This was not a pleasant post to write. Nor was Spain’s Camino de Santiago a pleasant hike. I write very much off the cuff, but remind you at the outset that my experience is but one. And an unusual one at that. The camino offers a beautifully transformative experience for thousands of pilgrims every year. My hope, therefore, is that this entry does not dissuade anyone from embarking upon their own camino. You will see that my experience was shaped very much by, as this blog emphasizes, the individuals I met along the way. And unfortunately, there were no mountains to keep me company when things went especially downhill, and downhill fast…as in, again, less than 48 hours.
My camino, marked by–perhaps ironically–intense narcissism, left little space for my intended reflection on my RTW journey thus far. I had been anticipating that because the road to Finisterre, viewed as the “end of the world” by its pilgrims, would be relatively-speaking flat (although I’d be clocking over 30 km a day) and the weather mild, that I finally would have some head space to myself. I was in for a rude awakening.
My struggle for solitude began at 11 p.m. on Monday, October 27th, when I arrived in Santiago at my hostel, fittingly named Roots and Boots. After checking in, I explored the back courtyard, settling into a bench beneath a tree for a moment. I’m sure I came across as creepy, hanging out in the shadows by myself, when a few minutes later a sweet college girl approached and asked why I was alone. She invited and then pleaded me to join her and her friends for drinks and music. They hailed from Holland and had just finished a symphony performance in town. Terrible 70s covers were slipping through the window from their radio. I thanked her for her kindness.
Day 1: Santiago to Vilaserio
At dawn, I strapped on my pack and left Roots and Boots to track down the camino. (For the record, I was not doing the “traditional” route, which ends at Santiago’s Cathedral. Instead, I started at the Cathedral and walked four days to Finisterre, a town in Spain’s northwest corner–its Atlantic once thought to be end of the world.)
I followed the route through town until I exited into a forest that was just beginning to crisp from the delayed autumn. A smattering of burgundy leaves, still clinging tightly to their branches, was dulled by the cozy cloud cover. About a mile in, I came across a tent with a sign out front that welcomed donations from and for fellow pilgrims. The tent, looking well-loved with worn fabric and grimy streaks of dirt, was zipped closed.
Other than smiling locals, I had most of the morning to myself. Then came along Jesus, or so it appeared. He was at a corner, shedding a layer with great difficulty–his waist-long, black hair getting caught in his jacket. We exchanged smiles. This encounter was like most others that first day: the faces were kind and the exchanges, brief and heartfelt. Spain was finally giving me some breathing room, enough for me to notice my heart–that raw muscle we don’t flex nearly enough. Aware of its beat, I knew this road of reflection would have its own challenges in store–but, unexpectedly, they were challenges that carried me away from the heart.
The sun broke through in the afternoon. The leaves, knocked free by the wind, cupped and carried beams of light–having traveled over 90 million miles in just eight minutes–their final, tired distance to the earth, where they then in turn warmed and settled the leaves into their new, unfamiliar home.
At some point I was surprised to find, given the flat terrain, that my legs were throbbing terribly, a first on this RTW trip. I checked the map and realized how fast I had been walking–that I was doubling my mileage. My muscles seemed to be transitioning from a steady to more rigorous pace, as I had been subconsciously making up for the absence of mountains. I tried to slow down a bit so as to avoid finishing the camino too quickly.
A woman passed me, and we exchanged brief greetings–she hailed from Minnesota. I considered asking where she started her camino, but her energy, and the fact that she was sweating bullets through a heavy winter jacket, suggested that she was having a rough day and preferred her own bubble. Respecting that, I wished her a buen camino, allowing her to speed ahead.
Thirty four kilometers later, past the typical stopping point at Negreira, I retired at an Albergue whose owner, after showing me the room, apologized for the fact that I would be in the company of only men that night. At the time, I barely paid him any mind, saying it wasn’t a problem. I dropped off my pack and checked out the bar–lined for the most part with men in their 50s and 60s. Later that evening, after several of bottles of wine, one of the men fell off his chair and the owner, with the help of another trekker, dragged him to bed. I kept to myself at a table, writing and eating a dinner of prosciutto and eggs.
Until an abrasive, if I may be so unkind, 30-year-old farmer from Italy sat down across from me and began an hour long monologue about his camino. Which entailed detailed descriptions of his blisters, aches and pains, and head fucks he struggled through. I had uttered perhaps ten words before he ordered shots and began showing me photos on his phone from the beginning of his journey and up through the Pyrenees.
After he slung a few insults at me for rejecting his advances, I wrapped things up and walked back to the sleeping quarters, explaining that I was going to write in the common area. He bid me goodnight, and then returned a few minutes later. He sat down beside me, took out his phone again, and began to play the video of the final procession in the Santiago Cathedral. Although I had had enough, watching the priests swing the incense in unison through the high arches of the singing church, offered me some insight into the emotion that people feel upon completing their long journey.
Day 2: to Olveiroa
“Are you a pilgrim or a model?” he asked. I was finishing up my coffee outside the Albergue when a middle-aged man with a white pack sat down for breakfast.
“Model,” I said with a straight face, getting up from the table to get a head start.
Wearing the same boots in which I trekked through Nepal–that were one size too small–my remaining toenail was feeling it today, and I figured it wouldn’t be long before that one popped off too. I hadn’t managed to slow my pace, and so my muscles were aching with an intensity they hadn’t felt since a marathon I had run a year ago.
I entered a forest and was greeted by mini monarch butterflies. They fluttered among the falling leaves, which glowed amber under the soft morning light as gusts of wind gently coaxed more and more of them loose from their branches.
At one point I passed a guy who launched into a lengthy explanation about the evolution of his blister development over the course of the camino. “It’s a tough road,” he proclaimed. “Not for the weak of heart.”
And then, as I paused to remove my jacket, the man with the white pack approached. I had to explain to him that this camino was for me and that I wanted to walk it alone. He ignored me, talking for several minutes about a restaurant I needed to check out two kilometers behind us. I pretended to rearrange my pack as he carried on. I then stated, again, that I was doing my own camino, and so he continued onward, unfazed.
It was at this point that I put in my headphones, singing out of key at the top of my lungs and dancing maniacally. Fellow trekkers stayed clear. The local elders paused to lean on their canes and smile, sometimes offering a waive.
In the late afternoon, the winds began to slide slowly over the farmlands, stirring up the smell of pungently fresh cow manure. A friend of mine in high school, who had grown up with horses, once confessed her love of this warm aroma, which reminded her of home. I hadn’t quite reached that point, but after trekking through fields of sheep in New Zealand, water buffalo in Vietnam, yaks in Nepal, and now dairy cows in Spain, I found the smell…grounding?
The unbending road cut straight through the pastures as far as the eye could see. The winds picked up, spreading twilight across the open plains. I closed my eyes and stretched my arms out above.
Then Jesus suddenly appeared. He had good energy so I didn’t mind. His name is Ben, and he’s from Virginia. He had been camping in the woods wherever he found shelter, asking whether I had noticed the tent just outside Santiago. I said I had.
“Yeah, it wasn’t so bad,” he said, although it got my pack pretty dirty. We chatted a bit more before he continued onward.
We wound up staying at the same Albergue, where I shared my beer and he, one of the apples he had picked along the road.
“They’re so small and flavorful!” He exclaimed.
I took a bite as the juice spilled over my lip. “Wow,” I said, not having tasted fruit in weeks.
“And this one I didn’t even have to scale a tree for, it was just lying on the ground, waiting for me!”
“Uh huh,” I said, pausing mid-bite, hoping that some microorganism wasn’t currently at work on my GI system.
This 20-year-old was taking time off from college to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. His parents had recently gotten a divorce and so he found himself following in his brother’s footsteps without asking himself what his own desires and aspirations were. He was hiking hundreds of kilometers to figure it out. Music, he decided, but he was still mulling over just how to pursue it.
He went to grab his guitar, and I delved into my draft of the Nepal trek. I was in the thick of it, mentally and emotionally, when the man with the white backpack arrived and sat down at the table next to me. He offered to buy me a beer, which I politely declined.
And then the questions and unrelated monologues began.
He asked me my name. His was Daniel. For the last few decades he had been working as an engineer on an oil platform. Not five minutes later, he again asked for my name, and where I went to law school. He then focused on his phone for a bit. I thought he had gotten the hint. But all to quickly he had pulled up my CV and published articles and began questioning me on their various topics.
“Are you stalking me?” I finally asked.
“You intrigue me,” he said. I stared blankly. “You talk out of the left side of your mouth.” This was not the first nor last man who has been mislead by my slightly crooked smile. “It’s genetic,” I said, “don’t worry about it.”
“Do you know who the most miserable people on the planet are?” He asked, not pausing for my response. “They’ve actually collected data on this: middle-aged, female attorneys who don’t have a husband or kids.” He raised an eyebrow.
I raised both in return.
Then I heard to my right, over the patio banister, a camera click. I glanced over and saw a man looking in my direction. Unbelievable.
I didn’t want to leave because it was the only bar with internet, and I was in my writing headspace so I just continued my attempt to ignore everything and everyone. The man with the camera came up to me and said the photo was for his daughter who was studying in San Diego. I told him that asking for permission was not out of the realm of possibilities.
Before Daniel decided to retire for the evening, I did learn a thing or two from his monologuing about the region. We were guests on Galician homeland. Galicians (who, many argue, have Celtic roots) occupy the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, relying primarily upon agriculture and fishing. They speak Castilian Spanish and Galician.
A distinct characteristic about Galicia is the elevated, rectangular stone structures that typically have crosses perched on top. They are not for the dead, as it may appear to some, but for corn. The farmers store their harvest there in the winter months to keep them from moisture and rats. Wedged between the top of each stone leg and the body is a flat, stone disk whose extension beyond the base of the storage space prevents rats from climbing up to feast on the corn.
Daniel asked if I had picked up on anything strange about this town, to which I said not in particular although there was an elderly man who seemed to be discreetly keeping his eye out on the general state of affairs. He had been hanging out at a particular corner and peering in various directions, his energy distinct from the others I had encountered. Not your typical old man who watches the clouds and cows go by.
We were on drug trafficking territory, he said. Which is when I noticed the periodic appearance of dark SUVs, their flashy wealth standing in contrast to the humble farmland. Daniel explained how the drugs are trafficked through the region.
It had grown dark by the time he left, and a handful of backpackers were throwing back beers on the other side of the porch. The girl from Minnesota had arrived and asked me to join them, apologizing for not being friendly earlier. I said I would join after finishing up my writing. A guy from France then sat down across from me and offered his life story, his talking points not yet refined. He’d be off on one tangent and then a second, only to forget his original thread. “Wait, I think I was saying…let me back up.” This computer scientist turned professional poker player gave me a lesson on why Thailand, not Laos is a better place to play poker. The risks in Laos are too high given the lack of infrastructure–if the electricity were to go out, for example, he could be royally screwed. So he decided to set up shop for a while on an island off the coast of Thailand.
Then one day he and a friend spontaneously decided they wanted to trek across China. First they had to get in shape. And that’s how he found himself on the camino. “I lost 20 kilos!” He said proudly. “But I don’t want to do China anymore. I need to return to France to make money. Let me tell you about my damn blisters!” He wailed, and the show and tell began.
By this point, sobriety had long vanished among the fellow pilgrims. They were all shouting madly out of tune to classic rock songs that Jesus, I mean Ben, strummed out on his guitar, uniting almost everyone.
The girl from Minnesota came over, slurring her words into her long, blond hair that she had let down for the evening.
“That guy, Daniel,” she said, “I hate him. He made me feel so bad about myself. He said that I’m lost, that I should apply myself more. That I’m too old to be working at a Whole Foods fish market. And that I need to find myself. He likes you, though.” She swayed back and forth to the music, nearly falling over backward and gripping my wrist. “He wants a trophy wife, like for sure.”
I told this 34-year-old woman not to let him get to her. This was her life and she can choose to live it in whatever way she chooses. If that meant working at a fish market, then to own that decision. Also, that Daniel was no different than anyone else on the camino–most roamed its path to find some sense of greater meaning. And there was no shame in that. She smiled and hugged me, nearly passing out on my shoulder.
The poker player bought us terrible vodka shots. I begrudgingly slung one back, but when the second round came out immediately thereafter, I made up a new rule for the camino–no hard alcohol.
“You just took one though!” people shouted in an octave as if I were thirty feet away rather than three.
“Yeah, oops, forgot,” I smiled. “Mil gracias.” I gave my shot to an appreciative fellow pilgrim.
I gave Ben the thumbs up on his guitar skills, which he had talked down earlier in the evening, and left to go hit the hay.
Day 3: to Muxia
In the early morning hours, I wound through several small towns where teenagers did their chores, hosing down the pavement or raking leaves out front as their parents busied themselves in the fields out back. Trellises showed off magnificently strong vines that flaunted the first colors of age, becoming more gracefully notable.
An elderly gentleman, whom I had been seesawing with on this morning’s walk, approached as I paused for water.
“Excuse me, we have same pace,” he said cautiously in broken English. “We walk together?” I paused just long enough mid-drink for him to think that a further explanation was warranted. “I want to practice my English,” he offered. The spark in his eyes wasn’t bright enough to cover the loneliness settled deeply behind them.
“I’m doing the camino alone,” I tried to explain as kindly as possible. “But we can speak during lunch at the next town.” The spark quickly dissolved, and he said that he was, eh, disappointed, and waived goodbye.
I entered the town of Senande and decided to stop for a bite, although the man wasn’t in sight. I ducked into a bar where a sweet grandfather took special care with the ham and cheese sandwich he prepared for me.
“You are hiking in the right direction,” he stated assuredly in Spanish. He relayed a story in disbelief of a woman who decided to hike the opposite direction, going to Finisterre before Muxia. The result: an absurdly expensive helicopter ride and a subsequent lawsuit against the Spanish government for restitution. “It wasn’t her fault,” he opined. “The government needs to mark that direction better. Politicos!” He sighed. “Another man who stopped here at my bar, left for the camino only to wind up doing a full circle, returning to my bar. I gave him a ride to set him on the right path.”
Upon my departure, he gave me a placemat with a more detailed map of the trail.
As I was wondering how on god’s earth anyone could lose their way on the camino–given the shell trail markers that are placed every quarter mile or so–two guys approached me from the opposite direction, saying they were hopelessly lost. They had done two full circles, winding up at the same spot each time. I walked them back to a road and pointed them in the right direction.
I put in my headphones and slowed down my music. “Little Talks,” by Monsters and Men came on. Suddenly, a butterfly nearly twice the size of its brothers and sisters fluttered onto my heart. Caught off guard, I swiped it away. He circled around, unfazed, and stretched out its wings to glide alongside me for a few steps.
Later in the afternoon, I passed the gentleman from this morning and slowed to offer some company. Philip is his name, a French fireman who just retired after 41 years of service. “Now, I deserve time for me,” he said, jabbing his thumb into his chest. He began the camino from his home the day after he retired, passing through a town where his mother lived to visit her for a few days. She had just had heart surgery. I got a significant slice of his life story, closed out with a commentary on the camino hardships–his blisters, aches and pains, head fucks–before we parted ways.
I arrived at the ocean in Muxia, solo, right as the sun began to kiss the distance waters. Everything glistened–the sand I walked barefoot upon, the rocks that lined the harbor and its ships, and the shell trail marker welcoming my arrival with a smiley face.
I passed a colorful hostel in which a person sitting in its window was laying out seashells on a table. I continued onward to scope out the next hostel and upon seeing a group of men watching me out front, doubled back to the first hostel. Prayer flags greeted me inside, which felt like a sign. In Spanish, I asked a man in red if there were rooms available. He smiled shyly and said he didn’t speak Spanish. I laughed at my assumption that he worked there, apologetically touching his arm. I repeated myself in English. He said he wasn’t sure, but the owner would be returning soon. He returned to the front table and went to work on his seashells.
The skies opened a deluge minutes before the owner walked in, soaked. She worked there as a volunteer, as many do in the Albergues, for six months out of the year. To do this job, she leaves behind in the Czech Republic her husband and two twenty-something-year-old children.
I ran through the rain to pick up groceries for dinner–a baguette, avocado, prosciutto, and a bottle of wine. And chocolate of course. (It will be a sad moment when I can no longer pack away a bar a day.) Returning to the hostel, the man in red and I made dinner in silence. At some point I broke it and learned that his name was K and that he was from Quebec. He had deep, dark eyes, though not penetrating, and a romantically mocha complexion with jet black hair. Until the day of layoffs, he had for years worked in a warehouse. Now, he dreams of being a philosopher, and plans to apply for graduate school upon his return. His heroes are Socrates and Plato.
This was his first time outside his home country, the first time trekking, and the first time he had spoken Spanish (which it turns out he did indeed speak, quite well). Bold, I thought. He had just finished his 760 km trek, stopping just one day before reaching Finisterre. “I just feel I’ve done enough,” he explained. His big toes poked through both sneakers. “No blisters,” he said proudly.
With few exchanges over the next hour, our connection was refreshing in light of the last few days. Perhaps it was only because he was slightly removed, but I appreciated the emotional space. In spite of the distance, he exuded a particular *charisma that carried with it a slight *sexuality.
He invited me out for a beer, and then we decided to explore the rocky cliffs, scrambling over wet boulders. The rain had stopped, but the heavy mist from the sea coated our faces as we discussed the ancients. Socrates, how he never wrote down a word, only questioned the foundation of everyone’s beliefs. His disciple, Plato. I introduced Montaigne, how presumptive it was, he had argued, to believe in a God. How we must humble ourselves, live our lives according to religious principles because it bettered humanity, and then accept whatever comes our way in the afterlife. I soon found that K wasn’t registering a thing I said.
After a while, we laid down side-by-side and stared at a few dim stars that had snuck out between the clouds. I allowed him to kiss me. And then things felt off, although I couldn’t yet place why.
We walked back under the dark moody sky, and I kept my distance.
Day 4: to Finisterre
K decided he wanted to properly finish the camino after all. “Can I walk with you?” He asked.
“I’m doing it alone,” I said, “but we can meet up in Finisterre.” Yet we wound up setting off together. And soon, after K oddly insisted that we follow a narrow path that bore no relation to the road we were on, found ourselves in a swampy farm field. We trudged upward. K said it was my job to get us out of this mess, and dropped behind me in silence. An hour later, with water logged boots, we broke through to a road, had to backtrack to the trail, and finally began our true start to the day.
This intensely testostone-filled, brooding romantic who loves his Disney explained to me his “Gemini nature.” How he has an intense internal flame yet always composes himself in the moment.
At one point, he referred to my green eyes, which came across not as a compliment, although perhaps it was intended that way, but rather as an observation. The only other unyielding romantic in my life–my first boyfriend–after dating me for eight months, wrote me a poem that emphasized my green eyes. They’re blue, I informed K.
It was clearly irrelevant.
The darkness that follows this *narcissistic individual grew increasingly stronger. He kept repeating “how unfair it all was.” I initially had no idea what he was talking about. Over a short period of time, however, he somehow made it known, without ever saying so, that I was the one for him. Never mind that he had not asked me a single question, or at least one in which he listened to my response. More eerily, never mind that he never expressed any *emotion. Not only with regard to how he felt about me, but about anything. No energy, positive or negative, flowed from this man. His actions were at times endearing (the seashells, a brief smile, saying that he was worried we hadn’t paid for our coffee before I told him that I had covered it). But I felt certain that if I were to peel away his mask, I’d find only stone.
It was odd, how he made known his *detached attachment, which felt strongly *possessive, without a glint of emotional response to me, and certainly without having considered how I felt about him. His repetition of certain phrases that demonstrated a desire to be together forever felt increasingly like some sort of attempted *manipulation–trampling over my statements of not wanting to be together as if that would eventually persuade me to his side of the equation.
But he never actually argued, or used reason to try and convince me, leaving me with the belief that perhaps he was just naive, having not experienced much of the world nor its inhabitants yet. *At the age of 28, he had had only one girlfriend (a relationship that lasted a few months) and one true friend.
I said bluntly that I didn’t feel the same way about him. Perhaps discussing my feelings was not an effective tactic since at best he found them irrelevant, or worse, a window into which I could be manipulated. In any event, he again didn’t appear to even register what I had said as he continued to repeat himself.
When I didn’t have my headphones in, I kept our topics of conversation philosophical in nature to remove him from anything “us” related. We debated various institutional ideologies–religion, political systems, marriage. I relayed what Oli (my trekking partner on Mount Rinjani) had educated me about with regard to the institution of marriage in Quebec. K vehemently disagreed. “Marriage is definitely still an important institution. If you do anything other than marry, it’s a cop out.”
It took me a while, but I realized that whenever I spoke, at times for several sentences, he’d interrupt and ask absentmindedly, “what?” Causing me to repeat myself all over again. And then of course he didn’t listen to my response anyway. I grew weary of the habit and asked whether I wasn’t being clear. “It’s just something I’m used to asking on the road,” he said, “from hearing people speak in Spanish.”
A while later, I said I was going to drop behind. I put in my headphones.
My tiny boots were grinding away at various pressure points, the boggy earth we slogged through this morning having seeped in, causing my skin to slide this way and that. I changed socks and discovered two amazingly massive blisters that had boiled out, one on the ball of my left foot and the other on the side of right big toe. I turned up Chromeo a few decibels.
A few hours later, I came across K on a stone bridge, basking in the sun. I breaked to be polite, but typically disliked doing so because of the loss of momentum. We sat on the ledge, dangling our legs over the rushing stream not far below. Let’s go swimming, he said. No. Minutes later: follow me to those trees over there. No.
We continued onward.
“Do you mind if I walk with you?” Pause. “You can listen to your music.”
By not saying anything, I conceded. But it wasn’t long before we found ourselves debating something or another. His logic, or lack thereof, baffled me.
A gun went off. And then I saw two men in camouflage loitering by their rusted out truck.
“It makes me nervous that we’re hiking through the forest in hunting season,” I said. No response. “Have you ever shot a gun?” He chuckled awkwardly.
“WHAT have you shot?”
* “A cat.”
! … “Explain.”
“It broke my guitar.”
“It knocked over a mirror, which fell on top of my guitar.”
“So you grabbed a pistol and shot the cat?”
“No, I grabbed the cat, walked it over to my parents, and then grabbed a pistol. Shot it.”
“And…whose cat was this?”
“My roommate’s girlfriend.” I naturally asked whether she ever discovered what had happened.
“No, she never found out.”
*There was no hint of shame, or even remorse. He continued, in a tone of disbelief: “I once told a girl this story and she was shocked…But my guitar…” He trailed off.
I was suddenly wishing that the other two men with guns were around. What I had pegged as narcissistic tendencies in K no longer seemed to capture the full picture. I wondered whether he instead fell somewhere on the sociopath spectrum. His manipulation attempts were so unconvincing, though, that I pushed the thought aside.
Then, when the late afternoon sun trickled through the rust-colored trees, he stretched out his arms above, turning around to blow me a kiss with both hands.
He threw back his head and laughed without smiling.
It seemed like eternity, but we finally reached the end of the world. Its sharp, metallic sea stretching out long beneath a setting sun.
Ben suddenly appeared at the end of the block. Barefoot with dripping wet hair, he carried an inviting grace about him. We embraced, and I introduced him to K, who solemnly nodded. Ben had just jumped into the ocean and was racing back to town to grab beers before the sun fully set. I said we’d join him, knowing that K was displeased. As Ben ran to the tienda, K and I dropped off our packs at an Albergue, where I insisted that we stay in a dorm as opposed to a private room. Minutes later, Ben arrived with cold beer in hand. We walked down the zigzagging boardwalk to the beach as the earth made its evening rotation, dipping that magnificently orange orb below the water to rest its Spanish land.
Ben handed me the beers as he ran off to grab his guitar from a camp he had discovered upon his arrival–a hippie commune tucked away in the trees 200 yards behind us.
* “I don’t like people,” K sulked. “Too much noise.”
I said nothing, cracking open a beer. Ben returned and sat to my left, as animated and elevated as ever, trying to politely draw in K, sitting to my right. He gave up and began to strum out Neutral Milk Hotel.
Sitting cross-legged amidst this paradox, with Jesus on one side and sociopathic Narcissus on the other, I watched the waves crash onto the rocks beneath the sky’s fading purple streaks. The end of the world. At least that’s what our ancestors once thought.
A group of screaming pilgrims, one of whom I recognized as Alma from the bar in Olveiroa, came racing down the dunes to join us. Alma fell to her knees in front of us, and then over into a backbend, her shaved head sinking into the sand.
“I’m so alive I could die right here!” she shouted upside down into the ocean. “I could dieeee!” She then stood up, took off her pants and went running into the icy ocean, a dog from out of nowhere joining her. Together they leapt through the waves and then rolled and wrestled on top of each other in the sand.
Ben had transitioned to Sublime as we passed cans of beer and bottles of wine around. K said nothing, staring hard in the opposite direction of everyone. I tried to pay him no mind.
“We’ve reached the end of the camino!” A woman whooped.
“End of the camino?” A man responded, confused. “This is just the beginning.”
K said to me that he had to call his uncle, who was supposed to be picking him up in France at that very moment. I asked why *he didn’t call earlier this morning before we left, but didn’t get a response. K continued to be silently impatient, then tried to persuade me to *leave the group so that he could call his uncle, after which we should “really go to dinner.”
“Go back to the hostel to call your uncle and I’ll meet up with you later,” I said. “I want to stay here a while.” He left.
I enjoyed the remainder of the darkening sky and crashing waves with the laughter of strangers.
After handing Ben money for the beer, I returned to the hostel, regrettably putting up my wall, and went to dinner with K–a pub where we feasted on fresh fish and potatoes and watched a Barcelona match. K again launched into the “it isn’t fair” discussion. Why did I have to live in DC? It was so far. But, he said, he’d come to visit.
“K,” I sternly explained, “you have to learn to enjoy the now. It’s passing by quickly and then we won’t ever see each other again. I value our friendship, but this isn’t going anywhere.”
Why is life so unfair.
I was fed up. No words I uttered had any impact on him so I embraced my own bubble, and entertained myself with the locals.
Day 5: back to Santiago
The next morning it poured. K and I walked along the harbor in the rain where some old men rowed out to sea while others huddled up over beers in a local cafe. We joined the latter for cover and coffee when the storm picked up with fierce intensity. The men inside kicked around a soccer ball as I stared out into the rainy harbor, making eye contact with a pilgrim I had seen on the camino. He smiled pleasantly at me as water streamed down his face, plastering locks of black curls to his strong jawline. I wanted to run out and hug him.
When the skies cleared, K and I sat on the beach to pass the time before the bus left for Santiago. K instructed me to lie down with him. I refused.
“You have a fight between your head and heart,” he said.
“That used to be the case,” I corrected.
I had grown irritable–an emotion with which I am most unfamiliar–but had resigned myself to his company for the rest of the day since we were on the same bus back to Santiago. Why didn’t I break off this unfortunate engagement long ago, you ask? Perhaps the very evening when I felt off about things?
I am not entirely sure, I confess. I wondered whether it was due to my issue with loyalty–in that I stick things out with people too long out of a feeling of duty. Why, at my age, it takes me so long to realize that removing myself is even a possibility is beyond me. I wish I had some noble excuse for this, but I do not. It is something that I have been working on as I travel around the world–the brevity of relationships on the road forcing me to act on my instincts earlier than I otherwise would. This particular instance, it seems, was rooted in my tendency to focus less so on K’s dark ego, and more so on his childish traits–his immaturity, naïveté, lofty goals of being a philosopher and moments of charm–all of which stirred up my inner guardian. Something made me feel that it wouldn’t be right to leave him behind, and that, just perhaps, I could teach him a thing or two about this complex world in which he was so clearly lost.
“You have a dark personality,” I said, fed up with his sulkiness about not getting what he wanted.
“How can you say that about someone who collects seashells?” Not caring about my response, he continued, “Do you believe in Paradise?
“If it includes all of life’s beautiful imperfections then yes.”
“No,” he insisted, “I mean where everything is perfect.” I didn’t even know what he meant by that. * “I believe in paradise,” he said. “After life.” (*No matter that he had only yesterday explained that he wasn’t religious nor did he believe in heaven.) “Where there is no pain,” he continued. “No loss. Only perfection.”
“Perfection can’t exist without imperfection,” I said. “You can’t have the sweet without the sour,” I quoted some movie I had recently watched in Barcelona.
“All I have is faith,” he said morosely, staring blankly out to sea. He opined again that he wanted to be together, but never sorted out how it would ever, in the realm of the impossible, be feasible.
I shifted the conversation to a controversial debate, something that could distract him for a while. (Having figured out his personality twist, I no longer feared a potential outlash of anger.) “So what are your opinions on abortion–both personal and in terms of policy?”
“I’m against it,” he said
“And what about in cases of rape?”
“I’m not going to say yes, I’m not going to say no.”
I just looked at him.
“It’s the man’s problem,” he offered. I asked, sincerely, how that answered the question.
“It’s just the man’s problem.” I again stared blankly. He offered no commentary about the value of the child’s life or other points grounded in some semblance of logic.
“It’s like insurance,” he said. After a few minutes of ranting about home insurance, it was clear he was lost so I stopped pushing. A few minutes later, I wrapped things up, and we headed to the bus station.
“I want to find a private room in Santiago,” he began.
“I already booked a bed for myself in a hostel dorm.”
“They probably have a private room.”
“I already paid.”
Several hours later, we arrived in Santiago where a heavy dampness coated everything, the fall flu and cold having settled in, plaguing pale faces and coughing throats.
K was out of cash so we stopped at an ATM. When he tried to take out money, it became clear that his bank had put his account on hold since he hadn’t warned them of his international travel ahead of time. Apparently he had realized this problem a week ago at another ATM, but *had done nothing about it. We tried several banks before one, which hadn’t yet been alerted by his own bank, finally spit out money.
He grabbed a bed in my hostel, wanting to make out in a room of twelve sleeping trekkers.
I was done with him. I was done with the camino. And now I am done with this post.
*One in 25 people are sociopaths and are missing all or part of their conscious. So that you, and others, can learn more, here is a list sociopathic traits that I pulled from some brief research (if you find this list to be in any way inaccurate, please feel free to offer corrections). As with any other human, sociopaths carry a range of personality traits. All of the following boxes need not be checked.
*initial charm or charisma–in contrast to later behavior
*oftentimes radiate sexuality
*manipulation and control
*isolating themselves and/or others
*few real friends, if any
*eerily calm in the context of highly emotional events
*outwardly calm, but can snap at any moment
*violent behavior (e.g. harming animals or people)
*no feelings of shame, remorse, guilt (refusal to accept blame; blames others)
*immaturity (e.g. not learning from mistakes)
The difference between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial or Sociopathic Personality Disorder (APD) has historically caused a great deal of controversy in the mental health field. Here are two resources that offer some insight, however, into the Narcissist versus the Sociopath:
1. Narcissistic vs. Antisocial or Sociopathic Personality Disorders
2. Narcissist or Sociopath? What’s the Difference?
The advice? “Do not validate the Narcissist and do not entertain the Sociopath.”
How we treat these individuals, socially and medically, is beyond my field of expertise, but is certainly something that our society must learn to better address.