Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 44 Camino de Santiago Aug. 18 Finisterre

I’m 56 years old.  I’ve had lots of days that were flooded with magic.  The kind of magic that makes growing old enjoyable. The kind of a day that years from now, when my bones are brittle, my memory a bit foggy, I will have a slight smile on my face.  Little children will look and say, “That old man is so crazy.  He just sits there and smiles like he knows what he’s doing!”  and the truth is, “I may not know what I am doing at that moment... but I know what I did on August 18th, 2012!   I made magic for people!!
     It started like most every other day on the Camino.  Get up.  Get dressed...start walking. Don’t think....just walk.  I thought about a wall on an albergue that I wrote on 100 years ago, or so it seems.  People had written some fairly “deep” thoughts, or tried.  It was a moment on the trail when I had just started to walk on my own, to reflect, to recover and to redirect.  I read that wall and thought,” What a crock of crapola!”  I read a few more.... I wanted to say, “Just shut up and walk!” but I said to myself, “Happy thoughts,  Steve!  Happy thoughts!”  so I tried again... “Shut the hell up and just walk!”  STEVE!!! HAPPY THOUGHTS!  and I tried again... “Stop thinking... and just walk!”  Today was one of those days.  
     Yes, I would walk to Muxia the next day, and that would be my last day of walking, but today, was the real last day of walking, and it was sad.  I didn’t know what to expect when I started out, but I knew that I couldn’t be with Nudia and Anastasia.  Nicer people you’ll never meet on a trail, but finishing this could only be done alone or with one of the original crew.  It could be done with Kevin, TIna, Gunther, Raj, or Sonnie.  But not with just anyone.  Unfortunately, Raj and Kevin were long gone.  Sonnie, Guther and Tina had disappeared.
     I told Nudia and Anastasia that I felt the need to walk alone and to their credit, they knew it.  Off I went.  Alone... and happy to be alone.  That’s new to me.  As I topped a mountain, I knew it would be the last time I saw Corcubion.  The finality of the trip was starting to wear on me.  My last albergue.  (Won’t miss that!) My last hike (will miss that).  Last planned day (don’t know if I’ll miss that!)

     As with all great journeys they begin with a healthy meal of bacon, eggs, toast, chocolate croissants, and coffee.  Okay, all of my great journeys begin that way.  Most other pilgrims have coffee and bread or just get up and walk.  Walk where??? Where are they going in such a rush??  I stopped at a very nice restaurant right on the beach.  I was the only one there for awhile and then a family came.  They looked at me as if I had a space suit on.  Hhhhhmm  must not be peligrinos!  I shot them all with my photon phaser gun!

    I’m always amazed at how much people tolerate with some pets.  How can you love a dog that yaps non stop!?  Or pees on the rug constantly?  or bites??  Finally, I met a dog that was happy to see peligrinos.  He sat there so sweetly, that I couldn’t help but photograph him.  Actually, I’ve met quite a few wonderful dogs.  Makes me miss ol’ Bucky!  Everyone should have a dog like Bucky.  I’d send him to that nut case that runs Iran if I could be sure he’d treat Bucky like he should be treated.  If he didn’t, the least of his worries would be the US nuclear arsenal.

    I love to see families working in a family business.  I grew up in a grocery store. I also remember shelling Lima beans, purple hull peas, and crowder peas under a single bulb in front of my grandfather’s barn.  Mom, Dad, my brothers, and I would sit with my Grandfather and Grandmother on upside down pecks.  Funny though.... this may have only happened once for all I know, but it seems like it happened hundreds of times.  Such is the memory of a childhood.  I was walking through one of many unnamed villages... oh I’m sure it had a name, but so many of them don’t have welcoming signs.  Heck, they don’t have street signs!!!  I know if I asked someone in town, “Why don’t you have a city name on the outskirts of town?”, the answer would be, “Why?  We all know where we live.”  Oh...Good point!  How stupid of me!!
      On this unnamed street in an unnamed town, lived three brothers that were working on octopus traps.  I walked by and they were busy at work.  When I said, “Con permiso...” (excuse me), they all looked up and it was like I was in a house of mirrors.  They all looked exactly the same.  I laughed and said, “Con permiso un segundo vec... pero son ustedes hermanos?”  (Excuse me a second time, but are you guys brothers?)  and of course they were.  
     After the pulpo hermanos (octopus brothers) encounter, the trail wound up into woodlands and it began to rain off and on.  I couldn’t have cared less.  My pack was covered. I had a poncho and an umbrella.  Someone had taken my umbrella at the albergue and someone else had left another umbrella so the lady gave it to me.  It was a Cadillac of umbrellas, and weighed about as much as one, but it kept me dry.  Did I care that I looked like a Mary Poppins’ transvestite traipsing through the forest??  Nope. Not even a little bit.  Deal with it!
      At one point, I turned a corner and saw blackberries.  I started to pick them and caught sight of a blue windbreaker that I recognized as Tina coming around a corner.  Having Tina there eased the day enough that it would still be emotional and meaningful, but it would not be like the empty feeling of walking into Santiago alone on a dreary, rainy day.
    And then it happened.  We saw Finisterre across the bay.  In times past, when we saw a village and knew that was our stopping point for the day, it always took forever to reach it.  But somehow, it seemed like Finisterre and us were moving closer to one another.  
    I took a deep breath and held my arms out to try and take it all in.  “All” is 40+ days of walking... about to come to an end.  There is such a feeling of... of... release, is the only word to describe it.  I understand why people put their hands up in the air.  It’s a feeling of submission... a feeling of humility, and acceptance that you are a vehicle for a different voice.  It felt like the thing to do at that moment.  I had many such moments when I would walk and hold my hands outstretched and frankly didn’t care who saw or heard.  There is great power in freedom of worrying about what others think.  Freedom..
     Then another miracle happened... we turned a corner and saw Gunther and his latest German frau coming down the road, on their way back from the lighthouse.  
     me - Gunther!!!
     Gunther - blahkenzie blahkenzie blahkenzie
     Me - once again Guther, I... do... not... sprechenzie Deutch!
     Gunther - blahkenzie blahkenzie blahkenzie
     Me - Das ist goot?
     Gunther - Ya Ya!!  blahkenzie blahkenzie blahkenzie
     Me - Well.... Aufweidersahn!  Chuis!
       The conversation wasn’t exactly like this... but close.  Still, Gunther was another piece of the closing of the Camino for me.  He walked down the hill, still talking to me in German, as if I had eaten a Berlitz tape or inhaled a “You too can learn German!” manual.  
   They have erected a huge cross at the top of the mountain, near the  lighthouse.  The hike to the top was a bit odd in that it was the first time on a trail of 900k that there was no trail.  We had to walk in the road and not just any road, but a road with many cars.  Felt strange to be so close to big mean cars!!  I could see the headlines now... "Apparently "7" wasn't a lucky number for an American pilgrim as he was only seven feet from finish line when a Smart Car ran him over.!"  There were enough cars to fill up parking lots at Disneyland AND Mount Rushmore.  
      Finally, the first step in the end of the Camino came into close proximation - the 0.0 kilometer marker.  No more hiking!  No more Camino.  At least not the actual camino.  There was still one more thing to do.  But before doing that, we stood at the 0.0 marker and at the same time said, "Remember the 790 marker way back in Ronceville, France?"  It seemed an eternity.  When talking to people on the Camino, no one could remember where they were the day before or the albergue.  Hard to explain.  That's why I'm glad have you (the blog/journal)!  Thanks for being here!
   Reaching the lighthouse provided enough of a distraction that it helped diffuse the emotions a bit.  I say that because it was, (not to sound haughty) but a bunch of non peligrinos who were running around, throwing rocks off the edge, even though people were walking below.  It was real world folks who were screaming at kids who didn't want to be there.  It was a circus only animals would have been acting more quietly.  

   The lighthouse did have an interesting exhibit.  Pictures and stories of ships that had crashed on or around the area.  The Great Liverpool sunk and had a tragic end for it's captain, who survived the crash... He cut his throat in Cee.  
atta boy... that'll really help those victims that you blame yourself for.  How about you really do something, like help their families?


      On one hill was a stick that is called the Peace Pole, I guess because there is a message written in several languages that says, "Can't we all just get along?"  okay, I'm joking.  You can read the pole yourself.

   This was my favorite sign of the year... well close, anyway... This antenna is at least 75 - 100 feet high with a wire running from the top to the lighthouse.  Imagine scaling that beast!  The sign says, "No hanging clothes from the antenna wire!"  Wow!  That takes guts.  The wind is always blowing 30 mph and it's 100 feet in the air, so were the Zambini Flying Brothers in town??


    When we reached the back of the lighthouse the terrain sloped steeply over large rocks to the water below.  From there, the view was non-stop to North America.  It looked like ... well the end of the world - Finisterre.  Awesome thought to think of the guts it took to hop in a boat that was only 60 feet long and sail into the unknown abyss of water.  60 Feet!!!  That's the distance from home plate to first base in softball.

   Then the magic began.  As mentioned before, one of the rituals of reaching Finisterre is that pilgrims burn an article of clothing.  Mercy!  I could have burned every piece of clothing and been justified.  In fact, I'm sure people were begging me to burn it all!  However, I had brought a pair of holy socks to burn.

    I expected there to be a fire but there wasn't.  There was evidence of previous fires, some built against a monument to a fallen peligrino.

That was not okay.  I had stopped at the Chinese store and brought a lighter and some incense.  I had started the Camino in St. Jean by spending a few minutes in the albergue's meditation garden house burning a stick of incense.  There was a girl there, don't remember her name, that had walked from Finisterre to St. Jean.  She looked like she needed some incense so I gave her a cone and told her to burn one when she got to her stopping point in England and I would burn incense when I reached Finisterre.  I lit about six sticks and set them so that the wind would blow the aroma across the fire, which wasn't so aromatic, considering what it was about to burn!

  There were non-peligrinos milling about and I could see where fires had been lit before, so I gathered some rocks, made a fire pit, stuffed some kleenex into my socks and some paper that Tina had, and started a fire.  Surprisingly, it lit quickly.  I turned on my iTunes to Dean Martin's "Return to Me!'  It was my father's favorite song and oh so mood setting.  A biker sat above the fire and watched as did several other non peligrinos.  Several laughed at first but then the magic began.

    I was lost in the moment and they could see that it wasn't a comedy routine.  It was a solemn moment.  Everyone got real quiet as the flames grew and Dean crooned.  The Spanish biker asked if he could burn a sock, and he gave it to me and I put it on the fire.  Then another person gave a t shirt, and someone else gave a hair ribbon.  And so it went.  No one saying a word and several tears falling.  It was ... magic.
   I played the song twice and then let it go to the next song alphabetically which was, "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash!  How appropriate.  The clothes burned to a vapor and I thought of the people, living and dead, who have helped me so much.
                                                   Thank you all!  Bien Camino!
        Reflect Recover Redirect                   Forgive, Forget, Forge on           Marvel in the Mundane

Chefchaouen, Morocco June 2012

Morocco - I had no plans to visit it when I began planning the trip in April.  Of course, I wasn't planning on going to Spain or hiking the Camino either.  But I saw a city in Morocco, Chefchaouen, and was mesmerized to say the least.  The pictures make it look like a city made of adobe/plaster and painted blue with a backdrop of Sedona's red rocks.  Well part of that is true.

     To get to Chef was a trip - figuratively and literally.  The bus stopped several times and gave us a chance to have freshly made ground beef/sheep/goat burgers.  The flies were extra!  It was amazing to see the passengers run off the bus to the butcher/cook, who would slice pieces of meat off of a hanging animal, grind it in the meat grinder, give it to a griller who would grill it for you while you waited.

Welcome to Morocco.  I wish I was more adventurous and could try such things, but not when I have to sit on a bus for four hours.  If I had my own bathroom and four days to get over whatever bug may come my way, but I don't.
  Chef, as it is called amongst shoestring travelers and lazy folk... is usually the favorite city of all in Morocco. It's small - 40,000 people.  It's not crazy hectic like Fez or Marrakesh.  It has decent food and extremely cheap.  The same dinner and dirt in Marrakesh may cost 100 d, but only 40 d in Chef.  There are mountains and in winter it is very cold.  In the summer, it's only warm, not baking, save the odd week's hot front that may sweep across a country.
    Lot's of people like Chef because it has very cheap and very accessible Kif, which is a mixture of weed and tobacco.  According to my landlord at Scotlandia Riad, who, believe me, is an expert in smoking Kif, says that the weed in Morocco is way too strong and the tobacco knocks it down a level.  I'll have to take his word on that.  The guy in the picture is from Mississippi and has been working in the Middle East for awhile.  He didn't know that he was standing in front of a marijuana plant.    He and his girl friend were in Morocco for a visit and stayed with me at the Riad.
    The owner of the Riad needed some help building a patio cover and I helped him.  He gave me a cut on my rent, which wasn't necessary, but accepted none the less.   You can see two patio/terraces.  We covered the lower level one with bamboo to be like the top one.  He and his wife and son were from Scotland, bought a house there when the market was at the bottom and then for the next seven years or so, vacationed in southern Morocco.  When the market was at it's height, they sold everything, made a bundle and moved to northern Morocco.  They now have this Riad you see in the photo above, aptly named, "Scotlandia".  The owner was about as easy going as you can get, for very "natural" reasons, I'm sure, but he would get mad when the taxi cab drivers would ask, "Where do you go?" and "he'd reply, "Scotlandia!" and they would look at him like he was crazy.  "Where?" they'd ask, and he'd repeat, "Scotlandia!   You know the Riad on the hill!"  "Ohhh...." they'd say, "Englaterra!"  Word to the wise cabbie... I you are looking for a tip, don't tell refer to someone from Scotland as being from England!"  (really bad form! Think William Wallace- Braveheart). 

      The view from his terraces was awesome.  We could see the mountains with the firebreaks cut into them.  The owner said that the king of Morocco used that for his hunting wild pigs.

It must be really beautiful in the winter when the surrounding mountains, which completely surround Chefchaouen, are covered in snow.

   We could also see surrounding homes and it amazed me how beautiful they are.  Most are even prettier inside than out.

Not a great neighborhood if you have bad knees as most of the homes are four stories high.

    I didn't know whether to congratulate this little guys mom and dad for ingenuity or call CPS.  I guess you do what you gotta do to survive.  He looks like a prisoner but that's what Moroccans must think when they see our playpenalpens...I mean our playpens.
So many times I've seen what I thought was insane in countries like Morocco - like a baby, yes a baby sitting on the top of a cormorant fishing boat on the Li River in China.  That's bad enough, but the boat was moving at about 30 mph.
   Of course, my brother and I use to stand on the back of a pickup truck to keep watermelons from falling off as my Dad drove home for the market.  It was fun... until you got a "pis" chill from going over the Wolf River!!

     As I'm hanging off of his terrace, forty feet in the air, I'm thinking, "Really?  Fall in Morocco!?  Is this something I should be doing??"  I looked down and saw huge piles of sand, gravel, and 100 bags of cement.
    They were lying next to a home that had a foundation poured.  When I asked the owner what was going on he told me that the next day there'd be 10 guys working like worker bees mixing concrete, wheelbarrowing it up to the foundation and repeating the process 1000 times.  No cement mixer - just human mixers!  They started at sun up and didn't stop till sundown.  In the South, we call that working from "Can to Can't" in reference to working from the time you CAN see, to the time you CAN'T see!  Brother!  That is a lonnnnnngggg day!
   These guys didn't stop for any smokes or drinks.  They had a couple of breaks for lunch and snack and back at it again.  Wonder what their union would say?  The next picture shows a boy watching, only he's doing more than that.  The owner said that the boys learned that the fish market needs paper to wrap their fish.  Paper that won't crumble when it gets wet.  So when the guys tear open cement, they cut it at the end, dump it out and throw it aside.  The boys run over take the bags (think crows or rats stealing something shiny, only they aren't stealing!) wash them out and sell them to the fish market.  Clever entrepreneurial spirit!!  I love it!

at first, the homes look, a bit blue, as if they were hesitant about painting their house the same color as someone else.

     The walk to the city from the Riad is about 2 miles and fun.  I passed thru a mini village and saw enough sheep and goats to start a Armenian dating service.  It was a good walk, and finally, a view of the valley and the town below!  From a distance, you can see that the entire city isn't painted blue... but when you get down to the city, via a steep path, it explodes with color.

Then.... blue....



Some of the kids are playing in a drinking fountain.  Being a keen disciple of Sherlock Holmes I deduct that his feet are blue from playing in the water... or he has a blue pair of Crocs on.

       They sell the paint, and it looks like the old Tempura paint that teachers use to get to mix paint.  Yes, that was before schools fell into money and teachers actually use to mix their own paint.  It probably was cheaper in the long run to buy premixed paint, because people like me, got too creative and ended up painting a life size blue whale on the parking lot pavement.  It was great - it taught kids about how to transfer from a graph, however, there were two problems: 1. every time someone drove in the parking lot, they tracked blue throughout the neighborhood, and 2. the whale eventually washed through the entire neighborhood when it rained!  It's okay, now... save for old man McGunty's driveway, which serves him right for being grumpy all the time... even before I dyed his driveway blue!!

        Whatever is not painted blue, is painted a khaki/orange color and provides a wonderful contrast to the blue.  This picture was taken from my outdoor terrace and is looking at the kasbah across the way.

You have to admit, khaki/orange is an apt description!!  Call Mr. Crayola!  I want dibs on the name!
By the way, the man who named/invented most of the Crayola crayons ... was blind... and now you know the rest of the story!

    If you don't duck, you'll join the blue parade and have a shiner on your noggin'.   I.. know first hand.  Bad habit, not looking up.

But really, was the guy who built this walk way 4 feet tall and angry at the world??

Maybe use balsa wood if you are going to build a ceiling so low!


  There was one section of town that was nothing short of Ridiculous Blue... (I made that color up!!)  But really, it looked like the neighbors got together and said, "Fine!  If the HOA is going to make us all have blue...when we really want cherry red, then let's make a .... a... Ridiculous Blue!!

   Can you say, Ice Blue Velva?  It was like being in a Disneyland ride.  I kept waiting on a luge to come screaming around the corner and knock me into Palookaville.



     This neighborhood needed signs posted that said, "We do Blue!" It's amazing how your brain works.  The brain said that it should be so cold that it was hot, like hot ice, but it was just plain ol' warm plaster.  

      I would have liked to have gone in some of the homes, but the ones I did go in were amazingly organized and well kept.  I say that, because some of them had goats running all over the front yard or broken buckets.  The inside person is doing there job, but the outside person is slacking!

    Apparently, exceptionally cute kids are exempt from wearing blue.  This lady saw that we were about to take a picture.  She had been gently tapping on the door and then when she saw us with the cameras, she began banging on the door. Either she got the runs and had to get to the toilet pronto or she was afraid I was going to steal her soul.   One's as bad as the other at the moment!

     However, there are kids who are exceptionally cute that do wear blue!  Another grumpy lady.  I wanted  to scream, "Would you PLEASE direct me to the person who told you that a camera can steal your soul!  I want to congratulate him for being the salesman of the year!"

    We headed up the street toward a cafe that I had heard about and the directions given to me were classic..."You head up a street that's blue..."  I always want to say, "Wow, that's really clear.  Thank you for giving me such focused directions.  Perhaps next time someone asks you for directions you could use that crazy new inventions... street names!!'   No, we never did find the restaurant.
   But we did come across a guy I had met the day before when I went into the city alone.  He, too, was a classic.  Here's the conversation:
local -  Hello!  Step into my shop.  No pressure.
me - uhhh no, I'm good!
local - I tell you my friend.  No pressure.  Just come look at rugs.
me - uhhh, noooo..... I don't have a house.  Rugs are heavy.  Thanks though.
local - Where are you from?
me - (okay, I'll bite)  USA and you?
local - Chefchaouen.  Where in these United States?
me - Arizona.
local - I have been there.  My brother has a restaurant.  I know Arizona.
me - Excellent.  you have a great day... bye
local -my wife has made beautiful rugs.
and so it went.   And the next day when walking with the Mississippi couple, he went ahead and she was with me in a shop.  We came out and we saw her boyfriend with the man and I said, "Watch, here comes the Moroccan Shuffle!"  and sure enough, he went right into the routine.  He bought a rug.  Fishing was good that day!
     Later that day, I decided to get a haircut and when leaving the Riad, I don't know what happened, but I must have stepped on some blue ice or something, and slipped and before I knew it, I had called on the marble stairs, landing on my left arm three inches south of my elbow.

 I thought it was broken and visions of going to a doctor/hospital didn't seem very enticing.  It swoll up and looked like my calf, with a huge knot on it.  Kinda like a goose egg a kid gets when he hits his head on the monkey bars...oh right...lawyers - we don't have monkey bars anymore.  But thank goodness we still have goose eggs!  This is a picture on day four.


      Anyway, in the best way I know how to deal with a problem - to ignore it!- I went and got a haircut.

There is nothing quite so relaxing as a haircut...okay, that's not exactly true, but it is very relaxing.  This  barber was funny.  He knew just enough English to make jokes, but well, jokes yes, good jokes, not so good.  He was fun though.

     After the haircut I met a guy from New Zealand and a guy from New York... and me from New Arizona... yes, that's typical of the barber's jokes!

    We decided to go watch the European finals between Italy and Spain.  Spain demolished them which was good because they played excellent team ball and Italy relied on a ball hog, and a hot dog.
The night before I watched the Italy/Germany game - which you can see on the TV.  Not sure that the restaurant would have passed the health inspection....anywhere.  

This was the last straw.  The last blue straw.  When you start painting trees, it's time to leave the country!!!  I was on a plane to Spain the next day!!