Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Camino Entry 10

Day 10, December 4th, 2011
168km completed

Expenses, Day 10
Breakfast: 2.20
Cheese!: 4.00
More Pastries: 2.20
Pensión: 18.00
Apples and mini chocolate donuts: 1.80
Coffee: 1.30
Total: 29.50
Trip Total: 278.23

I spent most of the morning in farmland again. I reached Balaguere, gumpy because of my lame breakfast, and devoured a pair of chocolate croissants. The city is pretty cool – it sits on a river coming out of the Pyrenees and has an old wall surrounding it. I left via one of the old city gates.

Now things are hillier, and the farms less prosperous. I’m headed for the hills again.

It is funny to see how the signage changes from one zone of the trail to the next. In addition to the ubiquitous yellow arrows, I have seen horseshoes (painted yellow), the big official signposts (sometimes with incorrect distances), orange arrows, fluorescent lime green dots, yellow dots, posts in the ground with seashells carved in the top, brass seashells on the walls of buildings, delicate hand painted Gothic text (C.S.J., 960km to Santiago!), and today a staff with a shell and gourd hanging from it under a freeway overpass, outlined in yellow paint. Different trail wardens all have different tastes, I guess.


It figures that not more than thirty minutes after writing that I found myself without any signs at all. They petered out outside of Balaguere, but this has happened before and I figured that it just meant “keep going straight” as it has in the past. This is how I ended up at a dead end dirt road in the middle of a field.

As I was consulting my guide a man came walking along. I asked him where the camino was, and we talked for a bit. End result: he says that he’ll show me how to get to Castelló de Farfanya, because the way is not well marked (no kidding). We set off across the fields.

Not only was the way poorly marked, but it has been totally obliterated in some places by farm equipment. It was all roughly parallel to the carreterra (paved two-lane highway), so I wouldn’t have been too lost, but it was good to have the guy in the blue coat along. It was very generous for him to walk with me as far as he did (several kilometers) and it’s the first time that I’ve had any company on the camino. The kilometers really fly when you have someone to talk to, even in my mangled Spanish.

The man in the blue coat is a local, but his family is mostly French (which is why he doesn’t have black hair and a beard, according to him). His brother lives in Buenos Aires with his girlfriend and he would like to visit but doesn’t have the time. A friend of his walked the camino from León and really enjoyed it. We talked about the weather I’m likely to encounter and he gave me some advice – apparently the signage is better in Huesca than in Cataluña.

Finally he had to turn around. “Esperes un momento . . . (wait a moment)” he rummaged in his backpack before giving me a little key (llave) lanyard with a compass on it. “Te acuerdes mi (to remember me).” Now it hangs on the back of my bag.

Martin was right – do not buy anything to take with you as a gift to Santiago. The gifts will come; people will give them to you or you will find them. My shell from the beach in Malaga, the arrow from the Amics dels Peregrins Barcelona, and now this little lanyard. I find a place in Santiago for it, so that he can make his own trip and visit his brother in Buenos Aires.

And I don’t even know his name! Thank you, walking guy in the blue coat.

I can only hope that I am worthy of all the kindness and luck (suerte) that the world is showering upon me. I must reach Santiago!

Speaking of Martin, I wonder how he is. I hope he’s reached the ocean by now, and that it is as beautiful as he thought it would be. His plan is to follow the coast to the Ebro estuary, work the sport fishing up the river to pay for his lodging, and continue south to Seville before heading to Santiago. It will take months, but he will avoid the snow that I may encounter. He is in no hurry and is braver than I. I hope he is well, I have no way to get in touch with him again. Maybe the records in Montserrat . . .

Tonight I sleep in Algerri, pop. 459, in a little motel off the main road. This trip is changing my definition of “small.” Hung out in the bar for a bit, drinking coffee and watching the locals. I do not fit in. Sleep now.

30.1km completed today.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Music -- Sunset

Here's a beat I wrote in the second half of 2011 but never had a chance to upload. Ravi Shankar + Questlove = good. Enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Camino Entry 9

Day 9, December 3rd, 2012

143.7km traveled

I've decided to take the Cami de San Juan de la Pena, the Northern route.

Expenses, Day 9

Pastry and Baguette: 1.50
Resupply (shop with nice lady): 4.37
Hostal Ca L'Angeleta (c/Pons i Arola #5): 15.00
Internet: .50
Mass: 1.00
Total: 22.37
Trip Total: 248.73

One thing I will miss about Europe is the pastries. If the town is bigger than 500 people, you can get some fucking good pastry.


The Catalan independence movement is strong here; lots of “Catalunya lliure” graffiti.

Quite a pleasant day today. I've been out of the hills and in farmland for two days now – mostly flat dirt roads where the going is easy. Overcast, but no rain. I'm stopped for a rest at Castell de Remei, an interesting old military camp from the 19th century. The main building is castle-like, although I'm not sure how effective the fortifications would actually be – they are mostly decorative. There are some other museum buildings, a petting zoo, and a nice restaurant; altogether it's a cozy little tourist trap. There's also a refuge for Fransiscan monks. With the leaves red and orange underfoot and the evening sun mixing with the cooing of doves, I am quite content to rest my feet for a bit.

Lots of irrigation systems here, which tells me that the summers must be brutal. Troughs crisscross the fields and duck under access roads with a combination of vertical shafts and a bit of siphoning (insert illustration here).

Also, cemeteries here are always walled with a large number of above ground graves, and are marked with the skull and crossbones. Yarr!


I learned a lesson about walking today. Don't look at your feet; let them do the walking, not your eyes. If you look at your feet, you will get tired. Instead, keep your eyes on the horizon. It keep you moving forward.

So, the three lessons so far:
1. Let others be generous.
2. No pilgrim is alone.
3. Let your feet do the walking.

I stopped in a little shop in Tournabous for supplies. The lady there was very nice – she spotted me as a pilgrim right away. I was able to make myself understood (everyone in Spain is being very patient with me, despite the fact that I am a functional idiot) and got some delicious food (cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese . . .). She even gave me some gummies for free . . . I was happy thinking about it for quite some time. She's a bright light in the world.

Traveling brings out the best in people, both the traveler and the host. It has me thinking about the saying that the world gives you what you give it. This is one of the mechanisms that allows that statement to be true. Everyone has both positive and negative potential – you just have to act in a way that allows others to be positive. Like the master in the Tao te Ching, enabling the people – “We did it all by ourselves!”

Being a pilgrim does bring out the best in people, myself and the others around me. I have to trust strangers and rely on them, and so far people have been universally good. I still do not believe that humans are fundamentally good, but just because our potential for good and evil must be balanced doesn't mean that our actions have to be.


I am getting in touch with old powers on this trip. Old wisdom. Sleeping in the woods, building fires, walking alone in the wilderness, meeting monks . . . even the concept of pilgrimage is an old power.

Today while walking along a particular bit of path I had a vision. Not much of a vision, more of just a feeling. The path, the weather, the pack on my back, the farmland, and my sore body . . . my mind is quiet enough that I heard it resonate with one of my ancestors. They had done something very similar, and I felt a great kinship with their sharpness of mind and drive. We thought so similarly that it was like slipping into a comfortable shoe . . . I knew him better than anyone I know in the present, because he was me.

But yeah, very short, and not strictly a vision. Maybe it's just tricks of the brain? Does it matter?

Speaking of old things, I went to mass tonight in search of a stamp for my credential. I went with the lady who runs the hostel – an energetic, forceful, assertive old woman whom I cannot understand a damn bit (sometimes my Spanish is okay, but tonight it has been kicking my ass). Ever been to mass in an 11th century church? Neither had I, until now.

The priest was running a one man show, with only the altar boy and girl for help. I was amazed that he would just burst into the hymns by himself with no pitch pipe – a fine baritone that everyone else mumbled along to. Also amazing is how the lord's prayer is instantly recognizable, even in Catalan and even to a Unitarian. I never realized how important rhythm is to prayer . . . just like poetry.

There was some music during the bit where they eat Jesus' flesh (some weird symbolism to me, but hey). Just as visiting Austria helped me understand Beethoven, visiting old churches has given me a new understanding of baroque and old church music. The place is inseparable from the music – it is the perfect sound for its respective places. I wonder if this is true of all music . . . and I wonder if the rhythm of walking is getting into my body the way that the rhythm of the ocean was when I was living on a ship. I want to get back to composing and find out.

After the mass I was leaving when the altar boy ran up to me. “Just one question,” he asked in perfect English.


“You're English?”


“Ah!” and he ran away. I wonder if he's ever met an American.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Camino Entry 8

Day 8, December 2nd, 2011
117.2km completed

Expenses, Day 8
Breakfast: 2.50
Provision (Gas Station food, ugh): 5.50
Chocolate Croissant: 1.15
Fruit: 1.00
Bread: 1.00
Cafe con leche: 1.40
Room at Ca N'aleix: 10.00

Cervera was a nice town. It's an old medieval hill city, with walls and a fortress and everything. Several people asked if I was a pilgrim and gave me directions through the maze of cobblestone streets. It was market day, too, and I got a great chocolate croissant along with some supplements to my shitty gas station provisions.

After Cervera it was a long straight shot to Tarrega, where I am now. This is where the Cami de San Juan de la Pena splits off to the North – I'll sleep here and decide which way to go. Two extra days on the Northern path is not much of a difference on a 1200km pilgrimage.

“The camino will challenge you,” I remember reading in some bit of trail literature. This is true. Today the challenge was my leg muscles – they were very sore and tired the last ten kilometers. Nothing broken, I just had to gut it out. I think I walked the first bit too fast – 15km in four hours. I walk fast when I'm angry. Still don't know why I was angry.

Now to find a place to stay, and pizza.


I forgot to mention that I saw a canal under construction today – or, an aqueduct, to be more specific. It wasn't drinking water (no cover) and it wasn't for traffic (disappeared into a huge pipe in a hill) so I can only assume that it's for agriculture. It's always funny to see a river cross a bridge over another river.

The albegure is open! It is actually a shelter for people with mental illness, with a few spare rooms for pilgrims and the like. They had a room free tonight – 10 euros, including breakfast. What nice people, and what a great deal. The room is almost exactly a dorm room.

It makes me think of dad – many of the people here are probably clients of his Spanish counterpart. I think he would appreciate the irony of how well I fit in here. Think about it – I'm filthy, I smell bad, I piss outside a lot, I talk out loud to myself in a language that no one else understands (English) . . . I'm even carrying a meaningless trinket (the shell from Malaga). Anyone crazy enough to go on a pilgrimage . . .

Tough day, good ending.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Camino Entry 7

Day 7, December 1st, 2012
94.2km completed

I just had a beautiful dream. There was flying and magic and fantastic creatures and a battle with an evil witch and true love.

I awoke slowly from that dream into another one. I was still someone else, someone young. My friend and I were lying in the dirt, mostly naked. We were about fourteen. There were dozens of other children around us, and we were all starving. We'd been there a long time.

I did have one thing that the others didn't have. Through some lucky chance I'd gotten an old, battered laptop from a Western aid group. I'd fallen asleep with an article about seals brought up up. I also had a notebook filled with stories.

The head man came by. He's friendly but strict and businesslike. He asked if there was anything we needed – we laughed and said, “more food.” He smiled a sad smile and said yes, he knew, anything besides that? We asked (as usual) if there were any jobs. He said no, but that he hoped for something to come up for me and my friend soon.

The my real self appeared. I was still in the body of the boy – I decided to talk to the stranger for a bit. He (I) was surprised by the starvation; I said that that's how it is here. He asked about the laptop; my friend told him that I wrote stories. He asked if he could see them (he collects stories); I thought about it for a long time before giving him my notebook.

Here I returned to my real self. I opened the book to read the first line. That's when I woke up here in Igualada. 4:46am.


“Many of the places I've been have been closed because it isn't pilgrim season,” said Martin. He held up his hands to make quotation marks. “'Pilgrim season.' When is it not pilgrim season? This I do not understand.”

Expenses, Day 7
Pastries: 1.35
Lunch: 4.90
Pension: 20.00
Coffee: 1.30
Total: 27.55
Trip Total: 203.81

Today's road thought: most of the best things that have happened to me involve meeting people. Hearing jazz for the first time, making a best friend, falling in love, reading Coelho and learning about the camino . . . all of these things came about through meeting someone else.


Everywhere is perfection, but here I can see it more easily. Two steps off the road in a tiny silent town called Porquerisses, I lay on a green embankment in a little patch of grass. It is half wild – a scattering of barren fruit trees lie amongst the wildflowers, all in the shadow of an old stone building. Across the valley are a few fields carved out of the forest. Spain abounds with forest – wild, untamed hills of twisted Cyprus and broken stone buildings. Perhaps that's why I love it so much.

The sun is hot, finally. Even in November the sun is hot here from noon to two or three in the afternoon. I can only imagine what it must be like in the summer . . . but for now, there is nothing to do besides sit and watch a few single gossamer strands of spiderweb blow in the breeze.


Five minutes in La Panadella and I think I could tell you the whole history of the town. It sits astride the old N-11 national highway, but with the construction of the freeway most of the traffic has bypassed the village. The warehouses sit empty, and only of the three restaurants/pensions still has any life to it . . .

Pension Bayona is bustling, though. It has become a truck stop. Poppy would feel at home drinking coffee here, or dad for that matter. It reminds me of the variety of Midwest truck stops I've experienced, although with a distinct European flavor (the coffee doesn't suck, for example).

But the pay phone is broken, and I need to make sure tomorrow's albergue is open. Hmm. Problem. Tarrega is a fairly big town, I can ask for a pension, but I will try the albergue tomorrow. 23Km walked today.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Camino Entry 6

Day 6, November 30th, 2011
69.6km completed

Expenses, Day 6
Lunch: 2.30
Pastries: 0.88
Pesíon Casa Ramón: 15.00
Resupply: 2.62
Hot Dinner: 6.75
Total: 27.45
Trip Total: 176.26

I traveled through some really sleepy towns today. St. Pau de La Guardia was what we like to call a one-dog town, in that it only could afford one dog. My guidebook says it has a population of <50, and I think that’s generous. It consists of a church and between one to five other buildings, depending on how you divide them. Most of them comprised an upscale restaurant, oddly enough – I was hungry, but it was out of my price range.

It was good to get on the road, but I spent the second half of the day raging against being here. This is only natural and I half expected it. Why am I wasting my time, I could be doing other things, I’m tired of Spain, my feet hurt . . . etc. It’s the fear again, trying a new angle. This pilgrimage business is slow, tedious, awkward, and with potential for intense discomfort. For instance, I still don’t know if I have a place to stay tonight. Gonna go check back at the Pensión in Igualada again at 5pm to see if they still exist (I tried once already, no answer) – if not, I’ll be looking for something else.

I take strength from knowing that I got to Montserrat on my own. Also I take strength from not thinking about things and letting myself be a little bit batshit insane. I sang “Jingle Bells” at the top of my lungs today coming down from Montserrat, replacing every syllable with the "C---" word just because I could. Little things like that. A strange pilgrim I would seem if anyone saw me.


It’s funny how someone’s whole attitude can change in a half an hour.

I looked up pension in my dictionary; it means “boarding house,” sort of. I went back to where “Pensíon Casa Ramón” is supposed to be . . . still a shuttered storefront and a locked door with only one buzzer. I rang the buzzer and asked if this was La Pensíon Casa Ramón; someone answered and unlocked the door. On the second floor landing was an old man who knew immediately that I was a pilgrim. He’s quite friendly and has clearly dealt with many people who speak little Spanish. I think he runs a restaurant downstairs behind the shutter.

I got the pilgrim special – a 5’x12’ room at the back of the third floor with a cot, a nightstand, and a chair. The shower and toilet are down the hall. The window (I have a window!) looks out over the central air shaft, and laundry is hung on the clotheslines (I have a clothesline!) drying below me. There is no heat; it will be chilly tonight. I am ecstatic (I even have a pillow!) – I’m actually doing it!

A word about showers. The shower is “la ducha” here in Spain, rendering the American insult “douchebag” far less effective (not that it made any sense to begin with). They’ve all had their quirks so far. The showers in the monastery operated via the push knobs typical of public sinks; meaning, of course, that they would shut off every 15 seconds or so and you’d have to hit the button again with your hand to was the soap out of your hair. Whether this is done in the interest of energy efficiency or for some other reason I am as of yet unsure.

The shower here, however, is the first example of a temperature sin curve that I have seen in a bathing situation. Within two minutes, it alternates from blazing hot to freezing cold and back again, maintaining a regularity that mystifies me. Fortunately the cubicle is large enough to let me leap from the water at the appropriate times, which I’m sure is quite a sight, hobbling on sore feet as I am. 24.6km today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 5

I finally left the sambadrome at around 3:30am after about five hours inside. Another school had just started and the party was only intensifying. I've heard that the parades usually run until five or six in the morning (about eight hours straight) on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of Carnival, all without repeating a single performer.

I wandered for a bit, shell-shocked from the loud music. Finally I came to my senses . . . I had followed the performers from the sambadrome back to the staging area. Here there were hundreds of people of all ages, sweaty and excited from the show, eating food from paper plates and drinking beer. Other performers were lining up on the avenue nearby, ready for their turn, and passers-by clung to the chain link fence yelling encouragement. The avenue led back towards the ship, and the night was warm so I decided to walk back.

The street party around the sambadrome stretched for blocks. With the streets closed, people had set up camp around coolers and televisions to watch the parade. Even at 4am there were vendors of all types working the crowds. Police officers were stationed at most corners, as floats from previous days were still parked here on the street. All of the banks I saw were either boarded over with plywood, like preparations for a hurricane, or had erected temporary fences patrolled with security guards. Carnival must get rough sometimes . . .

I was almost back to the ship when I passed a place where people had been selling bottled water earlier. The coolers were still there, and as I looked closer I realized that the people were too – huddled up on pieces of cardboard, lying in the filth in the gutter. This isn’t just their territory for selling stuff to tourists – this is where they live, too. I can only imagine an existence that involves selling enough during the day to buy another pallet from the store, along with whatever food you need to survive.

The image of people sleeping in the street like dogs stuck with me as I crossed under the freeway overpass to the terminal. Here, only twenty minutes from the biggest party on Earth, are people who feel so hopeless that the only thing carnival means to them is a chance to make enough to eat for another week. How can a world like this exist? And yet it does.

Living on a ship is a strange thing. We bounce from place to place, in contact with land, needing it, but never really connected to anything. We’re not really responsible for anywhere – the ship, maybe, but ships wear out eventually and cease to be places. It's a fundamentally temporary relationship, unlike a resident’s relationship with a place like Rio or Barcelona or Detroit. We see people in pain, suffering, but it isn't real because the next day it will all slide under the stern like everything else. We feel no responsibility to help them because it isn't a part of the world that we feel responsible for.

And that’s just the thing. A world where people sleep on the street like dogs exists because we let it. The spectacle of people huddled in the gutter like stray animals is not unique to Rio or anywhere else that I've been in the world. No one “likes” poverty, but it says something unsettling about our values that we let it persist. If the will to end poverty existed, we would have done so by now. Our actions speak much louder than words.

Unless . . . I can't help but wonder if there is something inherent in the human condition that leads some of us to misery. It is said that everything in the world exists in balance; there is no good without bad, no hope without despair. Can it be that there are some things you cannot give another person, things which are vital for their well-being but which cannot be transferred from one human to another? If good and bad ARE balanced in the world, why do some have so much of the good while others have so much of the bad? Is it possible that while you can feed and clothe the wretched and the poor, you can never really help them if they do not choose to help themselves? Jesus of Nazareth said that, “Men do not live on bread alone,” and if that is true, how do you give them what is not bread?

This is a subject I've dealt with before in this blog, and I still don't have a good answer. How do you help someone find the will to live?


I just came back inside from a late-night stroll on the front of the ship. Here the lights are darkened so that the watch officers can keep their night vision. We’re just off the coast, and a stiff breeze brings the heavy, warm scent of summer to us from land. The stars are out in the full glory . . . what a strange thing to stand here under unfamiliar constellations off an exotic foreign coast in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 4

February 21st, 2012

It's been a while since I've stepped off the ship and said, “This place is . . . different.”

That's how I felt in Buzios, Brazil, standing on the bow and looking out over the landscape. Brazil looks like it sounds. Our anchorage was behind a long, hilly peninsula that was covered in green and wrapped in white beaches. Nearby were round, mountainous islands that stretched in either direction – a maze of underwater geography beautiful and (I suspect) treacherous. The town was sprinkled along the shoreline and up into the hills, red tile roofs and white plaster along winding cobblestone roads.

There is no color graduation in Brazil. Everything is exactly one color – shimmering green blades of grass, wet black rocks on the beach, white sand underfoot. I am reminded of a movie I saw a long time ago where the main characters find themselves somehow transported inside a world of paint. One of them picks a deep violet flower; when he squeezes it, it dissolves into thick paint, and he is left with a fistful of pure color. That's what it feels like to be in Brazil – as if I am somehow inside one of Seurat's paintings, except that he's decided to paint the humid, fragrant, powerful landscapes of Brazil.

We're here, of course, for the Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese). Carnival is the Brazilian counterpart to Mardi Gras or any other Fat Tuesday celebration in the world; its roots lie in the pre-Lenten tradition of disposing of all luxuries and sweets before Ash Wednesday and the dietary restrictions that follow. It has grown, though, to something much more than that, especially here in Brazil.

The entire country shuts down for a week. Everywhere I went, I saw signs on businesses saying “closed for Carnival.” Street parties, parades, live music, wild costumes, and general chaos are the order of the day. These parties and parades can be on anything from a local, neighborhood level to the national spectacle that is Rio de Janeiro's sambadrome.

What is the sambadrome? The sambadrome is a stadium constructed for the yearly samba school competitions. It resembles the front straightaway of a automobile racing track, with a long straight path lined on both sides with stands and bleachers. It glows like a beacon, with huge halogen stadium lighting on both sides, and giant speakers line either side of the competition path. This is a permanent structure in Rio, mind you, none of that temporary crap that we have back home for parades, and it was my destination last night.

My friends and I took a cab as close as we could get to the sambadrome, but the police had blocked off several blocks of the city around it and so we followed the crowd on foot the rest of the way. They had already purchased tickets through the crew office, but I had not and so we split up. Scalping tickets is strictly illegal, and so of course everyone was doing it. This is generally how it works:

One guy will be working the crowd, asking if anyone needs tickets. When he finds someone, he'll ask them what they're looking for and have them wait somewhere nearby (I hung out in the shadow of a generator trailer). He goes to his buddy, who has all the tickets but isn't talking to anyone, and picks up whatever zone you're looking for – different zones, different prices. This is a sort of reverse version of the usual pickpocket scheme, where the guy the picks your pocket immediately hands off the goods to someone else, so that even if you catch the guy he doesn't have whatever you lost. In this case it insulates the professional ticket scalpers, as if the police pick up the guy working the crowd he doesn't have any actual tickets on him. If they pick up the other guy, he can just say he's not selling tickets to anybody.

The guy will then come back over, and you'll haggle over the price. He will try to give you the ticket, of course, as then you're already “bought it” and it's harder to back out of the deal. After much wailing and disapproval you'll agree on a price – if you've already grabbed the ticket, waving it around in the air can help speed the process, as the scalper is already anxious that the police not notice what's going on. I talked my particular salesperson down from R$100 to R$60 (that's Brazilian Reals – R$60 is a little less than $40). Don't feel bad for him – these tickets went on sale for R$10 a week ago.

Having purchased my semi-legal ticket (it did work in the turnstile, which was a relief), I made my way into the sambadrome. There are no aisles in Brazilian bleacher seating; there aren't any seats, either, just a stepped expanse of bare concrete. I pushed my way up and in wherever I could, finally finding a spot midway up that was just large enough for me to sit. The crowd was on its feet again as soon as I sat down, as the next school had just started, and so I joined them.

Samba “school” is a bit of misnomer. There are no classes or teaching in a samba school; samba club would be a better term. Each school decides on a song earlier in the year, and depending on which song you like you join a different school. Rehearsals begin a few months beforehand.

As the first school came through, I began to realize the scale of carnival in Rio. I had wildly underestimated the number of people involved in each group – they are more like armies than anything else. A school is divided into units of roughly a hundred, all with the same costume. The stronger units have a leader out front, usually an excellent dancer in a massive, outrageous costume keeping with the theme of the unit (for instance, if it is a group of sea nymphs, the woman out front will be dressed as the queen nymph). A school has dozens of these units, all with different costumes and all dancing their hearts out.

In between the big groups come smaller, special groups of dancers. They usually have special choreography – the first group like this I saw was a group of ten men dressed as the Vatican's Swiss Guard. They had complex marching patterns and salutes that they repeated over and over again as they moved down the street. Another group of magicians told a short story about a prince and a princess through pantomime. There was also a man pushing a comically oversized suitcase down the street and running a physical comedy routine with different props before throwing them into the crowd, as well as a quartet of martial arts masters performing a choreographed fight scene . . . these are just a few examples.

And then, of course, there are the floats. If the samba school is an army, the floats are the tanks. They can be nearly anything. One of the first that I saw was a huge carriage, crewed by men in powdered wigs, carrying someone who looked suspiciously like the queen of England. Another was a set of five huge silver heads, all with mouths open in silent screams. Ships were popular this year – one was drawn by dragons, another by huge golden horses, and a third had a unit of dancers surrounding it dressed as waves (this ship would fire cannons into the crowd on occasion as well). Another float was dedicated to great scientific minds of recent centuries – Einstein, Dalton, Newton, Rutherford, Darwin, etc. One of the more curious floats was some sort of clockwork chicken, covered in people sitting on bikes suspended in midair. There was also a wagon being pulled by groups of dancers that would erupt into a huge dragon which they would then force back inside . . . you get the idea.

Each float was covered in dancers that had been lifted into place by cranes. Costumes were a riot of color and decoration – jewels, mirrors, wings, feathers, headdresses, tails, you name it (I have never seen people wear so much and so little at the same time). These were the better dancers, usually, strong and drenched in sweat by the time they reached our section of the stands. One of my favorite floats illustrated the divide between heaven and hell, and the devils were playfully taunting the angels above.

There was not much drinking going on in the stands. There was some, of course, but no one I saw was drinking to excess. That's because we all had a much more powerful drug on hand – the samba!

Each school has a group of singers and musicians that perform their school's song for the year. Usually, when a school is announced, the guitar will begin. Then the singers enter, going the song once or twice (we could see none of this, of course, since our seats were near the end, but we could hear it all through the speakers). Then, as the first unit of dancers step off, the drums hit like an explosion and you are transported to a state of altered consciousness.

It usually takes about an hour and twenty minutes for a school to transit the sambadrome. The drums play the whole time, and finally follow everyone else out at the end. This is not merely a “drumline.” There were more than a hundred drummers in the first school that I saw – it was the largest single unit there, and they only kept getting bigger as the night went on. The sound is thunderous – bass drums, hand snares, and shakers all combine to form a powerful, powerful groove. The music is totally about the groove – the song repeats around a hundred times over the course of one samba school's performance, inducing a trance-like state in the audience. The samba is everywhere – in the air, in the ground, in your guts – and when a good school is performing you can't even think because it’s taken over your brain. They have amazing stamina – close ups of the drummers on the screen showed them shedding big drops of sweat, lost in the intensity of the music.

The second samba school that I saw had a beautiful woman, dressed in huge golden wings, acting as drum captain. She wasn't just for decoration – I've never seen anyone play the hand snare like that (especially not while dancing the samba at the same time)! She came by the stands afterward and got a standing ovation from the crowd.

(To Be Continued . . .)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Camino Entry 5

(Note: Santa Cova, mentioned below, is a small chapel clinging to the side of the mountain away from the main monastery of Montserrat. Check it out here:

Day 5, November 29th, 2012
69.6km completed to date

Expenses, Day 5
Resupply: 9.67
Extra night at Montserrat: 10.00
Total: 19.67
Trip Total: 148.81

Martin, the German from Essen

I met Martin last night – he was my only other companion in the pilgrim’s quarters. He cuts quite the interesting figure: a few years older than me, a bit taller, long shaggy black hair, a feathered hat, short baggy yellow pants, two knee braces, and a long staff. The metal endpiece he made himself while working for a blacksmith in France . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Martin speaks fairly good English despite his stutter (which makes my own limitations in Spanish feel much smaller). He’s from a town near Essen, in Germany, and had always wanted to visit Santiago. One day he woke up and decided to go. I met him at the end of day 84.

Martin is full of interesting stories, as one would expect. He’s slept in forests, barns, and train stations. He’s made mushroom soup from ingredients he collected himself. He once traded a giant fungus for a 30km car ride.

He’s stayed in monasteries several times. While not a religious person at the beginning of his trip, Martin says now that he suspects there is something else but that it has no name. There was one order of monks that he stayed with in France that he was good friends with – they were a very young order (35 years) and were always smiling and playing jokes on each other. They sent him from monastery to monastery until Le Puy.

Le Puy is one of the starting points of the camino. Located in France, it is a city built in a volcanic crater. In the center of the crater is a huge stone, on top of which is located a church. To get inside you must take a tunnel stairway cut through the rock that emerges into the center of the church. I want to visit. Minecraft is real life!

Martin makes me dream of another camino. This time I have some time constraints, and I am not equipped to wander as I will. Martin has a tent and a kitchen – I do not. Next time I will . . . I could re-equip and change my plans, but I think not. One camino at a time. His camino is not mine this trip, but that’s okay.

Already considering other routes. Santiago to Jerusalem?


My visit to Santa Cova was a reminder that some places are only powerful at certain points of our lives. It was more crowded this time, and the maintenance guy was scraping candle wax off of the catch pans. Even holy places need maintenance. Even though it was not the moving experience that it was before, it remains a place where I can concentrate easily and I renewed the prayer that I said last time I was there: “Let me be strong enough to act despite fear.”

It is a good place, a familiar place, but I have drawn all the strength from it that I can. Also, it didn’t open until 11:30, and so I lost an hour and a half of sunlight. Today may turn into a rest day . . . fitting enough, as Montserrat bears more than a passing resemblance to Rivendell.


Yup. Rest day today. For the best, after what my calves are telling me on the back from Santa Cova. The brother I talked to today was more distant than yesterday – I hope that I’m not taking advantage of the monks’ generosity. It is 10 euro a night to stay here after the first night, a sum I have no problem paying. It’s at least 20km to the next hostel, and even on flat terrain it will take me six or seven hours to get there. Down a mountain . . . too far.

And I got to hear the boys choir sing. As much as I think that putting that kind of performance pressure on young children is a little weird, it was a hugely powerful musical texture. I was still feeling bad about needing another night here, and wasn’t sure why. Hearing them sing opened it all up. I’m afraid – afraid that I will fail. Afraid that if I lose momentum, I will never regain it. But I will! All I have to do is step out the door tomorrow. It doesn’t sound like much in writing, but an hour ago I was sitting in the basilica with tears running down my cheeks, oblivious to all the silly tourists shooting video around me. I am afraid of failing! Such a simple realization.

Later that evening

From the Tao te Ching, verse 42

“…Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.”

Also, from verse 44 discussion:

“…success and failure are equally irrelevant to him (the master) because his heart rests in the Tao.”

I’ve been searching since I graduated for an external or internal yardstick of success to replace the one that school provided. Maybe I’m missing the point? There should be no yardstick

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Camino Entry 4

((Note: Should anyone want to know more about the mountain of Montserrat (and let's face it, who doesn't? Especially since the holy grail is supposed to have resided there for a time), I've included a link: ))

Day 4, November 28th
54.9km completed to date

Expenses, Day 4
Train: 1.45
Candle: 1.00
Banana: .38
Candle: 2.20
Postcards: 3.30
Dinner: 10.00
Total: 18.33
Trip Total: 129.14


I’m glad I didn’t cross that bridge in the dark. That was some frogger shit.

Left ankle is acting up same as the right, now. I have them both set up the same way. I hope this problem doesn’t get any worse – if it does, I’ll have to buy different shoes.

Children’s handprints on the wall above the church candle racks in Esperreguera.


Only 14.7km kilometers completed today, but that includes climbing the mountain of Montserrat! 69.6km total so far.

And I’m sleeping in a monastery tonight. The monks at Montserrat provide pilgrims with a place to stay for the night, free of charge. It’s just me and some German guy tonight (although I’ve yet to see him) occupying the pilgrim quarters; we each get our own room. There are three bedrooms, each with six beds – must be busy in the summer.

I can hear the bells ringing for sundown. That’s not something that you experience every day.

It’s a strange little community up here on the mountain. During the day, full of tourists, but as night settles in it empties out and only the permanent residents are left. Maybe a couple hundred, including the monks and the choral school? A tiny little island in the middle of civilization.

I must be very slow. The monk I talked to was surprised that it took me four days instead of two to make it here from Barcelona. I did finally meet another pilgrim, though. While I was getting my credential stamped a middle-aged guy showed up at the office. He was finishing here this evening and not staying the night, but from what I gathered he is French and has much experience with the other stages of the route. He mentioned that once you reach the Camino Frances it is almost impossible to get lost, which is good because . . . my wonderful English guide to the Camino Frances is packed safely in the storage unit in Barcelona! It was a dark moment today over dinner when I realized that.

But . . . I’ve seen another pilgrim. After four days of being alone and making shit up as I go (with varying degrees of success) I know that other people are on the path. I’ve spent four days meditating on how we are all truly alone, as no one can really know what another is thinking. Today was a gentle reminder that even if that’s true, we do still share the same path. Pilgrimages are not solitary events; even though the important battles must be fought and won in one’s own mind, there are always other pilgrims on the path nearby. The Tao says something to the effect of: “What are we if not another man’s teacher, what are we if not another man’s student?” (I may have misquoted that).

So today’s lesson is: no pilgrim is alone. There are two lessons now:

Allow others to be generous.
No pilgrim is alone.

The climb up the mountain was (of course) amazing. There are two things in Cataluña that every person should see before dying, and they’re both made of rock: the Sagrada Familia and the mountain of Montserrat. The view is amazing – I took my last angry fist-shake at Tibidabo, where I spent that miserable, amazing night three days ago (Christ, is it only three days?). The scenery is unreal – I actually caught a glimpse of the snow-capped Pyrenees – and the mountain itself is such a geological oddity that I defy anyone to find a place more interesting. Everything in Cataluña shows evidence of erosion (the whole region is made of sandstone, red clay, and mud) but the mountain looks as if it is trying to shake itself apart. Huge outcroppings jut into thin air, giant boulders hang suspended by a thread . . . it’s like the rock is erupting from the ground and splintering into a million pieces.

Tomorrow I return to Santa Cova and then begin the Camí Catalán (or Camino Catalán, or Catalan way, depending on the language you’re speaking). In a few days I will have to decide which route to follow; North to Huesca and the Camino Aragonés, or South to Logroño and the Ebro river. We’ll see how I’m feeling – for now, it’s time to write postcards.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 3

February 16th, 2012

We’ve just departed Maceio, Brazil – my first landfall in ten days (I was on duty in Barbados and the stop at Devil’s Island was canceled due to weather). It was good to get off the ship for a few hours.

Maceio is known as “Brazil’s Beach.” The name comes from an old native word meaning “water that comes from the ground,” as there are many lakes and lagoons in the area. The beach is covered in palm trees and is quite beautiful. The trade winds keep the temperature manageable even in the height of summer and the water is very warm.

Behind the row of upscale hotels lining the coast, Maceio quickly becomes a city of rough concrete buildings and broken tile roofs. Poverty lives three blocks from the tourist zone. I was sitting on a bench, cleaning the sand off of my feet, when I saw one of the dancers deposit a bit of trash in a trash can, including an empty coconut that shortly before had been filled with delicious beverage (complete with straw and miniature umbrella). As soon as she left, the man sitting next to me hurried over to the can and went through what she had thrown away. The coconut was his ultimate prize – he brought it back to his companions and they smashed it open on the ground before eating it.

Two different worlds.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Camino Entry 3

Day 3, November 27
24.6km completed


Today has been a lot better. I made a series of adjustments to my right side that have made life wonderful, even if they're stupid adjustments. One of them involved cutting a hole in my sock. Sitting in Ullastrell, I can see the monastery against the side of the mountain.

Expenses, Day 3
Baguette: .80
Dinner: 2.30
Train to Abrera: 1.15
Hotel: 36.00
Total: 40.45
Trip Total: 110.81


Wow. Long day. Where did I leave off?

Right. Ullastrell. Well, Ullastrell was a nice little town on the ridge. I stopped in a little shop to buy our expedition's daily chocolate ration, and the nice lady recognized my shell. Had a half-conversation with her about the camino.

From the middle of town, the yellow arrows dart suddenly to the right. Five minutes later I was clawing my way along the edge of an old olive orchard, heading very sharply downhill. The path became little more than a muddy stream bed (that I followed, doubled over and pushing through the prickle vines) before depositing me at the bottom of a canyon. Looking up, towering cliffs surrounded me on every side. I didn't even know they had cliffs in Catalunya!

The river was very low, leaving the gravel bed mostly exposed. A yellow arrow (on a huge pine signpost, place by some giant) pointed helpfully across the river . . . where another one pointed up a crevice and beyond. I had to head upriver to find a place to cross . . . that part of the trail could use some work, as epic as it is.

The lady in Ullastrell had told me that the nearest habitacion (hotel room) was in Olesa de Montserrat. I arrived in Olesa about 4pm – perfect, as it gets dark around 5 here in November. I start asking around . . . “No hay hoteles aqui.” Nowhere to stay! I think one nice bartender offered me her place, but I wasn't confident enough with my Spanish. Lesson: next time be less afraid and allow people to be generous. She was really worried about me. And I am really bad at telling reassuring lies in Spanish.

The expedition crew devours their chocolate rations for the day.

I was about to push on to Collbato around 5pm, which would have been a terrible idea for several reasons: 1. I had already hiked 30km and it is only day 3 so I am not in shape yet, 2. following the trail in the dark means that I'll get (more) lost, and 3. I have to cross a busy highway in the dark . . . wearing gray clothing. I was wavering between that option and sleeping in the train station (which the cops had just left) when an old guy walking his dog and smoking a cigar noticed my indecision. He told me to take the train to Martorell and stay at the hotel there. He even took me to the station and showed me how to buy the ticket, which I could have done myself. What a nice guy.

I took the train reluctantly. I was hoping to use nothing but my feet for this journey. But it doesn't get me any closer to the mountain and I could use a good rest to preserve my health, so I guess it's okay. Rationalized.

I'm really not equipped to sleep outside. I need a tent and a mat. Some other trip.

The station before Martorell is Abrera. I remembered that my guidebook, although listing no services in Abrera for my route, listed a hostel and a hotel there for a different route to Montserrat. Hearing that the hotel in Martorell was expensive, I hopped off in Abrera hoping to hit the hostel.

After getting some more directions I was on my way to the hostel when an older guy with a ponytail recognized my pilgrim symbol. He asked if I was headed to Montserrat; when I said yes he pulled out his camera to show me a video he took today of the camino to Montserrat, but we only got through the first seven seconds before the battery died. He smelled strongly of alcohol and was carrying mysterious packages, but he seemed friendly and offered to show me the hostel so I followed him.

When he found out I was American, he laughed and wished his camera still worked so that he could take a picture with the American pilgrim. On the way there I think he explained a camino phrase to me that I've heard before: “There is no camino alone; there is only the camino you walk.” Or something like that, it was in rapid, drunk Catalan.

The hostel was closed. He pointed me toward the hotel and bid me “Buen Noche.” I got some more excellent directions, talked the front desk down from 42 to 36 (still too expensive, but the camino has albergues from Montserrat), and am now sitting here at a little writing desk listening to my feet throb. All in all, thirteen hours on the road, ten of them on the camino. 30.3kms, plus the extra while looking for a hotel. Averaging 3km/hour, with breaks. 18 miles today!

Overall morale is much higher today than yesterday, as my feet actually work now. I almost turned around only an hour in today for a rest day, but instead I managed to make some footwear alterations that changed everything. If your feet work, everything else is manageable.

The tremendous pains in my right foot were definitely due to pressure on the tendon right behind the ankle knob on the outside of the foot. This took six hours to appear on day 1, but it has been getting worse and worse with no improvement from rest. The solution is stupid, but it works (after much experimentation). First, my right boot is laced as loose as possible in the bottom laces (just barely keeping the damn thing on) and left totally undone above the catch clasps. Second, the thick outer sock is rolled back on itself until it only covers toe to heel. Finally, the sock liner has a hole cut in it exposing the entire outer ankle and a good portion of the tendon up the leg, leaving the back of the sock intact to rub against the back of the now-floppy boot. Stupid. The downside is that I have no ankle support on that side, but at least I can walk. Gonna be cold when I see snow.

No huge enlightenment yet, except that I love Spain for many of the same reasons that I love home. I love the country, the winding dirt roads, and it feels like a Michigan September or October right now. So beautiful. And even with the mountains, Spain still has that big Michigan sky in a way that West Virginia does not. I don't know how.

I imagined friends beside me for much of the trip today. I was explaining to them all of the things that I've learned so far about hiking, and how when they come with me to do the camino this is one of my favorite legs (except for the lack of lodging in Olesa . . . grr . . .). Mostly, though, we didn't talk, it was just nice to have them around to keep me company. I think I will go home after this. I miss all the people. Time to rebuild some friendships.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 2

Entry 2, February 14th, 2012
11:08pm, (UTC -3)

There is a long standing tradition amongst the navies of the world that until a sailor has crossed the equator via ship, he (or she) is not quite a real sailor. These unfortunate people are known as (slimy) pollywogs, while those who have are known as (trusty) shellbacks. Thus, whenever a ship crosses the equator, the pollywogs are presented with an opportunity to be initiated into full shellback status. The initiation ceremonies are of varying degrees of severity; ours, here on a luxury cruise ship, were fortunately quite tame (the navy and merchant marine are understandably more harsh).

The ceremony has a few key elements. First of all, King Neptune must be present (usually played by a senior shellback). He is usually accompanied by a retinue including Davy Jones and sundry other minor deputies of the sea. The pollywogs are brought before King Neptune one at a time to stand trial, sometimes for mayhem and practical jokes that occur the night before (Wog's night, or Wog's eve). Inevitably the pollywogs are found guilty and sentenced to a variety of unpleasant punishments. Ours included getting slimed and kissing a large raw fish, although on freighters and warships wogs usually must climb through a tunnel of shellbacks beating them with hoses, wade through a pool of galley sludge, get covered in used engine oil, etc. Eventually the wogs are dumped into the ocean (or the pool, in our case) and are fished out to become true shellbacks.

Strangely enough, I avoided this fate today, as I was playing in the band for the ceremony. I did get dunked in the crew pool afterward, though, and so I believe that the various deities of the ocean will be satisfied. Also, the navy has various sub-orders of shellback, and while this isn't as prevalent here on a cruise ship, I would qualify for the Order of the Rock, as I've sailed through the strait of Gibraltar.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Camino Entry 2

Day 2, November 26th, 2011

I had a pretty amazing night last night. I did succeed in getting a nice little fire going, and I sat and watched it for a couple of hours before letting it burn out. On one side were the lights of Barcelona, and on the other the lights of St. Cugat. I could hear both cities settling down to sleep. What a place to spend the night . . . it reminded me of the night on the Weathertop.

Loneliness struck fast and hard. I was expecting it, but it was very strong. I also felt very exposed to passers-by there, which was a legitimate concern as I am fairly certain that it was illegal to camp there. It was a long night on the hard ground.

About 2am the wind started up. It was strong, and cold. Again, a tent would have been very useful. I wrestled with my sleeping bag to find a comfortable way to sleep (spoiler alert: there wasn't one). The sun finally came up at 7am, thank god.

It was a beautiful sunrise, but I didn't have much time to enjoy it because of the 50 km/h wind that was threatening to blow my pack covers away. The expedition elected to postpone breakfast until moving to a more hospitable location. More later, I’m in Sant Cugat now and gotta find a place to stay and reprovision.

Expenses, Day 2
McDonald's: 4.00
Fruit: .80
Bread: 1.20
Other food: 5.90
St. Cugat Hotel: 49.00
Total: 60.90
Trip Total: 70.36

Anyway, I learned last night why people don't camp on exposed mountaintops. The wind comes up and it gets fucking cold. Shelter is necessary, both for psychological and physiological reasons.

It was one of the only dry places, though -- 20 feet down the trail everything became moist again, and remained that way the whole day. I'm not sure why – dewfall? Rain?

I pushed my way through the brush to the crossroads I'd found the yesterday before doubling back to the fire tower. Bingo! GR6, the trail that goes straight to Montserrat. I think I've even walked part of it on my visit to the mountain months ago – the horizontal red stripe/white stripe painted on rocks and trees is the same.

The camino markers in this region of Spain are confusing. Over the course of the morning I noticed three distinct types: a rare but very official looking metal sign affixed to a wooden post (blue with a yellow shell and “Cami St. Jaume” on it), the red stripe/white stripe of the GR6 (not technically part of the camino, but at last count there are eight different paths from Barcelona to Montserrat), and the series of spray-painted yellow arrows that are the work of the “Amics dels Peregrinos del Camino de Santiago, Barcelona.” These are the signs that the nice middle-aged guy with the red hand fan and rhinestone reading glasses told me to follow last Wednesday at the “Amics” meeting.

I've learned a few things about the signage. When the usually parallel stripes show up crossed, it means don't go that way. The official-looking signs that keep weaving in and out of my path are used for a more bicycle-friendly camino, I think. And the crude yellow arrows are your best bet for a good trail, even though every once in a while the guy painting them screwed up and had to backtrack. They're the most numerous and avoid stupid stuff like climbing up and down wet cliff faces. I imagine a single dude walking down the path with a can of spray paint . . . some of them are in odd places, like the backs of signs and whatnot.

All of this goes out the window, of course, when you reach a town. There were a few GR6 stickers on lamposts after I crossed the border into St. Cugat, but they were almost apologetic and disappeared soon after. I had to go into town to find a map, but that's okay because I was able to get a credential stamp from the monastery there. There was some sort of street festival going on today (it's Saturday) around the monastery, with tent vendors, little sports contests, and kids everywhere.

I did pass one of the tile Camino markers on the street soon after that. These are much rarer than any of the other signs – it was only the second one that I've seen. It's a replacement for one of the normal sidewalk tiles, inscribed with the sign of the scallop shell (symbolically, Santiago is where the rays come together). As a practical guide, they are fairly useless, but it is nice to know that you're on the right track. I saw a third one on my way out of the city (past the suburban wasteland), but this was only on the way back into town after turning around.

I made it all the way out of Sant Cugat (past the big HP factory) but it was 3pm as I was leaving the city and I decided to turn around and stay here. I'm worried about my right ankle. Something right behind the knobby bit on the outside of my ankle really hurts whenever I lift my foot to step forward. There's no mark on the skin – it's a tendon thing. It isn't load bearing, either (although the pack doesn't help), as I can still walk just fine. It's just that eventually the shooting pains have me clenching my teeth every step. Sant Cugat is the last hotel before Montserrat, so I wanted a chance to rest my foot while I could.

It was a good idea; I didn't realize how many other parts of me were sore until I lay down on the bed. It was more expensive than I wanted it to be, but Sant Cugat doesn't seem to have anywhere cheap. I learned several tricks for dealing with my ankle today, but only after more than four hours of hiking.

My left foot is a trooper. Three more of him and I'd be a horse.

The other reason that I turned back is because my mind was tiring. The anxiety about my foot and about not really having any idea where I was going had started to wear me down, and I could feel loneliness and doubt begin to settle in again. Only two days in and I realize that preparation of the mind is the most important thing you can do for a trip like this. If the mind is strong, the body will follow.

And the mind is strengthening, overall, but it is early yet in the trip. Coelho is right – the obstacles presented to us are also the forces that push us to surmount those obstacles. Loneliness is the first challenge – I am truly, totally alone in a foreign land – but it is also the first marker on the path. It prompts the question, “Why am I here on the camino, willingly separating myself from the people I love?” Before I began, all I had was instinct. Now, the pain of separation also brings clarity to my thoughts. I am here to grapple with myself, to wrestle myself to the ground and refuse to yield until I know the secret. I am here to fight until I realize there is no enemy, and until in every action I am one with who I actually am. I’m here so that I never again have to worry about “Just being myself.” To do this, I need solitude – I need to be locked in the arena until one of us proves the victor.
I had a dream last night about writing a story; later, a few bits of dialogue bubbled to the surface. Our nameless protagonist is having a conversation with the devil.

Devil: Yeah, of course I'm the big man's favorite. Why else do you think he gave me such a special job?”

Protagonist: What do you mean?

Devil: Look, you know all that stuff about how you have to go through Jesus to reach our father? I mean, it's true, and JC is a nice enough guy with all his love stuff and whatever – but what they don't tell you is this: you've got to go through me, too.

He dropped his voice to a stage whisper and leaned forward.

Devil: We're all on the same side!

Protagonist: But how is that possible? I thought you and God were enemies?

Devil: Sure, we play it up a bit, but look – it doesn't mean much to give up something you don’t have the power to indulge in anyway. Righteousness looses its luster without sin – and who's in charge of sin?

He was all smiles.

Devil: This guy!

The camino should only get easier from here. Two, maybe three days to Montserrat.

The old part of Sant Cugat is nice – the monastery is built on the foundation of an old Roman fortress!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Welcome Back/Camino Entries 0 and 1

Hello everyone!

I'm back from my long hiatus, ready to begin blogging again. After a whirlwind of traveling and a brief visit home, I'm back aboard ship again, playing trumpet on the Crystal Symphony.

So what have I been doing all this time? Most of it was spent walking the Camino de Santiago. For those of you who don't know, the Camino de Santiago is one of three important pilgrimage paths in Europe. Although it has many starting points, all of the paths lead to Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of Saint James are kept. The trail has seen a resurgence in popularity since the end of the 20th century, due in part to a series of influential new books about the Camino, including Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage.

Regular readers of my blog know that I had been considering this trip for some time. I was motivated not by a specific interest in Christianity, but rather a more general urge to go in search of the self. As I found in one of my early journal entries on the road:

“I am here to grapple with myself, to wrestle myself to the ground and refuse to yield until I know the secret. I am here to fight until I realize there is no enemy, and until in every action I am one with who I actually am. So that never again do I have to worry about “just being myself.” To do this, I need solitude – I need to be locked in the arena until one of us proves the victor. That's why I am here.”

The Camino was many things. It was a trip to the fringes of society, where the normal rules are relaxed and something much older takes their place. It introduced me to drunks, doctors, bikers, beggars, businesspeople, movie makers, bartenders, farmers, hermits, and holy men, all with their own stories to tell. The path took me to the tops of mountains, along river valleys, across the endless meseta, and even to the depths of a cave. It was slow, repetitive, stressful, uncomfortable, slightly dangerous and even occasionally terrifying, yet it was also one of the happiest, healthiest, most productive stages of my life.

So now (as I go through my notebooks) I will be posting entries from the road. There will also be the occasional entry about ship life here on the Symphony – it is a very different ship from the others I have worked, and we are headed for Brazil during Carnival season so I am sure there will be stories to tell. I may even include some bits of writing and short stories that I finished while on the Camino, although they will take some polishing up first.

Today I’m posting the first two entries from my journal, Day 0 and Day 1. Welcome back, and enjoy!

Day 0, November 24th, 2011

This was my original start date, but things didn't work out that way. I left too many things to the last moment – storing my stuff, in particular. I could have left at 3pm, but that would only have left three hours of sunlight. Not enough.

So, another night in Sant Jordi Arago (the hostel in Barcelona). Not a bad thing, and only 15 euro. Sitting listening to someone play the blues on a guitar. A quiet night in the hostel.

This is the first time that I can remember when I've been out of reach of my horn. I have to keep reminding myself of Coelho's question, “What would you do if your personal history suddenly ceased to matter?” That's what I'm doing now.

These Spanish maps are going to be a pain to translate every night.

Day 1, November 25th, 2011

Expenses, Day 1
Lunch 5.21
Breakfast 4.25
Total: 9.46

It is amazing how far you can walk in a day.

I started this morning at the cathedral. My first credential stamp came at 10am when the sacristry opened. Sitting in the cathedral I tried to meditate or pray a little, but it was difficult with so many tourists always coming in and out. What I did finally feel was a strong yellow energy blasting up from the ground beneath the building. Human energy – and not just the holy feelings, either. The cathedral has been the focus point for emotions of all kinds, and although now it is sort of a hollow reminder I think it retains the residue of those emotions. It was energizing.

The nun who gave me my stamp was very nice, although I understood very little of what she said. Something about a winter pilgrimage being cold, and Santiago being very beautiful. I wish I could have said more in return – my small talk is bad enough in English, let alone Catalan.

The guidebook translation got me most of the way out of Barcelona – kind of a twisting path but through some nice neighborhoods – but as soon as I crossed the ring freeway it failed utterly. I followed a road from the map that parallels the impossible-to-find GR6, although there was a wrong turn that lost me an hour in there as well. The road seemed to meet the trail at one point on the map, so when I saw a trail on a bridge over the road I took a gamble and it paid off. Immediately the red stripe/white stripe markers of the GR6 showed up. By this time my right ankle was pretty sore, though. I've made it to an old fire tower on a ridge and that will be my camp tonight. Barcelona is laid out to my left and I can just see Montserrat looming to the right. Far away, and that's only the start. Beautiful, beautiful sunset.

This Gencat (Generalitat de Catalunya) guide is pretty useless. I walked seven hours today and made it about half the distance that it said I would. I'll be glad to be rid of it at Montserrat. Did not expect to be sleeping outside tonight . . . at least it isn't raining. Yet. Time to make a fire.