Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exploring South Africa

Hi guys!

I've got another great travel blog to check out.  Chelsea's just arrived in Cape Town and has already managed to block traffic in a political rally and visit Nelson Mandela's jail cell.  Check it out!

I've added her to the blogroll at the side, but here's the URL if that link is just . . . too . . . far . . . away . . .


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Camino Entry 51

There it is!  1200+ km and 50 days later!  http://goo.gl/maps/DW2PB

Entry 51, January 14th, 2012

A street guitarist outside the cathedral was playing an old obscure standard – “You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To.”  Alright, universe, I can read the signs.

The sprint this morning was beautiful and surreal. It is not often that one finds oneself legging it through the forests of Spain in the dark, path lit by the full moon shining above through the mist. Even less often does this occur while in the company of three Korean men on the way to visit the tomb of a prophet's apostle.  Tolkein was right – you must be careful stepping out your front door, because who knows where you will end up.

We made five kilometers in the first hour, which is insane. Excitement was building as we passed through the old city. Finally we went down some steps past a bagpiper and – we were there!

There is a huge square in front of the cathedral, with a series of stones coming to a point. Kwang-sik turned and hugged me, weeping – I threw down my sticks and bag – and we all collapsed on the ground.

That moment – where I threw down my sticks – I will always remember as one of the best moments of my life. A moment with no cares, worries, thoughts. A moment of triumph, of connection with the center of my being. A moment of pure joy.

The Cathedral

We lay on the cold stones, looking up at the clouds and the spires of the cathedral. I started to laugh – the others joined in – and soon we were all laughing like madmen. “We're fucking crazy. We're all fucking crazy! We walked all the way here! We did it!”

Others looked on, with curiosity. Some took pictures. We didn't care. It isn't often that you get to take part in a thousand-year-old tradition.

See how the stones trace the starburst/shell symbol of the camino on the ground?

The cathedral is neither the largest nor the most beautiful I have seen, but it is the quirkiest. Like the Sagrada Familia, it is unlike any other. Ornate hardy begins to describe it. Of particular note are the giant carved angels holding the huge golden baroque pavilion over St. James's tomb.

The tomb itself is buried beneath the altar. A viewing chamber is accessible by a small set of steps. The sepulchre is of pure silver – some real “Raiders of the Lost Ark” shit – although St. James seems to have been very short.

The cathedral has aged gracefully over the past 800 years. I wonder how many pilgrims have climbed the steps to the image of St. James. They're are worn with the passage of tens of thousands of feet . . . there are deep grooves in the stone. It reminds me of Montserrat.

Louise visited Santiago from Vigo one time. She said that she saw some pilgrims and “they were so happy!” This is a perfect description of us. During the “meet and greet” in mass, all the pilgrims were in the aisles hugging each other. Such a happy, good way to live. If there is an afterlife, I hope it is like this. The locals think we are strange but wish that they could join in.

Marten leaves for Finisterra tomorrow. I will likely never see him again. Our exchange:

See you later, Alligator.”

After a while, Crocodile.”

Okey-dokey, Artichokey.” I'd never heard this before.

How strange it is to be anything at all.


Having paid my respects to Santiago, a great weariness has settled over me. The goal which has animated my bones and muscles for so long is fulfilled, and that power has left my body. 46 days of travel have hit me all at once like a sack of bricks. Tomorrow will be a good day for rest.

We went to a good restaurant in the old town for dinner, a place called Cafe Casino. It's been around since 1873, a high ceilinged, wood-paneled room with strange carvings all around. There are lots of naked people (none of them particularly beautiful) and a bunch of grumpy cherubs fighting dragons . Leaning back in our old leather armchairs, we were “satisfied” as Chan Hee would say.

I opened up my facebook for the first time since Barcelona. Lots of love to be found.

Expenses, Day 51
Donations: 5.00
Internet: 5.00
Albergue (2 nights): 20.00
Total: 30.00
Trip Total: 1183.15

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Camino Entry 50

Our last albergue before Compostela: http://goo.gl/maps/B9rma

Entry 50, January 13th, 2012

Expenses, Day 50
Coffee + Beer: 3.00
Chocolate: .90
Bakery: .90
Celebratory Dinner (my treat): 49.90
Albergue Perdouzo: 5.00
Total: 59.70
Trip Total: 1153.14

Wow, I just made a joke in Spanish. What. Is. My. Life?

The Master had his hands full tonight . . . my bunk-neighbor, a Spaniard named Daniel, has only been walking four days and has a blister covering half his foot (and they're big feet – US 14). Master did what he could, but he told him to walk to Santiago and then go to the hospital!!

This operation involved much translation: Master → Kwang-sik → Cleber → Daniel.

We ran into Cleber again at the end of the day – he was so happy to see us and we were so happy to see him. He brought word of Marten and the Italian – they are in Compostela on day 50. 131 days for Marten! I am glad to hear that he made it. More than four months! I hope to see him again – after meeting by chance in Burgos, I think he ran ahead to escape the crowd.

Today was again beautiful. I learned that this is very, very unusual for Galicia, but I will take the good weather if we can get it. It was like spring in Michigan – soft breezes, mud, windows open and curtains waving, fresh sweet grass. I miss home so much!

Tomorrow everything changes again. I find it hard to believe. Tomorrow I emerge from my self-imposed communications blackout back into a world where I have a personal history. That's one of the things that the camino is – a real world answer to Coelho's thought experiment: “What if one day your personal history was totally erased?” Tomorrow I am again looking for work, and I begin asking myself at the end of the day, “What have I accomplished?” This is never a question on the camino.

This may have been the simplest fifty days of my life. I hope not. I hope to take this calm, this mindfulness, and this simplicity of purpose back to my normal life (not that I have much of a normal life after 11 months abroad). I think I will, although not completely I imagine.

And as much as I have loved the camino and the people on it, it is time to finish. The meaningful path is the path of action, and I have many many actions to get to. But these will be fleshed out during the trip to Finisterra.

Alright. Sleep now, for the sprint tomorrow morning! 20Km to go before noon mass!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Camino Entry 49

Where am I?  Beautiful Galicia . . . http://goo.gl/maps/ACcYV

Entry 49, January 12th, 2012

Sitting at the border of A Coruña and Lugo right now with Master waiting for the other two. Another magnificent, beautiful day, like Michigan in fall or early spring. A cool, soft breeze from the North, crunch leaves underfoot, and slanted silver light through the old forests.

Kwang-sik and I found a strange spot this morning. A stand of pine trees had been covered in ice in the night (I guess Galicia has freezing fog as well) and the sun had just struck it for the first time today. The melting ice resulted in a localized rain storm – it was pouring down for about ten feet, while totally clear on either side. “Holy ground?” we joked.

Kwang-sik walks with both great faith and great love. This is why he is the fastest and strongest of all of us, despite not having proper shoes. He undertook the camino both because of strong faith and because he is trying to decide if now is the time to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Great faith and great love. His actions come from a place beyond determination; like Lao Tzu said, “They flow from the core of his being.”

The Master also walks with these things. He came to the camino without speaking a single work of Spanish or of English (!), having only great faith that things would work out. And he has great love, both for us (he treats us as his own children) and for his family (he showed me a picture of his son, who is 27 and in the army). This is why he is so strong.

What do I walk with? Great love, certainly. My love for family and friends has only grown and deepened since I've been away. Or rather, I've only learned how to settle deeper and deeper into it – it already exists. And it gives me strength – when I am at my most tired, stressed, and fearful, I naturally turn to the faces of those I love most.

I don't know if I am walking with faith, although I suppose I am. As always, my faith is in humankind's incredible potential, for both good and evil. Perhaps this is why I am a bit weaker than Kwang-sik and Master. But I am learning to have faith in myself, bit by bit, and so I am getting stronger.


I talked a bit with Kwang-sik about his situation. It isn't that he's trying to marry her, so much as he knows that something has to change in their relationship one way or another . . . and he is trying to decide which way that is. He is free-spirited and she is very much about going to work and the regimented lifestyle. She is afraid of losing him, which is why he compromised and keeps in contact with her (at first he was going to do the camino with no phone). Personally I think she will have to grow beyond that fear if their relationship is going to work, but Kwang-sik sees it differently. “With the camino, I've thought all this time that she was being selfish; but today, I realized that maybe I am being selfish.”

He reminds me of myself – not caring much for what one is supposed to do, but dedicated and hardworking at what one decides to do. A free spirit, but not a wanderer. This is why we get along so well, and I think this is why I've been compelled to follow the Koreans. I just like the guys, even if can communicate very little on the superficial layer. I can tell subconsciously that they are beautiful souls. They need very little from anyone and are quite strong, gentle, and calm.

There is a poster of an old engraving here in the albergue. It shows a procession of pilgrims in antiquity – hundreds and hundreds of them.

Tomorrow is my last normal day. Wtf.

Expenses, Day 49
Dinner Menú: 11.00
Albergue (Melide): 5.00
Total: 16.00
Trip Total: 1093.44

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Camino Entry 48

Where am I?  Crossing the bridge into Portomarín http://goo.gl/maps/VylBd

Here's one of the pilgrim cafes that are getting more numerous as we approach Santiago de Compostela.  The infrastructure makes this such a different camino than the one in Cataluña . . .http://goo.gl/maps/zRxBh

Entry 48, January 11th, 2012

Expenses, Day 48
Breakfast: 2.40
Coffee: 1.20
Provisions: 5.00
Cookies (yum!): 2.00
Anchovies: 2.00
Albergue (Gonzar): 5.00
Total: 17.60
Trip Total: 1077.44

About 30 kilometers today. It felt long, and the last few kilometers my right shin hurt like the left did in Puenta la Reina. If it is the same injury then I will have to let the Koreans go. The plan is 32km, 35km, 20km, but if I am injured I will not be able to keep pace.

More rolling farmland today – a mosaic of meadows and low stone walls. Galicia is more “earthy” than the other parts of Spain so far – everywhere you look it is encroaching on the trees, walls, and buildings. It is as if there is a wild green forest underground waiting to burst through, restrained only by the weight of the concrete buildings.

Galicia is wet. Descending into the valley where Portomarín is located, I encountered mist that was if anything thicker than any before. Walking through the wild forest and the mist it felt as if I was in the jungle. Dagobah, maybe.

Here's something I've been meaning to write. It's important. I've believed for a long time there is a fundamental level of isolation between people, as we can never know what is in anyone else's mind. Lately I've realized that there is a countering force as well, balancing it out. Even though we never truly know each other's minds, we are all on the same path together. We all share in the same set of experiences – the universal human condition. It's one of the four rules: no pilgrim is alone. And that's not something to sneeze at.

Rule #5 is this: Sometimes there are mountains. Discussion to follow.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Camino Entry 47

Where am I?  One of my favorite pictures so far: http://goo.gl/maps/b5gGq

(You can follow the blue dots on google maps to track the trail)

Entry 47, January 10th, 2012

Warm today. The wind turned around to the South in the night, we could hear it creaking in the rafters.

More Korean food ripping my face off for breakfast . . . so good. Now we're drinking coffee at a tiny house/bar/cafe/albergue in the hills. The old woman made us coffee while her adult son brings in firewood for the day. The kitchen door is open – there is a wood stove for cooking. Old school.


Holy shit, I walked 40 kilometers today. I took the alternate long path to Samos, a monastery to the South of the camino. It added about 5km to my walk, but Rosa recommended it to me and my gut says keep walking with the Koreans, so I had to catch up with them after seeing it.

It was a beautiful walk. The paths were one until Triacastela, coming down the mountain. We could see tomorrow's walk. From there the paths split – I took the left fork. Between Tricastillo and Samos were several hours where the path followed the Sarria river. Day three of fucking beautiful; a canopy of bare trees above a path clinging to the valley wall, rough stone blocks on one side of the dirt ruts and Spanish moss on the other. On the valley floor they were flooding the pastures via sluices – the sweet green grass glittered silver in the cold winter sunlight. Small villages everywhere – wood smoke, slate roofs dripping with frostmelt, the smell of mud and wet hay.

The city of Samos had a large, ornate monastery, and long parks stretched out along the river. A few km later I had a conversation with some card players on a hill and it left me smiling for the next several kilometers. I arrived at the edge of Sarria just as dark was becoming truly night, having walked from first light to last light. Of course, the last thing to face before the albergue on my 40km day was a huge staircase . . .

More pilgrims. Oscar, a Spaniard, and Anna, a Finn. Cleber is less than a day ahead. Now pardon me while I go sleep the sleep of the dead.

Expenses, Day 47
Provisions: 5.00
Albergue Sarria: 5.00
Menú: 10.00
Total: 20.00
Trip Total: 1059.84

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Camino Entry 46

Coming into the Albergue: http://goo.gl/maps/J94lZ

Entry 46, January 9th, 2012

Expenses, Day 46
Coffee: 1.35
Chocolate: 1.20
Albergue: 5.00
Provision: 2.60
Total: 10.10
Trip Total: 1039.84

New day, new challenges.

I am still traveling with the three Koreans, although we walk at different paces. We topped O Cebreiro today, the last tall peak before Santiago. Could not have hoped for better weather – bright and clear all day. It was spectacular climbing through the hills – some real “Sound of Music” shit.

A view from O Cebreiro

We arrived at the albergue in a village named simply "Hospital" (about 7 or 9 km from Cebreiro) just as the sun was setting. It is a beautiful albergue – another refurbished old building, put together for the 2010 holy year. Hot showers, good heating . . . The Master was excited to make dinner, as it was his turn and we had stopped at a little general store/bar/boarding house earlier on the ridge. It is a good thing we did, everything is closed here.

We investigated the kitchen. Ultra-modern style, electric range, big cupboards . . that were all empty! The hospitalera pointed to the sign: “Use of the kitchen (without utensils).” Nothing to cook in! Kwang Sik: “Is it just for decoration?”

Luckily the two Columbians (los Columbianos) have a pot and pan set. We borrowed it from them (what nice guys) . . . the rice is cooking right now, and the chopped onions, potatos, and carrots will go next, with some garlic and magic Korean spices that Master pulled from his endless supply. Mental note: bring spices next time backpacking.

Updates to follow.


This swiss army knife was one of my best purchases in Barcelona, right up there with good boots and a good sleeping bag. So for hiking, make sure you have:

  1. Boots that fit.
  2. Warm bag.
  3. Good knife.

The rice is done, but we need the pot for the vegetables now. So, we have poured the rice onto a sheet of plastic wrap in the center of the table.

This is the real Menú Peregrino! None of that tourist bullshit! Wooooo those Korean spices smell good . . . though it might also rip my face off.


I am on fire! And it is so good! We started with the pot of soup in the center and the pile of rice nearby. As we devoured the food with slices of seaweed, the piles got small enough to poor the rice into the pot of soup, where it soaked up the juices. I can't describe how satisfying it was. Now we're bolting down some sausages we bought as well, and we'll finish off my chocolate for dessert.

What a silly albergue . . . no pots . . .

A lady took a picture of me today in Vega de Valcarce. We spoke a little in Spanish – she and her elderly father are tourists here, I think. She took a picture of he and I together – a real live pilgrim! How lucky! Hahaha.

She said I will eat well in Galicia. I hope so.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Camino Entry 45

The google maps van caught a few pilgrims on the road: http://goo.gl/maps/EWvqt

Here's a section of the valley near Trabadelo.  That's the camino on the left: http://goo.gl/maps/Dp51C

Entry 45, January 8th, 2012

We got a little lost coming out of Ponferrada. Now I think we're on the old camino, a long straight avenue lined with shops for 12km to Cacabelos. This reminds me of camino rule #5: sometimes there are mountains.  The corollary is that sometimes there are not mountains . . . the point is that at times the camino is extraordinary and at times it is as ordinary as a shopping mall.  The Buddha is in the fumes of a motorcycle engine as surely as it is in the breeze on top of a mountain.

We” is the the Master and me; an interesting duo.  Not much talking today, since he doesn't speak English or Spanish.


12:30 and we are in Cacabelos – the Master walks a strong pace even though he has a shorter stride (and thirty more years!) than I do. I can keep up just fine, but only because of 45 days on the road.

It wasn't all shops, thank goodness. There was some farmland as well. Still very foggy, and it will probably remain so for the rest of the day. We don't start climbing again until tomorrow.

Haha, the Master is not letting me pay for anything. Let's see if I can get dinner . . .

Expenses, Day 45
Albergue: 6.00
Dinner + Breakfast shopping: 10.40
Total: 16.40
Trip Total: 1029.74

34 kilometers today. Whew! I feel good. It was not rushed – the terrain was just so perfect out of Ponferrada that it would have been a shame not to spend the entire day out in it. After Villafranca de Bierza in particular it was very nice – we've followed a river up the valley for more than 10km now. It is very much like West Virginia in late fall – naked trees dripping in the mist and broken blocks of granite lying in the riverbed. The old road, the camino, the highway, and the river are all wound together. The freeway feels like a ponderous dinosaur, slowly pushing through the terrain and paying us no heed due to our tiny size.

We're on the edge of the León province now. Kwang-sik and Wan Woo were supposed to show up here, but I don't know where they are. Kwang-sik's backpack is here and Won Woo has been texting Master, but that's all I know. Master says we meet here at 9.

Two Columbian guys have joined us here, Javier and (can't remember). They've lived in Ponferrada for the past two years working in a wind turbine factory, but business is slow right now. It's their first day.

Nice albergue, nice little town hidden in the mountains . . . I'm ready to get some decent sleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Camino Entry 44

The Templar castle in Ponferrada: http://goo.gl/maps/T97No

Entry 44, January 7th, 2012

I forgot to mention the roscón yesterday. Ernesto bought a pair of these holiday cakes for us because it was king's day and he misses his family. They're large and round with a hole in the center and are only baked once a year for Reyes. There is a toy baked into each one as well – they were delicious as we ate them in the Korean woman's tiny sitting room.

Expenses, Day 44
Coffee: 2.00
Provision: 2.30
Albergue San Nicolás de Flüe (Ponferrada): 5.00
Provision: 1.83
Menú: 10.00
Breakfast and Chocolate: 5.00
Laundry: 1.00
Internet: .50
Total: 27.63
Trip Total: 1013.34

I keep saying this, but these past two days have been some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

Leaving Foncebadon (after saying goodbye to Ernesto and Chan Hee) I was right below the cloud level. The sun rose and I saw a reverse sunrise as it ascended into the mist. It was strange walking through the clouds with everything backlit as if with a red spotlight.

Is Foncebadon where Coelho fought the dog? I can't remember. (note: it is)

I reached the Cruz de Ferro shortly afterward. It is a small iron cross mounted atop a huge wooden pillar around seven meters tall, located at the highest point I will see on the Camino Frances (more than 1500 meters in elevation). Traditionally pilgrims bring a stone in their bag, representing sins and attachments, to the Cruz de Ferro and leave it there as a symbol of casting off these weights. There is a huge pile of stones, mementos, pictures, ribbons and such around the base of the pillar. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of stones – some of them massive! My companions have been busy.

I climbed the pile, hand over hand, until I could touch the pillar. Removing my own stone, I considered it for a moment. It came to me on the Camino Aragonés, a rough block of sandstone that sits nicely in my palm. I let it fall and it was swallowed by the rest.

One last little detail about the albergue in Foncebadon before I forget. On the mantle above the excellent fireplace and mixed in with the Buddhas, baby Jesuses, and Krishnas was a somber Obi-wan Kenobi. Epic win.

The rest of the day was spent on slender paths winding through the hills. Mist was pouring off the mountains in the wet East wind. I saw two other ruined villages, one which was called Manjarín (pop. 1) and had an albergue of sorts. It looked interesting, but the owner was busy and didn't want me around. Stuttering generator, ramshackle buildings, downspout made of bottled waters cut in half.

Later in the afternoon we did start to come across little villages fueled by tourism. Kwang-sik said that we made 1000m of downward elevation today, all of it rough, uneven, and rocky. Eventually I made it out of the mountains and into the valley – back into the thick clouds. Above, everything was bright and sparkling, but below it was like being stuck in a dream sequence. Visibility was fifty feet, maximum.

We took Rosa to dinner since she flies back to Italy tomorrow. A bit too much wine . . . tomorrow is Sunday and so went grocery shopping after dinner. Standing in the store, a little drunk, smelling of wine and old sweat, spattered with mud and 44 days unshaven, I realized that I was barely one step above the homeless. The camino truly is a lesson in humility.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Camino Entry 43

No street view today, because I'm up in the mountains:  http://goo.gl/maps/szT0c

Monastery ruins in Foncebadon.
Entry 43, January 6th, 2012

Very beautiful country today. We're climbing up through the foothills to the Cruz de Ferro. A bit stony, but nothing as bad as the Camino Catalán.

Ernesto was really hurting today. He ended the day yesterday with two huge new blisters on the outside of his right heel. He was slow coming out of the cafe today after 8km, and so I decided to walk with him for the rest of the day. He needed someone to walk with to keep his mind off of the pain and to give him energy – he is such a talkative, social person that it powers him. I was glad that I could give him that.

He barely made it to Foncebadon. It is a beautiful little half-ruined village up in the mountains. He will take a day off tomorrow along with Chan Hee, while Master, Kwang-sik, Wan Woo, and Rosa push onward. I will go on as well, but likely at a slower pace than the remaining Koreans.

The albergue is lovely. Two stories, stone, with a small and very hot fireplace. They have a little shop, practice yoga, and make their own yogurt and honey (which has my stomach a little bit upset). It will be a nice place to take a day off, but my gut tells me to keep going. Monte Irago is a must-revisit if I ever do this again.
The albergue in Foncebadon, and one of the only inhabited buildings.
Time to walk my own pace.

I picked up a book at random from the shelf – “Women, food, and God,” about dealing with eating disorders. The sentence that stuck with me is “The way we deal with food is how we deal with life.” I always eat too fast and for comfort – and I'm too focused on arriving in Santiago. From now on I practice eating the way I want to walk.

Enlightenment is following one thing all the way through to the end.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Dieting was like praying . . . surely there must be a reward for those who know how horrible they are. And precisely because dieting and bingeing were the main ways that I was expressing my despair, the consequences of not dieting or bingeing were staggering. Making the decisions to stop dieting was like committing heresy, like breaking a vow that was never supposed to be broken.” pg. 23.

This is how I feel/felt about practicing music, and this is what I must fix to be happy.

She talks about the desire to bolt – I felt that today. The desire to avoid being fully alive, to escape the current moment. I was angry. I didn't want to be on the camino. All I wanted was a big dinner! Ha. No more of this. From now on I take that feeling and revel in it, embrace the anger like how I stood on the hilltop on the meseta. I am supposed to feel!  It is internal weather. And next time I am angry at the camino, I will fucking hate it as hard as I can!

Expenses, Day 43
Albergue: 6.00
Dinner: 8.00
Total: 14.00
Trip Total: 985.71

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Camino Entry 42

Today's google street view, headed across the famous bridge in Hospital de Órbigo: http://goo.gl/maps/8Pld7

Entry 42, January 5th, 2012

We passed a legit jousting pitch this morning. “1st weekends in June (1° fin de semana de Junio)” say the sugar packets here in the cafe in Hospital de Órbigo. I am reminded of Arthur watching the jousts as a boy in “The Once and Future King.” This is also the town with the bridge with 19 arches.

The jousting pitch, and the bridge with 19 arches.

One of the common sights for the last 100km or so have been small rooms and houses dug out of grass hillocks. Most look like simple storage sheds but some are clearly residences, with a few windows and chimneys. Hobbit holes?

León has been settled as a city since 910, but it existed as a Roman military fort since the first century.

The path was very nice today (if a bit rocky), tracing through forest and scrubland. Climbing a hill, I came upon a small stand by the side of the camino called “La Casa de los Dioses,” and decorated with a large red heart. It is run by a Catalan man named David who sleeps in a lean-to nearby and mans the post year-round. He walked the camino from Cataluñya and back before deciding to serve the pilgrims with organic juice, bread, water, and peanut butter (he doesn't usually get the peanut butter, but he went into Astorga yesterday and had an intuition that an American would visit (me)). Everything is free, and he takes donations to pay for supplies and eventually to buy the nearby barn for a meditation center and pilgrim shelter.

Now that is a liberated lifestyle. He calls his little spot “an oasis.”

A beautiful soul, but not the life that I want to lead. I am more complex than that, for better and for worse.

Tonight we are in Astorga, the traditional resting point before crossing the mountains, and truly the end of the meseta. Perhaps we arrive on the 14th or 15th in Santiago.

Expenses, Day 42

Breakfast: 2.30
Pastries: 2.50
Provison: 4.37
Oasis: 3.00
Tomorrow's provision: 2.50
Korean albergue: 6.00
Menú: 8.50
Total: 29.17
Trip Total: 971.81

It is the eve of Reyes, the three kings' arrival to visit the baby Jesus. The kids all get their presents tomorrow and so they are bouncing off the walls with excitement. Instead of sitting on Santa's lap, they sit on one of the three kings', who have a platform set up in the middle of Astorga. The whole town is turned out for the festivities, and tomorrow is a holiday with barbecues and everything. I think the symbolism makes more sense this way than back home.

Christmas is a lovely time to visit Spain, even if everything is closed.

Those with the most faith walk the fastest. Kwang-sik, who has strong faith, can thrown down 40kms a day, no problem.

The Spanish are also fantastic walkers. My pace is comparatively slow, but I am strong on hills and rough terrain. Not a sprinter.

Camino Entry 41

Today's street view:  http://goo.gl/maps/VSddq

This is the bar where I asked directions by scribbling Spanish phrases in my notebook.  Damn oath of silence . . . they sent me down the road to your right.

Entry 41, January 4th, 2012

¿Como voy a San Martino del Camino?

No puedo hablar hoy.


The above are my side of a conversation with a bartender in a little town outside San Martin del Camino, asking for directions. I'll get to that in a minute.

The Albergue in San Martino del Camino.  A chilly evening with no heat . . .

A few notes about the cathedral before I forget (I went back this morning before leaving León). There are a series of sculptures on the front, including a set of demon heads devouring the damned whole and spitting them out into vats of boiling oil. Yikes!

Also, the cathedral has two huge Gothic bell towers in the style of Notre Dame, but they are disconnected from the central nave, allowing far more internal surface area to be stained glass. An ingenious move.

Also, the count's palace (designed by Gaudí) is a subtle, restrained masterpiece. The windows increase in size as you move down the building, and the stone changes colors whenever the windows change size. It is a very small change, though – from light gray to dark gray at the bottom. Much different from his crazy stuff in Barcelona, and yet I can still see his touch. The way Gaudí paints with the colors of stone really captures the eye.

It took most of the morning to leave León. The usual slog through cheap housing, the industy and warehouses, and finally through freeway interchanges and all the in-between forgotten places. Places where damaged lawn chairs come to die, and where the municipal authority stores spare manhole covers. I took the alternate path, which was a good choice as it quickly left the freeway and made it into very quiet country. It was a good complement to today's oath of silence.

I kept the oath (so far, at least). A few observations:

I was happy all day. I don't know why, but the one who does not speak is loving and content. I wanted to smile at everyone and tell them with my eyes how genuinely I appreciated it when they helped me. In fact, my eyes have never felt quiet so expressive and twinkling. Even when I thought of people that made me angry it brought a smile to my face.

People treated me differently. A little bit like the slow cousin – even my compatriots on the road who know me very well. When you don't talk, people forget that you still understand. Also, they started to try to communicate with me non-verbally as well, even though I was certainly not deaf. I wonder if we have a subconscious urge to adopt the mannerisms of those we communicate with to facilitate communication?

I got lost at one point. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to be lost when you've taken an oath of silence? Hence my conversation with the bartender earlier.

It would be interesting to take one of these oaths for a longer period. I wonder what sort of music a person who never spoke would make?

Ernesto said something the other day that really hit home. I had just told him the story about _____, and mentioned that I was thinking of looking her up when I got home.

Why?” he said. “What are you trying to accomplish with that?”

Why am I indeed . . . one of the reasons that I came on the camino was that is was the only thing that interested me more than her. Now I am full of ideas, all of them more important than her, and she is suddenly less attractive.

Is this finally what I meant when I said that I could only contact her again when I didn't care about contacting her anymore? It doesn't feel like I expected, but it is good to be free.

To be honest, I will probably throw something her way when I get back, but I am not going to put much into it. There is more important work to be done!

Expenses, Day 41

Breakfast + lunch pastry: 10.00
Albergue Municipal San Martino del Camino: 4.00
Dinner: 8.00
Total: 22.00
Trip Total: 942.64

Song: “Nosotros”

Leaving a city (where I considered sleeping when I was lost) on the alternate path, I saw a shepherd with his sheep. This has always been a good sign on the camino – one with mixed meanings. It is a good sign, because it means that I am going the right way, but it is also sobering because it usually means that I am about to be challenged. Sure enough, I soon became unsure as to if I was heading the right way – the same demon arose to do battle that I defeated on San Juan de la Peña. I defeated him again, and after asking directions I found I was heading exactly the right way. I saw another shepherd there. Santiago smiles.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Camino Entry 40

Today's google map (check it out, the cathedral is gorgeous): http://goo.gl/maps/IihLG

Entry 40, Januray 3rd, 2012

A short day today, only 12km to León. The municipal albergue here is huge – 140 beds. Since we were early, we took some time to walk to the city. They were just opening the cathedral as we walked up.

I came on the camino for transformative experiences. Stepping into the cathedral in León was one of them. I don't know what it was, but I could feel the stones in my foundation shift. I've been searching for “What next?” in my life, and now I know. Whatever I do next, it must be fighting the good fight. That is the answer.

How? I don't know. But I have another piece of the puzzle. Just like last time, on the Ebro plain when I said, “I don't have anything figured out, and it pisses me off!” the realization seems very simple and obvious, but it is only in making it that everything seems that way. I suspect most important realizations are like that – so obvious that afterward you cannot imagine not knowing what you've learned.

I felt the desire to pray, but there was nowhere to sit and I was too scared to draw attention to myself. Instead I found myself repeating in my head, “I don't know what you are, but I am on my knees in front of you.”

Which is strange, as I usually shy away from the harsh, obedience-demanding vision of God. Am I too afraid to consider the possibility? Or maybe faith is what remains when fear has left the body – if I am no longer afraid of what will happen to me in life, I have surrendered my will and desire to control what is to . . . something? Something else?

My whole life I have had a powerful aversion to overt obedience – not in the small sense, but in the large sense. As I grow, I am getting less afraid and more capable of acting on that aversion (fear used to keep me in line). Perhaps it is time to question that obedience?

Two stories come to mind. The first is Coelho raising the cross when Petreus orders him to. That chapter of “The Alchemist” is titled merely “obedience,” and ends with the cross up and very little discussion. I am unsure what lesson to take from it.

The other story is the moment in Siddhartha after he leaves the Buddha . . . Siddhartha decides to make a study of himself with no more teachers. This feels like the path I want to follow. Where is the obedience there?

Anyway. I finally continued around the inside of the cathedral. It was beautiful in the late afternoon light – an orange glow suffused the warm stone. Similar in design, layout, and style to Notre Dame, it is lighter and in my mind preferable. More than half of the surface area is glass – gothic architecture truly is all about light! I love it.

It was looking at the stories in the stained glass windows that gave me the clue to decipher the onrush of feeling that I had felt. I belong in this company – the people trying to figure “it” out. The tales of blood and sweat and adventures and holy men . . . stories of distant lands and kings and the quest. I am one of them deep in my soul and I know the true nature of the stories they tell. I am a warrior of the light and I must fight the good fight. That is the second step of clarity.

How? I don't know, but that's okay. Coming to peace with the slow progress of the camino and coming to peace with the fact that no, I don't have anything figured out, are linked somehow and may even be one and the same. The world is different now than it was then. I do not know the way . . . but as the drunk Catalan man in Abrera said, there is no camino but the one we walk, right?

Obedience to the path that we walk? Is that what this means? Obedience to the self? Not to some faceless deity, but to something greater – the self? I don't know.

I don't know why I like cathedrals so much. I went to mass after my moment and the only thing that it told me was that it is certainly not the Catholic faith that anchors my love of churches. Somehow I feel that Christ thought the resurrection would have been a bigger deal than his crucifixion . . . I mean, everybody dies, right? Very few come back to life. And eating his flesh and drinking his blood? What creepy symbolism. It is like the buildings existed beforehand and the church found them and took them over.

And I wouldn't call myself Christian, because that would require conversion. What is there to convert? I am already whole and always have been. I do not have the power to change parts of myself at will, and so certainly no one else does. Especially not by dunking me in a river.

One could argue that by repeated habit, we can change ourselves. Ah, but who holds us to that habit? A part of ourselves that already exists.

I feel like I have a church in my heart. I can almost feel it standing strong inside. A simple, tall, stone room, worn smooth and warm. My memories form stories in the stained glass. I kneel in the center. But I know that the windows, roof, and walls could be torn away and the strong center would remain. Wash away the foundations, leave me falling through space with no body, and I still remain, a burning flame in the center. A single candle in a church; it is me.

The church I see in my mind is the cathedral in León.

Oath of silence tomorrow. Lots to think about.

Chan Hee is listening to Sonny Rollins on her iPhone. Holy shit I love bebop.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Camino Entry 39

Where am I today?  Puente de Villarente:  


If you look closely under the green El Corte Ingles sign, you can see a blue pilgrim sign with an arrow underneath.  Turn the camera right and there's a yellow arrow painted on the asphalt on the shoulder, right next to the sidewalk.

Entry 39, January 2nd, 2012

I don't know how I am always the last one awake and the first one ready to go in the morning (except for the Master, of course).

Rosa's pasta was delicious, but I think I left most of it in the toilet last night. I swear that I sat down and just emptied my entire digestive tract like opening a valve. There was a sucking sound at the back of my throat and a whirlpool. Muddy butt doesn't even begin to describe it.

Tunnel graffiti:

Peace: It does not mean to be in a place with no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”


Lower intestine continues to be a problem. I am fertilizing the fields of Northern Spain. Unpleasant.


In a bar in Reliego. The place has character and is rightly featured in many guides to the camino. Flags of all sorts decorate the interior, and pilgrims have left grafitti on every square inch of the plastered walls (the other walls are mud). The owner has a neat mustache and soul patch on a nicely triangular face that is topped off with a beret that matches his beard. Salsa music plays in the background . . . love that horn sound! Bar “La Torre.”

He just put on “A Change is Gonna Come.”

It's too hard livin'/
But I'm afraid to die.”

Damn I miss home. No one else here understands . . . “oh, yeah, it's nice.” No, no, no you don't get it. The blues! The blues! My home!


I'm sitting in the albergue in Puenta de Villarente listening to Ursula and Frank the Scot talking. They've both traveled so much! I underestimated Frank.

He built his own boat when he retired and sailed with his wife from Scotland. Scotland, Ireland, La Coruña, Lisbon, the Canary Islands . . . eight years later he was in Singapore and the wife went back to Scotland. Oh, and he knows Slocum's book, of course. Since then he's continued sailing. 1998 to now, jeez.

So add another thing to my list of stuff to do! Haha because I don't have enough already.

He's telling a story about a horse race down the volcano in Galapagos. Damn.

Expenses, Day 39
Albergue San Pelayo, in Puente de Villarente: 10.00
Dinner: 10.00
Laundry: 4.50
Total: 24.50
Trip Total: 901.64

The End of notebook 2

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Camino Entry 38

Entry 38, January 1st 2012

Around twenty of us in the albergue tonight. It is a legitimate adobe building, heated with twin wood stoves. Recently built but very old school. Foggy day all day today.

Rosa made dinner for the thirteen of us who decided to pool our resources. It was good, and there was such good feeling around the table. Many different languages – Frank, the old Scottish guy, is the 2nd native English speaker on the camino so far besides myself.

Expenses, Day 38
New Credential (the old one is full)l: 5.00
Albergue Donation: 5.00
Total: 10.00
Trip Total: 877.14

I think I am learning to relax and allow my progress to be what it is. Learning to enjoy each day instead of focusing on arriving or what I will do when I get home.

I suspect that this is just as important as the lesson I learned on the first half of the camino, if much less dramatic.

So much laughter now at the table, as the two old hospitaleros (volunteers) sit and drink wine. One of them has climbed Mount Everest and has a picture with Martin Sheen. Not on Everest.

Stomach is on and off.

A bit from a peom in the albergue:

. . . the force that draws me to itself,
Only the one above can know!”

I saw Marten today in the albergue! He's traveling with a couple Italians (with whom he can't speak). One of them, a massive shy fellow with a huge beard, is named Conan and is from the North of Italy.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Camino Entry 36, 37

Where am I today?  Calzadilla de Cuesas . . . or the middle of nowhere.  Welcome to the meseta, where there is no google street view.  Pictures instead:

Entry 36, December 30th, 2011

I do not feel well today. Neither does Ernesto. We're calling it quits at 18km.

Expenses, Day 36

Albergue, Dinner, Breakfast (Calzadilla de Cuesas): 19.50
Internet: 1.00
Total: 20.50
Trip total: 822.41

Entry 37, December 31st, 2011

I was violently ill last night. I'd been fighting some sort of intestinal bug on and off for several days – last night it moved up to my stomach. Finally I made myself vomit before dinner, hoping that it was just indigestion, but I was unable to eat more than a bite or two of lentils. At this point I began shivering uncontrollably and the other members of the group began to notice that I was ill.

I was content lying on my bunk with a bunch of blankets and the trash can, but Chan Hee appeared over me.  The Master had an idea to solve my problem.  Apparently there is a Korean folk technique for dealing with stomach sickness, but she warned me that it involved needles. I didn't care at this point, and our group motto is “Master says, we do,” after all . . .

Which is how I found myself sitting in an old plastic deck chair in the center of the room wrapped in blankets with four Koreans buzzing around me. The master took my hands, feeling how cold they were to determine where the problem was. He manipulated the pressure points between thumb and first fingers, which felt good, and then he and Kwang-sik began beating violently on my back.

At this point they told me not to look. I closed my eyes, feeling slightly apprehensive as Michael (Kwang-sik's Western name) was humming tension music under his breath, but mostly just too sick to care. The striking moved down my right arm very quickly, and I felt a rubber band wrapped around the base of my thumb. There was a sharp pain, left of the nail, and I felt the Master squeezing out a few drops of blood before covering the spot with a tissue.

The pounding began again on my back. I looked around – the action had attracted quite an audience. Ernesto: “I've never seen an exorcism before.” Petra, our skeptical German hospitalera: “De problem iz not wit hiz hand.” I closed my eyes as the procedure was repeated on the other side.

Still feeling miserable (and now oozing a bit of blood from both hands) I was given a cup of special tea to drink. I finished the tea and laid down to bed; Ernesto, with a certain prescience, moved the trash can next to my head. “I'm pretty sure I know how this ends; I have kids, after all.” I had forgotten that when someone says, “Here, drink this, it is good for upset stomachs,” what they really mean is that is will make you vomit explosively. Sure enough, when I laid down the change in orientation was enough to send me right back to the bucket. Luckily my vomiting technique remains as immaculate as ever . . . it was coming form my mouth, nose and even eyes. I felt like my face was dissolving – I felt lucky that it didn't come out of my ears as well.

After that I slept. Sometime during the night I went from freezing cold to boiling hot and vomited again. This morning, though, I woke up feeling okay – if terribly dehydrated. We'll see how the day goes, but water is staying down and I'm going to try some tea. Who knows, I might even eat some bread today! Old medicines, effective? Perhaps.


The only place open here in Sahagún is the hotel . . . twenty euro a head but it can't be helped. Hopefully the restaurant I found works out . . . it is New Year's Eve, after all.

BRAT diet today. So far so good.