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!

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