzo (they must have passed me somewhere along the way). We scoped out auberges together and settled on a place called auberges Leo. Besides the fact that it was a lovingly restored place 5 minutes from the river and 5 from the major plaza, the fact that I had an upper bunk next to a window overlooking the street that provided a cool breeze, and the fact that it had a bar as you entered made it the best place I had stayed at up to this point. What put it over the top was the fact that it had a paper towel dispenser. Not only did it have a paper towel dispenser, there were paper towels in it.
Pretty much every auberge I had been to, if they had a dispenser, did not have paper towels in it. It’s as if the auberges consultant told the owner it was a good idea to have a paper towel dispenser, but forgot to inform then they had to refill it once it ran out of towels. It’s a nice perk if you forgot to bring your towel to wash your hands or face (a necessity with 20 days of growth). Yes, packing your own towel on the camino is a necessity.
After a short nap, since the afternoon was hot, I put on my trunks/shorts (I have a pair that doubles as both – Costco/$14.99) and went to the river. the locals had damned it up and made there own swimmin’ hole. It was…glorious. I’m not really sure why Spain seems to have so many rivers and water flowing all over the place. The parts I had walked seemed relatively dry.
The owners of Auberges Leo were over the top nice. Maria was Spanish, and her husband was an Irish guy who stopped in and never left. He was effusive in giving out advice about tomorrows walk to Clive and I at the end of the night at the bar (he served as bartender too) as I sipped an awesome red from Bierzo. We found there were 3 options, two of them mountainous and they needed careful consideration.
I went back to my bunk, was looking forward to sleeping in a little as tomorrows mountain route prescribed a shorter (and cooler) walking day than usual, and I had decided to write in the bar before leaving in the morning. Sleep came easy, as I laid my head back and closed my eyes, giving thanks, imagining I was sitting next to Dylan, watching the river flow.
Amanda and I had discussed and compared each of our past relationships, and the effects on they had one us. I can’t speak for her, but it seemed to me there were similarities between the two. I know that my relationship caused me to devalue, doubt myself, and made it easier for me to be hurt and controlled.
And I truly think that, just as I didn’t understand what was happening to me, Janice may not have realized how she was affecting me. I really don’t know (only Janice does) if the purveying wisdom, which indicates that she may have been “…projecting their words, attitudes or actions onto an unsuspecting victim usually because they themselves have not dealt with childhood wounds that are now causing them to harm others…” was a factor in our relationship. I can only relate my experiences.
As I’ve mentioned, my healing accelerated when I met Amanda. I was already seeing things more clearly due to therapy. But I think that getting into a new relationship bolstered some insecurity and esteem issues I was dealing with, and moved me to a different, better place, perhaps simply because I was seeing life from a whole new perspective. I was with someone who valued me, who cared for me.
But I think due to my past (and Amanda’s) we became a little too dependent on each other. Maybe codependent. We both overlooked what was probably best for ourselves, individually, in deference to what was best for the other. Not that some give and take is important in a relationship. But we were both more than willing to give too much.
There seems to be a fine line between “dependance”, and “codependence”. Codependence “… is characterized by dependence on outer or external sources for self-worth and self-definition. This outer or external dependence, combined with unhealed childhood emotional wounds which get reactivated whenever an emotional “button” is pushed, cause the Codependent to live life in reaction to, give power over self-esteem to, outside sources.” – Codependence Defined.
At some point we both realized that something was wrong. The fact that we had both ran head on into each others arms and didn’t look back was somewhat due to each of our emotional makeup at the time. Both of us were recovering from our past relationships, so for me to find someone who was emotionally open, someone who cared, someone who wanted me (forget about the fact that she was beautiful) was, well, I can’t really put it into words.
But when you’ve been hurt in the past, you probably jump in too fast, throw a little too much caution to the wind, don’t use you’re best judgement. But it’s because suddenly you’re feeling something you’ve been missing, something you’ve ignored, something that just feels so damn good, so you just go with it.
And at first we clung to each other. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Just sitting around a fireplace we had to be touching, holding hands. Not that that’s not a good thing. But I think some of that may have been a manifestation of the beginning of our codependence.
Finally we stood back and realized what we had done. And how we had been too dependent on each other. But it’s also probably something we both needed to learn about ourselves, and each other. I still have to believe that we were put here to learn these lessons, and that they are good and necessary, if you choose to look at them that way.
Where am I going with this dear reader? Well, hopefully I will be able to tie up some loose ends and make sense of these three journeys as I originally intended, but got off track due to partly, finding out how fucking hard it is to write well (or at least mediocrely-yes it’s a word) after walking 25 kilometers day in and day out.
Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you will finish this journey with me.