Dear Friends, One and All:
First, please excuse me for
sending a formless form letter to
you. I am sorry to have to do it
this way, but I wanted to tell
you that I have returned from my
Camino venture. I am home. This
way seemed the easiest way for me
to do it. The easiest way for me
if not for you.
As many of you know, many records
of one kind and another have been
made or broken on the Camino de
Santiago de Campostela. I feel I
myself have broken a record on
the Camino. Not everyone can make
such a claim. I can. I was on the
Camino the shortest length of
time on record. Well, true there
was that Friar of the Middle
Ages, Santo Dingus Batticus who
thought the Camino was the way to
the outhouse but left after four
and a half miles and no outhouse.
It is true you begin the Camino
wherever you are. I guess I could
say I started in Joshua Tree but
I won't insist if people say I
really started in Roncesvalles in
What happened was that I wanted
to walk the walk. I even wanted
to talk the talk. But what really
and truly happened was that my
lungs insisted I go instead to Urgencias
of El Hospital de Navarra in
Pamplona. And there they took me.
And there I was examined by a
most remarkable young woman
intern who told me I had infeccion
de pulmones [lung
infection], which I kind of
figured out myself. (Actually,
her diagnostico was Infeccion
respiratoria.) She also
ordered chest X-rays, blood
tests, urine analysis, EKG. She
also prescribed the most
god-awful antibiotics known to
man or beast. When at last she
was finished with me, I asked
her, How much? Hay que
pagar?" And she said
loudly and clearly. Nada. Nada.
All that and it was free. Me as peregrino
And, incidentally, all this was
carried out in Castillian
Spanish. She spoke no English
except for "Okay." I
finally told her her Okay was
Okay. She also let me know that
if I didn't improve, I was to
return at once. Well, I haven't
improved a whole heck of a lot,
but a 12,000 mile round trip
seems a bit much even to see a
doctor. It occurs to me that in
July when people are being gored
in the so-called running of the
bulls, she may be on duty to sew
them up. That is a disgusting
thought, but then what do I know?
My hotel was in the old part of
Pamplona, the Maisonnave, near
the Plaza de San Francisco who
has this ugly looking, mean dog
beside him. And I found it ironic
that St. Francis could find a
place in the heart of Pamplona
with its running of the bulls.
Okay. Enough. I met in my brief
Camino lifetime many many
pilgrims whom I wanted to get to
know better. It is an
extraordinary group of people
from around the world who set out
on this journey. One was a blond
woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who
tried to teach me proper
breathing and proper exercise.
She finally had to give up on me
and walk on ahead because nothing
was working. I just couldn't
breathe, and breathing is kind of
important if you walk the Camino.
I met a woman from Holland who
wanted to walk and talk. I had to
wave her on because I was fixed
in my ways--so to speak. An
elderly Frenchman approached me
and said to take it slowly, one
step at a time. (Slowly? Hell, I
was so slow my boots didn't have
to move at all.) He let me know
this was his third trek along the
Camino. He reminded me of an Army
Captain I had in the infantry who
chewed me out because he could do
fifty push-ups to my five. Then
it occurred to me he is dead now.
So what good did his superior
push upping do him? But I liked
the Frenchman and I know he is
proceeding well along the Camino
at this very moment. There was a
huge Spaniard with a tiny Spanish
lady. He was smoking the biggest
cigar I have ever seen in all my
life. There was another Spanish
woman who carried a backpack as
big as she was. Both were
dragging. But she passed me and
went on up the hill while I was
still looking for what little
breath I could find. A Spanish
man in a hurry turned his head to
me as he passed and asked Ayuda?
[Help?] But he was gone before I
could say no. Or even yes. And
did I forget to mention that it
was raining fiercely all the time
I trekked? Or rather tried to
trek? It rained. A lot. We
trekkers marched and walked and
stood still in rain. I think the
cows loved it. Even I loved it.
I haven't mentioned the wild
flowers, the incredibly green
mountains of Navarra. It's as if
the flowers knew I was from the
desert and were showing that they
were superior to anything we have
here. And they were right. Their
colors were so intense and
brilliant it's as if they were
trying to escape the mud and
become blinding color. Just
color. They wanted to be pure
Platonic essence. No question
I retreated from all this. I had
to. I remember that when I led
Shamanic groups I always told
people that the bravest people
were the ones who knew when to
stop and to retreat. There would
be other days to fight. In the
town of Viskarret/Biskaretta, I
had passed a place called Casa
Rural. I went back there.
I needed to lie down, fast,
completely, drop, sleep, breathe.
I stepped into an entry room that
was perfect in every way.
Everything shone with Spanish
brown polish. An old woman came
out to greet me, and we spoke in
Spanish about a room. She said
that I was tired. It wasn't a
question. It was an observation.
And yes there was a room for me
without a bath. My boots were
clogged with mud and sheep shit.
My passport was wet. I thought it
was coming apart like me. She
took me upstairs to a room that
like the downstairs was clean and
loved and polished and cared for.
The bath down the hall was
likewise perfect for the likes of
me or anyone else. Perfect. Even
the bidet for God's sake. The
woman seemed like a strange
Medieval angel sent down to watch
over an American idiot with bad
lungs. For example, I had to go
out later to call Savya. As I was
leaving the house, she suddenly
appeared and said, "Momento."
She went back into her quarters.
I wondered what I had done now.
She returned with an umbrella.
She said it was raining out and I
needed this. I did. Later I
decided to unclog my boots. I
went outside to do it and she
came running after me with a
pointed stick to help dig the mud
Mass the night before in an
ancient church in Roncesvalles
was really quite appropriate. It
has been said here since the 12th
century. Pilgrims are blessed and
sent on their way. The Mass was
celebrated by six old monks all
in their white vestments and
incense and candles and chalices
and flowers. I was both moved and
unmoved, caught somewhere in
between. And oddly I thought of
my boyhood in the seminary and
all the time since then. I
realized that all these rituals
are just too serious and solemn.
No one giggles or laughs or even
smiles. As an altar boy I used to
giggle especially at weddings.
But I didn't giggle at this last
Mass. Besides just outside the
Church is a monument to Roland
and Charlemagne. It was here that
Charlemagne was busy retreating
from the Basques and maybe even
the Saracens who were attacking
his rear when Roland blew his
mighty horn to alert him and the
evil traitor Ganelon lied to
Charlemagne and told him not to
worry. Horn blowing was just
something Roland did every
evening about this time. Roland
of course was killed, but the
great Song of Roland the
famous medieval epic, was written
to record his heroism.
So was my journey then a failure? Shall I go back next
year and try to improve on my record, do it in even
shorter time and end up in the Guiness Book of Records?
What? I feel I have disappointed many of you, for which
I am sorry. But I feel my journey was really quite perfect
and quite what it was supposed to be. I think perhaps
my sitting in the waiting room at Urgencias in
Pamplona was a lesson I had to learn. Something about
compassion. Something about being genuine. I was among
Spaniards who were suffering, in pain, desperate. We
were in hospital gowns. One old old lady in a wheel
chair and her daughter who put her head on her mother's
arm and wept. The old lady occasionally touched her
daughter's arm, gently, softly, as if to say I will
go soon. I have to go soon and you will be all right.
But it was the touch alone that mattered. There were
no words. Just the touch, the tears. And another woman
receiving chemotherapy and vomiting and her daughter
running for a basin. An old man tended to by his wife.
When he was wheeled out, she marched stiffly back and
forth, back and forth. What would she do if he didn't
return? But he did return and she touched him, fixed
his collar, put his blanket around his legs more snugly.
And suddenly from nowhere there appeared a beautiful
girl about fourteen with a cell phone stuck to her ear
and laughing and talking and dancing back out of the
room again. She would never have to come to such a place.
She would never have to attend her dying mother. She
would never be a dying mother. She was gracefully, elegantly
dancing through life laughing and talking to people
she couldn't see.
And several people asked me,
["Are you alone?"] And
I said, "Si. Soy solo.
Y como no?"
["Yes. I am alone. And why
not?"] I wanted to say, who
isn't? But I didn't. That would
be pushing it. Right? Right.
Gerard Manley Hopkins has always
been one of my favorite poets.
Let me end this absurdly long
letter with some of his thoughts
on the subject:
Bitter would have me taste.
My taste was me.
PS If any of you have any
contacts with spirit guides and
teachers and dead gurus who
arrange for people to learn
lessons, the kind I had to learn,
for example, could you put the
word out that I appreciate the
lesson but could they next time
manage to have it happen closer
to home? Say in Twenty-nine
Palms? Or even Yucca Valley?
thought you might be interested
in what I discovered recently. As
you may know, there is a famous
black and white drawing of two
pilgrims on the Camino
done in 1568 by Jostamman. Now,
when placed under radionic
endoscopy, colors seem to float
in, strange letters appear, and
one pilgrim is wearing glasses
and smiling. They now think they
know the identity of this strange
creature: Frater Ricardissimus
Estu Pido, a well-known Galician,
Celtic Pundit who made it all the
way. He would. It has also been
learned that any future life
reappearances of this man or his
illegitimate descendants need not
walk the camino though it would
be okay if they walked a very
short distance. Isn't that a
fascinating discovery? They think
"JT" stands for
"REI" must be the
genitive case of "RES,"
meaning "thing." And
they are pretty sure
"VISA" stands for
"VISAN QUEST." As for
"REL," they throw their
hands up or return to their
computers. Any suggestions? I
love scholarship. Don't you?