Day 11 – Nobody Can Look at a Sunflower and Not Smile

Day 11 – Nobody Can Look at a Sunflower and Not Smile

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.

2016-07-24 12.36.45Not 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.2016-07-24 12.27.38Several 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.

2016-07-24 12.31.3450 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. 2016-07-24 12.22.45







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.

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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 2016-07-24 12.11.42Camino.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…”

Day 12- The Goat Always Heads toward the Mountain- Spanish Proverb

Day 12- The Goat Always Heads toward the Mountain- Spanish Proverb

I slept well. Apparently some other didn’t. I guess my kindle made noises again (if only for a short while) and I was snoring a bit – from what Cormac told me the girl in the bunk next to me was sitting up staring at me, perhaps wondering if she should kick me in the balls to make me stop.

I had forgot to mention that as we headed into San Juan de Ortega, we ran into Jose (the new Kento). He had been walking with a father and daughter on the camino and I snapped this picture. OK, well I guess you don’t snap pictures anymore. Let me rephrase: “my phone coordinated bits and bytes and digitally captured this representation of one interpretation of reality”.2016-07-24 12.16.19


My daughter was about the same age when I took her on the one hike that would be our first, and perhaps our last (I carried her the last 1/2 mile singing Katy Perry’s “Firework”). It was bad judgement on my part, but when your a patent, all you’ve got is your judgement, and you do the best you can. I’m surprised I wasn’t made to apologize for this major transgression, like when I endangered Hannah’s life by driving her back from her class in the front seat of the car when she was sick, at 30 miles an hour.

It seems like, for many parents, just by virtue of the fact they had a child, they think they know everything about parenting. Somehow they forget about the lessons instilled on them from their parents (those parents working out their shit). But who knows?  I’m buoyed by a friend (he commented on  one of the posts about this) that recently took his 17 year old daughter on a section of the John Muir trail. She cried at the beginning, and hugged him at the end.

The snoring was probably due to the fact that I hadn’t really slept well since I began the camino and had finally fallen into a deep sleep. I was kind of running on cafe con leche and adrenalin, along with the stuff that keeps haunting me, running through my head.

This would be the last morning Cormac and I would depart together. He would be meeting his girlfriend in Burgos, our terminus at the end of the day. He was still suffering some from his blisters, but the worst was behind him.

We left the old church we had slept at that night and headed down the camino, talking about everything and anything as had become our habit, Cormac and I had become like old friends at this point. He may have launched into some more donkey jokes, I don’t remember.

We came to Ages, a small town where some of our fellow pilgrims had chosen to stay the night before. We found the cafe (there was usually one open in every small town) and had one of the best breakfasts yet- a ham and cheese empanada. Cormac differed a little bit in his opinion, playing the expert card since he had lived in Argentina for awhile

The place was nice and cool, it kind of had a south pacific feel- it even had one of those wooden statues with a giant hard on, probably some sort to fertility thing. I stayed to finish uploading and posting the days blog, Cormac and Heather, who had joined us, moved ahead. The Buffalo couple came in just as I was leaving.

After leaving the town, I walked along a road. Finally the camino parted ways, climbing up and away from the road, into farm country. After about a mile there was a traffic jam- a farmer was moving his goats to an upper field. I stopped and watched the parade, as cow bells (goat bells?) lightly clanged in the air. Can I say it was magical?

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The path made a steep ascent. To the left was a barbed wire fence with a sign that said it was a military zone. I had to laugh, the camino is a path of solitude, peace, wisdom, and here it was running next to a military zone. I walked on the part of the past that was sandy, making it easier on my blisters (the other side was rocky). It’s always better to walk on the soft part, as long as its not too soft. I guess in life, most of us need to walk on solid ground. That way you know what to expect. Not sure where that leaves me, choosing to walk across Spain to visit a dead saint.

Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down
The wise man built his words upon the rocks
But I’m not bound to follow suit
The trees will bend, the conversation’s dimmed
Go build yourself another home, this choice isn’t mine
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry     -REM

Regarding relationships and solid ground: Although Amanda and I met at a party, one might think our relationship would be an example of one that, for the most part, was built on firmer ground, since both of us have kids, similar life experiences, had been separated the same amount of time, we had even worked in the same industry. Oh, and we also both had been hurt by former relationships, bad marriages.

The only problem is, when your older you have more baggage. And maybe, if you’re like me, you still have some growing up to do. You may be that same immature person you were when you dove into that former relationship. When your older and you have baggage (and everyone does, btw) you really have to love the person to accept their baggage. You each have to set down those bags and start taking things out, and revealing them to each other.

I guess thats what intimacy is, putting your heart out there knowing the other person could hurt you, and could use the things you tell them against you. I know I’ve been a victim of this. And this is where trust comes in. And depending on how you’ve been hurt, and if you’ve dealt with it, trusting that other person can be next to impossible.

Amanda and I found ourselves in this vicious cycle. How it seems to work is that a person will get close and then…pull back, fearing getting hurt again. And then maybe they’ll get close again. And then they’ll get scared again, and pull back. Once again, TVITBOYH whispering shit in your ear.

The detritus is tears, confusion, hurt. I think the key is to figure out a way to let that other person in, to trust them, no matter what it takes. Only then can the healing begin. The journey you both go through will not only start to heal the wounds of the past, but will also create the bonds that make for a strong relationship.

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When I got to the top of the hill I was climbing, I found Cormac talking to some bearded Gandalf looking dude and his tribe. Amongst other things, he offered up some wisdom in regards to the camino, what it is, and what it means.

During the first section (St. Jean to Burgos, the section we were completing) you prepare yourself to die, to cast off some of the things you’ve been lugging around for too long, things you have no use for anymore. Kinda like my fucking Kindle. I haven’t even used it, probably won’t, and it just keeps waking people up. I should probably toss it as a symbolic gesture.

When you arrive in Burgos and travel to Leon, your old life will die. Many things will change. You will meet new people, you will separate. You will have resistance within yourself to leave that baggage on the camino. You will be scared, scared of the future, the unknown. You might even cry, vomit, have a emotional crisis. It’s sort of a purging.

From Leon to Santiago, you will become a new person, a rebirth. You will look at your life, the camino and assess it. Once you arrive in Santiago, if you go no further, you will go home and recover your old life.

If you continue to Finisterra (another 50k after where the dead dude is buried, and on the ocean), its like a contraction, before birth. You go to the water, and you wash your hands and feet of your old life. You wash your head of your old way, your old concept of life. You are like a new baby. Damn, does that mean I need to walk another 50 miles if I really want to come clean (pun intended)?

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We left this wise guy, and stopped in another village, Atapuerca, and ate the sandwiches we had made earlier. A farm town, the road through town was wider for trucks, harvesters, farm equipment. One story houses lined the street, there was farmland beyond.

After 1.5k we hit Cardenuela Riopico, a mix of old and new buildings. Music was playing from speakers at the cafe, it gave the morning a lightness, and gave me a little bounce to my step despite the remnants of my blisters.

Pretty soon we were walking on the main highway into Burgos. Trucks and cars were speeding by. Not too peaceful of a camino. We were walking along when we came upon the back of the airport. The last 8 miles or so into Burgos was supposed to be butt-ugly- mostly belching smokestacks (a few of which we could see in the distance) and industry.

But once again, Brierley to the rescue. He mentioned an alternate route which skirted the other side of the airport, ran through a small town, and into a park. I definitely will be nominating him for sainthood.The airport was to our right and wheat fields were to our left. And apparently it was time to harvest the wheat. We kept moving off to the side to allow combines and other farm equipment to pass


After a few k, we entered a small town, sort of a suburb. Modern homes, a few small businesses. We crossed over another road into Burgos and were soon strolling next to a river. We decided to take a break and soak our feet in the river. It was cool, the current swift. We rested for awhile.2016-07-24 11.51.33

The path continued through shoulder high grass. Different paths intersected the camino. We ran across a gathering that was just convening, a few cars, 10 or 15 people, one dude had a guitar. We moved on and found ourselves walking in pretty much a straight line through a park. The river ran to our right, and park benches and open fields were to our left. We walked straight for several kilometers, until a bridge over a river took us into Burgos.

Cormac and I stopped at a coffee shop with wifi and located our hotels. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I had dinner that night with him and Sinead, some of the best food I’ve had on the trip- a ham elbow (didn’t know pigs had elbows), a roasted vegetable platter, something that had blood in it (can’t remember and ain’t gonna look it up. I walked 32k today).

After dinner we parted ways. I’ll most likely run into them on the camino, but I’m thankful for spending time on the path with Cormac, the laughs we had, that caustic Irish attitude of his, even the bad donkey jokes. I know my that my camino is a richer one for having gotten to walk with him for awhile.

I wrote this a few months ago. It’s a little obtuse, it kind of wrote itself as a metaphor. For me, I think it’s about me finally starting to heal, beginning to understand what I was coming out of, and seeing with more clarity where I stood. I was understanding myself better. And some of it is about the changes that Amanda and my relationship had been going through.

I had a dream last night. I was walking through a forest and came upon a house. The light on the porch was warm and inviting. I had been out in the cold awhile, had been in a few fights and was bleeding.

I walked through the front door and into a hallway. I walked down the hall and into the first room on the left. It smelled of new paint and fresh carpet. I looked out the window and saw a shooting star. The feeling was almost magical. I wanted to stay but knew I had to go.

I slowly moved back out into the hallway. A few steps on the right was another door, standing open. I was pulled into the room, it seemed by an invisible hand. The walls were painted bright colors, the light softly floating in through the windows. I didn’t want to leave. Somehow, the air in the room filled my senses, as if breathing new life into me. My wounds began to heal. But then, that same invisible hand pushed me out, back into the hall, with me fighting all the way.

I had no choice but to continue down the hall. I was kind of in a daze, and wandered for awhile. Finally, another door appeared on the left side of the hall. I pushed on the door and it swung open easily. I walked in and stood in the doorway, half in and half out. I wanted to enter, but something was telling me not to enter all the way.

Then, without warning, I fell asleep, standing right there in the doorway. When I woke up I was in in the most beautiful room of all. The walls were covered in billowy linen, warm light floated in through the windows. And then a soft, distant voice carried on a warm breath whispered in my ear. And it told me everything about the house I had come to find, there in the woods. Every deep dark secret conceived there. And I felt compelled to do the same. I opened up and spilled my guts.

I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to leave the room. I wandered, dazed and smiling down the hallway. But then something happened. I wasn’t sure what it was. I wanted to remember that room forever, but the memory faded. Somehow I couldn’t recapture it. I walked back up the hallway, but the doorway was gone. And then I woke up.

Now, my mind keeps drifting back to that hallway, looking for that doorway. But I can’t find it. And I don’t know why. But I’ll keep looking, and one day I’ll find it.

The universe threw me another hint that things weren’t right at home (apparently I needed to be clubbed upside the head like a cute little baby harp seal to figure it out).

My brother and I were on a job in Oregon, working for a guy who had been partners in our other production company (we made commercials for the golf industry) . Mack still hired my brother and I to work with him once in awhile (even though our experience wasn’t necessarily germane.). He knew we were responsible, willing, could figure out stuff. In essence we knew each other, and he knew we would do whatever it takes to get the job done for him. Thats what you do for people you love and respect.

My brother and I were sharing a bottle of wine in my hotel room. He had been reading a biography of some writer (Can’t You Get Along With Anyone?: A Writer’s Memoir and a Tale of a Lost Surfer’s Paradise by Alan Weisbecker). In it, Alan meets up with an old friend on Long Island and she follows him down to his compound in South America. She becomes his lover. She fucks around on him. He goes into detail about her manipulations, her gas-lighting. Before she joined him in South America she specialized in perception management.

I confessed to my bother for the first time that Janice and my marriage was on the rocks and told him about some of the things that Janice had done, and that I had finally recognized these things as being beyond the pale of usual martial strife. After I told him of the first occurrence, he said “thats in the book Im reading”

I told him another occurance. He said “thats in the book” . After 4 or 5 times of my brother repeating the same mantra, I had to take note. It was probably one of the first times i came to the realization of what was really happening in Janice and my marriage. I had refused to admit it, and still had a long ways to go to finally admitting that it was true.The author describes that he was a victim of gas-lighting, which is defined as manipulating (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity or reality.

What happens to us, to make us do these things to each other? To those that we love. Are we working things out for ourselves, and we don’t recognize that we’re hurting those we “love”? Are we trying to fill a void by whatever means necessary, damn the consequences? Do the ends really justify the means?

If I listen ling enough to you,
Id find a way to believe that its all true
knowing that you lied straight faced while I cried.
still I look for a reason to believe.   -Tim Hardin

Were all just looking for love. As life gets more complicated and we reach out for love we have to tread lightly. Trying to celebrate the romantic vision we all have of life and love are put to task by the demons that fight within ourselves. It’s sad, but maybe it’s life just showing us the way, teaching us the lessons that must be learned. Our hearts must bear the burden, our souls have to show us the way. Thanks for reading…

Day 13- The Patron Saint of Blisters

Day 13- The Patron Saint of Blisters

I left my swanky hotel room (how many times do you hear the word “swanky” these days?) – 200 square feet of pure luxury. Well, not really but it served it’s purpose. It had a shower, a single bed, and a small desk which looked out over the street below.

I packed up and headed out to the old cathedral, since I knew the camino always goes by the church that the town was built aroun. Burgos is an awesome mix of old and new, traditional and modern, sacred and profane. The old part around the main cathedral is a blend of cafes, modern shops (in old buildings), and a swirling mass of people, at least on a Saturday. I recommend it, if in Spain.2016-07-26 16.35.59



It took me a little while (and some assistance from my GPS) to find the camino. As soon as I did another pilgrim appeared, so I was pretty sure I was headed in the right direction, although upon asking him he admitted he wasn’t quite sure we were headed the right way. Soon enough I spotted a now familiar scallop shell on the wall of a building, and followed the signs out of town.

On the outskirts of town I stopped at a Panderia and got a breakfast roll. It was a one man operation, the guy was busy, it was a quick transaction. It occurred to me that this was probably the way it has always been here, for centuries. It was in the early morning, he was in the back baking bread, doing whatever Panderia people do, to prep for his morning rush. It all seemed so effortless. It was just the flow of life.

It reminded me of a book I had read- Breakfast at the Victory- where the author (John Carse) describes a one legged (or one armed, I can’t remember-all’s that matters is that the guy was missing a limb) guy behind a counter at a diner in Manhattan who prepares his bagel, cheese and coffee every morning.

Carse describes the guy like he’s Mikhail Baryshnikov performing Swan Lake, albeit without the standard equipment we’re all used to having. I guess even a one armed bagel making counter guy can be imbued with as much grace as a prima ballerina. Just depends on how you choose to look at, and live your life.

To me, Carse’s book tries to get us to see beyond the obvious in the world and in our lives. He prods us to try and get a glimpse into the profundity of the moments that pass us by every day like ships sailing past in the night off in the distance. We never really give ourselves a chance to get a good look at them.

I headed out of Burgos and was into small wheat fields. Then things opened up…to bigger wheat fields, although a main highway was never far away as the camino was paralleling it more or less. The path veered off, under an overpass, and into a little river valley that was nice and shaded.

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The camino went back to paralleling the highway and soon I had reached Villabella, the first town on todays tour. I stopped at the first and only little shop where pilgrims were sitting outside. It sort of doubled as a mini-mart. There was only one woman selling stuff, making cafe con leche, and warming up breakfasts. Intermittently she would bark out an order to an older woman (her mother I think) who was standing around sort of monitoring the situation, but not doing much.

After standing in line for 10 minutes to buy a banana and a Coke, my American-ness got the better of me and I wanted to bolt. In the land of the free I would have been in and out 9 minutes ago, and on my way to hurry though my day, to see if I could get to all those things we ‘Mericans deem so important, the things we fill our day with. Perhaps this is why we’re so unfulfilled. To riff on Karl Marx, being busy is the new opiate of the masses. We don’t stop, like Carse does, to consider the moments…

I resisted the urge and waited it out. Fortunately things sped up slightly, I made my purchase and was out of there. I ran into Yan who said that Cormac had stopped there but moved on when he noticed the lackadaisical customer service. So it’s not just Americans who are a impatient breed. It probably got his Irish up.

The path ran through the backstreets of the town, I saw a few locals starting their day. Soon I was heading out into farmland again and got attacked by little black flies. Well, not really attacked. They swirled around my head like electrons around a nucleus, occasionally landing in my mouth. A nuisance more than anything.

They stayed with me intermittently, returning just when I thought I was rid of them. I’m not sure if they were attracted to the sunscreen on my face, or my new swarthy good looks due to the new beard. Of course I’m joking, I just wanted to use “swarthy” in my blog. I decided to let them be, accept them, since I am invading their space, just another foreign body passing through their native land. Acceptance might very well be one of the main lessons I will take away from this walk.

Soon I was walking through Rabe de las Calzadas, pop. 200. The camino passed by the old church and I thought of stopping in and making an offering to whatever saint handled pain and suffering. Apparently there’s seven, to cover whatever ails you -back and spine, arthritis, and my favorite, the mysterious St. Jude, the saint of hopeless causes.

The Encyclopedia of Catholicism says, about St. Jude: “We have no reliable information about this obscure figure.” Unfortunately their is no patron saint of blisters, corns, bunions and hammertoes (I reasoned that if there was she would cover the entire foot) so I moved on, thankful for patron saints, in general, even though I’m not religious.

I walked through the town and by a cafe. Surprise! Cormac and Sinead were sitting down having a cafe con leche. I set down my pack and was talking to them and then out of nowhere, Asia showed up, the Polish woman I had met with Kento on the bus ride from Pamplona. She was staying in St Jean for a day or two after I started so I figured I wouldn’t see her again, but there she was.

She had that look of sort of disbelief. I think it was was like when you see something out of context and you have to readjust your brain. She probably had seen a lot over the previous week, and hadn’t expected to see me again. She hugged me a few times (later she told me she was a hugger and that she had been shorted on hugs recently). I told her that I understood, for I hadn’t seen too many hugs in the previous few months either.

Her and I left Cormac and Sinead and walked together, talking about our journeys so far. It felt good to reconnect with someone from the very beginning of my journey. It started to get hotter, and we walked on, making it to Hornillos. We stopped and Cormac and Sinead were taking a respite in the town, and said they were stopping for the day.2016-07-26 16.00.53

Asia and I moved on, I thought I was going to make up a day by doing 2- 30k days in a row. Hornillos was 20k from Burgos, so we made out for for the next town- Hontanas, which was another 10k. It got hotter still as we climbed up to the Meseta.

The Meseta is the high plains of central Spain. Hot, dusty farm land as far as the eye could see. It was pretty much a straight shot too, the camino just kept going and going, laid out in front of me. Like certain parts of life, there was nothing to do but settle in, hunker down, and…walk. Not much thinking about which way to turn, how fast to walk.

I’d been warned by Brierley that this was a tough part of the trip. I thought that in that case, one would be forced to go inside, and contemplate the questions we all entertain when our brain doesn’t have a tv show or video game to distract us.

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Unfortunately my new blisters were a major distraction. I hobbled into the first place I came upon on the outskirts of Hontanas. It was new, just built in 2015, and only 8 2016-07-26 15.50.12Euros. I checked in, took off my boots, and lied down to count my blessings, and my
blisters.2016-07-26 15.48.40


I told her that I didn’t have time to…for all the little things. That I was at a crossroads, and that time was the only thing I had left.

“What do you mean?”, she said

“Well, it’s hard to explain. Uhh, look, it’s kind of like taking a road trip”

“Hmm”. She looked at me strangely.

I tried to elaborate. “Like, when you start out, it’s all fun, full of anticipation. You get a little giddy, a little goofy…”

“OK” she replied. Quiet was her most effective tool for getting information out of me that I didn’t want to admit.

“Yeah”, I continued, “…you see, then…well, after a hundred miles or so, you fall into that lull, that comfortable complacency. Maybe your conversation drifts off, you start looking for things outside your window, things to keep you occupied”.

“Then…” she said, pausing…”then, well, I guess you’re telling me that we’re getting closer to the end of the trip…”.

“Yeah, well, uh, no” I said. “I think we need to stop and stretch our legs, so to speak. You seem to know where you’re going. You always seem to know. Me, I…I guess I’m a little lost”.

She thought about it for a moment and smiled.

“You boys. You’re always a little lost. You’re always looking for someone to take your hand. And for someone to push you out the door. I know it’s scary, but it won’t kill you”.

Somehow she sounded like my mother. Worse, she was right. My mother may have also been right, but like all kids I was too stubborn, and young, to accept the fact that she was right.

I thought about what I was going through, the road I was trying to travel down. I thought about how I had tried to make enough time to make it work with her along for the ride. I thought about how we all have different paths, and were all traveling at different speeds. I thought about the lessons we all need to learn along the way whether we recognize them or not. I thought about her and beauty and truth and magic and whether or not one should try and force things or just let them happen. I thought of life without her.

A note to Jack Kerouac.

You raged and shot like a bright bursting roman candle cascading against the blackness of the eastern sky looking to the west in one great volcanic eruptive groan that laid the seas green and the skies a beautiful indigo electric true blue, but cracking like the time you ran into Neil Cassady in the streets of Denver with a bottle of Tokai and dirty dungarees from times long past and sang a song that let me know you were the shining bursting gone in an instant flame heat and hot that just shot out of and to nowhere. Gone before you were mentioned. Sought after you were gone. Nobody knew you’d be home with your mother and that she would follow the ambulance to the hospital and lay you down one last time. No more hangovers for you. I feel sorry you couldn’t accept the moment for what it was.

And in the hard throes of the troubled fields of Iowa and Oklahoma where the babies cry and the parents bathe them in tears of knowing that they nor them will ever see the fields of their fathers, or the promises of our forefathers, or the setting sun, or the supplication we all must make int time, to the earth and to the dirt beneath our feet.

DAY 14 – Dinner with the Mamas and the Papas

DAY 14 – Dinner with the Mamas and the Papas

I forgot to mention that the previous afternoon after getting into Honatas, I had ambled up the road to the public swimming pool. It was glorious, my spirits were lifted. My blisters were appeased. I met two guys from the states, more or less. One of them was Irish but had spent a year in western Kansas where he had met Colin (not his real name and but for some reason I kept calling him Colin). And I’m calling the Irish dude Clancy, a solid Irish name (or maybe I just think its kind of a funny Irish name), cause I can’t remember his name either (the camino was not providing in this case).

It was Clancy’s 3rd camino trip and he had dragged Colin along. They both seemed to be having a hell of a time and were walking 30-40k/day. Clancy was a nurse but was studying to be a game developer. He said his dream was to create some awesome games, and be walking down the street and see a kid wearing a shirt for the game he has yet to create.

He told me that when he saw this kid, he would stop the kid and give him free games for the rest of his life. I told him to always keep that with him, and make that his goal and that if he did, everything else would fall into place. I think the universe conspires if your goal is a bit more noble, and has some truth and purity to it. Strive to make life beautiful, and not always about money. I know, I’m a hopeless romantic and a naive motherfucker.

It reminds me of Tolstoy’s definition of art. He says that art is fueled by passion, but is fettered (look it up) by things like money, etc. In other words, if your motives aren’t pure or good, then your art is compromised. I’m obviously extending Tolstoy’s idea of what art is to other pursuits like Clancy’s, although anything we do in life can be done “creatively”, like art, if we choose to live a creative life. But that’s a whole other tangent I don’t have time time to elaborate right now, as my cafe con leche needs refilling.

Colin spent his time between eastern Colorado and Western Kansas, I think because that’s where his mom and dad both lived. He had just quit his job and didn’t know what he was going to do next, except to put one foot in front of the other on the Camino.                                                                                                                                                                       ______________________
Anyway, due to my new blisters (praying to the patron saint of blisters et al hadn’t miraculously cured them) I decided to walk only 10k today, which would put me back on schedule since I had walked 30k the day before (Brierley breaks the two days into 2x 20 k days.) So I woke up at 7 and went down to finish the blog from 2 days prior and upload it.

After it had finished, I hobbled over to get breakfast and sat outside and wrote some of yesterdays blog. As I did, Cormac and Sinead ambled up, having got up early and walked from the previous town, where they had stayed.

I had a cafe con leche with them and bid them farewell. We would probably meet in  Castrojeriz since we were both planning on staying there that night. I finished writing and realized I had forgot to pay for breakfast so went back and paid up. Fucking American tourists.

Hotanas, my jumping off point this morning, was in a little valley, which I continued walking through alone for several kilometers. It was still cool out, and the wind picked up some. The path was a bit rocky, several ups and downs (another apt metaphor- camino = life).

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After moving down the path through rolling hills and fields, the camino joined a paved road, which my blisters were thankful for. It was quiet but for the combines that were harvesting wheat. A guy was bailing hay…and singing. Reminded me of the Springsteen song…..

Listen to your junk man
He’s singin’, singin’, singin’, singin’
All dressed up in satin, walkin’ past the alley 2016-07-27 16.21.55

Maybe the point is that, in our busy lives, with our worries, the stresses we create which cause us to look at the world with disdain and lash out and hurt the ones we love, maybe we need to stand back, think about that junkman, that farmer who is…singing. And maybe that’ll help us put things in perspective.2016-07-27 16.21.13

After awhile the road went under a great arch, which was part of the ruins of Convento de San Anton XIV. The order was known for being able to cure the medieval scourge known as St Anthony’s fire (no relation to St Elmo’s fire for all you John Hughes fans, you know who are, don’t be afraid to admit it) which was a fungal disease kind of like leprosy.

2016-07-27 16.22.38They used the power of the Tau (love) in their healing practice. I looked for a nun but couldn’t find one, figuring she might be able to spare a little Tau. I thought about it and decided that maybe their magic only works on fungus anyway, not hearts, and I didn’t have any fungus that I knew of. Maybe love is kind of like fungus. It grows on you. Drum roll please. Or maybe it’s more like leprosy. Not sure, the jury’s still out.

The road continued straight into Castrojeriz. It was getting hot and none of the auberges were open yet (1400 was the usual time) so I walked around town. It was hot. Since part of my intent for this short walking day was to write, I found a hotel for 35 euro and checked in (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it). It had a beautiful patio in the back that overlooked the valley, which is where I’m writing from, a cold glass of rose oiling the creative juices, or more than likely putting me to sleep.

While I was writing in my cheery spot (made more cheery by a second glass of rose’) I spoke with Davido from Italy (the bartender, check in guy, resident bon vivant and apparently the only guy who worked at the hotel) while I was writing. He had left Italy and started walking the camino and stopped here to work, figuring he’ll finish in the fall.

He’s making arrangements to go to Alaska and work with a Caribou shepherd, and then head down and see the West. It’s funny, and humbling, I feel like such a fraud- everyone I’ve met has such noble, good intentions with their lives. Funny, I haven’t run into any wall street guys or lawyers yet.

I finished up and went down the street to have dinner at a very American looking place. Kind of hip. When I walked in “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas was playing and I had to smile, being half way around the world from my home, and wondering how much it would still feel like my home when I returned.

Theres a whole lot in life to be unsure of
but theres one thing i can safely say i know
that of all the things that finally desert us
pride is always the last thing to go.

it won’t bring you love if you’ don’t love.
and it won’t bring you time if you aint got time
but it don’t bring you strength if you aint strong.
And it don’t bring you kindness if you aint kind

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach
And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms
They scared you, but they never seemed to teach

That I can’t bring you love if you don’t love
And I can’t bring you time if you ain’t got time
And I can’t bring you strength, baby, if you ain’t strong
And I can’t bring you kindness if you ain’t kind      -Mary Chapin Carpenter


Whats she gonna look like when Im dead?
Still beautiful I bet
She’ll always be beautiful to me.

Day 15- All things must pass away

Day 15- All things must pass away

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