Friday, August 6, 2010

The Supernatural

6:31 PM, August 6, Palas del Rey, Municipal Albergue, Bed 64

Beyond the creepy graveyards and obviously haunted ancient churches that line the Camino, there are some supernatural beings that also can cause quite a scare. While my sister has spent the last few days collecting “photographic evidence” of ghosts in the Chicagoland area, I have been busy scaring up some stories of my own.

The Witches: Galicia is a province that was at one point settled by Celtic peoples; as such, some of the folklore has carried over into the modern day. By tradition, almost all of the bars in Galicia will have at least one witch perched next to the liquor or suspended from the ceiling. Some bars have witches everywhere you look, and it has become exciting to point them out and pick out the ugliest.

The Demons: If Dante had ever walked the Camino, he would have realized that there are really only three levels of Hell, each lined with its own type of demon. The uppermost level is the cyclists who have biked the Camino since St. Jean. While they mean well, it’s annoying to have to step out of the way whenever they ding their stupid bells at you and to watch them coast downhill like it’s nothing. Not fair. The second level of Hell belongs to a worse type of demon: the tourist. Since Sarria, the last town that you can start from and still receive your Compostela, thousands of tourist pilgrims have joined the Camino and started walking. With their reservations, their complaints, their lack of camaraderie, and their overall mentality of “The Camino is for ME,” it’s easy to despise them for thinking their 100 km is just as good as your 800 km. The final and deepest level of Hell, containing the worst demons, is owned by the obvious group: the tourist cyclists. No explanation needed. (Gottfried, an Austrian friend, would be remiss if I didn’t mention the deep pit in the center of Hell where we throw the tourists who walk on the Camino blasting music, talking on walkie-talkies, or—get this—trading stocks on a cell phone.)

The Ogre: Today, while waiting in a line for the albergue to open, a kind Slovakian woman moved her bag and her friend’s up when the line moved forward. A big mean Spanish man in a pink shirt then lost his mind. The (tourist) ogre yelled at her in Spanish; when she clearly didn’t understand, he turns to the others sitting around and called her a “fucking backward Polack” (translation). He then tried yelling at her in English, which was also unsuccessful, and apparently painfully so. Tears welled up in this poor woman’s eyes, and we felt terrible. I had even tried to explain why she moved the two bags (her friend was right around the corner) but he quickly cast me off. She was scared to pass the ogre and stand in front of him in line when the albergue opened and stood off to the side in tears until her friend came and walked with her in front of him. Gottfried, Daniel, the Italians, and I even had a plan: should the guy have yelled again, I was going to stand up to him since I spoke Spanish, get punched in the face and get knocked out (I can admit that I’m probably a one-punch kind of guy), and then Gottfried was going to rush to my aid with pepper spray and the others were going to beat up this ogre, once and for all. Maybe tomorrow.

The Giants: While sitting and eating dinner two nights ago, we hear a snare drum roll and horns start to blare and we turn to see two giant humans made out of wood and plastic and paint turn the corner. These two giants then danced with each other to the music, and we learned that these are the Gigantes de Barcelona. They then continued their parade through Sarria. The next morning, after walking an hour in the darkness, we rounded a corner to see the giants walking the Camino with the herd of orange-shirted supporters. After they took a break, we were then being chased by the giant people and the orange herd. We’ve come to learn they are tourist pilgrims who are walking the Camino for a publicity stunt for their group, placing them squarely in the second-and-a-half level down in Hell. I’ve now formally decided I don’t like giants or orange herds (but I guess herds of oranges would be fine…).

The Ghost: Today, I told Dan a story about a ghost from my past. It was painful to tell the story, but it was good to revisit it, as I had done in my mind often while crossing the Meseta. This ghost has haunted me for quite some time, and after talking with Dan I came to accept that I still have a lot of thinking to do before I’m able to exorcise the ghost’s presence. Ironically enough, when I checked my mail today in Palas del Rey, I found an email from the ghost, sent during the same period of time when I was telling Dan the story. Spooked and jarred in a way, I found myself in tears not too long ago while sitting in bed. Perhaps it is good to be haunted, for is a ghost not a perfect reminder not to make the same mistakes again?

The Frankenstein Monster: My left pinky toe is now a veritable Frankenstein monster. With scars and cuts and scrapes and skin peeling away and nail falling off, it looks like it could have only been created in a lab and then surgically pieced together onto my foot. However, my Frankentoe—or Frank, as I like to call him—can add humor to any situation. “How’s Frankentoe?” a friend will ask. I easily respond, “He’s attached to my foot, obviously. That’s how Frank’s in tow.”

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