October 8, 2012

Wobbling Into Leon

Began our ascent back into the mountains today. Have been walking on flat, dirt trails for the last week and am excited to enter into a new landscape. Most people complain that the terrain between Burgos and Leon is ugly and boring but I quite enjoyed it. Prettiest sunsets and sunrises thus far.

My and Mia’s feet have been in poor shape since Leon. This is most likely a result of our decision to walk 47km in one day. Originally we only planned to walk a total of 30km that day and then have a short, 17km walk to Leon the next morning. However, after completing 24km we saw a sign that said Leon was only an additional 23km away and suddenly excitement (and our ardor for the dramatic) took hold and we decided it would be fitting to walk the entire 47km stretch in one go. Leon was the city from which we started last year and thus arriving there meant that we had technically walked the entire Camino.

Being rational people, we deemed it necessary to stop and have a few drinks in a bar to contemplate our plan before doing anything rash. Like walking 30 miles in one day. Always so responsible.

Eventually we found a rundown little place called Casablanca that was situated just off of the highway. The bar was completely empty except for the two fellows behind the counter who we would eventually call Papa and Igor. It wreaked of smoke and looked more like a trashy American diner than a Spanish pub, but we decided to roll with it after Papa said he would put on Bruce Springsteen special for us. We had been listening to the Boss as we walked toward the front doors so he must’ve heard us singing and decided to appeal to our taste. That, or he is a part-time wizard. Let’s just go with the latter.

Sat down and ordered two pints of Mahou Damm. Papa came over straight away and asked if we’d like anything to eat and where we were from. Like everyone else on Camino, he thought we were German. Was actually so convinced that he brought us menus in English, Spanish, and German, even after we told him we were from the States. Said Danke and ordered two more pints. Best to keep the public guessing.

I suppose I should explain the Papa phenomenon before continuing.

Lately, we’ve gotten into the habit of calling every older Spanish man Papa and every older Spanish woman Mama. Usually they work in a bars or restaurants, or sometimes we meet them on the streets when seeking out directions. Mamas and Papas also tend to only speak Spanish, have a lazy eye, and are missing a fair amount of teeth. They are kind and always eager to help us as much as possible. Unfortunately, every now and then Papa will get creepy, but then he becomes Paco which requires a whole nother explanation. This particular Papa was a bit younger than most and spoke a little English, but he lacked a front tooth and clearly ran the kitchen so we called him Papa no less. Igor, his silent sidekick, was quite large and jolly and always quick to follow Papa’s orders. The dynamic duo kept bringing us out little treats like slices of bread with cheese and anchovies, and then some some sort of sautéed mushrooms. The latter were accompanied with a preliminary showing of a basket of giant raw mushrooms courtesy of Papa himself. We’re assuming they came from his garden and that they were what we were eating as he kept pointing to the basket and puffing with pride, though that remains TBD.

Spent a solid two hours eating and drinking and listening to Bruce. Eventually he just gave us the remote control and let us moderate the volume, which was consequentially set at its maximum. Finally we decided it was time to pack up and hit the road, though Papa wouldnt let us leave without a few rounds of chupitos. When we told him we were marching to Leon, he was all the insistent on filling our glasses with a sweet cognac. Por energia, he repeated. Cheers, Papa.

The first 5 or so kilometers post Casablanca were grand.

Danced down the side of the road to the “wobble” song, which was introduced to us courtesy of Mia’s 18 year old brother. Apparently there’s an actual dance that accompanies it, though we prefer an interpretive approach. Regardless, it seems to go over quite well with the Spanish automotive community, especially with truck drivers.

Along the way we saw a pet store and decided it would be a good idea to purchase a puppy. Have been in search of a third for a while, and who better than man’s best friend? Went inside to inquire and was told that they only sell chickens. Hate when that happens. We wobbled onward.

After another hour the booze buzz faded away and the reality of having walked 35 km set in. We were exhausted and still had 12km to go. Eventually we creviced a hill and could see the city of Leon in the distance, yet no matter how much we walked, it didn’t seem as if we were getting any closer. Walking into cities is the absolute worse because the outskirts stretch on for ages.

By the time we got into the center, it was well after 8pm and we had been walking for 12 hours.

Granted, we took that long bar break, but still, 12 hours is a long time to be moving about in the sun with a heavy pack on your back. Everything ached and burned and creaked and I was so so sleepy. Finally we saw a sign for a two star hotel and decided to splurge. Slept in sheets and used a proper towel for the first time in 3 weeks. Capped our night of luxury off by streaming youtube clips of In Bruges on my iPhone before hittin the hay. Sometimes you just need to treat yourself.

PS. Our twosome finally got an honorary third. My cousin, Eric (who is technically my second cousin and whom I had never met) joined us in Leon! Our mothers were in correspondence and upon discovering that both their children were traveling in Europe at the same time and both had an interest in the Camino, suggested we meet up. And now we have! He fits in well as he also sleeps in til 8 and uses a trash bag as the rain cover for his backpack. We call him Sam.

October 10, 2012

Family Dinner

Had a swell time in Ponferada last night. A group of us pooled our money and gorged on a homemade feast of salad, steak, bread, cheese, and wine. Felt like Thanksgiving dinner as we passed around plates and helped serve one another. The party included Mia and Cousin, three members of the Irish Canadian Coalition, Marine the French girl, and 2 Spanish men and one woman, all of whom I’ve just met.

The Spanish threesome don’t speak any English, which I’ve come to take as a good thing as one is seemingly quite offensive and I doubt I could tolerate him if I understood what he was saying. From what I’ve gathered he enjoys telling extremely crude jokes and is quite the shovinist. However, he makes a mean steak and laughs enough at his own jokes for the both of us, so I am able to relish in my ignorance, silently munching away.

Who says it isn’t bliss?

The other one is very pretty and likes to take lots of pictures of himself doing inane activities, though I suppose if I were that pretty I would take lots of pictures of myself doing inane activities too.

Mayron, the Brazilian, was with his Spanish and Italian comrades at the Albergue as well. Even the Polish couple whom we have seen nearly everyday since the beginning were around. They made heaps of pasta and then shared with our whole group. In exchange, we gave them some bread and salad.

The Legend was also present last night, which is always a treat. He seems to be a firm believer in the notion that the slower and softer he speaks, the more French I will understand. His method may actually be working as we had a 10 minute long conversation last night about our mutual love for Woody Allen — though in reality the only words I understood were “Woody” and “Allen”, which were accompanied by lots of head nods, smiles, and hand-to-heart shows of approval.

Alright, too tired, can’t think. Walked 41km today because we got bored with taking care of our bodies.

October 13, 2012

As we near Santiago, the pressure to have some sort of epiphany or spiritual revelation is on.

We’ve been walking everyday for a month so it’s reasonable to expect…something. Some change or new perspective. But I don’t feel anything. I walk and think about all the things I want to do with my life and the new places I want to visit after talking to fellow pilgrims who have been all over the world. Yet I don’t feel particularly different. More confused, perhaps. And definitely with larger shoulder muscles. But more or less the same as when I began back in mid-september.

Today was mentally challenging. I was silent most of the day, and a walk that was supposedly only 22km felt like 40. The terrain was beautiful, like something straight out of a Hemingway novel with all the rivers and ponds. However, all I could think about way how tired I was of walking and how apathetic I felt towards this entire experience.

When we were about 5km from the city center, I heard two American girls talking loudly behind me. It caught me off guard as we hadn’t seen many other pilgrims all day and this pair seemed to appear out of nowhere. I tried walking faster because I didn’t want them to pass me and reaffirm the sloth-like pace I’ve recently adopted, but they did without difficulty. One looked extremely American in the most uncomplimentary way possible: bright green tank top, bright green shorts, bright green socks, and a high ponytail tucked into a baseball cap. She kept skipping and kicking rocks along the way to presumably prove to every passerby that she used to play soccer once upon a time and still had an ounce of athleticism. I found this particularly irksome in my foul state as I’m certain my leg would’ve snapped right off me hip if I tried such a trick. The other girl was worse. She wore a tiny backpack and sticking out of the top of it was none other than a kangaroo stuffed animal.


What sort of pilgrim has kilos to spare in their backpack for a stuffed animal, and even more so, what sort of adult walks around with a fluffy toy in the first place?? Occupied the rest of my time by thinking up different tools I could use to behead little Joey. Decided on death by seashell. Always have such the pleasant temperament.

Eventually the two girls went their separate way, and as Mia and Eric were already far ahead, I was once again left alone to think. Why should I care about the reason someone does camino or the way they go about doing it? Really, it doesn’t matter whether you walk the whole thing, take the occasional bus ride, or travel with a fake furry friend in tow. It is what it is, which is what I need to remember in regards to my own experience. Perhaps I’ll be overtaken by some profound realization upon seeing the doors of the cathedral in Santiago, but more likely than not, i’ll feel about how I’m feeling now: extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to do this in the first place (and especially to be doing it with none other than Master Frodo), so happy to have become friends with so many interesting and dynamic people from around the world, proud of the physical accomplishment of it all, and now ready to move on to the next adventure. Which will preferably involve lots of sitting.