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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Camino de Santiago: from a bus station bar in Astorga

There is something about walking into a bar in another part of the world and everyone is looking up at a television on the wall. There is a rush of adrenaline and then you brace yourself. I heard someone say they were waiting for Carlos.

It had just cut to a commercial and all the men, spitting out peanut shells and tossing napkins on the floor, went back to their gambling machines and murmurings and I was left in the dark with my Seseme Street Spanish - what kind of catastrophe now. What more could really happen to the earth right now.

Another man said that he was only going to wait for Carlos as well and I am thinking, so who is Carlos? And then yes, there was an agreement, that after Carlos arrived they would have seen enough. Enough of what, I am thinking. And por favor, who is Carlos?

Carlos. You know. Carlos y Camilla.

I had to laugh.

So even though I was only in Astorga and not Rabanal del Camino, which meant I had about five hours of walking ahead of me and it was already noon, I put my pack under the bar, ordered a cafe con leche, and wedged myself into the crowd and looked up at the television on the wall and watched representatives from around the world gathering, smiling, and looking ridiculous in hats and pink ties, for an event that required no decision to be made about an invasion, a bomb, a tsunami, or an earthquake, or a dictator gone crazy.

I stayed for another hour in the bar, until Kate emerged from her car, waving, and I put my bag on my back, tightened the straps, paid for my three coffees and a wine and headed for the highways underpass.

The morning before I watched two little boys kick the top of tennis ball cannister from one end of the plaza in Leon to the other. I was sitting on a bench, after being ushered gently out of bed by Benedictine nuns at 6:30, and was waiting for Cafe Europa to open. I pulled my raincoat around me and watched the sun heat up the stones of the cathedral. I sat for two hours and watched these boys play.

I have a destination. And I have a time I have to be there by. But I´m finding that this journey so far has been more memorable because of its interruptions. I´ve gotten quite brilliant at sitting and staring for long periods of time at something like a plastic bag caught on a fence.

The thing is, I´m on a journey where there are a lot of people also staring at plastic bags on fences. We gather at the one cafe in small villages in the morning and order cafe con leche and tostadas and spread maps on the tables. We walk in clusters of the recently divorced, seperated, redundant, widowed and stir-crazy. We spend some time on the trails and under trees, sharing strawberries, strange sharp cheeses and olives, talking about these cross roads we are all at. Do we make the move, wait for our husbands to love us again, try for another child, not be a lawyer like the rest of the men in the family, fall in love, let love go, throw it all in and move to Africa.

In all of this, my mind is like a still pool of water in some days, and a class 4 rapid on others, destroying the hours. I´m in love with this time on my hands, I´m in love with limonada in the afternoons, the people, the words I am trying to place in correct order. But my mind, the beast, the wolf, the bandit. So very many hours to wrestle with it.

There are probably easier ways to explore a landscape. I understand why for hundreds of years, this pilgrimage to Santiago was something criminals were sentenced to.

I have a book written by Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Catholic priest who lives and works with people with mental disabilities at the L´Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. I´m carrying it because I read a quote in the introduction, and it sets the theme for this book. It´s Rainer Maria Rilke responding to a young man who asks if he should pursue poetry: ¨I want to beg you as much as I can...to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try and love the questions themselves...¨

So I am learning to love the questions.


Buen Camino for now


  1. You can go anywhere in the world you want, one step at a time. So, keep stepping.

  2. Oh Gwen.... I am right there with you!

  3. I love this post Gwyneth! So inspirational!