Day 16-  Maybe There’s a God Above, but All I’ve ever Learned from Love…

Day 16- Maybe There’s a God Above, but All I’ve ever Learned from Love…

Sinead and Cormac decided to splurge and have a “real meal” and asked me if I’d like to join them and I accepted. Up to now I had pretty much dined on the Pilgrims meal- usually 3 courses, a choice of 3-5 dishes for each course. The first would typically be a choice of salad, pasta, paella (rice with a little seafood).

Second would be a meat: pork, beef, or chicken, and then a dessert. I always went with ice cream since it was still usually at least 80 even at 20:00 or 21:00 (that’s fancy european time telling which means 8 or 9 when dinner is typically served).

Cormac had read about the restaurant in the gospel according to Brierley, and we walked through the deserted town to the place. We arrived and were seated in a room to ourselves until a couple showed up half way through our meal. It was rather formal, white linen tablecloths, dark wood walls circa a long time ago.

I chose a $18E red blend of tempranillo, syrah, and merlot to start out with. It was tasty, the syrah and merlot giving the tempranillo a much needed kick in the ass Tempranillo by itself can be pretty neutral unless enhanced- sort of like a beautiful woman pushing 40.

The waiter was very serious and did the whole shuck and jive with the opening of the wine, pouring a little for himself, holding the bottle like a newborn, decanting it (I mean, it was a 18 buck bottle!). I loved the fact that the dude had passion for what he was doing- something many of us don’t get a chance to do, spending our lives at jobs we don’t really enjoy. And yes, I know this is an idealistic rant by a fucking hopeless romantic..

I had tuna, medium rare, Cormac had beef in a dark, tasty sauce. We argued about what was in the sauce, and decided it was maybe nutmeg, cranberry, xmas spices. Somewhere in that realm anyway. Sinead had pigeon, a local delicacy. All dishes were delicious. Yeah that was intended.

We got back to the auberge a little after 10 and it was locked up (somewhat typical). 2016-07-30 19.40.31I felt a little anxiety coming from Cormac’s direction, but I kind of knew that the camino would provide. So I walked around to the back and knocked on the door to the garden and someone who was still out in the courtyard opened the gate for us.

It’s funny, I realized at that moment, hearing the anxiety in Cormac’s voice, how I had, so many times in the past, experienced the same thing. When we’re confronted with a situation, and something, usually from our past, causes emotions to stir up, and the VITBOYH raises his voice and starts to chatter endlessly, our minds get cluttered, confused, which causes that pessimism, that hopelessness. The mind can only obsess about the problem and not offer any solutions. Our minds literally get closed off, clarity is diminished, and we cant see the positive, the possible options. That way of thinking had become a big part of how I had learned to perceive the universe during the past few years of my life.

The next morning, I left Fromista in the dark with Sinead and Cormac. Besides the dinner and concert, the town itself was not very interesting. It kind of reminded me of Rialto without the junkyards. I saw that I had a call from Cape Cod, where Hannah and her mom were vacationing. I was hoping that Hannah had called as I had suggested to her mom, but doubted it. Turns out it was a telemarketer. We left town, walking over a highway and into the country.

On Cormac’s suggestion we opted to take an alternate camino, 500 additional meters, but along a river. It ended up being a straight shot, there was a sort of forest of trees to the left (they looked almost like crops, they were so well organized and laid out), but it was definitely more peaceful and enjoyable than skirting the highway.2016-07-30 19.41.35


There were colorful wildflowers along the sides of the way- blue yellow, white, red. The breeze was cool it was to be an easy day (20k). Beyond the river were mild rolling hills, some with hay, some mowed.2016-07-30 19.43.01

It reminded me of a Robert Louis Stevenson quote- author of Treasure Island, a drug addict and pissed off divorcee who walked around France with a donkey – I guess the donkey replaced the wife. He had this to say about travel, and it applies to the camino: “Travel for travels sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints”. (Thanks for the quote Sinead).

2016-07-30 19.42.24We veered away from the river a hundred meters into a town and reached a little oasis. There were ducks, roosters, chickens, a few dogs, some geese. I sat on one of those hammocks that are kind of like swinging chairs hanging from an eave. I closed my eyes and heard Stairway to Heaven playing. The gregorian chant version. Yes there is one. Not sure if they were involved with the recent lawsuit. It was apropos, since it sort of foreshadowed the monastery of the singing nuns we were hoping to stay at that night.

I lingered for a little while after Cormac and Sinead left, chatting with Michael, a polish guy who spoke excellent English, and his wife, for a few moments.

After another 5 or 6 kilometers of walking in the baking sun, we reached Carrion de los Condes. The auberge of the singing nuns was near the first plaza we reached. it was promoted as being the auberge where nuns sang you to sleep. I was in, since I hadn’t been sleeping more that 4 or 5 hours a night and I thought this might just be what the doctor ordered- take two Ave Marias’ before bed, preferably not with alcohol.

The nuns didn’t sing us to sleep, but the pilgrims did join together in a rousing sing along the nuns  held (every night) in the ante room of the auberge. They had a printed out sheets with songs from different countries. We sang along with French, Spanish songs mostly. The sisters wielded an ax (acoustic) ukulele, tambourine, and some other percussion. They were spirited, and had beautiful voices. When you see people singing like that, with such joy and abandon (especially typically reserved nuns) it reminds you of the joy of music.

Before the sing along we all introduced ourselves, where we were from, and told why we were there (if we wished). The son of the journalist who was held captive for eight years was staying with us and performed a beautiful guitar piece.

Near the end they said that they hadn’t played an American song yet and looked to me for a suggestion, being the only American in the crowd of 30 or so. I thought better of getting up and playing WTF Did you Do to My Life, or You shook me all night long (which I do know) on ukulele. I didn’t volunteer either, so we sang “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (hey, he’s Canadian but, close enough).

They sang in Spanish, and I’m pretty sure they made up some of their own lyrics (am pretty sure the verse that goes “Maybe there’s a god above…” wouldn’t sit well the be big guy. I had always wondered about the song, and now thought about the first verse which goes: “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the lord, but you don’t really care for music do ya’?” Of course he’s alluding to David from the bible, known for his musical prowess, and who wrote most of the “songs” (psalms) in the bible. He also slew goliath, went on to become king, etc.

My interpretation of the first verse is that it’s as if he’s imagining a conversation, or something he might tell a woman that he’s recently broke if off with, if they were speaking face to face. And the message is that she isn’t hooked into the beauty, the thrill, the ecstacy of life that’s provided by things like music, dance, art. The things that remind us of the moment, the things that, if were lucky, hint at  what our existence here means. In this case in fact, it’s something that, by the way, is the songwriters raison d’etre. So maybe he’s pointing out the profound differences between him and his ex-lover.

Anyway, we finished with a song about pilgrims and the camino:

After the sing-along, I walked through town and to the supermercado and walked down to a beautiful park on the river and sat against a tree to write. Even though it was around 8, it was still hot out, people were having fun, swimming in the river. When I had finished I walked back towards the auberge, found a place to eat, and finished the days post over a pilgrims meal and some cold white wine.

2016-07-30 19.48.44I went back to the auberge and Cormac told me about an altercation he had with some drunk dude who was sleeping it off on a mattress in the hall. I guess the sisters were sisters of mercy and trying to help him- he was a local, not a pilgrim.

Cormac had noticed that his phone was missing from the charging station. He confronted the drunk guy (who had been sleeping next to the charging station and was now walking up the stairway.

The drunk dude pleaded ignorance. As Cormac was wondering what his next move would be, Sinead walked up, having overhearing the conversation. She quickly dialed Cormac’s number, and his phone rang noisily from the back pocket of the drunk. He gave up the phone, and was reported to the nunthorities.

I climbed up to my top bunk and tried to sleep in the sweaty heat. I’m not religious, but I love the fact that there are religious people in the world like these nuns, who seemed to overlook some of the anachronistic traditions of the church in favor of doing things like bringing together people who are seeking some meaning (like most on the camino are) from this fucked up world by getting us to sing along- the universal language of the cosmos.


Something I’ve mentioned about Amanda: she is intuitive. Like I said, she’s told me things about myself that she couldn’t have known. I can’t count the times I said to her (or repeated in my head) “your right”. It became a joke. It was almost like she kept saving me from myself, saving me from making bad decisions for myself. The reason I would joke about her being right is because…she always was. My instincts were sending me in the wrong direction, it seemed like always. Why is that? I think because the we are continually fighting against our authentic self. But our old self, our inauthentic self, the self made of old habits and emotions, is clinging on, trying to defend us from getting hurt. It is the voice in the back of our head, the one that’s operating from lessons learned when we were young. Most of them are not relevant anymore.

Theres’ probably something hard wired in men that makes them always fight this attempt, wrestling with themselves to reconcile their inauthentic self with their authentic self. Maybe it’s just men trying their damnedest not to grow up. It seems that most women have come to terms with this. Back when this stuff was becoming hard wired (were talking over millions of years), men were  the providers, the ones that ventured into jungles, the wilderness. They had to see the natural world as dangerous. If they didn’t, they would be killed. The scared and weak might not be killed, but they wouldn’t be able to provide for their mate and continue their lineage. And this seems to be one of the things that is at the base of men, at their core. So they developed strength, and they were naturally (physically) built to deal with the external world.

On the other, women, by virtue of being mothers, have always been the nurturers. Some modern women fight against it, or because of upbringing, perhaps combine some of these survival traits of man. What if, as men developed their physical strength to survive in the jungle, women developed emotions to help them survive and combat the brutality of men, and of nature when they had to. It may have been the first round of women’s liberation. It would also explain why men, for the life of them, can’t figure out the complex emotions of women.

We often jokingly refer to men being simple (food, fun, and fucking), and women, as well, more complex. Which explains why men cant figure them out. The physical world (where man is king) is tangible, concrete, therefore “simpler” than the hidden, nebulous world of emotions. We can’t see or touch emotions, for they exist only in each of our minds. And again, just as men developed strength, women developed emotion. And which do you think is stronger? Usually it’s the things you can’t see.

Later in the evening, after I was I was served my papers at the wine bar where I work a few days a week (if you can call sampling a little wine and telling customers about it work), I went over to a bar that’s walking distance from my house. I was ambivalent about being served. Janice and i hadn’t really discussed divorce as a certainty up to this point, so I was taken by surprise. I guess she had made up her mind. I ordered a beer and sat by myself. There weren’t many people in the place.

I got up and went downstairs to the bathroom. Then I went outside to breathe, walk a little, and then walk back to the bar, taking the outside stairs. When i got to the landing up top, just before entering the bar, a woman was standing there, crying. She stopped me and asked me if she could ask me something. I said sure. She told me that she knew something devastating had happened to me earlier. I was startled. I hadn’t spoken with anyone, and I wasn’t crying in my beer.

She proceeded to tell me that she saw a man standing over my shoulder. She went on to describe my dad. What’s funny is that it was a description of my dad when he was much younger, before I even knew him. The description perfectly matched a picture of my I had ran across a week prior, one that my mom had given me. I had hung it up on my wall, and saw it every morning when I woke up. Tears welled up in my eyes.

Then she told me that my dad was saying ”you can’t let past mistakes get in the way. You have to do the right thing right now, for yourself, and Hannah”. It was similar to the first experience I related, in another post. But then she diverged from the “script” of the last psychic. She went on to tell me that I was still to meet the true love of my life, and that she would be a beautiful woman with an accent. It’s funny, I’ve told this story to a few people, and by the time I met Amanda (with the crazy Swedish/ Slovenian accent) I had all but forgotten about it. The host of the party (one of the few I had told the story to) reminded me of it after Amanda had left. 

I went back into the bar and had one more beer. After awhile, the daughter of the woman I had met out on the landing walked over and told me that her mom had been in a car wreck, and in a coma a year prior. Apparently, when she had come out of the coma, she started seeing things, and approaching people and telling them things. Like what she had told me. I went home and talked to dad for a little while, wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

Day 17 -Of Clangers and Crack

Day 17 -Of Clangers and Crack

I walked out of the “parish of singing sisters and stolen cell phones” in the dark.  The camino snaked through the rest of the town, past several plazas, then headed downhill to the river I where I had sat down and written the previous days’ post the afternoon before. There’s something about a river, maybe cause we don’t have any in Southern California. L.A. River? Hah! Maybe if we have some rain… Sam Cooke said about a river, and life:

“I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna’ come, oh yes it will”

There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna’ come, oh yes it will

After walking across the bridge over the river, the path moved into a tableau I’d come to know: the usual wheat, hay, maybe some corn, and most recently , sunflower fields. The sunflower fields I walked by were poised, waiting on the sun as it made it’s presence known. But it was still early, and the sun hadn’t rose above the horizon yet.

After 5 or 6 k out of town the road fell out of the soft rolling hills and straightened out. Cormac and Sinead caught up with me, and they consulted Brierley who let us know that we were walking on an original Roman road that was older than dirt. It was also made from dirt, and sand, and gravel….It dated back somewhere like even before the 60’s! We’re talking’ ancient. I looked behind me to see the sunrise coming up behind the town I had just left. 2016-08-01 10.34.01


As we were walking and talking, we exchanged some interesting tidbits I’d like to pass along. By the way, one thing I’ve learned from life is that if you pepper your conversation with words from different cultures you sound more worldly. It’s sort of like asking a girl at a party: “Didn’t I meet you in Istanbul?” So, here’s a little something to you from my Irish friend: “clanger” means bad joke, in Irish slang. As in (provide your own Irish accent): Ay, that fooking Danny O’ Boyle thought the joke he told was good crack, but I thought it was a clanger”.

We continued to walk, the sun rose higher in the sky behind us and, as it tends to do, it got hotter. But as they say in Arizona on a scorching 120 degree day, at least it’s a dry heat 😉
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A few kilometers after that scintillating conversation about clangers and crack, we stopped at a rest spot and ate some snacks we had packed. It was getting hotter still, and the road was straight, unshaded, and there weren’t any towns. We only had the wheat fields, sunflowers and each other to keep us company2016-08-01 10.28.35.

I was sad to know this would be my last day traveling with these new friends, but happy that I’d be going it entirely on my own from tomorrow on out. We finally reached Calzadilla de la Cueza and found a stone tablet that showed an alternate route off the highway, and took it. Brierley promised a more peaceful setting (at least it wasn’t on the highway) which I guess it was, but still it kind of reminded me of Riverside, sans crack houses and tattooed dudes in wife beater shirts.

The path wound through groves of short deciduous trees, and small fields of cut hay. I forged ahead and left Cormac and Sinead behind me. The road headed down to Ledigos where I thought I would stay. I sat at a cafe (the auberge wouldn’t be open for another hour or two) and wrote for awhile and had a Coke. I’ve never been a Coke drinker but out here…well…the Cokes are cold, and they’ve got caffeine. I usually end up having 2 or 3/ day. 2016-08-01 10.27.08

Cormac and Sinead walked by as I was writing. They had chosen to head to Terradillos. I pondered my options (there wasn’t much to ponder- should I stay or should I go) so I decided to follow them, and dine with my friends one last night.

As I was walking alone to Terradillos, I was still trying to figure out exactly why I am here. There was no decision to be made. It simply landed in front of me. When the decision came, It was like it just appeared, like an unexpected tornado in a midwestern town. I do know I had no choice in the matter. The decision to fucking go was just there, and it wouldn’t budge. What’s weird is that I wasn’t even planning on taking a vacation this summer, and the camino was certainly not even on my mind (a dude had told me about it a few years prior-I think I discussed this in a prior post).

But there it was staring at me. It was base, instinctual. I didn’t even need to think about it, or analyze the decision. I was just going, and that was that. And then, logic and “common sense” rolled in and told me I couldn’t possibly go, as I had just been granted more time with Hannah after going to court. I would have to backpedal on the stipulation, and discuss it with Janice. But then I remembered that Janice and Hannah’s annual summer vacation back east would be around the time I wanted to walk, and was usually over 4-5 weeks. I emailed Janice, and they were scheduled to go back east on vacation mid-July to mid-August.

If this wasn’t the universe sending me a message, it sure was yet another funny coincidence, one of many that I’ve experienced over the past year. Maybe it’s best we don’t always rely on over examination and too much thought when it comes to decision making. It seems to me, in our society, that maybe we’ve become over analytical. Which doesn’t provide for us fucking up and learning. Check out Alan Watts here, about choice, and making decisions:

A note in my journal when Amanda and I began to drift apart, a few months before my journey to Spain:

We usually don’t change our lives unless an event, usually a big one, forces us to face a fact about ourselves that we know needs fixing. She didn’t indicate that one of those things existed. I was told that “the chemistry had changed”. Faded I guess, gone away. At one time, we did crash into each other, no intentions, with guns blazing, open to anything. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. We needed each other.

And we fell into it. I gave every moment to her. I made compromises, I opened my soul and gave her every iota of my being. I never said no. I sat through bitter howls and screams for attention from her kids, reactions to her divorce and the uncaring attitude of their father. And I tried to dissect it and offer advice. Maybe me being there didn’t help the situation, but at the time it seemed it might help. I could at least be a man in the house that might help attenuate the situation.

Looking back I guess I was wrong. I thought I was reaching a new level of maturity. I was being thrown into a maelstrom, none of it my doing. I felt good and confident, not reacting to the venom and acting out that the kids threw at her trying to manipulate her and deal with their own sadness due to the divorce and loss of their father. And we’d sit up at night and talk about it, I’d offer advice the best I could. I felt in the moment, alive, helping, healing, loving. Something I had been missing.

But it didn’t matter. “Chemistry” got in the way. What the fuck is chemistry? Some sort of mature love is, what I thought, I was participating in. There was no doubt I loved her. And here I was, taking all of my time and energy, and giving to her, and trying to help her heal and mend the wounds from her failed marriage, and those her ex were foisting on the kids. But apparently it was some simple, “chemistry” that meant more than what I had given.

But only time would tell me the rest of the story, and why something that seemed so incredible for the both of us would come down to simple chemistry. I should have learned from high school class that chemistry is never simple…

Just as a magician must practice his tricks, we must practice the acceptance, the good thoughts, the things that set the stage for magic to happen. The magician doesn’t just wake up with some mystical powers that enable him to take that card from behind his ear and present it to you as the one you pulled out of the deck. Pretty sure he’s practiced that trick a thousand times.

But magicians are feckless. And I’m not talking about the ones that do magic tricks. I’m talking about life’s magicians. You might know one. He/she are out there, beyond the space you and I walk in. Not that we all don’t have the capability of being a magician. Just some of us have practiced the tricks a little more.

The tricks that life’s magicians do are the ones that that bring you and I a little closer to being real, authentic, to know ourselves a little better. You may know one or two of them. I do. And it’s not like they have everything figured out, they’ve got their own problems. And I’m not saying they are or know life any better than your or I do. They just know a few tricks…

Day 18 – Wrecking Ball

Day 18 – Wrecking Ball

While I’m sitting at a cafe in Burgo Ranero writing this I’m hearing “Wrecking Ball” drifting over on the back of the warm Spanish air that is reaching out, caressing me. I guess you just can’t get away from some shit out here on the camino. Not that I’m not a huge fan ;). You can probably guess that it’s the Miley Cirus version blasting over the cafe loudspeaker.

I  guess I just prefer the Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young songs that have to do with wrecking balls. Apparently the term has made it into the pop music vernacular. It kind of detracts from my revelry, feeling like I’m one of the lost generation in some cafe in Paris or some other far off place. I always said my generation was like the lost generation. Only problem is we didn’t realize we were lost.

Anyway, I feel I’ve lost something in my posts (a little humor, some pathos). I hope I can get back to where I started. For those still reading (those who aren’t, well, won’t read this anyway!) thanks for hanging in. I’m grateful.

So last night, I was hanging out on the front of the cafe adjoining the auberge in Templarios having a glass of wine waiting for Cormac and Sinead. We were going to have dinner- they were leaving for Madrid the next day. I called Amanda- we had texted each other about actually speaking on the phone (for those who don’t know, it’s this old fashion form of communication, it predates texting). We talked about dogs, children, backyards, the camino, life. I gave her a few ideas on a new business thing she was considering. We didn’t talk about us, as we’ve chosen to set that aside.

Cormac and Sinead showed up and let me know they were sitting down for dinner so I had to say goodbye to Amanda. There was one of those pauses, the ones when your waiting for the other to say something. I was hoping maybe she would say she missed me, or maybe even that she loved me. I wanted to take that pause and squeeze it until it exploded into a million stars like the ones we saw on our first date walking down that sandy path, and tell her that I missed her laugh and when we first got together and couldn’t keep our hands off each other and holding her in my arms in bed her head resting on my shoulders her eyes closed and a smile on her face and the dogs and the kids and the trips together and the discussions late into the night and…

The phone started to cut out (as it will in Terradios de Templarios) and we quickly said our goodbyes. If you watched the Alan Watts video in the last post, you already know what I’m going to tell you. We let so much shit get in our way, and as Alan says, it’ll all come out in the wash. I should have said something (maybe “I miss you” or “I love you”), but I didn’t want to give Amanda the wrong idea. Im not out here pining for her. In fact I’m out here to walk by myself, and free myself from the fucked up habits my brain has acquired from a lifetime of not looking out for myself, of depending on others too much for emotional support.

And recognizing and understanding the dysfunctional things that made Amanda and I cling to each other is a big part of that lesson. And I thank her for that.  And what the fuck- the fact that I’m half a world away from someone who has meant a lot to me over the past year doesn’t mean I can’t miss them.

Cormac, Sinead, and I had a relaxing dinner and reminisced about the days gone by, what was in store for them when they got back home, and the friends we had made along the way. We said our goodbyes, and that was it. Another apt metaphor I suppose. Friends come and go in our lives. Cormac, and to a lesser extent Sinead, and I had crossed paths for a good portion of my journey. And like friends you had when you were a kid, some move away. But a part of them stays with you forever.

The next morning when the alarm went off at 5, I left Templarios in the dark, walking along the highway for awhile and leaving Cormac and Sinead behind me. After 1 kilometer or so, the road veered off into fields, pretty much a straight shot for awhile. The path underfoot became lighter with the coming of the new day.

Out here you only have to put one foot in front of the other. And at the end of the day, concern yourself with a shower, eating, maybe laundry. It’s that simple if you want it to be. And sometimes when you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you remember to turn around:2016-08-02 16.07.232016-08-02 16.04.46

After 1 or 2kilometers more, the road curled into small fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers. I stopped to take a few pictures and started to see a few other pilgrims passing me by. 2016-08-02 16.12.08


After another 1k or so, I walked through a small town, Moratinos. Not a very interesting town, and nothing was open so I moved on, into more fields. After another 3k the path went through San Nicolas where I stopped and had breakfast. The young girl serving the pilgrims didn’t seem too happy to be there, that early in the morning, standing by to serve us pilgrims our cafe con leche and croissants. She’d probably rather be playing Minecraft. Or maybe looking for the latest Miley Cyrus video on youtube.

As I left breakfast place there was a little incline for a half a kilometer or so to some fields. There was one field that was full of small bushes with yellow flowers. Once in awhile, the happy face of a sunflower would be popping up. It reminded me of another scene from Harold and Maude:

MAUDE: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They are so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?
HAROLD: I don’t know. One of these maybe?
MAUDE: Why do you say that?
HAROLD: Because they are all alike..
MAUDE: Oooh, but they are not. Look. See – some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals – all kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, and allow themselves to be treated as that…

Our society, it seems to me, tends to not favor individuality. In fact in the past I’ve thought (simply in passing) that some of the things we come up with to label kids with (things that weren’t “syndromes” or whatever a few years ago) are simply “problems” that are “discovered” due to over analyzation and the fact that these kids are not fitting into the prescribed parameters our society requires to have them be future efficient cogs in the machine, that in one sense is our society. And this seems to be what our schooling system (another big machine) promotes.

To me this seems to be the way our society chooses to look at humanity, which in essence is how we choose to look at ourselves, and how we choose to live our lives. It will always be that way as long as our goal is money, power, prestige, even celebrity. It seems like these have become the things we value. As those things become more and more important (and I don’t smell much change in the air) whatever god was slips further and further from our hands, and hearts, and no longer provides any kind of meaning we may get from life as we trudge towards Bethlehem.

The machine that is our society needs us to be like all those flowers. The same. Just write this off as another rant from some curmudgeonly dude who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the wall. If you really want a good read on our society, check out the Noam Chomsky doc on Netflix: “Requiem for the American Dream”.

I walked for another few kilometers and ran into the polish dude I had met a few days back at the oasis where I listened to Stairway to Heaven sang by monks. His full name was Macivjsamolej , but I called him Mike. We walked into Sahagun, a small big city, together. Mike is a young, energetic, talkative guy who had walked the camino before, in fact he had even published a guidebook about it in Poland. 2016-08-02 16.14.37

We walked together for awhile, into Sahagun. It was fun hearing about life from a Polish dude walking the camino. And Mike had a lot to say. Not that I didn’t have a few words to throw in edgewise. It seems everyone I run into out here (at least those like Mike-his English was impeccable) that I can communicate with, are thoughtful, honest, caring. I secretly hoped that everyone I ran across saw me in the same light. I just don’t know, at this crossroads on my journey, why I seem to know myself less than I ever have in my life.

We got to Sahagun and stopped at a little cafe for refreshment. Mike was going to meet his wife in town and continue walking later in the day. We bid goodbye, but I was pretty sure I’d see him again. I left town along a paved road, and got into the country. I was alone again, but there were the trees, wildflowers and butterflies to accompany me. Damn, there always seems to be a lot of butterflies here to accompany me. Kind of funny- in the one screenplay I’m writing, a monarch butterfly is the main symbol of the script- and it stands for the main characters rebirth (caterpillar,- cocoon- butterfly)

I slogged on. It was hot, but there were beautiful blue puffy clouds that reminded me to smile. After about 5 kilometers, I hit El Burgo de Ronero and stopped at a busy cafe to get some information about accommodations in the town, as Brierley’s information regarding this berg was a little weak. I ran into Bridget, who I had met a few days prior in Templaros. She spoke very little English (and me very little French) but we communicated well enough to know that we were both trying to figure out where to stay. We talked to the proprietress of the cafe who recommended a place on the edge of town so we walked over.

The Albergue La Laguna looked sort of like a converted motor lodge for pilgrims. It had a courtyard in the middle with grass, and sleeping quarters around the perimeter. I checked in with the proprietor- an Italian dude with slicked back hair- think Steve Buscemi only not quite as handsome (yeah that was a joke). I shelled out a few extra Euros for a room with only 4 beds, cause that’s all he had left.2016-08-02 16.19.34

After settling in, I hobbled over to the locus of the town and got a bite to eat, and write. I ran into Bridget and sat with her, although again, we didn’t talk much due to the language barrier. She left and I continued to write while sipping on a beer in the hot Spanish evening.

When I had finished I hobbled back to the Albergue La Laguna. As I walked, my blisters reminded me that today was over a 30 k day. My heart and soul reminded me that it had been another beautiful day on the camino.

Day 19 – Shine

Day 19 – Shine

2016-08-02 16.18.22I walked out of El Burgo Raeno in the dark which was just as well. One of the less inspiring towns on the tour (even Led Zeppelin had to play Omaha once in awhile) although it had a cool church (of course-they all did) with huge stork nests.

The place I stayed at was run by some rail thin Italian guy with slicked backed hair, sort of like Steve Buscemi but not quite as good looking. Yeah that was a joke. Bridget was out in front of me, having left the auberge a few minutes before.

I had met Bridget two nights before, after dinner at Templarios when I was trying to go to my room. She was sitting with an english chap and a French woman (Dominique and Arthur). They forced me to sit down and sample some local hooch that tasted like a cross between tequila and whiskey.

It was actually pretty good, especially coming from someone who doesn’t drink hard booze except when all other options have been exhausted, unless the drink is made by a mixologist in Healdsburg.

They were all more or less on the same itinerary as I was, walking at about the same pace, although I hadn’t seem them before. Dominique and Arthur did most of the talking as Bridget spoke only French. All I heard was that Bridget said that I was very good looking. I’ll take it when I can get it, especially from a French broad. I figured she thought I was Tom Hanks.

Anyway, I headed out of El Burgo Ranero and met up with Jacomo and Katia, who I had seen a time or two over the past few days. Jacomo didn’t speak much of the Engilish, but Katia was quite fluent – I feel like the ugly American since most can speak English, as well as their native tongue, no matter where they’re from, and my Spanish is not as up to snuff as I had hoped it might be. Damn, Mr. Diaz’ high school Spanish classes stuck about as well as a Donald Trumps toupee on a windy day .

We walked along paved roads using our flashlights to spot the yellow arrows painted on the street. Apparently some crazy monk took it upon himself to paint these arrows all along the camino back in the ’80s, deciding, I guess, that the signage in place at the time wasn’t sufficient. Legend has it that Don Elías drove across the whole north of Spain in his Citroën GS packed with some faith, yellow paint, and a full tank of gas. I thanked Don Elias for his guidance, and his thankless giving to a bunch of meatheads like me that he would never know.

I continued to walk along a paved road through farmland. Harvesters were at work in the dark, throwing their flotsam and jetsam of chaff in the air. There was a crescent moon to the right and fields to both sides. It was cool (after all, it was 6 o’ friggin a.m.!), although not cold enough for long sleeves and pants. I thought about starting a trend that might stick: hiking in bright blue speedos with the ubiquitous scallop shell emblazoned over the crotch, in yellow. On the back over the ass could be the familiar camino greeting: “Buen Camino!” I plan to be the first manufacturer of said garments. Potential investors please contact my lawyer Swifty Shwartzkoff at Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.2016-08-04 18.54.25

Over the last last few days it seems the American in me was trying to push myself to walk far, get further. Today though, walking along a long, flat road caused a lot of emotions and thoughts to come flooding in. I’m hoping this is one of the days when I start to let some things go. Maybe this is the day I begin to forgive.

I thought about how my life might be different when I get back home. Janice keeps saying that she wants to promote a healthy relationship with Hanna and I. But her actions don’t attest to that. She’s allowed me little visitation, relying on the excuse that it took Hannah from the second she got home until bedtime to do homework, often having to do her homework while eating dinner.

And as I’ve noted earlier, I have no idea where my relationship with Amanda will be when I return. It’s been a roller coaster ride due to both her and my need to experience personal growth, which is even harder to do when you’re in a relationship and have the encumbrances and baggage that decades of life have piled on. Instead of a suitcase it looks like Jed Clampetts pickup- piled high with all the shit that he brought with him from Tennessee to the Hills of Beverly.

And then you’ve got this foolish dream of becoming a writer, which requires throwing away a lot of that baggage, who I used to be, and embracing becoming a writer. At least I’m doing some of that right now, as I sit and write this blog. And while dreams are wonderful to a hopeless romantic like me, they don’t pay the bills.

But over the last year, as this blog has hopefully attested to, due to therapy and my relationship with Amanda, I began to come out of my victim stage (more about that later) and take some responsibility for myself, and not just be a doormat. So, when it came to visitation with Hannah, I did what any red-blooded ‘Merican would do- I went to court. And this is what transpired:

A stipulation was created for me to see Hannah 3 days a week.
-Over the weekend, I would see her for a few hours as we had in the past.
-On Tuesday and Thursday, I would see her after school until 8, overseeing her homework.

Now here’s where it gets interesting:
There are blanks to fill in on the court form when the visitation will occur. While discussing what these times would be, Janice requested for Hannah to come home (instead of me picking her up at school) to make sure she was prepared for her homework. This was not necessary, but wanting what’s best for Hannah, and to be nice, I agreed. So, in the blank where the pick up time goes, my lawyer wrote “after school”.

There were three weeks left in school, and for those three weeks the visitation worked as planned. When it came to picking up Hannah on the Tuesday of the forth week, Janice told me this: “As far as I’m concerned, the stipulation stated that you were to see Hannah “after school”. Since there is no school now, the stipulation is moot”.

After that, I got to see Hannah once during the week for a few hours if I was lucky, and we had our usual weekend bacchanal at Dave and Busters. So apparently, as far as Janice is concerned, I went to court to see Hannah for a few extra hours a week, for three weeks.

I didn’t bother to go back to court for clarification as we were both going on our vacations in short order. I could only shake my head and wonder if Janice would ever see clearly enough to understand that she certainly wasn’t promoting a positive relationship between Hannah and I no matter how much she thinks (and continually tells me) she is.

And so it goes, as some other writer wrote. I walked along the long straight road out of El Burgo Ranero. It was 8 kilometers of nothing. There weren’t many cars except the occasional band of young folks driving by and honking, either making fun of another stupid American trying to find himself, or maybe they were truly celebrating the sincerity of us pilgrims making this trek.

I hope it was the latter. It seems in the states we don’t hold onto a whole lot of tradition, or respect a whole lot. Except for money, of course. If there is some respect for something it’s usually (two dollar word alert) transmogrified into something someone can make a buck off, and the essence is lost. Just watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” if you want to be illuminated.

I walked on down the long road, and while I was talking a short break, a tall, thin black dude, probably around 30 strolled by, dressed almost nattily. He was wearing a charming derby, and offered me a “buon camino” and a big smile as he passed by I could smell the scent of pot. I looked after him and saw a joint in his right hand. I had to laugh at the gloriousness of this magical universe and every star in it. I wish every star could shine.

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Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be

Ever catch a falling star
Ain’t no stopping ’til it’s on the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle goin round and round

Shine, shine, shine, shine
-Sly and the Family Stone

And so it went. I do have to back up and pay homage to the man who uttered/wrote the phrase “And so it goes” and offered it up to us. Kurt Vonnegut first used it in, I think, Slaughterhouse-5 which was, I think again, about the absurdity of war and by extension, life (there I go thinking again). I think the phrase is used to show that the universe doesn’t care one whit about our lives and it’s up to us to make of them what we will. Sometimes it’s shitty, sometimes it’s wondrous. So it goes. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. So it goes. Sometimes beautiful things happen to awful people, and vice versa, and so it goes. And every once in awhile, everything works out just the way we want it to.

The road continued on straight. 17 kilometers, no town or anything. Finally, there was a bar/cafe open for breakfast. There was no town, just a lonely cafe, so I stopped for breakfast and a rest. After 15 minutes I got up and walked a few more kilometers, running into Katia again, and I walked with her for awhile. By now you’ve gathered that one of the most awesome reasons for doing this is walking and talking with so many interesting people from around the world, most often with a more noble purpose than say…being a writer, or whatever the fuck I am. Katia was no exception.

Yet another teacher (I admire and respect teachers even more now, considering how many I’ve seen out here), she taught technology (which is what they call it in Poland) which I guess is about all the innovations over the centuries that have literally powered our growth, and the effect that growth has had on us.

We walked to Mencia de los Mulas together and parted, and I still hadn’t decided whether or not I was going on to Leon. I crossed over a beautiful stone bridge into town, and squadrons of birds performed synchronized flying as the river swiftly flowed under the bridge. The town was spread out, and I walked to the end of it. The air was still and hot, I still had the remnants of blisters, and I was somewhat miserable. Since I didn’t want to backtrack to the auberges which weren’t open yet, I opted to move on to Leon.

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At first I was walking on a nice path off the highway. There was a cool breeze, and puffy, maybe thunder clouds. Nice rolling hills, cornfields, a bridge over a river that took me into a little wetlands. But as I got closer to Leon, the fields and rolling hills were replaced by car dealerships and factories. I could see why many pilgrims bypass this chunk and take a taxi.2016-08-04 19.00.37


It’s funny, I used to look forward to the bigger towns, sitting in a plaza with a glass of wine and writing. Now they just caused me a little anxiety (I had been happily anxiety free out here for the most part). By the way, I have several ways to reduce anxiety. The list is, in no specific order:

Watching Ryan Reynolds romantic comedies
Running (7-10 miles a day at times)
Wine and cigarettes
Masturbation (or sex- preferably sex).

I don’t know if these will work for you, but I’m passing them along anyway. Consider it a public service.

I got into Leon a bit ragged since I had walked almost 40k. I stumbled into one of the mad plazas bustling with people, and ran into Jane and Bridget who were having beers at a table outside. I sat down and thought about where I was going to stay. I decided to book a 35E hotel room and lick my wounds, and take a little extra time to write the next morning (the auberges typically make you leave at 8).2016-08-04 19.01.26

After a shower I hobbled over to the little Plaza Torres de Omana. You know, it’s right over by the Burger King San Francisco Leon. I was tired but managed to bang out a few words at a little table on the street and marvel at how alive this city felt, a swirling, sweet mess of humanity out at 10pm on a Sunday night. I could only gaze out at the wonder of it all and hope to remember this moment for a long time.

Day 20 – …that each Tomorrow Find us Farther than Today.

Day 20 – …that each Tomorrow Find us Farther than Today.

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)
Dirty clothes,
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.2016-08-01 09.56.37

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.2016-08-06 21.51.44


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.
2016-08-06 21.54.54I 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.2016-08-06 21.52.25

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.
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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