I skipped breakfast in Refuge Haizea and left Espinal directly at 8:00 a.m. I decided to carry my backpack today rather than sending it ahead; little did I know what a rough day it would be, with little payoff in regard to views and a major emotional upheaval. It would be one of the worst five days on my Camino.
I walked on narrow paths between wire fences bordering sheep and cow pastures and under a heavy sky that threatened rain all day without delivering. I walked on paths through mature beech and pine forests and crossed stepping-stones over the río Erro. The landscape changed elevation numerous times, peaking at Alto Mezquiriz, dipping to the río Erro, rising and dipping and rising again.
At around 10:30 in Viskarreta, I stopped at a café for a potato tortilla, orange juice and café con leche; this breakfast would become standard fare for “second breakfasts” on my Camino, although this was my first today. I used the WC for the only time during the entire walk. I walked past an ancient-looking cemetery with a stone cross at the gate. Today’s path was rough, covered in either gravel or large loose rocks, surfaced in cement patterns imitating paving stones, or paved in uneven or weird ways.
In the cute town of Linzoain, I sat on a stone wall and ate Havarti cheese and chocolate I’d bought at the supermarket in Viscaretta. The wall bordered a pelota court (frontón). Pelota is a Basque or Spanish game played in a walled court with a ball and basket-like rackets fastened to the hand. A scruffy black dog came to visit, nudging us and begging for a petting. Annette from Ireland, who Ingrid and I had met on the descent from the Pyrenees, sat with me on the wall and smoked an electric cigarette. Several other pilgrims stopped to chat as well. It was a nice break from my backpack, which was making my life miserable.
Back on the woodlands path, stony at first but eventually turning soft, I had a nice chat with Pather from Ireland. We commiserated about Trump and all the nationalism in America, Europe, and throughout the world, beliefs seeking to divide us rather than build bridges. He took off before long and I walked in shade scented with pines and boxwood.
I chatted a bit with a group from California who had been at Orisson: Anne-Marie, her husband Gary (who was walking after double hip and double knee replacements), their daughter Kaylee, and their friend Beth. Ingrid had connected with Anne-Marie at Orisson, while I’d felt disconnected. This is often the story my life. I see people relating well to one another, and I’m standing on the outskirts, feeling baffled by my own aloofness.
At the last high point, Alto de Erro, I stopped for lemonade at the mobile cafe Kiosco. At an outdoor table, I chatted with Peter from Charlotte, NC, his daughter Beth, and her husband Matt; we had passed each other numerous times on the path. Beth works as a fitness coach in Manhattan, coaching clients in all areas of fitness: spiritual, nutritional, and physical. I shared with her that my oldest son had dallied with the idea of being a fitness coach but chose a butchery apprenticeship instead.
The worst part of the day was from the mobile cafe down a perilous and steep rocky path 3.5 km through woodlands to Zubiri. I feared it would never end. It was a rough scree-covered descent, taxing and ponderous. My knees and toes took a serious beating. I kept expecting to catch sight of Zubiri, but with a dense cover of trees crowding the mountainside, I saw the town only when I was right down on it.
Coming into Zubiri, I crossed the Puente de la Rabia, a medieval bridge over the Río Arga. Legend had it that any animal led three times around the central arch would be protected from rabies. This is also the likely site of a former leprosarium.
Here, Joy from Orisson told me she’d walked with Ingrid, who had already checked into her place in Zubiri. “She missed you today,” she told me. I wondered how on earth Ingrid had passed me without me seeing her, as she’d started 4 miles behind me in Roncesvalles.
The place I had reserved in Zubiri was an oasis in an otherwise ugly town: Hostel Suseia, the pilgrim’s home. It was nearly a mile off the path, meaning I’d have to walk back to Zubiri’s entrance in the morning. I was assigned a top bunk for the first time. It was so crowded that one lady planned to sleep on the floor. Four Australian ladies I’d met in Orisson couldn’t find a bed anywhere in town. They had carried their packs for the first time today, as I did, and they were not happy. They decided to take a taxi to Pamplona, my destination for the next day.
The pilgrim dinner at Suseia was a wonderful gourmet meal: a salad with pomegranates, quiñoa, greens, and tomatoes, followed by a cold tomato cream soup garnished with cucumber, bread with chorizo, and polenta in tomato sauce. Desert was a refreshing chilled lime pudding. The gentle and welcoming owner, Aya, served dinner with loving-kindness. I would encounter several fellow pilgrims I met at Suseia numerous times in the following days, especially the newlyweds Claire and Matt, and Lisa and her brother Josh. I also met Pat from Seattle, who I’d meet time and again on the early part of the Camino.
After dinner, my husband called with distressing news. Someone I dearly love, who lives a great distance from us, called feeling worthless. His money was gone, and he’d applied for a job at Subway (a chain sandwich shop) and was rejected. In desperation, he considered committing robbery, questioned the point of living, and ranted about the “system” and how the world needs to change, how he’s a shaman and hears the voices of angels. At one point in their conversation, my husband told him he was crazy, at which time our loved one hung up. Later, in follow-up phone call, my husband got so upset, he was the one to hang up.
I was devastated by news of this call, although we have heard our loved one express such bewildering thoughts on numerous occasions. As much as I have wanted to believe he is idealistic, gifted and possibly in tune with something in the universe to which most of us are oblivious, I was paralyzed by his description of “voices.” No elaboration was offered. I would have liked to ask, but it wasn’t my phone call and I would be too terrified to find the truth, What exactly are these voices? Are they the voices that a poet, an artist, a musician call inspiration, intuition? Voices that creative artists describe as speaking through them when they write or paint or compose? Or are they the “voices” used so often when diagnosing mental illness?
Suddenly, after this phone call, I found myself straddling a threshold between two worlds. One was the world of my all-too-real life, telescoping backwards to my childhood and currently to this ominous moment with my loved one and forward to a foreboding future: the childhood during which my mother believed people were out to get her, walked in front of a neighbor’s Volkswagen van, was committed to a mental institution and underwent electroshock therapy, drove herself into a tree, unsuccessfully attempted suicide other times, and sat for entire days at our kitchen table in a smoke-filled zombie-like state, drinking wine while on anti-psychotic medications; the present day with my brilliant and gifted loved one who continues to make decisions we don’t understand or feel are productive, who wants the world to change, utterly and completely, at this very minute, and who can’t seem to figure out how to get along in our deeply flawed society; and the unknowable future, where he could go on making self-destructive decisions, or worse, commit a desperate and devastating act.
The other world, on the other side of this threshold, was of course the Camino itself, a world removed from real life yet, at the same time, a reflection of it, a world where there was possibility and hope that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other, offering prayers and sharing with pilgrims, all could be righted in life.
I told my husband I would cut my Camino short and come home on the next plane if my loved one would check into a hospital for evaluation. I would remain helpless if his attitude stayed the same; he doesn’t believe in so-called “mental illness,” distrusts the “system,” and believes messages he receives are gifts. Unless he wanted to get help, there would be no reason for me to return.
So, I would continue walking, and praying. My husband suggested maybe this was where I was meant to be during this trying time. I would take my Camino one day at a time, and if I needed at any point to return home, I would.
Still, I was heartbroken, shattered. I wept in the dark entryway of the hostel among jumbled hiking shoes and poles hanging on pegs. Pilgrims came in and out; there was no space to be alone, so when some asked me what was wrong, I confided in them about what was going on.
I felt angry about the unfairness of it all. Why should I have to suffer through this in childhood and again, now, as an adult? Well. Of course. Life simply isn’t fair.
I can understand fears about being labeled and stigmatized, about the impreciseness of medications, about being shocked or locked up. I can understand the fear of losing one’s essence on powerful drugs and treatments. I saw the effects of these on my mother. I had these fears myself throughout my teens and 20s, worried about the hereditary nature of her illness. Although I am not a firm believer in the remedies available, I feel at least some attempt could be made to try them, or at the very least, to talk to a professional.
Full of angst, I tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep, finally taking a Valium to calm myself down. At about 3:00 a.m., I woke up, heart racing, and took another half Valium.
The problems with my loved one would become a near constant on my Camino and I often shared with other pilgrims my fears, worries, and even my hopes. I would find consolation from many compassionate people, some of whom would share a related story that was highly personal, without offering unwanted advice. After a deep talk, they would often disappear on the horizon and I’d never see them again.
It was almost as if my fellow pilgrims were angels that dropped in to console me. For that I would be eternally grateful.
*Day 3: Thursday, September 6, 2018*
*26,437 steps, or 11.2 miles: Espinal to Zubiri (15.3 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. In this case, one of my intentions for my Camino was to write using all my senses to describe place and to capture snippets of meaningful conversations with other pilgrims.
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation. You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.
Include the link in the comments below by Monday, February 11 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, February 12, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂
- Jude, of Travel Words, wrote a follow-up piece about trying to get a crime report in Windhoek, Namibia, after she and her husband were mugged and robbed.
- Jude, from her other blog, Under a Cornish Sky, wrote a piece full of sights and sounds of summer in Cornwall, with a sketch from her journal as well.
- Pauline, from Living in Paradise…, wrote about a day trip she took to visit a Buddhist temple full of curves.
Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂
I feel so dispirited reading this, Cathy. I sometimes feel we spend our whole lives running away from ourselves, and we can’t succeed, can we? I know all too well the alienation you speak of. I feel that often, even with the happy face on. The past lays deep scars, doesn’t it? I’m glad you found so many people to comfort and confide. I hope that your loved one has finally accepted help, Cathy, though I know from experience that the medical professions don’t have all the answers. Sending hugs, darlin. I’ve followed many of your rocky paths too. You’re not alone and maybe writing it out of your system will help.
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I’m dispirited too, Jo, as things keep repeating themselves and are even at this very minute still in upheaval. I fear it will never end, or at least settle down. I really think the mental health remedies are not great, so I don’t know how things will sort themselves out. I don’t think he will ever agree to seek help. He believes everyone in the world is wrong except him.
I wish writing it out of my system would help. It helps my mentality, I guess, but the situation remains the same – always challenging. Thanks, Jo, for your thoughtful comment. xx
It’s symptomatic of the illness that the world conspires against him, but until he is in such a corner that he has no choice there aren’t any answers, Cathy, and I’m very sorry for that.
I know that is a symptom of the illness, Jo, so it requires a strong united front from us, as parents. It is difficult to do, and I’m tougher on him than Mike, so we are always pushing and pulling in different directions as to our actions. Mike always wants to help (money-wise, listening for hours on end), but the “help” never actually helps and leads to more foolish decisions. I believe he needs to be pushed in a corner until there are no other options. It’s hard to be tough like that when you love someone and don’t want to watch them self-destruct. Sadly, in the end, the person will either listen to and be controlled by the illness, or they will listen to the family who loves them. Ultimately it will be up to him. Each day, I’m on edge, especially since New Years. xx
God love you, hon- I do know how that feels. It’s a bit role reversal with us as I’m no good at being strong. I have soft touch written all over me. But in the end, you’re right. We had no choice- he was hospitalised. It’s been a long, slow crawl since then. I don’t know how Lisa copes. I’m much too selfish. I can only hope that between you there’s a peaceful resolution.
My heart goes out to you and Lisa, Jo. Thank you for sharing. Being hospitalized would be the best thing I could hope for, so I wish for that in this case. Seeking professional help, or getting it (maybe by force?), is the only solution. Otherwise, I don’t see any end in sight, sadly.
Have a great day. It’s rainy today here, but luckily not too cold – that is until a new cold front moves in later this afternoon. 🙂
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I was glad to read that you had the support of fellow walkers during this difficult time, Cathy. I hope by now things are better for your family member.
Thanks, Carol. Thank goodness I was on the Camino during this. I wish I were there again now, because, no, nothing is better. If anything, it’s worse. xx
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That’s a shame. A work colleague of mine has done the walk twice and enjoyed it even more the second time she went.
I met many people who have done the Camino Frances numerous times, and they have loved it each time. I don’t think I’d want to do the same route again, as part of the excitement is the ever-changing and new landscapes and people.
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Oh, Cathy, life can be sad…. I’m pleased you had people to listen and comfort, and hope that your loved one has sought help.
I was glad I had so many people to share with, Sue, although they probably got tired of hearing about it! No, my loved one has not sought help as he doesn’t believe he needs it. We cannot force him into treatment as 1) it won’t work unless he wants it; and 2) we have no legal power to commit someone unless they hurt someone or themselves.
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Your mother, my mother – same story except mine didn’t smoke so much. My dad did the smoking. Your loved one, mine too though different mental health issues. What to do? Keep on walking, praying – seems as good a plan as any. As you said they have to want help and then what kind of help is best? Having seen the damage to individuals and families psychiatric hospitals of the past caused its hard to see that route as the answer. Youvare very brave to speak so openly of these things – may you meet many more angels on your path.
I’m sorry you had to deal with something similar with your mother, Suzanne, as well as your loved one (although different issues, as you say). Yes, what is there to do but exactly what you suggest and exactly what I did. I felt so hopeful at the end of the walk because so many positive changes happened during that time, after several more miserable interactions. I really had hope, but it’s all falling apart again now. I’m so tired of the burden of it all. I hardly have the energy to get through the day now, but I just try to keep occupied, meditate, pray and walk.
It sounds like the person you write of is going through a very active stage of the illness. I guess the bottom line is -“are they becoming a danger to themselves and/or others?” If that is the case action is called for. A friend had to get her brother committed when he was like that. He hated her for ages and wouldn’t allow her to visit him in hospital. Unfortunately his illness progressed and he has forgotten that now. The doctors say he is very ill and won’t be out in the community for quite some time.
It’s important to remember that psychiatric medicine has come a long way from those terrible days of multiple shock treatments and drugs that immobilised. These days treatments are much more refined (we have had to go down this path with my son and with a niece). Fortunately my son sought help before it got too bad. My niece is another story – a very sad one to do with taking bad drugs at dance parties.
In my experience people in the active stages of mental illness often come to the attention of police or health workers because of their behaviour. Sometimes these people step in and act – this was the case with my niece.
Think about where you person is situated – where do they live etc? Are there social workers you can alert to his difficulties? Are there house mates who might help?
Beyond that there is caring for yourself. As you said, the situation is wearing you down. That won’t help anyone. Worry destroys the body I find and can lead to serious illness (I know this from personal experience). Take a step back, do what you can to centre yourself in your own energy – create, meditate, walk in nature, see a therapist yourself if that’s what needed. Rest when you need to. Throw old schedules out the window and let your body tell you what it needs. I’ll reblog an old post that might be of some help to you today. Take care and thinking of you – love Suzanne
We actually called the police on him when he lived with us: he went ballistic and started punching holes in our walls and tried to smash our TV. However, when the police came, they said unless he harmed someone or himself there was nothing they could do.
He now lives across the country with my older son, and I’ve advised my son to do the same if things get out of control, which they did just this week. He chose not to call though. If he did get arrested, at least we could insist he be evaluated.
I’m glad to know treatments are more refined these days, but still, it’s getting him to be treated that is the challenge. He is totally against the “labeling” of himself as ill, and because of that he refuses to submit to any evaluation or treatment.
The main thing I’m doing now is trying to take care of myself, but I have this constant buzzing inside me that is making it almost impossible to relax. Sometimes meditation and prayer help, others not. Walking is always relaxing, but not in the weather we’re having now. One day at at time; I’m trying not to think further ahead than today, because otherwise I’ll drive myself crazy. Thank you so much for sharing, Suzanne. xx
Sounds like you are doing all you can. I don’t know the system over there in America. Where ever you are these things are incredibly difficult. I can see how tense you are about the whole thing – and how worried. At least if your son is with his older brother there is someone looking out for him. Take care. I hope you find some way to relax a little.
Thanks, Suzanne. I hope so too. 🙂
Here’s the reblog – https://wordpress.com/post/beinginnatureblog.wordpress.com/2376
For some bizarre reason, when I click on the link I get an empty post page for my own blog. ?? I don’t know why. I’ll check back later; I’ll be out much of the day. 🙂
Sorry about dud link. I must have loaded it incorrectly. Not to worry. I was probably speaking out of turn. Have a good day.
Thanks for trying anyway, Suzanne. xx
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Such a terrible burden to carry with you on your pilgramage cathy. I do hope your loved one seeks help. But as you say they have to come to that decision on their own, no point trying to force your ideas and remedies because he will have to really want to follow through on whatever he thinks will truly help. Again I admire your honesty sharing with us. What beautiful scenery and so good to be meeting with many supportive people.
You’re so right that you cannot force someone to seek help, Pauline; it just won’t work unless the person wants it themselves. We’re beside ourselves in knowing what to do. Detach and let go, but even that’s just not possible sometimes. Much of the early part of my Camino was wrapped up with my loved one, but things got better for a while and I felt really hopeful by the time I was done. Not anymore, sadly. Thanks for your kind words. xx
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We have a very good friend, same age as me, going through the same problems with her husband. We support and do what we can, but he is not prepared to help himself and at 71 thinks life is not worth living.
Oh no, I’m so sorry for your friend, Pauline. I think there are many people in this world dealing with similar issues, but no one likes to talk about the issue. Mental illness is still stigmatized, although people say it’s not as bad as it once was. I still see very few people open to sharing about it. The Camino was different, thank goodness, but that’s not real life, is it?
As you know, the other thing is how it affects everyone around that person.
Yes, Pauline, I know that all too well. xx
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Jo has said it all. How devastating to have to confront this whilst so far away from home. How sad that your childhood haunts you still. There are many things in life that leave their impressions upon us, some make us stronger, some weaken us. But we soldier on. I do hope that there is some hope on the horizon and that writing about and speaking to your fellow ‘angels’ has helped you in some way. You and Mike need to take strength from each other. And hopefully the Camino gave you the breathing space you needed to come to terms with what might lie ahead. xx
I don’t know if my childhood would haunt me so much if I weren’t reliving it now, as a parent instead of a child. I consider myself a survivor, but at least in the case of my mother, my dad took care of things with her. It was easier to commit people in those days. It definitely helped a lot to be on the Camino, and I really miss that community now that I’m in the midst of this upheaval again. The Camino did just what you said Jude – it gave me breathing space. Thank you. xx
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I’m so sorry you had, and still have, this burden of sadness. There have been many thoughtful comments above which I can’t add to, except to say thinking of you and hoping things get better.
Thank you, Anabel. Your thoughts and hopes mean a lot to me. 🙂
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I do hope the problem with your close family member sorts itself out in a way that allows life to continue and shows him a glimpse of light. Such a pity it will push your camino experience to one side, but you will recollect it well in tranquillity.
I hope so too, Mari. So far it doesn’t seem to be doing so, but we can only take one day at a time and help where we can. It was a very big part of my Camino, in a sad way, but also in a hopeful way. It does give me some tranquility when I think of my experience there. Thank you for your kind thoughts. xx
I’m adding my sorrow to that of everyone else. Feeling helpless is horrible, and ongoing powerlessness even worse. I admire the absolute honesty and heart-wrench of your post. It looks as if the road down to Zubiri is a metaphor for the rough emotional road you were (and are) treading.
I too recognise what you describe: “I’m standing on the outskirts, feeling baffled by my own aloofness.”
You write about the trail so well, and about your anguish, and your photos are wonderful. I’m sad that their are no words of mine that can possibly help the situation of your friend, and more particularly your situation as you struggle with his state, especially since you have already done this with your mother. I can only send my caring.
Thank you so much, Meg. It’s so nice to hear from you. The road to Zubiri was physically rough and emotionally rough, you’re absolutely right. There were about 5 days of my 47 days on the Camino that were emotional and draining and grueling; most of the rest of the experience was really positive.
Thank you for sharing that you could relate to my comment about “aloofness.” I wonder, do we all feel that way at times, or is it just people who are super sensitive, as I sometimes believe I am?
Thank you so much for your kind words about the writing, pictures, and my honest sharing. Especially, thank you for sending your caring. xx
What a tough time for you, but you made it and met some of the right people at the right time. Perhaps it’d true that we’re never given more than we can cope with. Hugs Cathy.
Thanks, Gilly. I was so grateful for the people I met on the path. I wonder if it is true what you say, that we’re never given more than we can cope with. I hope so. 🙂
I’m so sorry, Cathy. I wish I knew why the past tends to catch up and try to repeat itself, in various ways. Hugs. I’m so glad you had such angels to help you along the way on your pilgrimage. Maybe that’s the gift, if there is a gift, in life’s challenges. I read something today that hit home: “Sorrow in one hand, joy in the other. Being human is a prayer.” (Hiro Boga)
Thanks, Robin. I was so grateful for the people I met on the pilgrimage. They came along at a time in life when I really needed it. I like that quote by Hiro Boga. “Being human is a prayer.”
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[…] would also like to link with Cathy at “wander essence” who invites us to contribute a prose article. Cathy has recently walked the Camino pilgrim trail […]
I would like to join in with your prose invitation again Cathy. Hope this is suitable https://retiredfromgypsylife.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/the-unexpected-drama-in-the-rainforest/
I loved the way you created such a sense of drama here, Pauline. Thanks so much for writing this and linking it to mine. 🙂
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[…] ~wander.essence~ | Prose […]
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