Shaving, Firsts, and Uncivil-ization: Arzua to Amenal


It was more than strange to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to a text message telling me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  The feeling was a sense of unreality as I tiptoed around the dark room trying not to wake anyone yet.  When I finally woke Vic and Charlie, I told them the news, as smoothly as I could, and we wondered what it could all mean and what the consequences could be.  Surprisingly—to us, but probably not to Spaniards—there was nothing on TV about it.  Daily life here went on as usual, and there was a feeling in us that Osama was more of a USA obsession than anyone else’s.  We figured we’d hear and see more about it in the coming days, and while we tried not to draw any conclusions, there was general agreement that in some ways the world would be safer, but in the back of our minds we had to wonder if the reverse could eventually be the result instead.  Time will tell.

Skipping shaving again this morning got me thinking about the possible positive results if men shaved every other day or every three days instead of every day.  It seemed like an example of one small gesture a single person could make to make a big difference in the environment.  If we think about the resources and energy that go into the manufacture of shaving cream, razors, and any other shaving accessories, and the energy to heat the hot water men shave with, it seems that there could be a huge benefit to the environment with just a small change of habit like this one.  And sometimes the scruffiness felt good on the face and was a refreshing change to look at.  Again, just a thought.  🙂

While most residents were still asleep, we left Arzua by 7:30 equipped with fruit and bread for the road, and we walked through the kind of morning fog and chill to which we had become accustomed.  Our surroundings were tranquil. 

Arzua in the early morning.


Our goal for the day was to end up in Arca O Pino (Pedrouzo), about 20 km down the trail.  While the weather was still foggy, we walked through farmland that soon turned to forest, and the eucalyptus trees became more numerous. 

Eucalyptus trees awaiting harvesting.


We also saw palm trees in the occasional village. 

A palm tree.


Vic and Charlie hiking through "the occasional village."

The day soon turned into a day of firsts.  For the first time, we were passed on the trail by men on horseback.  

Horses walk by with their riders.

For the first time, we saw a mushroom, and we wondered why we hadn’t see more considering the dampness of the conditions almost every day.  For the first time, we saw rabbits; there were three frolicking behind a closed trailside restaurant where we stopped for one of our ten-minute breaks. 

One of the rabbits we saw.


For the first time, we saw cactus.

Cactus by the trail.

 For the first time, we saw a basketball court at someone’s home (it was surprising we didn’t see more because Spain has a strong pro league and the sport is surpassed in popularity nationwide only by soccer, among modern team sports). 

A home court: its own advantage.


As had been the case now and then on earlier days, the trail went near or across a highway, and whenever it did, the sensations we experienced were strong. 

The trail moves near a highway.

When we saw a highway and heard its noises, we found it rather shocking:  the loudness, the speed, the danger.  It all seemed unnatural, unnecessary, and foolish, and we even felt like time travelers set down in the future, having left a very different world of footsteps, birdsong, and greenery. 

Modern madness speeds by a pilgrim crossing.

The highway was a harsh reminder of “civilization and its discontents.”  Is it any wonder that modern life is plagued by mental disorders, violence, rudeness, and more?  What is the hurry? Why do we do what we do, whatever it is we do?  Where is it meant to lead?  How often do people even ask themselves these questions and follow the sequence of questions further and further to come to the core of the matter?  If we keep asking why, we end up seeing that much of what we do is silly, fruitless, unhealthy, and even crazy.  For us as pilgrims encountering a highway, instead of hearing birdsong and gurgling brooks, we were assaulted by the roar and scream of cars, trucks, buses, and vans, and the fumes that went with them.  Their speed was frightening, but it was hard for us to know if they were speeding or if our having grown used to a walking pace made even vehicles abiding by the speed limit seem outrageously fast.  Our perspective certainly had changed, and with it came the realization that our walking pace as humans was our true natural pace.  The pace of mechanized vehicles is an unnatural pace and is undeniably a factor in the afflictions that ail us.  (One of the best things Gandhi ever said applies here:  “There’s more to life than increasing its speed.”)  Thus, when the trail wound its way back to the meadows, farms, streams, or woods, the feelings were relief, peace, and joy.

A natural place for a natural pace.


When we reached the outskirts of Arca O Pino, we saw another first, a full-sized grass soccer field inside a small stadium.  Until this point, the absence of soccer fields was very conspicuous to me, for Spain is currently the dominant soccer country, reigning World Cup champions and the home of the best professional league, La Liga, and the fiercest rivalry, the one between Real Madrid (the most successful soccer club in history) and Barcelona.  These two teams, by a strange coincidence but marvelous quirk of scheduling, were playing each other five times in a six-week span, and three of those games were taking place during our time in Spain.  The third time would be tomorrow night, the second leg of a two-leg home-and-home sequence in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League, and every one of the two teams’ meetings so far had had the whole country, including us, transfixed by the spectacle.  It was a memorable privilege to be in Spain when these games took place and to see these games, even if we only watched on television and not in the stadia.  The renowned historian Jacques Barzun once said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” and it is no big step at all to alter this to read, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of a country in Europe or South America had better learn football” (the term soccer is only used in America, as you may know). 

Campeones del mundo.


Oddly, the trail did not go into Arca and also provided no view with which we could determine where Arca was.  We kept going thinking it would, and soon we realized that we might be putting Arca behind us, which was not our intention.  I stopped a woman out walking her dog and asked if she lived in the area, and when she said yes, I asked if Arca was behind us.  To that she also replied yes.  Indeed, we had missed the town.  The weather was warm and pleasant, and we felt strong, and so we decided to press on and simply stop at the first pilgrim hostel we saw and spend the night there.  About 4 km beyond Arca (making the day 24 km total) we came upon a nice little inn in the village of Amenal, and stop we did, the end of another full and enjoyable day.

Accommodations in Amenal.

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