Ghost Cafes and Silver UFOs

I can hear the shriek of seagulls outside in the pre-dawn light as I sit writing to you from the ghost cafe in Santiago. It’s a very ephemeral city, forbidding when cold and grey, a huge party town with people from all over the world when sunlit, and everyone, everyone, with strong legs and a look of relief.

20140705-063702-23822926.jpg

20140705-063703-23823252.jpg
The cafe is actually part of the wonderful Hostal Susa. Hostals in Spain are not youth hostels or albergues, but rather grouped with pensiones or lower-priced hotels. I have a tiny, immaculate room with a bathroom in the middle of the old town of Santiago for 20 euros a night… the lowest price yet. There is a bar-cafe attached to the hostal, but visually blocked and closed off from the street. It is only accessible if you have a room, yet two people work there. Dishes are washed, but there is nothing but coffee and scanty, used-up bottles of liquor on the shelf… if you can get in. There is a menu, but when I picked it up, the barman, with a look of alarm on his face, asked me to put it down, as nothing on the menu was available. And yet, I sit here writing to you, with the magic of Spain tolerating me..

20140705-064854-24534310.jpg
I realize I am skipping the days before my arrival in Santiago. I’ll share that in another post. I arrived on July 3, but saved my entry into the Cathedral until 7AM the next day, to avoid the crowds. The seagulls were shrieking and it was raining, with the echo of a Galician bagpipe filling the square.
Every pilgrim is supposed to do 4 things, more or less in order. The first is to admire the portal with the Tree of Jesse, designed by the master artist/architect, Master Matteo. There are so many portals to the Cathedral that I had no idea which one that was. Then you enter the vast, new universe of space that is the cathedral. They actually designed it to be a Cathedral of Stars, for Compostella, field of stars. That’s the positive reading. It was really built on an ancient Roman cemetery . Anyway, it is about the transition into other worlds, whether the starry Way or the passages of death.
In the old days you could walk up to the Saint and touch his feet. That is no longer allowed, to preserve the sacred marble. Personally, I think that to touch the place where millions have touched with a full heart is worth a lot more than the sculpture.
It’s an amazing place. So much of the gothic stonework was painted in the old days, but for some reason the paint is never restored. I know from illuminated manuscripts how vivid the pigments were. Yet the original paint is faded and almost gone, increasing the forbidding aspect of the cathedral.
So now I have not been able to do two out of the four things that pilgrims traditionally did. On to number three. This was news to me, but apparently there is actually a chance to touch your forehead to the head of an image of Master Matteo in order to receive divine artistic inspiration! Bring it on, said I. So I set out to search for Master Mateo.
But I couldn’t find him, lost in the echoing dampness of the Cathedral. It’s dark in there on a rainy morning.
Then God intervened. A German woman cathedral docent approached me and asked in German if I needed help. Apparently there is a mass in German in a side chapel at 7:30 and she thought I was looking for that. She spoke no English, but I could use my German to ask for the location of Master Matteo.
One of the towers is under renovation. You can see it here. I had hardly noticed, as any Gothic cathedral has so many towers that having a couple of spares is not a problem.

20140705-070703-25623699.jpgp
So I went under the draped tower and there, barricaded in darkness, was Master Matteo, a delightful, lovingly executed sculpture around 4 feet high, just right for the shorter midieval pilgrim to lean over and get some forehead inspiration. But there were iron barricades and almost total darkness. So I asked myself, what would Matteo do ? He would find a creative solution.
First I used my bendy tripod and a low light program to take a picture of him. But I couldn’t stand being so close to him and not touching him. I reached out my arm, and I swear I was within an inch of touching him, but no dice. Time for another plan. You are talking to a woman who actually managed to take rubbings from Assyrian bas-reliefs under the noses of the guards in the British Museum. This was not going to stop me.
I checked the area and no one was around so I stepped through the first layer of iron bar barricades. I was close enough then to press my hand against his forehead. I left it there for awhile until the cold of the stone seeped in, then pressed my hand to my forehead. I could swear the Master smiled.

20140705-072549-26749708.jpg
Part of the deal was to draw him as well, so this is my journal page.

20140705-073200-27120368.jpg
The last of the four items is to visit the silver box full of bones, and say your prayers. So I did.
My timing has been so good… I found out from Severin, the Swiss colossus youth who always knows everything, that every Friday night they have a mass where they swing the giant incense holder. The Botafumerio is an icon of the pilgrimage, and you also saw it in the film The Way. So I went 1 1/2 hours early to get a place in a pew underneath the action, having learned from Christmas in Rome that you don’t fool around with the big masses if you want to get a seat. The timing was good…. the Cathedral filled with around 1200 people. They don’t swing the thing every day.
You have to wait through the whole Mass to get to the good part– the Catholic Church knows how to keep people in their seats. They are firm. “Silencio! Silencio!” But finally the B.F. is lowered. Up there in the vast cathedral space it looks around 2 feet high. Then it is lowered and you see that it is bigger than a man. They pour coals into it and heap on the incense, then raise it and begin a controlled swing over your heads.
What the films can’t show you is that it is on fire, sparkling with red flame from the bottom, and emitting these giant clouds of sweet smelling smoke: copal and frankincense, if I’m not mistaken. It’s just the most joyful thing to be under… you instinctively duck as it goes over your head. Everyone was smiling and laughing… you have never seen anything like it, and never will again. Talk about an unidentified flying object!
I’m always glad to leave the church… I felt like a ginormous golden Baroque angel was glaring at me through one eye. I wish we could skip the Baroque decoration and just take the music. This photo gives an idea of how full the church was.

20140705-074453-27893911.jpg
I feel full, happy, and yes, blessed by the Cathedral. The seagull shrieks are calling me on to the coast, so I’m hopping a bus to Finisterrae, the end of the ancient world. Many consider it to be the natural, prehistoric end of the Way. The two workers in Ghost Cafe have spent the last hours reading the newspaper, and I, the only customer, am ready to pay up and get on the road. I’ll write you from the Atlantic coast, and I’ll tell you more of the saga of my journey.
Santiago is like a goth girl, full of spikes and jewelry and Celtic signs, very emo, and tattooed with the marks of millions of pilgrims. I leave her now, but will probably return. Buen Camino, Suzanne

Donkey and Company

20140629-085321-32001406.jpg
This beautiful girl, Jenny, came all the way up the Le Puy route, over 60 days into her journey with her French master. They stayed at the country place because there was a stall for her and a couch for him. I told you it was the right kind of inn.

20140629-085521-32121437.jpg
This hound would lay directly in front of the albergue entrance so you had to step over him to get in. Later I saw the three huge German shepherds roaming through the fog like spirits of wolves. I’m walking in fog and chill wind, but thankfully no rain. I am sitting in the first place in the mountains of Galicia that has weefee , so I can post a few pictures.

20140629-085814-32294773.jpg
The fire, as a primal element, deserves its own photo.The owner would heap huge logs covered with moss and lichen into it, and urged us to dry our shoes in front of it. Here’s a travel tip: stuff old pages ripped out of your guidebook into your shoes to help dry them.

20140629-090321-32601973.jpg
Beautiful brown cows make a beautiful fresh cheese with the consistency of soft tofu. A heap is served on a plate with a little compressed square of quince jam to eat it with. Delicious!

20140629-090529-32729858.jpg
This is a beautiful 12th century virgin. She is the patroness of O Cebreiro, and her feast day is celebrated on my birthday. Since it is the custom to dress up many of the more doll-like virgins in costumes, I felt free to dress her up digitally, and a halo appeared. The landscape is just honeycombed with virgins, each dripping a blessing into a little village.

20140629-091300-33180724.jpg
The thunderstorm that soaked me.

20140629-091456-33296791.jpg
A sadly graffittied shrine to a virgin of the Camino. You can see the mural on one side and the defacing on the other. This was on my creepiest walk, right in the middle of the day. I saw only vandalism and violation and not one other person, either caminante or citizen. It was during the siesta apocalypse outside Ponferrada. Suburbs are the scariest walking of all.

<img src=”https://saltworkstudio.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/20140629-091934-33574463.jpg” alt=”20140629-091934-33574463.jpg” class=”alignnone size-full” />This isn’t my sketchbook, but an image from the Templar Library. I was struck by the ancient illuminations. They have a dream-like quality. These illuminated manuscripts must be the most beautiful books ever made.
Have to get back on the trail now. Suzanne

Not tourism, not backpacking, not blisters

20140623-183525-66925540.jpg
Sitting here in another no-name place watching the World Cup, after eating a meal of morcilla and eggs. The picture of the labyrinth in the oak landscape expresses for me the puzzle at the heart of the Camino. Some of you have asked for more of an inner-process report. I’ll try. I’m at the exact middle of my Camino, and will need to skip ahead to finish and get my Compostela. This will be introspective, with a bit of navel-searching, so you can feel free skip on to the photos if you like.
The Camino Intensifies

20140623-184239-67359803.jpg
The Camino intensifies life, your relationship to your body, your desires and fears. By assigning the meaning of pilgrimage to your trek, you travel with a metaphor. It gives you time to be introspective. Every decision resonates with contemplation, because the Camino gives you time to think about things for hours.
For example, why have I chosen to travel so slowly? In my life, I’ve been an achiever. I am fairly certain I could work my way up to the 20-30 kilometers a day many pilgrims walk. But I don’t want to.

I am traveling half as far as everyone else, except a few people, who I see again and again. I’ll tell you about them in a minute. But back to slow travel. I think in my life that I have crammed two lives into one for a while, my work and my art life. I’ve been so fortunate in both, and am grateful. But I’m tired. So my whole body says, go slowly, and if I push, I am immediately brought down with blisters and exhaustion. If I stay within my limits, I am happy and productive.

20140623-185315-67995412.jpg
My Camino Pod
I never developed a Camino family, because I travel too slowly and too erratically. The Camino Family myth was fostered by the movie The Way, where a troubled Martin Sheen meets exactly the right group of affable characters to help him grieve. It also helps if you follow the guidebook exactly, because then you will be with a common group over many kilometers. But I do see the same people over and over, and that has a meaning too.
Apparently my Camino Pod is composed of elderly hikers, both alone and in couples, all happy and healthy. One of the reasons I wanted to do this walk was so that I could continue to hike well into my seventies, which, at this point, is right around the corner. And so I see Ana, and the Italian couple, all over 70 and hiking the whole Camino. And that has its meaning, even if it’s not the way my ego pictured it.

20140623-190917-68957696.jpg

Hey, there she is now, at the counter. I just snuck this photo. She’s so adorable. Her whole pack (not the one on her back) must weigh about 12 pounds. She is so organized! What an inspiration. Okay, get this: the 70 year olds leave me in the dust while hiking. The only people who hike more slowly than me, with my writing in notebooks, photos, frequent breaks, are young dreaming men, the Siddharthas. They walk really slowly, thinking of God, the meaning of life, and the girl who broke their hearts. I constantly have to try to explain to other Caminantes (great word– a word for those who walk the Camino) why I am walking so slowly. I am just not in the same groove as others. This is nothing new.

Decisions on the Way
Every decision resonates. I had originally thought I would break the Camino about now to fly up and try to go to the caves of Altamira and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It’s a seductive concept: The entire span of Western Art from the Paleolith to the 21st century contrasted in a few days. But that has a few disadvantages. It re-identifies me with my artist life, and I don’t want that right now. I want to get some space from it. And it puts me back into multi-tasking and a sort of frenetic changing of identities, which I experience too many times in my daily life. I don’t want to change from pilgrim to culture tourist, like Superman changing in a phone booth.
What does the Camino say? It’s so simple. Just keep walking. Solvitur ambulando– it is resolved by walking.

20140623-192839-70119401.jpg

20140623-192839-70119062.jpg
I’ll be taking the train to Ponferrada tomorrow to resume walking the next day through Galicia. I’ll be finishing the Camino from here. This feels like a turning point in my Camino, and I feel a bit sad. For three glorious weeks I could do exactly what I wanted to do, drifting along in a sweet little eddy in the river of time. Now I really have a goal, Santiago, and a time frame, a couple of weeks.
I’ve been so lucky all along. I’ve really had almost uninterrupted beauty and help from others. I haven’t even had to walk in the rain, though that will change in Galicia, Gaelic Spain. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Stay tuned! From your Slow Camino, Suzanne
P.S. 16km today.

20140623-193724-70644101.jpg

Life’s Not Just Blossoms and Busty Beer Taps

This morning was a very flowery walk, on this bright Sunday right at midsummer. The Solstice is called Sommerwende in German–summer’s hinge, summer’s turning point. in a tiny village I ran into a personal Gabriel angel carrying lilies.

20140622-133054-48654789.jpg

20140622-133054-48654457.jpg
As I’m sitting here at this very moment church bells are ringing madly. Congregants are carrying an effigy of the Virgin into the hills to a shrine, some combination of Solstice with the Virgin. The Catholic Church always covers all its bases.

20140622-133837-49117583.jpg
Flowers were strewn in the path of the effigy. I think that’s what I saw in another village I walked through today, the sidewalk blossoming with wildflowers for a block or so. The trailside flowers are spectacular too. See why I said it was a flowery day?

20140622-134209-49329996.jpg

20140622-134209-49329637.jpg
The bells just stopped… they literally pounded the heck out of my ears for a half an hour. There’s no way to miss that it’s midsummer. I started out in the church to see it, but I felt like a voyeur. This celebration is for the village, not for me. The ancient bells turn 360 degrees, mounted on a huge wooden top that rotates on an axis. Centrifugal force keeps them turning. They have not stopped after all. The turn of the season is worth a little noise.
I was so lucky to stop in this village to witness this. I got a lovely bed in its own cubicle, with a view out the French doors. This hotel is built in an old monastery and the owner is a pilgrim himself and built in some luxury pilgrim lodging.

20140622-135102-49862991.jpg

20140622-135102-49862667.jpg
I am walking much too slowly to do the entire Camino in just six weeks, what with flowers and paintings and magic soup and monasteries. I am about twice as slow as the guidebook. I’ll be going on to Galicia to finish up and get my Compostela. Galicia is Celtic and believes in its witches. The main witch of Galicia is made into beer taps. She’s very inspiring, and whispered to me that it was okay to skip ahead.

20140622-140103-50463095.jpg
It’s this kind of breezy day, with high horsetail cirrus clouds all prancing toward the west, in the direction of the Camino.
Your slow Camino wanderer, Suzanne

20140622-140511-50711207.jpg

20140622-140510-50710648.jpg

Soupa Magica

The thunder rolled down the valley like waves crashing on the beach, with lightning flashing an irregular strobe. We didn’t care, tucked away into the smallest (10 people), most magical albergue, an ancient village building where all the rooms slope and exposed beams are not a designer fashion.

20140621-061502-22502466.jpg
The village has only 50 souls and no stores. The Pan (bread) truck, a white van I’ve seen everywhere in Spain, skids into the plaza and begins earsplitting honking. For many minutes. Bread is a matter of urgency.

I’ve had the feeling this whole trip of being enclosed in a kind of bell jar of bird song, and even more strongly here. Swallows thread the sky with the invisible silk of flight. The village is cradled in rolling farmland, much of it in poppies. I walked through many fields of blossom today. I could not help but remember the Wicked Witch of Oz crooning “Poppies…”

20140621-062236-22956767.jpg

20140621-062237-22957116.jpg
This albergue is the home of Acacio and Orietta. They are good friends with the author Paolo Coelho and there’s a book in which you can leave a message for him. Their business is run entirely on donation. Both of the couple have walked he camino many time. Their house is full of books, warmth, easy chairs, and superb hospitality.

20140621-063128-23488612.jpg

20140621-063128-23488221.jpg
Cameras can’t catch the implacable golden sweep of the wheatfields, and a photo can’t convey the warmth of that dinner. “Soupa magica” is Acacio’s term for pilgrim soup, a combination of soup and the Portugese sopa.

It’s difficult to write about the Camino. A lot of your inner experience is private. The writing tends either to become Shirley Maclaine-ish or degenerate into a kilometer-sore foot-lodging blog. Orietta told me that a way a pilgrim can give something back for all the kindness extended is by the sharing of experience: being hospitable and open in your heart to sharing what you know.

Thank you, Acacio and Orietta. Acacio is an passionate advocate for the inner necessity of the Camino. He also has much hidden knowledge about the history and soul of the Camino, but you’ll have to ask him yourself, over a bowl of Soupa Magica.
Suzanne

20140621-074315-27795572.jpg

Chicken Church

20140619-200842-72522660.jpg
Writing you from Santo Domingo, where the magnficent Gothic cathedral keeps live chickens inside to commemorate a milagro, a miracle. I’ve been waiting all trip for this because I had a dream about it some months ago
The day started badly but ended well. Every night I take off my glasses and put them in a stuff sack in the bottom of my sleeping bag along with phone, passport and money. When I took them off this morning, an earpiece had broken off. In a foreign country, this can seem to be a really big problem, but I closed my eyes and thought “What would Scott do?” He’s the guy who can fix anything.
Here’s what I might do, before I became a wise Peregrino: panic, don’t change schedule, stick glasses with duct tape, have lousy, sticky and disfunctional glasses for the rest of the trip. Here’s what Scott would do: while away several hours until an optician opened and have them fixed. So I had a coffee, potato and egg tortilla, and an Aquarius (fizzy Gatorade type drink, supposedly with electrolytes). For two hours. And painted a few notebook pages. The nice thing about the illustrated journal is that it always gives you something to do. And I got them fixed.

20140619-202831-73711926.jpg
By that time it was late in the morning, so I decided to take the bus to Santa Domingo. And I’m so glad I did. It turned into a completely relaxed, pleasant day. I had one of those extended lunches at a cafe facing the cathedral. I went to the small prayer meeting offered by the brothers who ran the albergue. I did laundry and visited the backyard chicken coop that supplies the cathedral chickens, who are not even on ground level but in a ridiculously backlight sort of alter a story high so you can’t even interact with them. Now that was disappointing, but I went back to talk to the patio chickens.
The albergue is lovely. The cathedral is grand and I think I saw Santa Domingo’s skull, but I’m not sure. He was a supercool saint. He came from a poor, lower class family and so the church nixed his becoming a priest. He said, fine, and proceeded to build a pilgrim bridge, a hospital, and improve the roads and highways… and founded a town and a cathedral. The church’s loss was the pilgrim’s gain. Domingo was a do-er and fixer, as is Scott, and like Scott, he can often be found with a few chickens at his feet. It was a day where a possible mishap was transformed into a fine, unexpected travel day.
True confession: I LOVE deciding things on the spur of the moment. What a luxury, what freedom. I’m grateful that everyone has been so kind– the optician fixed the glasses without charge because I’m a pilgrim. It’s the little things. Buen Camino, Suzanne

20140619-204107-74467360.jpg

20140619-204107-74467970.jpg

20140619-204432-74672129.jpg

20140619-204737-74857592.jpg

Scenes from Logrono to Navarette

20140617-180752-65272692.jpg
Anti-bull killing for sport. I agree. It must be a horrible way for an animal to die.

20140618-164830-60510039.jpg
I love these abstract pilgrims! I’m the one on the right.

20140618-165132-60692684.jpg
The virgins are growing very strange, dense, and encrusted, very asiatic. I am in deep water here. Though adept with Christian symbols, I often have NO IDEA what’s going on. The churches are magnificent, creepy Twilight Zones, where it seems the saint figures might well come alive and walk around. Often they fill an elegant Romanesque shell with gold Baroque madness floor to ceiling, as if an insane pastry chef had frosted a plain loaf with dozens of giant glittery sugar roses.

20140618-170046-61246577.jpg
I just lost paragraphs of writing. NO wifi and 90 beds in a room.. but free! Wish me luck tonight in the sea of (hopefully serene) sleepers. I’ll write more when I actually have wifi to support all the photo uploads. Buen Camino, Suzanne

Hotel: Thrill of victory or agony of da feet?

Wednesday, June 18
Just words, I think, for now, no images. Whew! I just escaped teeming Dorm Land, no place for me or my phone to recharge. Am in a delightful small nowhere bar, sitting on a chair near an electrical outlet. I have no table– there are outlets near tables but none of them work. They were cheerful, though, and directed me proudly to the random outlets that did work. My “table” is a bar stool. I am nursing some kind of tart rose. Thank you, Bar La Oca, for the smiles. I find Spain enormously welcoming.

The 90 person dorm room tonight will pose a challenge to my mild claustrophobia. It’s now a dangerous maze of packs in the tiny walkways. Paranoid, adult thought: hope there’s not a fire. The hip young have ruthlessly taken over all the communal tables for complex, delicious dinners…. I never cooked like that in a hostel. The albergue is donativo, free. My own dinner was a melon with some Serrano ham strewn over it and eaten in front of the shallow river. I guess I managed to download some photos after all. All are at the end of the post.

I know that before I walked I wanted to know some details. Just to say, I did walk 17 km today, about 11 miles, going very slowly for my feet. It was mostly through vineyards and the paths were either gravel or paved. Weather has been perfect the whole trip, in the 50s at night and warming during the day, not dissimilar to Santa Rosa. Here are some practical details for you.

Showers are complex because you have to stay decent before you step in, and carry all your valuables, as well as your toiletries and the clothes you change into, with you. So you are jamming and balancing. Everything of any value comes into the shower with you. The tile floors are uniformly slippery. Then you get in and press a knob like the controlled flow knobs in sinks in public restrooms, and 10 seconds of either freezing, lukewarm, or scalding water comes out, then cuts off. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

American’s packs are too big. The Europeans are cruising along with packs about the size of a daypack. I have lightened mine up some… never mind what. But I have pack envy. There are no silk sleep sheets. Everyone has an ultralight bag about the size of a football or a bottle of water. They have a tiny lining, very similar to my Marmot Nano 55, which has worked great for me.

Girls, my most prized outfit is a loose tank and a running skort with shorts under it. I use it for after hiking, swimming, and to sleep. The all purpose wardrobe! Dress it up with a scarf!

My day: wake up at 5 AM. Take my roll of clothing and toiletries out of the dorm, to a restroom or kitchen, to dress. Drag pack out. Drag sleeping bag off bed and stuff in other room. Rearrange pack, sometimes for a half hour or more. Wash. Wish for coffee, but drink a liter of water if I can choke it down. Other people are up, tripping over each other. Tend to feet for the day with whatever combo of fixups you have: tape, moleskin, compeed, bandaids, antibiotic cream, anti friction cream, what have you. Put on shoes. This isn’t easy, as you aren’t allowed to keep your shoes with you, but must put them on a shelf in another room. Same thing for poles. When you get your shoes on, marvel how good they feel without a pack on.
Then lurch out and start your day. Stop for a coffee at the first bar and sneak eat your yoghurt, then walk on. Sun’s getting warmer now… stop on trail, pee, put on hat and sunglasses. And walk.

Today I met some beautiful people, and it was just like the films where you have soulful talks while walking through lush vineyards. Oliver, French, was great: we discussed mind-body issues and how the brain can’t interpret where pain originates. He’s in the straw hat. Then Billy, an American college student I’d seen twice, struck up a series of questions about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Joseph Campbell’s mythology. “Have you heard of Joseph Campbell?” he asked politely. He made a beautiful metaphor…. he said that he thinks the Camino is, for him, a coming out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur, following the golden thread. And the golden thread is just one step in front of the other, and you don’t know where you’re going, but he trusts it.
I probably won’t ever see them again, but that statement lacks the high drama it might have in other contexts. You just never know. You spent some good time, and that’s enough. I talked to some women, as well, but none of them would allow me to take her photo because we all, er, don’t exactly look our best. I, for example, resemble a plump nun while walking, completely covered head to foot with long loose pants, long loose shirt, and one of those dorko cover-everything hats with a wimple, I mean flap, in back. In purple. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I just wanted to say, I have never felt in danger this whole trip. I have felt cared for and protected the entire time.

I usually stop walking around 12 or 1. I learned a lesson about pushing too hard. You can read the story below

This took place last Sunday and Monday, after realizing I had really wrecked my feet– and my aplomb– with the fabled 21k day.

I took a taxi to Logrono today for another rest day and checked into another pilgrim dorm. My mood was low. There are several kinds of dorms, municipal– run, perhaps for hundreds of years, by the city, parochial, run by the church, and private dorms which have sprung up everywhere. I chose a private dorm, and it wasn’t a good choice. I’m finding out that often the better bet for true hospitality can come in institutional packages, from people who’ve been housing pilgrims for a couple centuries or so. The dorm I chose was a private one, which can be great, but can also be oriented more to the tidal wave of pilgrim dough than the pilgrim. They can be sloppy about hygiene.

I unloaded my stuff, had a shower with soap I bought from the Euro version of a dollar store. The shower was not pleasant, with a dirty floor and warmish water. Then I went for a walk. When I returned,the room had that body smell, which unfortunately was a stinky redux of the night before.

I’m finding out that a disturbing night has a real impact. The night before, it was the awful body odor, like unwashed clothes of the homeless, emanating from the towel and pack of a man across from me. The Italian guy in the bunk directly over was grossed out too. Luckily my bed was by a window. We asked the manager of the albergue to talk to the guy about moving his pack outside, but he never did. The Italian guy’s girlfriend offered me some Vicks to rub under my nose, the same thing the coroner uses for examining corpses. I should have taken it.

I don’t know how much I want to write about a bad mood or event. They happen in travel and in life. But my feeling of oppression increased in the Logrono dorm I had chosen . By chance, I was the only woman in the room and it felt, not dangerous, but just too much. I was filled with regret about not just waiting around for a few hours for the normal church dorms to open. My impatience tripped me up, just like it did with the 21 km day. Hmmmmmm…. could there possibly be a lesson there?

My mood darkened, dangerously so. When you travel alone, you have only yourself to rely on, and a bad mood poses a real handicap. My feet were really hurting– I could feel an infection starting in the sole of my foot, the same sole that would have to step into public showers. So when I saw a hotel, I just walked up and checked in, then walked back to the albergue and picked my stuff up.

Scott had to talk me down. I stayed off my feet in a sterile business hotel, with deep bathtub. It took two days for my feet to heal up. I felt guilty, impatient, grateful, sad, stuck in sterility when life just teemed outside. And it was a hundred percent my own bad decision.

I am so lucky I have the bucks to take a hotel when I want or need to. But it still feels like a tiny bit of defeat. Strange, I meet many people who feel defeated if they can’t do 30 to 40 km, 20-plus miles, a day! We all have our points of pride.

I think that 30 Km is a very long day even for the twenty somethings. People are really getting injured going that far. In my own mind, which is still full of judgement, I call them “The New Penitents,” punishing themselves through painful walking. I’m sure they think of me as a dilettante. By the way, all the “recommended” divisions of the Camino are 20 to 30 km. I have so enjoyed going more slowly.

I think I’m really more of a wanderer than a trekker. I’m considering visiting the one of the oldest monastery sites in Europe tomorrow, back to the 6th century. It wanders off the beaten path. But then, so do I. Buen Camino, Suzanne

20140618-204432-74672635.jpg

20140618-204431-74671765.jpg

20140618-204431-74671404.jpg

20140618-204432-74672327.jpg

20140618-204433-74673073.jpg

20140618-204433-74673635.jpg

A Wine Fountain, Foot Fish, and a Lesson for the Turtle

20140615-073204-27124715.jpg

20140615-073204-27124073.jpg

20140615-073205-27125083.jpg
Things began swimmingly in Irache at 7:30 AM. To my surprise, the wine fountain was operating! This is an amenity for pilgrims. Some Koreans had filled entire water bottles with the wine that flowed from the taps…. not really kosher, as everyone is supposed to have a cup, glass or swig of it. There were only a few drops left being coaxed out of it by a German man, who was kind enough to share a tiny bit with me. Perhaps those two tablespoons had to do with my lack of discretion later in the day.

20140615-073734-27454210.jpg
I had been walking comfortably for days at turtle pace. My legs, feet and general health have been fine. Since I leave around 6 AM, I have often completed my walking day by 11 or 12. I had chosen my albergue and set down my pack, when I ran into two spry Spanish gentleman, both over 70.
“It’s too early to stop,” they said. “It’s only 10 km more.” Scott does this sometimes, but his schtick is that “it’s only 5 more minutes.” Silly me, I took them up on it. Their age must have influenced me; surely I could do as well as two happy geezers. But they were Hares, the nemesis of The Turtle.
A part of me wanted to see if I could move at a faster pace. I found out later that the distance signs for hikers were actually wrong. It was 15 km more… ten miles more after I had already completed my day. No shade, no cafes, no albergues in between. Just heat-shimmering golden fields.
Heat really affects the feet. At the end of my day I was exhausted and, for the first time, blistered. I had hiked 21.2 km, or about 14 miles, with a full backpack. I never did this much distance in a day before, not even in my teens or 20s backpacking.
By avoiding walking mid day, and only walking to my comfort level, I had avoided blisters until that time. The albergue I ended up at was somewhat dirty and uncomfortable, with a vaguely sleazy feeling. Most of the pilgrim dorms are very clean and businesslike. But it was good enough. I made a tomato salad in the kitchen and fell into bed.
The next day I walked in the morning to Torres del Rio, a fabulous little village with a spectacular Templar church, very Da Vinci code. It was truly gorgeous in its simplicity inside. The tower on top is not a bell tower, but a lighthouse in the middle of the fields, to light the way for pilgrims!

20140615-081130-29490379.jpg

20140615-081130-29490986.jpg
When I saw that one albergue offered a bed, an evening meal including 2 courses, desert and wine, and access to a hotel swimming pool, I took them up on it for 20E. The hotel had a cleaner fish spa, so I let little fish nibble all the dead skin off for 15 minutes, then had a foot massage. (A video is on Facebook– I can’t post videos with this blogging setup. ) Then I swam… watery bliss!

20140615-081743-29863908.jpg

20140615-081744-29864237.jpg
My feet, for the time being, are healing. I’ll take a bus to Logrono and start from there. Hubris is a danger on the Camino. Listen to your own inner voice.
The teacher in me finds endless lectures devised from my own Camino to give you, dear reader. I suppose I shall do another post called Camino Lessons at another time, and spare you now. Buen Camino, Suzanne
P.S. To add insult to injury, I left my carefully selected all-purpose soap and hair conditioner in the sleazy albergue. A pilgrim with no soap is a little too close to a midlevel pilgrim for my taste! It’s a offering to the road gods, and will be missed.

20140615-082709-30429818.jpg