Monday, December 8, 2014

You'll Never Walk Alone

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.