Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 1) – Leaving Villafranca Montes de Oca

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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An early view from the day’s walk. Even the most difficult mornings carried their own quiet joys.

From the moment that I awoke, I was feeling run-down and pensive. The day was a struggle, one of the hardest of the Camino, especially mentally. It was also one of the most beautiful and memorable. It was the first day since leaving St. Jean Pied de Port that I walked alone for much of the day, something that provided me with a chance to reflect and come to terms with the changes that I intuited for my near future.

Since leaving home, my anxiety had abated significantly, but this morning I felt that old familiar post-anxiety attack feeling, like someone had hollowed me out, leaving my shell, both fragile and strangely pliant. I am always slower, sweeter, my sense of humor skewed slightly more towards the bittersweet (typically I’m firmly in the schadenfreude camp). I went with the flow, letting my body guide me, packing up and getting ready in a haze. As I’d thought they would be, my clothes were cool and damp in the morning. I knew I should have brought them in from the line overnight, but I left them outside anyway, and by morning they were soaked with fresh dew. It was crisp out, making the effort of donning clammy running capris especially daunting. My butt was cold, and my feet were freezing. I worried that I hadn’t brought enough clothes to get me through colder weather than this.

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This little guy REALLY liked my shoelaces. I’ve got a whole set of photos of him nom nomming away. I didn’t mind one bit; I’m not above bribing adorable kitties to like me.

As usual, I was one of the last few to finish packing and leave the dorm. I joined the rest of the pilgrims in the hotel’s little cafe/breakfast area, reveling in a steaming cup of cafe con leche and a little glass of sweet, freshly-squeezed zumo. I also seem to remember a slice of tortilla (which wouldn’t be hard to believe, given that I ate tortilla at every opportunity – several times a day, on average). This particular specimen must not have been great, though, because I can’t remember anything special in conjunction with that morning’s breakfast. The best part of the morning, as far as I was concerned, was after breakfast, when I plopped down in the garden and let the cats play with my shoelaces for a few minutes. This was just one of many animal experiences on the Camino, but again I was relieved to find that a few quiet moments shared with animal friends gave me the energy I needed to press on.

I walked away from Villafranca Montes de Oca in the morning with the knowledge that we wouldn’t all be heading to the same destination. Terry had decided the night before that she’d like to spend the night in Ages, a tiny, ancient town that she’d fallen in love with on her last Camino. Natalie and I had talked it over, and agreed to walk further, to a town called Cardeñuela Riopico. It would be a challenging day for the both of us, but would make up for some time we’d lost in taking a few shorter days, and also allow us to get into Burgos early the next day, on relatively fresh legs. The promise of a short walk, and maybe even a day off from the trail, buoyed me along for the first half of the morning. Even so, I was to spend much of the day alone, for better or worse.

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From time to time, the Camino Frances intersects with other hiking trails. The yellow arrow tells you that you’re still on the Camino (and headed the right way), while the other trail markers denote the other paths encompassed on this stretch.

Click here to read about Day 16 (Part 2). 

Rent & Kitties

My landlord lives out of state, and is seldom in town. I love that aspect of our relationship. What I don’t love is that it’s time for me to renew my lease, and I’m terrified to ask him about renewal. Last year he raised my rent by $50. If he raises it by any amount this year, I can’t afford to live here – and I’ve been desperately searching for other places that are in my price range and fit my needs (basically bigger than a shoebox, in a neighborhood where I won’t get shot, and willing to accept three cats) for months. There’s nothing out there. Nothing. Nada. I’ve even tried looking where the students live. Not to mention that to even get an apartment, I’d need to have first and last month’s rent on hand, and that’s just laughable. If I’m broke enough to buy cruelty-added eggs from Dollar General, I’m definitely in no place to put down first and last month’s rent on an apartment. This is my best option at the moment, so I’ve got to make it work.

That being said, guess who should show up yesterday but the landlord, who has his own vacation condo downstairs from my place? So now I’m hiding out in my apartment, praying that my precarious situation doesn’t unravel. Because not only is a raise in my rent imminent, I’m also only supposed to have two cats, according to my lease. But Charlie came along, and how was I supposed to say no to that little face and his tiny leg cast? So I’m now harboring a feline fugitive. Eventually it’s all going to come out, but for now, my best approach is to just hide and cross my fingers until the landlord goes back home to Wisconsin.

On top of the living situation fiasco, I think Isabel has fleas, which means that Munky and Charlie probably have them, too. I just gave them flea treatment two weeks ago, but the doctor told me that Frontline wasn’t working that well on this year’s super fleas, and I chose to chance it, and now my baby girl is scratching her chin a little too vigorously. I guess it’s time to break out the emergency credit card, for what it’s worth. I guess paying for expensive flea medicine is still cheaper than getting everyone treated for fleas AND worms in the long run. Need to call the vet and find out when the earliest new dose can be safely given, too. I just hate that it’s Izzy that’s itchy; we’re so closely bonded that when she spends time scratching, I start to get itchy, too. And I think that the stress or an allergic reaction to the fleas might be bringing back her little rodent ulcer that she gets. Her lip is looking slightly swollen. Plus, she’s going to be 10 this year, and her body is ever-so-slightly more angular and delicate than it has been. Watching her stress out even the least bit hurts my heart.

Munky’s been feeling fine ever since everyone switched over to the new food, but he was acting so calm and happy when he was on kitty Xanax when he was sick, and now he’s just not the same. That he would have that reaction isn’t much of a surprise, of course, but it did show me how he might exhibiting low-key examples of being stressed on a regular basis. I need to up my game to get him a stress-free environment. Of course, moving to a larger apartment would be a great start, but that’s not happening right now. So I’ve been looking into getting him calming treats, since we tried the pheromone diffuser a few years back and it backfired completely and made him a homicidal maniac. He’s starting to make a lot sense to me now that he’s my middle child. I’ve never really bonded with him as much as with Isabel (and now Charlie). His neediness has always been such a turn off. But now that he’s got bookend siblings, the neediness seems more justified, and makes me more patient. It’s terrible, but true.

Charlie’s only real health issue is still an annoying one, for both of us. Like most cats here, he has a type of herpes that mostly affects his eyes. It’s nothing serious, basically a bout of pinkeye every now and then that does have a small chance of causing complications. The doctor basically told me to keep an eye on him, feed him well and keep his stress levels down, and if he starts acting like his eyesight is affected, or if I see his eyes looking goopy, to bring him in. He’s been fine, but the thing that keeps his eye issue front and center in my memory is that, because he’s a white cat, he has light brown tear stains. This is my first time with a white cat, and he’s so beautiful that the brown stains really bug the crap out of me. So I’m going to get L-Lysine treats (or powder, haven’t decided yet), which I’ve read will help boost everyone’s immunity, and some little tear washing pads to make my little man super handsome. *insert baby talk here*

So yeah. Evidently I’m not only hiding out from the landlord, I’m living in a plague house. Need to find a second job so I can pay for all these damn cats.

Space, Time, Money

There is seldom any controversy in my household, since I live alone, with three cats for companions. But this is why, when there are disagreements with others in my life – even disagreements that live entirely in my head, never seeing the light of day – my tiny apartment becomes integral to my need for refuge and respite. In the same way, though, living in such a small space provides its own challenges. For someone who likes to share so much of herself in writing, in person I guard my space jealously. I don’t think clearly without a great deal of alone time. It’s hard to work out your problems when other people are on top of you, all day, every day. At this point in my life, I find it hard to believe that I’d ever be able to share my personal living space with another human being again (at least, any living space possible on my current meagre budget…maybe if I had a mansion, or at least two big apartments, side by side).

These were the thoughts taken into account last week, when I asked the boyfriend to give me some space. Not “we’re breaking up” space, or “stay out of my business” space, just literal SPACE. The ability to come home to my apartment in the evening, tired from work, without finding another human already here, watching TV, when I need silence and a hot shower to recover from my day. The knowledge that when I fall asleep at night, I can angle my body across the bed, and the only thing that might wake me up is a cat walking across my face (This is Isabel, every time. The cat has no shame.). An understanding that I can wake up at 7am and turn on every light in the house, even bang the pots and pans if I feel the need, no keeping my noises in check to avoid upsetting anyone. The ability to make every single choice in my space for myself, with no internal checks to make sure I wouldn’t be hurting/disappointing/irritating/in any way affecting another human being. Not feeling judged or inadequate about anything I choose to do, from cooking to reading romance novels to letting the floor go without vacuuming for way too long. Just living life on my terms, and getting to forego the exhaustion of constantly weighing my actions against the needs of others, even in a space that should be 100% my own, and free of judgment (but is not, of course, because I’m still in it).

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my finances. My freelancing job has dried up. I was having a hard time working 8 to 10 hours a day at my hotel job, a trip to the gym, a walk home, then fitting in freelance work on top of all that, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t need the extra income. Munky’s illness over Mardi Gras ensured that I started out March $500 in the hole, and I had an unexpected bill come in yesterday, as well. To be honest, adopting Charlie last summer was the first step in creating my current budget woes – all those checkups and shots and getting fixed, plus the little sprained leg when he first came my way. I love all of these cats, but they’ve really pushed me. Let’s not even consider what will happen as Isabel gets older. But it’s not all their fault. My biggest spending area has always been eating. Let’s not sugarcoat it. I have an addiction, and I keep it fed and fat and sassy. It has to stop. I’ve spent the last couple of days working and reworking my budget, trying to figure out how to make things work right now. I had a nightmare last night that the landlord raised my rent by $50, which in reality is the only padding I have at the end of each month. I woke up in a cold sweat.

On Monday I’ll talk to my manager about picking up some front desk shifts, even though I don’t know if I have the stamina for a full week of my regular job (which also regularly includes some overtime hours) plus 16 to 24 more hours standing at the front desk, smiling at all of those people overwrought from countless hours of travel, needy in ways I’ve yet to intuit, demanding a level of coddling that goes above and beyond everything I’ve previously known about hospitality. And this is assuming he can fit me in there; I don’t know if there are even any shift possibilities.

I don’t have the option of quitting my job to find something that pays better. For the first time in years, I really enjoy what I do. And I love working for Marriott; it’s a great company. All I need to do is hang in there, and eventually raises and promotions will come, and I’ll be fine. Just have to find a way to survive in the meantime.

In a weird way, this is going to be very good for me. It will help with the compulsive eating, as it’s hard to binge eat when you don’t have the money for food. I can make my budget stretch – eggs for the morning (free bacon at work), a crockpot of curry for my lunches, salads for dinner. I’m not sure how I’ll pay the donation at my Refuge Recovery meeting tomorrow night, but I might scrounge up change in the couch cushions and just explain I’m in a tight spot. My biggest worry in this particular moment is that I started getting a cold a few days ago, and at first it felt like nothing, but today I woke up with chest congestion and a deep, rattling cough and what seems to be a sinus headache. I’ve resolved to walk to the Dollar General at the end of the Bywater to see if they have any discounted medicine in the sale aisle. I also need to pick up some eggs, diced tomatoes, and coconut milk for the curry. I seem to remember that their canned good prices are pretty cheap. Much more of a savings than the food co-op, that’s a guarantee. Nothing organic, and probably everything low quality, but such is life.

In other news, it’s Day 18 of the social media detox, and I’m not going back to Facebook. It’s weirdly both an anxiety-machine and an anesthetic. I’ve gotten more reading done in the last three months than in all of last year, and my anxiety levels are significantly diminished. I’m talking to less people on a daily basis, without Facebook to encourage some conversations, but when I do talk to people, there is purpose and fullness. It is real.

I’ve also had some great one-on-one interactions with friends in the last week; it gives me hope for perhaps having a life in the future. I re-joined Meetup.com, and found two groups of outdoor enthusiasts who hike and camp, go birdwatching, etc. in Louisiana. I don’t have the money to participate much at the moment (still missing some basic equipment for backpacking trips), but it makes me excited to think that I could start shaping my life to include more of my interests, and finding friends who enjoy the same things I do. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard or worry so much about fitting in. Which is really a funny statement to write, because my solution to worrying about fitting in has always been to just forgo it, entirely. Anyway, that’s a thought for another blog post.

One of my girlfriends told me the other day that she’s planning to sell her condo and buy a house, preferably a double shotgun so she can rent out the other side. She told me that I was the first person who popped into her head, and she wanted me to be her tenant if she finds a place that she can afford to buy and I can afford to rent. I told her where I am right now, budget-wise, and that I’m happy to pay with additional elbow grease as she gets the house fixed up. We’ve known each other for over 10 years now, and I think we’d work really well together in a landlord/renter situation, sharing two sides of the same house. So I’m excited about that, even though it’s probably months away. Now to just cross my fingers that my rent here doesn’t go up $50 in the meantime…

Fur Faces

Just like humans, cats’ faces change by the second, reflecting their various moods and whatever point they’re trying to get across at the moment. Of course, no one likes to get a camera stuck in their face by surprise, and knowing that I was bound to tick off a whole house full of cats tonight, I chased everyone around to get in their business and see what kinds of shots could be taken. I feel pretty good about catching everyone in a natural pose.

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Isabel, who turns 10 this year, is typically solemn and a little suspicious (she takes after the human in the household). Here, she stands on my lap and asks what I’m doing waving my iPhone in her face. I’m sitting on the bed, and everyone knows that the bed is for cuddling with Izzy, not for taking crummy snapshots.

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Munky is 7 years old, and spends the majority of his energy seeking out kibble and affection. This is him trying to look nonchalant while also making googly eyes at me in hopes that he’ll get a butt rub. He did.

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Charlie’s still a baby, not even a year old yet, but already Isabel’s size. He’s all muscle, and spends most of his time running amuck. He plays fetch, and he makes little turkey gobble noises as he throws his body around the house at top speed. At night the house sounds like “GOBBLE! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, CRASH! THUD. GOBBLE! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP…”He’s also just learning how to be a proper cat, and is experimenting with cuddling for hours, purring for a second or two, and finally understanding the thrill of catnip. Don’t let this look fool you; he’s a maniac.

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Kuzia is an outside cat who technically belongs to my neighbor, but spends a lot of time on my front porch. He rules the neighborhood, and has his own barstool at a bar down the street. I feed him wet food when he visits, so it’s not uncommon to be walking back from the grocery store and find I’m being escorted home by a fierce little cat king. He seems to be composed entirely of bad attitude, and will consent to exactly one light body rub or two head kisses before he gets bored with you and walks away. This is him asking what the hell I’m doing interrupting his beauty sleep.

This post was a response to the Daily Post Photo Challenge prompt, Atop.

The Middle Child

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The Cabal (Izzy at back right, Charlie at front left, and Munky – playing all sweet and innocent, but don’t be fooled – at the front right)

I didn’t sleep very well last night. To begin with, I had trouble falling asleep, and then Munky kept waking me up all night. He’s always been a needy cat, but now that he’s on kitty Xanax for the UTI he’s even worse. It’s not exactly clingy-ness that I hate; it’s something more in his general behavior that’s always worked my nerves. And what makes it worse is that, though he’s a total jerk, he does it with this air of complete innocence that everyone eats up with a spoon. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t adore this damn cat, other than myself. Of course, I know that he’s a manipulative bastard, and you’re all being duped!

When Charlie plops down over my legs at night, he does it with the exact same attitude that he does in settling down beside either of the other two cats in the house. He’s relaxed and comfortable with me, and basically treating me like another cat. There’s a similar thing with Isabel – she has a specific place that she likes to curl up, right about hip level, and I toss my arm over her. She purrs deeply, and cuddles all night, obviously happy to be close. Both cats respond to my need to turn over/change positions throughout the night, and either go right back to sleep, or move away to sleep elsewhere. Similarly, they spend their days doing cat things, marching to their own drums, living lives that might include me but don’t HAVE to (other than the basics, like cleaning the litter and giving them food).

Munky, on the other hand, EXPECTS things. He follows me around with these big, dumb, sad eyes, kind of like a dog, but less endearing. Sometimes, if you watch him carefully, just for a second or so he’ll drop the act, and you can see the gears turning as he decides how to best mold you to his will. It’s insidious! I can’t go into the bathroom without him jumping up on the toilet to be petted. A trip to the kitchen warrants a volley of pitiful mews – he’s always in search of kibble, no matter how much he just ate. At night, once I lie down in bed, he likes to climb onto my torso (he’s big, so he takes up all the way from bladder to lungs, and weighs me down like a fuzzy, somewhat pliable cinderblock). He gets comfortable in this expectant way, his ankles angling into my bladder, and when I try to move, his body language fights it. He’s been known to dig in claws as I shift, but also follows that up with a seemingly genuinely mystified expression that says, “Oh, did that hurt? I didn’t even realize you were there!” And I’m not allowed to get truly angry, because he’s like a child, right? But really, it’s like some weird form of emotional abuse. He also likes to reach out and pet me on the face throughout the night – claws lightly extended. Sometimes if I don’t react, he gently hooks his claws onto my bottom lip just to see if I’m actually awake. Most of the time, his aim is to get petted, but sometimes he’s also looking for food. Last night he was lucky he avoided a firm boot to the ass after he woke me up about 10 minutes after I’d FINALLY fallen asleep. I had to put a pillow on my chest to keep him from finding a way to lie down on top of me after I’d put him off of the bed a couple of times. Ugh.

The thing is, I could probably ask my ex to take him. But Munky would be lost without Izzy, and Charlie would be lost without Munky (and Isabel really doesn’t give a care about either of them – god, I love that cat). Really, though, it’s not that bad. He’s not a holy terror. He doesn’t bite or scratch or destroy things, he doesn’t pee where he’s not supposed to, or really do much other than play fight with Charlie, ask for food and brushings, and sit on people. And most of the time, I’m not even that annoyed. But here he goes as I type, sitting across the room, staring at me with those soulless, calculating eyes, like some demented, extra-cute teddy bear/cat hybrid, puzzling out how to work me into giving him extra kibble before bed.

Let’s face it, cats are just the worst, and being a cat lady is its own special kind of crazy. Who else would put up with this crap?

Deactivation: Tiny Update

So I spent the better part of my evening building a new Spotify account, since it turns out that if you don’t have an active FB page AND your Spotify account was opened using FB as the login credentials, you can’t access the Spotify account. So I opened a new account using my email address, rather than FB, then painstakingly recreated all of my playlists. After that, I cancelled the old account, because by that point I was incredibly ticked off. I’m not even going to try to imagine how many more sites or apps I’m going to have to do something similar with later on in the week. Ugh.

On the other hand, I finally got around to using the Messages program on my Mac, and that’s pretty cool. It blends your phone’s SMS capabilities with the handiness of your computer keyboard, which is useful if you’ve got friends who prefer to talk through text, but you hate trying to use the little touchscreen keypad on a cell phone. Had a short conversation with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks, and got to actually talk instead of being the texting version of monosyllabic.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but another source of stress is my cat, Munky. He started getting sick with another UTI on Sunday night, and I took him to the vet first thing on Monday. They couldn’t keep him overnight, since they were closing early for Lundi Gras, and weren’t going to be open on Mardi Gras. So they sent me home with a bunch of meds, and instructions for watching to see if he was going to pee. Oh, and a $500 vet bill that represents my next chunk of debt (what, you thought I magically had $500 on hand?). Anyway, they gave him X-rays to see if he had any blockages, since crystals or stones can be fatal to cats, but just like last time, no blockage. Last time it was bacterial, so we’ll wait for their samples to culture and see what pops up.

They already gave him an antibiotic shot, which is nice, since they sent me home with syringes and two different pills, to be given twice daily, and both Munky and I are very unhappy about that. I have a huge gouge on my palm from him not taking kindly to me trying to wrap him into a kitty burrito, and he isn’t talking to me after last night’s rounds of meds. I’ve got a new pill syringe and a cat isolation bag thing coming, since we’re going to have weeks of this, and one of us will probably not survive if I don’t make some high-tech moves to improve the situation.

The biggest way to improve the situation would be to cut down on his stress levels, by giving him (and Izzy, and Charlie) more space to roam. I know that getting a bigger apartment would definitely would cut down on my stress levels from being overrun by cats. And wouldn’t it be great to have access to a washer and dryer that wasn’t literally a mile’s walk away? (For that matter, could you imagine having a car? Oh, the luxury.) I’ve been looking around, but there’s just nothing in my budget in a neighborhood I’d feel safe living in. Plenty of places just slightly over what I’m paying now if I’m happy with hearing gunshots on the next block, but I’m just too old to be brave about that kind of crap anymore. Plus, what if I lost my freelance gig? It’s feeling precarious lately, and my hotel gig definitely isn’t covering all of my bills right now. I’m so tired of squeaking by. They say that you’re supposed to dress for the job you want, but how do you do that if you can’t even afford a new pair of pumps? I started this job with a wardrobe of thrift store finds, and those already old clothes are just getting rattier. I can’t seem to catch a break, between things breaking and the cats. And I could make more money if I could handle the idea of dealing with 10 clients’ social media accounts all day, every day, but I’d be dead or committed within a year. I just can’t be a marketer anymore. My brain is stressed to the breaking point as it is. There has to be another way forward. Just have to hold on, promotions happen like clockwork, gotta have patience.

And just like that, my blood pressure rises.

OK, time to not think myself into stress circles over all the things I can’t do anything about. Gonna pop on a hypnotherapy recording and call it a night. Turns out Spotify has a bunch of Glenn Harrold recordings; he’s my favorite disembodied voice when it’s time to catch some shuteye, though it’s an acquired taste. If you’re like me, and haven’t had success with meditation yet, you might like hypnotherapy recordings as a way to bridge the gap a little bit. I’ve found that some of the subliminal messaging does end up rubbing off. My favorites of Glenn’s are Relax & Sleep Well, Detox Your Life, and Spiritual Weight Loss (which is weirdly less about me wanting to lose weight, and more about loving the fact that it consistently puts me to sleep in under a minute or two). Do you ever listen to hypnotherapy to fall asleep? If you’ve got a favorite, let me know.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I totally forgot and typed Facebook into my URL bar somewhere close to five times today. Usually it happened while I was online doing some other mindless thing, then got sidetracked, and suddenly found myself trying to get to my Facebook page. Which obviously didn’t happen, since I deactivated first thing this morning, but it was still really weird to find my fingers having a mind of their own, and deciding it was time to go to Facebook.

Day 14: Anna’s Camino – Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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If you’ve been reading along, you might remember that I had my first “Camino moment” in Zabaldika, after reading some beautiful thoughts from the nuns there. My second Camino moment happened on Day 14, in Grañón, Spain. It’s not a pretty thing, but it was a raw, emotional occurrence that changed me in some mysterious way, so I’ll tell you.

I don’t remember much about leaving Santo Domingo de la Calzada, except that we met at the same little restaurant where we’d had dinner, and had one last coffee with Australian Mark, who would be staying behind for one more day on doctor’s orders, until they could make sure that he didn’t have any lasting damage from that blow to the head. English Mark met us there, as well, and that’s the last time Natalie remembers seeing him, though I ran into him once more later in the day. We had our coffees and juice, said our goodbyes, and got back on the road. Natalie was walking faster than I was that morning, and I trailed behind her, sometimes catching a glimpse on the road ahead, other times chatting with new pilgrims as we passed on the road.

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Along the way, we walked through a little hamlet and met up again for a mid-morning snack at a lovely little albergue. We met Ruth, a bubbly Anglican minister on holiday, and chatted briefly with her as she decided whether or not to call it a day and stay here in this town instead of moving on. The hospitalero was a woodcrafter, and had some beautiful simple jewelry on display. Before leaving, I bought what are still my favorite pair of earrings, little teal circles with tiny, yellow, applied wooden arrows, a reminder of the yellow arrows that mark the Camino. After a quick bathroom break, we walked on, and Natalie quickly pulled ahead again, heading towards Grañón.

I’d read about Grañón before, and had heard that it’s a magical place that pilgrims tend to love. I didn’t have the same experience, and for a long time, I thought that maybe people were wrong. Now that I know a little more about magic, especially in relation to totem animals, I’m inclined to believe with the original assessment. Just because something’s magical and life-changing doesn’t mean that it’s got to be all sunshine and lollipops while it’s happening. Anyway, as I walked into town, I encountered a small, starving dog on the street. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, as heart-breaking as that might be. Animals aren’t put on a pedestal there like they are in the U.S., and I’m not in a place to pass judgment, but I did feel heartbroken quite often over it then. This dog came up to me, and I petted her and scratched her belly for a little while, until a dour-looking old man clomped down the street, waved his cane at me, and shouted at the dog. She cowered, then scampered away, he scowled at me, and I moved on, shocked.

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A few blocks farther down the street, I spotted a bunch of pilgrim packs outside the door to a cafe, and saw that Natalie’s bag was there, as well. I stopped, heaved off my bag, and started to walk into the cafe. At the threshold, I noticed two grown cats and two sets of kittens, all sick, eyes swollen shut and noses dripping. I wondered how many of the kittens would live through this. My brain stopped, and something else happened. It was like I was standing outside of myself, watching everything unfold. I watched myself grab a kitten, clutch it to my chest, then collapse on a nearby bench, sobbing uncontrollably.

It’s hard to explain what was going on, because I didn’t exactly know, myself. I was causing a scene, crying quite loudly. The kitten squirmed, trying to get away from the crazy lady holding it in her iron embrace. Pilgrims rushed out of the cafe, and suddenly I was surrounded by kindhearted souls who thought I must be seriously injured. People were asking me “what’s wrong? what’s wrong???” and all I could manage through the sobs was, “The kittens, LOOK!” After a minute or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t hurt, and was just having a little mental breakdown, and people left me to cry. The kitten wriggled out of my arms and ran back to its brothers and sisters. A couple of fellow cat ladies patted my hand and told me that they understood, but I could see that they were as mystified as I over this ridiculous outburst. I apologized, pulled myself together, picked up my bag, and decided to move on, with or without Natalie. To me at that moment, it seemed that the town was obviously full of negative energy, and I needed to get out.

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I had walked almost to the town border when I caught a glimpse of an adorable little terrier sitting on the bench at the bus stop. This little guy was exactly everything that I’d ever want if I were to adopt a dog – he was small, sandy-colored, shaggy, smiling, and his little body just quivered with excitement as I got closer. He looked so joyful compared to everything I’d just experienced, and I was drawn to him. I dropped my bag on the bench, took a seat, and spent the next 15 minutes getting a huge dose of much-needed love from the little mystery dude. I tried to take a photo of the two of us, but every time I’d push the button, he’d give me another kiss. It was incredibly restorative, especially since he was wearing a collar and was well-fed. It renewed my faith in humanity, at least for a few moments. Eventually, I’d been sitting long enough that Natalie happened along, and the little dog was very happy to offer her some love, as well. After a few minutes, we reluctantly said goodbye to the pup and walked on. Here’s a little slideshow of our meeting…

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The rest of the day is a blur. I remember walking through Redecillo del Camino, a town famous for its elaborate baptismal font. We stopped and took a look, and had a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. At some point in the day, I also ran into English Mark for the last time, also at a cafe. Maybe this was the same one? I can’t remember, and Natalie doesn’t remember seeing him again after breakfast, but when I saw him for the last time, he called me over to the bar, almost giddy in his eagerness to tell me a story he’d just heard about a road marker we’d passed earlier in the day, called the Cross of the Brave:

In medieval times, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón were locked in a dispute about the land the lay between the two towns, particularly who had rights to the lumber there. The towns were constantly fighting, and finally someone thought it would be smarter to just pick a champion for each town, and have them fight it out. The winner would determine which town had land rights. On the day of the big fight, the champion from Santo Domingo arrived, covered in oil. The only way the champion from Grañón could best the oily bastard was to grab him by the only part that wasn’t greased up – his anus. The fighter from Santo Domingo was thus thrown out of the ring (some say off a cliff), and Grañón won rights to the land, though the winning fighter died only days after the battle. Soon after, the Cross of the Brave was erected in memory of the fight. Mark finished telling me this story with, “But which one was truly the ‘brave’ one?” followed by a deep belly laugh. I’m glad that’s my last memory of him.

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The baptismal font at Redecillo del Camino.

Natalie and I covered another 15km, but I don’t have many photos. That night we ended up at an albergue called the Cuatro Cantones, and it turned out to be a lovely spot, run by a very nice family. Our friend Terry from Seattle was in Belorado that day, so once we got settled into our room, she came over and we all went out for a late lunch at a nearby bar. I can’t remember if I took a nap or not, but for the first time, I did no sightseeing (despite the fact that the town looked really interesting, and I sincerely regretted not being able to see more). That night, Natalie and I had dinner at the albergue restaurant, and invited the other peregrina from our small room (only three of us there – yay!) to join us. She was not a native English speaker, but between the three of us, we got along famously and had a great dinner together. After dinner, I snuck away to an empty bedroom to call my parents, then it was lights out.

Click here to read about Day 15.

Photography Friday: Rewards

Today’s photo challenge at the Daily Post is to show what “reward” means to us. It turns out that I’ve taken a few photos over the course of the last few weeks that exemplify the term in various ways. Looking back through them has made me realize how easily I forget the simple pleasures encountered every day. I tend to notice details, and love the little scenes captured on my walks through New Orleans (and elsewhere), but it would be nice to hold on to the feeling of discovering these vignettes in my heart, rather than having to be reminded by looking back over my Instagram page.

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I walk through the French Quarter every day, and often pass a little art gallery full of really cool/creepy art. Every now and then there’s a cat sitting in the window, along with the artwork. Each time I pass, I look for the cat, and when I see her I’m always happy. It feels like a privilege, somehow; she’s so regal.

The other part of the story that makes this an even better reward is that you can’t see it in this photo, but the cat’s other ear is docked at the tip. In New Orleans, when feral cats are part of the catch and release program (where they’re caught, spayed/neutered, then released), they get one ear docked. This tells me that this gorgeous girl was once living on the streets, but has since become the queen of her own art gallery. Pretty sweet rags to riches story.

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I love looking for good new graffiti, no matter what city I’m in. Thus far, my all-time favorite street art has been in Venice, but New Orleans’ scene isn’t too shabby. Our city attracts a lot of outside artists, including WRDSMTH, a Los Angeles-based writer/painter who’s been posting awesome stuff like this typewriter and message around town for awhile. This popped up in my neighborhood, and every time I look at it I end up laughing. So I guess that the reward is two-fold for this photo, as well. First finding it, then getting to laugh over and over.

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This shot was taken on Lundi Gras night (the night before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), down by the Mississippi River. I was with friends, just hanging out, and we didn’t know that there were going to be fireworks. This was a great reward for me because I really hadn’t felt like leaving my house that day, despite (or maybe because of) the celebration that was going on. I adore fireworks, so getting to see them was like a little “thank you” from the Universe for just pushing myself to lighten up a bit and go have fun.

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While in Chicago last week, I decided (quite stupidly) to walk from the restaurant where I’d just had dinner, all the way to the nearest movie theater. A distance of about a mile and a half isn’t bad in decent weather, but when it’s 10 degrees out and you’re not at all accustomed to that kind of cold, it’s just a crappy idea to try to do it on foot. But I did, and it all worked out just fine. Still got all of my digits. Bonus: it was beautiful and quiet out, didn’t meet very many people on the way, and every now and then a scene like this would present itself.

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This is the least exciting photo, but my favorite. I took it last night; it’s the parking garage that sits behind my gym. I had a good workout, then left the gym to see that the parking garage was looking really nice with the contrast of streetlights and night sky. Sometimes I feel like being allowed to notice and appreciate beauty in such mundane things is its own reward. The fact that it showed up after a particularly good night of working out was just that much sweeter.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light (On My Favorite Cat)

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Yeah, I know I’ve already posted one entry for this week’s challenge, but yesterday I caught an interesting glimpse of my cat Isabel through the camera lens, and thought it was worth sharing. We’re technically supposed to be sharing a light source, but you’ll have to take this at the more metaphysical level – she’s the light of my life, and also has a way of shining brighter when there’s a camera trained in her direction. I caught her yesterday basking in the brightest spot of sunlight in my apartment, and loved the crazy contrast of this shot.