Calzadilla, León, Hospital de Órbigo. The accidental 37 kilometers.

Wednesday, May 14

The road out of Calzadilla was quiet. I walked for a time with Lawrence and Pamel, but eventually at my pace we separated. It was a long way, little but wheat and dirt and canals for 24 kilometers, when I came to Mansilla de las Mulas. It was still early, so after a quick bocadillo and a little cerveza I left the town. I intended to stop at Puente Villarente, but the way the busy highway passed noisily through the town didn’t appeal to me. As I was walking I met again with Matthieu, an eminently fashionable Frenchman never seen without scarf and beret, and his new friend Tamie from Brazil. They also intended to continue past the town, but stayed a while by the river to rest.

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Five kilometers later I came to Acahueja, a sleepy pueblo like most with just one albergue. Since the center of León was more than 10 kilometers away, I was happy to stop there. A 34km day in total seemed like plenty. When Matthieu and Tamie arrived, I sat on the patio with them and with Nina from Slovenia. We enjoyed a basic pilgrim’s dinner during which Matthieu often remarked half-jokingly about the superiority of French wines over all others, and listened to the stories of two British men who have been doing the Camino in chunks together.

Night time was a chorus of snoring, and morning came at 4:45 when most of the room’s inhabitants decided to wake up and put on a light show with their headlamps and flashlights. I set out in the cold air and dim light knowing that León would be my stop for the day, only a little more than 10km away.

The town was buzzing even in the morning in the plaza in front of the Gaudí house. An important political figure, I think the regional president of the province, had been killed the day before. The details are a bit lost on me but it seems like it was done by an angry former employee.

I walked towards the Cathedral and came across Tamie and Matthieu, who would not be stopping in León that day. We had breakfast together — for me, café con leche and chocolate con churros, apparently a specialty in the city. I took their photos and we said our goodbyes. They walked away hand in hand. Ahh, Camino romance.

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Unfortunately I know almost nothing about Tamie, other than that she is a vegetarian. I only met her briefly and she’s very quiet. Matthieu lives in Paris and formerly worked for a company that manages how advertisements are targeted online. So that when you go searching for shoes online and then later visit your favorite news aggregator, you see advertisements in the sidebar for shoes.

This fails to explain why Facebook is so very sure that I should sign up for Christian singles websites.

I booked a bed at the albergue San Fernando de Asís, where I found that my roommate was a Texan father I’d met earlier on the trail. He took a bus ahead of his family to rest his feet, which were in a lot of pain.

I thought I’d go see the cathedral interior, so I began walking there, but I was stopped by Alejandro, a Spaniard who lives in Barcelona but isn’t himself Catalan. We’d first me in Teradillo de Templarios. He’s on his way to the end of the route, having begun along the Camino del Norte before swinging down to join the Francés.

He was having breakfast with a Brazilian girl named Larissa, a Brazilian guy named Miguel, and a Korean I’d met before named John.

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John is always bubbling with emotion, usually happy but sometimes sentimental. After dealing with an illness he quit his work and began traveling. He studied martial arts and meditation. He’s attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama in Nepal. He’s lived in India, and a host of countries in southeast Asia. Here on the Camino he has many names — Juanito to the Spanish and Brazilians, Giovanni to the Italians, John to English speakers, Jong-gu to Koreans. He speaks to everyone, knows everyone, and delights everyone. We joke that he’s a legend. La Leyenda de Juanito, Alegría del Camino.

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When I told the group I intended to stay in León for a day of rest, all but Alejandro decided to stay as well. I showed them to the albergue I’d found. After some laundry we went out for lunch with the intention of continuing to see the cathedral interior. But the funeral services for the fallen politician were beginning. After speaking with a group of Frenchmen for a time, we went down to a different plaza to meet with Sarah, Jonathan, Antonio, and Kristie.

Sarah and Jonathan have been traveling together for a few days, and the night before they had woken and left their albergue at 2am to walk at night and see the stars. We spoke for a bit before my friends and I left to find the worst dinner we’ve had on the Camino. There’s a restaurant with a sign that says Cafeteria over it near the Cathedral — I can’t recommend it.

We left early the next morning to reunite with Alejandro in the next down. The camino had a fork today, as it has once or twice before, with a choice between walking along the highway or out through the fields. I always choose the fields. We walked the 22km to Mazarife, but it was still early. We walked 10km more to Villavante, and the albergue was full. I tended to two blisters I’d gained through a sloppy taping job on one toe, and we walked another 5km to Hospital de Órbigo. To clarify, that’s the name of the city. I’m not actually in a hospital. And so we accidentally walked 37km today. Oops.

This morning as we walked Larissa described to me why she’s here on the Camino. She’d been working in a office job, like so many of us, and decided she had enough. She felt it wasn’t achieving anything that was important to her, and she wants some time to reconsider what it is she’d like to do. She seems to feel that she doesn’t know what her particular gift or calling is. I think perhaps she hopes to find it here on the Camino.

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Once Miguel learned about my former job and that I’d worked on Life of Pi, he spoke to me for a while about how to interpret the story. Was it a boy in a boat with a tiger? Or is the boy the tiger? I explained the interpretations I’d come to know and shared what seems to me to be the moral of the tale — when in doubt about the truth and in either case the core of it all remains the same, choose the better story. The one you prefer.

Alejandro overheard and we talked also for a time about a book he’s reading, about a wealthy businessman who, after a heart attack, decides to sell everything and learn from monks. It’s a story about the importance of willpower and controlling your mind rather than having it control you and paralyze you. I tried to will away the blisters I could feel forming on my toe, but I think that’s probably a bit literal.

So tonight we’re in Hospital de Órbigo. In León, Sarah said that the shortness of her remaining time on the Camino was becoming something clear and imminent for her. She seems to want me to reunite with her and Jonathan one more time as they travel to the Cruz de Ferro. All that is honestly a bit surreal after the events of last week.

Very hungry, and very much looking forward to a proper pilgrim’s menu tonight.

-Daniel

Photo Time

Before the photos, a little update on tonight. I met two guys tonight in the municipal albergue, Lawrence and Plamen. Lawrence is a retired financial advisor for the energy sector of Natural Resources Canada, and Plamen works in electronics in Bulgaria. The two have been traveling together since Pamplona, about two weeks ago. They’re aiming to reach Leon in time to meet Plamen’s girlfriend, who will fly into the city in a few days. Then they’ll go their separate way as as Plamen and his girlfriend continue on together at their pace and Lawrence will reunite with another friend.

The three of us ate dinner at a casa rural in the pueblo, called Casa El Cura. It’s run by a Spanish woman and her husband, a Cuban man. He’s a character; dancing, singing, and carrying on as he cooks and serves. When I told him I was also Cuban he told me to sit back and relax and be welcome in this Cuban house, and proposed a toast to our ancestors. He also comped me the cost of the beer and later an extra bottle of wine we’d ordered. He spoke so quickly and with such energy that sometimes it was all I could do to smile back without really understanding.

It was a wonderful and relaxed dinner. Lawrence described how he did a segment of the camino route that begins in Sevilla last year, before beginning from Saint Jean this year. Having married and established his career and put the kids through college and everything else that’s both beautiful and in some estimations “standard” or “expected,” he wanted time to rediscover who he is when he’s just himself on his own.

Plamen describes his motivation simply as saying that he saw the movie “The Way” a couple of years ago and decided to do it, just waiting for a chance to take a long break from work. Not long before that break was to begin, he started dating his girlfriend, and had to let her know that he would be gone for a month to do this. Not only was she supportive, but she surprised him by buying herself a ticket to Leon to meet him and finish the Camino with him.

I’ll try to bring you their photos tomorrow — right now the light isn’t good and I haven’t taken the portraits yet.

For now, here’s some of what you missed:

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Marie Noelle, hospitalera at Emaus in Burgos

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Sue, when we said goodbye.

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Sarah at Villafranca

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-Daniel

In the Middle

Sunday, May 11

I’m more than half way to Santiago now.

Chiara and Lidia shared with me a saying about the Camino. In the beginning, you forget the world you left behind. In the middle, you die. And in the end you’re reborn.

These past days have surely been the part where I died.

I’ve traveled from Boadilla to Carrión de los Condes, taking the river route when it was available. Then from Carrión to Terradillos de Templarios. And today I’m writing from Calzadilla de los Hermanillos.

There were physical challenges on this route, mostly to do with the heat. My feet have their first blisters, and my knees ache, and my pack is heavy again.

But the majority of the difficulty was emotional. I fundamentally misunderstood the nature of my new Camino family. I’m choosing not to go into detail. Some people want to travel with the people they meet. Some people want to travel alone in the same direction as the other people they meet. Both enjoy interacting with their fellow pilgrims, but some seek a connection that grows with intent, while others prefer to leave it to fate.

I prefer the connection that grows by choice instead of chance. When people enter my life and we have the beginnings of a friendship that could be deep and lasting, but we know that time is short and soon we’ll say goodbye, perhaps for forever, then I choose to make the most of that time with those people. To enjoy their presence and thoughts and jokes and laughter to the fullest before the universe takes it away. To coordinate with them to maximize our time together. It was chance and fate enough for me that we met at all; people from all around the world on one road for a brief time, randomly together in one corner of a tiny ball of dirt hurtling through the cosmos. That’s enough serendipity — the rest is on us, I think, to gain as much from each other as we can in the time we have.

I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with the idea of passing in and out of each other’s paths by chance. But it ain’t for me.

Now, enough of all that. That’s probably not what you came to this blog for. Let’s talk about today: from Terradillos to Calzadilla.

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I woke early and set out as the sun was rising. My knees ached more than usual, and my pace was slow. I didn’t break until Sahagún, where I had coffee and pan con chocolate, which has become my usual pilgrim breakfast when I have one. I sat with a woman I’ve met many times on the trail, who lives in Mammoth in California. Embarrassingly I long ago forgot her name. I’ll have to own up to it and ask her when I see her next.

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As I ate, Sarah and Jonathan came over to my table to say hello and to find out what route I’d be taking today. After Sahagún, the Camino forks. One route, by far the most popular, runs along the highway through a few cities towards El Burgo Ranero. The other route passes through Calzada de Coto and joins an ancient Roman road.

If you know me, you know which I chose.

When the path split, every pilgrim I could see in front of me stayed on the popular route. I entered Calzada de Coto alone, no pilgrims in any direction. Spanish pueblos are usually eerily quiet when we’re passing through. Sometimes because it’s too early, other times because we’re walking during siesta, and other times because the pueblo only has a population of 80 or so. This pueblo was no different, and I walked through it slowly to avoid missing any yellow arrows. Eventually the main street ended and the Roman road began, passing over fields and farms. The day was blessedly overcast as there were little to no trees large enough to provide shade.

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When I step out onto a Roman road, I feel the immensity of that connection through time. I can envision the great network of roads that spanned the Western world in a time when such a thing was an engineering marvel. I imagine the scuffing of the boots of Roman Legionnaires and medieval pilgrims alike, and the creak of wagon wheels and clink of merchants’ goods. Just as when I stood on the Via Appia south of Rome, here I could feel some sense of my position in the universe and the history of civilization; the domino of cause and effect that eventually led to me, here, on an ancient road of dirt and stone on the Iberian peninsula.

In time other pilgrims caught up with me. David, an Australian I’d met the night before with a camera around his neck. Kasumi, the Japanese girl in the bottom bunk below mine who is learning Spanish. A new face,  Bob from Connecticut, who had switched careers and become ordained.

The road was easy and quick and we arrived early in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. The others went to a private albergue near the entrance. Kasumi rushed along to the municipal albergue, a very small former school with just 22 beds. I went there also. Shower, laundry, and here I am typing. A typical pilgrim route for me now, though the typing part was tough on the very long days.

Tonight if I have time I’m going to upload a post with only pictures, since some of the most recent posts were lacking.

-Daniel

The Long and Flat of It.

Written three nights ago (May 8):

Today and yesterday are a bit murky in my mind.

We left Burgos late, after breakfast and a visit to see the cathedral in the morning light. After some walking, and breakfast I think, Sarah went off on her own for some alone walking as she likes to do.

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Eventually at my pace I caught up to her and a man named Jonathan, a French Canadian who lives in Vermont. He runs a farm where people with special needs can live and work, and has three children. He’s a deep thinker and a generous soul with a happy disposition, despite some difficult times he’s faced recently. He’s walked with us since.

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He and Sarah both stopped in a glen thick with trees and shade. I continued, and walked up and out onto the meseta. The grassy plains stretched out before me and the sky was a great dome unbroken in every direction. Trees were few to none, and the sun hot. I walked on to Hornillos del Camino where I stopped for lunch. I didn’t know, after eating, if Sarah and Jonathan were in front of me or behind. So I went on alone into the heat.

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I took some brief shade beneath the one and only large tree on the path.

As I passed a small albergue in the middle of nowhere, Sarah texted me that she’d booked us beds in Hontanas and that she had only just left Hornillos. I carried on. Five kilometers to Hontanas, a sign read. The sun baked the air around me. Onward.

Hontanas, two kilometers.

One kilometer.

Town.

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I found the albergue Sarah had reserved, checked in, ordered a beer, and spent time chatting with other pilgrims. I became a bit concerned when Sarah didn’t follow quickly — she’s usually so much faster than me. She eventually texted me that she was at the small albergue I’d passed. With things out of my hands I showered, and prepared my laundry. Eventually she and Jonathan arrived. They’d stopped in the albergue to use the swimming pool with two others, Karla and Marco, who I met later when they arrived. Karla’s knee was in pain and Marco suffered from shin splints. Both had blisters.

Jonathan and I had the pilgrim’s dinner that night while Sarah cooked for herself, Karla, and Marco. Later we all shared beers.

Before sleeping I went out to the tiny chapel at the entrance of town. Like many towns in this region, Hontanas sits nestled below the plains in a valley. The ermita was at the entrance, high enough to feel the cold wind in the night. My flashlight led the way. Inside there was a small wooden bench, a statue of the virgin, and decorative paint along the walls. I went back to the albergue to sleep.

Today Jonathan left first, not planning to go as far as us. Karla had a blister that was in bad shape and I helped her treat it. Sarah left; we’d meet in the next town or before. I’m no medic but I tried to keep a reassuring presence as I helped Karla. Marco dubbed me “The Doctor.”

I began my walk.

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I met up with Sarah and Jonathan after the ruins of an old convent, San Anton. They were exploring a small ruined home on the side of the rode. From there we walked together to Castrojeriz, marveling at the castle on the hill above and the beauty of the church just outside the town. We ate breakfast and then Sarah took her alone time again, so Jonathan and I walked.

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The road took us out and up a tall hill, Alto de Mostelares, where we had an broad view of the path we’d walked and the distant castle-topped hill. Clouds rolled over the valley but kept well clear of the peak we climbed. Sarah and I sat a bit taking in the view, then she went off to do some yoga and walk on her own.

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My pace was quick as I felt very good, though later I’d discover blisters on my left foot. I passed Sarah eventually, then waited up for her and Jonathan near a river crossing. We all entered town and had a picnic style lunch with some of our camino friends, and then carried on.

After much heat and sweat and sunburn we arrived in Boadilla as a group. We checked in at the albergue, which looked unimpressive from the outside but on the inside had a nice courtyard. The pool wasn’t open. Qué pena. I tended to my blisters with the help of a group of younger people I hadn’t met before, had dinner, sat with Jonathan and Sarah and friends, and came here to write. Soon I’ll sleep.

Emotionally I’m a bit tossed around. I had some impressions about how these days after the Italians would go, and those don’t seem to have been right. Walking is different now than it was before. I’m looking at it as a chance to learn, even if I’m relearning something life has tried to teach me over and over.

I realize that’s all a bit cryptic. But I need time to process, so bear with me.

The Camino goes on. I’m still a long, long way from Finisterra.

-Daniel

Villafranca Montes de Oca and Burgos

Two nights ago. I still owe you photos. We’ve been traveling larger than usual distances each day and that’s left me a bit too drained for photo transfer, selection, and editing.

Dinner in Grañon was as great as I expected. We all worked together to set out tables and dishes and chairs, and enjoyed a raucous meal in a many languages. Then we formed assembly lines to clean the dishes and clear the room.

Afterwards we went into the choir of the church for a prayer. We all sat in the wooden seats against the walls, tea candles on each arm rest. One of the hospitaleras lit a candle and explained that we should think or say a prayer or wish or whatever comes to our minds. She encouraged us to say it aloud but it wasn’t a requirement.

When the candle reached me I stared at it for what seemed like forever until finally I spoke. I confessed aloud for the first time that since the winter I’ve only allowed myself a single prayer, which is for the safety my niece and her family, excepting myself. It’s hardly rational, but I guess I have a notion that if I don’t allow myself any other pleas, this one becomes more powerful. (My scientific mind scoffs and my heart tells it to shush.)

I also expressed thanks for the company I’ve had on the trip, meeting eyes with the Italians as I did so.

After this a woman told me she would pray for my niece and sister too. I got a bit teary, I admit.

In the morning Danilo left early. We hugged and said we’d see each other again. I packed my things and said my goodbyes to Michele, Lidia, and Chiara. Fierce hugs and watery eyes. I told them “Ci vediamo,” and set out.

As I left town the church bell chimed seven. The sun was barely beginning to light the sky. I made my way out into the hills, alone for the first time. As the sun rose the ground was orange and my shadow in front of me long and blue.

I passed Viloria, where Sarah had stayed the night before. Assuming she’d left by now I continued to Tosantos. She caught up with me shortly after, announcing herself with a playful surprise pounce. Having walked alone for the morning I was very happy to see her. We traveled together to Villafranca Montes de Oca, a tiny hamlet with no apparent place for anyone to actually live. Just a market, church, the municipal albergue, and a grand looking hotel/albergue up on a hill that sported a well-manicured lawn.

We went there at first, surprised a bit when a peacock met us at the door. She was just leaving as we came in. Disculpe.

Discovering that the albergue had no real kitchen, we went to the municipal instead. Sarah had been carrying lentils for somewhere around 100 years and was eager to finally cook them. First we had tea out back and then grabbed some beers and went to the hotel’s big fancy lawn to enjoy the sun and talk.

We described our homes to each other, in New Zealand for her and LA/Florida for me. And we talked about places we’d gone and what we’d seen. And why we are here on this Camino. For her, the Camino is one etapa as a part of her stay in Spain, learning the language and working at an NGO and meeting with friends all being other etapas in that collection.

For me… well, I mostly discussed with her the same things I wrote in my previous blog entry. Adventure yes but also happiness and ambition and contributing something of meaning and value to the world. All the thoughts swirling in my head these past two or three days.

Dinner was awesome. She’s a great cook. We shared a bottle of rioja and received consejos from and older Spaniard we often see walking and talk to. He and she actually found themselves in a lengthy and deep conversation to do with suffering and choice. She’s well beyond competent with Spanish so I had to focus carefully to follow.

This morning we took off early for Burgos, 37ish kilometers away. We passed over the hills easily and decided we could do it. After a break for breakfast I gave her a head start — from time to time she likes to walk alone at her own pace, which can be break-neck or meandering, depending.

I walked with Sue, who I had not seen for many days. We talked about her family and the Camino and stopped for Coke in Atapuerca, where Sarah passed us. Sue didn’t want to end the day but she was a bit anxious about crossing over the hills when she’d already walked a bit. She asked me to walk with her to distract her, which I was very happy to do. She’s a joy. On the other side we said goodbye near her albergue, and I continued on.

Muscles, joints, ligaments, all quite happy. But lo and behold, chafing. For the first time on the whole trip, and it had to happen on the longest day. I passed through village after village and found them devoid of markets and pharmacies, so I plodded on very uncomfortably and painfully. After an eternity of highway and sidewalk I reached the outskirts of Burgos and found a market to buy some relief. Then I carried on into Burgos and arrived at Albergue Emaus, a parochial albergue where we’d enjoy some quiet compared to the municipal, along with a lovely mass and communal dinner. Our hospitalera, Marie Noëlle, is a wonderfully kind woman who has taken great care of us tonight. Sarah is quite lucky to be enjoying a private room, because the only other woman here tonight is married and has a room with her husband. I’m sharing a room with two Italians and a German, all quite friendly.

Earlier Sarah and I enjoyed beers and olives in the plaza where the Cathedral lies, after first touring it. All in all, Burgos has been lovely once I got passed the outskirts of town.

And now I lay me down to sleep.

-Daniel

Grañon

Written two nights ago. I owe you photos. No time now to work on them:

We woke early today — 5am. We set out from Nájera before sunrise, and saw that young Spaniards were still in the streets from the night before (clubs get started very late in Spain). As we passed one drunk girl yelled, “Peregrinos!” We were walking about three feet from her.

Leaving so early, we got to enjoy sunrise over the farmland. The sky was clear, just contrails from planes and a few wispy clouds here and there.

When the sun is out I’m Superman. My pack is weightless; I toss it around with one hand like it were a pebble. The camera doesn’t hang from my neck, it floats effortlessly at my waist. The muscles in my legs feel tight but never weaken or threaten to give out. My pace is quick.

We all were like this. We crossed kilometers faster than ever, stopping only to enjoy the views of the rolling green and brown and yellow hills, the sun-kissed vines reaching up from the soil, the distant snow-capped mountains.

We passed  through a golf resort town. The tilt-up repetitive architecture reminded me of Florida. All buildings the same, parking lots between.

At one point, as I heard a distant church bell ring many times nothing to do with the hour, I asked Michele what day it was. Sunday, he told me. So I’ve been walking a day more than a week, and I’ve traveled more than 200 kilometers.

I find that I begin to understand Italian a little better every day. And I’ve learned a handful of words and phrases and verb conjugations. I can see how eventually, immersed for an even longer time, I could come to speak it. That could be a life well spent, no? Immersing yourself in other cultures and learning their languages and customs. That would be a happy life.

The simplicity of it reinforces what everyone always says — happiness isn’t the best TV or the fanciest car or the biggest paycheck or house. But as often as we all repeat that mantra, do we live by it? Happiness isn’t found in a 401K account either, but we’re told to do whatever work we must to build one up so that we can be happy later in retirement. What a concept! — wait until you’re old, then you can be comfortable and happy on the growth of your portfolio. Unless wealthy fools screw with the market in their efforts to make more billions than they have already, as they’ve been known to do from time to time.

I’m comfortable and happy right here right now with a pack on my back and the dirt underfoot and the sky and the grass and the faces of my friends. Life can be cheap and simple. I could live happily just on my savings, instead of blowing a big chunk of it on rent in LA while I look for work. I could make a life of this if I really set my mind to it.

But would that be enough for an ambitious person? Sarah caught up to us outside the golf town. We walked together at her quick pace and talked. During the conversation I mentioned that what I think I’ve always wanted was to be part of creating something bigger than me, and meaningful. Something that continues contributing to the world after I’m in my grave. Can you do that if you forsake everything to live a simple life?

Are happiness and ambition incompatible? Can’t be, that would be a cruel trick. I’m missing something about this. Maybe it will come.

Tonight we stay in the albergue parroquial, which is attached to the church. The hospitaleros are kind and generous. As I washed my clothes one spoke to me about how it is a blessing in disguise that I lost my job, because now I can be here. Silver lining. She’s not wrong.

Dinner will be at 8, all of the pilgrims together in the dining hall. It should be lovely. Our room is simple. All 15 of us will sleep on floor mats, and I’m glad. The shower water was cold and the floor uncomfortable on my feet, and I’m glad. But tomorrow I will bid farewell to Chiara and Lidia, and I’m sad.

After speaking to Sarah today I’ve decided that tomorrow I’ll travel over 30 kilometers, leaving very early, to continue my Camino with her. Chiara and Lidia will end their Camino tomorrow, perhaps in Belorado or perhaps farther on. Danilo will continue past even me, more than 40 kilometers. He wants to be in Santiago by May 22, I believe. Michele will decide in the morning how he feels about keeping up with either me or Danilo or continuing at his own pace.

Writing about saying goodbye to everyone makes me sad, so right now I won’t. I’ll deal with that later when I have distance, figurative and literal. Tonight will be a beautiful night, I think.

-Daniel

Nájera

Sometimes I think I either don’t understand half of what’s going on, or it’s constantly changing and I’m not keeping up. I wish I really understood Italian.

This morning was a whirlwind. Last night I thought I was giving Michele a fierce “I’ll never see you again” hug. And this morning I was giving him my sleeping bag to add to his backpack before having it mailed ahead to Nájera. I thought he was going to stop in Ventosa, the town before this one, which would’ve offset our caminos, probably for the duration of the trip. But here we are in Nájera! We rushed out of the hotel to a nearby cafe, out of the cafe to the street, and started walking. Danilo walked faster than the rest of us and before long he was out of sight.

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The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds today, so the way which would otherwise have had a few nice vistas was a bit boring. There was a mild elevation gain, but nothing really challenging. The pain did come back in my ankle, but after stretching it and following some posture advice from a Spaniard, and taking care to make sure I always do a full heel-toe roll with each step to stretch the muscle, things seem fine now. The Spaniard’s advice was to keep your gaze farther into the distance rather than close in front.

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The new shell symbol now that we're in La Rioja

I’ve been concerned about what will come after the Chiara and Lidia leave. Sarah has contacted me by Whatsapp. She’s a speed demon though; racking up a ton of kilometers per day. We’ll see if she slows it down a bit so we can meet in Grañon tomorrow.

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Tonight has been restful. Everyone other than Danilo and I found today to be really tough, so they’re all tired and eager to relax.

We wandered through the town and discovered that today is medieval/renaissance festival. Archers, swordsmen, a tent full of falcons, merchants, more. All the people were out in the streets and the kids playing. Michele didn’t feel well, so Lidia, Chiara, Danilo and I went to a nearby restaurant for the pilgrim’s menu while he slept. Now here we are in the albergue again, winding down before an early morning tomorrow.

It’s a long way to Grañon.

-Daniel

Logroño — Too many despedidas

Written last night:

Today was bittersweet. The road was easy enough – mostly flat. We did enjoy the famous fuente de vino in Irache, though it was very early in the morning for wine.

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The pain of my injury only caught up with me on occasion. But at lunch we said farewell to Sarah, Merel, and Yanjic. I don’t like goodbyes. Nobody warns you on the forums that so many of the people you begin to care for are not walking to Santiago with you. They go to cities along the way as their vacation days allow. New faces appear and old ones disappear.

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I hope to meet Sarah again along the way. Merel and Yannick are done soon but Sarah continues on. Tonight they went past Logroño to Navarette, and that may mean that she’ll be ahead of me for the rest of the trip. Or perhaps she’ll meet us in Grañon. I hope so. She’s one of the only ones carrying on past Burgos, and I enjoy talking to her.

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Michele and Elena, who are also heading towards Santiago or maybe Finisterre, will take a short day tomorrow, which will offset them from my path, possibly permanently.

And soon Chiara and Lidia will take a bus to Burgos and I’ll be without them for the first time since the mountains.

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But tonight was beautiful. We walked through Logroño’s vibrant centro, Ivan leading the way, and we ate and drank at one bar and then the next and more, ending at one of those odd bars that plays so much music from the Caribbean that I feel like I’m back in my car listening to the radio. There was singing and dancing, a clarinetist in the street, happy conversation and as joyful a farewell as any. But how I’ll miss them. And I brace myself for the next goodbyes. No one warns you of this. They should.

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It’s late and I have to sleep.

-Daniel

Puente la Reina to Estella to Torres del Rio

Written two nights ago:

Today was the most difficult day, and also the easiest. Nearly 30 kilometers. But first, yesterday.

We walked yesterday from Puente la Reina to Estella, leaving when the sun was barely out. For the most part, the walk was uneventful. And except for a few beautiful vistas at the beginning it wasn’t much of a spectacle. The most beautiful view came as we approached what I believe was Ciraqui. Set on a hill, the earth beneath it had long since been covered as buildings and roads sprouted up into a city of stone and cement and wood. From a distance it shined as sunbeams stretched across the fields to brighten it.

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Once we passed it there was little else to see until Estella, except one abandoned house that stuck in my memory. It would have been beautiful once, before the broken glass and the graffiti. At some point it must’ve been some family’s pride and joy, newly built and painted, decorated, and cared for. And now nothing, just memories locked in stone and wood and shards. Can’t take it with you, as they say.

Michele cooked dinner. Pasta with shrimp and tomato — it was delicious. The shrimp was served the way the rest of the world does it, with head and legs on, not shelled and deveined. Fortunately I’ve gotten used to that. I’ve learned a thing or two on the Camino about etiquette. Mainly, accept what is offered quickly and joyfully. Even if your intentions are good (you want to make sure everyone has eaten before you take more for yourself), refusal can be seen as rude or as a sign that you don’t like what’s being given, especially if you lack the vocabulary to explain what you’re thinking.

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The strange dreams continue. One focused on my walking staff. In the dream I knew I had died over and over again and that the staff had somehow brought me back each time. I carried it with me somewhere religious, some temple like an amphitheater of stone. People in the dream questioned the importance of the staff, and as the dream went on I started to fear that it was in jeopardy, that it would be destroyed. I woke up, fell back to sleep, and had other bizarre dreams.

Today’s road was long but peaceful, mostly flat or downhill. Should’ve been a breeze, but as we walked the muscle along my shin began to spasm and hurt. The pain was terrible, forcing me to stop whenever it would shoot through my leg. Lidia and Chiara were concerned, but I tried to assure them that I could continue even though I wasn’t really sure.

Forza e coraggio.

Siempre pa’lante; de los cobardes no se ha escrito nada.

Ultreia, ultreia, et suseia.

Things I’d whisper in my head to keep going. We paused at food stand. I asked for ice and it was given. People were kind — they offered medicine, leg wraps, a ride to Los Arcos. Some I accepted, but not the last one. I’m walking the Camino, and only walking. No rides.

We kept going and passed through an area where the Way swept broadly and gracefully like a river out before us through the fields of a wide and long valley, past our sight. We swam down it until it veered to the left, and in time we arrived at Los Arcos.

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We intended to continue to Torres del Rio, and so we went on. The town fell away to reveal an unending plain, the road laying straight and flat before us towards the horizon. Here the pain disappeared and I forgot the weight of my pack, and we walked for the most part in silence save for scuff of boots and clack of sticks.

Without the physical distractions I’m used to on the Camino, the thoughts came flooding back. What will I do when I go home? Why go home at all? What am I walking towards? Certainly not Santiago. I rarely think of Santiago. The Italians have invited me to visit at the end of my trip. Why not? But oh, the rent payments. The job hunt. The desperate search for a new cubicle or desk to spend hours in front of while the sun is shining. The search for someone to travel with through life — LA’s absurd games and trivialities, the foolishness of falling for someone a continent away.

I pushed it all back out into the void where recurring quarter-life crises belong. The Camino so far has been delightfully free of thought. How many times have I tried to learn mindfulness by meditation exercises when all I needed to do was walk?

Eventually we reunited with Merel and Sarah, and we walked together much of the rest of the way, Sarah and I talking at the front. What we do, what it’s like, what we want from a job, the value of wealth, objects vs experiences, how we got here, where we’re going.

We split up just before arriving at Torres del Rio. When Lidia, Chiara, and I arrived, we found ourselves in the same room as Sarah, Merel, and Yannick, as well as Michele and Danilo. Shower, laundry, relaxing, beer, wine, dinner.

Dinner was raucous and joyful and everything I ever hoped the Camino lifestyle could be. I didn’t know I was looking for that until it was around me. Songs, pounding on the table, laughing until tearful, food, stories, wine. I probably missed half or more of the words themselves, but what does it matter? It was perfect.

Many of them will be leaving tomorrow at Logroño. I’ll miss them.

I may be getting a cold, or it may just be allergies. I wouldn’t be surprised by a cold, after all my body has been through in just a week, but I certainly hope that’s not it. We’re all in close quarters here and I don’t want to be patient zero getting everyone sick.

-Daniel