The days seem to really be slipping together. One week has gone by, yet it feels as if a month has. I think there is something to being present for every moment of every day. Maybe it has to do with feeling every single step you take versus the days you spend sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day, compiling numbers or saving documents into special folders. Either way, I feel every minute of every day, and yet it flies by so quickly, I have to check what day it is at the start of every morning.
This morning was no different.
After checking to see that it was Friday and that I’d indeed been walking for just over a week, I got my things together and got on the path, ready for another day. My feet were feeling a bit better since I’d used a special massage oil, but my knees were still tender from the Downhill Struggle, as I liked to call it. I was beginning to think about the possibility of taking a day off since I had so much extra time. Where was this need to MOVE MOVE MOVE coming from? Probably my old lifestyle of working 8am to 4:30pm. I wanted to break that.
Mid-morning, I ran into Nicole and Jean-Gabriel once again. We talked over buying some simple groceries when I noticed that they both had shells on their backpacks. I saw it frequently, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the people who had already walked the trek, if they’d bought it as a souviner, or if they’d gotten them as good luck gifts. I asked Nicole about it.
“Ah, I got this one as a gift from a friend. You don’t have a shell?”
“Nope,” I said. “You can just get one, though? I wasn’t sure how it worked.”
“Then you will have mine,” Nicole said, starting to untie her shell.
“Oh, no, no! That’s not what I meant! I’ll find one!”
“No, it is a gift. Jean-Gabriel has another he will give me.”
I was touched. I’d have a shell that meant something to me more than just buying from a shop.
We walked the rest of the way together, discussing more things about their lives and the different churches, even the war monuments in the cities we passed. Around noon, we’d caught up with Celine. As we sat to eat lunch, I began to hear a voice singing over the breeze–Sergo-Roberto. He stopped for a few moments before continuing on the trek himself.
And the rest of that was a blur. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, thinking yet again about my knees, and the fact that the clothes I had washed yesterday were still wet in my pack. I’d been talking to so many people recently, there hadn’t been much time to think about anything else. When you trek with the same people for a large amount of time, you get past those pleasantries and into a deeper conversation about what you think in life. If you can’t get past that, then there isn’t much else to talk about.
The last two hours were rough, at least for me. My feet were feeling it, and I’d had to break one of my blisters to give some relief at lunch. All I wanted was to get to the next town.
We continued downhill, down, down, down. I wondered if there was a rabbit hole we’d get into eventually. It just felt like it was a neverending walk.
Finally, we got to Conques. It was beautiful, despite being a tourist town. The streets were all cobblestone, and they went up and down to follow the mountain’s bend it sat on. I noticed a small store that held different gifts from India and I peeked inside. I figured I’d come back after we got to our gite.
Celine had booked me and Sergo a place at where she was staying, so we parted with Nicole and Jean-Gabriel to figure out where the hell our place to sleep was. It turned out, we were to go up a nice stack of stairs.
I found myself a bit crabby to have wet clothes yet again, unable to take a shower until they were dry. When Sergo made a joke about my growled comment, I said I’d be back. I immediately went to the India store to find some light clothes to wear while resting between my walks. I had been so envious in previous towns, and I didn’t want something to determine me getting to enjoy myself after a long day’s walk.
I came back with two very light skirts and a top that would fit with both. I was much happier, and I felt a bit more human putting on normal clothes after being so dirty and bland. Walking around the city felt more as if I were able to relax while in these different clothes, too.
Sergo had received a text from Ludo to state that he wasn’t going to be making it that night. I told Sergo that I was going to stick around an extra day to rest myself, and to be able to see Ludo one last time.
That’s when I found out that everyone was actually going to be around for at least another week. You see, I’d been under the assumption that Sergo was leaving the next day as he was done with his trek, and that Ludo would be doing the same the next day. This was not the case at all, but that everyone was going to be moving forward for at least another week or so.
I shrugged this off, but I made sad eyes at Sergo. He was deciding to leave the next day, despite the possibility of not seeing Katherine or Ludo. I knew it would be hard to say my goodbyes, but Sergo made it clear that this is how he saw the Camino. I would be saying my goodbye’s to the long lost brother the next morning.
To celebrate meeting good people, Celine, Sergo, and I had supper with some wine, which was luckily straight in front of the big church in town. By the time we were done with supper, there was a small show to talk about the statues embedded into the church itself, followed by a brief concert inside the church itself. We listened to the organ for a while. I thought about my happiness at meeting Sergo, but ultimate sadness at having to see him go. His lesson for me was to love and let go. I wasn’t very fond of it, and I was curious if it was because I thought of it as a cop-out to feelings. Celine and I had discussed earlier what it meant to be Zen, and whether it was something worth doing if it meant that you enjoyed the moment, but you didn’t ever enjoy the other moments that could happen afterward.
I admired Sergo-Roberto in so many ways. But I wasn’t sure I could live with that mindset.
The Camino would tell me.
The next morning, I slept in as best I could. I heard the other pilgrims getting up, but I stayed relaxed and took my time in actually getting up.
Still tired, I sniffled at saying goodbye to Celine. I promised I’d contact her when I made it to Paris (I have no idea when that will happen, but I have now made too many promises about it to not go), and she said she’d pay be back for accidentally picking up her bill one time by making me a supper at her house. We hugged, and I put myself back in bed for a bit.
I finally decided to get ready after I took a moment to get used to not seeing Sergo anymore either. I thought I would be more emotional, but I think I prepared myself a bit more since he had been taking his distance the more I saw him. After brushing my teeth and washing my face, he was set to leave.
“I’ll miss you,” I said as I hugged him tight. I didn’t think I’d see him again.
“That’s a good thing,” he said, giving me a half-smile. “Tell everyone I said hi.” He turned to go.
“Don’t die!” I replied, and he said he’d try.
I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again.
I sighed and went back to my bed to write since I knew I’d have a long time before Ludo or Katherine arrived. By the time I was done, gotten wifi, and posted my next blog, I was hungry for lunch and made my way to the lower part of the city.
And there I saw Ludo.
I swept him into a big hug, kissing him on the cheek, saying, “YOU WAITED FOR ME.” I was particularly happy he hugged back like we were old friends. He’d been so stand-offish the last we’d seen each other. The Camino had done him well, despite the sunburn and tired eyes from walking so hard.
He was talking with some other people, so I let them be while I went to the bar to get a glass of wine and wait to get some lunch. He came over within fifteen minutes and we chatted about how things had been since we’d last seen each other. I explained how I had actually gotten to the town the afternoon of the second day, and how I’d kept hearing stories about The Three Frenchmen (and Sergo) on the trek.
Neither of us could figure out how I’d gotten past them.
He was debating about whether he would stay the night or keep going, and I was trying to get him to stay and take a rest (he was saying how he was trying to go 40km a day, the crazy motherfucker), when Katherine bounded over to our table, full of energy from her trek. Ludo admitted I’d gotten him to take a break, and we each had a drink before I took them to where we were staying. As we moved, Ludo told me he had decided to do the entire Camino rather than just for another week. I was pleased as punch. The three of us, all
completely different people, yet pilgrims to the end.
The rest of the afternoon was great fun. We drank, ate, and got each other to open up quickly, particularly Ludo, who had seemed so shut down when I’d met him. Now, he was telling us all about his random tattoos (a yin-yang, a skull with initials in them, and an unfinished angel-like tattoo across his back), what had really happened with his last love, and any other tidbits we could yank from him.
As we talked about heartbreak yet again, I began to think about how every single person I met on the Camino seemed to end up on this subject. Love was just so important in our lives, apparently, and was so different for each of us.
For me, love was life. Yet I was wary of anyone putting anything more than friendship my way.
For Katherine, love was life. Yet it was scary beyond words because there never truly seemed to be anything equal. Someone always loved someone else more than the other, and she’d had a situation in leaving someone that I had to envy her strength at coming back together at all.
For Ludo, love wasn’t life. It was a trap, and he would never do it again.
As Katherine and I fished for more information as delicately as we could, we could tell that the pain was still fresh in his mind about everything that had happened, even if it had been in February for the final ending touches. We listened and coaxed for some understanding. I wasn’t even sure how to handle the situation. I could see a parallel between his ex leaving him and his mother doing the same as plain as day. But once a mind is set in a certain direction, it is rather difficult for you to show the other side, especially with matters of the heart. No one wants to hear about the possibilities of loving again, not when the last relationship had seemed ultimately perfect and without any explanation ended.
After supper, we went to the church so I could show them the concert. We sat in silence, listening to first the organ, then a cello player. Ludo kept to himself, obviously thinking long and hard. Both Katherine and I weren’t sure what he’d do next.
As we left the church, he took a walk alone while Katherine and I walked back to the gite.
With no one else in our little area, I played the ukulele until Ludo came back, looking a bit better, if not a little solem. Within the next two ukulele songs, we were all singing, laughing, and talking once more. Kath and Ludo both promised me they were my biggest fans, my groupies, for my playing. We stayed up past midnight, and it felt good to know that our talks had brought us a bit closer, rather than pulling us apart.
Before going to bed, I wanted to get one last look at the stars I had finally managed to see for the first time since landing in Europe. It was amazing to see that not much was different. I even got to see the moon, which was almost full. I took this as a good sign of things to come.
We got a late start the next morning, the first time that had ever happened on the trail. I mean, I’d done it on accident, but was still on the road by 8:45am at the latest. This time, we were up around 8:00am and still not on the road by 9:00am. We lazed, taking our time. Kath and I took a quick shower, and by the time we got back to the room, we noticed that Ludo’s items had all been packed up and taken from the room.
“Katherine?” I asked. “Where’s Ludo?” While I’d lay in bed with Katherine, talking about hair, he’d poked my toes and said he was getting breakfast. We hadn’t seen him since.
“I don’t know. Where did this bread and pasty come from?”
From the situation, it looked as if Ludo had sat breakfast on the table and left us without saying goodbye.
“He wouldn’t do that,” I said, but there was doubt in my heart. He’d been so sad the night before, and we’d been teasing and poking and prodding. “We weren’t that bad, were we?”
“He wouldn’t just leave,” she agreed, but there was doubt in her voice, too. “I don’t think.”
There was a moment of silence as we both contemplated how well we actually knew Ludo. Everything we knew pointed to the fact that he would at least say goodbye. Yet, the evidence showed otherwise.
“I’m kind of worried,” I said.
“I am, too,” she said.
“I don’t think he actually…but maybe he did.”
“I have this feeling I will never see him again.”
“Did you see his bag outside?”
“No, I didn’t see anything coming in.”
“What the fuck…I just…”
Thoughts flew through my head. That he was a typical Tough Guy running away when feelings got involved, that he wasn’t as constant as everyone continued to tell me he was, that we’d done something wrong, that he was leaving the trail or doing something rash…
“Oh, good god, Ludo!”
I turned myself around from putting things in my bag and rushed over to him. He looked rather confused as we hugged and tried to explain what we’d thought had happened. He felt bad immediately, but when he saw us wiping our misty eyes, he realized we’d certainly thought he’d left us for good, rather than finishing a phone call with his sister in another building above the showers.
He spent the rest of the morning making it up to us with the pasty and breakfast snacks he kept in his backpack, as well as making us tea.
Finally, around 10am, we got to walking the trail. As we tried to figure out where it started, several people started giving us food and snacks, telling us it was a tough hike. Many of the people kept telling Ludo to make sure to take care of us girls.
As we trekked up the mountain, which was the highest one we’d gotten to yet, between my deep breaths, I thought about who Ludo really was. He’d felt terrible about giving us even the smallest thought that he’d abandon us. But as we’d gotten to talking, I found that he was consistently taking care of others. He looked at it as a responsibility, but no one was ever allowed to take care of him.
It was a rather convoluted situation. We were meant to take anything he offered, but if we tried to do the same, it was considered bad as it was a debt to be paid later on. But no one owed him anything from his gifts.
I was seeing a rather familiar thought process I’d dealt with in another guy I’d had in my life. The Lonesome Wolf figurehead. No one was allowed to worry, take care of, or do a kindness toward him. Yet he was to do all of this for everyone else.
I’d also had a similar experience maybe five to eight years back. It had been horrible. Lonely. Full of expectations.
And a lot of refusal of love.
We kept together pretty well, taking lunch and slowly making our way around the roads. It was a very hot day, stuffy in the woods and brutal in direct sunlight. By lunch, we still hadn’t made it halfway to where we wanted to go, but it had felt as if we’d walked over 50km.
I continued to crack at Ludo, feeling a slight determination of having him figure out his mindset situation himself, as the Camino would hopefully do anyway. Kath and I would murmur slight concern to each other, although we both saw he was much happier today than the night previous. We sang loudly and with glee whenever we weren’t walking uphill. I wondered whether it was something I could even touch. The pain he was feeling was something I’d seen in a couple of other men who never really recovered. Instead, they took up their new post of Lonesome Wolf in a kind of pride, as if they thought they deserved the type of life.
The more I learned about Ludo, the more I liked him, and the more frustrated with him I got.
I’ve never done well with people who refuse love entirely, who look at love as a debt.
Finally, we got to a point where we were tired, hot, and wondering what we could ever do to get out of the situation we were currently in. We could do nothing but think of heat. We had water, but it was hot and not very appealing. Every sip made us lag a little further behind as the sun taught us what it was born to initially do. Burn us to a crisp for the rest of nature to peck at for food.
By the time we found a water port, we were ready to worship. I chugged a full bottle, put water all over my head, then filled up my water again.
Ludo filled his water, poured it all over his body. I laughed at such a sight, but then he got a look in his eye as he smiled at me. Before I could determine what it was, he began to fling water in my direction, dousing me. I shrieked, then saw he was filling up for more. I ran away, which only caused chase. Katherine became a casualty of war when I dodged his attack.
It lasted for maybe five minutes. It felt wonderful to feel cool once more, but to also genuinely laugh after being so serious. I was ready for the last few kilometers into town.
Except that the fight didn’t stop. Katherine squirted water into Ludo’s face, which caused him to pour his bottle down her front, and soon he was out of water again, and we
were planning different types of revenge in the night.
I will repeat what I said when talking about the second day on the trek: Fresh, cold water changes the demeanor on the trek from sad to ready to take action within seconds.
With five kilometers left, we began to plan a night of food, drinking, and watching something on Netflix if we could get Wifi. A normal night we missed now that we’d been trekking for 10 days, and the realization that we would be splitting up the next day. We were so tired and in need of normal. We debated films and I made sure we’d get popcorn. When we saw a sign for where our gite was, we saw there was a cinema. We were giddy in the romance of normal.
Of course, the wifi didn’t work at the gite, we couldn’t find an ATM for Katherine, and we ended up buying a cheap meal at a Kabob food chain as nothing was open past 8:30pm on a Sunday night. In fact, the whole town was shutdown for the evening, as if it were a Zombietown. The two bought lame-brand beers, and we sat on a high curb with a view of a parking lot, slightly mourning over our bad dumb luck.
The conversation turned, yet again, to relationships. And cheating.
I told Katherine about how I didn’t know if I’d ever recover if I found out either of my parents cheated on the other. It would flip my world upside down in a way I’d never be able to trust again.
Katherine talked about how she’d found out about her father having an affair, and how her mother had seen it as the best thing to happen in their marriage.
Ludo talked about how he had accidentally drunk-kissed someone else during his last relationship, and that he’d felt terrible, but then wondered why he hadn’t gone further because he now was not with the girl any longer–a “what is the point” arguement.
Gods, he was smacked hard by this last relationship.
Of course, I kept thinking about it, and my response. To me, it seemed easy. You don’t cheat on someone because you love them. If your excuse to not cheat on someone is because you are in a relationship, not because you love the person you’re with, then, yeah, what is the point? It isn’t good anyway. It is when you love someone, to the point that you don’t want to be with anyone else, that is why you don’t cheat. If you don’t love someone, then don’t be with them in such a way to cheat on them–be honest and up front. Open relationships are becoming more and more popular. Either do that or don’t have a labeled relationship.
It seems all so simple. Yet, Katherine and I continued to discuss the complicated life that is love when it comes to cheating. How many people we knew cheated on their partners. How it seemed integrated in so many cultures. And how we ultimately have to trust who we’re with, and what that feels like.
I also thought about Ludo, and his complicated story. This odd bend of what he believes is to be a good man, and also wanting to try living life not within that box. It reminded me of the tangled yarn you get when trying to organize the yarn bin. There are really two ways to repair the damage. You either slowly and deliberately pull the ends through the loops and other lines to get back to a state for rolling a ball of yarn, or you cut the string to start fresh and new. There is not right or wrong answer. You just hope that it eventually gets untangled, in a state to use for some creation later on.
I thought to the conversation Sergo had had with me a couple of days prior, which felt like years. I wondered if anyone knew anyone. Did Sergo know Ludo and I enough to give such advice on our future? It was hard to think of Ludo as someone in a romantic light when they are consistently saying, “I will never love again, no more relationships for the rest of my life.” Sure, I enjoyed his company immensely, but I admit to thinking no further than friends in his current condition.
The walk itself seems to do so many things for you. The most common is having you forget you have pain in your legs and feet, the pain so consistent that it becomes your normal. Instead, we start to remember other pains of the heart. It seems most physical pain is a distraction.
That night, I took my tablet out far from the lights of our gite to write under the stars and moon. When I finally finished, I saw it was almost 1am, and I rushed back, hoping I’d get enough sleep for the next morning.
“Ah, Mallory, you’re back! Kathrine, look!”
Apparently, I had pulled a Ludo. While I’d thought they’d seen me leave with my laptop, they hadn’t. Instead, Kathrine thought I’d gone for a night stroll and lost my way. She’d woken Ludo up, and they quickly got dressed to search for me. Ludo found me typing away in the meadow and scolded Kathrine for jumping to conclusions…and then proceeded to keep Kathrine awake since he couldn’t get back to sleep.
Despite me getting into bed, and Ludo expressively saying he didn’t blame me for what happened, he proceeded to poke and prod, not allowing anyone to sleep.
“Mallory, sing me a song.” I was ready to put an animal trainquilizer in the man, biggest fan or no.
I was so tired at this point, I couldn’t think of anything. A minute later, I sang him King Louis’ song from The Jungle Book.
Neither Kath nor Ludo knew what to say.
“It’s about a monkey who wants to be a man,” I explained in a slight slur. “And he thinks if he can make fire, he’ll be one.”
Everyone was soon asleep after that.