I left Cuatro Cantinas auberge in Belorado before dawn. At this point, Cormac and I were walking the same pace, ending up at the same places more or less since we were both consulting Brierley. We would typically be together by the end of the day and end up at the same auberge, not by design, it just happened that way.
He left before I did this morning, as his blisters were more than a little pissed off that he’d opted to go out and walk an extra 10 k the day before. Mine on the other hand, and acquiesced to my inattention and given up causing me grief. Having been hobbled by those globular corpuscles of cruelty and pain the few days prior, I knew I would catch up with Cormac soon.
Not too long after leaving town, I was walking on an old wooden bridge that paralleled the stone bridge that the highway ran over. I could see the faint light of the sky in the distance. The moon was to my left and the sun was coming up to my right. Yin and Yang, dark and light, love and hate. The swifts were waking up, singing their song, seemingly chasing each other in the early morning sky.
I was walking alone for awhile which, of course, causes one to think, or at least makes me think, probably the main reason I’m here, to pause and reflect. One thing the camino tells you is to live in the moment. If you’re walking a million steps (someone did calculate it) there’s pretty much no point thinking about step # 1 million, or even step # 543,296. No, the only thing to consider is the step you’re taking, at the moment.
I know that every step takes me away from a life I once knew. Those people, places that I knew may not change, but I will have. To what extent, who knows? I’m hoping for an epiphany, but an mot holding my breath. I’m really not sure what to expect when I get back.
As expected, I caught up with Cormac soon enough. The moon was still out, and the sun had risen behind clouds. The temp was cool, good for walking, especially if your boneheaded enough to walk 25k with 25 pounds of stuff on your back (including a Macbook Air and too many books and electronic stuff). I’m not going to say who I’m referring to…
I do know that when I get back a new journey will commence, the one that integrates the new me with my former life, and the lives of friends and family. I’m only 1/3 of the way through, and I’m hoping that that how to accomplish this, amongst other questions I have, will be answered by the time I get to Santiago. It’s simply a matter of whether or not I choose to listen.Several days back I had seen sunflower fields, their black seeded eyes not yet open to the sun, and had secretly asked the universe for a field of sunflowers that were open. Finally, my request was granted.
50 yards off the camino was a fine little field of sunflowers, open to the early morning rays of the sun. I hopped over to the field and spent some time in silence, only hearing my breath and the occasional crackle of boot on gravel.
My revelry was broken when a voice yelled “Hey get outa’ my field” in the best Irish/hillbilly accent Cormac could muster. I took a few pictures while Cormac walked on. When I got back to the camino I put on my headphones. Michael Stipe (REM) sang, as if channeling the camino:
With the walk
And the talk
And the tick tock clock
With the rock
And the roll
And the bridge, and the toll
With the brilliance
And the light
With the stink
And the hide
And the road ahead of you.
I cannot tell a lie
It’s not all cherry pie
But it’s all there waiting for you
While I’m nothing but confused
With nothing left to lose
And if you buy that
I’ve got a bridge for you
Every day is new again
Every day is yours to win
And that’s how heroes are made
After another few kilometers I hit Tosantos. Some of the houses looked modern, probably had new facades over the old stone I had gotten used to seeing, although here and there you would see houses that had,’t been fixed up. I passed through Tosantos quickly as there were no services. and I needed servicing in the form of a cafe con leche.
Out of town I caught up with Cormac again. He was talking with Juan who I’d been crossing paths with every day it seems. Meanwhile Kento has all but disappeared although I half expect him to jump out from behind some bush, or see him lying naked in a field somewhere, reminding me of his crazy wisdom and this beautiful/fucked up world.
As a matter of fact, one thing I forgot to mention the other day is that the coyote is known for one other skill- shape shifting. I’m pretty sure Kento has transformed into Juan, reminding us of another aspect of humanity- the more quiet, humbler, dignified side. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kento/Juan comes up with next.
I stopped for a few minutes while Juan and Cormac walked ahead. We were heading towards the little town of Villafranca Montes de Oca, nestled in a little valley. I easily caught up with Cormac and Juan, who is slow and steady, another apt metaphor for life. While Kento seemed to zip around like Wile E Coyote, appearing here with a six pack of beer, there in a field smoking a cigarette, or maybe checking into the same auberge as me. Juan was content walking at his pace, talking about his life.
He proudly wore a t-shirt with a picture of his three sons. He walked alone, as his wife had opted to stay at home. It’s not that she had anything against walking, she just didn’t like sleeping in the auberges, apparently. After a little while, Cormac and I moved on.
Juan caught back up with us at a cafe in Villafranca Montes de Oca. We left shortly and had steady climb for a few kilometers. It was still overcast and cool. After climbing awhile, the path leveled out and made the walking easy. There were woods on both sides, forests of French oak and pine. The oaks were thinner than what I was used to seeing in California, these with uniform canopies, and growing relatively close together, not the big sprawling trees that dot the land north of L.A.
When we reached to top of this hill/mountain, we met Carl and Evelyn. Carl was from Germany and doing sections of the camino as time allowed, packing a guitar. Evelyn was from Netherlands, yet another giving person out here on the camino. She works for oxfam whose mission is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty of the world. They’re part of a global movement for change, helping to empower people to create a future that is secure, just, and free of poverty. Sounds like a good plan.
We stopped for a break at the Monumento a los Caidos (a memorial to some who died in Spain’s civil war) for a snack. As we moved on, the air grew colder as we headed downhill. We walked with a few woman from Germany and Scandinavia for awhile talking about where we were from, and where we were headed.
After awhile, we started left the girls behind, and climbing again. There was a colorful mix of wildflowers along edges of the path, and beyond that, a mix of oak and pine trees.
After referring to Brierley once again Cormac and I decided that Mr. Brierley should be ordained or christened or whatever those catholics do to make people sort of holy. He is sort of the modern day patron saint of the camino. Note to self- get online application for sainthood and forward to Brierley. Also, find out if you need to be dead to become a saint.
After another few kilometers, we stopped for lunch at a sort of rest stop- sitting down on some benches hewn from the local pines. Cormac’s blisters were screaming. A woman offered fruit, juice, and water in exchange for donations from the trunk of her car. There was a little plot where people had left tokens with messages.
Several of our friends from the past few days caught us and we walked together en masse, getting to know each other a little better. I met another Pasquel who was intensely interested in California. And then there were “the Italians” (aptly named because they were, Italian).
One of them was in my old business sort of – a Director of Photography. He told me his story of how he had become a DP at the ripe age of 21. Sven was there also, the special needs teacher from dinner the other night. He would only go as far as Burgos, having to travel back home, but was going to come back and walk the rest of the Camino with his girlfriend. He had realized before hand that he had to experience at least part of the camino on his own.
After another 2 kilometers, the rest of the group had moved on, and Cormac and I were walking alone. He launched into a spate of donkey jokes, apparently a popular genre of jokes in Ireland. After a few he offered to stop. I took him up on it.
The path took us down into wheat fields again, and then into San Juan. Cormac’s blisters were at the height of their journey (blisters seem to be on their own journey). Mine had healed for the most part, and I knew where he was in his pain and suffering. I told him that the next day he would suffer about half as much, and the following day, almost none. A little piece of wisdom gained from the Camino.m But, WTFDIK?
There was one auberge in San Juan, I wanted to move on, but I decided to stay in deference to Cormac and his blisters. It was the first time I was to sleep in an uber-traditional auberge- A church, only the basics. Heather showed up, as did the Buffalo couple. We ate, moved out front to the square, and Heather taught a few Italians to waltz while I waited for my clothes to dry on the rack I had dragged out to so they could get some sun, while sipping a glass of wine. How simple. How goddamn wonderful.
As the sun went down and we relaxed on the plaza, I had to laugh at the things that conspired to bring me here, and how I had left them behind. I’m not sure what those things will even look like when I get back, but I know they’ll be different.
Everyone went inside to their bunks, I sat at a table inside the entry to the auberge to write and hopefully get a wifi signal. As I was finishing, the woman who worked the desk was closing up and grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside, muttering something in broken Spanish. We got out past the church and she pointed to the sky. Every one else had gone to bed, so her and I were the only ones who took in the beautiful sunset that night. At least in San Juan…
I had been talking to the Universe. This was around Christmas a few years back, and things at home had not been going well. For some reason, instead of asking the Universe for some insight, I asked my dad. I posed one simple question to him: just tell me what to do, how to move forward. I didn’t really know what I was asking, I just knew I was torn up inside.
A few days later after work, I went over to my friend Craig’s boat for their traditional boat parade Christmas party. He didn’t participate in decorating his boat and cruising around the little harbor, but he did participate in drinking on his boat after the parade, and inviting friends to do the same.
I showed up late and there were only a few people left and I knew all of them. I had a drink, and made small talk with everyone. After a little while, a couple walked on and spoke with Ken, Craig’s boat partner. They were dressed like they had just got in from the east coast- long winter coats. They were relatively formally attired for a California boat party amongst the shorts and flip flops. They told Ken that they had been to their friends boat, but the friends weren’t there. Ken, always the gracious host, invited them aboard.
We continued to talk amongst ourselves. Ken spoke with the guy, and the woman walked down to the poop deck or whatever part of the boat myself and the other few revelers were hanging out at. She spoke with a few people and then, when I was standing along, came over to me.
She then proceeded to tell me a few things that I find hard to believe, to this day. With absolutely no provocation, she told me that she knew my father had passed (the father I had just asked for guidance a few days before), and that he wanted to tell me that I should keep moving forward, forget about the past, and not to let my emotions distract me from what I knew, deep down, my purpose was. She also said he was sorry for not giving me much guidance when I was younger- (he was a good dad but he had never given me much advice as far as what I wanted to do with my life).
I had to excuse myself and walk outside to the deck. Hell, I liked being open to the idea of these type of things in life but I never had any real evidence that things like mediums, spiritualists, etc really knew anything more than you or I. But, well, there it was, right in front of me, slapping me in the face as I stood on the back deck of the boat watching brightly lit boats sail by.
I guess that was my Christmas gift from dad. But again, in life, you can go to therapists, priests, witch doctors, anyone who might give advice and guidance, but until you take responsibility for being happy and satisfied with yourself and your life, you will never realize that your happiness really depends much more on your attitude than it does on external circumstances.
Who knew that my next random run-in with a psychic would foretell of my future relationship with a beautiful woman with blond hair and a crazy accent.
After I closed my company I ended up taking care of Hannah periodically while Janice worked long hours at her freelance job. I was at home, looking for work like everyone else after the recession: job boards, resumes, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I would get her ready for school, take her if it was my turn to drive the carpool, pick her up, bathe her, put her to bed. Every Tuesday I would drive her to a class she had at a church up in the hills near me.
One particular time, we stopped half way up because Hannah was feeling car sick. We parked for awhile, but Hannah still wasn’t feeling well, so I made the decision to turn around. I drove a little further slowly down the hill and she said she was feeling sick again.
So I pulled over again and waited awhile. She didn’t feel any better, so I had her get in the front seat (knowing that often sitting in the back of the car exacerbates motion sickness) and drove home at 30 miles an hour.
Many months later, Janice and Hannah were lying in our bed. Janice called me over and asked me why I had done what I had done during that aborted trip to the church. I explained myself. Janice went round and round, me offering up rebuttals when I could get a word in (which wasn’t often). I told her that I was just doing the best I could, trying to make the best decision, at the moment.
She barraged me with insults, telling me that I was an unfit father. It was totally crazy, I could not comprehend what was happening. This attack, for nothing, was from someone who supposedly loved me. She demanded that I apologize to Hannah. Trembling, and not knowing what else to do, I told Hannah that I was sorry, and walked away.
Looking back, this was the beginning of Janice undermining my role as Hannah’s father. Since I had closed my company and wasn’t making much money, she had no use for me. She had gotten what she wanted, and she had repurposed her career (with my help) and she didn’t need me anymore.
I was a deficit. I guess it’s kind of ironic, seeing that I never had that overwhelming urge to have kids, what we went through to have Hannah, and that one of the reasons I agreed was to give Janice something she so desperately wanted.
But again,I harbor no ill will. I’ve learned much from all of these experiences. And, well, aren’t those experiences part of this thing we call life? The pain as well as the joy, the suffering as well as the ecstasy, the laughter and the tears?
As Maude said in one of my favorite movies (Harold and Maude): “L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room…”
Truly enjoying your writing Mark…feel like I am right along side you on your journey.
Very heartfelt writing I’m continuously impressed
Mark, your honesty in your writing is amazing & inspiring. The Camino is clearly teaching you lessons your soul has wanted to learn
Doreen & I are wishing you safe travels. Looking forward to drinking wine with you when you get back
Beautifully written, and very nice blog overall….thank you for the mention. And I see you listened to your own notes and looked up Oxfam 🙂
Thanks Eveline. It was great walking with you. It’s people like you that give me hope in this crazy mixed up world. Buen Camino!
I figured at my age, I may as well just put it out there, got nothing to lose. And if nothing else, it’s a good writing exercise. Looking forward to seeing you and Doreen upon my return. Cheers!
Thanks for your encouragement and support. Sometimes it’s difficult to write after walking 25k in the hot sun, but I find it’s a little easier when I have people in my life that inspire me.
As always, thanks for the encouragement. Am finally getting around to responding to posts (I barely have enough time to walk 25k, write the post for the day, and drink a little wine (I mean, it is Spain, where the always include a bottle of Rioja with the meal. i mean they dont even ask). Hopefully I can keep it entertaining. Cheers.