The last 5 days on the Primitivo (I’ll assume you all have the translation down now:)) have been nothing short of spectacular. Beginning in a town called Salas at 200 meters, I began a series of steep uphill treks followed by both gradual and sharp descents. Up and down, up and down reaching over 1200 meters at Puerto Palo and now back down to 500 meters in Castroverde where I am today — exactly 2 months of hiking in the books! The last 5 days have been both the most difficult and the most beautiful that Ive experienced the entire trip.
I watched a documentary on the Camino Frances before I left that talked about a physical hurdle, a mental hurdle and finally a spiritual awakening that pilgrims experience on their journey. My body took a while to adjust, particularly my feet, but the last five days have been pain free going over 30 kms on some days on difficult terrain. Somewhere around one month into this in a hot pine forest in France with a bad stomach, a bloody toe and 90° heat, mentally I was so over walking that I think the only thing that kept me going was knowing that all of you would know that I had quit if I did. Without a doubt, walking this many days on top of the solitude and the boredom at times required a different perspective to endure. Ive never had a spiritual experience in my life. Whenever someone has described their spiritual experience to me – talking with God, out of body or other – Ive always chalked it up as pure hyperbole. The last 5 days have been as close to spiritual as I can let myself believe. The pain disappeared, I didnt have many thoughts of where I was going, I didnt care so much about how fast I got there and as the terrain got more difficult I became happier. Long distance runners describe a high that they get. This is how Ive felt walking for the last five days. I will call it spiritual when I can completely ignore the flies here!
Here are a few pictures to help you understand.
Walking in Spain has been a very different experience vs. walking in France. Both good, but different. After I passed through the difficult Basque region, there were many more people on the trail – some going all the way to Santiago and others on a 3 week holiday doing a section. Ive been walking with the same group of people for just over a week now. We all get up in the morning at different times, we usually walk alone, we see eachother briefly on the trail for a cup of coffee or a bocadillo at times and eventually end up at the same albergue 20-30 kms down the road. Sometimes we cook up some dinner at the albergue and share it. Other times the albergue host cooks a communal dinner for us. Needless to say its been more social of late.
There’s Johnny from Barcelona, Andre from Montreal, Gonzolo from the Canary Islands, Priscilia from Switzerland, Keith and Kerrie from Kansas via their 4 year stint teaching in the Dominican Republic, Tim from San Francisco but grew up in nowhere North Carolina and is as much a Californian as I am a Spaniard, Gregory from somewhere in British Columbia, Heleane from Belgium and finally some friends from Wyoming – Shane and Elizabeth.
Its a younger crowd with the exception of Gonzolo and myself, but neither of us has a problem acting less than our age. Nevertheless, we’ve tended to stick a little closer within the group along with Priscilia. Gonzolo doesnt speak English and I dont speak Spanish, so we speak to eachother in some form of Frengspish. We are both equally proficient in French – they give the same degree to kindergarteners. In Switzerland, they speak French, German, Italian and Romanch. Priscilia is going to be a French teacher when she returns to Switzerland. The three of us walked together on the way out of Oviedo. I cant really explain how much was lost in translation between Gonzolo and me because it was lost, but Priscilia was laughing at us most of the day which tells me a lot. It was a primer for her class for the students with special needs. Nevertheless, Gonzolo and I have continued to try and communicate with varying degrees of success and intervention from Priscilia and Andre. If nothing else its been entertaining.
Andre’s french is a much more strident version from provincial french. If I didnt know any better Id think he was speaking german at times. Johnny, a young 21 yr. old student from Barcelona speaks some english but no French. Johnny has been carrying his ukulele with him since Irun. Andre has his recorder – thats right, the instrument that you played in 4th grade music class. Each night they play a rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ I think its the only song Johnny knows. The girls usually sing along to drown out the instruments. Andre and Johnny have bonded with their music and the english between them is about on par with my dialogue avec Gonzolo. That hasnt stopped them from talking to eachother in the least, and its provided endless entertainment to the rest of us listening to two innocent, wide eyed kids discuss favorite music artists, girls and life lessons from the trail (Im aware of how old that makes me sound but thats how Ive felt around the two of them). A few nights ago Johnny and Gonzolo were headed to the market to pick some things up for dinner. I asked Johnny to grab me some vegetables to go along with the pasta that I was making that night for everyone – some mushrooms, zucchini or squash and some queso por favor. An hour later he returned with one pablano pepper and some manchego. I said, “Johnny, who buys ONE pepper?” He turns a little red and starts laughing like a stoned surfer and says, “Oh man, Im sorry..I wasnt thinking…Gonzolo told me to just get a pepper.” Maybe this is one of those moments where you just had to be there. All I could do was laugh and throw the pepper into the sauce I was making to dress it up a bit. Here’s a picture of One Pepper Johnny and his ukulele.
After hearing the story, Tim made sure everyone in the albergue knew about Johnny’s one pepper snafu. Whenever anyone has a question about how many water fountains are on the trail that day, how many albergues in the next town, how many beds in each albergue, how many cafes along the way or any other basic fact that most guidebooks provide they go to Tim. Invariably, he has already informed everyone in the albergue of these fast facts and more before asking is necessary. Before Keith from Kansas knew Tim’s name he just referred to him as “Guidebook.” Being from Philadelphia, I tend not to show much compassion for the “competition,” and I find humor in the mild suffering of others. Its the blue collar, underdog, misery loves company mentality that keeps Philadelphia exactly where it is on a highly coveted list of cities that everyone wants to visit..right next to Detroit. Tim’s North Carolina southern hospitality / we’re all in this together personality reminds me of a less charismatic Bill Cinton speech at times. My knee jerk reaction is to fill his hiking boots with shaving cream, but then I quickly stop myself and am reminded that Ive purposely taken a 3 month holiday from the city of brotherly love. I guess even walking 1500kms cant remove all of the cynicism!:) Here’s Tim….and Johnny wearing Tims hat.
Then there is the couple from Kansas, Keith and Kerrie, and the friends from Wyoming, Elizabeth and Shane. West of the Mississippi and East of California has always struck me as a bit strange. Keith and Kerrie got married straight out of college and moved to the Dominican Republic to teach in a Catholic school. They like to have “extreme anniversaries,” so this one is walking a long distance. Next year they said they’re going to learn to cook and buy an extreme amount of expensive food to celebrate. They’re moving back to the suburbs of Kansas City after this trip to continue teaching. They’re cute in a Wally Cleaver kind of way:). Conversely, if you dropped off Elizabeth and Shane at Woodstock 40 years ago they’d fit right in…at least initially. Shane likes to sport his tie dyed robe at night after a long days hike. Elizabeth apparently prefers a more natural look according to Gonzolo who ran into her in the middle of the night on his way to the bathroom. As he was telling me the story in broken french he points his index finger at his head, moves it in a circle, exhales shaking his head and says “Kansas and Wyoming is loco.” I couldnt argue.
Heleane burned out of her job working for a minister in Brussels. Im not sure if Gregory has ever had a job. He’s admittedly suffered from a bit of failure to launch syndrome, but Heleane has taken to his middle school charm. They’re both actually quite smart and funny. Gregory just hasnt yet figured out how to use it. He started walking the Camino after deciding to do it a week prior when he was getting tired of couch surfing in Europe. I asked him how long he’d planned on being in Europe and he said until he’s out of money. Whatever works right.
I made it out of Lugo this morning and walked most of the day in rain. Its only been the 3rd day in 2+ months of walking that Ive had to pull out my poncho. In the middle of the walk the rain stopped briefly and the sun peaked through. Straight in front of the trail was a full rainbow, and a few minutes later a double rainbow waiting for me to walk straight through. The last time I saw a rainbow was 4 days into my journey in France. Now Im 4 days out from Santiago. Its a strange symmetry that some people might say was a sign or someone looking over me. Anything is possible, but I just think I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. ..twice:). Buene Camino as they say..