Day 41 – Boente to O Pedrouzo

Last night the man next to me was forensically exploring the line between snoring and shouting, whilst the guy opposite me was diligently and ceaselessly sawing through an endless plank of wood. I managed a little rest until shoutysleep man woke up at five and – (by the sound of it) – started crunching up crisp packets and inflating a space hopper. Knowing that the rain started at 12, I dragged myself up and out just in time for rosy fingered dawn.

The morning was gorgeous, hiking through perhaps the last of the classic Galician countryside before the suburbs start. I was alone again, and enjoying the peace and the beauty. It’s a lovely, fertile, wet part of the world. Shortly before noon I arrived at Tia Dolores biergarten, and got undercover just as the rain descended. At Tia Dolores they sell Peregrina Lager by the locally brewed bottle, and you get a white pen. Once you’ve finished you can write something on a bottle and add it to the collection.

20181109_130417

People write all sorts of things on walls and signs and bottles along this route. Some of it is great, some incomprehensible and some trite. It’s scattergun. There’s enough variance that something will appeal to everyone. Leonard Cohen’s Anthem is an incredible song, and when I first heard his “crack in everything” lyric I wept. But I’ve seen it written so many times in different forms since I started this journey “everything is crack so for make light in” that it has faded in potency. I now prefer the home grown ones.

Here’s the Camino Slogan Generator. Start with something universal in our experience on the Camino, so “Life”, “love” or “the Camino” are good examples. Now pull a random noun from somewhere. Anything will do. Compare them both and try to make it sound profound. Win. Using themes from my camino blog so far: “The Camino is like clams. You have to crack the shell to get to the tasty bit.” “Life is like a piggypillow – it’s ridiculous and arbitrary but you can still learn to love it.” “Love is like a cheap blue poncho. Even if it doesn’t do what you hoped, it’s your attitude that determines your happiness.”

The first thing I saw, back in Lourdes was “Va vers toi meme.” Go towards yourself. That resonated with me, and even if the next 8 people who saw it thought it was trite, all it needed is that one hit. I’ve said it to a few people since. I’ve been going towards myself ever since.

I wrote something on my lunchtime beer bottle and stuck it with the others. Then I took a deep breath and dived into the waiting deluge. We’re coming into the suburbs now, so we’re walking down main roads. On the main roads huge logging trucks go past at speed. The roads are flooded. Imagine the spray. I could’ve been laminated and still would’ve ended up with squelchy boots after the first couple of trucks had had their way with me.

As when I was ejecting high speed liquids all night in a freezing Filipino convent, I found myself wondering what it is specifically that I need from this bloody cold swimming competition. The Camino is supposed to give you what you need not what you want. That’s what they write on all the sign posts along with personal stuff like “To Stacey I love you very mrummble nurr grmm”.

20181109_150123

I tell myself I needed the norovirus to get better at parenting myself. I’ll probably find out soon enough why I need a 60km land-swim with squelchy boots on.

It’s 20km to the cathedral and I’m going to get my Compostela on Sunday morning not tomorrow, so I’m under no pressure to front crawl to the finish line. A leisurely breast stroke tomorrow, and then on Monday this crap is supposed to ease off.

Day 40 Camino – Palas de Rei to Boente

Oh hooray green grass. Wahoo mushrooms etc. Screw you Al with your desperate attempts to put a positive spin on everything. I got soaked to the fucking bone. Every inch of me. I took my phone out of my pocket and jammed it down the front of my pants to keep it dry. The alarm went off on vibrate at 2.42 UK time as it does every day. It’s meant to help me and a good friend of mine to stop, look around and be grateful. The call to presence was no more pleasant than the surprisingly unwelcome vibration in my pants. I didn’t want to reach down to stop it though. I let it keep going. Then I discovered I could make it go on snooze for 8 minutes by punching myself in the dick. My legs were wet. My neck was wet. My phone even got wet in its cosy new home. Wet Wet Wet. I could feel it in my fingers. I could feel it in my toes. There I was yomping through the Galcian countryside humping a massive bag full of clothes and gongs and fucking pig shaped pillows, occasionally swearing and frequently deliberately and precisely punching myself in the cock.

Earlier in the day we made good time. We breezed through lovely little towns, finding crystal shops, churches and weird little buildings for drying maize.

20181108_103817

The crystal shops are a surprise to me. I thought of this walk as being very Catholic, but I’ve met a fair few hippy types around, and there’s clearly a market for jingly jangly new age bullshit.

On which subject, this morning I was chanting, mostly for good weather, and some old pilgrim guy turned round, caught my eye and air-crossed me hard. It was meant as an attack but I took it as a blessing and thanked him. I’ll take a blessing in any language. My belief structure is mine and it’s not at war with yours. But the poor guy must be exhausted, with all these crystal shops to hate as well as wayward types like me who find the wrong things helpful because we’re wrong wrongy people.

We stopped early because we can do what we fucking want. It was a bit jarring because Mel was ahead scouting albergues in the next big town. But both Luisa and I have inadequate rainproofs and we were miserable drowned rats. We had both decided miles before we found it that we would stop at the next open albergue so we did. A little later, Dustin and Mike stopped by in their excellent rainproofs having sent their packs ahead and booked a hotel room. That’s the way to do it. It’s another footstank albergue for us tonight. And a tasty meal of meat with meatmeat. That’s what you get for not being waterproof.

Back when this trip was a theory, I thought that tomorrow morning I would stride into the cathedral at Santiago triumphantly, flanked by my personal mariachi band, the inevitable dancing girls, fireworks, my true love, and the goddess Athena. I’m still a couple of days out, particularly in this weather. And the best I’m going to get at this rate is Dustin enthusiastically clanging a cowbell, a raven shitting on my head and some old bloke aircrossing me because I don’t think the things he does. Life ain’t a story, kids. But whatever shit happens it’s always possible to turn it into one. I’ll have to go that way instead. Forty days and forty nights? Meh. I’ve got loving to do, stories to tell, and lives to improve. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

20181108_115946

Day 39 – Portomarín to Palas de Rey

Spending so much time outside really brings home the connection between weather and nature. Three days of lashing relentless rain and I’ve been mostly thinking about how it makes ME wet. But nature knows how to deal with this sort of thing and today every mushroom and toadstool mycelium along the path was proudly extruding their delightful temporary reproductive organs for all of us to marvel at and potentially consume. Shaggy Ink Caps, Porcini, Horse Mushrooms, hundreds of Parasols, and then the Blushers and the Sulfur Tufts, the Dapperlings waiting to kill us or make us spew. And there, repeatedly along the path, beautiful and iconic, calling out to me, making me hate that there are no ovens in the albergues, the unmistakable Amanita Muscaria. The fairytale mushroom. Wonderland.

20181107_173305

Amanitas are an unusual family. Most of them want you and your whole family dead immediately. That’s why they have names like Destroying Angel and Death Cap. This one – the Fly Agaric – this one has history, even if it is still toxic. As well as the stomach cramps, leaking, vomit and potential death, they produce lucid dreaming states, conversations with the self as another, time-crunch effects, caterpillars, Cheshire cats and synaesthesia. Caribou seek them out for shits and giggles. Yep. Reindeer eat these red and white mushrooms and then perhaps imagine that they are flying through the air yoked to a sleigh while a giant laughing Fly Agaric mushroom with a beard brings presents to children.

You can boil the poison out of them eventually if you hate fun. It takes forever and is clearly just to make a point. Better to dry them hard at a high temperature over a long time. Then they keep their psychoactive properties and drop the nausea. Apparently it’s pretty strong. I’m not going there without an expert, and nor should any of you. I’m particularly not going there when I’m walking Camino every day. Despite being brought a bag of them. “You’ll know what to do with these.”

20181107_204159

I’m leaving it for now.

But yes – today my eyes have been at the side of the path. To the extent that it became inevitable that I said to another pilgrim “Do you have a bag you don’t need?” When you look at the sides you realise how pilgrims are a bunch of wankers, leaving their plastic shit lying all over the path, waiting for mummy to pick it up. We filled a bag with crap completely in less than fifteen minutes. Then we had to pull the idea of cleaning out of ourselves because if we had carried on we would still be there next year. Mountains of shit left by idiots…

Instead we broke off the path for a 4km diversion to Vilar de Donas. There’s a Templar church there that dates back to the 7th century. Embedded in the masonry are thistles for Scotland, clovers for Ireland and Berber symbols to clarify the alliance between everyone here on this hugely important route more or less exactly midway between Jerusalem and Britain.

An old man came out of a nearby house to let us in through the old doors.

20181107_165241

His name was Jesus. Luisa was with us to translate. He’s 90. “It’s just you pilgrims that keep me alive,” he said. “It gives me something to do.” He gave us a tour. He wouldn’t take our money at the end as well. “I have all the money I need.” He was great and the church was so full of symbolism and history. An incredible place and well worth the diversion. I was particularly struck by the Mary statue wearing Charlemagne’s crown. The man was unstoppable. He persuaded the Pope to crown him emperor on Christmas Day 800. He then must have influenced the creation of this statue of the Virgin Mary WEARING THE SAME CROWN.

20181107_170946

He really knew the power of symbols, Charlemagne. Incredible man. And for someone so powerful, surprisingly un-psychotic, beside the inevitable narcissism.

But the 90 year old who showed us the church? He wouldn’t take our money. He loves that church and the stories. And he said “The way we live forever is to be remembered.” He is sending his energy out into the world forever. Here’s my contribution to your memory fund, you beautiful beautiful man. And pilgrims? Run to him while you still can. He’s 90 and his name is Jesus. It’s only 2km diversion each way. It’s well worth it.

20181107_165927

Day 38 Camino – Sarria to Portomarín

Wind. Huge gusts of destructive wind like a Trump rally. Branches are collapsed across the path, ancient trees are split. Nature is hurting. We walk past things that we are very glad have already fallen on the path because then they don’t kill us by landing on our heads. Premature snowfall has weakened all the trees. They’re all saying to each other “I told you we should’ve shed leaves early this year”. The early snow jumped them. Now it’s all melted and in our boots, but the damage is done. The wind and the rain is finishing the job the snow started. The weight of the wet with the wind is stripping the woods. Huge torn branches have become such a typical obstruction that we barely think of them as we pass.

20181106_163448

Right now, in an albergue at long last, we can hear the rain pounding hard on the ceiling, running constant and fast in the runoffs. God it’s a relief to be in a warm room, even though I’ll be walking in that shit again tomorrow.

Earlier this evening at mass the whole church sat as the wind rattled through the stones above our heads. Mel said it gave her a clear idea of how it might have felt when the whole village clustered in churches like these when the Saracens came. I spent a moment imagining that vividly before a certain Brazilian pilgrim (blogs passim) shook my hand and startled me back to the world. He’s a personable young man. How do we separate people from their politics? A few days ago he gave me lavender and a fascist diatribe. I didn’t want the lavender after the diatribe. But his eyes are kind, if lingering. I shook his hand but I wouldn’t smile and he knew why.

Today as we walked we got heavier and heavier with the attack of the weather. It’s hard to go long distance in this crap. It’s like God is angry about something. Everything gets immediately soaked and it just gets worse and worse. The only defence becomes surrender. But even after surrender you have to keep walking while you get squelchier and squelchier.

We passed the 100km to Santiago mark today.

IMG-20181106-WA0018

That means I’ve already walked well over 500 miles. It’s much colder than it has been, so my muscles are more painful suddenly. It’s getting harder to keep mind and body together and let spirit work. I’m glad this weather only set in this week. It’s another thing to fight, it’ll keep me occupied until the end of the trip, I’m ready for it now, and it forces us to drag our eyes up. The grass is so unbelievably sharply in colour. We are blessed by this rain. All we have to do is make sure we’re well enough dressed not to get sick. We have to learn to love the rain despite the fact it slows us down. But it’s not easy.

I got into town in the dark tonight. It’s a beautiful unusual town. You cross a long bridge and then climb a flight of stairs to get into the ancient cobbled streets. I couldn’t appreciate the beauty fully as it was dark and I was soaking. Despite my trail legs I slipped and fell on the stairs. I was knackered. I pulled a hamstring but I reckon a night of rest will sort me out.

Day 37 Camino -Triacastela to Sarria

Another day of sheeting rain, and my favourite quote from Shakespeare springs to mind – “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I was ready for a day of long miserable cold. I got one. And it was ace cos I wanted it to be.

Luisa wanted to go to some place that was on the way and was full of crystals. Juliana wanted to go to some place where there was a book of wisdom. It was raining and I didn’t have a strong opinion. I just knew I was going to get wet so I let other people’s knowledge drive my day.

First I got wet, and discovered as I was walking that I didn’t really care. It helped that I had flushed out the cotton and replaced it with quick drying thermals. No wonder they cost so much money at bloody Mountain Warehouse. I was not chattering toothed and not soaked to the bone at any point, unlike much of yesterday. Still it was hard in the rain.

After walking for approximately 4 years we arrived at the first stop. Juliana was there already. The Book of Wisdom. Generations of pilgrims, towards the end of their journey, sharing their lessons. Typically of the world, the book had got soaked and largely ruined in the year since Julianna had seen it. Much of the wisdom was lost but there was a random distillation remaining. Sad but still beautiful. I had been excited to see the book in its full glory. She had very efficiently sold the idea to me. But gone. Yet another reminder of how we have to let go of our expectations. Everything is temporary. It just varies by degree of temporariness.

We sat around an oil drum with a few smouldering sticks in it, alongside a bunch of wet strangers from all around the world trying to fight the arrival of winter, steaming, all of us, as deep set wet escaped from our multiple layers and we returned to some short term semblance of warmth.

IMG-20181105-WA0007

We stayed there too long. Luisa was waiting for some dude that gives therapy by hugging you, but he wasn’t rushing and an hour and a half was long enough.

IMG-20181105-WA0009

Good that he wasn’t rushing but I wish he had a sign up sheet.

We moved on. But the hippy train was still rolling. Half an hour later we were in The House of the Alchemist, and Luisa was bouncing around looking at crystals. I found a hot room with an aga and a table and before I knew it I was the tarot reader while my boots dried. “The French guys” had brought the means to make paella. It was cooked by one of the volunteers – (pilgrims frequently stop en route for a month or so and cook and clean in a donativo place – they’re beautiful and it’s tempting. It’s just pleasant people making things nice for pilgrims in exchange for donations. They get a place to stay and a transient community. We get a bed, food and whatever their personality brings.)

The paella was extraordinarily good as was the company. I stayed for about two hours reading tarot, “adding value”. My donativo before the actual donation. Coincidentally it had stopped raining hard by the time I left. I had somewhere lovely to get to, and it was still a few hours walk to get there:

Someone put some money in my account this morning, and I know they did it because they’re reading my blog, know  how stubborn I am, and don’t want me to give myself hypothermia. So I booked a warm cheap apartment for 4 in Sarria and invited the pilgrims closest to me for a “pretend to be home and cook some vegetables” night.

Now I’m sitting in my sarong chilling out in the kitchen after a hot bath. People are cooking with quinoa and a wide variety of green things, and absolutely no dead pig. I’m not the only person wearing a sarong right now. There are candles and I’ve been burning shitloads of incense and smudging everyone with palo santo. I’m in heaven. Tonight I’ll sleep in a double bed…

Day 36 Camino – O Cebreiro to Triacastela

Rain is pretty normal really. I have no reason to be surprised about rain happening. It’s water from the sky. It makes the grass greener. It’s why it looks so pretty and so fertile here in Galicia. Fuck you clams this rain is your fault aaargh I wanna go home where’s my mummy?

IMG-20181104-WA0017

I’ve spent most of the day swearing. Cold, wet and like the kid that can’t have the thing. “You’re wearing cotton” says another pilgrim who used to work at summer camps. “Cotton kills,” she adds. That and “Don’t get pregnant” are her two top tips for adolescents. I missed the first tip for my whole life. Second one has been fine thank God. That’s what lets me be here. But my cotton T-shirt has been soaked next to my skin all day, insulated in wetness by my wet cotton shirt, hugging me with wet yuk. The wind and rain has been sheeting relentlessly through everything and I’ve been getting more and more pissed off as my inner layers have been freezing me and my outer layers are pointless. Nothing makes me angry like being cold. I hate it. And it looks like that’s going to be the game for this next week, so I’m going to get stuck in and come to terms with cold wetness before I get to Santiago, and work out how to dress best. Because I’ll have to. And I’ll start by monitoring my cotton. Anyway I have a hidden advantage now, in Mel.

Mel cycled ahead and scouted out the albergues while I was trudging through the wet. Because of her short day (thanks Mel) I have now landed in the lap of luxury. There are advantages to having a friend with a bike that I could never have anticipated. My boots are in the boot drying cupboard, I just had a foot massage in the foot massage machine, we have bottom and top sheets and blankets in an almost empty dormitory, and I’m writing this on the sofa in front of the fire. All of these things are brilliant things compared to the usual. There are even books scattered around, although “The Europe that will survive after Brexit” might not be the happiest read.

20181104_173710

In a bit we will wander over and find food. It’s less than 150km to Santiago now so the facilities are going to just get better and better. Back in France pilgrims were rare, and you couldn’t refill your water all day unless you knocked on a farmhouse door. Now every village has so much in place to make our lives nicer in exchange for our money.

The walk today was beautiful at times but it’s hard to notice when you’re miserable. I had a moment at lunchtime with Luisa when we had both coincidentally stopped in the same place and neither of us knew where the fuck we were because we had been isolated in misery and had stopped caring about anything other than finding a fire. From then on I tried to notice things, and we stopped at an 800 year old tree for photos.

IMG-20181104-WA0021

I tried to improve matters by buying a sheet of plastic for a million pounds, but it did nothing other than blow up into my face and depress me further. Although Julianna insisted I looked like Neptune. Or Grover. I prefer angry Poseidon. But we don’t get to choose who we look like.

IMG-20181104-WA0016

I’m now going to puddle around the town in my stripy espadrilles. Because denial springs eternal. It’ll warm up again. It’s only November…

Day 35 Camino – Vega de Valcarce to O Cebreiro

Despite my hermit tendencies I appear to have made some friends. I didn’t expect it, but there are people who I wait for now, or catch up to or message to see where they are. It’s been a long time on the trail, and longer still if you factor in the time effect that yesterday’s blog touched on. This evening in O Cebreiro it is a convergence of people I like. And it’s the perfect place for it.

IMG-20181103-WA0014

When I first announced I was off on this jaunt I expected some of the reactions I got. “Oh I did that,” “Oh my gran did that,” “Oh I want to do that.” The reaction I hadn’t anticipated came from my friend Mel. “Oh, I’m going to do that immediately now because you’ve reminded me it’s possible.” I hadn’t thought about the possibility of being a thought-leader or somesuch other bullshit concept. But if I was sacrificing my freedom to an uncaring monolith, and if I believed that all the arse that people pretend is important had some meaning, I’d be able to put that on my CV now and charge loads for half an hour of bullshit motivational twot. Because she finally got started because of me. So yeah, if you run a big city firm and you have employees who have problems just taking that extra step from concept to reality then you can get me in to do an actualisation workshop where I can turn those concepts into reality and that’ll be 15k thankyouplease. Frankly I probably could improve productivity for your batteries just by teaching them to be less blocked. But first I have to want to do that shit and I don’t.

IMG-20181103-WA0021

Mel started her Camino in Pamplona 18 days after me. She had a bike. She’s been gradually catching up as I’ve been walking. I haven’t made it easy on her until today. But today is the shortest day I’ve walked. Because finally there’s a mountain where it isn’t foggy. St Jean to Roncesvalles – fog. Cruz da Ferro – fog and snow. Finally, now, crossing through Lo Bierzo and into Galicia proper the weather has been astonishing. And my Camino family wanted to stop here, and despite my attempts to stay isolated, I’ve made friends and we like seeing each other and we try to stick together. So suddenly, here, in the afternoon on top of this hill, all my friends converged (apart from my angels like Stephanie and Marie.)

This town is very significant on this route. At mass this evening they gave us all rocks with yellow arrows painted on them. I will treasure mine. Elias, the priest here in the 1970s, wrote the first modern guide to the path. Then in 1982 he walked the route with a shit-ton of yellow paint and a brush and he originated the yellow arrows that we all now take for granted and that tell us where to go. The thousands of people who walk this way now every month – we’d all have to be idiots to lose the path. It’s so extremely well marked, especially compared to the blanc et rouge in France. And partly because of this one enterprising priest, our footfall has transformed impossible towns into functioning homes for many. Yes it has been enhanced by the Estevez/Sheen movie and the Coelho book. But at the start of the resurgence was that one brilliant man with a paintbrush.

Now even my actions and writings have inspired someone else to do their own version of this. Use leads to use. Experience catalyses experience. We are in the same town tonight. Maybe we will elide for a while. But she will get what she gets, as I’m getting what I’m getting. It might be nice to coincide with a friend for a while. But my Camino friends are just as important.

On a day like this, walking up to where we could see the whole luscious valley of El Bierzo below us, and knowing we are moving into Galicia – this trail is nothing but a blessing.

IMG-20181103-WA0019

Wearing shorts in November, eating all the meat you can eat, beer, wine, friends, heat and walking. The hardest part is past. Just more joy to come. So long as we pay attention.

IMG-20181103-WA0033

 

 

Day 34 Camino – Pieros to Vega de Valcarce

Yesterday there was a dead cat in the path. It was right in the middle, as if it had crawled there for assistance. Its guts were out. It hadn’t had an easy death at all. I slung its heavy body onto the side of the path with the end of my stick. What ceremony else? A surprising weight, but whatever spark of life had animated this lump was long since departed. Its eyes had been eaten, it was drained of moisture. What remained of it looked … angry. And well it should have, when you see the lumpish boys who walk these hills with death in their hands – when you see the red plastic of their shells in the flowers – when you hear the sharp bang of their toys in the mountain air.

Death is a constant companion as we walk. Some of us are walking away from it. Some of us are walking towards it. We are all walking through it. There’s the tale of the guy with terminal cancer who died in the cathedral at Santiago the day he finished. Another guy who had a heart attack as he got his Compostela. Loads of monuments to heart attack and embolism and sudden unexpected death in the exertion and the heat in a variety of different and marvelous ways. Then there are the roads and the trucks and the vans. After a long walk your head is pretty far above your body. If you’re suddenly back on a road with traffic it takes conscious effort to recalibrate. People drive fast through these empty hills. Lots of walkers and more cyclists get crunched up. Then other things happen – losing the path to hypothermia and ravines, meningitis, mystery – God help us, even murder. So we trudge every day through the dead leaves, past the dried out roadkill fire salamanders, past bleached sheep carcasses, past long fallen trees – we are still alive, we are still alive, we are still alive.

20181102_135619

Right now on this path we are all actively experiencing everything. We push our living bodies through nature and we feel the unfamiliar as we go. It forces us into the now, where thoughtlessness and deadening routine have no space, no hold, no draw. “How did you get into work today?” “I honestly can’t remember.” Not here. We remember every inch of our strange day.

Right now I’m alone under a wooden awning in the hills. It’s dark. The cows in the field just to my right are stampeding from left to right, right to left like lethal excited dogs. I can see the stars and the mountains in silhouette. Animals bark howl and cry into the dark of the new moon. A cat is deciding if it’s worth the risk to ingratiate itself with me. In the distance I can hear a waterfall. The light of our artifice dims the stars. Every moment of every day is sharp on this walk. We have all become older than the time we’ve spent because the time is worth more.

There was a choice of route today. I chose the hard one. At the time I had company and they mirrored my choice. Most of the other people I  bunked with chose the easy route. I felt responsible that my choice had affected theirs so I didn’t deliberately outpace them as I might normally do. We walked, we stopped to regather, and we walked again – an elastic unit of three. It was beautiful, the hard route, but they don’t call it “duro” for nothing and I was glad of the company.

20181102_125019

As we stumped through the blood red of autumn we saw families with cars cooking in fires by the side of the route, surrounded by huge bags of the chestnuts that grow everywhere here. The trees are dying for the year, and as they go they shed their bleeding leaves and drop their tasty seeds. These families come with bacon and logs and they harvest life from death. They feast as they work. They offered us some bacon.

Death is a part of the cycle. We grow, we flourish, we pass, hopefully we drop seeds that are tasty.

While we are alive we have to remember to experience fully. To try to avoid deadening ourselves. This is how we become immortal, because we extend the time we live. I’ve been on this path for 34 days. I’ve been on this path for a lifetime.

20181102_123314

Try something new today. Eat something you decided you didn’t like to eat when you were 8. Do some meditation you figure you’re too old for. Chant “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo” for five minutes. Watch an old movie you’ve never made time for. Pick up the paintbrush. You decide. Extend your  life with new things, and then when I get back to London remind me to do the same! Vale.

Day 33 Camino – Molinaseca to Pieros

People often talk about their reasons for doing this walk. I have many. But there’s one I keep returning to. The Catholic dead.

Mum was head girl of her convent school when she went to Lourdes. In youth she was a devout Catholic, as was her father and brother. She gathered a huge great tin torpedo of holy water at the shrine of the holy virgin, and she kept it for her whole life. I inherited it. This is what I’m doing with it. It sits sticking out of the top of my pack like a torpedo. Mum’s life – it took her in an unexpected direction. She met dad and because he’d been divorced the Catholic church wouldn’t recognise her marriage. The cardinals signed an impressive looking letter and posted it to her from The Vatican, formally excommunicating her. Bastards. Such a hateful thing to do. So she went to the grave thinking God hated her because of the poison of men. That’s spiritual damage, but it’s damage in the realm of ideas and  it can be fixed with an idea.

Her death hit me hard, coming as it did just at the end of my drama school training, when my first film was already in the edit and things were gathering momentum. I had been serving myself, chasing ambition, and she had been destroying herself beside me without my noticing. I went off a cliff. I made bad imaginative connections about looking after my own needs proving destructive to those around me. I lost a good ten years to depression and self negation. No more. No more. I’ve got shit to do.

It’s a long time, this walk, and it’s a grand gesture, but it’s time to leave the remains of that nonsense behind. To honour the memory of an excellent mother taken way too young, and to reclaim myself in the process.

Cruz da Ferro yesterday was a powerfully talismanic day, and I’m ready to get into Santiago and dedicate my Compostela. Then I’ll send the flask into the waves at Finisterre with my uncle Peter’s rosary and a signifier for my grandfather. There’s still some walking to do first, but I’m glad to be on this side of the mountain.

Walking was hard today. My legs aren’t recovered from the descent yesterday. Lots of losel shale and snow. My knees are just plain tired. But the villages are pretty. They even have trees that hold hands.

20181101_103130

There’s something beautiful in that – two organisms joined. No specific point where one of them ends and the next one begins. Flowing with each other.

I made my 15 miles, but by the time I got into the auberge it was getting dark. Thankfully there is enough of a community here on the trail now that I could message Julianna and ask her to reserve me dinner as I knew she was there. She has only recently started and appears to be wearing rocket boots.

We are in a little village where there’s nothing else, and they are cooking a little vegetarian meal for us. I’m snatching a moment of quiet in my solid handmade wooden bunk. But there’s a fire and music downstairs so I suspect that it’s time to stop writing and go and bloody well be sociable. That’s the next bit of work now I’ve dumped the inner crap.

20181101_192107

Day 32 Camino – Rabanal to Molinaseca

Lights on at 6.40 in the hostel. They’re not fucking around, despite the welcome. Ten minutes later I’m chivvied to breakfast by one of the hospitaliers. “Come on Al! You’ll need energy for the day.”

It’s true. It’s unavoidable. Today we have a mountain to climb. All the way up, and all the way back down. Out of Castille and towards Galicia. “Ahhh Galicia,” said an unusual man on a bridge. “Everything is better in Galicia. This place? I live here because my fucking wife. Go to Galicia peregrino! For me! Galicia!”

There’s a hill in the way. Plus it’s been snowing. Clear morning though.

20181031_084214

Last night I met an Australian paramedic in a little wooden room in Rabanal. People often bandy around the phrase “The Camino Provides.” Through this chance meeting, the Camino provided for me in a way I can still barely credit. I hate proving trite sayings right  But in Astorga I bypassed the outdoor shop, despite needing some kit to cope with the weather-change. I’ve been making do with my hateful windproof and with no gloves. Stephanie, this superb human who has been saving lives and is walking out PTSD  – she doesn’t know why she’s been carrying around two pairs of gloves, a spare windproof and a snood!! She gets them for me from her room and is as thrilled to give as I am to receive. They fit. Even the gloves fit like … like … um … fit like a … um …

At the top of the mountain there’s an old Roman shrine to Mercury, probably repurposed from even earlier gods. It has of course been stamped with a cross now and repurposed again. Because there’s power here. Power about travel.

20181031_095301

It’s traditional for pilgrims to leave a stone from home here – you sacrifice something that slows you down to the lightning footed messenger. At the base of the cross there’s a huge pile of stones now, built up over years. I expect the fire agate I bought has been plundered from here and recut…

I find a space nearby in the snow and improvise a chilly ritual using the amethyst I emptied in the full moon last week. I fill it with the things that slow me down, I seal it with the snow, and I jam it into a gap in the pole. Done. Gone. Fuck you, stuff. Now that guy can cut it and sell it to some other idiot.

Then it’s onward through the melting snow. The paths are rivers. This snow is too early and it’s melting off again.

20181031_120706

“Aren’t your boots heavy?” people have sometimes asked, perhaps hopefully. “I dance in these boots at festivals all night,” is my reply. Or “I wear them with skinny jeans to the theatre ” Walking boots are a part of my life and these ones are great. Everyone else has cold wet feet and I’m just … walking. With all of Stephanie’s magical gifted gear making this the perfect day – I’d have been miserable without that stuff and probably less inclined and certainly less able to satisfactorily improvise a good ritual to burn out the shit. I had time. I used that time. It was very satisfactory.

The views are astonishing with all the snow, and I can really appreciate this altitude, this nature and this privilege after all the notional weight I’ve been burning out of myself. I pass the highest point, move on, and then it’s a long long long way down.

The unusual man on the bridge? He was right about this side of the mountain. My knees are hurting from the descent’s but suddenly – El Bierzo! A lush hidden valley. A microclimate. An hour after the snow I find myself stripping to my T-shirt again in early evening while a hunting kite marks me beautifully just overhead. 

20181031_155458

It’s watching me pull blackberries from the verges, hoping I startle something. After the snow I’m smiling and genuinely feeling like it’s Spring again. Impossible the difference in climate in one day’s walk. Rain to snow to clear autumn sun. Little woodlands with shocking colours and babbling streams and heartbreaking birdsong and peace. What a thing to come down to!

20181031_162551

I think this might be the end of my relative solitude on this route. The next town is a big camino starting point. Today I waited on purpose for an English speaking group to pass because their conversation was drifting to me as I walked and I didn’t like hearing celebrity names borne on the wind in this beautiful place, jolting me from my connection and harmony. As they passed it was “Which of the Harry Potter movies is your favourite?” I’d go postal in five minutes if someone forced me to small-talk-walk on a day like this where there is all the weather and all this life.

But having dumped that stone, for whatever effect it has be it mystic or placebo, I could walk with people now and maybe I should try it. I’ve got a better handle on who I am alone. I still hate groups but maybe I should look at that…

Let’s see what the next phase brings. Galicia Ho!