I’m currently in the midst of what I call a Dark Day – that is, where the depression seems stronger than normal. I’m literally sitting in an ivory tower, watching the pristine ocean fade away into nothingness, cold beer in hand: and I feel nothing.
Guess it’s time to write, eh?
As you recall, I am in the midst of giving my testimony to a group of college-aged kids in Chile. You can read the first part here and the second here. If that tickles your fancy, go ahead and give them a read, then return here for part three of the Limping Along series:
On Camino the First and Revelations Aplenty
Editor’s Note – I’m pretty certain I didn’t go into this much detail when I spoke the testimony, but, again, the story might change but the message is the same.
On Being a Self-Hating Catholic and Ernest Hemingwannabe
Our story continues in which our Hero is in the midst of regaling his Catholic comrades with a tale of woe and heartache, a yarn of mental deprivations and emotional turmoil, a timeless speech of impeccable rhetoric and colorful banter, this is, dear reader, Part the Second of the Limping Along series.
Yeah, it’ll be a series. Deal wid it.
For those of you first tuning in, might I recommend you give Limping Along (Part I) a read afore you turn your sights upon this. Backstory is always important, you understand.
For the rest of you lot, this next passage continues where I left off: in the midst of giving my testimony to my Focus Mission Group. It’s about as bitchin’ as it sounds.
Gentlemen, ready your canes and adjust your monocles. Maidens fair, contain thy selves and resist the vapors. In the words of Gork (and possibly Mork) ‘ere we go!
Forgive the lack of updates. As you recall, I was bound for Chile where our mission group had absolutely no Wi-Fi possibilities. Indeed, one of the stipulations for this trip was a media fast, if you will, that dissuaded me from even firing up my phone. There’s your lack of updates for ya.
But I’m back in the States, in the midst of packing up my belongings, trying to bang out a post in good order.
I have a lot on my mind as of late, and many of these thoughts are swirling about, trying to take shape in the form of words on a page. The writer’s conundrum – how do you write out just one of these many, varied thoughts? It’s like trying to catch the dust floating about in a sunny window: you can clearly see everything, but you cannot quite grasp those motes.
The following passage is based upon a testimony I had to give to the group. Although I had an outline of what I had wanted to say, I ended up firing from the hip and just rolling with it. If you’ve ever heard me speak before, you know I’m prone to word vomit – I’m much better at writing out my scattered thoughts than saying them aloud. Might not be the exact words I used when speaking, but the story is the same. Part II will follow shortly after.
Enjoy this passage about my struggle with faith, the absurdity of reality, the desire to help others at my own expense, and the need to belong.
Forgive my lack of posts and updates for the bulk of my time is devoted to the pilgrims at the albergue here in Grado. Plenty of time to jot down thoughts in my journal, but bangin’ out a bitchin’ blog post is much more difficult. I’m not even mad; this gig is such a welcome chapter of my Life. And soon, my Life will change yet again for the better. I go from one happy moment to the next – yes, Life is good.
But you didn’t come here to read about how much I’m enjoying Life and brimming with excitement for Our future. If you’ll allow me, curious reader, let me tell you about being a hospitalero.
I actually wrote this last week but didn’t feel it appropriate to post until I felt it necessary.
Before I buggered off on San Salvador without telling a Soul – what a heart-wrenching, foolish mistake that was – I stayed in the monastery in Leon. And here I am again, having successfully completed this pristine Way, mostly intact and in good health. And once more, nestled amongst them in their hundreds, I realize just how much I can grow to dislike pilgrims.
On the day I started San Salvador, I left Leon rather late by Camino standards – half past 7 – even though I was awoken at 5 by those goddamned bed chasers. You’d think we were all forced to sleep outside, this constant hustle and bustle so many pilgrims concern themselves with. As if the beds evaporate overnight, and everything becomes completo at approximately 11.
Christ, pilgrims, get your shit together.
Oh, yes, this is a rant. A rant against those who are here on the Way by not being here on the Way. If you think this might apply to you, even in the slightest, then, yeah, it’s probably about you. You’re That Guy.
If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been walking San Salvador these past few days. And I must say, it is worlds apart from Camino Frances. Case in point, this is the first time I’ve had an Internet connection in ~130km.
The trail was a tough son-of-a-bitch, lemme tell you, and there were many times I wondered why I left the safety of Frances for this maddened Way.
On your first day you’re dick-slapped with a 700m ascent, followed by an immediate cunt-punt of 1000m descent. The locals look at you as if you’re lost (which is completely plausible, given the markings), none of them speak English (or German, I’ve learned), and you won’t find much in the way of amenities along the Way.
You really must be mindful of what you’re packing, but you cannot forget food and extra water; half the fountains aren’t guaranteed to be potable and all the stores are closed willy-nilly. Better bring extra medical gear whilst you’re at it. You’ll pass through half a dozen towns with even fewer albergues.
The bars and restaurants along the Way (two, tops) don’t have Wi-Fi, pilgrim menus, or any local knowledge to exploit – and they close early. The steps are long, mostly uphill (or treacherous downhills), through uninhabited and undeveloped land, and you won’t see another Seeker the entire week you’re walking. And when you’re done walking your +25km day, you have to wait an hour or two before the hospitalero shows up to open the albergue because he’s still at work – thought you were getting a hot shower at noon, did ya? Ha.
It’s a bitch of a trail and it is completely different from Frances. In fact, apart from the shells and yellow arrows, I would wager this trail has nothing in common with Frances.
In short, fuck, sign me up again.
Lemme give you a few reasons why this trail stomps so much ass that they have to import colons from other countries just to meet the demand.
Disclaimer: Free-write is a technique I learned from a good friend of mine, an excellent writer – far better than myself – and something he does often. You simply write as you think/feel and whatever happens, well, it happens. When I feel blocked, I let loose with all guns and see what happens. In the madness, there might be a nugget of wisdom. What follows is a free-write, full of vulgarities, slurs, and random thoughts throughout the entire wall of text. There is a thread throughout this entire mess, but you must take care to follow it, lest you end up at the Minotaur’s lair.
For whatever reason, I listened to this on repeat until I felt finished. Give it a listen: Elton John, Tiny Dancer.
As a Catholic, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to believe in nor acknowledge without offending the Almighty, His angels and saints, and my many good Catholic friends. Do forgive me, for I’m just a mere (im)mortal with his sporadic outbursts of piety coupled with extreme heathenism. For you see, dear reader, I do firmly believe in Fate and that things happen for a reason: whether we realize the reason or not is irrelevant. Free will, to me, is an expressed illusion, for our Fate has already been woven – we simply follow the thread through our own labyrinth.
For reference, view the first 25 seconds or so.
Forgive me, Catholic friends, for citing Odin as a skald to live by.
So, enough heathen outbursts; meat and potatoes, eh?
As you know, I have been volunteering as a hospitalero here in El Burgo Ranero since Sunday past. My initial stint was to only serve until yesterday morning; however, Fate, that insensitive bitch, decided to rob me of my American companion. Following a family emergency, he departed yesterday afternoon, leaving me alone to run the albergue during the bulk of the day. I have the assistance of a local sapo (that is, a local hospitalero who can show up as needed) to help clean the place and register pilgrims, but by the time the completo sign goes up, I am on my lonesome caring for the joint. And per the arrangement I made with my departing comrade, I will serve out the remainder of the month as the token American hospitalero here in El Burgo Ranero before the cavalry arrive.
Not quite how I expected this Camino to go, but I am incredibly grateful it took the turn it did.
Over a communal dinner, an American lass asked me what it takes to become a hospitalero. Varying country to country, the American Pilgrims on Camino (APOC) requirements stipulate that one must accomplish three things: successfully complete the Camino itself, participate in an accredited training workshop, and choose a two-week period you don’t mind volunteering. I successfully completed my first Jakobsweg back in 2014, a 10-week sojourn from Fribourg, Switzerland, to the fabled Finisterra, and ever since then have been itching to just give back to the Way. Last month, I attended the national gathering of APOC and there completed the required training to satisfy the second requirement. Now all I needed was to decide upon some dates, but me being me (Chaotic Good), I allowed things to grow as they go.
And how fortunate was that (in)decision making for I soon found myself the opportunity to prove my worth. And I must say, comrades, being a hospitalero is the most enlightening and charming thing about this Camino experience. What use is there of a fabled city with a dead saint when the real treasure walks through my door every day? Here is truly the international experience I seek for I nightly share my table with all continents, cultures, and beliefs; the entire world around one table.
The albergue itself is a modest faux-dobe building with a complete kitchen, dining area, fireplace, dedicated washer and mercurial dryer, plenty of hot water, and 30 beds. Every morning, Sapo and I clean the entire thing: beds, sheets, floors, windows, tables, chairs, kitchen, bathroom, the whole shebang. Fresh flowers dot the interior, bringing some nice color to the wood and tile decor, and, should weather permit, pilgrims might get themselves a roaring fire. As a municipal, many pilgrims are leery of settling for the night, but I do declare that Sapo and I alleviate any concerns through the expression of our job title: hospitality.
That’s the entire key to this volunteer gig – to be a hospitable person. We must check ourselves at the door and instead only offer kindness, patience, and understanding to a new group of tired, disgruntled pilgrims day after day. As I write this, a Frenchman and Italian are arguing over who gets to buy me the first beer because I opened the completo albergue, allowing them to rest upon the floor, along with 10 other pilgrims.
Every day brings new challenges and problems to be overcome, and meeting them with ill-temperament, short-handedness, or mere apathy will rankle anyone. One must remember that the pilgrims have been walking the bulk of their day – they are tired, hungry, dehydrated, and eager to rest – and being met at the door by an uncaring bureaucrat who sees little beyond a CV booster does much harm to their Camino experience. Hospitality; hell, it’s in the job title.
This volunteer opportunity isn’t all rainbow sunshine and unicorn farts, however, for pilgrims are still people, and God love ’em, people can be shitheads. The irritable ones who decry what the Camino has become (back in my day, types), the curt types who meet your smile with a shrug and see little more than a bed than an experience, and the sneaky types who wander about the albergue as if it were their own home, disregarding privacy of others or posted signs (hey, hospitaleros are human too; get out of my quarters!), and the list goes on. People, bless their hearts, people.
But the benefits far outweigh and overshadow any shortcomings one might find as a volunteer. Rather than letting an older Frenchman sleep on the floor (we being completo and all), I showed him my private quarters and lent him the spare bed for the night. A distraught Korean woman took the spare mattress in my hallway, whilst a slew of pilgrims will share the floor tonight – those with sleeping bags generously donated their blankets to their comrades on the ground. I have been reunited with many folks I had passed in previous days as a walking pilgrim – impromptu gatherings of this sort are fantastic. Offering food and drink to those who have none, greeting everyone with a smile, and carrying bags up and down the stairs – the little things, folks – they all add up. Pilgrims will remember their stay at an enjoyable albergue, and it’s our duty to make sure we’re part of those memories. Sure, we might not have WiFi, but we do our best to offer a genuine Camino experience to those seeking one.
And here at El Burgo Ranero, I hope you enjoy your experience.
After my chance reunion with my Icelandic comrade in the town of Bercianos del Camino, we walked ran the next 8km to El Burgo Ranero in short order, arriving before the local municipal, Domenico Laffi, had officially opened to pilgrims for the day.
As the two of us sat outside in the wind and sun, I took the opportunity to reflect upon how far I had come already this Camino. Sunday marked two weeks walking, non-stop, from St. Jean. Some days were brutal and long; some were relatively quiet and short. But each was a blessing unto itself, with trials and afflictions sharing the same path as alleviation and respite. Every day you wake up, comrades, is a day to appreciate.