Some call this road trip own personal Camino. This is a reference to the Camino de Santiago, a popular walking trail that stretches across Europe towards Santiago, Spain, where pilgrims finish up their personal journeys with a blessing in the cathedral which holds relics from Saint James. For centuries, pilgrims and tourists have taken up staffs, hiking poles, and backpacks and walked thru fields and cobbled-stoned streets while reflecting (hopefully) upon their place in the world and in the case of the more religious, their devotion to the Lord.
So, maybe this is my camino. Maybe it’s my mid-life crisis. You can call it whatever you like, but it certainly has become a time to reflect and focus on my life so far. The injury to my back has only added a new dimension to my reflection. Not that I see myself as some sort of medieval martyr, wearing a hair shirt and walking on bare feet, but I certainly have had to deal with pain and contemplate my physical experience and what it means on a more spiritual level.
I have learned that my body and mind are not on the same page when it comes to my desire to travel. I have had to adjust and re-think my plans and be flexible, both mentally and physically. So, okay, this is my camino – more of a drive-about, than a walk-about. And and how perfect that I find myself driving down Highway 101 from Oakland to San Luis Obispo, which travels along the traditional Camino Real, the roadway that connected Colonial Spanish missions that dotted the coast of 18th century California.
These missions where built for both spiritual and political reasons back in the mid to late 1700’s when Spain sought to establish a presence in California. The missions included churches, schools, military forts, and eventually, hotels, vineyards, and mercantiles. From the missions, towns were established, native populations controlled and converted, and a political message was sent to the English and Russians who were starting to explore this fertile land.
As I travel down the 101, I start to notice posts with iron bells. The accompanying signs read “The Camino Real” and this jogs my memory that I am soon to pass one mission I have longed to see: Mission San Juan Bautista. This is the beautiful 1773 mission where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the pivotal scene for Vertigo and being a film-buff and Hitchcock fan, I cannot resist stopping.
The mission does not disappoint. I am in wonder at the beauty of this old place and how it has survived so many earthquakes. The charm of the mission is that it hasn’t been overly renovated and the creaking wide planked floors and worn-smooth tiles are a loving reminder of the hundreds of souls who lived and worshipped here.
There are not too many tourists here, so I can walk alone with my thoughts through the basilica, arcade, and gardens. The cemetery is simple and poetic, and the facade of the church, almost as I had pictured it in my memory from the film, with the exception of the bell tower not being as tall as Hitchcock portrayed it.
It was the perfect stop on my long drive to San Luis Obispo. The small town was cute but not too touristy and I dropped into the local bakery for a loaf of banana bread to bring to my next hosts.
Because I had some time to kill before meeting my friends at their home in SLO, I then drove to Morro Bay for an hour. This is a stunning place, and also the set for many movies. As you drive down the road to the bay, a large rock appears, sitting in the bay, like it was dropped their by a giant. It surprises and delights.
I park my car, grab my camera, and walk over to the dock. The sun is starting to set and the sky is wild with dark clouds. Their is a threat of rain – the first rain since April – so the sky is extra dramatic.
As I pass by fishing vessels and wooden yachts, I spot a lazy sea otter, floating on his back, calmly cleaning his webbed feet. Others stop and take pictures of this funny, little fellow.
Then I hear the bark of sea lions. There is about 20 sunning themselves on a floating dock out in the harbor. Suddenly, I see a large black shape leap from the water in a graceful arch, followed by another. A pair of sea lions are fishing right in front of me. The seabirds follow, crying and diving for the leftovers.
I stroll about the dock area, then drive over to the rock and walk along the beach. The landscape just gets more impressive as I journey along. They say you should try to experience at least one moment of awe each day. I feel like I am filling up my tank with awe to spare.
By the time I find my way to my friends’ home in SLO, the sun is setting behind the mountains, creating a glow of gold. I enter Jan, Randi, and daughter, Isabella’s 1950’s modern bungalow and am greet with friendship, a glass of wine, and a delicious meal of Cornish game hen. I start to relax. Now, I can focus on healing once again.
The next day, I walk around SLO, stop into some trendy shops, have a delicious, upscale BLTA (w/ avocado, of course), then wander over to the San Luis Obispo mission. Again, I enter and say a silent plea to whomever might be listening to heal this pain in my back. At this point, I will do anything. So, I light a candle. I have nothing to lose. Even this atheist is willing to genuflect if it will lead to relief.
While having lunch, I call a friend, whom I’ve only met once or twice, but have found connection with her on Facebook over our shared politics, and she is happy to hear from me. Hilary and her husband Larry, live close by in Osos, and they invite me to come out their town to meet up. I go out to their lovely home and we then go to their favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner. These people are so kind. They insist on picking up the tab for dinner, saying I am their guest. This is the sort of kindness I have found along the road. And it is this kindness and love that helps me heal more than any candle lit in an musty, old mission.
The following day, I am glued to MSNBC, to find out how the senate will vote on the nomination for Brett Kavanaugh. I still hold out a bit of hope that the GOP will put country before politics, but when I see Susan Collins smiling with her new suit and her coiffed hair, I know we are doomed. And when she opens her mouth and begins her speech by degrading the protestors, I feel sick to my stomach. The hope I feel from the kindness of friends, both old and new, still buoys me, but the mean-spirited politics of Washington lets me down. I have to focus on the positive, but this vote leaves me ill.
This set back has left me and other women devastated. So, the most immediate solution seems to be a visit to a local vineyard with my friend and her girlfriend. If there was any excuse to drink during the day, this would be it. We find ourselves at Baileyana, sipping a nice chardonnay. With some liquid lubrication, I call up Susan Collins’ office and leaver her a message. Let’s say, I wasn’t happy with her capitulation, and so the message reflected that.
Afterwards, the three of visit Sycamore Springs for a soak in one of the hot tubs that sit amongst a Sycamore-covered hillside. Okay, yeah, this is a cure for my ills wasn’t without some serious privilege, but when in Rome….
So, it could have been the wine, or the candle, or the soak in the tub, or all three, but I was starting to feel slightly better. Well, physically, at least. Energized, I planned my way back east. First to Barstow for the night at a cheap motel, and then onto Sin City for one night of curiosity and social observation.
Hoping I can make this trip as planned, but time will tell. Fingers crossed.