Covid on the Camino, Day 6

I woke up at 5 AM to a sharp pain in my throat and the urge to pee. I knocked back a Tylenol, some vitamin C and D, went to the bathroom, and crawled back in bed. It was cozy and I soon drifted back to sleep. I didn’t wake up for four hours and woke feeling much more like myself. My throat was still sore, I was still coughing, but it felt like something essential about ME was back and that I was no longer in that same Covid fugue state. I had turned some corner. Where that corner would lead, I had no idea, but things felt different. I felt more present. I could think more clearly.

I decided to take my first Covid test in six days and those parallel lines came up again so fast—that I was still positive wasn’t really a surprise. But I still felt more solid in a basic way, and after puttering for a long time this morning, I decided to just go out—mostly because I was hungry.

I thought about returning to yesterday’s breakfast spot, but first, I had something essential to do first. I headed in the opposite direction. I’d lost my favorite charging block somewhere between my monastery dorm and this apartment. I’d thoroughly searched all three of my bags four times and still hadn’t found it. Plus, I didn’t have a body memory of physically pulling that white square charger out from the wall. I’d already gone back to the monastery once to see if the cleaning crew had found it—and they hadn’t. But I thought I’d go back again today to see if they had a lost and found I could look through myself. But they didn’t. So, for now, I’m stuck with my back-up charger, a horrible thing on its last legs that makes a loud obnoxious hum the whole time it’s plugged in and does that horrible thing that can totally drive you crazy—when I plug my laptop into it, it constantly beeps because it charges intermittently and then stops, then charges and then stops. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! You never really gain a charge; you just stay at the same level while the beeps drive you mad. Have you ever had this happen? It is maddening, but for now, this torturous device is all I have. You can’t just buy a charger with US plugs when you’re overseas unless you’re in an airport—and I’m not. When I get to Portugal, Michaela is going to bring me something I can use, so I can throw this piece of shit away.

After leaving the monastery, I started wandering, up and down alleys filled with tee-shirt shops, bakeries, tchotchkes and clothing stores. I wandered in and out of half a dozen tee shirt shops, looking for a Camino de Santiago tee-shirt to bring home with me, maybe one with a pair of worn hiking boots shoes emblazoned on it, but I left each store empty-handed. None of the shirts looked right.

Maybe a tee-shirt just wasn’t what I needed. I wandered on, giving dozens of other tee shirt shops a wide berth.

I realized how much I was enjoying this. Wandering like this is one of the pleasures of traveling alone—I can do what I want, when I want and have complete freedom of movement, of choice. I don’t have to confer with anyone. I don’t have to eat because someone else is hungry. I don’t have to stop because someone else has to pee. I don’t have to do anything or go anywhere. I can change my mind again and again and again. I can have no destination and simply walk. Going wherever my nose and eyes and impulses lead. I settled into the rhythm of not knowing. Moving. Seeing. Hearing. Watching. Noticing. Responding. Blending into the crowd. I flowed like that for a while. It felt good to walk.

Then I spied a tattoo parlor. The sign in the front window advertised “Tattoo and Piercing: We Speak English.” Something inside me jerked me to a stop.

I don’t have any tattoos, but when traveling, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting one, because when I travel, my wild child, a risk taker who likes to break rules and have fun and say YES! is in charge. She opened the door to the shop.

I walked in. A couple was sitting on a bench looking at a binder full of tattoo images, chatting quietly in German. The man at the counter asked me in perfect English if he could help me. I said I was just looking. I sat down and studied the images displayed on the walls and on the counter. They had all kinds of tattoos. Some centered on the images of the Camino and I thought about getting the shell tattooed on my calf. I tried on the idea. Something foundational was shifting inside me and I wanted a symbol to show for it–something tangible to represent the as-yet-unidentified passage I was moving through. It wasn’t a tee-shirt. Maybe it was a tattoo? Maybe this is what I should do on my last day in Santiago? I thought about the irony of that. A Jew in Santiago on Yom Kippur choosing to get a tattoo?

It was the practical part of me that drove me out of the shop. I had Covid, for God’s sake, and it was irresponsible to go into a back room with a tattoo artist and let him work on me. Or maybe that was an excuse, and I just couldn’t find the nerve. But I walked away. With some regret. Maybe next time, I thought. Next time when I complete the pilgrimage to its end.

The next place that called to me was a storefront: The Pilgrim House Welcome Center: A Place of Refuge for Pilgrims: For the Engaged Heart and Searching Soul. A sign outside read: Camino Debrief 4 PM and UPON REQUEST.

A placard in English and Spanish read:

A Place of Respite for Recently Arrived Pilgrims

The Pilgrim House Welcome Center is a place for pilgrims to find respire and take time to reflect and process their Camino. We offer a safe place to explore and engage the deeper questions that often arise on Camino, especially those questions concerned the love and mystery of God, life, and our resilient frailty. This time of reflection is sacred and the Welcome Center’s purpose is to foster space (physical, mental and spiritual) for this time.

The Pilgrim House also provides: Group Camino Debrief, Personal Camino Debrief, Self-Guided Meditation, Prayer, Conversation, Laundry, Boarding Pass Printing, Consigna, A Listening Ear and Space for Quiet and Reflection.

“If you are seeking, searching, or just needing a moment of respite, you are welcome here. Let us offer you a cup of coffee and a listening ear or maybe just laundry and quiet place to be alone. Whatever your needs, our doors are open.”

“If you are seeking, searching, or just needing a moment of respite, you are welcome here. Let us offer you a cup of coffee and a listening ear or maybe just laundry and quiet place to be alone. Whatever your needs, our doors are open.”

There was a woman standing inside at a welcome counter, doing paperwork, waiting for someone to walk in, waiting to be needed. I wanted to be that someone, but something held me back. Again.

I’ve been thinking about going back at 4 PM for their group debrief session, but sitting in an indoor circle and telling my story…“Oh yes, and then I got Covid…” does not seem fair to anyone.

But the message of the day was clear: something deep was definitely stirring.

By the time I got back to the apartment and rested a little, Brenda had arrived from Finisterre to meet me. We headed out into cobblestone streets, chose a little cafe, and I had my final art lesson of this trip, painting flowers.

Afterwards, we went out for a nice dinner and debriefed the five years of making this happen and discussed the possibility of doing it again. It’s a tough trip to book because we stay in tiny hotels that have very limited room availability and some of our “anchor hotels” are already booked for 2024. But we’d both like to do it again, so are looking at options.

I don’t feel finished with the Camino and the Camino doesn’t feel finished with me.

Now it’s morning. I’m feeling better day by day. I’m still coughing, congested and have a bit of a headache, but my core energy is growing stronger. I feel mentally alert and awake. The Covid fog is lifting and I feel ready to move onto my next adventure. In an hour, I will be boarding a bus to Porto, and four hours later, picking up a little mini half-convertible and meeting Michaela who is flying in from Brussels. We will have a chill-out vacation, at least the first few days. Rest is definitely in order.

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