Thursday, July 26, 2007


Since I returned from the Camino, I have been fixated on the time that I spend in a car instead of walking. I decided to try to duplicate parts of my regular day on foot instead of in the car.

Last night, I set my alarm for 3:50 a.m. I planned to walk the 8 miles to my 6 a.m. exercise class and spend an hour working out before heading back home.

This morning, I woke up at 3:50 a.m. and said "Screw that." I slept until 8 and skipped the class altogether.


My new podiatrist listened to my story about the long walk, about the weird but slowly improving sensation on my right sole. Then he looked at my feet. He cocked his head to the side and said, "Well, considering what you're working with, I think you're doing a pretty good job."

Dr. P. is a full on lunatic, the kind of character whom one is surprised to discover actually exists in real life and not merely in sitcoms. He's the kind of guy that local newspaper stories are written about. When he shook my hand, he said, "Welcome to the Funny Farm!" One eye is squinchy and the other bugs out while he tells thrilling, dramatic stories about the roles of the various footbones. He handed me a skeleton foot. He furiously drew pictures on a whiteboard as though we were in the last seconds of the Final Four. He described gory dissections that he has partaken in that contribute to his understanding of my personal issues. The word "gusto" was invented for this man.

He looked at my current inserts and shook his head in a pitying fashion.

He recommended custommade orthotics costing about 500 dollars. I did quick calculations. Yesterday I spent 600 dollars on Dieter. How much should I spend on my feet? Aren't they more important than my car? Adding together the new 170 dollar hiking boots, the 35 co-pay, and the possible new inserts, it seems that my feet are pulling ahead in that race.

As Dr. P. whirled out the door, I balked at the price of the inserts. He looked at me gravely and said, "I think we know it's time."

He started down the hall and turned back to call out: "For now, you should really try to stay off your feet." I laughed. Podiatrist and comedian all in one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


About 6 miles into a morning walk to D.C., I was jaunting down Virginia Ave, looking forward to visiting a friend. Cool weather, good rhythm, happy destination.

A man was walking slowly toward me on the sidewalk. He had walking sticks. On the Camino, when I saw someone with walking sticks, I automatically assumed I was looking at a pilgrim. The clacking of sticks was a perfectly normal sound in the cities of Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and Santiago. No one found it peculiar there, but in D.C. it seems curious. I was walking stickless that morning, but it was pleasing to see someone using them.

The man was meandering along. He gave me a big smile. When we got closer, he stopped and said something to me. I didn't hear it the first time, so I asked him to repeat it. I expected him to comment on my hair; African American men seem to like my hair.

He said jovially, "Do you want to switch legs?" I looked carefully and realized his walking sticks were some kind of crutches, and his injuries seemed permanent. He told me that it looked like my legs were strong, that they could carry me far.

I felt flustered by such an enormous compliment. Part of me wanted to tell him about my recent adventure, about how much I have grown to love my shapeless, sturdy legs. I wanted to tell him that I am now constantly aware of the gift of my healthy body. I wanted to ask his story and hear about his injuries. I wanted to hear about his walking.

I don't remember what I said. Just something short and silly. We moved past one another and laughed together and kept walking.

I was right about those sticks. He's a pilgrim.

free time

I have a lot of free time right now, so walking continues to be pure joy, but I find myself wondering whether I'll keep walking once I go back to work. Walking takes time and intention. It requires slowness, patience.

I sometimes feel pre-emptive disappointment in myself for choosing to rely so heavily on my car once school starts up again. My job is far. Many of my friends are in D.C. I have more responsiblities to cram into a day. Where will the walking fit? Rather, will I choose to make it fit?

We'll see.

In the meantime, I have thrown down a couple of challenges for myself. If I'm going to walk less when I have less time, I ought to walk more when I have more time, right?

1. Soon, I will head off into the woods of W.V. with a pack on my back, one much heavier than anything I lugged across Spain. Lots of trees (including the Whispering One-Sided Spruce), lots of cold water to swim in, lots of stars, lots of fresh berries to pick, lots of pounds on my back. No beds, no fresh chocolate croissants (though you just never know when one might be delivered up to you). A friend and I did this same hike last year. It was amazing, but this time we're hoping to not have to slurp a mud puddle as a water source.

2. I have this little idea in my head that I should walk to Boot Camp one morning. It's always struck me as a bit preposterous that I drive for 40 minutes round trip in order to exercise for an hour. Of course, that would necessitate getting up at an unbelievably ungodly hour (we're looking at fewer hours than fingers on one hand). Still. Perhaps this Friday . . .

3. Here's the hardest one. Even before walking the Camino, I found it frustrating how much I rely on my car to go to work. Having a long commute is probably the thing I dislike most about my life, at least in terms of things that I have the power to change. I like my job, though, and I like where I live. I'll be making the drive for the foreseeable future. There's simply no reasonable way of maneuvering the 40ish miles round trip from my apartment to NVCC/Loudoun without a car.

Fortunately, I have no need to be reasonable right now.

I often complain that I can't walk to work. Well, I can; I'm just lazy. I've just never set out to do so. There's a rails-to-trails path behind my apartment that just happens to lead almost directly to my workplace. So, I plan to take a 3 day trip to work and back.
DAY 1: Walk to work.
DAY 2: Work.
DAY 3: Walk home from work and collapse in my bed.

This is, to be clear, a moronic undertaking in Virginia in August, particularly since I'll be walking two very long days.

Do I really want to walk, to understand what it is like to walk in my community? Well, yes, but it's far and it's hot and it's . . .

Start chewing on those Benjamins, Pool. It's time to put your money where your mouth is.

seven corners

Things are a lot closer now than they used to be. Last night it took me half an hour to walk to Target. I thought my watch was wrong. I didn't believe that it was only 2 miles from my home until google maps told me so when I got home.

I have lived in this spot for 7 years, and I have never once walked to this area called Seven Corners. It's a huge area of useful stores. Home Depot, Safeway, Target, Ross, Goodwill, Barnes and Noble, and a whole village of Asian stores. The funny thing is that I avoid going there by car because the network of roads is so confusing. (Thus, the name Seven Corners. It makes Williamsburg's so-called Confusion Corner look like a straight line.) Walking there was comparatively painless. I navigated from place to place without having to rehearse geometric traffic configurations in my head.

There's a new vegetarian restaurant in Seven Corners. There's a new Chipotle opening soon. I think it's likely I'll be walking there again.

carless, carfree

My car, Dieter, is broken. I think my beloved VW Cabrio is feeling a little jealous about this whole walking thing. He makes a flap, literally, whenever I brake. It's as though every time I slow down he thinks I'll stop and abandon him for another 2 months.

I took him to the garage. As I was leaving, they offered me a ride to the Metro. It is less than a half a mile to the Metro. I think I actually laughed aloud. No, thanks. I'll walk.

So I walked home. It was 2 miles. On the way home, an acquaintance was biking by. She recognized me, and she crossed to the other side of the road to greet me. She said, "Can I walk with you for awhile?" We walked together.

Later in the day, the garage called about Dieter. I tried to ask important questions about what is wrong with him. I tried to understand the problems, but they were complicated; my attempts were truly laughable. I decided not to bother getting upset. I heard R.'s words ring in my head, "What is money for?" and I agreed to the exorbitant repairs.

Somehow, my conversation with the nice employee leaped from brake pads to my job at NVCC to his Spanish class at NVCC to my trip across Spain, and before I knew it, I had forgotten about the frustrations of motor vehicles. I was examining my scarred feet. Rotors, I don't get. Blisters, I understand.

I'm walking over to pick up my car later today. My credit card is going to burn. When I get home, I'm going online. I'm going to pick up that scalding piece of plastic and buy a new pair of hiking boots. Dieter needs to learn to share.

Tomorrow, Dieter is taking me and my feet on a ride. This time, my feet are going into the shop. Podiatrist.

Monday, July 23, 2007

chocolate con churros

Well, I don't have all of the photos ready yet, but I do have a series from way back in Logrono, displaying my first experience with chocolate con churros. It was a happy occasion.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


It’s funny how shaving one’s hair into mohawk and dyeing it into a rainbow, then walking 500 miles seem to make a whole lot of other things that used to seem ridiculous seem, well, a whole lot less ridiculous. What inhibitions I had before the walk seem to be fading as fast as my hair dye.

Earlier tonight, I was about to drive home from my friend’s house in DC, but I realized that if I stuck around for a bit, I could buy the new Harry Potter book at midnight. Besides, it was such a nice evening that I thought I’d walk around for a bit; that’s been happening a lot recently.

While I was walking through Dupont Circle, I heard some music and saw a crowd, so I headed in that direction. A big brass band of energetic musicians was standing on the sidewalk, playing some raucous funeral marching jazz. I stood on the street at the edge of the gathering, looking on.

The hierarchy of these events is familiar to all of us. There are concentric circles. First the band itself. Then, there are the people nearest the band who gyrate and hoot and sing along. They are absorbed in the moment, oblivious to those on the outside. The people in the next ring clap when instructed to do so and rock their bodies stiffly. They are constantly looking around at the other people in the crowd, self-consciously trying to gauge who is watching them. Those on the outer edge cross their arms across their bodies and observe from a distance. Sometimes, rarely, they tap their feet. They survey the scene; they do not get involved.

I was standing beyond the dancers. While I listened, I was reminded of being 19 years old and working for The Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival. I thought of how much I loved laughing and dancing with the members of the Young Olympians, young African American jazz artists from New Orleans. In nearly 20 years on the planet, it was one of the first times I had any meaningful interaction with someone who wasn’t a white New Englander.

The music in Dupont Circle wasn’t quite that caliber, but it was pretty good, and I stood primly, dutifully clapping, feeling a bit jealous of the people who were boogying near the center. Then I thought about the last time I danced. It was in Madrid a couple of weeks ago at the All Europe Gay Pride Festival. I was on the street watching the parade. A few other people were dancing. Not many. I looked at them shyly. I sort of felt like dancing, too, but I was embarrassed. Then I decided that I was being silly. I was traveling. They didn’t know me. So I flailed my arms and shuffled my feet and smiled and sweated. It’s so easy to risk foolishness when in a foreign land.

D.C. is often accused of being conservative (and not just because of who is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), so it was refreshing to see people cutting loose. I watched the dancers. We always watch the dancers, don’t we? Although we listen to the music, our eyes are usually focused on the people who are publicly moving their bodies. When I am on the outside looking in, I don’t usually feel critical of the way people dance. I like watching the people with rhythm and coordination, but I like watching the others, too. If I see someone particularly graceless, I admire them. I admire them, and I pity myself for standing still.

Tonight there was a good mix of people gathered around the center. One guy was dancing soulfully while astride his bike. A Latino guy was ineptly trying to use a washboard that a band member had lent to him. I was transfixed by a girl wearing hijab who was a fantastic, sensual dancer.

I kept trying to get myself to dance, but I kept imagining different people I know coming by and spotting me. I felt uncomfortable. I did just what the other non-dancers were doing; I exchanged tight smiles with other people and scanned the crowd nervously. I don’t know why I’m concerned. Most of my friends and acquaintances wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see me near the band, swaying, oblivious to onlookers.

I suddenly realized that I was hoping to see two specific people. I was looking for Luke and Peter; I was looking for the only two pilgrims I know who live in D.C. Somehow, having them with me would have made the risk feel safer.

Just as I was getting really frustrated with myself, I saw this man walk toward the crowd. He was shortish and sixtyish. He had white hair. He wore a suit. I was sure he was going to be too serious to stop. I thought he would keep walking. But he didn’t keep walking. He stopped, smiled at me, and started to move his arms just a little. I looked right at him, and I started to dance. And he did, too. He had moves. We laughed at each other. For a little while, on the edge of the crowd, we danced together.

Soon, I wasn’t searching the crowd anymore (though I was vaguely aware of the two of us being photographed). Soon, I wasn’t even looking at him. Soon, I was just dancing—and smiling.

I walk pigeon-toed. My hair is silly. I’m an utterly graceless dancer. I might feel self-conscious when I do something new, something I’m not good at. I may very well look absurd most of the time. I might make other people uncomfortable with my choices. But those risks must be worth it because trying scary things that I'm not good at almost always make me smile.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

good snaps

Today I went to REI and ran into a clerk who had helped me before my trip. (Yes, he recognized me. Yes, this should tell you something about how much money I have spent there recently.)

"Did you take any good snaps?" he asked.
"Not really. But I kept a blog."

I do have some pics, and after I resolve The Great International Camera Battery Recharger Fiasco of 2007, I'll put them online. Still, I think the snapshots contained on the blog are a whole lot more telling than any of my photographs.

I've been very surprised at how many people have read this blog. I anticipated I would be writing an open letter to my mom. You have turned out to be an amusing and humbling assortment of readers, nearly as eclectic as the pilgrims themselves. Having your feedback and attention has made writing it a fun experience. It turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip.

In regular, non-Camino life I am perennially frustrated with myself for not devoting more time to writing. It's shameful how rarely I write. I am regularly a disappointment to myself.

Among the many, many things I learned while walking is that moving my feet encourages my brain to write. While I was in Spain, and even since I have returned, walking has made writing seem like a kind of play. It's funny that I never wrote about that while I was on the Camino, about how much of the time I spent walking was actually devoted to writing. Sometimes I was formulating ideas for this blog; sometimes I was thinking about other pieces I would write later that day. Sometimes I was gathering scraps to write about later on. I found myself shaping words and phrases and sentences and ideas as I walked through the wheat and poppies and towns. Occasionally I stopped to scribble things down, but mostly I just let my mind organize itself. One of the only things I wish I had carried with me was a cheap and light word processor. I would have been willing to shoulder a few extra pounds for the luxury of typing. Anyone who has seen my handwriting understands why.

The walking has pushed my brain to write; the blog provided an outlet for it. I hope to keep walking, and I hope to keep writing. Some of you have asked if I'll continue adding entries to the blog. Yes, I will. Even though I’m not on the Camino de Santiago anymore, I’m still a Pilgrim Sole. I’m confident I’ll find something to say even as Jimbo’s bones and that squatty lighthouse and those yellow arrows fade into the distance.

I’m not especially sure what will happen with my walking or my writing, though I have a few ideas. As Confucius says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I have at least 500 miles left, though I’m on my way . . .

following the yellow arrows

Even though it's been a couple of weeks since I arrived at Finisterre, I'm still looking for those telltale signs pointing me in the right direction.

I've become a loyal customer of Shell gas stations. I appreciate the irony of choosing to fill up my gas tank with a product because it reminds me of a nice walk.

I smile every time I see a yellow arrow that has been painted for some construction purpose. Today, while I was driving around in a parking lot with fat, yellow arrows, I felt a bit of peace.

Before I left for Europe, a friend, exasperated by my endless questions about philosophy or religion or politics or whatever I was being difficult about at the time told me, "Bridget, sometimes it's okay to just follow the rules." It's not. I assured him. It's just not. What kind of a world would it be if I didn't question every little thing?

After 500 miles, I can tell you. It turns out that I can be pretty good at following the rules. I loved following those yellow arrows. For once, I loved mindlessly doing as told.

only a walker

I used to admire my backpacking friends who traipsed amongst the trees on vaguely marked trails while shouldering their whole world on their backs. They were brave and outdoorsy. They sucked marrow in the echoing wilderness. I felt inferior. I wanted to be like them.

Not anymore.

It turns out that I don't much like trees or tents or hard ground or s'mores* or pure solitude. It turns out that I prefer parks and buildings and beds and chocolate croissants and people.

Amongst the REI crowd, it's simply not cool to prefer those things. Here in the United States, it's odd to go out walking. Sure, you can go for a walk, but if you don't have a pack on, you should probably be pumping your arms and sweating. Heck, even if you are walking for exercise, you are still considered inferior and should be properly apologetic that you are not as good as the runners whizzing by. You hang your head: "Sorry. I'm only a walker."

My friend recently asked me whether I wandered amongst the woodsy trails around my childhood home when I was little. I didn't just say no; I bristled at the question. I got defensive, and it took me a little while to figure out why. In the American spirit, people are encouraged to wander in the wilderness. It's commendable to possess that pioneering spirit. It irks me to think that I'm not a creative, natural soul like the backpackers I admire, but hiking just isn't my thing.

I hate the very idea of getting lost in the buggy woods. Hiking is okay occasionally, but I prefer sidewalks and streets and rails-to-trails to faded paint blazes. I like civilization. I like to think about what I'm thinking instead of where I'm going. I like to let the rhythm of my feet guide my thoughts.

I'm finally ready to admit it: I'm only a walker.

I recently invited my 14 year old nephew to go for a walk. "I'll go for a hike with you, but I'm not going for a walk," he declared. Damn those teenagers. Just when I think I've raked in the cool points for getting a mohawk, I go and cash them in on admitting I like walking.

*Okay I do like smores, but I needed the cheap parallelism. Forgive me.

dear pictorial

To the Editor of the Pictorial Gazette:

I am concerned about the lack of sidewalks in Deep River and Essex.

I just returned from a 500 mile walk across Spain along a path called the Camino de Santiago. It wends through various small villages and large towns, but it rarely requires walkers to venture onto dangerous roads unprotected. I felt very safe. Having returned to visit my family in my hometown of Essex, I am appalled at how difficult it is to walk here. After spending 6 weeks walking every day, even I am hesitant to risk clinging to the sides of the roads as cars whiz by.

While I was walking with people from across the globe (Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada, France, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, and more) they regularly asked me whether it was true that America does not value walking.

I told them about the lovely New England coastline where I grew up. I admitted that my young nephews, who live in the prosperous small community of Deep River, Connecticut, are unable to step off their property--onto any of the four major roads that intersect near their house--without being threatened by automobiles. I explained that my sisters love to walk, but they have to get into a car in order to get to a place where they can walk safely.

I was able to boast to my fellow walkers that my two little nieces are required to walk to their elementary school, but then I had to shamefully admit that the wealthy town of Essex, Connecticut, which was once named "The Best Small Town in America," will not spend the money to construct a sidewalk so that they can travel the .2 miles from their house.

I had to tell people around the world that while Americans might like to walk, America--at least the beautiful villages where I grew up--does not value walking.

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, July 16, 2007

holier than thou attitude

To be clear, Pope Benny, America didn't like you even before this nonsense. Come on, dude. Of all the names, you pick Benedict? Haven't you ever read any American history? And don't you think Pius would suit you better anyway?

I feel for the Catholics. I really do. As an American, I understand what it's like to have a leader who insists that his way is the only way to salvation. I know how it feels to be labeled as defective for disagreeing with a holier than thou attitude. (Woody Guthrie wrote a great song proposing a solution which would solve our joint leadership problems: "Christ for President.")

All joking aside, I'm truly appalled by Pope Benedict's statement, by his reassertion that the Catholic church is the only true Christian church. I can't fathom how the Catholic church (it has earned that lower case 'church') can claim to simultaneously promote world peace while insisting that other churches aren't really Christian. Pope Benedict's recent statement renews my frustrations with Catholicism; it is just a type of fundamentalism. The parallels to Bush rise again: "you're with us or you're against us." In the case of Benedict's Catholicism: "We're right. You're wrong. We all love you here on Earth in the name of our shared Saviour, but good luck in the next world. We're not going to bother saving you a harp." From my perspective, that seems rather closely allied not only with Bush's philosophy, but also with the principles of the Bad Guys that the United States has declared war against.

Part of me wishes that Pope Benedict had issued his declaration while I was on the Camino. There was remarkably little discussion of Catholicism there. I expected to encounter many more individuals whose devotion to Saint James inspired them to do the pilgrimage, but I cannot think of a single person who explained that religion was the primary reason for undertaking the walk. I can't even think of many pilgrims who identified themselves as practicing Catholics.

If I had heard about Pope Benedict's ideas while I was walking, I probably would have thought more deeply about Catholicism. I joke freely about walking to Jimbo's bones to get out of purgatory, but in many ways, that Compostela is not merely a quaint tradition. It represents the dangerous--and contemporary--notion that the hierarchy of the Catholic church can choose to regulate the afterlife. That is no laughing matter. It never has been. It isn't now. The attitude that one church worships a better God in a better way than another church? That's the kind of attitude that starts wars--and sustains them for a good, long time.

What I'm trying to say here, is that I just walked 500 miles in endorsement of Benedict's hateful words. Great.

James isn't very important to me, but Martin Luther is. Luther is no saint; that's for sure. He had his own supply of dangerous religious prejudices. (Don't we all? The irony of the statement is not lost on me.) Still, maybe instead of seeking a parchment pat on the head from the Catholics, I should have turned around and walked to Wittenberg, Germany to the site of the posting of the 95 Theses, which questioned the practice of granting indulgences. Apparently, Luther's revolutionary act is still quite relevant today.

I've been looking for a use for my Compostela. And I think I've found it. At first I thought I'd frame it so that I could remember my Camino, but it's ugly and in Latin. Then I thought I might auction it off on ebay to a less virtuous individual who really needs the purgatory points. Neither of those seemed quite right, though.

Instead, I'd like to use the blank space on the back of my Compostela to write an invitation to Pope Benedict. I'll invite him to walk the Camino de Santiago. I met quite a lot of people there who strove to emulate Christ. I'm not sure if they count as Christians, but I'd like to know his informed opinion about that after he plucks himself out of the Holy See for awhile and shares a few pilgrim menus with them. I have walked a lot of steps to gain access to his heaven. I've had a good, hard look at his faith. I wonder what would happen if he had a good, hard look at his faith, too.

Lace up your boots, Benny. You're going for a walk. You're going to sleep with the bedbugs and drain the pus from your blisters. Don't even try to tell me that you're too old. You're just a hatchling out on the Camino, just another graying German.

And by the time you finish walking from Rome to Santiago, I think you'll realize that if anyone should be denied access to heaven, Pope Benedict, it's not the Protestants. It's the snorers.

jiggety jig

Exactly two months ago, I woke up and started walking across the Pyrenees toward the Atlantic Ocean. Every day since then, I have thought about one particular day, one particular walk.

I have anticipated it more than the day I arrived at Jimbo's bones. I have looked forward to it more than I did the day I would swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

I have rehearsed it over and over again in my mind, replaying a loop of how I imagined it would be. Even when I didn't want to think about it, my head would return to it involuntarily. I was excited about it, but I dreaded it, too.

How will it be? Will it go okay? How can I get it just right? What if I get it wrong?

So this morning I climbed out of My Very Own Bed for the first time in a couple of months, and I went out for a walk starting from my home.

A lot of things were different. I didn't have a 18 pound pack. I carried different essentials--a wallet, a cell phone, keys, and an ipod--none of which I had with me on the Camino. There weren't any yellow arrows, but there was a path and sidewalks safe from cars. There were people walking and bicycling in the other direction, and even though no one said "Buen Camino," lots of people smiled.

Some things were very much the same, though.

My body was happy to walk. It was hot and miserable, and I still felt glad to be out and moving.

After an hour or so, I arrived at a little coffee shop, the Java Shack. Some of you know that I take caffeinated communion here more often than some evangelicals crack the New Testament. There was an assortment of people scattered about at the tables outside, and I heard someone call out "How was it?!" I looked over and saw a woman I recognized. I couldn't remember her name, but it didn't matter. She remembered me, and I remembered her.

Soon there were more familiar faces around welcoming me back, asking me about my trip. I sort of know these people, but not really. Sometimes I know about their families or their jobs. Sometimes I know their opinion of the latest political scandal. Sometimes I only know what kind of bagel they eat. Some of the people I talk to are in pre-school. Others are retired. Their professions vary widely. Some dress in suits. Some wear exercise clothes. Most people feel free to talk to each other. Today, the conversation shifted from the Camino to mulletts to quitting smoking to Prague to government. Several people joined the conversation, the table. Others left to continue on their journey.

It was just like the Camino, except it was home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"let's take that little rat thing off the top."

Dad has a new camera; I have a new dye job. You have a new video to watch.

Monday, July 9, 2007

the compostela

My baggage was flagged for inspection as I went through security at the Paris airport. The official pulled a small, white tube out of the top pocket of my backpack and raised his eyebrows at me.

I answered quickly. "Oh. It's just a piece of paper."

getting to Santiago

I think it's likely I'll do another Camino sometime in my life, though I wonder if I'll end up in Santiago or Finisterre. I probably will. Still, it won't be as much of a focus. I had some pilgrim friends, Luke and Jen, who had limited time in Spain. Their original plan was to take a bus to get closer to Santiago just so they could reach the supposed goal. Then they decided to keep on walking and take a bus to Madrid (and their flight) from wherever they ended up. It seemed a little odd to me to skip the thrilling conclusion, but now that I've been to Santiago, I think they made an excellent choice. The anonymous, carefree days of walking are much more sacred than that golden embrace with Jimbo that awaits at the end.

I'll admit that the sea was pretty good, though. The sea was worth it.

would i do it again?

Many people, including other pilgrims, have asked me if I would do it again. It's possible that like the 40-something male pattern baldness Jesus impersonator wearing a blue robe and carrying a tiny satchel who has purportedly walked the Way more than 12 times, I could grow addicted to the Camino. It's an easy, simple lifestyle. Being outside all of the time feels great. The walking is often meditative. There are no imminent nagging concerns of bills or family or lists or work. In the afternoon and evening, there is good company. At night, one sleeps to the rhythm of snoring. In the morning, it all happens again.

Still, for me, part of the magic was that I didn't know what to expect along the Way. It was all new. I suppose it could be nice to have a look at things for a second time now that I have some idea what's coming, but I'm not so sure. It's a big wide world to explore, and 6 weeks is a long, long time to dedicate to re-experiencing something. Besides, I keep vowing that I'm only going to cut my hair this way once . . .

That said, there are a few circumstances under which I would hike the Camino Frances again.

1. I would walk the same route again about 30 years from now. As I've written before, I may need to prove to myself that I can keep up with my 50 and 60 something pilgrim friends from this round. I wouldn't be surprised to find the same folks on the trail again, ages 80 and 90 something. I hope I do. They're a stubborn and optimistic and inspiring bunch.

2. I'd also consider walking this route again if someone I really cared about asked me to do it with him/her. It's equally possible, though, that I would encourage him/her to do it alone.

3. I think it would also be a good place for me to return to if I was trying to work out something difficult in my life.

This summer, I only did one section of the Camino de Santiago, the Spanish part of the Camino Frances. This is the most populated with the best infrastructure for pilgrims. As pilgrim Rob used to say whenever anyone got lost, "There are many roads to Santiago."

There are lots of other paths to explore. I'd like to do the French part of the Camino Frances from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port (where I started this year). I've heard it's a tougher walk, and my French could definitely use some work. The Camino del Norte, which travels along Spain's northern coast is also intriguing, as are the other main routes--Via de la Plata and Camino Portugues. I think my friend Penny has walked them all. She claims she's done now, but I have a feeling she'll start inventing new roads to Santiago . . .

clean sheets? so that's how it is in France . . .

I am slowly easing back into reading The Washington Post. In my 2 month absence, it has turned into a humor newspaper. Here's proof. It was bound to happen once they bought out The Onion.

Be sure to enjoy the graphic of his 5 day journey. To appreciate my scorn, review this map which shows my 44 day path (including 6 rest days), starting at St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the border between France and Spain, just east of Roncesvalles, and ending at Finisterre, the dot on the sea.

Now, now Bridget. To each pilgrim, his own pilgrimage. Still, Mr. Robert V. Caputo, we're just not making a whole lot of progress on combating that stereotype of American laziness . . .

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"How did you like it?"

I watched the sun set over the ocean at Finisterre with a bunch of pilgrims who I didn't really know--a collection of Germans who I had met briefly a few days before. A guy from Amsterdam who I remembered having seen once about 3 weeks previously. Quite a lot of people I had never seen before. It was perfect. It was just like every other day of the Camino--the most important and the most mundane of moments can be shared with strangers. So we gathered on the rocks and lit fires and drank alcohol and talked about feet and traded stories and laughed.

It was an oddly private experience, though. This quiet celebration was meaningful for the pilgrims, but there were some tourists scattered around. To them, it was just a pretty sunset in a pretty place. Nothing special.

One girl told us she was in Santiago for a wedding and was just checking out the sights. The pilgrims were idly chatting with her. She asked about the Camino and the logistics and such. Then she asked one German pilgrim, a guy who I had only briefly met, "How is it? How did you like it?"

I was curious how he would respond. It's a lot to sum up, to process. I knew I would have to answer this question soon, and it seems impossibly huge to explain to someone how grand the experience is. What in the world would he say? What in the world would I say?

As he answered her, he looked at me, right in the eye, and said, "It's one of the best experiences of my life."

I love those efficient Germans.

That's my answer, too. It's one of the best experiences of my life.

the new world

Back in the day, Cabo Finisterre was known as the end of the world. There is a lighthouse there that overlooks the sea, and each night, pilgrims gather to celebrate the completion of their pilgrimage by ceremonially burning clothing or boots while watching the sun drop off the edge of the Earth.

Just over a week ago, I walked up to that lighthouse at Finisterre.

While I was walking up the road by the sea, I turned back and looked east for awhile. I looked at where I had come from. One of my favorite things to do on the Camino was to see where I had come from. I liked to see the cities and towns grow smaller and fade into the distance as I powered myself westward.

So as I was nearing the end of the Camino, of my journey, of the world, I paused to look back over the Camino for a final time. I looked for the cities and mountains and flowers and people and rivers and chocolate croissants and slugs, but I couldn't see them all. They were invisible now.

So, I turned and looked forward. I've enjoyed doing that, too. I like to squint into the distance and see new parts of the landscape draw closer. There was always so much to anticipate. My friend used to tell me that on the Camino, what you were anticipating would appear just over the next rise, just around the next bend. It was a surprise, but you could keep your eyes on it and your feet moving and you would get there.

But this time, as I walked up to the lighthouse, there wasn't much to see beyond it. I felt a little sad. The sea lay flat out before me, and as I gathered with the pilgrims to watch the sun sink into the ocean, I pretended that I could see my invisible country, pretended that I could see just where I was going.

Fast forward through one week (including a bus and a taxi and a train and a taxi and a taxi and a plane and another plane and a car and a car and a car--not that I was paying unnaturally close attention to my experiences in motorized transportation), and this morning, I found myself in a hotel room in Salem, Massachusetts, having just celebrated America's birthday with my family. Still jetlagged, I woke early.

I looked around my huge hotel room and pondered what to do. I climbed out of my crisp sheets in the massive bed. I didn't watch tv or read a book or take a bath. I didn't put on a new sundress. I didn't do any of the luxurious things I had been dreaming of for weeks. Instead, I dug deep into my backpack, and I pulled out my filthy hiking pants and my crusty socks. I dressed. I laced up my boots.

I went out for a walk.

I've been coming to Salem regularly since I was born, but I'm usually in a car. I didn't know quite where to go. I felt flummoxed by all of the options, and then I noticed that there was a red stripe for tourists to follow. Perfect. I'm good at following the painted lines.

Just a short ways away from my hotel, I came across a lighthouse at the end of a wharf. It was squat and small and jutted out into a cove. It looked like the top tier of a wedding cake--or of another lighthouse far away, one that I had seen just over a week ago. I had never noticed the Salem lighthouse before; in 33 years of driving by it, I had never noticed it.

So I walked out to that lighthouse, and I had a look around. I read a sign about how important the port of Salem had been to the development of America. This lighthouse might be small, but it was mighty. It was part of the world beyond the supposed end of the world, Finisterre.

I looked out at the water, but there was no flat expanse. It was mostly surrounded by land, so I looked at the water itself and thought about how it was the same water that was lapping against the shores of Spain. I imagined that I had walked to this lighthouse.

I looked eastward again, just as I had when I was walking toward the lighthouse at Finisterre. I still couldn't see my Camino in the distance. I still couldn't see all of those miles that I had walked across. I looked again for the cities and mountains and flowers and people and rivers and chocolate croissants and slugs. They were still invisible.

But this time, when I turned westward, I saw a New World, my world. It feels different, a little foreign, and kind of hard to navigate. But the Camino stretches out before me, and I am still walking.

Monday, July 2, 2007

the meaning of the English word "sincere"

I brought only one t-shirt with me to the Camino. I chose an orange t-shirt that I bought last year at Minuteman Pizza in Uyuni Bolivia, the site of an outstanding travel experience. The pizza was tasty, and the salt flats were amazing, but that's not why Uyuni is important to me. I brought it because while I was there I met people there who taught me some things about the world--about having appendicitis in unfortunate circumstances, about bravery, about kindness, about knowing Spanish medical vocabulary, about humor, about local anesthesia. I brought it to remind me that no matter where I travel, the important part is the people. Without them, the places don´t end up mattering quite as much. I travel by myself all of the time, but I have never yet traveled alone.

I remember stopping for a breakfast Cola Cao (hot chocolate to which I am addicted) in Triacastela and striking up a conversation with a German bicyclist named Nils. I was trying to explain to him the meaning of the English word "sincere." I told him that being sincere sometimes sounds kind of silly and embarrassing. Then later on I told him kind of awkwardly that I wished that he were walking so that we could walk together. "Oh. I guess that´s an example of being sincere," I said. He walked his bike with me for awhile, and we kept talking.

Nils, this posting is an example of the word "sincere."

I haven't written many names on the blog up until now because I didn't want readers to get confused, but now that it's done, there are some folks who I want to acknowledge . . .

When I think of Cusco, Peru, I remember a Canadian woman named Carolyn in her green fleece telling me about this thing called the Camino de Santiago. Throughout my walk, she has sent me funny recollections and words of encouragement. I hope that one day I can provide someone with the gift of the Camino in the same way that she has offered it up to me.

LarrasoaƱa is a worthless little town on the edge of the Pyrenees where I helped dry the tears of a lovely Essex girl named Ceri with whom I shared both my first and last dinners on the Camino.

My favorite massage parlor in Spain is located just on the edge of Los Arcos. It was recommended to me by Paul and Rob. That town also has a very nice church.

Najera reminds me of a couple of Americans named Jen and Luke who saved me from a snoring bedmate. This is just the kind of goodwill I would expect from fellow W&M alums.

The highlight of Sahagun was watching the dream team of Canadian ladies cheerfully sing and cluck as they went at my feet with sharp objects and stinging liquids. Actually, it always made me smile when Gwen and Annabel and Jeanine and Adrianna turned up on the trail. Heeeeere weeeee goooooo! Yeeee-haw!

Reliegos, just outside of Leon, is tiny and boring, forgettable. I only remember it because I was there with Sam and Marcus who had also walked 70K in two days. We made dinner. We had our blisters repaired by Spanish pilgrims. We laughed at each other and tried not to get banned from the local store for being careless with garlic bulbs.

The peaceful village of Rabanal reminds me of laundry fights and sunrise dance parties with the singing Gerhard and his lovely Henrietta.

I was surprised to find that the Cruz de Ferro was a memorable experience for me, but I think it made a particularly large impression because when I walked down the pile of rocks with tears in my eyes, there was a big hug from Irish Ali awaiting me.

The walk to Molinaseca was one of the most beautiful of the Camino, but when I got to the end, I was tired and hungry--and Euro-less. Kind Tobias volunteered to lend me some money.

In Cacabelos, I offered some pizza to three tired walkers who wandered into a restaurant at the end of a very long day. The next day, in Villafranco, I happened upon Patsy, Pam, and Franklin just as I was feeling truly crummy and lonely for the first time on the Camino. Of course, once I found them, that mood switched quickly.

The first thing I think about when I recall the beautiful town and famous monastery of Samos will not be the chanting monks. I will think of Luke and Stacie and the monk spotting game, of earning points for spying monks. (Bonus points for nuns.) And when I think about my best meals on the Camino, I will always remember the famous "Completo" of Negreira.

The horreos (pretty raised granaries) that are common in Galicia remind me of my best Spanish teacher, Marta, chiding me for not keeping up with my regional vocabulary.

I'll remember a lot of things about the final long day into Santiago, including the company of Josefina, a pilgrim I had met only two days before. We set out early, squinting in the dark to find the yellow arrows and cheering one another onward in the final push to expunge our sins.

Way back in Burgos, I made Stefan's acquaintance as he slept on the bunk above me; half a country later, on my first night in Santiago, we and I celebrated our birthdays together (thanks to C, G, and A)--with eating and singing and even a little dancing . . .

Santiago's museum exhibit on Lord of the Rings was interesting, but it was really only fun because I was there with Florian. We got to the top floor, looked around stealthily to make sure we weren't going to be caught by other pilgrims, and then we took the elevator down two floors. Triumphant, luxurious wimpiness.

Spotting the sea for the first time was a spectacular moment, but there was no one to help me marvel. I was feeling a bit lost, until I looked down and read a note from Peter, who had placed a rocky note at my feet to welcome me there.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the yobs/Boy Band, Jesus, Purple Man, Silver Fox, Gerard Depardieu, and all of the other nameless folks who made the voyage worthwhile.

My final night in Santiago, I shared a room with Penny. She presented me with a book, an English book, and we talked about how one of the best parts of the Camino is the good company.

Thank you for the company.

mi ritmo--my rhythm

In the beginning, people kept telling me to find my own rhythm. Don´t go too fast, they said. Don´t go too slow. Just go at your own rhythm.

I laughed. The rhythm of my walking seemed comparable to a 3 year old playing her new drumset--irregular in tempo and volume, somewhat grating. When I walk, I ramble and shuffle, tripping on stones and weaving from time to time. My feet drag noisily. My toe turns inward; I´m pigeon-toed. My awkward gait used to make me feel self-conscious

The funny thing is that I love this movement now. I do have a rhythm. It´s mine, all mine. I move fast when I go up. I pick my way down especially slowly when I go down. I am entirely clumsy and graceless. When I walk alone, it has a predictable unpredictability--like most of the rest of my life. And I thud along happily, meandering, glad.

yo camino

There is thing I have definitely learned from walking across the Iberian Peninsula: I love to walk.

I have always been envious of friends who have found their sport, the form of exercise that doesn´t feel like exercise--running, tennis, yoga, bicycling. I have wished that I had some similar type of play. Now I do. It´s not going to raise my heart rate a whole lot. It´s not going to make me amazingly fit. It is going to make me happy.

I loved getting up and putting on my boots and wandering around. I love moving my body.

I can only think of one time on the Camino when I wanted to quit walking before I got to my destination. I was just outisde of Leon when I got lost (I was thinking of Bush at the time.) and had to wend through a really yucky urban area and it was hot, and I just wanted to take the damn bus. I didn´t like walking then.

Usually, though, even when I was miserable, I was glad to be walking. When I was going through an industrial strip outside of Burgos, I was glad that I was outside, even in the pollution. I felt superior to the people in the cars.

There was a day that was so rainy that my boots and socks got wet. I didn´t mind walking in the downpour and the rivers of puddles, but I was afraid I would get blisters and wouldn´t be able to walk anymore. The prospect of not being able to walk was the worst part. That´s the worst part when I think about going home now--not being able to walk, having to be the person in the car.

Sometimes, though, I´ll be the person walking, walking.

the things i thought i already knew

I´m not quite sure what I´ve learned from the Camino. I could spew out an honest and glorious list of things that are important to me from the experience, but I´m not sure I could actually point to specific things I have learned. Part of that is because being on the Camino is so far removed from real life that I don´t have a solid idea of how my experiences will translate. I´m cautious to sound naive or to proclaim that I am a changed person, though I do think that any kind of travel and new experience can have a profound effect on a person.

That said, there are three things I relearned.

1. I´m happy. Soy feliz. Those of you who have studied Spanish will understand the difference between soy y estoy in this case. The general translation is that I´m not simply smiling at this moment. I´m generally happy with my life, with my choices, with my career, with my friends, with my family. I´m happy with who I am. I´m not perfect. I´m not satisfied. But I´m blessed and proud and laughing most of the time. I´m not done trying to get better at it, though.

2. My body is amazing. Although I could have articulated this before the walk, I definitely didn´t feel it in the same way. I have gained a confidence that I didn´t know I lacked, an appreciation for what my body is capable of accomplishing. I won´t pretend that I have silenced all self-criticism and grown entirely accepting of my physical form, but I do believe in myself quite a bit more than I did before.

3. The world can be a peaceful place. I watched it happen over and over. Admittedly, pilgrims are a self-selected group; they want to be on the Camino. Still, they form an amazing community. They co-exist despite differences in ages, abilities, experiences, customs, nationalities. They make each other laugh despite physical pain and torrential rain. Even the faiths, the source of much conflict in the world, are different. For a purportedly Catholic pilgrimage, there is quite a variety of attitudes toward religion, especially toward the Catholic Church. Most people didn´t even speak the same language. Are there disagreements? Sure. They get sorted out, though. In 6 weeks of walking, I only witnessed one that was acrimonious. The Camino demonstrates that words aren´t really necessary to offer sympathy about hurting feet, to share a piece of chocolate, to admire a field of flowers, or to complain about snoring. Some people say that the Camino holds a sort of magic. While I agree that it is a special place, I think that the main thing that makes it special is that people choose to live peacefully and cooperatively despite obstacles.

I may not always be happy with my life or my body, but I hope I never forget that the Camino taught me that when I hope for peace, I do so because it is possible. I´m not sure I believed that before. Now, I have some proof. Call me naive or a Pollyanna if you will. No me importa. I have learned to hope.

a walk in the park

It has been weeks and weeks since my legs have been sore from walking. I normally do a few stretches, and every once in awhile, I feel a twinge. Mostly, my legs just carry me along quite happily.

Until now.

People gave me lots of good advice about the Camino, about hiking, about gear, about blisters. No one mentioned, however, that my legs would get angry with me once I stopped. Apparently my legs ache, actually ache, to walk more. Bizarre.

I tried to pacify them today by going for a walk in the park. I even wore my boots! But apparently, a walk in the park is nothing more than that. They´re still complaining.

not just a mile away

I saw this reverse culture shock coming from 854K away. That doesn´t make it one bit easier. This morning I used a spoon to eat yogurt while wearing a clean dress and reading a heavy English book. So luxurious and so sad.