The batteries in my Kindle and iPhone are dead. The list of in-flight movies sucks. And this is a very long flight, from Madrid to Cancun. Dinner, such as it was, is over. Blessedly. The duty-free trolley has passed by. I gave away my only two New Yorkers to friends in Porto.
The only thing left to do is write.
And the only thing to write about is the Camino walk we just finished between Porto and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We finished several days ago but in my dreams, I am still walking: The landscapes are more surreal and with an unlikely set of companions. Most ridiculous of all, I am involved in adventures more fit for blockbuster action movies than a pilgrimage.
I can not explain my dreams.
Perhaps they will continue like this until I understand fully why we undertook this 13-day, 150-plus-mile walk through Portugal and Spain to an ostentatious Christian cathedral built and sustained by a religion in which I no longer fully believe.
But people have been taking these pilgrimages for 10 centuries. Clearly, the world knows something that I don’t.
If the challenge was to test my physical and mental endurance, the Camino did both, day after day. If the idea was to rethink my life, explore the makeup of my character, then it worked. If the goal was to reopen senses grown dormant from age, a repetitive life, and urban living, well, they are crackling.
These eyes are not the same as those with which I set out. I see myself and I see the world differently. I see intricate patterns in nature that were once only blurs. I see fine details in my own soul that were once gauzy shadows.
No, I did not gain superpowers. My aching back, lingering fatigue, and sore feet can attest to that.
But there is a buzz in my veins that recharges my every thought, my every feeling, my every passion. Before that buzz becomes a faint murmur and the protective scales fall back down on my soul, I want to recapture what I can and re-explore what I saw or thought I saw through the lens of my iPhone’s camera.
It is a gift and a luxury for me to be able to relive our Camino through writing about it. I hope it will be as interesting and enlightening for you, as well.
I suspect that in reliving it, the journey won’t be quite the same as when we started out on foot in the darkness of an early September morning. Knowing what I know now, and all.
When you carry everything on your back during a trek like this, one of the popular discussions is this: “What would you leave behind if you were starting over?”
That sounds more like a life-probing metaphor now, but while hiking, it is very real and about the moment and the weight that is grinding your feet into the cobblestones like a chain-smoker mashing out his latest cigarette.
Let’s leave the metaphor aside for now and address real-life hiking.
Most of what I would jettison is pretty commonplace: the extra t-shirts, one of the collared shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of socks, the Leatherman multi-purpose knife, the Kindle, the electronic plugs (most of them), half the stuff in my toiletry kit, four of the six ball-point pens, and printouts of Camino itineraries by five other people.
And to think, I once laughed about my Uncle Don running away from Buffalo, N.Y. to join the crew of a sailboat in the Caribbean. Donny came aboard in his white patent leather shoes with matching belt and he carried a blowdryer in his suitcase. Got a little bit of Donny in me.
I would also jettison three of the four reporters’ notebooks and the one standard-size spiral notebook. They are as blank today as they were the day we set out. They literally gained weight each day in which I did not write something down — which was every day — the weight of guilt on my conscience.
I think I did well enough posting pictures and texts each day to Facebook. Anyway, that was the most I could have done before collapsing into bed with fatigue.
I might even have trashed John Brierly’s “bible,” “The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago.” It made little sense when I had no grasp of the landscape and less when I was tired and just wanted to find a place to sleep for the night. Besides, scores of other people were chasing accommodations based on his book, making for a crowded field on some days.
There is a great quote in the movie “The Way,” in which Martin Sheen’s character is told that people begin the Camino for many reasons but their true intentions are often not revealed until they are well down the road. You’d be surprised how many people say they are walking the Camino because they saw that movie.
My motives were simpler: An opportunity to close a chapter on a string of health issues over the last several years, an exploration of personal spirituality, a shared adventure with the woman I love, and a love of travel. (Says the guy who had never been to Europe.)
And, not incidentally, because we can, physically and financially.
Who knows what tomorrow might bring?
In the days ahead, I’ll do my best to recapture some of this magical experience. For one, I have lots of great photos that have not been published. If my writing grows tedious, feel free to just enjoy the pictures.
What I have to say will likely surprise me, too.
It feels like my old days as a newspaper critic. After watching a concert, a movie, a theatrical production, a dance performance, even a circus, I would hustle back to the office to meet deadlines, often clueless as to how I felt and to what I was about to say.
One Coke Classic, a Snickers, and a bag of M&M Peanuts later (always the same, a ritual), I would apply fingers to keyboard. Sometimes I did know what needed to be said. Sometimes I surprised even myself. And sometimes, a force would take over and an hour or so later I would pull out from a trance with a complete review on the screen in front of me.
I miss those deadline reviews. And the Cokes and Snickers bars.
So, maybe this will be my Camino review. Bring on the Coke and candy!
Only, make that candy Switzerland’s finest, Toberlone Crunchy Almond. From the duty-free cart, of course.