Saturday, July 26, 2008


I'm home now.

I got to Santiago on the 18th, having walked about 85km in my last two days. I was a little bit tired.

My last 10km into Santiago, it was late, so there weren't many pilgrims on the road, but everyone I passed (or more accurately, everyone who passed me) would shout out things like "congratulations, you're almost there," and "only 7 more km!" Old men sitting in bars on sidewalks would tell me to give St. James a hug for them, and some cyclists stopped to tell me that I should turn left at the hill, and I was almost there.

Which all should have been really lovely, except I was exhausted and they were all speaking Spanish which still takes me forever to understand, so my response to all of this was to grumble to myself, "I know how fucking far it is to Santiago, do I look stupid? I've made it 790km by myself already, I don't need your goddamn directions for the last hour, and if you want to hug St. James so badly, do it yourself, douchebag."

Then when I finally got to the city, I was far more taken with all the shops selling clothes that were clean and smelled new, and that nobody had been hiking in for a month than I was with the Cathedral itself.

So, to sum up, I took two things away from my monthlong spiritual pilgrimmage:
1. a loathing for my fellow man
2. a drive to buy lots of shiny new things

Also, I probably learned some things. And I have more freckles.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How to win at pilgrimmage

I like to win. It's one of my hobbies, right up there with "being right" and "bossing people."

And there are enough old people on the Camino that most of the time I feel like I am winning. It's easy to breeze past the olds with a nod and a "buen camino," and feel young and fit and strong. There's only one problem with making pilgrimmage into a race:


Seriously. Germans are intense. And very efficient. Yesterday I spent most of the day walking with a German guy named Axle, who was a total riot, but in spite of being a chainsmoker in his forties, he practically ran up that mountain, leaving me huffing in his wake. Fortunately I have discovered the solution:

Just when I thought I was going to puke or pass out or die, I would stop suddenly, look down the mountain and sigh, "have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"

This way, instead of stopping because I can't go on, I'm choosing to stop. I'm stopping because I understand that pilgrimmage isn't a race, it's about slowness, and living with intention, and appreciating the little things. And also about winning, if not by being the fastest, then by being the most pious.

So the Germans can win the race, because I am clearly winning at ENLIGHTENMENT.


I'm in Sarria right now, 117km from Santiago. It gets quite crowded from here on, because anyone who has walked at least 100km to Santiago is eligible for a Compostela - basically a 50% off coupon for purgatory.

Now, I know that this pilgrimmage has rewards well beyond getting out of purgatory early, but answer me this: how is it fair that pilgrims who only walk 117km get the same prize that I do after 800? If you had a vineyard, and hired some people to work all day, while other workers only put in a few hours, would you pay them all the same amount?

Totally ridiculous.

Monday, July 14, 2008

They should have sent a poet

I woke up this morning ready to be done with pilgrimmage. I was sick of sleeping in bunk beds, sick of smelling and having sore feet. I wanted to go home.

Then about 2.5km in, I stopped for second breakfast in a tiny mountain village. It was still cool and misty, and the sun was coming up over the hills. Galician folk music was playing in the background and halfway through my first coffee, a farmer walked past with his herd of cattle, then the cafe owner came out after them to pick up the manure. These small villages are unreal. (Or maybe it's our malls and parking lots that are unreal.) At any rate, drinking my cafe con leche and looking out over the mountains that I'd climbed with my own two feet, the Toucan, and mouldy church basements, and Clergy St. crazies and irony and even Judith Butler seemed like worlds away.

I'm 142km away, but I never want this to end.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm not into animal abuse or anything, but...

A couple of weeks ago, I walked past a shepherd leading a huge flock of sheep. He was the only other person I'd seen for miles, walking through beautiful mountains, and the closest thing to signs of "civilization" for as far as I could see were the gravel path we were walking on, and ancient stone caves built into the hills where hermits used to live. (And don't think I didn't consider just moving into one of those caves and never coming home. Until I realized that they probably didn't have wireless.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that although I've heard a lifetime's worth of shepherd/sheep metaphors, I've never actually seen a shepherd with sheep. (And most likely, neither have any of the people who have preached at length about these sheep metaphors. These, for the record, are the same people who really want to get into the Greek root words without ever having studied Greek.)

Then that afternoon, I met two women from Oklahoma who explained to me in Sue-the-missionary accents that they had just finished a Bible study that went through the 23rd Psalm from a shepherd's perspective (their emphasis), and so seeing the sheep in the mountains moved them almost to tears, now that they understood how much a shepherd cares for his sheep and the lengths he will go to for them.

This was all getting a little too "framed poem from Cameron's" for me, which might explain why I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when my new friends Fred and Silka told me last night about how they'd seen the same shepherd beating one of his sheep with a stick.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I thought that walking 800km across Spain was a pretty badass way to spend my summer vacation, but so far I've met the following people who are crazier than I am:

  • Andre, a Danish guy who is running the Camino in marathon-length chunks every day
  • An Austrian couple who started walking in Austria. He is a bearded giant with a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his left shoulder and one of Jesus on his right, and if you don't find that totally adorable, then you and I could never party together.
  • A guy who zoomed past me one day saying, "I've been walking since Khazakstan, and you could do it too! Drink lots of water and stretch every day!" (Gregoire: See? I told you they all turn into mystics after two months.)
  • And, most impressively, Sam. Sam has been walking since Le Puy, which is about 1500km east of Santiago. His knees are covered with scrapes, because he has cerebral palsey which means he falls down a lot. He takes his time, and usually stumbles into the albergue a few hours after the rest of us, but always just in time to make everyone else in the room look like a total pussy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's 9am and I've already hiked 5k. I'm writing this from an albergue that was once run by Templars, drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice and the best cafe con leche this side of Cuba.

Why can't all mornings start like this?
Yesterday I was walking through a wheat field, and a man who looked about ninety years old, and who couldn't possibly have cleared five feet came around the bend, asking me to sign his notebook and write down where I was from. He was wearing a blue blazer and blue military-type hat, and at least thirty different pins (way above the minimum number of pieces of flair). He didn't speak any English, and I kind of wanted to put him in my pocket until he gave me a pervy, toothless grin and asked if he could have a kiss. (I said no, and kept walking.)

The sad thing is, he's not the first old man to approach me on the Camino and ask for a kiss. The first was an olive farmer who actually got off his tractor to come over, and tell me that I was very pretty and wow, all the way from Canada, and could he please have a little beso?

So either this is a cultural thing nobody warned me about, or Spain is full of lechy old men, or Spain has two lechy old men and I've met them both. But if it happens again, I'm calling the Consulate.

Three reasons I could do this for the rest of my life

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


443km to Santiago.

I don't particularly like my guidebook. It's full of inaccuracies and John Brierly's "helpful" tips for spiritual development and excerpts from his personal journal which make me think that he was - quite rightly - slapped around in school quite a bit as a child. But I can forgive him all that for this one paragraph, reviewing a hostel that I opted not to stay at:

"For a decidedly down-market experience try Victorino's at the top of town which offers very basic accommodation and a pilgrim meal eaten at a communal table. Victorino is one of the colourful characters along the camino and can drink a litre of wine from a porron (jug with spout) without drawing breath, and frequently does, so the menu is somewhat variable. A log fire adds to the convivial atmosphere if the night is cold but beware of amorous advances if you're on your own."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I wish Copper Penny delivered.

Sunday night I stayed in downtown Burgos. It's a lively city, (full of annoying soccer fans - I mean seriously, it's just a sport) full of cafes and restaurants and tapas bars. I finally had the chance to get away from the typical Pilgrim's Menu of fish with french fries, and eat something fresh and interesting and delicious.

I ate at Pizza Hut.

I like to branch out, I like to try new things. But I was homesick and tired after two weeks of walking, and wanted something cheesy and comforting and familiar. I think that Kelsey's Club Billy and I may have been made for one another after all.

Thommy, please come to Spain with a carload of stale Cheddar Bay, as soon as possible.