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.

My New Smudge Stick

I bought a smudge stick while The Man and I were in Salem. I’ve seen them before in lots of other places, and have wanted one for years but always balked at the cost. Yes, I know they’re not that expensive, but for some reason I can always think of something else I’d rather spend the money on. But when we were in Salem, after doing a few hokey Halloween-y things and visiting a few historic spots, I dragged The Man into a couple of magick supply shops. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, just that something should be going home with me. I glanced over the smudge sticks in one shop, gently handling one, wondering if that was what I had come for. Instantly, a man called out “You don’t want that type – you’re looking for something with juniper!” I glanced up, startled, and he smiled. “You’ll prefer the juniper, it’s what you came for.” How could I refuse such a direct command? I quickly picked one of the other types of smudge sticks he was talking about, one with shasta sage and juniper, and sure enough, I loved the smell.

I’ve never smudged my own home before, though my roommate once cleansed our apartment, or tried to. It was a very negative space, and the cleansing didn’t work well, perhaps because neither of us really believed it would. My current home is a pleasant, safe place, and the only negativity in it belongs to the two humans who make it home. The Man and I are both realistic, with a slight dip in the negative direction. I wouldn’t call us pessimists, but neither of us is an optimist, that’s for sure! I’m slightly empathic, and I used to be much more positive before meeting The Man, but feel that I’ve picked up some of his emotional grey-ness over the five years we’ve been together. Today I woke up with this overwhelming thought that I needed to start over, to hit the reset button, and part of doing that would be expelling all of the left over negative energy that we have brought into this house since we moved in. It’s going to take a lot more than that, of course; it’s going to take changes in the way I encounter life, and let it encounter me, and it’s going to take meditation and prayer with intent, which is really a way to constantly hit the reset button, every day.

But first, smudging. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that the most important part of the process was to believe in it, and throw all of my good energy into making it work. I prepared by lighting a candle, after reading that it’s easiest to light a smudge stick from a candle rather than a lighter or match (or series of matches). I also found a bowl and put a little water in it. Traditionally, the parts of a smudging ceremony have to represent the elements, with the herbs of the smudge stick representing earth, the burning end representing fire, the smoke representing air, and the bowl representing water. I didn’t have a shell (which new-age sources say to use, but some Native American sources say definitely not to use), but I had a large, beautiful brass bowl carved with rippling waves, into which I put a little water just to solidify my intentions. I lit the smudge stick, and first used it to cleanse my energy, passing it over every part of my body and envisioning the smoke touching the energy field around me and carrying away the negativity and sickness that I’m currently feeling. I thought of healing, and light, positivity and focus for my writing career and personal life. Pretty much instantly, I began to feel physically lighter and mentally sharper. I felt relaxed and loose in a way I normally don’t. It was a great way to feel, kind of the way I feel after an intense jam session, after I’ve sung my heart out for an hour or so.

After cleansing myself, I then worked my way around the house, holding the smudge stick at every corner, door, window, and around the perimeter of every room, then to the center. I didn’t know what to say at first, but a vague prayer popped into my head: “Bless this house. Take away all negativity. Allow only beauty and light within these walls.” I said it over and over as I walked through the house, letting the smoke work its way around and through, carrying away all traces of negativity. I spent some extra time in a particular corner that my cats always spend hours looking at, where I’ve never seen a bug or even a shadow of movement. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

A few hours later and I’m still feeling good, relaxed, mellow. I wonder what the medicinal properties of the sage and juniper might be, and if that also has an effect on mental wellbeing. If so, it’s a welcome addition to my normally addled brain. The smoke smell is still around the house, and it’s lovely. Like I said, I’ve never felt ill at ease here, but if I’m going to start to make our life together more positive, I’ll need all the outside help I can get. Plus I suppose it’s good for me to get into practice with making my home spiritually safe, given the fact that I know when we buy a permanent home, it will be historic and most likely in need of a good cleansing.

Other than that, I’m also pretty excited. On a whim yesterday, I searched for classes in magickal topics, and ended up finding an online college for pagans. I’ve been pagan for years, but have had a hard time trying to incorporate magick into my everyday life just through reading books. Finally I’ll have a chance to learn with other people in an open-minded setting that doesn’t just cater to Wiccans (which I’m not). I’m really looking forward to this semester’s classes, “Intro to Numerology” and “Intro to Sabbats & Esbats”. Best of all, the school is free! I’m really looking forward to learning more about this kind of life. My belief in magick is very firmly rooted in my belief in science, and the fact that everything we know and see is composed of energy. Magick, like Reiki or more basically, like a defibrillator, is just collecting, optimizing and releasing the Universe’s energy for a specific purpose…in this case, to beautify and simplify life and help me bring health and happiness to those around me.