Today I walked with a five foot tall girl from Michigan that had a shapely, curvy figure. She ran ultra-marathons, the longest being 50 miles. She said her larger figure was a result of an endocrine system imbalance in her insulin levels. We gradually became acquainted through the first few hurdles of small talk.
“I thought you were Spanish the I first time I saw you. I probably wouldn’t have spoken to you if you didn’t start speaking to me.” she said.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I like blending in here.” I said.
“You look ethnic, what are you?” She asked.
“My heritage is half-Italian and half-Irish” I said.
The blunt ignorance was a familiar and comforting reminder of home. Honesty, however misinformed, I find endearing in some situations. We started talking about siblings and she revealed to me that her sister was marrying a guy named James, a hyper-masculine, insecure firefighter. Her sister had broken up with a doctor named James that she was slated to marry 2 years before. Her family reminisced about James #1 and how they missed him when the sister wasn’t around. Within our first few exchanges, I sectioned her off in my mind, as if she was a sensitive crime scene, as surface-level and pretentious, lacking any kind of depth to mine from. The day’s conversation ensued as a sort of act or rehearsal for me. The essential and vulnerable parts of me hidden and powered down for the duration.
At a stop for a bathroom break, a shop owner scolded me for not being more polite and assuming I could use the bathroom without buying anything. We met newly-weds from Canada who were on their honeymoon. Leave it to Canadians, the most even-tempered, kind people. That will solidify a bond or put it up in flames. Rumors had spread about a middle aged newly-wed couple that broke up in dramatic fashion. The husband got too drunk one night and the next day the wife slammed her pack down and said she was done and leaving and actually booked a flight out. The varying speeds of each person creates an intricate web of 3rd degree connection and friends of friends etc.
We sat and ate lunch at what was her destination for the day. I gave her some of my bread and we devoured Spanish pastries and apples. “Well, this is where I leave you.” She said. I thought of the book by that title, and wondered if she knew of it.
“Is that my cue to get up and leave?” I said, in a flat tone.
“I’m going to check in to the hostel. You’re crazy for trying to walk any further today.” She said.
“Bye.” I said.
After 6 more miles, I walked up a 45 degree incline that I guessed was 6 stories high and walked about 3 miles on that plateau until there was a descent. I stripped down to only boxers and took in the tan. It was 3 pm. Mostly everyone on the Camino stops for the day at 1 pm or earlier to get out the sun. The only person I saw in that last 15 miles was a guy driving what I could only describe as a wheat field Zamboni. These afternoon strolls in solitude re-acquainted my conscious, operative functions with some of the underlying hardware of my mind. The meek positive voices were forced to sit down and break bread with the strong, overbearing negative voices. It provided time and space to balance out the voices like water in a glass after being shaken and finding a still, uniform level. It was a peaceful respite, silence and solitude being the medium through which I could let my mind wander, tire itself out, and return to a resting state. But also fill the time with internal conversations, as if I had a co-pilot, on a cross country car trip and needed to keep things light and agreeable to avoid the eventual conflict that comes with inhabiting close quarters for an extended time frame. This hike was not a band-aid solution to anything. It was a reflective time for meditating on all the things I do have in my life.
I got dressed when I was close to civilization again. I came across a sleepy low-income town and navigated the narrow streets like a maze with yellow arrows on each successive building, leading me to the hostel. I had dinner with two large, pleasant German girls who were doing around 10 miles a day and expected to finish the Camino in 6 weeks or more. I shuddered at the thought of staying in albergues for an extra two or three weeks. The girls had just finished their Masters degrees in Education and were set to start teaching Kindergarten in September. I regarded their apparent high levels of life satisfaction and cheerful demeanors as something that would be nice to have myself, but that were the resulting products of a domesticated worldview. They were perfectly well-mannered and seemed to be just as enthusiastic and obliging as they were on their first day on the Camino together. It brought to mind the time a girl friend of mine said, when explaining her complete lack of sexual attraction to a guy friend of mine, said “He’s just too nice.”
The red haired girl from Hanover, Germany had a nose ring, three tattoos lining her arms and a small one on her neck, which I found incongruous. At different points in the conversation, they both introduced the fact that they had boyfriends. Why is this such pertinent information? Is it supposed to make you more desirable and show there is someone that can put up with you? People younger than the age of 25 that have significant others that they mention frequently in conversation throw up red flags for me. I’ve found its usually an indication of people who value comfort over growth. Maybe I am just as judgmental as the people I dismiss as surface-level.
I came outside to put my feet up and ate my large Nestle chocolate slab with an orange flavored “Aqua” drink. Chocolate is the only thing in Spain with much larger portions than the US. I hear the sharp shriek of the circling sparrows at sunset. The old men with canes were out to “dar un paseo” and some stray dogs with frosted tipped hair roamed freely in the streets. The vibrant Seniors citizens of Spain provide a stark contrast to the Seniors of the US, that are stowed away in sterile condo communities.