Camino Frances: I’mma Spank that Mass

It’s near about 6 and I’ve been walking for close to 10 hours. The heat gave way long ago to the overcast clouds of Galicia, which in turn opened up as if it was Noah’s flood. In the uphill struggle of this rugged, mountainous country, I find myself laughing – shaking a friendly fist to the heavens – as I become drenched to the bone in mere moments after walking out from under the tree coverage.

The fantastic views of O Cebreiro – where one can see for hundreds of kilometers in unmolested beauty – were soon replaced by the valleys of the countryside. Resplendent stone villages appear periodically throughout the spotted, near-uninhabited landscape, but they offer few services. Many of the villagers sit there looking at me, that noxious smoke permeating the air, like a cat might ponder its food before crassly murdering it without so much as a second thought. I am a novelty – entertainment for these villagers lost to time. The Visigoths. The Arabs. The Hapsburgs. Napoleon. I’m just another out-of-place foreigner on his inevitable way.

The rain continues to fall, yet I remained determined to make my way to the small village of Samos, home to a splendid monastery renowned for its history of pilgrim hospitality. It is the feast day of Saint James – 25 July – and I intend on making the Pilgrim’s Mass in honor of the saint who bids me e’er onward to his near-mythical burial ground. It is a near 40km walk, but I am resolute.

The pain in my left leg is amplified by the cold rain, the tightened leather boot, and the rough road, but I find myself able to plant my staff into the damp ground, push forward, and grit my teeth through each bitter step. To think, my ancestors once made this walk in ages past – when witchcraft was a thing and possession by the Devil was the go-to explanation for every malady.

And here I was bitchin’ about a sore ankle.

The kind bartender at the last village said Samos was near 10km away; she deceptively smirked when I shook my head in resignation. That pilgrim’s resignation of accepting his miserable fate: if it is 10km, then I walk 10km. She poured me another beer, politely declined my gratitude, and bid me buen camino as I marched out the door and into the wilderness of Galicia.

The rain has been falling for what seems hours and I curse the gentleman in Medina who sold me this lemon of a rain jacket. It stops the water in the same manner the Maginot Line stopped the Germans at the onset of World War II: a great idea but a very poor execution. Within minutes of tramping the waterlogged paths, I am soaked to the bone, the jacket proving little more than a colorful addition to my pilgrim ensemble. No matter, I think, for those who trod this path before faired far worse. My staff digs deep into the mud, and I plod onward to Samos.

My right foot feels different than the left, and under the somewhat cover of an elderly oak, I find the seams have split once again. I curse my misfortune – a waterlogged boot on this Biblical day – but I again remind myself it is part of Camino. “Shit happens,” as we say in English, and after resting for a few moments, I begin my uphill, soaking trudge once again.

The tourist demands; the pilgrim accepts.

After what seems hours – long after what should have happened in 10km – I finally glimpse a sign: Samos .5KM. At last! Civilization within sight. I cross under a bridge and meet two fellow pilgrims, who, rather than experience the torrential downpour, have decided to camp underneath until the storm calms. We laugh at our situation, exchange cigarettes and stories, and I eventually continue on my journey. It is late in the day, I find myself utterly fatigued, and I desperately need a bed for the evening. The pain in my left leg prevents me from stopping too long: if I stop, I fear I cannot start again.

Bidding them farewell, I walk into the maelstrom and soon find myself within the limits of the ancient village of Samos. Sadly, no black-robed monks are there to greet me as I enter the town. In fact, most of the villagers look at me rather quizzically: who is this quixotic figure tramping through God’s watery fury?

With joy, having glimpsed the monastery from the top of the hill entering the village, I whistle my way through the desolate town square. A few Spaniards sit under eaves smoking their noxious cigarettes, tapping their canes and gesturing at my absurdity, but I remain undaunted as I limp into the church. A group of tourists stand agape at my entrance, perturbed by this soaked rat of a man who, in happy misery, whistled and waltzed his way into a sacred place.

An Irish tourist takes pity on me as the Spanish brothers go about their preparations: this was the entrance to the guided tour. The albergue was around the monastery, near 200m from where I had dropped my pack. Undaunted, and rather cheerful, I thank the woman, resaddle myself, and truly limp the last distance into the albergue.

I spot his green hat before he recognizes me.

“And where have you been,” he asks in his comforting Londoner accent?

“Brian! Comrade!” I shout in response, giving him a hug as I enter the dry tranquility of the monastery’s dormitory.

He returns my hug in the British sense – rather awkwardly – and gestures toward the dorms. “This man has been asking about you for several days.”

It is Francisco, the Spaniard from Astorga, with whom I have shared many meals, rooms, drinks, and smokes.

He waves as one does to a long-lost friend. “Hola Bruno!” he shouts. “Permisso un cigarette?” he gestures, making the universal sign for needing a smoke.

I laugh – soaked to the bone – and shake my head no.

I haven’t seen these guys in days and they immediately want to celebrate.

Camino Frances: My Leg Sucks

Howdy folks,

At the time of this writing, the Internet appears to be full on pants-on-head retarded and ceases to work appropriately. No matter, I wager, for I’ll simply post this when I enter an area with decent WiFi and far fewer turigrinos on their goddamned iPhones sucking up my precious bandwidth.

Fucking tourists.

I always take pictures of cows for my brother. Would a tourist do that?! Fun fact: cow shit smells the same in every country.

Months ago, whilst working across from a living caricature of The Office, I was asked if I was a tourist. I find the word quite belittling and very insulting, and I balked at her suggestion that I, Mr. Fucking Wanderer Tattooed on His Arm, would e’er be considered synonymous with foreigners and cameras. A foreign dipshit in a country only to take pictures and ooh and aah over the natives? Fuck me running, please.

Turns out she was only asking if my astrological sign was Taurus not tourist. Whoops, for I am indeed a Taurus.

Whate’er the fuck that means.

These past several days I have been limping along toward Santiago, the pain in my left shin exacerbated by every mountainous downhill step. With these shitty boots – which have twice now split along the seams – I feel every gravelly pebble and every gnarled root upon my aching haunches, the pain only amplified as I stumble my way across the hills and mountains that separate Leon from Galicia. A freshly minted cane helps me amble onward (and gives me a pretty good look, I daresay – just call me Daddy) but I do begin to fear that my leg might come clean off.

Contain those lady boners!

To my loving father, should you be reading this drivel, I would be greatly indebted should you make for me a stout, sturdy cane of solid wood so that upon my return I can scare the kids to death with my limping gait whilst brandishing my wooden cudgel. Just a thought. You can make anything out of wood – I have borne witness to that – and I would be honored to swing an old man stick in your stead. If only I was as capable and skilled as you.

I also take photos for my brother who will certainly appreciate the inside humor. Look, papa! Birds!

Grumpy old man that I am, I shan’t complain about the Way for that isn’t the reason we are out here, after all.

Ah, the reason?

I’ll tell you August First – Swiss National Day.

Regardless, I lost track of me mate Brian from London a few days back – his gait far outpaced my hobble and we lost one another in the mountains. No bother, I wager, for the Camino will reunite us should she see it fit. That’s just the Way: you meet people, you lose people. Keep going and you’ll be surprised.

Coincidentally at the Cruz de Ferro where a pilgrim is encouraged to leave behind their past grievances and walk forward with only good intentions.

From the Iron Cross, I limped into El Acebo where I spent a rather peaceful night in the company of a Japanese woman and a German lady. Sure, this sounds like a pretty raunchy sexual encounter, but I assure you I only slept peacefully for the first time since joining Frances. Even though the tiny, elderly Japanese woman snored like a freight train in desperate need of oil and new brakes, I was well within the land of Nod. Despite their need to awaken at 4 fucking AM to pack and repack their already packed shit from the night before, it was a rather peaceful night.

I also met Josef from Bavaria. Between four liters of beer and two packs of cigarettes in just over an hour, we became pretty cool friends.

I stumbled into Ponferrade, had myself a history boner at the Templar castle, and decided I’m too old for this shit and snagged myself a bed at the San Nicolas albergue. There I reunited with an elderly Spanish chap – Francisco – and the lovely German chain-smoker – Susie – and we had ourselves a beer and wine-filled festival of reunions. I was a bit pissed (in the English sense) and regaled any and all nearby pilgrims how Saint Nick was a Swiss and the patron saint of Swissland, and that is was only right and proper I stay there that night. After a fetchin’ meal through clouds of smoke and slurred words, I bid my comrades a good night and prepared for the following morn.

Mah Swigga, Mah Swigga

Despite my leg wanting to pull a Confederacy and secede from the Union, I plodded onward like an unwitting beast toward slaughter. Sure, I was moving, but what sort of butcher was waiting for me just over the hill? But God has a peculiar sense of humor I have come to learn, and I was rewarded for my incessant internal bitching with – get this – a wine tour and tasting for – Ellen, fucking get this – a fuckin’ Euro Fifty.

Fuck. My. Ass.

For less than two dollars, I was treated to a local wine tasting and even given snacks to boot. Sweet tap dancin’ Christ – I would never be so lucky back in the States! I snagged a picture of the sign to immortalize to my dear roommate just how badly she fucked up by skipping out on Camino. Certainly, I would have left her behind to the wolves back in the mountains, but this would have been the icing on that proverbial cake to make it this far. God love you, Magellen.

Please don’t let the scorpions into my room…

The pain in my leg refused to subside, the holes in my boots continued to grow, and the excitement in my heart continued to goad me onward. Less than 200km now to the Holy City, come Hell or high water, and though I’m dogged at the end of the day, I find myself quite calm and excited to be on the Way. Over drinks with a few Irish ladies (with the most syrupy thick of accents) I related how this was my third Camino, and, like a heroin addict doing obscene things for the next fix, I once more find myself upon the Way.

Folks, pilgrim or otherwise, I cannot quite fully explain what the experience is like. I know that the Bruno of five years ago (pre-Jakobsweg) is not the fella you know today. My sister, my dear sister, once remarked that she envied my zen with the world and how nothing gets my goat. Perhaps that is the Way – a path to calm. Perhaps it is something more. I have my reasons and my experiences, but, comrades, I encourage you to discover the Truth for yourself.

If you have gone on Camino, go again. Refresh that thirsty spirit.

If you have not, perhaps it is time to go.

Godspeed, comrades. Onwards!

Camino Frances: A Massage Would be Nice

Howdy folks,

After leaving the fair city of Leon behind me – the cathedral, the churches, all the stunning architecture – I continued my journey westward. It was a lovely stop. I had only walked a few kilometers into town and several more wandering about on my quest to get lost in a big city.

There are worse places to have breakfast.

After reuniting with folks from along the trail and sharing the necessary adult beverages and commiserations of our madness, I bid farewell to the city of lions. God willing, I’ll be back soon enough.

“Fuck you, I’m a lion!”

Continue reading “Camino Frances: A Massage Would be Nice”

Camino Frances: Para mi Libro

Howdy folks,

For four days now, I’ve been tramping about the Camino Frances on my way to Santiago. You’ve already read – theoretically – about the desolation of Camino Madrid and the stark contrast to Frances in terms of amenities and pilgrims. I needn’t bore you with such details any further.

What I shall bore you with, howe’er, is about the day to day shenanigans I find myself getting in to as I slowly close in upon my goal of visiting the holy city and the splendid coast.

Do forgive the lack of photos as the internet at the albergue municipal is far from fast. It’s reminiscent of the dial-up I grew up with (kids, ask your parents).

Continue reading “Camino Frances: Para mi Libro”

Camino Madrid: Como es WiFi?

Howdy folks,

This morn found me leaving the hallowed and untraveled plains of Camino Madrid for the far more well-known and traveled Camino Frances. After 12 grueling days of obscene heat, little human interaction on the trails, and exhausting just about every Spanish word I’ve ever learned, my route bled into Camino Frances in the picturesque peregrino town of Sahagun.

I seen’t it.

Camino Madrid was an interesting route; the differences between it and Frances are evident in the 21 or so kilometers I’ve walked today between the two. In the 12 days I spent marching the dusty trails of Madrid, I ran into a total of 9 pilgrims (and most of them were upon bikes). In the first kilometer of Frances, I probably passed twice that number on their way to Santiago. Madrid is certainly one of the less popular (or unknown) routes – especially outside Spain for the majority of pilgrims I encountered were Spaniards walking out their front doors from Madrid itself.

Yet the solitude of the Way is nothing to scoff off; no, far from it. I found the time spent walking from one village to the next – with very few amenities in between – to be both humbling and reassuring. If you read my nonsense, you’re well aware there’s a constant war in my head. Solitude helps bring those voices to rest. That constant crunch of feet upon gravel, that incessant squeal of a bag moving with your body, the chirp chirp chirp of a thousand birds you can’t see, all served to soothe the forces at battle within my psyche. In short, Camino Madrid is just the sort of experience this lonesome Seeker needed in his Life to rejuvenate body, mind, and Soul.

Just the church Juan Ponce de Leon was baptized in. No big deal.

Whereas one can easily find a bed on Frances without too much trouble, it became something of a game to hunt down the token albergue hidden within the confines of these confusing medieval towns. Not only that, but then you oft went on a separate hunt for the person who held the key to open said albergue. The villages on Madrid were proud to have a Camino pass through their area, but unless you spoke Spanish fluently, it did become somewhat of an ordeal to secure lodgings for the night. The guidebook I had handy wasn’t terribly out of date, but it could certainly use a touch-up on whom I need to track down (and where) to secure the key for a night’s lodgings. But it was well worth it at the end of the day for I oft had the albergue to myself (indeed, for the past week I haven’t shared a room with anyone) and was at liberty to explore the town, take all the long showers I wished, and awake at the hour of my choosing. Nothing to scoff at, certainly.

Yet, comrades, for all my gruff demeanor and insistence that I needn’t anyone in my Life, it does become somewhat damningly lonely when you walk an entire day without encountering a single Soul from beginning to end. Madrid has many long stretches – the longest being 18 kilometers between villages – where you encounter little more than wildlife, cereals, and endless fucking pine forests with sand.

How in the ever loving fuck do forests grow in sand? Why is there fucking sand in the Middle of Nowhere, Spain and why does it go on for 4 fucking days?

Bullshit forest straight out of Ruidoso

Solitude aside, the villages more than made up for the machinations of Mother Nature trying to be a tyrannical despot as the townsfolk were oft very helpful in tracking down food, supplies, and lodgings. Sure, I smelled like the interior of a pig’s ass after marching in the hot Spanish sun for hours on end, but the Spanish are always eager to help a pilgrim get on the right track. In Medina, the brothers of a Brazilian religious order helped me purchase new chonies after I shredded mine walking. The hospitalero of Villalon de Campos treated me to dinner and escorted me around town on a sight-seeing trip of the numerous churches and monuments (even though I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English). The doting abuela of Santa Maria took me to Mass and arranged for me to have a tour of the local castle. Because there’s fucking castle tours after Mass in Spain. Ne’er did I go hungry or want for provisions or camaraderie in the villages – the people of Camino Madrid ensured I was treated like a proper pilgrim.

And now, comrades, it seems my solitary adventure upon the Camino has ended not with a whimper, but with a resounding boom. Whereas I have become accustomed to silence and solitude, I now must contend with Camino families and their ceaseless mirth. I shan’t sleep in a bottom bunk any time soon nor shall I have all the hot water I wish when I wash the filth from my strained body.

But that is ok for it is Camino. Smile regardless. And that is why I am here. To experience that which cannot be replicated elsewhere. I welcome all encounters – good and bad – for that is the Way.

Today I marched into a sleepy little town. Perhaps it rings a bell?

A pair of hospitaleros greeted me as I entered my old stomping grounds: Bruno, from Italy, and Michael, from Germany. How about that, eh? Three years later and a Bruno is still watching over this place. Ain’t that something? I’ll call that a good omen any day. It sure was good to speak something other than Spanish (even if it was my equally bad German)!

For now, you beautiful people, I’m out. Onwards, then; to glory!

Camino Madrid: An Update

Howdy folks,

If you’re reading this, then you should be aware that I’m off gallivanting around on the Camino Madrid en route to Santiago de Compostela. God willing, this will be my third Camino.

Why?

Because fuck, why not that’s why.

I will also accept fuck you, that’s why as an acceptable answer.

Now that the stupid questions are out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Continue reading “Camino Madrid: An Update”

Doubt Breeds Strength

Where to begin?

I hear it. Those reverberating beats of guitar, drums, and keyboard before the onslaught of lyrics eviscerates my reality. That booming voice; a war god howling his rage and frustration. Deutschland. Again and again, repeated for emphasis, to show just how important it is for the listener to pay attention – to take fucking note. Ah, battle ne’er sounded so angrily beautiful. This euphoric assault upon the senses, bringing one to realization that the world is far vaster, far more important, than whate’er miniscule problems one might think they understand.

This is music. Continue reading “Doubt Breeds Strength”