Last night was a splendid example of the serendipitous things that seem to happen on the camino. I arrived in Zubiri, a small town of around 400 people, at around 2pm. Around the corner came Kento (I haven’t seen Kento walking the camino yet, but he certainly has the funniest habit of showing up in each town when you least expect it). He pointed to where he was staying, so I checked in- two rooms with 4 sets of bunks each, showers, internet. The basics.
I got another top bunk. An Irish bloke (s. Diúlach m, cuilceach m.) was in the bunk below. We had an immediate rapport, based mainly on the fact we both spoke English. We arranged to have dinner in an hour, so I walked down the street to the cafe to get a glass of wine and write. I felt very Hemingwayesque, especially since I was headed to Pamplona the next day, and my beard was filling in.
In fact, I felt a little like Santiago (how appropriate), the main character in Hemingway’s’ “Old Man and the Sea”. In the story, Santiago (a fisherman by trade) has gone 84 days without catching a fish. Finally, after much struggle and sacrifice, he goes out further than he ever has, and hooks a large marlin. After a long and grueling struggle with the fish, he finally hauls it in and lashes it to the side of his boat and heads back.
But then, in a seemingly final indignity, he sees his trophy catch destroyed by sharks that he tries valiantly to fight off. When he gets back to his village all thats left is a carcass. He returns with nothing. Yet, this apparent defeat enables him to undergo a remarkable transformation, and he wrests triumph and renewed life from his seeming defeat.
The last few years of my life have been like Santiago’s 84 days. And I guess like the old man who refuses defeat at every turn (he resolves to sail out beyond the other fishermen to where the biggest fish promise to be), I’m going out beyond the ordinary, to walk this path. And like Santiago, I am hoping that the experience will cause me to undergo a transformation- letting go of the past, coming to grips with who I am, and learning to see life in a new light.
Back to dinner. Cormac showed up and we ate our dinners and talked. He’s a school teacher trying to get some tenure over in Ireland. So he’s smart, insightful, thoughtful. I’ve only been out her a few days and here’s yet another soul I feel I can discuss anything with. As we finished dinner, two Swedish girls showed up that Cormac had met earlier on the camino.
We invited them over to the table. Rosemary and Caroline came over and proceeded to…laugh. Well, not just laugh, but their conversation was peppered with smiles and laughter. In fact they used to work at the same place but Rosemary was asked to leave because the two just got along so famously, laughed too much, and never got anything done.
Then Caroline told us a story about her and Rosemary and some Japanese guy who found themselves in a little stone hut, cold wet and tired the previous day. They found some wood and decided to build a fire. The girls were hooting and hollering, the story was funny (every story they told was funny, infused by their infectious laughter). Then I asked them if the guy was kind of short (yes), had short cropped hair (yes) and if his name might be Kento. They thought about it for a moment and shrieked “yes”!
I just thought it was funny that this guy I had never seen walking on the camino (for all I know he was being chauffeured in a limo from point to point) but who just kept appearing out of nowhere would be the guy they built their fire with.
Just as the story finished, I turned to look over at the counter, and as fate would have it, there was Kento, walking over with his dinner, laughing. We all cracked up at the serendipitous nature of what had just happened, and what the camino provides.
We finished dinner and went back to the auberge. I stayed up awhile, posting yesterdays blog. My other 7 bunkmates were fast asleep when I climbed onto my top bunk. All the lights were off so I tried to find my overnight kit so I could brush my teeth. After 10 minutes of futility- groping around my bed in the dark where I thought I had left it, climbing down on the rickety bunk ladder and feeling through by pack, then checking the around the sinks and showers, I gave up, resigned to going to sleep with stinky teeth.
So I just laid down and went to sleep. Sort of. After about an hour some sort of alarm or weird music started sounding. The way the night was going I figured it was probably my phone (sometimes Pandora seemed to play for no apparent reason). I checked it, and my phone was not the culprit, so I laid back down. The song/alarm/whateverthefuckitwas continued, and the girl in the bunk next to me asked me if it was my music. I assured her it wasn’t me. Still, the sound was coming from my direction.
After another moment it was painfully obvious that I was going to have to rappel down from the bunk and go look in the cupboard that housed my backpack for who knows what. The only thing I could think of is that it was the eight dollar bluetooth speaker I bought for $35 from some shop in Madrid (don’t get me started). The aux plug didn’t work with my iPod which is why I bought it. Of course it came with an instruction sheet with a few lines of english that were translated by someones 7 year old 5th cousin in Shanghai who had earnestly learned 9 words of english from the internet.
I found the speaker and the sounds weren’t emanating from it. Remember Im in a dark bunk room, everyones asleep (well, they had been asleep). And here I am, some American dude fucking with their pilgrimage. So I just kept grabbing shit out of my pack trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Finally I grabbed my Kindle which I had thrown in at the last minute. I hadn’t used it in months. It had never made a sound before but there it was, chirping some fucking techno beat ballad. Imagine George Winston with a drum machine.
I hit the power button and it stopped, after I muttered a few expletives that at least Cormack heard, repeating it to me the next day, laughing. I figured it must have been another message from the guides of the camino, telling me to unload some of the needless trappings of modern society from my metaphorical bag of shit.
I climbed up to my bunk to finally go to sleep. Everything quieted down until, after a few minutes. Cormack whispered to me that something was dripping water on his arm. I fell back down the rickety aluminum ladder that barely held my weight, knowing that my little hydration backpack must have started leaking due to me moving my backpack around when I was searching for whatever was producing the mad techno George Winston ballad. I shoved it into the cupboard, climbed back up to my bunk, and finally fell asleep.
The next morning I had to organize my pack again since I had scattered everything from the backpack in search of the offending noise the night before. I was the last one out, I stopped to get an espresso and a sort of Apple danish that the Portland girls had recommended (they should know, coming from the land of bacon doughnuts) the night before when I ran into them after dinner. Finally, I was off.
The preamble to todays journey was kind of like my life lately. Sort of a big mess, from taking the train in Madrid the wrong way, to getting out late in Roncesvalles, to my shit going off in the middle of the night. Im hoping that the camino will set things straight, and begin to help clean up the mess.
Some of my mess was my doing, some of it was due to others. Not necessarily their intent, they were just trying to get what they thought they needed. Aren’t we all. But it’s because of those things that we do, most of the time with good intent, that we hurt each other. We try to get what we need, the best way we know how. But the way we learned is usually passed down from those that were not necessarily the best teachers. They were doing the best they could, armed with the sins of their fathers, passed down to them.
I walked out of Zubiri and the path moved up to the side of a beautiful little valley which leads into Pamplona. I ran into Cormac and we ended up walking together for most of the day. Like with the Portland girls, our conversation took as many twists and turns as the path we were walking. There was a dam across the stream we were walking alongside so we ambled down the bank and dipped out feet in the water.
After getting back on the path and walking awhile, we ran across a beautiful old church and heard the story of it from a South African gentleman who was refurbishing the place. He told us that the church was of somewhat unknown origins and they were just finding out about it’s history. Some of the symbolism even pointed towards the Knights Templar. The quiet and beauty of the place reminded me of why I am here.
We moved on through the beautiful little valley, stopping at another church and ringing a bell that was the oldest in the region (1300’s). Cormack moved ahead and I lingered, taking pictures, walking by beautiful old farms with roosters, geese, peacocks.
I caught up with Cormac again and we pushed on into Pamplona. It was the last day of the festival of St. Fermin, the running of the bulls. He stopped at an auberge, I moved on to the hotel I had booked for the night. I had decided to treat myself to my own room and shower, and try to catch up on some much needed sleep. And hopefully…to dream.
Janice had booked a trip to Hawaii with her friend Paula not too long after we had gotten together at the wrap party. I said goodbye and wished her well. Always the hopeless romantic, I devised a plan.
I decided I would surprise her on Kauai. Since I didn’t have much to my name at the time, I sold my Toyota Turcel and booked a flight to Hawaii and a room near where Paula and Janice were staying. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got there, but I figured the fates would guide me. I checked into my hotel and drove over to where they were staying. I figured they would be at the pool, so I walked out, and Janice was at the other end of the pool. She didn’t notice me, so I dove into the pool and swam underwater to where she was. I popped up in front of her and, well, she was surprised. And I suppose smitten. No one had probably ever done anything like that for her.
Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into account how Paula might react. The dynamic had shifted. What she had anticipated was now unalterably changed. But then she hooked up with the Scuba instructor and everything was fine. We hung out as couples for the rest of the trip. Janice and I ended up getting engaged on Kauai, and went there often until Hannah was born. As fate would have it, my company got a job producing a job on Kauai for Norwegian Cruise Lines. I hired Janice to produce, and I went along as Executive Producer to oversee. Hannah travelled like a star, soundly sleeping for much of the flight, non-plussed. She took the whole trip in stride, a happy kid.
I still have a picture of her in her mothers arms on a beach in Kauai. Hopefully the adventure is embedded in her soul: the smells of plumeria, the feel of warm winds touching her face, and the love of her two parents caring for her and making her secure, even in an unfamiliar place.
It was the last time either of us had any interest in traveling to the island we had once loved.
So I called Amanda and we met at Terranea, a beautiful resort overlooking the ocean in Palos Verdes. I still wasn’t expecting much. And I don’t fucking know why, considering what transpired over the following 10 months. When she showed up she was wearing a light summer dress, blue and white. And then…we started talking again.
Like at the party. It was like I had known her forever. It was so easy. We had dinner, we listened to the band and had some wine (Justin Cab- PV Moms Kool-Aid) and walked back to her car. It was a little bit of a hike along a sandy path. And then we stopped. And we saw a shooting star, and a peacock barked in the distance. And…we kissed. We both laughed, saying that we had never kissed on first dates before. We held each other for a long time, not wanting to let go.
Looking back, I know that part of the reason we held each other so tight and felt such a deep connection is that we had both been through hell. When you find someone whose been torn apart, battered, and dragged through the mud like you have, you hold on tight because you’ve found someone who understands what you’ve been through, someone you can talk to, and if your lucky, someone who can show you how to love again. Standing there holding her made me feel, for the first time in a long while, like the man I had left behind so long ago.
Little did I know that some of the things that conspired to make that moment happen would eventually make her walk away.