I had dinner with Cormac and Sinead last night, but was not staying at the same place as them, so I left the next morning by myself in the dark. Castrojariz is a pretty town, classic, a cobblestoned main street with two storied casa’s on each side, opening up to a plaza now and then, usually with a few hotels and shops.

I was near Plaza Mayor, on the far end of town, so I was out of Castrojariz pretty soon. I crossed the main highway, and was into fields quickly. I hummed a few songs to the silence, and thanked the stars for providing me the opportunity make this journey, to walk the camino.

Much of the baggage I carried seemed to shrink under the canopy of bright twinkling stars and a glowing half-moon. The only thing I could hear was the crunching of gravel under my feet and the wind through the trees.

I moved through fields for a kilometer  or so and then went straight up a hill. As I climbed, the sun began to rise behind Castrojariz, painting the valley to my left in the gold and yellow hues of morning. Apparently the world had survived another day and I was lucky enough to experience it from a place just this side of heaven. A shiver ran up my spine and I gave thanks.

2016-07-28 18.46.47I turned around as I crested the hill and watched the sun rise. I guess I shouldn’t use the term “religious experience” (not that I haven’t been trite up to this point) but, well…I guess it’s easier to have a religious experience on a road to visit a dead saint in the middle of Spain as a sun rises gloriously behind an ancient city, than in a new million dollar church on a hill overlooking L.A. 2016-07-29 17.18.19

As I walked over the hill it got colder and I broke out my windbreaker. I moved on, heading downhill into a great plane. Hay bales were off in the distance catching the first golden rays of the day. I stopped to take some pictures and take a short respite, while several pilgrims passed me (young whippersnappers!).2016-07-29 17.20.51

I walked on through the wide plane alone. l I stopped again for a few minutes and along came Cormac and Sinead. We traveled together awhile, they want on ahead, and I caught back up with them taking a break on a hay bale. I proceeded to do the same. You can’t pass up a chance to take a break on a hay bale.

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We walked on through fields, I moved ahead, and came to a little auberge, (San Nicolas) which was popular, even though they had no electricity, as it was housed in an old church. It was simply one big room, with an alter on one end, bunks on the other. They used candles at night so it portends to be a very spiritual experience. Perhaps you charge your smart phone by some sort of divine intervention.2016-07-29 20.18.32

Just beyond the church the camino took me over the Rio Pisuerga (Rio means river for those who flunked high school Spanish), a beautiful little oasis before a long slog. I’m thinking Pisuerga means “a fucking long way until the next town”, cause that’s what it was.

After the aforementioned slog, we hit Boadilla del Camino, a little garden oasis where we had lunch. The “waiter” was a very flamboyant, gregarious dandy. The Gandalf looking dude (along with his clan) from a few posts ago) was there and we rekindled our friendship. I joke about him, but he really is, like many out here, a sincere, humble, noble guy. He has an organization (it has no name by design, not sure how he brands it) that helps people recover from physical and emotional abuse by being in nature, working in his garden.

He’s taking a cue from Thoreau, Emerson, and even the politicians who created our national parks, who understood mans emotional and spiritual need to be in open spaces, to remind us what it means to be human, and help us to understand our place in the world, maybe even humble us a little.

2016-07-28 21.01.32After we left, I walked along the river for a long while. It was a pretty straight shot. We finally made it into town and checked into a standard, no- frills auberges. One of the below average ones, but it had the basics: bathrooms, beds, a few showers.2016-07-28 20.54.05














On the up side, there was a guitar concert in the church next to the auberges. If you ever get a chance to hear any kind of music in a old stone church circa 1300, take it. The experience was kind of special since (in addition to the old stone church2016-07-28 20.50.29 part), if I have my story straight, one of the parts of the performance was written by a guy several years ago. But he had stopped playing guitar when his mom was taken as a political prisoner (she was a journalist in, I believe, a middle eastern country). Somehow, when she was in prison she was smuggled in a recording of the piece. She was incarcerated for eight years.

She had finally been released and had walked to the camino to be at this church, in Fromista, to watch this piece being performed. and her son was in attendance. I choked up when she was introduced. I felt humbled, my struggles paling in comparison. I hope this experience is one more that I will take home from the camino that will help me keep my life in perspective, and color my heart to lead me down a path that will fill and enrich my life and those lives that are intertwined with mine.

If any of you are reading beyond the telling of my walk on the Camino de Santiago, a little bit of clarification might be in order. I understand if you’re not reading “below the line” as it were- I go back and forth on this peripheral stuff I’m writing about- at times I think it’s just the rantings of a self-absorbed crank. At other times, I think some of this may be of interest to others, maybe a few will gain something from hearing of my experiences. At the very least, I figured, it’s an exercise in writing, something I’m working towards as a profession.

My initial intent with this blog was to make it about more than just my walking the camino- that’s been done before- you may want to check out “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. If you want to see a movie about the Camino, watch “The Way” with Martin Sheen, directed by his son Emilio Esteves. I watched this film in the whirlwind month or so between my decision to walk the Camino and when I left for Spain- it inspired me and cemented the fact that I too could make the trek.

So, I decided to intertwine two significant journeys I’ve undertaken over the past few years- the last 10 years of my marriage that ended in divorce, the last year, when I’ve began to take back my life and understand things with more clarity (therapy and my relationship with Amanda contributed significantly to this); and weave those two threads with a third thread: the physical journey that is my walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It was supposed to be well organized, the characters were supposed to be introduced, and there was to be an arc in each thread that would become apparent as time went by. But time ran out for me. I even spent the better part of two days in Madrid trying to get my shit together, but, well…once again, life got in the way.

In preparation I went through my journals and pulled out significant events and thoughts from the 10 years prior to my separation 2 years ago, mainly concerning my marriage, my daughter, and the eventual crumbling of my marriage. I reviewed my emotional state and subsequent growth with my therapist over the last 3 years. In addition, I went back to my journal to review the last year of my life, notes to my therapist, and reflections on my relationship with Amanda.

A note about therapy. You can probably surmise that I’m a proponent of therapy. I was always intrigued by psychology, even considering it as a potential degree in college, for about five minutes anyway. I’m fascinated by the way the mind works, which is also why I’m interested in storytelling because ultimately, its about us crazy humans, how we make decisions, act under pressure, and try to become the person we’re supposed to be, our authentic self.

And all of that is regulated by the human mind, and how it works (or usually how it isn’t working- influenced by erroneous learned life lessons). This is the heroes journey, to reconcile his inauthentic self with his authentic self. It’s how life really works. Look at yourself, maybe you can discover the things that you keep doing that hold you back from being the person you’re supposed to be.

By the way, I’m not one who sought out therapy, who thinks its the answer to every thing. Some people glom onto it as a crutch. As I mentioned in one post, it was Janice’s idea for me to go. Maybe she thought I would see the light and that I would find that I was at fault for our martial problems. But I can’t speak for her.

I’m hoping that the thread about my marriage and subsequent divorce doesn’t put Janice in a bad light. Again, I’m just reporting what I experienced. Anything that my therapist provided was simply her interpretation of my emotional state based on events that had happened to me, as told to her by me.

As I’ve walked the camino, I think I’ve come to understand at least part of what I think happened in our marriage. Janice was just doing what she thought she had to do to get what she needed, and I was not providing what she needed. I don’t harbor any resentment towards her, and I feel less and less disdain for her, and hopefully by the end I will have forgiven her – I better, it’s in the title of the blog. And I hope she will have forgiven me.

As far as the last year goes, and my relationship with Amanda, let’s just say that I just fell in love with her and she gave me something I had been missing, restored my faith in having a relationship again, helped guide me, and just made life so fucking fun again. It would take more than a paragraph to say what I really feel. To limit it to a few words, I’ll just say this: thank you Amanda.

We all have stories to tell. I’m just trying to do the best I can in telling mine. I’m not trying to hurt anybody, not trying to make any points, no hidden agenda. I’m just throwing my heart out there.

So, if you’re still reading, I hope you’re at least entertained as you follow me stumbling through life, and down the camino. I am truly grateful to those who are reading, and hope you may have the opportunity to find your own camino, and uncover some answers to questions in your life, like those that I’ve begun to find out here on the Camino.

-Mark West