Well now, this outta be a strange (albeit shorter) update, made all the merrier given my current crippled status. I’ve the use of only one arm at present so typing is rather burdensome. I’m not 18 anymore I’m afraid and my body didn’t take too kindly to being thrown around in the schwinge pit at the funeral games.
Another overcast day, a distant rain slowly encroaching upon us as the Galician sun seems nonexistent in this wet wonderland. The buildings of the area are new – post-Franco – but they lack the charm the rest of the Spanish countryside has held to her captive audience. Pre-fabricated and painted in obnoxious colors, they contrast with the verdant countryside just beyond the city borders.
I exhale a cloud of smoke, a Spanish brand, and its unctuous fumes waft back over me like a freighter steaming along past its own flatulence. My coffee sin leche sits on the damp table, a colorful parade of ponchoed pilgrims mustering past like students on their way to Hogwarts. They march because they must. They are all robed in these strange plastic garments, looking bedraggled and low-spirited, their energy matching the gloomy atmosphere of Mother Nature.
Fuckin’ tourists, I think to myself between puffs of cancer and caffeine. The previous day saw an explosion of pilgrims upon the Camino as the 100km mark proves an enticing starting point for many people seeking absolution (and that magical piece of paper that proves you visited the holy city). Despite my desire to remain non-judgmental, I find it a taxing task as hordes of Spanish teenagers – as loud and obnoxious as Americans – trundle along the path without packs, accompanied by their overweight parents who bustle and huff under the strain of their burgeoning wallets and empty day packs. That is not Camino, I think. There is no suffering.
My coffee finished, my cigarette burning my fingertips and near singeing my pathetic travel mustache, I groan along with my aching body as I saddle myself once more to join the march of pilgrims. I must top off on water and find a fountain adjacent to the cafe, dropping my freshly saddled pack onto the wet cement, and snag my two bottles. The button gives way easily enough; it isn’t near rusted shut like in the smaller villages.
With fresh water, I resupply my pack and replace the plastic rain cover. It snaps, then tears, in my soaked hands.
Fuck, I think aloud.
The clouds seem to threaten to burst that very instant as I look dumbfounded at my latest misfortune. First the boots splitting near two weeks into my adventure. Then my leg giving out shortly after. A rain jacket that doesn’t stop rain. And now a quite useless pack cover on a very rainy morn.
I laugh aloud to the fountain, startling an old woman walking her mutt along the main street and waking a bum who slept under a nearby awning. It can’t be repaired and no one around here uses duct tape for some strange reason. But I recall a pilgrim shop nearby that could carry new supplies; with curses and praise for my misfortune upon my breath, I stomp back up the hill.
The shop doesn’t open until 9 and I’ve two hours to kill afore then.
I return to the cafe, order another coffee, and light up another cigarette. I sit once more in my freshly dampened seat, admire the pilgrims who, though seem to be suffering, continue their journey in their colorful carcinogens as I wait impotently along the sidelines.
It is not wrong, I breathe. It is not right, I exhale, that familiar cloud canvassing me like a warm embrace, a much needed comfort on this rather bleak start to a day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
Look there, that errant cigarette cocked so precariously to the wrong side. That messy mop of long blond locks lost unto themselves. How can that bedraggled devil wandering the dusty streets of Spain truly be the fellow you submit your essays to? And wine? Nonsense – I’m a red-blooded Swiss. I’ll have me a mighty fine beer any day.
Though I won’t say no to a nice Malbec. Or Chianti. Or any wine, really.
Fuck, I love wine.
For all my students who have a predisposition to Google my illustrious name, do be mindful that some huckster is masquerading as your eccentric English teacher. See the difference between the two photos? Come now; how could anyone be fooled in to thinking one handsome devil is portraying the other?
Alleged narcissism aside, let us focus upon the meat and potatoes of this sojourn into madness.
Consider the following to be fictionalized short stories based upon real-life interactions during the previous two weeks. Whilst on the road attending a couple of Advanced Placement seminars throughout New Mexico, the writing bug took hold – travel does that for me.