I Can’t Deal

My digits are now tipped in these rather strange talons most people call fingernails as mine have been bitten off for some 30 odd years e’er since tooth discovered keratin. I find it strange – it makes typing far more haphazardous – and I’ve lost the oral fixation Freud hurr-hurred on about for psychopaths and Oedipusians.

After walking Camino for a third time, it seems the habit was left behind like a stone of ill-intentions at the Cruz de Ferro.

And after walking Camino, I find myself once more having that “Come to Jesus” moment about what is reality and where am I going with it.

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Camino Frances: A Curious Incident Involving an Asian, a Money Belt, and a Banana Hammock

I remember to brush my teeth this evening and head to the men’s bathroom in this brand new – yet delightfully cramped – albergue perched upon the ass-end of a town that has the comical name of Calle. It seems apt given that there isn’t much to this place aside from an overpriced hostel for pilgrims and a kitsch beer garden that took the Germanic title far too seriously. Much as I love beer, being surrounded by emptied and graffitied bottles seems like I’m drinking dead relatives in a hops graveyard.

Regardless, I have applied fluoride to my brush, but stop before I even begin. Some poor bastard has left behind their money belt. A European, no doubt, I think to myself as I grasp the pouch. It is lightweight, thin, and clearly contains money, passports, and other important documents. I resist the urge to peek inside and gander at the identification card lest someone walk in at the wrong moment and assume I’m a thief.

The Asian fellow with the body of a young man but the emotionless face of a stone statue enters to freshen himself up for the night. His face is pockmarked, lacking a beard, but his eyes have that thousand-yard stare only pilgrims and elderly, bearded wisemen seem to possess. I turn toward him (a walking conundrum – like a shaved Confucius) holding the European man purse.

“Yours,” I politely ask.

He grunts in the negative, waving a foamy toothbrush and a dismissive palm toward me. “A no, a no, a no,” he says, caught in that infinite loop of speaking an unfamiliar language to emphasize a point. He points toward his toothbrush – as if it’s the owner – and returns to cleaning his young teeth in an old face.

I thank him for his repeated denial of confirmation and proceed to track down the owner. I scarcely leave that cramped shitter before a half-naked older chap is hit by the swinging door. He apologizes, but the frantic look in his eye indicates I’ve found my mark.

“Yours,” I politely ask.

“Ah!” he squeaks in pleasant surprise. He looks at me, looks at his man purse, looks at me, and takes the man purse from my outstretched hand. He ignores my pasted toothbrush in the other.

“Ah, thank you so very much!” he says. He has excellent command of the language, only the slightest hint of an accent, and I can’t place him just yet. “This,” he says holding up the man purse, “was my Life. Thank you.”

“No problem,” I say. “Happy to help.”

“I would be – as you say – fucked without this.” He emphasizes the word, like he’s trying to sense my limits by proffering the most versatile curse in the tongue.

He has since buckled the man purse about his bare waist. A damp tee covers his chest; an European banana hammock covers the rest. His legs are the same shade of pale as the slick tile.

The Asian man-boy is furiously brushing his teeth.

“It is very kind,” says the half-naked European, “to return this to me. You could have taken anything you wanted.”

I laugh. “It is Camino,” I say. “We are pilgrims. We help each other.”

“Ah, yes. That is true. I thank you.” He extends his hand and briefly shakes mine. My toothbrush remains unused and impotent. “I am from Slovenia,” he says, not bothering with a name. After releasing my hand, he produces a second tee from Lord knows where and begins to wash it – unperturbed by the Asian man-boy – in a nearby sink. The Asian is equally unfazed by the half-naked European casually washing his clothes. “Where do you call home?”

“United States,” I reply. “New Mexico.”

“Ah, yes!” he exclaims as if he’s ever been to that part of the country. “I was once in California – it is close, no?”

I think to myself how distance is relative and simply agree with him. Easier than explaining geography at this point. Our Confucian pal finally finishes scrubbing his gums clean of any and all filth and quietly exits the bathroom. “A sorry, a excuse,” he says. Given the cramped space, he simply squeezes between us, but my new Slovenian friend pays him no mind as he begins asking me about Trump, healthcare, and Camino.

“Trump,” he says with that European dissent. “What a character, no?”

“He certainly is,” I reply waving my hands (and toothbrush) in dismissive defeat. I haven’t checked the news since Lent but according to other pilgrims, The Donald is being racist or some shit back home. Same shit, different day. “But he will get re-elected,” I add.

The European nods in agreement, moving his head up and down like a sensible person, and thrusting his near-naked groin to and fro for some strange affirmation. He is caught up in his thoughts and fails to notice the quixotic expression on my face.

Even he knows the cult of personality and the rabid ambition the man has for the office. “It is about money,” he says, wringing out his second tee and standing in full. His money belt blocks the full view of his banana hammock, but I cannot get quite past the paleness of his legs. All these weeks in Spain and not a day of sun.

“Yes,” I say, “money. That’s what people care about.”

“Yes!” he says. I touched a nerve as he becomes wholly animated. “But all that shit – the shit we left back home – does not matter.” He holds his free hand high above his head. “A stack of money this tall does not make one happy!”

I nod.

“You cannot eat money,” he continues. “Money will not cure you of matters of the mind and heart.” His banana hammock flops in agreement as he excitedly moves about within our small quarters.

“And you can’t take it with you,” I add.

“Yes, very true that is. You cannot have it in the next Life.”

He returns to the sink (the Asian man-boy didn’t rinse his out thoroughly and remnants of Confucian spittle decorate the porcelain). He wrings the tee one more time for good measure. “Everyone needs to go on Camino,” he sighs. “It would teach the world of Good.”

“Where else in the world can you have moral philosophical discussions in a men’s bathroom with strangers?” I say. “Now that’s Camino.”

He laughs and with his free hand motions to fist bump. “You are right, American.” Again the banana hammock flops in agreement.

I return the gesture, my hand clenched around my unused toothbrush.

Camino Frances: Another Fortunate Misfortune

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.

It is Camino.

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!”

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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).

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