Hiking The El Camino De Santiago

     What is the El Camino De Santiago? It’s a trail that’s thousands of years old that pilgrims would make to the holy city of Santiago. It’s like taking a Hajj to Mecca for Muslims but for Christians. It goes across the entire country of Spain originating in France on the border. A typical camino takes about a month if you start here but since I’m a hardcore I started in Toulouse France some 140 miles from the Camino’s starting point. I don’t have a good answer for why I decided to walk it. I’m not religious and I don’t even like hiking. I had just read “Wild” a book a about a woman that hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA and I thought I would have a similar adventure, It turned out to be more than I could have ever imagined.    

          I started in Toulouse France at 10:30am at the church de Saint Sernin.  It was cold, rainy, and miserable outside. It took me 6 hours before I was even outside of the city. I got lost three times but quickly became a pro at reading trail signs. By 7:30 the sun was setting and I entered a creepy dark forest. Sometimes when I shone my flashlight into the dense foliage some shiny yellow eyes stared back at me. There was no getting out so I pitched my tent with my flashlight in my mouth, it took me an hour. Not only was this my childhood nightmare, I kept hearing weird animals scurry past my tent. It was cold.. Very cold it felt like the temperature dropped 20 degrees, my sleeping bag was not at all suitable,  I shivered the entire night. When I heard something suspicious I grabbed my flashlight ready to use it as a cudgel. My heart was beating so fast I stopped shaking..so I guess all that blood pumping makes you warm. That morning I used the remainder of my water to brush my teeth. I didn’t get to a water point until ten miles later in Lile de Jordain and it was a sink in a bathroom. I walked though more woods. It was during hunting season so a few deer crossed my path and I heard some gun shots. Good thing I wasn’t mistaking for a deer. I could have had shotgun shrapnel in my ass. My feet feel like they been put in a meat grinder; I can barely walk .  I move so slowly and tepidly I covered little ground. Asphalt roads felt like a bed of nails. I found an ice cold pond that I plunged my raw feet into. Perfect.

I was fueled by power bars and water. I arrived in the small town, Monferrnan Saves and everything was closed at 6pm…France. With the sun about to set I pitched my tent on top of a hill on a freshly ploughed field behind a cemetery. The field was so soft it conformed to my body. Unfortunately it was even colder that night and the frigid earth was pulling heat from my body. I woke up at 7 and got two warm baguettes and some sumptuous local cheese. I passed a group of teens from Amsterdam hiking the camino on a class trip, but they were only doing three days. One kid who looked like Nigel from the Wild Thornberries asked me what I thought about Donald Trump. I passed a 75 year old man named Simon with his donkey also named Simon who is walking the entire way to Santiago like me albeit at a much slower pace. I told him about my foot and he but some white stuff on it. The countryside in France is breathtaking. Every frame I walk into feels like a screensaver. During the day the weather is perfect and fall is the best time. With the help of another pilgrim I finally made it to my first auberge(hostel). It was a Mexican themed,  I took my first shower in three days and it was transcendent.  The warm water rushed over my cold, bruised, depleted body. For dinner my host hands me some dry pasta, two eggs from her chickens and a half a loaf of bread. Not sure how to cook it so I just heat up the pasta and stir in the eggs.

      I woke up at 7 on day four. Breakfast which consisted of homemade bread, butter, and jam. The butter had the texture of cheese. Simon, the dude with the donkey, had a full head of silvery white hair. He had a red porous face that suggested years of heavy drinking. Whatever that white stuff Simon ejculated on to my foot was a Godsend. My toe feels much better. Maybe I’ll run into him and thank him when he comes into Santiago on his donkey like french Jesus into Nazareth.

Feeling well rested I ambled along at a brisk pace using my walking stick as a lightsaber hacking at foliage like a ten year old. I finished listening to Far From The Madding Crowd on audiobook. I like that name Bathsheba. I haven’t met a single person on the trail on day five. A white guard dog with one of those funnel things around its head blocked my path and barked feverishly at me. I tried bribing it with a candy bar; he was a big softy running away barking at the same time. Auch is the biggest city I’ve been through. I loaded up on fresh fruit from the fruit monger. The cute check out lady gave me a free brusied apple. I later fed it to a passing horse.

After Auch I stayed in a gite(hostel) that wasnt in my guide book but was by far the best one I stayed in. The lady who ran it kept using my name when asking me things which never fails to make an impression. She reminded me of my grandmother the way she did scrabble games by herself and had half finished puzzles of landscaped on tables. She was a friendly yet solitary soul. She was from Manchester England spoke horrible French and was missing her bottom teeth which she put in at dinner. The Gite came with dinner which was a feast of vegetables,French onion soup,steak in gravy, mushrooms and for desert we had a plate of cheese and ice cream with pears. We all sat and watched New Zealand crush France in rugby. It was funny hearing her swear like a maladjusted sailor. I slept well until being woken up by some hikers fucking like teenagers next door.

It rained the following day and I slipped down a slope and landed in a pricker bush. It sucked as I pulled bloody thorns out of my body and clothes. I met a black dog that made a beeline towards me and followed me all the way to the auberge some 15 miles away. I told the family he wasn’t my dog. I was surprised when I came down in the next morning and he was still there curled up in a ball on the doorstep. I found this very endearing and he’s been my companion ever since. I’ve been sharing all my food with him. I always thought it be cool to hike with a dog and in reality its a bit strange. When I enter a town I’m more excited to go to the butcher and get a slab of meat for him than food for myself. He sits outside my auberge looking in and crying as if he’s my dog or I’ve known him a while . He doesn’t bite or bark he’s wise like Yoda. I call him Chewy and he responds to the name and comes running out of a cornfield. I think hes gonna follow me all the way to Santiago. The path is serene. I keep passing golden cornfields left unharvested to die in the autumn frost. My feet and legs finally stop hurting. I cover a lot of ground each day with very few breaks…I’m becoming a hiker

The past few days have been soo warm I only wear a t-shirt. Chewy has a habit of pissing directly on the spot where I took a piss. He’s always swimming in streams and rivers and drinking out of dirty puddles. Chickens are terrified of him. I just finished Dostoevsky’s audiobook Crime and Punishment and it was 20 hours of punishment on my ears. The protagonist is whiny, fatalistic, cynical, pompous, and a self righteous brat. The lady in the gite at Orolon St Marie tried to scare me saying a pilgram fell into a ravine and died five days ago. She was nice to Chewy and let him sleep in the basement. She called him “le pauvre” I went to a fancy restaurant had a fabulous creme brûlée and some deer meat. Chewy was crying outside the restaurant. When I finally emerged he bum rushed me like he hadn’t seen me in years. The kitchen staff saved a bunch of scrapes for him and he eagerly devoured it. I’ve been walking with my new hiking buddy, Thomas. He is a 27 year old Frenchman with a furrowed brow, sings opera randomly and loves smelly French cheese. A day later in L’Hopital we met Roger, another hiker who joined our merry band. He is childlike, doughy with a grin that is permanently etched into his face, cheap to a fault and talks incessantly about bitcoins. I immediately disliked him. When we arrived at our lodging Thomas and I took a cab to a village party. Looked more like a junior prom afterparty. Had some refreshing beer mixed with peach syrup. We left early and disappointed. We come back to find Chewy running about in circles in the courtyard. I calmed him down but decided not to sneak him in to the Gite because he either tries to get in bed with me or climb into one of the adjacent beds. We left in the morning Thomas, Roger ,Chewy, and I.

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Halfway through the day we lost Chewy. We had no idea where he went. It was unfortunate because when we arrived in St. Jean I planned on renting a car and dropping him off where he started following me. His collar had no tags and he had no tattoos in his ear like most French dogs do. I hope he’s ok he was so cool. We arrived in a village outside St. Jean de Pied Port. That day we stayed with an Iraqi refugee family with two adorable kids. They spoke little French but they were chill and had a meditation room with Buddhist shrines everywhere. We went to the only restaurant in town and ate palombe, which is a wild pigeon only sold in october in that region of France. It tasted like gamey beef jerky. It was a great restaurant except the infestation of biting flies.

We left early the next morning and scaled some sheer mountains on the way to St. Jean. It was exhausting and Roger kept exposing his hairy man boobs framed by his pale white body. He had a maniacal high pitched laugh that irked me. We ran into herds on sheep gazing on the breathtaking landscape. I almost stepped on a snake. Saint Jean de Pied Port is the “starting point” of the Camino Francais, so I met a ton of pilgrims. This one kid walked all the way from Poland taking two and a half months to get here. I met a guy who runs the Camino and this is his 8th time. He runs over 60 miles a day and hopes to arrive in Santiago in a mere 10 days. We all decided on a rest day here. Roger told us his story about how he spent two years in prison in England because of a high speed police chase, he incurred trying to get to his restaurant on valentines day. He said he used to carry a razor blade in his mouth in prison. I told him it was one of the best stories I’ve ever heard and I no longer hated him. We went to the movies and watched “Mon Roi” it was in French with no subtitles. Tomorrow I embark on the Camino Francais and cross the Pyrenees into Spain.

Spain is an interesting country. Everyone is white but speaks Spanish. They are like the French eating copious amounts of bread. I eat jamon bocadillos every day: dry ham on bread. Instead of water I’ve been drinking cervasas con limon, beer with lemonade. Its a magical tasty elixir that rejuvenates and refreshes. To make it, take 50 percent beer and mix it with 50 percent lemonade. Going into a town between 2 and 4 is eerie, all the stores are closed. This is when Spanish people take a nap, its called a siesta kinda of like fiesta except nothing like a fiesta. There are lots of cows in Spain. I witnessed the birth of a cow .. it just got up all wet and started walking toward its mom on shaky legs.  I found myself wanting to reach Santiago as soon as possible. I often missed the awesome castles and great things big citys like Pamplona and Bourges had to offer. I wanted to arrive sooner only to get close to Santiago and wanted to slow down and savor it. It seems like an analogy for life.

Auberges in Spain are cheap, 6 euros. I wake up every night wondering where the hell I am. It takes a while to figure it out then I fall back into a peaceful slumber. This region of Spain “Galicia” has great seafood. Their dish of choice is Pulpo Fiera or spicy octopus. They take a kraken like beast of an octopus and boil it in a cauldron then the serve it to you in hunks with olive oil and bread..its good but huge tentacles with buffalo nickel sized suction cups is just plain weird.

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I must have read 15 books this trip, biographies of Napoleon, Lincoln, Wilt Chamberlain, Andrew Carnegie, Ben Franklin, Casanova among others. Some were dry, others fascinating and deplorable. This camino is not as intimate as the one in France, this one is commercial. Most of the trails are on paved roads that run parallel with highways or other roads. The trail is filled with hippies, Koreans and close talkers. I recommend ending in St. Jean de Pied de Port not starting there like the 250,000 people do per year. Not to mention all the tombstones of pilgrims who died on the camino every 20km is depressing. I fasted for three days only drinking water. Hiking more than 20k those days was impossible and my stomach felt like it had razor blades in it. I found solace in the fact I didnt have to brush my teeth. My body is in amazing shape, I bound up and down hills like a deer. I finished this camino much earlier than anticipated.  In Santiago I didn’t feel quite finished so I left my pack at an Auberge and in the morning I ran from Santiago to Fisterre. The translation for Fisterre is “end of the world” because its the most western part of Europe. It felt like the end.. it was gloomy and rained all day. Running the 90k took a day and a half. My heart was pounding my fists frozen my shins hurt to the marrow and rain was mixing with sweat off my brow and going into my mouth and eyes. I’d be lying if I didn’t find it strangely exhilerating. Sunset in Fisterre is breathtaking the sun disappears over a vast atlantic ocean truly a sight to behold or so I’ve heard I didnt stay for it..because frankly I dont give a damn.

I had some churros that you dip in hot chocolate that warmed me up and it was nice to get on a bus back to Santiago. I spent the week of my birthday unendeavored. I had no plans for my birthday at all. my one friends got a beer with me at Rua Bellas she had cat eyes that were too close together and an infectious smile. I was already drunk at seven with a mixture of Absolute, beer and lemonade. I tried kissing her but she wasn’t haven’t it. I then tried again later and it ok but she ditched me in an hour. Damn. At the same bar I saw this Irish girl I hiked with for a few days with her friends. She beckoned me over and we all hung out. There was this girl from the UK with them with frosty blue eyes, a cherubic body that belonged in a renaissance painting. Instant swoon. I kept calling her my future wife. I was forward and unapologetic..she liked it but pretended not to. We moved to another bar and my other friend joined us she was a five feet of Texas twang with ginger hair and sharp incisors. I picked her up over my head said her boyfriend sucked and licked her ear. I actually don’t remember this though she told me the next day. I stopped remembering anything. I woke up in the middle of the night like a Dimitri Martin bit..why am I naked?..oh she’s kinda cute….whats he doing here? Except there was no guy. The rest of my time in Santiago involved a lot of wine, sleeping, octopus and the best damn chicken nuggets I’ve ever had.

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