Olveiroa was definitely a beat town (Rachel had described it as a “cowboy town”), although when I left I passed by a cool restaurant/pension. An old stone building was faced with glass, and it gave a contemporary feel to this old stone building. I hadn’t run across it when I did my 5 minute tour the night before, down essentially one street.
But during my tour, I was meandering slowly behind two other pilgrims, older gentlemen, who stopped and introduced themselves and we chatted for a few minutes. It felt good to be engaged in a conversation, though short, in these last days. Although I was craving being alone with my thoughts on this last leg of my journey, I had been feeling more and more lonely. I think those two can exist side by side…there is a difference.
Psychology Today says loneliness doesn’t depend on how many friends or relationships you have, it depends entirely on the subjective quality of your relationships—on whether you feel emotionally and/or socially disconnected from those around you. Quality vs. Quantity. And, well, just like everything else, it seems to be about attitude. And the decision…lies with you.
Goddamit. It keeps coming back to me. Or you. Or us. The decision on how to live our lives always lives…within ourselves. It lies there sleeping, waiting for us to attend to it. but were usually too fucking busy. Or hurt. Or whatever. You, me, all of us. Just another hint I guess to take responsibility for ourselves, to understand that everything we think, feel, all that we are, is our own doing, or own responsibility. Maybe the point of life (I think I’ve posited a few of these “points” in past posts) is to rid ourselves of the things that are keeping us from taking responsibility…
The definition of loneliness (above) says “…on whether YOU feel emotionally…disconnected”. As I’ve been discovering, and writing about, our emotions (often erroneously learned, but they sure stick with us nonetheless) are the things that often lead us down the wrong path, but are also the signposts that point us in the direction of things that need to be changed.
Of course out here on the Camino, especially considering my scattershot approach to walking it this time, I’ve set myself up to be alone. Walking just 3 days at the beginning did give me some great new friends in Penny and Rachel, but I left them soon enough. Now, I really hadn’t hooked up with anyone since leaving them in Pamplona, and, well, I guess that’s enough to make anyone a little lonely.
In addition, I wasn’t communicating too much with anyone back home. I really don’t have that many friends, especially close ones, due to circumstance and my own doing. Or maybe body odor. Not sure. After separating from my wife, the network of friends that had built up around my family disappeared. And, well, the metaphorical ball I curled up in for the year or so after separating didn’t allow any visitors, for the most part. If you read my blog from last year, you might understand why.
After the first year of separation though, I started to come out of my shell a bit. I reconnected with my good friend Clark, started hanging out with my “2nd therapist” Janet (she picked me up at the airport way back in blog post #1 last year) who was going through a divorce at the same time so we immediately bonded over our trials and tribulations. I tentatively began to put myself out there.
But then, after I fell into Amandas arms, I pretty much blew my friends off. Hannah was the one exception, and she didn’t want anything to do with me anyway. As I’ve said before, Amanda and I both needed each other due to our what had happened in our prior relationships, so we clung to each other, and became codependent, spending every moment we could with each other.
And in retrospect, it was not the best decision. But as I’ve said before, you make the decision, shit happens, you learn things about yourself from the shit that happens. If you look at it that way, it’s always about growth and change. And those are both good things. I guess sometimes shit can be a good thing.
Not too long after leaving Olveiroa, a lonely rooster crowed and a dog responded with a bark. This happened several times and I imagined what the dog might be thinking: “What the fuck is it with you (I’m certain that some dogs use the word fuck)? Its the same thing every morning about this time. Cockadoodle-this, Cockadoodle- that. Really? Couldn’t you maybe change it up once in awhile, and does it have to be so damn early? Jesus!” Sometimes when you’re walking by yourself, your mind wanders…
The Camino climbed pretty steeply out of town, and there were other pilgirms in front of and behind me. We climbed up and traveled along a rutty dirt path along a ridge for awhile, the clouds hanging low above us.
We came down off the ridge to a cafe on the outskirts of a small town, so I found a covered table outside and decided to have breakfast and do some writing. As I was enjoying my cafe con leche and tortilla, it began to sprinkle a little. I wondered if I was ever going to feel the glorious hot sun that I had enjoyed last year on the Camino.
The Way soon climbed out of the valley to a plateau and travelled along the side of the highway again. There was some sort of a pilgrim center and a bearded guy who looked like an extra from “Portlandia” was just waking up, having slept next to the building. Just another dude looking for his way home I guess.
The ubiquitous yellow arrows pointed me down the side of the highway, heading northwest. With all the cars and other pilgrims, I still wasn’t finding the solitude I was looking for, although, as mentioned, I kind of felt more alone than ever. I hadn’t had any real, in depth communication since I left Rachel and Penny back in Pamplona. It felt kind of like being alone in a crowd. Be careful what you ask for.
I walked for awhile up the highway and caught the little one eyed hunchbacked guy again. We walked together and exchanged small talk, trying our best to communicate. For the first time since I arrived in Spain, it seemed like the sun was finally bathing me with it’s warmth and light for more than a few minutes before ducking behind clouds.
At this point the Camino moved along the middle of the little peninsula that juts out at the top of Spain. After I had been walking with Quasimodo for a kilometer to two we hit a crossroads: the road to the right headed to Muxia, a small fishing village on the Northeast ends of the peninsula. You can walk there and then walk east along the northern coast to Finisterra, adding an extra day to your journey.
I opted to turn left, skipping Muxia. I still had another 25 k or so to get to Finisterra and If the travel gods cooperated, I’d be able to spend an extra day at the beautiful coastal town. I left my hunchbacked friend and powered on, determined to put some kilometers behind me in short order.
The Camino finally branched off from the highway and segued into a forest, a stone cross showing the way. As I walked, I thought about how different it felt walking the Camino last year compared to this year. Last year, after returning I wrote this: “Some folks I talk to think that walking across Spain is a big deal. But when you don’t think too much of yourself, you pretty much don’t think anything you do is of any consequence”. And as I’ve mentioned, I still don’t know why I did it. I can only say that it seems that something greater than myself pushed me to the edge, and presented me with two options: be pushed off the edge, or walk the Camino.
Like last year though, I felt a compulsion to return to Spain. And again, it was like I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but it seems the call wasn’t as strong. I was moving forward with a lot of the things that had sent me to walk last year. I told myself that I was going back to walk a few more steps on the Camino and see what had changed in me since last year, and tie up the stories and the emotional journey that at last seemed to be getting reconciled, dealt with.
This year at least, I didn’t get as many blisters, save one last night on my big toe which was not even noticeable now as I walked along. As I did, the Camino separated from the main road and continued on through green coastal hills, the path was 10 feet wide- sand and gravel, easy walking. Eucalyptus trees grew on the hillside alongside some sort of pine trees.
After a kilometer or so, I ran across a church but it wasn’t open. When did they start locking churches? I thought churches were places of refuge, a place for lost souls like me. Seems they should be open 24-7. I made a note to suffer my next existential crisis in Spain during operating hours only.
Although I couldn’t get in, there was at least a small alter outside where pilgrims had left various detritus: notes, books, journals, other personal talismens. I figured I needed to leave something, but what could I offer up that would be meaningful? Being from the west, I reasoned the answer to that question would be… money. The thing that we, essentially, measure life by. So I left 5 euros and muttered a prayer: “only if you need this, will you find it”. I was hoping the Camino would provide for someone in need.
After the church I walked another few kilometers through hills and forests. Finally, the camino went downhill, leveling off before turning west, near a large lake off in the distance. After I passed a family having lunch on the side of the road the Camino moved into farm country, corn fields rolling off into the distance, punctuated by rows of tall trees.
After another 4 or 5 k I realized I was finally pretty much alone. As far as I knew, any of those I had seen walking were behind me, and since I was moving at a good clip I was pretty sure no one would be catching me. At this point, the Camino was sand and dirt, about 10 feet wide. Easy walking. And I knew that I was pretty much heading in a straight shot to the ocean. There were huge windmills in the distance, a reminder of the “crazy” Don Quixote. Crazy as in, an idealist and hopeless romantic who didn’t fit into the “modern” conventions of the time. Crazy in the sense that he sadly reminisces about when people did good for the sake of doing good and asked for no payment or reward in return, after some goatherders he had met briefly invite him to share their meal.
So naturally my mind drifted off to Dulcinea and then, Amanda. She pretty much represented one of the last vestiges of the “old me” that I had come back to the Camino to conquer, or at least to think about. I thought about my past and what might have led up to me becoming so codependent on her. And I realized that in one way or another, it all came back to one thing- not respecting myself, not giving myself enough space in this world. Not loving myself enough.
I think in life many of us defer part of ourselves to others. In some ways though, this is what love is about. But, it’s when the dependance becomes unbalanced, when one depends too much on another to provide them with self worth, that it’s unhealthy.
And when we do cross that fuzzy line from what psychologists call “interdependence” to codependence, we aren’t taking full responsibility for ourselves, we defer some responsibility to that other person, or we choose to ignore it, in deference to that other person. Its like a crutch. And at this point in my life, I realized it was time to throw the crutches away, like the guy in the wheelchair who stands up, miraculously healed.
So, if you’ve been reading since last year, you’re familiar with my friend TVITBOMH (the voice in the back of my head). Well, he/she hasn’t been communicating as much over the last year (well, maybe not as loudly and pissed off). So, TVITBOMH decided to confer at this particular juncture on my journey, and told me that I should simply choose some words associated with my plight, and repeat them as I walked, like a mantra. Be. Here. Now. Alone. Love. Yourself. You. are. loved. Be. Responsible.
And so I walked. And for kilometers, as I crept closer and closer to the cool, blue, healing ocean, I kept repeating these words with each step. And like when meditating, thoughts tried to creep in and I gently pushed them away (“How much further”?, “I hope theres a decent wine bar in Finisterra”, “Did Donald Trump really get elected president?”).
I was brought out of my reverie by the Virgin Mary. I had been hoping for an epiphany, or some transcendent moment but instead got some religious effigy of Jesus’ baby mama in a wooden box. But in life, unless you get really lucky, not too many of us experience miracles these days. Maybe it’s cause were not looking for them, or were just too busy or distracted see them. James Carse, in “Breakfast at the Victory” talks about the mysticism, and transcendent moments (little miracles) in every day life. Hell, it’s a miracle that humans even came into being. I hear the odds are pretty infinitesimal.
I’m not religious but still, there’s something about the icons and art here that surrounds the religion that affects me. Maybe It’s because that instead of being some austere, untouchable thing, god is right in front of me, housed in a wooden box. It’s alive. It’s now. It’s as religion as it should be. No offerings were required.
Maybe religion shouldn’t be some authoritarian rules that are black and white, but simply some guidelines that we may try to aspire to. If religion is love, well, love forgives. It seems a lot of traditional religions don’t bend too much, aren’t too forgiving. Unless of course you count the utter convenience of being able to go to the confession booth on Sunday and wash away your sins from the previous week. Love is patient. Love doesn’t have hard and fast rules. Love is all around. We only choose not to give it because we’ve been hurt.
As my eyes looked past The Virgin Mary down the Camino, I caught my first glimpse of the ocean.
By the way, there is scientific theory that shows walking can be a form of therapy, which also explains why walking is typically part of a pilgrimage. Side-to-side motion, like walking, causes nerve impulses to cross the brain from the left hemisphere and back at a specific rate. This produces an organic integration of left-hemisphere “thinking” functions with right-hemisphere and brain-stem “feeling” functions. And this integration is necessary for emotional and intellectual healing from trauma.
I reached a lookout, the first view of the broad expanse of coast and ocean. There was a younger guy sitting, contemplative. I stopped for a few minutes and collected some of the feelings and emotions that I had experienced on this journey, and reached back for some from my walk last year, and from my life over the last year. I thought about how far I’ve come, but I also realized I still had many miles to go.
The road made a sharp turn North, and headed steeply downhill offering glimpses of the ocean and a town through the trees. After a few kilometers, the Camino came down to meet the main coastal highway. There was a cafe so I stopped to get a Nestea and a tuna tortilla. I spotted something I had somehow forgotten- the little plastic bins you see in various cafes and stores out here, with the delicious candies of all sorts that Cormac had introduced me to the year before in the sweltering heat of the Maseta.
They are, essentially, gummy things of differing flavors (often fruit) with sugar on them. There’s probably nothing special about them, but they are a sweet diversion for a pilgrim in the midst of a 35k day. I sifted through the bins and picked out some and put them in a plastic bag, reminding myself to get some at the end of my trip for Amanda so she could compare them to her favorite Swedish candy that she sometimes travelled to downtown L.A. to buy.
After lunch I headed north, the camino running along the main coastal artery. At a certain point I got a little lost, following a sign that may or may have not been pointing “the way” (there were a lot of signs that incorporated the symbols of the camino into them at this point). I was heading north along the water so I knew I was going in the right direction. When i started to walk down a wrong road, a guy, noting my obvious pilgrim trappings, asked me if I was a pilgrim, and corrected me, sending me in the right direction.
Near the the end of town I found a church that was finally open so I decided to step inside and check in with God. No one was there (well, I assumed God was), so I took off my pack and sat down at a pew in the back. I closed my eyes and, talked to god, buddha, the Universe, the Voice in the back of my head, whoever it was that might be willing to listen.
I thought about everything that had happened to me in the last year or two, the trials and tribulations, the hopes and fears, the joy and pain. I told god that I understood that these were such minor occurrences in the big scheme of things, and that I knew that it was just plain selfish even bothering him with my shit, being such a inconsequential fart in the pants of god.
I sat silently for a moment, waiting for an epiphany, or at least a tear. But nothing came. So I decided to pose a question to the Big Guy. I told him that things seemed to be getting better for me, but everything was taking so damn long (yes I said “damn” to God) and if I should I perhaps take action to try and quicken things by just changing my life cold turkey. You know, quit drinking, cut back on the masturbation, move to Pennsylvania and become Amish…
Then a strange thing happened. The little hunchbacked guy that I had walked with for a little while the previous days sat down on the same pew. We both sat silently for a few moments, then he looked at me and said, slightly laughing and in his best english, ” Ahh Marcos, you are here. As you should be”.
We both returned to our reverie and God, or TVIBOMH, or whoever finally spoke to me, said this: “keep doing what you are doing. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Always move forward, pay attention to the signs, and don’t forget to have fun”. After a few more moments I got up and left my hunchbacked friend, and the city for the last time.
I walked out of the town and the Camino took me though a forest above the main road leading to Finisterra. It was beautiful- Eucalyptus, ferns, pines, shaded (the sun was finally out full time). For the most part I was not alone, usually within sight of a couple who were walking in front of me.
Then the trail merged with the highway again, cars whizzed by. When we got to a town the Camino would take us through side streets, off the main road. The path split off from the main road and headed down. After walking for a little while through green, trees, ferns, i emerged into bright sunlight and…heaven. I could see a beautiful crescent beach laid out under a brilliant blue sky just beyond the trees.
Its kinda funny. When I came back from walking the Camino the first time, some people acted like I had done something special, like it was a big deal. It didn’t feel that way, to me, it was something I just had to do. Amanda never said anything, but well, I guess actions speak louder than words.
We slowly floated back into each others arms. But, even though we had been apart, looking back, I think we both had unfinishd business, and this time together was meant to teach each of us a little bit more about ourselves, things we still needed to learn from each other. We had been through so much, so much that tore us apart and created wounds perhaps never to be healed.
And maybe the reason is, we both still had a lot to learn about love and emotions. We both needed to work on our emotional intelligence which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Maybe, like Don Quixote, us humans hold on tightly to to some naive idealistic ideal of what love should be. Maybe we cling to the innocent, unconditional love that we experience when we are young. But, when were young, were not encumbered by the cruel lessons we’re taught as we walk through life. So when you’re on your second go-round one needs to reassess love from the eye of a more mature person, and adjust accordingly. Understand that your shit is more complicated, and so is trying to love someone.
I thought about a t-shirt a friend gave me many years ago. It said something like “a hopeless romantic enters the world. It shows a guy walking off a cliff, and at the bottom of the cliff are some barking wolves. I wish I still had that shirt.
When I got to the beach, there happened to be a little cafe overlooking the it. I stopped and had a bocadillo and a glass of wine. I decided not to walk into town on the path, so after I finished lunch, I left the cafe, took off my boots, and proceeded to walk into town along the sea, letting the waves wash my feet and cleanse my soul.
It all seemed right. Even though I had walked all this way, the souls of my boots had always kept me a millimeter from touching the camino. Now my bare feet were touching the sand and being cooled by the warm water of the Atlantic and it felt like life itself should be- warm, invigorating, soothing, embracing, forgiving…
As I loped lazily through the languid waters toward town and my hotel, I knew I still had to deal with one last thing and confront one more ghost from the past that had been keeping itself at bay. But I decided I’d leave it for the next day during the final leg of my pilgrimage to the lighthouse outside of Finisterra, at “the ends of the earth”.
“When I was in Missouri
They would not let me be
I had to leave there in a hurry
I only saw what they let me see
You broke a heart that loved you
Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore
I’ve been walking that lonesome valley
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door
People on the platforms
Waiting for the trains
I can hear their hearts a-beatin’
Like pendulums swinging on chains
When you think that you lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more
I’m just going down the road feeling bad
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door” – Bob Dylan