My Camino:Day 20 – Lazy Days in Leon

There is nothing like a rest day when you’re walking 500 miles across Spain.

I’m in the town of Leon – a city that’s been around since about 30BC, and a spectator stop – full of energy – something I was lacking as I dragged my ass past the ancient city walls.

The architecture is wonderful- a combination of religious obsession and Roman oppression.

The town’s queen diva is its cathedral, built in the 13century. It’s a true gothic goddess known for its embrace of and exploitation of light.

The light show is stunning, and changes by the moment as the clouds move past the sun, and as the sun moves east to west. You can just imagine all the pilgrims of pilgrims past, marveling at the miracle of light.

The cathedral is the city’s spiritual heart – but my heart stopped a beat when I arrived at my rest stop – the famed Parador de Leon – and who is there standing at the reception but my husband!!!

Don’t worry, don’t worry I’m not going all X-rated on you.

My sweetheart is here to cheer me on through to the end of my Camino. He won’t walk, instead he’ll drive and push me beyond my limits so that I don’t quit my Spanish Schlep.

Not that I would quit – no way am I going to let this bitch beat me.

We strolled through Leon this afternoon and bumped into my fellow pilgrims and he was able to witness the strength, energy, and humor of those I’m sharing this slice of my life with.

As we sipped on wine and ate our tapas and fried under the blazing Spanish sun, I pointed out my Camino comrades… “oh that’s the Australian, she’s 73 and traveling on her own, see that guy he’s the German who’s done this six times already, oh look… there’s Peggy, she’s got a bum knee, oh god don’t look, that’s the creepy guy who drinks out of his boots….”

It was the who’s who of the pilgrim parade.

He also got to see how obsessed we are about each other’s feet, legs, and overall health. We are a community of strangers hell-bent on completing a common goal.

Tomorrow we start another climb towards the end of our journey. Since we’re done with the Meseta section, we’re moving on to the wild and rocky Cantabrian Mountain section which includes the high point of the Camino Frances (oh fucking joy), and the third phase of this pilgrimage, the stage known as the spiritual stage.

OMG! OMG!!!! O!M!G!

I’m in high spirits. My blisters are healing, my muscles feel strong and healthy – and I need safety pins to hold up my undies!!!

Yes, the great 500-mile walk diet really works – your panties will fall off after about 250 miles! Jenny Craig – you know nothing!

I’m wrapping up today’s reflections, more tapas – and red wine – await me….. someone get some more safety pins before these panties completely fall off—- and that has nothing to do with my hubby’s arrival (wink wink)!

My Camino: Day 19 – Love and Dirty Laundry

For the most part, I like walking by myself. It’s not that I don’t want to meet people – I love meeting people and sharing our stories, it’s that when I walk with others I feel compelled to walk at their speed, and I’m not in that big of a hurry – or that slow.

Also if you want to walk with someone you have to absorb their needs and wants, their schedule becomes yours; you have to stop and eat, have a coffee, take your shoes off, take your socks off, rub your feet, go to the bathroom, wait for them to go to the bathroom, wait for them to buy souvenirs, wait for them to chat with fellow travelers – sometimes I just wanna be like Forrest Gump and go for a walk.

And so I walked…..”For no particular reason I just kept on going.”

So I’ve found myself alone – a lot. But, and here’s the surprising thing – I’m never alone walking the Camino de Santiago.

It’s been almost three weeks since I started my Spanish Schlep and I have not been lonely at all. We pilgrims -for the most part- act as one.

We all seem to hit the road around the same time (7:30AM), drink our first coffees at the same time (10:30AM), lunch (12:00), and roll into our designated village together (2:30PM).

Then we all fall into the same pattern, check in to our hotels or alburgues, do our laundry, take a nap, shop for fruits or supplies fur the next day, go to a bar or cafe for a drink or snack and then rest until dinner.

That’s the toughest part of my day – waiting for dinner!

Spaniards eat really, really late and they’ll be damned if they’re going to change their lifestyles for us pilgrims- even if we are the lifeblood of their economy.

I think it’s Spain’s biggest fuck yous to its visitors.

But walking alone affords me the opportunity to come in and out of people’s lives while we march some 500 miles across Spain.

Like today.

Two young Italian girls were chattering and all I could hear was “Vodka” and “Cointreau” – obviously they were talking about the drink that fueled “Sex in the City” or is now fueling “Sex on the Camino.”

Ten minutes later a Spanish couple was screaming at each other – I couldn’t decipher a single word so I’m guessing they were either arguing over how long they’ve marched or how “Lost” ended.

I love watching the evolution of budding romances on the road and far I’ve zeroed in on three:

One-Boy from Sicily who sweet on girl from Romania. They’re quite amorous and take their PDA (public displays of affection) to a whole new level.

Two-Boy from Mexico who has a girlfriend back home but has fallen hard for girl from Argentina. You can see these two are mad for each other – they’re inseparable, but I think he’s holding back. My money’s on The Way, though, I think he’s going give in which is great, cuz I can’t bare thinking of him saying to her at the end, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” (Oh c’mon, it was right there – you knew I had to go there!!)

Three-Boomer Love. I’ve been watching these two retired pilgrims getting more and more serious. She’s American (New England) he’s from Vancouver. At first they were part of a gang, but now, they’re spending more and more time alone – resting, walking just the two of them, and then the trail telltale – how he helps her in and out of her chairs when it’s mealtime. Guys (even those nice Canadians) only act all gallant when they’re hoping to get some. These two are more shy, more awkward, more tentative than the younger lovebirds – but their feelings are just as real and evident.

There are no secrets when you walk the Camino with your “tribe” day after day – we all hear and see everything – be it your laundry hanging out to dry ON your backpack or your heart out on your sleeve.

Here are my stats

11.1 Miles Marched Today – Hey its Sunday, Day of Rest!

(Mansilla de las Mulas – Leon)

292.08 Miles Traveled So Far

213.8 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow – Rest Day in Leon

My Camino: Day 18 – Where’s My Ovation

I’ll be honest with you – not all the Spaniards love us pilgrims – and with good reason.

We stink – like, all of us stink – even those of us who have heard of and use deodorant.

We’re irritable – we storm into these remote villages, head straight to the bars to use the toilets, do our business, and then demand from the bartenders food and drink like “give it to me the fuck now – I’m starving.”

And then we’re off to the next village. It’s probably safe to say that’s the way it’s been in ” The Way” to Santiago de Compostella fir centuries.

But every once in a while you meet a hotel, bar or B’nB owner who actually loves their jobs and likes us pilgrims.

I pulled into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos completely dejected. I had tried to walk the 11 miles from the previous town, but could only manage seven. My blisters were causing me too much pain – and – I was carrying my 14lb backpack- it was too much, so I took a taxi to my hotel.

There, an angel named Hema, took pity on me and treated me like royalty. She washed my clothes, brought me lunch and TWO wines, she booked my next hotel for me, and she took all my baggage to my room.

After a hot bath and nap I joined my fellow pilgrims for dinner. Hema’s husband cooked us a fabulous feast – soups, homemade bread, local cheeses, fresh salads, pork cooked two different ways, roast chicken, vegetables, potatoes, red and white wine, and for dessert- four different types of homemade desserts.

It was a feast to end all feasts. When he came out of the kitchen we pilgrims gave him a standing ovation.

But where was Hema’s ovation? This woman runs the roost, cleaning the rooms, the toilets, running the hotel’s administration, doing her family’s and we pilgrims laundry, getting us sandwiches for the next day and so on and so on.

Hema doesn’t want an ovation- but we pilgrims do!

The mood on the Camino de Santiago has definitely changed now that we’re almost done with this soul-crushing walk through the Meseta.

It’s been six days of endless fields, with very little to look at, little shade, a few spartan villages, and treading on fucking Roman Roads. Yeah, yeah sounds romantic but these “roads” are torturous on your feet – they’re literally miles after miles of fucking rocks. Maybe the ancient Farragamos and Pradas handled these rocks well, but today’s Merrells and Tevas are getting the shit kicked out of them – along with my feet!

This morning it took me four kilometers to remember how to walk – I shit you not! I’m trying so hard to walk gingerly, to protect my feet, that I’ve lost my stride. I sounded and felt like a horse clomping and not the Lipizzaners – more like the Clydesdales.

And I’m not alone.

You can see it in how we pilgrims are struggling to walk. Nearly everyone is doing some sort of limp.

And the bragging rights are up for grabs! I thought I would be Blister Queen of the Camino with my four sores, but nope. Roland from Lebanon has six. Mary from Alaska has seven, and Jorge from Mexico has nine – that’s almost one for every toe!

The only person who isn’t complaining is the “fast guy from Hungary.” This guy is walking in what I call Jesus Sandals and he’s kicking our high-tech, moisture-wicking, Compeed-clad feet and boots. He’s sprinting past us wearing tie-up sandals with barely no soles.

Today’s complaints and march were endless. Even a beautiful sunrise couldn’t lift our spirits. At the end of today’s 11 miles on the Meseta, we ended up in a hellhole town who’s only claim to fame is that it was struck by a meteor in 1947. No hole to be seen!

Few pilgrims seem to be quick with their smiles, most of us are nursing our wounds – and all of us would love a standing ovation for our efforts – but no one has the energy or will to stand – and besides, who said the Camino was going to be easy??!!!

Here are my stats

14.7 Miles Marched Today

(Calzadilla de los Hermanillos – Mansilla de las Mulas)

280.98 Miles Traveled So Far

224.82 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow – Leon!

My Camino: Day 17 – I Suck at this Camino Thing

I crossed a major threshold yesterday – literally.

After crossing a medieval bridge over a small brook, I came to the city gates of Sahagun where two huge statues, one of Alphonse VI the Brave (1065-1109)- Promoter and Protector of the Way of St. James and on the other side Bernardo de Seriedad an Abad considered one of the founders of Sahagun stood ready to greet me with the official news – I’ve reached the geographical center of the Camino de Santiago!

In other words- I’ve made it half way …. I was overcome with emotions; exhaustion and exhilaration – and I suddenly realized I’m doing this Camino, this Spanish Schlep, all wrong.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m loving this 500 mile trek from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain, I’ve seen things and experienced things no guide book could ever suggest, no movie could ever capture – but I’m still doing it all wrong.

I realized I’m still an American and not a true pilgrim when I saw the veteran pilgrim, “Thor,” from Norway showing us newbies how to truly enjoy the Camino Frances.

Yesterday I set myself up for a horrendous and Herculean walk – 25 miles from Carrion de los Condes to Sahagun. People thought I was nuts, perhaps I was, but the closest hotel I could find was 25 miles away, so whatchagonnado!? And if truth be told, I really didn’t realize it was that far-everything’s in kilometers and I’m not that great with math.

I knew it would be a challenge, I have not two, but four blisters on my feet – two below my ankles and just for kicks, two new ones the size of peanuts STILL in their flippin’ shells, on my heels. These new one are beauts – they start just above the heel then wrap all the way underneath- every fucking step sends an excruciating searing shot of pain through my legs – so 25 miles will be a piece of cake, right!??

The first part of this stage is a mind numbing 12 mile hike thru the endless fields of the “Meseta” – Spain’s breadbox. The path is a former Roman Road with no and I mean no services! The fields have been harvested so there is nothing to look at – like nada- only the long line of pilgrims in front of me and those behind. No towns, no quaint farm houses, no churches, no Roman ruins – zilch!

At the 8-mile mark -paradise- some guy set up a barbecue stand – but no toilets. I ordered a hard boiled egg, sausage sandwich and a banana. It was better than anything you could order at the 21Club.

Fueled, I marched on to the first town, 12 miles from my starting point. I told my fellow pilgrims I couldn’t stay long, I still had 13 miles to go. They expressed shock and best wishes- the German girl gave me stretching lessons and a magnesium pill, the lady from Paris gave me a chunk of dark chocolate, and Cindy from Dayton shared her dried dates with me.

So off I went. I told myself it was a case of mind over matter.

Until …. until… until….UNTIL….

What the fucking fuck!

I stepped down and the blister on my left heel burst…on impact with the fucking Roman Road. I hate those Romans – haven’t they ever heard of tar??!

ARGH!!!! I yelled out in such pain, I’m sure they heard me as far away as Barcelona- but the two lovebirds walking hand in hand 10 feet in front of me only turned, smiled, and continued walking. Fuckers! I’m dying here, but hey, hope you get laid tonight – don’t let me stop you from your foreign foreplay… Man friggin’ down here – but you kiddos just keep doing what you’re doing… assholes! Who are your mothers, gimme their numbers, I gotta talk to them like now.

Ugh!

Anywhooo, I still had like 10 miles to go and I’m out in the middle of bumsfuckville-ola, so I had no choice, I had to keep moving. So hobble and bobble I walked on… like a drunken toddler just learning to walk, all clumsy-like, with arms and legs going this way and that, and making noises that kind of sound human, but don’t make a lick of sense.

And then I saw him- Thor (not his real name, obs). Thor has done the Camino ten times so he knows a thing or two about blisters and surviving the Camino.

He had set up a picnic for himself; ham, cheese, AND wine in a fucking goblet, and he was actually enjoying the Camino. He asked me where I was off to and when I told him Saragun, he told me I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly! Fuck you Thor I’ve got four fucking blisters!

So there I was on the side of a road getting Spanish lessons from a Norwegian. Like how do I know he knows what he’s talking about – he has an accent and it ain’t Catalonian! After a few attempts and his many corrections, he was finally satisfied with my pronunciation, and bid me farewell – uhhh, without offering to share a glass of his red.

Three hours later, I all but stumbled into my hotel; completely spent, checked in, and took a 45 minute bath. At dinner I met two Californians. She’s doing the Camino her way. He drives her to the pretty spots she wants to do, she walks for an hour or so, then calls it a day, and then they celebrate and have a drink (or six).

I realized the Cali couple and the Norwegian were on to something – they were living “in the moment.” I was too tired to even text my family to let them know I was safe and sound.

Something had to change.

Today I marched up to yet another monastery on the other side of Sahagun, not to look around, but to get my certificate – a beautiful sheet that proclaims to me and the entire world, I’ve completed half of the Camino! I’ve dragged my ass halfway across the holiest of holy trails and I’ve got a fucking piece of paper to prove it!

I got to thinking- I’m working too hard, doing this too fast. So I’m gonna slow the fuck down. I’m not Hercules after all.

So I saw a cab, waved my poles like a lunatic and grabbed it 4 miles to the next town.

It’s noon here and I’m done for the day. A few more miles under my belt, and it’s enough. I’m sitting here in a small town, drinking a Kalimotxo which is, get this coke and red wine TOGETHER, and having tapas. In an hour, I’m going to go have lunch, then a siesta, then more wine, then a snack, then dinner and more wine.

Tomorrow’s walk is a 16 miler through more endless fields with only one town between start and finish, it’ll be tough, but today’s break has me hopeful that, as God is my witness, I’m gonna learn how to do this Camino thing the right way.

Here are my stats

24.48 Miles Marched Today

(Carrion de los Condes –

Sahagun)

257.78 Miles Traveled So Far

248.1 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Another Day on the “Meseta” – Destination: Calzadilla de los Hermanillos

PS: There was no Day 16 blog, because if you had read this blog, I was zapped, spent, tired, exhausted, too tired to think or type.

My Camino: Day 15-Looking for Signs

I should have known today was going to be very special when the sun came up and put on one of those “once in a lifetime” shows.

The orange ball rose up slowly behind us, forcing all of us crazy pilgrims who are walking on the Camino to Santiago de Compostella to stop, take out our cameras, and start snapping away.

We early birds had rolled out of bed super early in hopes of beating today’s blistering forecasts – but no one was making any time; El Camino was demanding attention, was demanding we slow the fuck down, pause, breathe, and just be in the moment.

And what a moment – from the colors to the mist rising from the canal as the sun was warming up the day.

The entire show lasted maybe 6 minutes, but no one seemed to notice the day’s unforeseen delay.

It was the first sign of what was to be, an incredible day on the Meseta.

The Camino signs are becoming more and more prevalent. The dirt path is lined with not one but two Camino shells pointing the way – road signs are everywhere – I mean Helen Keller couldn’t get lost here.

Until this sign!

Walking through a small clay colored medieval village I was stopped at the cross road confused for a moment about which way to go. I felt like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The road sign suggested I could go right or I could go left–uhh too many choices — but then I heard bells and whistles – I chose to go left to see what was causing the noise.

It was a shepherd bringing in to the village his flock.

Foot and road traffic stopped while he brought his sheep into town – another sign to just slow down and enjoy the moment.

Which I did, until I had to walk through all that sheep shit – bet ewe didn’t see that coming did ewe?!

Did ewe!

Around lunchtime I saw a sign for an albergue – a hostel that offers cheap rooms and food. I wasn’t hungry, but I was ready to kill for a Diet Coke.

As I walked in, I felt like I was on a Hollywood set for a new Camino movie – or Dr Doolittle.

There were geese roaming the grounds, young European college kids lazing in hammocks and reading, and then there were the donkeys.

This aggressive pair was stealing food right off the table as young pilgrims tried to eat their picnic in this garden paradise.

They weren’t able to “Shooo” the donkeys away, but the local bag lady came to the rescue!!!

I shit you not – just like any superhero, she arrived out of nowhere, and armed with her day-old bread, she began hitting the donkeys on the head – beating those asses in to submission and away from the startled city slickers.

It was a comedy within a comedy, only made funnier cuz I was laughing so hard I was sure I was going to pee my pants.

Everyone here on The Way seems to be looking for a sign….

There’s Thor the angry guy from Norway – this is his 10th Camino. Yep, he’s done the Full Monty: 500-plus miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain, 10 TIMES! When I asked Thor (not his real name, obs) why … he just took a deep, deep drag off his cigarette and slowly exhaled and nodded.

Carl, a very handsome 70+ year-old German from Düsseldorf has walked the walk six times! When I asked him why, he picked up his beer and drank his glass empty.

Another German, young Karl from Cologne is completing his second Camino. He started in his hometown back in May and plans to go to Santiago, then turn south going through Portugal, then back into Spain through Sevilla, on to Gilbraltar to end up in Morocco. Ummmm, why I asked this very healthy, 20-something, he just shrugged adding, “Why not?”

Then there’s Alex, a young screenwriter from LA who is here alone in between gigs and who, it seems has fallen in love with a fellow pilgrim, a Swede.

“No one has ever looked at me the way he does. I mean he really, really looks at me…it’s gotta be a sign or something….,” she said full of joy and hope the way young lovers sound when they’re telling a total stranger about a new romance they found here on the road.

I dunno if it’s a sign, but I told her – you don’t know until you know – so go on to Sweden and see what happens!

And then I got my own sign today – a big ass, stop me in my tracks giant sign.

A road sign with mileage to Santiago almost broke me. It read 463kms to Santiago.

What the fucking fuck?! Surely that’s wrong, surely I’ve walked further than that, I mean I have GUIDEBOOKS and they say I’ve walked further than that.

So there I was on the side of the road looking up at my sign in disgust and a little depressed. So I got out my guidebooks and my maps and I recounted every fucking kilometer I’ve walked since September sixth.

It didn’t add up – my calculations and the official fucking road sign didn’t match.

And then an elderly man walked passed me, stopped, and asked why I was so upset. When I explained my mathematical meltdown he said, “Ahhhh pay no attention to that, it’s just a sign, it doesn’t mean a thing.”

Here are my stats

15.2 Miles Marched Today

(Boadilla del Camino – Carrion de los Condes)

233.3 Miles Traveled So Far

272.5 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

PS – My math is right!! The road doesn’t follow the Pilgrim’s Way! Yay!

Tomorrow: Still on the “Meseta” –

Destination: Sahagun

My Camino: Day 14 – Blisters and Car Thieves

When I was a mere child of 30, I worked in New York City for one of the local television stations – it was a great job, perhaps my favorite, and it prepared me well for this 500 mile hike across Spain.

The newsroom was full of daily drama and bigger than life personalities – on and off air. Drugs and booze were rampant, sex and love affairs were common place. Those of us who worked there during that time felt invincible – on top of the world! It was New York Fucking City – and we owned it!

I remember talking with one of the news editors – he was from Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn – and he told me his car had been broken into – THIRTY times – 30fucking times!!!????

Freddie, I said, “what the fuck?!” Can’t the police / mayor / anyone do anything?””

I mean what the fucking fuck! I was beyond outraged. I was a girl from Colorado and we believe in law and order. It was time to call in the sheriffs and fucking hang those sonofabitches – I mean c’mon!

“Whatchagonnado!!?,” he said with a shrug and he changed the subject.

Whatchagonnado is fucking brilliant. I love that phrase. I mean really Whatchagonnado. Life is too short, too precious to worry about shit that regularly happens. Save the anger, the fights for something that’s really worthy of a fight.

And that’s how I felt this morning when I woke up with two enormous blisters on my feet.

Whatchagonnado! I’ll tell you Whatchagonnado – I’m gonna walk – I’m not going to let these blisters prevent me from doing what I want to do!

Any sane person would have called a doctor, a cab, or taken a rest day … but not moi!

So out the door I went, joining the other pilgrims who got up at the friggin’ crack of dawn to continue our march to Santiago de Compostella.

As we snaked our way out of Castrojeriz, we were greeted with a treat from Mother Nature – fog was rolling in and it was trapped below the hills-it was ethereal and a cruel joke. Because just as we got bored by the magnificent view – there on the horizon was today’s challenge; a gravity defying climb that went up, up, up, and UP!

The signs were not for the timid! Twelve percent incline – 12 fucking %! The steepest interstate in Colorado maxes out at eight percent and the warning signs along I-70 for drivers are legendary.

Eight percent – psssh, child’s play.

I climbed. I put one foot in front of the other. And then I repeated it until I was on top looking down!

And once there I was looking around for someone-anyone-to chest bump! I felt like I had just caught the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl! It was exhilarating- I was beyond pumped, surely my fellow pilgrims felt the same – surely they were into a little chest bumping action – but I was surrounded by the stoic Scots, the wise Welsh, the Germans, Swedes and the Korean gang – no one shared my American celebratory spirit.

So I took a selfie and set off for the descent.

Hold the fucking phone!

The incline to go down was 18% – that’ll blow out any flip flops even the expensive Tommy Bahama ones!

I slalomed my way down – shooshing down as if I were riding the bumps of a ski resort. One crazy Korean walked backwards – the entire way.

Walking downhill is much, much worse for me than climbing up. My knees were screaming and swearing at me, threatening to give out with every step.

But they didn’t.

My knees, legs and feet made it up and down today’s killer challenge.

Before I knew it I was once again walking along the farm fields, the empty fields, the endless fields, and rocking out to The Boss, enjoying my own “Badlands” and grateful for not letting two blisters, each the size of a half dollar – stop me!

I guess blisters, thieves and other hiccups will happen in life but Whatchagonnado, right!!? I choose to walk!

Here are my stats

11.87 Miles Marched Today

(Castrojeriz – Boadilla del Camino)

216.30 Miles Traveled So Far

289.5 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Still on the “Meseta” – Destination: Carrion de los Condes

My Camino:Day 13 – No Secrets on the Camino

A very peculiar thing is happening up and down the Camino – folks who don’t know each other are sharing the most intimate stories- AND I mean intimate.

Deb from Maine tells me she starts everyday with a cup of coffee so that she can have a successful bowel movement. We’re 13 days into this march to Santiago de Compostella and luckily for her, she’s as regular as a Rolex watch.

Not so for Stefan! Poor guy hasn’t had a salad in two weeks and he’s more backed up than the Garden State Parkway on a summer weekend. Lucky for him, the local pharmacies are great here – they’ve heard it all and seen it all.

I went to a local one yesterday to get new shoe insoles – this place was like a room at Versailles.

There were beautiful bottles lining the wooden shelves – each an antique and each for a specific medicine or herbs.

The ceiling had a hand-painted fresco that was awe-inspiring and soothing.

Looking up to the pharmaceutical heavens, I knew I was in good hands.

Nope.

My new insoles have given me blisters the size of half dollars on both of my fucking feet.

I hobbled for 19 miles today, terrified to look at my feet or to stop.

And these new war wounds are just the latest direct hits my feet are taking.

The Way is waylaid with the walking wounded.

I passed Ana from Argentina and she was in terrible shape – even worse than me and she’s only 32! She has a major case of shin splints. I gave her some ibuprofen and some electrolytes, and loaned her my walking poles so she could roll them up and down on her shins.

Road side health care is part of the Camino community- everyone has an ache, pain and complaint – AND everyone has a cure.

And that’s the way it’s always been here on the Camino. The path is lined with ruins of former hospitals, convents, and monasteries that have treated the sick and dying since the Middle Ages.

I find some comfort in my discomfort knowing that thousands have come before me feeling my pain and worse.

Tonight, I managed to walk down to the cellar of my hotel before dinner to have a glass of wine with some new Peregrinos. We had never met but they saw the agony I was in, and they shared their best wishes and experiences that have worked for them. Which of course immediately began led to “The Great Debate: Pop Um or Don’t Pop Um.”

Now I’m having this conversation with six very posh Blokes – all from England. When it comes to DaFeet – seems no pilgrim will be defeated!

Blister liquid, gas pains, bowel movements are not the sort of topics I can see Wills and Kate having over drinks.

But here on the Camino – we have no secrets, we’re in this together. If one of us is plugged up and in need of the magic bullet, or another one needs some amateur podiatrist advice and care – well, as they say, The Camino Provides.

Here are my stats

19 Miles Marched Today

(Tardajos to Castrojeriz)

204.43 Miles Traveled So Far

301.37 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Still on the “Meseta” – Destination: Boadilla del Camino

My Camino: Day 12-Have a Rest Spain, I Can Fix All Your Problems

It’s Sunday here in Spain, the official day of rest and my second rest day as I attempt to complete the Camino Frances – a 500-mile walk across Spain.

I’m resting up in Burgos, one of Spain’s jewels – rich in religious architecture, especially its extraordinary Gothic cathedral – a majestic masterpiece that towers over the city and can be seen for miles and miles.

I’m sitting in the main plaza not far from the tomb of the city’s most roguish son, El Cid, and I’m enjoying the house Rioja – and I’m inspired – I’ve come up with a plan to save Spain!

After nearly a decade of economic crisis, Spain’s economy is finally growing again, but they still need my help.

To begin …. Make less spectacular churches. Seriously make ’em smaller and tell your faithful to have faith that they’ll be bigger one of these days. Why spend all that money and all those years building churches that look like they were made out of icing? And why make churches that last for 900+years, we’re now living in a disposable society – just give your tourists a set of virtual reality goggles and let them think they are seeing something remarkable.

Stop all this Camino nonsense. Really, only 250,000 people a year do it. Build a Minecraft “Camino” game and you’ll reach millions – and then you won’t have to maintain all those paths with glorious bronze shells and yellow signs marking the way – PLUS, just think, none of your townsfolk (from the elderly to the those little tykes on their razor scooters) will have to smile and say, “buen Camino” to all those passing strangers – think of how cold, and heartless, and MODERN your society could be.

And all that stamping the pilgrims “passports” nonsense – stop that immediately -OR- at least charge people to have their credentials stamped as proof that they walked the walk. Those gloriously designed stamps are worth money – they’re the ultimate souvenir so make those pilgrims pay for it!

Your bread can make French baguettes blush, so do what we would do in America – cut them in half, freeze, then microwave them the next day – and charge double. Why should anyone have freshly made bread – the size of a giant’s knuckle – with the crispiest crust, yet light as air, for mere pennies? You’re missing out on a lot of dough …

Get over your Italian inferiority complex. Your food, wine and long legged women are world class. I’m convinced I’ve seen Penelope Cruz in every town I’ve visited, or maybe it’s just that all the women look like her.

Start charging more for your hotels. Seriously $56/night for a four star hotel in the middle of your tourist destinations-build a Trump Tower and charge $1999/night it’ll be uuuuuge!

Don’t let tourists take up your outdoor tables relaxing for hours drinking only water, coffee or wine! Get em in and get em out. Those plaza views are priceless-charge ’em buy the hour and bug them every minute by asking, “can I bring you anything else?” – oh and definitely hand them the bill immediately, don’t let them daydream hours away, basking under your glorious sun for hours.

Start importing your fruits and vegetables from California. No one should be able to walk along farm fields and each fresh produce for nada! Oh, and make sure your peaches, plums and nectarines aren’t ripe – no fruit should burst with such flavor that people lick their hands for every last drop.

Your lifestyle, really??? Work doesn’t start until 10am? And you have a two-hour lunch…. with… your family and friends? What’s up with that?!!!! You gotta rewrite your labor laws! 12-14 hour days, no lunch, no dinner breaks, and trim that six-week vacation down to 10 days a year! Your employees will love you for it. Productivity, heart attacks, depression, and divorces will soar!

While we’re at it-knock off this afternoon siesta shit! I mean really closing down from 2-4pm to escape the heat, be with your family, or recharge the batteries. Open up your stores, restaurants and offices 24/7 that’s the modern way – how do you think you’re going to compete with Starbucks or Amazon? Why should tourists have to sit down and relax while your entire country is relaxing? You’re losing 10 billable hours a week every fucking week – my arteries are clogging just thinking of this.

Definitely show less passion. No one needs to see your lovebirds smooching in the sun drenched plazas – tell ’em to get a room – or get a job.

Spain, you could be a great country if you just changed everything

Or maybe, yes I’m pretty sure about this – you already know you’re a great country and you’re not gonna change one itsy bit!

Muchas Gracias!

Here are my stats

No Miles Marched Today-Resting

141.9 Miles Traveled So Far

363.9 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Back on the Camino – Destination: Castrojeriz

My Camino: Day 11 – Look Who’s Walking

I’m about to enter Stage Two – aka the soul crushing stage – of the Camino de Santiago.

Over the course of about 500 miles, the Camino is divided into three infamous stages: The Physical, The Self Reflection, and the Spiritual stage.

Stage Two is a tad shorter than One but boring as ass! It’s a walk through Spain’s farm fields – the boring fields… hay, wheat, and sunflowers. And now that we’re in mid September, the fields are harvested so it’s one big ass vast land of nada.

It’s like walking through fucking Kansas only there’s no Dorothy, Toto, or wicked witch.

Veterans of the slog say it’s mind numbing. Yeah, yeah there are those who just lovvvvvvvve it, but do they? I mean, do they really… I doubt it – just like I doubt anyone truly, and I mean truly, enjoys cleaning toilets.

Having just completed Stage One, I gotta tell you, I’m as shocked as you are that I’m still standing!

Stage One, the physical stage, is about 150 miles of fierce winds and endless mountains that no guide book can adequately prepare you. It’s a grueling grind for the average American – the Germans, Swedes and Dutch are athletic gods so they have no issues with this stage AT ALL!

It’s full of breath taking scenery (not really what you want when you’re struggling for every breath, but it all works out), rich food, fabulous wines, and pilgrims.

I’ve met some incredible people during the 11 days of my Spanish Schlep including Ron the spook.

Ron’s a retired CIA guy who worked in the back office coming up with “nasty tricks.” I said, “you mean you were the Agency’s ‘Q’?”

To which he said, “yeah, back when there was an Agency.”

I begged him not to kill me now that he had told me his secret, but there was no fear of that as Ron’s killings days were long gone – I killed him on those first climbs over the Pyrenees. I lost him in the fog and clouds that first day and haven’t seen him since which is a shame cause I wanted to find out more about his heydays and heyyyy, what really happened at Dealey Plaza????

I’ve found that you’re drawn to your own people here – I’ve met several women from my home state and Sergio.

I was basking in my accomplishments of having made it over the first day’s hurdle, and drinking a cold one when Serge sat down and we began talking. One thing led to the next and wouldn’t you know it – we’re both tv journalists – he’s a video photographer from Canada and I was a former producer for pick-a-network. We shared some laughs and realized we probably worked on some of the same stories – small, small world. He’s long passed me (Uhhh, he’s Canadian, they’re healthy- they walk) but I hope to see him again and hear his new stories.

John from Perth is a wee bit unusual. We shared a taxi from Biarritz to St Jean Pied de Port and we were both filled with nerves and anxiety as it was the night before we were to begin our Camino.

We were also shot!

He had just flown in from Down Under and I had just arrived from the US. John looks like a leprechaun-I kid you not. White hair, white pointed beard, and a hint of mischievousness. We wished each other well and went our separate ways that night, but I’ve met him several times along The Way and he’s now full of the spirit… praising the Lord for this and that and, it seems, mostly for running into me again.

Dorothy from Italy is fast becoming a Camino legend.

A young, beautiful Italian (aren’t they all beautiful?), she blew my socks off with her roadside mangia know-how.

As we walked, she grabbed figs and walnuts off trees, grapes off the vines, and pulled what I thought were weeds up from their roots. “This is going to make an excellent salad,” she told me as she offered me a sampling of her on the go salad bar. I bit into this wild plant and it tasted like salted licorice. “OMG, that’s insanely good…your mom must be so proud of how resourceful you are,” I told her. She said she grew up eating off the land, I told her I grew up going to grocery stores where everything is labeled.

Dorothy is a bit of a celebrity on the road – everyone marvels at her Peregrino culinary arts and we all want to be invited over to her place for dinner.

I’ve met too many people here who are suffering: deaths, divorces, cancer, or trying to make good on a promise made years ago.

There are a lot of 20-somethings on The Way looking for their way. They don’t know what to do with their lives and are hoping this road to Santiago de Compostela will provide them with life’s great road map. I bite my tongue so that I don’t tell them that there is no road map, it’s like this walk – one foot in front of the other every friggin single day. I figure they’ve got to realize that for themselves.

I’ve also kept my mouth shut when someone talks about their relationships – they’re so desperate, they’re asking a total stranger if they should stay with their man. Note to self, if you’re asking a total stranger on the fucking Camino if you should stay with a complete prick, ummm, NO, dump the dude.

The Camino is full of all kinds from all walks of life. Now that we’ve completed Stage One and are gearing up for Stage Two, the self reflection stage, I hope those who ask strangers for advice find the answers from within, I hope those who are grieving can find solace, and I hope I can find a path with fewer hills and more fabulous wine.

Here are my stats

0 Miles Marched Today – Rest Day

141.9 Miles Traveled So Far

363.9 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Another Rest Day in Burgos!

My Camino: Day 10 – All She Wants to do is Dance!

As we pilgrims marched out of Santo Damingo de la Calzada I was looking up, seeing all the giant stork nests built on top of the village’s light poles. The sun was just starting to come up, and the light was beautiful- soft blues, pinks – and a whisper of orange.

But my fellow trekkers seemed to all be looking down, not basking in the beginning of a new day, rich with possibilities.

As I passed a sunflower field I thought the dried up flowers looked like my fellow Camino walkers; heads down, dutifully waiting to be harvested. You could almost hear them chant, “time to make the donuts.”

We’ve left the rich Rioja vineyards and are making our way into the high plains of Castile Leon – Spain’s largest province and its bread basket. Gone are the lush greens and purples, now we’re seeing field after field of wheat and hay – AND the farmers have done their jobs; the fields look like they’ve all had a buzz cut – #2 razor!

And then there’s the highway! Yep, today’s route follows the national highway into Burgos. It’s a busy road – imagine walking along side I-25 or the NJ Turnpike. Cars, motorcycles, RVs and those damn semi trucks – oops, sorry they’re called lorries here in Europe. The noise was deafening as we plowed along the pilgrim highway only to take brief detours to nameless medieval towns that by now are all starting to look alike, and they’re all propped atop more fucking hills.

So fuck it-I’ll create my own magic!

I plugged into my iPhone and let my music take me away… and boy did it.

I rocked out whether there were people in front, behind or beside me… and the music took me away from this Spanish highway to memories that fill my heart.

There was Saint Motel blasting their not very Christian but oh so damn good, “Born Again” and their anthem “Move” that got me to move. It reminded me of this summer’s concert I went to with my daughter, and I can still see the sheer joy on her face as we inched our way closer and closer to the stage.

As Joe Cocker belted out “Delta Lady,” it reminded me of my sisters and the concert we went to at Red Rocks. We got plastered, sang, and danced … and we cried – you know – that ugly face cry, cuz that’s what we do… we drink, play, cry and save “I love yous” like ALL THE TIME! But seriously, can you ever tell those you love you love them too often?

I’m sure the truck drivers called me in to dispatch as they roared by as I was doing great majorette moves with my hiking poles to Joe Cocker’s “Cry Me a River.” I bet the drivers were like, “Uhhhhh, we’ve got a special needs case on Route 120, please send the mini bus.”

I tried a little salsa as Ricky Martin sang “Pegate” and “Vente Pa’ Ca,” and all I could think of was my other daughter who loves to dance and can shake her hips better than Shakira. And those hips don’t lie.

But as Belorado came into focus I cranked up U2 and cried without any inhibitions as Edge began his riff and then Bono began singing, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It’s been years since I’ve been this happy and felt so close to those I love even though I’m thousands of miles away. I know I was making that ugly cry face but as Icona Pop would sing , “I don’t care, I love it!”

On one of the many hills I climbed today, in the middle of a farm field, stood a lone tree completely out of place… just like me. My fellow pilgrims may have felt like dried up sunflowers, but I was that tree/fool on the hill.

Devout pilgrims love to say, “The Camino provides,” maybe so, but today I wasn’t taking any chances – I provided my own fun, my own memories, and my own Way!

Here are my stats

14.5 Miles Marched Today

(Santo Damingo de la Calzada – Belorado)

141.9 Miles Traveled So Far

363.9 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Rest Day in Burgos!