Back on Bainbridge, coping with lazy days and bad haircuts. Read about it at whereswetzler.com.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I'm sitting in the Madrid Barajas airport waiting for my flight to leave, and I'm not thinking about the Camino de Santiago. I haven't really thought about it at all since I've been done. I got to the plaza late at night, it was raining, cold, I reached down and touched the shell that's engraved in stone in the middle of the plaza, and then I sat under an arcade in the cold, where I talked to a Vietnamese kid. There was no celebration. No one congratulated me. No one even looked at me.
The next day I still didn't feel any real emotion. I was glad to be done walking, but that was about it. I was glad my shin splints would finally heal (though I quickly aggravated them speed-walking to the grocery store where I (of course) bought yogurt and a banana), and I was glad to be going home. For lunch that day I went to the illustrious hotel Parador dos Reis Catolicos, where they give out free meals to the first 10 peregrinos each day. There I saw Miguel, my Spaniard nemesis (we hugged upon seeing each other); a German guy with a red beard who within 30 second of meeting me asked me if I thought his coat was too bright to go with his “trousers”; a girl from Kentucky and a girl from Denmark; and a slightly Portuguese guy who mightn't just been a homeless guy from Santiago judging by the fact that he didn't seem to speak anything other than Gallego and he took a bag of pastries with him at the end of the lunch. I spoke with the girl from Kentucky and at first thought she was messing with me; her accent sounded weird. I even asked her, “Were you born and raised in Kentucky?” Afterward I realized it was the first native English speaker I had spoken to in person in over a month, and also the first young, mildly attractive girl of the Camino. I sat very attentively next to the two girls for most of the lunch.
After lunch I went for a quick walk around town and ran into my friend Hans, the 65 year old Swiss man who was basically my only friend of the Camino and the only person with whom I exchanged contact details. I was genuinely excited to see him, and we went for a coffee in a cafe he had discovered and later that night had dinner, which consisted of a hunk of churrasco the size of a car door.
Now I'm sitting on the plane, and I'm in America. I'm technically still in Madrid, watching as people board, but once you board an American Airlines flight you're in the States. Here I'll sit in a capsule for about eight hours, covering more distance in a third of a day than it took me a month to walk. Even getting on the bus to the airport in Santiago was somewhat impressive, since we passed by all the places I had walked by so miserably the day before, in the rain, in the cold, with the wind blowing my poncho up around my face making it ineffective, getting separated from the Camino at one point and walking along the main road, in the dark, the weak light of my iPhone hopefully broadcasting a legible signal to Spanish motorists (“I know it's your first inclination and would give you immense pleasure, but please: don't hit me. At least not until after Christmas.”)
I wanted the last day to be miserable. I wanted to suffer. I felt it would only be fitting. That's why, despite the fact that I left Arzua late, I walked about 41km, passing the 20km well after noon, still with about 12k to go after it had already gotten dark. I knew that I would be miserable, I knew that I might be cursing the Gods and wanting to stop, but I also knew that that would somehow make it sweeter when I finally got to the Praza do Obradoiro and the majestic main cathedral, where it all ends. It was a decision also born of a vain desire to be different. Everyone finishes happy, strolling the last 20k or so calmly, staying the night before in Monte do Gozo which is only 5km away, or maybe in O Pedrouzo, 20km away. But I didn't want to be happy. The happiness would come later. I wanted the pain.
And what did I learn from all this? Well, first of all, I learned that nothing comes for free. That nothing comes without work. If you want to get from point A to point B you have to walk, and to walk means putting one foot in front of the other. So many times I found myself 5km from a destination, or 10k, or even 25k right when I woke up, and I didn't want to walk anymore. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to sit down, have a coffee, take a nap, find an apartment, and change my name to Enrique. But I realized: the only way I'm going to get there is if I do work. If I manually put one foot in front of the other, and drag my carcass across this desolate land. No one's going to do it for me, and if I don't do it, I'll never get there. Simple as that. No matter how many times I take out my map and look at it, I'm not going to get any closer. And I imagine it applies to all walks of life, whether it be starting a business, writing a book, or getting married (three things I've never done, but who knows...). And you might be thinking to yourself: Mark, you're 31 and you're just figuring this out? And my answer is: I'm a late bloomer. And also: better late than never. And also: gimme a break.
The second thing I learned from this is obvious, and that's that the destination is secondary to the journey. I knew this deep down, but had convinced myself that the only thing that mattered was getting to Santiago. That that was it. But when I got to Santiago and felt nothing (as I told my friend Darren: you know that feeling when you walk to the grocery store from your house? I felt about like that), I chuckled to myself that of course the destination didn't matter. Yes, finishing mattered to a great extent. But the journey to the finish is the only thing I'm going to remember when I'm 65.
And thirdly (speaking of 65), there's Hans, my dear Swiss friend who I spent a grand total of one day with. We were speaking over dinner, polishing off ensalada mixtas and flan that lamentably came in a pre-packaged plastic container (if you're ever in Santiago don't go to Casa Manolo even if it's recommended 100 times), and I told him, “You have to believe the best is still to come. I think that's the secret.” He didn't really say much but I could tell he sort of disagreed. He was always talking about how old he was, not in a depressing way but in a matter of fact way, and he summed it up perfectly: you have to be grateful. As he's grown older, he's become more grateful. That's the key to happiness. Appreciating what you have. Wanting to make things better and wanting to better yourself, but appreciating the little things and what you already have, like flan (even if it tastes like the manure fields I spent so many weeks trudging through).
So now, having reached the end, I reflect upon the last month. There were times on the Camino when I was so happy I felt like I was floating, and there were times on the Camino when I was fairly miserable. And there were times when I also just thought: "I've already walked 300 miles -- what's the point of going on? I know what the Camino's all about. I've proved I can walk a long way, so what's the point of going another 200 miles?" But the last 200 miles were crucial, even if I was bored out of my mind half the time and made concerted efforts to sustain conversations with livestock. Because I realized (my last realization) that when things are crappy you have two options: you can either quit, or you can go on. If you go on, there's a decent chance things will continue to be crappy. But there's also a chance they won't. There's a chance they'll be better. And if you quit, you'll never know.
Which brings me back to the very first day, as I descended into San Sebastian, quite possibly the most beautiful city in northern Spain, rounding the harbor as people strolled down the boardwalk, the sun setting on a fine fall European day. And I think about what I clearly thought to myself that first day as I strode confidently to my first albergue, fleet of foot and on top of the world. Do you remember? I thought: if I don't do this, I'll never do anything. But if I do do this, then I can do everything.
So here goes nothing.
Kilometers walked: about 820km
Days taken: 33
Food gathered: chestnuts, walnuts, parsimmons, apples
Dead animals seen: Cat (1), Rat (1), Bird (several), Badger (2)
Horses pet: several
Languages spoken: English, Spanish, French, Gallego, Basque (if one word counts)
Pilgrims met: Spaniards (several), Swiss (1), French (3), Italian (2)
Albergues stayed in: 8
Hotels stayed in: lots
Injuries sustained: semi-rolled ankle, shin splints, flattened arch, ripped fingernail, hip problems, shoulder problems, attitude problems
Bed bug bites: Twice (time to put the sleeping bag in the freezer overnight)
Times fallen in love: 0.3
Most common foods consumed: avocado, bread, beanuts, yoghurt, bananas, oranges, tortilla , pre-made salads
Year I'll do my next Camino: 2083.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Everything from linguistics to haute cuisine:
Horses like to roam free. This horse is roaming free vicariously through the cars above it.
The area after Miraz, quite possible the most striking part of all of Galicia.
Caldo gallego, sometimes made from cabbage, sometimes from "naviza" (which the internet is telling me means "turnip tops"). Either way it's delicious and a good way to raise core temperatures up from "critically hypothermic" after a long day on the Camino.
Eucalpytus trees are not native.
Where I was in Abadin. Now I'm a little bit closer.
Gallego is a fairly exact mix of Spanish and Portuguese. The only thing I know how to say is "Fai moito frio" (it's cold) and "¿Bolsa poñemos? (would you like a bag?)
"Plato combinado". What to order if you're looking for a cheap meal/coronary thrombosis.
Monday, December 8, 2014
The Camino has become my life. I've been on it for almost a month. But when I look back on November 10th, when I left, getting up when it was still dark in my cozy room at Fred's house in France and taking the train to Hendaie where I took my very first steps across the border into Spain, it seems like a hundred years ago. I've been in a time warp. A Camino warp. But now I'm getting close. As of my current location in Vilalba, I'm only about 120 kilometers away. If I took the highway, I could be there in an hour (I actually saw my first highway sign for Santiago today). And as the rain kicks in and the temperatures drop, my desire to be done increases. However, the last few days have been special. I made a friend, stayed in an albergue, and moved deeper into the heart of Galicia. I'm ready to be done with the Camino but I'm not sure it's ready to be done with me.
Life on the Camino for me consists of the following: Wake up, work for a half hour/ hour, eat a small breakfast or buy something small leaving the first town, walk for many, many hours, take some breaks, take some pictures, drink some water, talk to yourself, talk to the animals, get barked at by dogs, pet a horse, watch as the horse looks at you longingly as you walk away, walk some more, stop to sit down outside a church, realize you've run out of water, think you're close, realize you still have 6k to go, think your legs are going to fall off on the last 3km, find a hotel, work, get dinner, watch YouTube videos, write, read, go to sleep. Repeat over and over, only changing the scenery and the hotel rooms/the ocassional albergue. It's like being a rockstar, except no one's cheering for you (except the cows, who are mostly just staring vacantly/forever chewing). Your groupies are horses. Your encore consists of taking a walk after you've settled into your hotel room.
Yesterday I stayed at an albergue, and my favorite people, the crazy Spanish dude and the weird Frenchman from Cadavedo were there. My nemeses. The albergue was beautiful and cost 6 euros, and unlike most albergues they gave you thin cotton disposable sheets to alleviate bed-bug concerns. Plus, this albergue had a kitchen and WIFI, which is almost unheard of. I was impressed.
A week ago Spanish dude and I got off to a wretched start with our "You have to call/I don't have a phone" conversation, but last night things were different. As he tucked into his dinner I said "Provecho", which means "Bon apetit", and he said "Gracias." When I started to cook (all I had were noodles someone had left, oregano, and sunflower oil -- the poorman's hostel special), he asked if I wanted a sausage link and also some garlic to make the pasta a bit better. Instant friends. Feelings of animosity disappeared and I realized that the Buddhist saying is true, when you point a finger at someone look down at your hand, and you'll see three fingers pointing back at you. Two minutes before I had been on Gchat ripping into this guy to my friend Jenny. "I think he cooked the pasta I was gonna cook," I told her. "What an asshole. Plus, I'm 94% sure he's drinking sunflower seed oil." The "sunflower seed oil", of course, turned out to be white wine, and the guy turned out to be not so bad. I had completely written him off and forgetten that in any interaction it takes two to tango.
However, Spanish dude is not the friend I mentioned in the first paragaph. The friend is Hans, and I'm afraid that since he's on a bike, he's long gone. But we did spend one great day walking together, he pushing his bike alongside me and reviling me with tells of his youth, galavanting through the jungles of Mexico and hithchhiking with the Sioux Indians in North Dakota. He was a weirdo, and I loved him. He was my kind of weirdo. Every once in a while he would start singing a song out of the blue, and when he saw a word he liked he would repeat it out loud, over and over. When we went out to dinner and I told him my budget was four euros he insisted on treating me, and the next day we walked a little more together and commiserated about the poor breakfast that morning and I realized that when you have a friend to walk with things are completely different. Walking by yourself is great and it's good to have hours and hours and hundreds of kilometers for "me time", but too much me time can lead to insanity (sort of a Tom Hanks/Wilson "Castaway" situation). I think I reached that point about 200k ago. Now it seems weird NOT to talk to myself.
As far as getting close goes, I knew it would happen at some point, and today it finally did: I saw my first Santiago highway sign. It was strangely anti-climactic. I had to force myself to take a picture, despite it being a moment I had thought about and anticipated for a long time. The only thing I really thought was, "If I got in a car I could be there in an hour and a half. Instead it's going to take me five days." But I know those five days will go quick, and I know they'll be more satisfying than it would be to spend an hour and a half spent in a vehicle driven by Spaniard who's mistily day-dreaming of running over pedestrians. This whole thing has gone quick, despite the fact that the start feels like centuries ago. It's that weird time paradox that happens when you fit a lot into each day.
Hopefully it's a lesson I take from this (if I take any lessons besides how to properly approach horses with your hand turned down so you don't spook them): When you're living life fully, the days fly by, but at the same time when you look back at what happened a week ago, it doesn't seem like it just happened; it seems like it happened years ago. It's a strange thing and it's only happened a few times in my life, namely when I worked in Alaska for a tyrannical guy named Sam weedwhacking Cow Parsnip 12 hours a day, and also a few times during study abroads. And in college, of course. And when you're a little kid. It's a feeling I want to cultivate and have become a fixture in my life, because although it's cheesy and cliche, I do desperately want to live life to the fullest. I want to get to Han's age (65!), and look back and have this very same feeling. To know that I've done it well, and that I've given it my all. To know that I've walked a buen Camino.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
The last few days have been wretched. My feet are a mangled, raw mess that resulted from wearing sandals in the rain and having dirt and crud particles sandwich themselves in between the straps and my feet. What resulted is what might happen if some diabolical fiend were to strap you down and slowly rub sandpaper on your feet for 6-8 hours. In other words, exposed flesh. It didn't help that I also spent most of the day trudging with these same open wounds through streams and runoff that came directly from farms, laden with manure, fertilizer, and god knows what else. If I don't have typhus before the end of the day I'll be appalled.
And that was just day one.
Day two saw me walking in shoes because to walk in sandals, I fear, would have led to a nervous breakdown. So I put the shoes on, despite misgivings about how well I'd be able to do in them. I left Navia, the town where I had stayed the night before, at about 10am (a late start, due in part to the fact that I thought I had left my beloved fork in the hotel room).
It started raining almost immediately. Pouring. And once again, the path veered into lush pastureland (read: swamp). Almost immediately I began cursing. At one point I was actually yelling.
Then, miraculously, the rain stopped. It actually got sunny for a few hours, and at one point I stopped to eat yoghurt and dry my wounds. At first when it was sunny I was almost angry. I thought God was toying with me, showing me 10 minutes of sun only to have it dump even harder 20 minutes later. But the sun continued and my spirits brightened a bit as vitamin D coursed into my body.
I made it to the town of Casariego at around 3pm and saw the most beautiful pilgrim shelter I've seen so far. Right on a bay with rocks jutting out of the water and sheer cliffs topped with tufts of green. I could've stopped but wanted to take advantage of the good weather and the fact that my body, somehow, was staying strong.
Both of these things changed shortly, too.
Almost immediately upon leaving Casariego it started raining. Not raining, dumping. And as I was descending out of Casariego the shin splints started, though this time in my left shin. Within 10 minutes every step was painful, and there still at least 8k to go.
I remember saying to myself while walking, "I am miserable right now. This is not fun. This is awful." I felt so sorry for myself and so pitiful and then only thing I wanted to do was lay down on the ground and cry. But at the same time, I felt like getting to the Community of Galicia, the last region, the region that contains Santiago, would lift my spirits and make me believe I could finish.
I spent the last 5k doing a sort of pathetic shuffle, getting passed by people with walkers and out for their afternoon strolls. But when I made it to the bridge and saw Ribadeo and Galicia on the other side of the water, my spirits did brighten. At one point I think I almost smiled, though I think it might have been more of a grotesque imitation that was actually a frown. And of course, just as I had told myself while walking, it was all over soon. I was in a warm room, with a bed. I enjoyed a hot shower, put on dry clothes, and took enough Ibuprofen to sedate a musk ox. And tried to forget the day had even happened.
The events leading up to this whole debacle started three days ago when I got to the small town of Cadavedo. I had planned to stay in the pilgrim shelter, but an unpleasant experience with one the other people there turned me off. It was a Spanish guy who had his stuff strewn everywhere to dry, taking up all the beds, and I couldn't help but notice he had a bucket hat sitting on one of the beds, too. To this day I have never met someone who wears a bucket hat and is a functioning member of society.
Anyway, when I went to pay for the shelter, I ran into said Spaniard. He was drying his socks on the radiator of a bar, generally being foul, but in the name of peregrino camaraderie I approached him and said "Hi."
Without preamble he said, "You have to call the owner of the shelter so you can pay."
I said, "I don't have a phone, so I don't know how I'm going to do that."
"Well.....you have to call."
"Well....I don't have a phone."
(End Scene 1.)
As I stepped out into the night air where my only thought was "I really really don't want to stay in that shelter."
So I didn't. I walked 8 kilometers through the mud and the rain, at night, most of which without a light. At one point I was on a forest path, my eyes barely able to make out what was in front of me, and about every 15 steps I'd feel my foot sink into the mud, and i'd have to spend about 30 seconds slowly extracting it so as not to rip my flip-flop. This went on for about a kilometer, the mud intermingled with stinging nettles, the ocassional near-slip, and an almost-rolled ankle.
But now, of course, things are better. I just went out and got coffee and a croissant and on the way back saw a book by Ken Follett I bought called Valley of the Lions for 5 euros at a second hand store. The woman at the coffee shop told me I was a fool for doing the Camino in winter, and I smiled and thought "She's probably right." I'm back in my room now, which despite being small and next to an inside courtyard that also serves as a smokebreak area (exposing me invigorating whiffs of un-filtered Chesterfields from time to time), is warm, dry, and most importantly, mine. There are no peregrinos here. The clothes strewn about are mine, they're all dry, and if it smells bad I open the window. And most importantly of all, there are no bucket hats.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
I met a guy named Patrice the other day, the only guy so far I've actually walked a substantial chunk of a Camino stage with. He gave me some cheese and a clementine, and we speak entirely in French. Despite his age, Patrice is fast. Every time we've walked together it ends with me at some point saying, "OK Patrice I think you're much faster than me. I'll let you go ahead. See you soon!" Except I don't think we're going to see each other again.
Anyway, the photos:
He's too fast for me.
Here are some photos from the last few days, a large part of which I was in a dastardly funk. Two nights ago I was trying to work and the hotel's WIFI kept cutting in and out. Rather than accepting my fortune and going downstairs and enjoying a delicious dinner of breaded cutlet, I tried to work through it. I kept getting frustrated and it got to the point where I was desperate, huddled against the door to try to get the best reception, manically refreshing the internet connection in hopes that it would work better, gasping in glee when it successfully connected for three minutes and then wailing and plunging into the depths of despair when it cut out again. To top it off there was a birthday party downstairs, and the singing (CUMPLEAÑOS FELIZ) didn't stop until about three in the morning as I sat wild-eyed and desperate in bed, convinced I was going to have to stop with the Camino and move to Morocco and become an English teacher.
Anyway, the photos:
Here's overview of the Camino del Norte and how far I've walked so far. The red "x" is where I am, in a town called Cudillero. The arrow on the right is where I started, though actually I started in a town on the French side called Hendaye. Santiago de Compostela, of course, is the final destination. Walk, crawl, or crutch.
Here is Patrice as he scampers down the mountain like a nimble billy goat. When I told him I had shin splints he looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Ski poles."
This is a photo I took when I was bummed out and I thought it would be cool to show the "gritty side of the Camino." I am amazed, however, that people live here. It looks totally abandoned/ like a warehouse where they might make something like socks. But it's completely lived-in apartment building. I think this (that it looks abandoned) might owe itself to the fact that A) Spain is in a terrible recession (something everyone brings up in any conversation longer than four seconds) B) It's an industrial part of town, and C) It was siesta.
Spaniards like their ham. These things hanging in the bar that look like mandolins are actually pig legs, and they are not to be joked about. I was just told an anecdote about how the King of Spain and the world-champion ham-cutter were once at some kind of gala in New York and apparently, after the champ ham-cutter had finished cutting a plate full of perfect slices, a guy from Texas wearing a cowboy hat grabbed the plate, doused it ketchup, and started eating. The word "gem" was used at least 14 times (in reference to the ham); the phrase "son of a bitch" at least seven (in reference to the Texan).
Cudillero, or where I currently am. I came here in 2012 after searching Google for "Asturias costa pueblo bonito" (pretty town coast Asturias) and fell in love. My guidebook calls it "maybe the most picturesque fishing village on the Asturian coast", although in November it's a different story. Most of the buildings are shuttered and the place is a bit like a ghost town, albeit a beautiful, costal ghost town.
I'm getting close to the end but this is no time to become complacent. There are still a good 300 plus kilometers left and winter is falling fast. It's rainy and cold, and the days are short. However, I feel like making it through the funk of the last few days was a huge achievement. There were times when I was truly demoralized, walking through mud with shin splints not really wanting to go on and sort of wondering if I even could go on. And I'm sure there are tests still to come but having made it this far I feel I'll be able to take them on. That, and I can always buy some ski poles.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Which way are you supposed to go if you see this sign (the shell-looking thing)? Post in the comments if you know the answer and win a no-expenses paid trip to walk a leg of the Camino with Mark!
Hello there, good pilgrim! So you want to do/are already doing the Camino de Santiago? Well, it's not for everyone. It's long. It can be monotonous. It can be rainy. But it can also be pristine and rewarding and everything you've ever dreamed of in a journey.
I'm no expert on the Camino, but I've done a few clicks. Here are a few DO's and DONT's to help you on your way:
DO wear a blindfold half the time you're in Asturias. Given the signage you'll probably do just as well.
DON'T wear boots. Every single person I've talked to who's worn boots has had a terrible experience; from my friend Natalie whose foot swelled up to the size of a butternut squash, to the first guy I met, Carlos, who said, "I wore them on the Camino Frances. Never again." to Valentin, a dude I met the other night who had a jacked ankle, a bum arch, and said the only way he could even put his boots on is if he didn't tie them. Ouch.
DO bring a thin paperback with you. It'll be your friend when you're lonely, like on Thanksgiving when you have no one to celebrate with and no stuffing to gobble. Frowny face.
DO plan for a couple days off and a couple short days. Your body will love you and yes, the people on the forums I glanced at before doing this were right: it's better when you go slower. You see more, you do more, you meet more people, and it's more enjoyable.
DON'T get exasperated by how fast Spaniards drive. You will only be angry most of every day. Like me.
DO always have something to snack on. That way you can set little goals for yourself: Three kilometers more and I get to have a piece of chocolate. Ten kilometers more and I get to have lunch. Four hundred kilometers more and I never have to set foot on this path again in my life.
DON'T wear headphones. Come on guys. Listen to the sound of the waves. And the forest. And the cars passing by. And the car that would've hit you if you were head-bobbing to "Red-blooded Woman" by Kylie Minogue.
DO have some kind of utensil with you. I have a fork. Though at the same time, sometimes I really wish I had a spoon, since eating yogurt with a fork = insanity.
DON'T carry more than 10 kilograms. There's absolutely no reason to do so. A couple changes of clothes, a light-weight sleeping bag, and you're good. And wool socks.
DO wear wool socks. Even if it's summer. Even if you're in La Rioja and it's 190 degrees out. Just wear thin socks. Cotton kills.
DO eat as much tortilla española as possible. Eggs and potatoes. All you could ever need.
DON'T be beguiled into purchasing the "Menu de Peregrino". Often times there's no discount at all, and I don't care what anyone says, eight euros is not a cheap meal. Get pinchos. Or cook. Or steal*.
DON'T take the road. It's tempting sometimes but unless it's going to save you a ton of clicks it's not really worth it. I feel my soul slowly disintegrating when I'm on the road. And plus one of Spain's national slogans seems to be "Drive to maim."
DO talk to people. My conversation with the Cuban lady the other day was a ray of sunshine and talking to the husband/wife couple who owned the hotel yesterday was definitely a highlight. I need to follow this rule myself more because after walking all day it's easy to shut yourself off from the world. But my favorite moments so far have been impromptu conversations. Spaniards are great conversationalists, and within minutes of talking to someone they'll be patting you on the back or giving you relationship advice. The meat and potatoes of the Camino experience, as far as I'm concerned (or egg and potatoes, in honor of the tortilla).
DO eat lots of dark chocolate. It makes you happy.
DON'T touch the comforters at the Hosteling International Ondarreta in San Sebastian. You will get bed bugs, they will take up residence on your body/ in your clothes, and you will at some point think about jumping off a bridge.
That's all for now. Happy Thanksgiving! I'm going to eat some Dorito's in my room and possibly watch Legend of the Fall. ¡Olé!
Bonus video: Mark Reviews: Quechua 10-liter Poncho