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Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 8

6/13/15: 14th Day walking: From San Juan de Ortega to Burgos

Started off this morning to the sounds of the coo-coo. Hope it doesn’t mean I’m going to be getting lost again.

Had a chance to walk along with Ron, from Belorado, who sat next to me at Mass last night. His friend, Kerri has some sort of lung infection, perhaps pneumonia, so she took a taxi on ahead to Burgos. I saw him lighting candles in the church. People on Camino do that—even non-believers. It’s a lovely way to remember someone—living or dead. And it brings comfort. Ron said that he has been lighting candles at each church he comes to for his daughter, who died at 28. She would now have been 35. She evidently got entangled in drugs.

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The walk was easy from San Juan to Atapuerca where I saw the standing stones put up by some prehistoric peoples living there 900,000 years ago.  But then the route got serious. Very tough climb to Cruz de Matagrande—our high point for the day. Rough rocks and scrub trees. Lots of loose stone. Found Michelle resting at the top. We started down together but the trail split into several different tracks toward the bottom. I took the “shortest” route along dirt tracks through fields of grain. She took the one that headed for the nearest village and seemed more clearly marked. As I walked along, I saw fewer and fewer people and the track got more and more narrow. It was deja vue all over again. Now I knew why the coo-coo had been talking to me.

Let me interrupt this narrative to present a brief commercial for compasses. You should always carry one on European trips. And one is especially important on a walking tour like the Camino. Maps can be wrong, or at least confusing, and a compass can lead you out of dead ends and wrong turns by at least keeping you in the right general direction.

And so it was this day. As the track got smaller and smaller there were little paths leading off to the right and the left. But my compass told me to keep straight on. So I did. And Mirabele dictu, Miracle to tell, it lead me to another pilgrim-bridge built for idiots like me. 

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It carried me over the highway again—just like before. BUT, when I found the airport on my left, instead of on my right as the map said it would be, I realized that I had missed the “scenic route” into Burgos along a “peaceful river.”  Instead, at a little suburban town called Villafria I found myself smack dab on the sidewalk running parallel to the main road leading into Burgos. It was about lunchtime so I stopped in a diner to get a bite to eat and “study this situation,” as my dear-old-dad used to say. When I walked in and set my pack down I saw that Christina there getting a little smackeral too. She was the woman who surrendered her bottom bunk for me in San Juan.

We sat together. She too felt like she was at a crossroads in her life. She was 40 and finding it hard to surrender her youth. She said she was waiting for the city bus. The man behind the counter had told her she could catch it right out front—so that’s what she was going to do. And some “older man” had told her he had a great place to stay, and had handed her a card, so that’s where she was going to stay. She asked what I thought. I told her I was staying at the Municipal Alburgue. She said “Maybe I should do that.”  I didn’t know what to say.

When I got up to leave, she decided she wasn’t going to pound along the pavement through the industrial section of Burgos when there was a perfectly good bus system. And she wasn’t going to stay in the municipal alburgue when strangers hand you a card. It’s fate!  Me, I told her I was going to be a purist. The only ride I would accept would be in an ambulance. I saw her wrinkle her nose as she caught a whiff of my self-righteousness.

And it was a boring walk past soulless tire factories, parking lots, and repair shops along a busy 6-lane road. But I told myself, “life is going to have its boring bits; we need to learn to live with them.” So I had 6 or 7 kilometers of “life-lesson.” I hope Christine saw my virtuous self as she motored past in her air-conditioned bus to her fate-selected accommodations.

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I’ve think of myself as being open to the Spirit. She told me that’s what she wanted. I should have told her that, even so, you don’t want to be a ping-pong ball in a hurricane—being blown all over the place. Yes, be open to the Spirit—but don’t be guided by every spirit. Some of them don’t mean us well.

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Stopped at the Church of San Lesmes where I sat on the benches with the other homeless men and watched a wedding party form up outside the door. It looked like it was going to be quite an affair but as it was threatening rain I decided to push on. And then the sky opened up and buckets poured down. I sought refuge in a bank lobby and put on my hooded rain cape and discovered why real peregrinos carry rain pants and rain jackets instead. The cape was useless. It didn’t really cover that much and the wind whipped it up over my head when I ventured back out on the street. And then the torrential rain turned to hail. Whee. I quickly found another bank lobby.

Finally arrived, drenched and exhausted, at the multi-story Municipal Alburge. After I showered and settling in, Michelle arrived. She had been assigned the very next bunk. Cool. The building was very modern and the bunks were built-in, as were the lockers beside them. Had a sudden urgent call of nature and forgot to check on the availability of papel igenico before commencing. That’s a big “Ooops” in a Spanish bano. I didn’t want another shower so it was essential that I find some other way to clean myself. My clean, white linen handkerchief had to take one for the team. It was softer, at least, than the usual papel even if not quite as “desechable.”

Michelle and I ate supper in a “kabop shop,” around the corner from the Alburge, then went to take pictures of the cathedral and the famous statue of the Peregrino studying his blisters. Burgos is a lovely town, and the parks in the old city have sycamore trees pruned to within an inch of their life. Lots of buskers playing musical instruments, and another wedding party at the Cathedral. Tomorrow we enter on the infamous Meseta, sort of like the midwest of Spain—flat grassland, swept by sudden rains, wind-storms and notoriously unpredictable weather. Hail one minute then scorching hot and windless the next. I had no trouble falling asleep. I was seriously tuckered.

 

Sunday, 6/14/15: 15th Day walking: From Burgos to Hontanas

 

Michelle wanted to sleep-in; I was anxious to get on the way so we said “Asta Luego,” and I took off at 6am. The day was perfect for walking. There was a brisk cool breeze at my back all day long. And it was cloudy, but without rain. Walked more than 30 kilometers. A new record! It’s very hypnotic walking along for miles with only the sound of the stones crunching under your feet. I heard several people say that they were going to grab a bus to take them around the Meseta. I’m glad I didn’t. It reminded me of a rocky Kansas. As I walked, I could see distant mountains, and from the low promontories I could see from horizon to horizon. For the most part the tiny villages are at the bottoms of little valleys carved into the plateau by small streams and rivers. The “walk” into Hornillos was more of a slide down the gravel path. A wonderful cup of café con leche though and I was ready for more walking.


 Gorgeous skies, distant vistas and cheerful little swifts flying out over the fields keeping me company. Natural pest control! And lovely chirping pest control. DDT never did that!

Six kilometers more and I decided to stop at a little one-building “village” called San Bol. But it looked so remote and God-forsaken I decided to push on to Hontanas, a major metropolis of 70 hardy souls another 5k away. As I walked I could see fields in all directions. And distant wind turbines far off to my left, and far off to my right. And storm clouds dropping rain far, far, away. There’s no way weather could sneak up on you on the Meseta. But, boy-howdy, my Brierly said I was close to Hontanas, and I didn’t see a thing that looked even remotely like a village. Normally, you can see your intended stop up ahead and gauge how long before you arrive. A young couple breezed past me, and the young man, a veteran of several Caminos told me to take heart—“Hontanas will sneak up on you.”

And it did.

 The land was flat as a pancake then suddenly I was at the top of a 1 kilometer plummet into the village. I slid down again and found a bed at one of the three alburges, and learned that I was sharing a room with 4 German walkers. And they were wound up! Couldn’t follow a word, but it was all evidently hilarious. And they had already staked out the bottom bunks. My poor feet. They need to invent bunk-beds with elevators.

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Got my shower and ate supper outside in the sun sitting in an Adirondack chair next to Phil and Ida. Stuffed myself with those wonderful “Magnum” ice cream bars. I think one of the things I miss most about the Camino is eating as much ice cream as I want. Walk for eight hours a day and it’s really quite remarkable how many calories you can eat without gaining a pound!

That night it stormed and hailed. That distant rain I saw finally arrived. I wouldn’t have known (with my earplugs) but I was sleeping under the skylight. Like sleeping inside a snare-drum.

Monday, 6/15/15: 16th Day walking: From Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

Today was a perfectly lovely, if chilly day! I was really fortunate to be so exhausted last night that I turned in early. That meant I plucked my drying clothes off the line before turning in. I draped them over chairs in my room to finish drying while I slept. The other walkers have had to contend with freezing cold, soaking wet clothes today. They have them draped over their packs and swinging from lanyards like flags.

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Given the nature of the Camino you see the same people over and over again and yet often walk with different people each day. That gives you the opportunity to learn what people think of each other. And there are as many different personalities on the Way as there are walkers. And many different reasons for walking 500 miles or so, from one side of Spain to the other. One friend confided in me that she didn’t like another couple we often met-up with. I didn’t tell her, but I suspected she didn’t like them because she was a bit cynical and they weren’t cynical at all. I tried out the idea with another walker (without mentioning names!) and they wondered if it might be that all of us have a tendency to think that other people are really very much like us. And so cynical people are very suspicious of people who seem to be un-cynical—they must either be stupid or hiding something. “And if I tear them down I won’t need to change my view of the world.” Maybe that’s right.

As I walked along I decided that this should be “Lessons from the Camino.”  And one of the lessons should be “Whenever possible walk with a normal stride—even if it hurts.” Because if you limp, eventually other body parts start to hurt too! You start off with a blister, so you limp to keep the weight off your left foot, so your right ankle and knee start doing double duty, so they start hurting so you start leaning on your sticks more and your shoulders start to ache as well. For lack of a blister-pad the Camino was lost! So even when it hurts, try to take a normal stride. Maybe the same is true for emotional and psychic pains as well.

 Christine ended up sharing the same room with the Germans and me last night. Heard her suggest to a friend this morning that they should rent a bicycle and bike a hundred kilometers or so. The little compromises we make tend to grow. A bus here, a bike there, a taxi when you need it. The discipline of the Camino ebbs away. No wonder some people end up taking taxies from one Alburge to another. And the whole concept of a pilgrimage falls away.

Amazing, the pontificating man I heard a week or so back passed me again today. This time with just the shorter man. The young woman was missing. And, my God, he was still pontificating at excruciating length about monetary policy, public debt, and fiscal responsibility. And the shorter man couldn’t wedge a word in edgewise!  I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be able to keep my mouth shut.

 

            (to be continued)

Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 7

6/10/15: 11th Day walking: From Azofra to Santo Domingo
 
We heard storms during the night and woke up to a gray and lowering day. Trying to raise our spirits, Max launched into his best imitation of “Singing in the Rain!” and “Follow the yellow brick arrows!” We agreed that we’d been very fortunate on the weather so far. This was the first day of rain, and it wasn’t a driving rain—more like “spitting at us” from time to time. But my feet were really hurting again and I was afraid that wet shoes, wet socks, and wet feet were going to be bad.
And they were.
As we approached Ciruena I could tell that both Laurence and Max were anxious to move on ahead. I was seriously slowing them down and knew that I was toast. As we passed the Rioja Alta Golf Club (who knew there’d be a golf-course on the Camino?) the rain picked up and my spirits sagged even more. It was another 6 kilometers of pain to Santo Domingo de Calzada. When we arrived at the municipal alburge I told Max to go on without me; I was finished. Laurence was already far out of sight. It was a sad goodbye, but one last picture together and then Buen Camino
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I registered, got my bunk, then hobbled out to see Santo Domingo. The Cathedral wanted to charge me to see the famous “live cock and hen” in the sacred coop. I decided to pass. It was not out of disrespect for Santo Domingo, who in the 11th century built the hospital and church that evolved into this glorious cathedral for pilgrims like me, but because I was so sore I just wanted a peaceful place to sit. Chickens have never struck me as peaceful, and those commemorating the miracle of the Sheriff’s supper coming back to life to save a pilgrim wrongly accused of theft are still chickens. A small chapel right across the plaza looked somehow more inviting. 

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Inside was the most amazing stained glass window I’ve seen so far. The chapel was called the Ermita de la Vergen de la Plaza Santo Dominigo. There are lots and lots of lovely ancient windows all along the Way, but this contemporary window was stunning. It was the Virgin Mary executed in glorious blues and oranges. My photographs don’t do the colors justice. And the painting shows a very earthy young woman—not the “ethereal Mary meek and mild,” portrayed in so many saccharine windows. The hands cradling her obviously pregnant belly are rough and used to work—the hands of a peasant. And yet, the face is serene—a serenity I desperately needed.
Again the Camino supplies what we need. I sat for an hour in this lovely little chapel and felt my spirits rise again, even if my feet didn’t feel much better. I knew I could make it to Santiago. This lovely young woman gave me courage. And that, I believe, is what art is supposed to do—especially “religious” art. We’re not supposed to hyperventilate over technique—we’re supposed to connect with the art on a human level. And that is why each generation probably needs to produce their own “religious” art. The artworks handed down to us from previous generations often speak to different concerns. Yesterday’s concerns. But then, it’s also true that “human” concerns probably have not changed very much in 2000 years, even though technology has blossomed (or metastasized) in ways our ancestors couldn’t have even imagined. But we still worry about our children. We still worry about being abandoned by those we love. We still act as if we had all the time in the world, and we are all still surprised at how quickly our time flows away. Human nature provides fixed points in a kaleidoscopic technological background. Our religious art must somehow speak to both. And so to bed early.
 
6/11/15: 12th Day walking: From Santo Domingo to Belorado
 
Today I start in the second region of Spain, La Rioja and if all goes well end up in the third region along the Camino: Burgos. The entire 500 mile trip encompasses 7 regions. I’m roughly a third of the way.
Stopped at a tienda to buy 10 euros worth of “compeed” and iodine. Compeed is a marvelous material, much like what we call “moleskin” here in the States. You cut it as need-be and cushion blisters and hot-spots with it. I needed a lot of it. The iodine stings like all get out, but it does seem to be helping dry-up my blisters.
I’ve noticed that some of the workers in the tiendas are surly. It might be that they are just sick of rude pilgrims who complain about everything. But I found myself wondering if there might not also be a bit of jealousy there as well. A constant stream of people “going somewhere” might rankle someone who’s afraid they are stuck in an out-of-the-way, dead-end, hole-in-the-wall tienda on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. They don’t see how amazing it is to have the whole world coming to visit you.
About 10 kilometers outside Santo Domingo I crossed a small country road and found myself in a little rural tourist-information shop. It had been raining steadily for a couple of hours and I wanted to sit somewhere dry for a while. And then I saw that they had a public computer as well! Cool. I thought I might as well check my email and see what was going on back in the “world.” I had found a message from a young friend of ours that her mother had died suddenly. The mother was a bit younger than my wife and me and I had no idea she had been ill. Her funeral was scheduled for tomorrow and our friend was hoping that we could be there. I sent her what condolences I could from a few thousand miles away and then just sat there thinking dark thoughts.
The thunder and lightning matched my mood. When it subsided I started walking again.
Another 7 kilometers and I reached Vilamayor del Rio. The rain had finally stopped and blue sky appeared over-head—though there were still clouds on the horizon. Why can’t the weather always match our moods? Why do awful things happen on beautiful blue-sky days? I still remember the lovely skies on September 11, 2001.  And why are there joyful events on gray, overcast days? You would almost think that Mother Nature didn’t care about our happiness at all. That’s a tough lesson to learn. We all star in our own home movie, after all. Shouldn’t the world recognize our centrality? 
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Another 5 kilometers and I arrived in Belorado, where I stopped at the first albergue I came to. I registered, then since it was going to be a while before supper I headed for the central plaza to see what was happening. Danny and Karen were there! What fun to catch up with them again over many bottles of beer and bags of beer-nuts! We also shared the table with Ron from Denver, and his friend Kirra, from San Diego. Ron was religious. Kirra was not. On Camino you hit it off wonderfully with people you’d never even meet stateside. Fascinating.
I headed back to the alburge for supper. Sat next to Franz from a small town near Cologne, Inez from Argentina, Michelle from Brazil and Jim from Northern Ireland. Jim told me he was on his way to a little town a few kilometers ahead where he was going to oversee the municipal alburgue. I asked how an Irishman came to have that job. He said he had volunteered. He felt a need to “give back” for the wonderful experiences the Camino had given him. I love hearing all the reasons people “go’un on pilgrimage.” As Chaucer says. Slept well and had a night full of alcohol fueled dreams of walking, walking, walking, walking . . .
 
6/12/15: Thirteenth day walking Belorado to San Juan de Ortega
 
Started the day walking alone and had such trouble with my feet. It was so discouraging. Hobbled along with another struggling pilgrim, Franz from the alburgue in Belorado. His home was a little town near Cologne. I asked him why he was on Camino. He said, “For me, it is a religious pilgrimage. I wanted to thank God. There are so many wonderful things in my life: My children, my career, my health. I am 73 years old and I need to thank God while I still can.” He was the only one I met on Camino who came out and said that it was a religious pilgrimage for them—though I suspect that many of the others I met saw it that way as well. Franz had an enormous pack and was struggling. He said that he had some sort of medical equipment in it. It may have been something like a CPAP. He was quite overweight and worried about the path ahead. Between kilometer 10 and 15 today we would be climbing 200 meters then coming down a steep slope for 100 meters, then back up 100 meters, then down a gradual slope to San Juan. It was going to be a tough day. I asked him what he was his post-Camino life was going to be like. “I’m going to take up fishing,” he grinned. I thought he might be kidding, but no. He said he had signed up for a class on angling, and had already bought his rod and reel and made plans for fishing trips. It’s always good to have plans.
I stopped in Vilafranca, 11 kilometers out, right at the start of the serious climb. I needed to adjust the bandaging on my feet. And there on the porch was Karen and Danny. IMG_3497 copy.jpg They had spent the night here—knowing that the climb was going to be tough, and they wanted to be as fresh as possible. Karen took charge of my bandages again. My feet felt so much better after she finished. Michelle, also from the alburgue in Belorado, stood by watching—her face full of sympathy, (or was it horror?)
We started up the hill together and she told me about her reasons for the Camino. She had always been timid and didn’t like that about herself. Her husband had walked the Camino and encouraged her to do so as well. It would give her a boost to learn about herself that she was capable of doing it.
Like me she had blown it on the first day—doing too much. But for her it was her knees. She had been suffering ever since. We walked together slowly, but steadily. Wins the race every time! 

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And it was a wonderful day. Birds chattering; wind sighing through the trees. Pleasant conversation. Pleasant silences. Shared dreams and fears. We found we even shared the same prejudice that bicycles are a menace—and decided that a group of bicyclists, not crows, should be called a “murder.” “Watch out! Here come a murder of bicycles!!”  As a group would whoosh past shouting “Buen Camino,” she would shout, “I know, I’m trying to have one!” We wondered if they would ever go back to Spain to have one, rather than a farcical “Tour de Camino.” 
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At the Monumento a los Caidos (Catholic pilgrims “fallen” during the Spanish Civil war) we happened upon Abby and her (extremely) tall boyfriend. I’m afraid he was just what I was expecting. Oblivious to the pain he was causing her, and irritated that she wasn’t able to keep up with the “seven-league” pace he was setting. He told us he was putting her on a bus to carry her to the airport and then home. I hope she manages to rid herself of him. I suggested to her privately that she come back again some day by herself and enjoy the Camino.
The time went fast and Michelle and I arrived at the Monastery of San Juan de Ortega ,(St John of the Nettles) about 2pm. That’s the perfect time to finish walking. If you start about 7 or 8am you have a good long walking day and yet you stop early enough that the rooms are not all gone. You can usually find a bed easily. And when you stop later in the day those last hours walking are painful with the sun in your eyes. The trip is always westward. If fact, if you find that the sun is not on the back of your legs in the morning and not in your eyes in the evening you KNOW you are lost! Anyway, we registered, staked out our bunks, then took a siesta, planning to meet again at the 6 pm Mass, with supper at 7pm. Outside it was again spitting rain, but we had managed to dodge it all day.
I woke up early and went exploring. There really were no other buildings to speak of. Just the Monastery, part of which was being renovated, the guest house where the pilgrims were housed, and the church. The church had a barrel-vault and was made of lovely warm-colored stone, built in the 12th century. No stained glass, but with amazing alabaster “windows” that let in this heavenly golden glow. 
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Mass was ravishing. I sat between Michelle and Ron, the man from Denver I’d met in Belorado. The priest had different nationalities lectoring. He asked me to read Matthew 25 in English. That’s the one with the piercing passage: “If you have done it for the least of my brothers, you have done it for me, and if you have not done it for the least of my brothers you have not done it for me.” Amazing acoustics. Hearing my voice reading that gospel in that place, echoing where that gospel has been preached since the 12th or 13th century was very moving.
Then after Mass we came forward for a blessing and received a San Juan de Ortega cross on a black cord. I loved it. I put it on immediately and swore I’d never take it off again. That first night, the cord came untied and I found the cross inside my tee-shirt in the morning. That should have been a warning to me, but I’ve always been a slow learner.
At supper I talked with Christina, also from Denver, Fiona from Washington D.C., Mini and Theresa from Croatia, and Mutsuko from Japan. She was amazing. Traveling alone with no foreign languages at all. No Spanish. No English, No French. No Italian. Talk about leaving yourself open and vulnerable. But she was also joyful. Maybe there’s a lesson there.
I’d been given a top bunk, and it was very painful trying to climb up the ladder with my bare feet. But Christina, wonderful young woman that she was (everyone under 45 seems young to me!) offered to switch places and let me have her bottom bunk. I fell instantly asleep.
 
            (to be continued)
Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 6
6/7/15: End of the eighth day in Viana
 
Danny and Karen were from New Zealand. They were both retired and loved traveling. Danny was what you might call “excitable,” and absolutely full of stories. (“I have a friend so lazy he takes a taxi to his car every morning.”) He would be the life of any party. This particular trip had begun in England (I think) and then to Italy and now to Spain for their second Camino . Karen was the steady one of the two, and especially adept and dealing with problems and irritations (read “blisters” and "crabby people") I told her I was suffering and she insisted on seeing my feet. Poor Laurence was completely grossed out. Squeezing my foot, Karen took a small pair of scissors and and using one of the blades started drilling through my black toenail. It hurt like the dickens! But then sploosh! She made a hole and blood gushed out. The relief was instantaneous!
After several beers (to keep up my strength) we headed back to the alburgue and crashed. I just didn’t have the heart to drink Danny’s favorite drink: Red wine mixed with Coke. I remember taking photos of a little white dog napping on a sofa in the alley. But nothing else.
 
 
6/8/15: Ninth day walking Viana to Logronoand Navarette
 
There is a tradition that you bring a stone from home as a representation of burdens you want to leave behind. I had offered to bring stones for some of my friends and this was the morning, outside Viana , on a milestone between a field of wheat on one side of the path and a vineyard on the other, I left the stones I had been given. I still had a few that I planned to leave at the crux de ferro, the iron cross, but that was still several days ahead of me. Bob and Connie, Tim and Babs, James, Georgia, Elle and Larry’s burdens were going to rest here outside Viana in a lovely spot. 
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The walk from Viana to Logrono was so very pleasant. This is prime La Rioja land and vineyards and farmland were everywhere. Not as many trees, of course, so it was a hotter stretch as well. Still, it was a great walk and we arrived in Logrono before noon. On the outskirts of the city we came across 3 pilgrms we’d hung out with in Roncevalles. That had only been a week and a half ago, but it felt like a lifetime and we hugged like old friends meeting at a class reunion. Logrono was one of the more major hubs of the camino and they were just on their way to the train station to head home. They, like so many, did the camino in stages—a week here, a week there. We wished each other well: Buen Camino. Once you’ve started your Camino, I guess you never really stop. 
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The murals and graffiti around Logrono were special. I believe that they represent the “Stained Glass” palaces of the current age. They are the “public art” for the common people—and present their hopes and dreams and fears and worries. And they reinforce the secular message of today—as the stained glass windows of the past represented their sacred messages. It’s just that our new sacred doesn’t seem to believe in the old sacred. 
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I think one especially fine mural mocked our pilgrim’s obsession with getting Sellas, those little stamps on our passport that “prove” we’ve been somewhere.  I think the point was that a pilgrimage is supposed to change you on the inside not provide you with a bunch of external tattoos. It is so very easy, in so many situations to substitute the appearance for the reality.
 
Logrono was a beautiful city—much more friendly than Pamplona had been. It’s a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to visit. 
 
As we passed an alburge down a quiet side street who should come out but Bobby! Rosheen’s boyfriend. He was all packed up and ready to head home too. Hellos and Goodbyes seem to be the essence of the Camino. I had learned that Bobby was seriously sick and that this pilgrimage with Rosheen had been a real sacrifice for him. We shook hands. “Buen Camino,” he said, and I found there was something wrong with my voice. I couldn’t speak.
  
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A hundred yards down the street I stopped in a small chapel to light a candle for Bobby and all the pilgrims and saw the inscription of the wall behind the altar: “Yo Soy El Camino, La Verdad, y La Vida.” It brought me hope and reminded me that even before we were called “Christians,” we were known as “Followers of The Way.” 
 
 
It was now lunchtime and west of the city we found a very nice café beside the reservoir called Pantano de La Grajera. While we were eating, Laurence arrived. We hadn’t seen her since Viana, but she was a much faster walker than we were. At least much faster than I was. I think Max was still walking much slower than he wanted to walk because of me. And I was starting to become concerned about his timetable. He was supposed to be meeting his wife in Santiago on a particular day—and at the pace we were traveling he wasn’t going to make it. But we three still managed to get lost in the beauty of our surroundings. Max took pictures of everything, of course, and said he wanted to play a beautiful piece of music for us. So as we walked along, uphill, we listened to Clair du Lune, by Debussey. And spent the night in the beautiful little Maltesian village of Navarette.
 
6/9/15: Tenth day walking from Navarette to Najera then Azofra
   
As we left Navarette we came to a small crossroads. A young man in a very expensive car accosted us and asked in passable English if we spoke English. I admitted that I did and said that Max’s English was also very good. He asked if he could walk along with us and practice. I said that would be ok. So for the next hour a never-ending stream of English washed over me. I think Max was disgusted with the constant chatter and sped up to put some separation between us. When the man heard that I had once been in publishing it came our that he was hoping to market and sell an English-language web site dedicated to the history of the Camino. By the time we arrived in Ventosa my ears hurt as much as my poor feet did. I wished him well and he latched on to someone heading in the opposite direction—back to his car I suppose. 
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Max and I walked on in blessed silence. Then we happened upon Anne and Rosheen and Philomena at a little mobile snackbar.  We walked on in companionable conversaton for the rest of the way to Najera. By the river we saw an outdoor bar with very inviting tables. We all got plates of tapas and pitchers of beer and shared. At the next table sat a couple from Arizona, Phil and Ida. And at yet another table sat a very sad-looking young lady named Abby. She was here from some U.S. mid-western college with her boyfriend. Abby was short, and evidently her boyfriend was tall, and their two strides could not have been more incompatible. Abby had hyper-extended her knee trying to keep up with him and had needed to take a bus on ahead to wait for him. Her Camino was not working out the way she had envisioned it. 
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Najera was an interesting town with neolithic sandstone caves dug into the surrounding hills. We walked around a little, but I really did need to save my feet as much as possible. But there are so many interesting places when you slow down. And still, there isn’t time to see everything, or hear everyone’s story. I guess that’s why heaven has to be eternal—so we can catch up on everyone’s Camino. 
 
After Najera we all walked on to Azofra, a little crossroads town, population 250, where we stayed the night in a very nice alburgue, with outdoor foot-baths. After checking in and showering we found a little restaurant, where we saw Laurence again in her Rugby Woman teeshirt. For supper I had something they called “Cuban rice.” It was white rice ringed by a moat of plain marinara sauce spiced with tobasco. In the center of the rice “mountain” was a fried egg. A very simple meal, but it sure tasted delicious to me. Topped it off with a large glass of Sangri, and then off to bed in our luxurious “semi-private room” where Max still snored like a sawmill. Thank goodness for earplugs.
 
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 (to be continued)

Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 5

 

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6/4/15: End of the fifth day to Puente la Reina
 
I have no idea where that lady was going. I didn’t even have an idea where I was going. The gravel road was still narrow, but at least it was wide enough for two cars. It was obviously used to access all the fields I saw around me. Lovely rolling agricultural land. If I weren’t so sore, hungry, and thirsty I would have loved it.And there were many smaller roads joining it, but naturally none of them had any road signs. Anyone needing to use one would certainly already know where it went. I hated to, but I climbed a small hill in the middle of one of the fields to try to get my bearings. I could see the highway still far off to my left and knew that I had to get over it somehow so tried to head in that direction at each little intersection. I felt helpless. So I turned to my secret weapon: St Anthony! “Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost and must be found. It’s me!” and I decided to go right at the next intersection. As I rounded a little hill I saw the highway right in front of me. AND A BRIDGE! I couldn’t believe it! It had obviously been built for tractors to move from one field to another over the highway—or for crazy peregrinos who can’t manage to follow the signs!
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On the other side of the highway I could see a paved road off to my left but the (now) little gravel road I was on seemed to head up to the top of a little hill where there was some sort of construction. I didn’t want any part of the shoulder of a busy paved road, so I headed for the top of the hill. When I got there I saw two workmen mixing concrete. They were building a patio for an new apartment complex. I told them in French that I was lost “Je suis perdu.” Not surprisingly Spanish brick masons don’t speak French, but they did understand my signing that I really needed some water. I must have looked pretty scary. “Would it be ok for me to drink out of your hose?” The younger one shook his head and motioned for me to follow him to his truck where he handed me an enormous bottled water. Oh my goodness. That was the most delicious drink I have ever had. Seriously. The best. “I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.” I finally “felt” what it was like to be that thirsty, and also that grateful!
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I opened up my Brierly and pointed to the map. “Donde?” Where? I asked. “Puente la Reina,” he replied and pointed down the hill on the other side. Oh Lord, I was kilometers past where I had intended to go. I thanked them profusely and limped down the road on the other side that lead me straight into the city-center where the Municipal Alburgue was the first building I came to. But there was a line of young pilgrims queued up to sign in. I decided that if I ever deserved my own private room with a bath it was tonight, so I headed down the street 
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looking for the, Casa Rural Hostel Bidean ” Brierly mentioned. It was 40 euros, a princely sum, but that also included supper and breakfast! I gladly paid. There was no alcensor, elevator, but the hostess took pity on me and carried my pack  up the stairs to show me where my room was. Man oh man, what a day. 4am until 3pm. 11 hours walking. My feet hurt like you wouldn’t believe. I filled the tub with hot water, peeled the bandages off my feet, and just soaked myself until the water got so cold I had to get out. Washed everything in the sink then went down for a very nice supper, sharing the table with a lovely French couple. We talked about our grown children in “Franglish.” Seems like parents of grown children all over the world have the same joys and sorrows—and we never stop worrying about our kids.
 
6/5/15: Sixth day walking: to Villatuerta
 
After breakfast, walking out of town I heard singing coming from the Convento Comendadoras del Espiritu Santo. Had to stop. The women’s voices echoing in that ancient space was mesmerizing. To me, religion is supposed to bring beauty into the world. To incarnate it. And that is what these sisters were doing. For me I guess beauty is a proof for the existence of God.

The way out of town went over the bridge, Puenta la Reina, for which the town was named then uphill (ugh, ouch, ouch) to the little town of Maneru 5k away. Took me more than an hour. Rested in a little park in the center of town, then downhill (oof, ouch, yow!)  a bit, then back uphill to Cirauqui , an especially lovely little town in the distance. Took lots of photos across the fields and vineyards. Ancient, ancient olive trees, and lovely dry-stone walls. When you move at a walking pace you are able to really study the road ahead and be sensitive to the sights and smells and sounds around you. I carried a recorder with me to record my thoughts and one of the things most noticeable to me now is the sound of the birds. They were everywhere and in full voice. There are probably “industrial farms” in Spain, but not along the Camino . These farms are small and diverse and apparently in harmony with the wildlife. There were beehives and dairy cows and small grain silos. Inefficient, I’m sure, but more humane somehow.

Leaving Cirauqui I followed a rocky path down and across an ancient Roman stone bridge then across a modern steel bridge over the A-12. Easy to wonder if it will last as long as the one the Romans built. I doubt it. As I was struggling down the hill a murder of bicyclists “Buen Caminoed” me. Why do I find them so irritating? They break the silence of course. And they will be in Santiago days and days ahead of me. Is it jealousy? Or is it a reverse pride? “I’m on a real camino, and they are just on a long bike trip!” Snobbish, I guess. Like my disdain for the “day-trippers” who have their bags ported ahead. But then I meet people who have been walking SO much farther than I have. From Scandanavia, and Switzerland, and Paris. And what about the people who sleep outside—eschewing the alburgues? Which of us is really on camino? And which of us is just a tourist?

The way between Cirauqui and Lorca carried me under a modern aqueduct towering overhead then across a medieval bridge over the Rio Saldo. It was here that Aymeric Picaoud in the 12 th century wrote that a pilgrim mustn’t try to drink from the water—it is poisonous, and Basques hid nearby to skin the horses of pilgrims foolish enough to let them take a drink. There were a load of Norwegian pilgrims splashing and playing. Hoped they weren’t trying to take a drink.

Walking on I passed huge hay-bale skyscrapers.
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Another couple hours of walking and I knew I was finished . I decided to stop in Villatuerta , 3.7k short of Estella . There was another lovely stone bridge into the town spanning the rio Iranzu. I think northern Spain has cornered the market on lovely stone bridges over picturesque rivers. Who should I see as I came into the village? Max! He had been more than a day ahead of me but his feet were hurting so much he decided to rest for a full day in Villatuerta. He showed me where he was staying and they had a room. It was a room large enough for 5, but there were just three of us there: me, a Catholic from the USA, Max a Catholic from Brazil, and “Mattias” a Catholic from South Korea. He couldn’t speak very much English or Spanish, but he used his smart phone to translate into a broken English that was (with a vivid imagination) understandable.
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Supper was a vegetarian Paella, made with eggplant, white asperagus, red peppers, onions, and prunes (no kidding), olives, cauliflower, saffron-rice (of course), and raisins. The appetizer was a delicious salad of potatoes and another vegetarian dish with the same delicious tomato marinara sauce we’ve had served with rice at one place, and with fish at another. Not spicy, but very flavorful. Delicious local wine and a wonderful company with the addition of Laurence a lovely French Catholic who started walking in Le Puy , and Sebastien, a Swiss Catholic who started walking in Strassbourg . English, Spanish, and French were the chosen languages, and as the wine flowed our tongues became more and more loose! We finished with a nice light vanilla pudding dessert in it’s own little ramekin with a vanilla cookie sticking out the top. I thought a ginger snap would have been even better.

We slept in single beds rather than bunks. That made a nice change and I slept very soundly.
 
6/6/15: Seventh day walking: to Los Arcos
 
Leaving Villatuerte , Max said he wanted to walk to Monjardin , where there was nice view, and I wanted to walk the “Green path,” which was supposed to be more scenic. We decided to walk together as long as we could before the way split. That carried us through Estella, another good sized city I would have preferred to miss, but it wasn’t bad—not as unpleasent as Pamplona had been. They have a massive “Star” statue in the center of town.
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We walked along enjoying the morning. Saw street cleaners with a fire hose cleaning the enormous stairs in front of the Church of San Pedro de la Rua . On the other side of Estella we passed though the little village of Ayegui where I was supposed to cut off to take the scenic walk and Max was to continue on toward Villamayor de Monjardin. But my guidebook showed another cutoff at “ Monasterio Irache ,” one of the most famous locations on the Camino . That is where there is a water fountain where you can get fresh water—but you can find them all along the route. This particular fountain also had a spigot for red wine! We decided we were particularly thirsty and would go our separate ways afterwards.
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It was delicious and reinforced my feelings that the Camino does supply all our needs.
My path lead off to the left and Max’s route lead to the right up one of the many hills.On Camino you are forever saying goodbye. But not goodbye, “ Hasta luego .” As I walked along I remembered the day I was so very lost. And remembered that I kept hearing a coo-coo bird: “Coo-coo, coo-coo.” At the time I wondered if it was trying to help me find my way, or whether it was just telling me something that I already knew—that I was really crazy to have mis-read the signs so badly. And now today my way lead me through a tunnel under the highway, and as I emerged I start climbing up this gravel road in the sun. I was SURE that I was on the right path, but I heard a “coo-coo, coo-coo,” and thought that maybe I better check. I walked back down the hill 50 yards and found a small sign marking that the Camino cut off the gravel road and into some woods! It was so shady and cool and the ground was so much softer and easy on my poor feet. I thought “Maybe I’m learning,” or maybe I need to listen for the “Coo-coos!” The bird kept me company for hours.
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As I walked I decided that a pilgrimage had to have a goal—a someplace special—you are heading toward. If it didn’t then you were just on a long walk. Likewise our lives. And for so many people without a goal, their lives do become “pointless,” full of sound and fury, perhaps, but signifying nothing.

Speaking of which, two men and a young woman passed me for the second time today. They seemed American—at least the tall “talker” did. I could hear his pontification from 50 yards behind me to 50 yards ahead of me. I don’t think he even took a breath. The shorter man, walking with him, made apologetic eye-contact with me as they passed. I think he recognized that there sure was a lot of sound, if not fury, in his friend. It must be amazing to know so much. The friends seemed beaten down by the constant “yada, yada, yada. And as best I could tell the topic was always “money:” How one could get it, how one could keep it, and why the US government was so terrible for wanting to tax it. It reminded me of Charles E. Wilson’s claim that whatever was good for General Motors was good for the country. But the Pontificator was less modest: whatever was good for him was what was good for the US.

When I finally arrived in Los Arcos I was thrilled to meet all my original crew: Max, Anne and Philomena, Bobby and Roshein. We sat and had a beer in the main plaza outside the Cathedral before Mass. The retable   inside was gorgeous, but there sure was a lot of “smiteing” going on back then. The reconquista of Spain from the Moors was definitely not bloodless. Makes me wonder about the current, apparent Re- reconquista of Europe by Islam—whether or not it will succeed, and whether or not it, too, will be remembered as bloody.
 
6/7/15: Eighth day walking: to Viana
 
Today was the start of my second week walking. I’d hoped to be in pretty good shape by now, but I wasn’t. My feet were terrible, with black toenails and huge blisters. And I was making terrible time. Logrono was my goal for the day and it was 29 kilometers away. At the pace I was limping I wouldn’t get there before dark. But the terrain started off pretty flat and Max and I made good time to Sansol and Torres . I recorded a lovely early-morning serenade we got from the birds along the way.

After Torres , the track climbed sharply through a “graveyard” of remembrance stones and balanced-stone “statues” holding down little scraps of paper memories and heartbreaking mementos of loss— such as little pacifiers. All of us, I guess, need the opportunity to lay our burdens and sadnesses down somewhere.
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At the top we saw a small hermitage and then the path started down. And I mean “DOWN.” A ten-percent grade on a gravel path is difficult, even without blisters. But with my feet it was torture.

At the bottom I could see Viana in the distance. What an amazingly welcome site that was! I knew that was where we needed to spend the night!
 
And it turned out to be another example of the Camino supplying what we need.
 

6/7/15: in Viana
 
It was Corpus Christi, The Body of Christ, a very important holy day. There were beautiful temporary altars built in front of all the different churches in the city and the bishop and priests carried the monstrance from one to another in procession. Little children showered rose petals on us all.
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Georgia and I have often been traveling during Corpus Christi. We’ve been in Rome, and in Assisi ,  and in Munich . Now in Viana . One of the joys of being Catholic is being with fellow believers all over the world. And I always love a parade!
 
And as I joined the throng I saw Anne and Phil having a little bit of something along the parade route.  I joined them and learned that they knew where Max was. We found him and headed into a quiet little side street to look for an alburgue.  
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After food and photos we headed for the main plaza where there were some other pilgrims they’d met. One of them was Laurence , the young woman from Villatuerte who shared our vegetarian prune paella . She’d begun her camino in Le Puy in France and had already walked an entire camino before I even started at St Jean. So much for  my conceit that I was on a real camino.

The other couple was Danny and his wife Karen. Danny would be the life of any party. She was about to become my second “Doctor” on the Camino.
 

 (to be continued)


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Walking the Camino, 2015: Episode 4
6/3/15: Fourth Day walking: Arre to Cizur Menor
 
I had a good night's rest in Arre, on the outskirts of Pamplona so this began as the easiest walk so far. No hills or valleys, though I did manage to get off the recommended route. I ended up walking along a busy road instead of the tranquil river my guidebook spoke of. It is so easy to lose your way. Especially in the cities. The cars rushing past. The crowds of pedestrians. The strange looks you get with your backpack and wrinkled clothes. You feel self-conscious. You try to watch for the Camino signs. You see some of them, but can’t always tell if they are marking the “recommended” path, or just one of the paths. And after going a kilometer or so the wrong way it is really, really, hard to go back. Much like life, doncha' think? When we make a mistake we just keep bulling our way through and hope for the best.
 
And then sometimes through pure grace the wrong way does turn out to be a right way. As I walked through the suburbs of Pamplona looking for a telephone store I bumped into Anne and Philomena from “my first family” in St Jean Pied du Port. It was like meeting up with long lost relatives. We tried to catch up with each other as a torrent of pedestrians flowed by on either side. We compared blister-stories, and talked about others we had met. They said they had seen Max, and that he was hurrying on ahead so that he would make it to Santiago in time to see his wife, who was flying over from Brazil to welcome him. I told them I needed a phone to call Georgia, and so we hugged and parted again. But instead of saying “goodbye,” we said Hasta luego, “until we meet again.” That became our preferred “farewell.” I found a phone store, bought a phone for 25 euros and put 25 euros worth of minutes on it, then sent a text message to Max, who would never travel anywhere in the world without his smart phone! He told me that he was on his way into Villaturerte, which was at least a day ahead of me, and told me I needed to stop and see the campus of the University of Navarre , before leaving  Pamplona .  He was right. They gave a lovely sella. Those are the stamps we had to get in our “ Credencial ” each day to prove we were walking the Camino . We’d present it when we reached Santiago.

And as I was walking along I happened upon a glorious monastery, Convento S. Valentin de Berria Ochoa. There were monumental dalle de verre windows sometimes called “faceted glass.” In the United states the largest blocks you can find are 12” x 8”. Some of the blocks in these windows were 2’ x 2’. I can’t image where they got them, or how they were able to work with pieces that heavy. The matrix holding the glass was impregnated with sand and tiny seashells. Hard to believe that concrete would be strong enough and resilient enough to support that kind of weight. I photographed some of the rebar you could see  embedded  in the matrix. The design was modern—probably 1960s or later—and I stood for quite a while studying the panels from the outside. The door, however, was locked. As I stood there, wishing I could see them from the inside, the chapel door opened, and an white-robed Dominican friar motioned for me to come in. He was tiny; just over 5 feet, white-haired and slender but with a beatific smile. So welcoming. In broken Spanish I told him that I made stained glass windows like these but have never seen any using such large blocks of glass. One of his other elderly brothers was practicing the organ but my kind host just showed me from panel to panel throughout the chapel, talking the whole time as if I could understand Spanish. And I did understand enough to know that he was explaining the symbolism in each one. Then he showed me the signature block and gave me to understand that the design and fabrication was done by one of their brothers. The name was Domingo Iturgaize OP (order of preachers), and the date was December 1984—to May 1985. I was very impressed with the design-skill and the use of color. I wish I could have access to blocks that size. I learned later that Brother Domingo had died just three months earlier. But God bless him, he made the world a more beautiful place with his glass, and mosaics, and paintings. It’s something we can all aspire to. Leave the world a more beautiful place than we found it. 
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The Cathedral in Pamplona was also beautiful, especially the alabaster windows and ancient carved saints. The stained glass was good—as you would expect in such a place, but having seen so much old glass in so many places I’m becommimg quite jaded. I’ve seen windows like these in many other places, but not windows like Brother Domingo’s.
 
Just as I crossed the Puente Magdalena in the park near the Cathedral I saw two old women trying to step off the curb. One of them stepped wrong, and down she went, shopping bags and all. She landed on her hip. I’m almost sure she broke it, but she absolutely refused to let anyone call a doctor. I gathered up her bags while several other bystanders half-helped, half-carried her to a park bench. She sat there ashen-faced but stoic. She had a scrape on one of her arms. I put some of my triple-antibiotic ointment on the scrape and a bandaid. She smiled at me. But she refused to let anyone call a doctor. “No medcin!” She was emphatic. I guess there comes a point when the elderly are afraid of doctors and hospitals. Instead of being a place of healing, they come to be seen as the enemy, and bearers of unbearable news. Places where you go, never to return.
 
Pamplona’s ancient stone walls are enormous. One portal still has its working chain drawbridge. A sign said that it was used once a year to let the three kings into the old city. As I entered the old city the first thing I encountered was a mime—panhandling. Kind of creepy—couldn’t actually “ask” for money, but could walk along beside me being obnoxious. I can certainly understand now why some people have nightmares about mimes. I’m afraid that the the falling woman and the discourteous mime became emblematic of Pamplona for me. I’m glad I didn’t try to spend the night there. On the outskirts I did stop to get a ­sello from the University of Navarre as Max recommended. Both it and the campus were beautiful. 


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But, I found that I was really glad to get back into the countryside. The path was flat and quiet and the weather was perfect. Not too hot or cold. I limped along happily and only struggled when I came to a slight hill into the town of Cizur Menor.
  
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Stayed at the first place I came to on the left: Sanjuanista run by the Knights of St John of Malta. Beautiful red Maltese Cross on the door. Took a welcome shower, washed my clothes and hung them out back to dry, then went to look for a mass. Found one at a stone church at the top of the hill. Hurt like the dickens to walk there but the view of the little town was glorious and there was another alabaster window inside. After mass I went looking for something to eat. Learned from another pilgrim that Philomena, Anne, and the others were staying at an alburgue nearby and went in search of them. Anne was exhausted but decided to come get a bite with me anyway. We sat outside and talked. Steve came by and joined us. Anne left to go get some sleep and Steve and I continued our conversation. He was miserable. Frustrated at having to walk so slow to keep pace with all the others. Seven of them were trying to stick together and Steve, with his long legs and fast pace, was hobbled. I suggested he pick his own pace and plan to meet the others somewhere along the way. He said Anne was afraid they’d all get separated and Cerys, who’d first persuaded Steve to walk the Camino, was hurt that he would want to walk on ahead of them alone. Poor guy. First time I realized that everyone should walk their own camino—not the camino someone else wanted you to walk.
I had heard that the walk was entirely different at night with all the stars so decided to get up early and walk in the morning. I said good-night early and went back to the albergue to layout everything for an early morning walk. I had no idea it was going to be such a LONG one.
 
6/4/15: Fifth day walking: leaving Cizur Menor
 
The church bells woke me up at 3am and I started walking by 4:00. Would have started sooner, but got dressed in the dark trying so hard not to wake anyone else I left my poles in the room and had to go back for them, then realized I couldn’t lock the Albergue door after me. Waited for someone to get up to go to the bathroom and asked them to lock the door behind me.
 
Luckily there was a three-quarter moon, but it was still really dark. Haze hid the stars. Had a little flashlight that mounted to my hat. It gave enough light to walk by but not really enough to be sure of the signs. Ended up walking down a path through a forest of weeds. Came to a junction with an arrow painted on a small stone.  It pointed one way, but for some reason I thought someone must have moved the stone, so I went down the other fork. I walked a hundred yards or so then decided I must be wrong—there were too many weeds growing in the center of the path. Surely the number of pilgrims on the Way would have trampled any weeds, so I went back to the intersection and started down the path indicated by the arrow. It seemed much  more like what I’d come to expect. My pig-headedness and lack of trust for my fellow pilgrims should have warned me that today was not going to be a good day.
 
As I walked, climbing toward the Alto del Perdon, (the Hill of Pardon, where the famous pilgrim statues are located) the sky began to lighten. I loved watching the moon and clouds playing hide and seek behind the waving cypress trees. It was like walking in a Van Gogh painting. Magical. And then the reddest dawn I’ve ever seen: “Red in the morning, pilgrim take warning.” I should have paid more attention. 

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Arrived in Zariquiegui, halfway up the slope to the hill of Pardon at 6am before the local tienda was even open. I begged him to get me something to eat; he grudgingly made me a delicious cup of café con leche, and a perfectly burned piece of toast. Nevertheless it tasted good when I scraped off the charcoal, and it felt so good to sit down.
 
About an hour and a half later I arrived at the statues and had someone take the obligatory picture of me hiking along with the iron-plate pilgrims.
 
Donde de Cruza el Camino del Viento, con el del las Estrellas
Where the path of the wind crosses the path of the stars. 

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And where I managed to get horribly lost.
The Brierly guide warned me that right after the statues I would: “Descend [!] carefully over the loose stones and through the scrubland to the rich red earth . . . .” Unfortunately I didn’t read that passage until I was about one and half kilometers down the road that ran perpendicular to the path I should have been on. In my own defense I can only plead that the Camino should  have followed the base of the wind turbines I was following. They were like the Don Quizote’s giant windmills, and their constant hum and faint clanking was a perfect backdrop along this “path of the wind.” And the views from the ridgeline were gorgeous with the lifting fog. In my arrogance I congratulated myself for having found the “real” path. It was sort of hidden in the brush and I was sure that all the other losers were probably hiking along the gravel road. They weren’t. 

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By the time I suspected I might have gone the wrong way I had come down several hundred meters in altitude but thought I was probably now on a road that was going to carry me Uterga, one of the villages I was going to have to walk through on my way to Obanos, where I planned to spend the night. My feet were killing me. The soles of both feet were blistered and I had several blackened toenails. The little toe on my left foot was inflamed and horribly swollen. I was afraid that I might be doing some serious damage to it. The thought of walking back up the hill to get onto the right path was just too disheartening. I would make my own shortcut. I’m good at pig-headedness.

My shortcut didn’t pan out. White arrows are not the same as yellow ones. The road I was on carried me across a high bridge then over the A-12—a Spanish superhighway—then continued for miles along the base of dozens of other wind turbines. I thought it was probably a main country road and would carry me somewhere, but it kept getting smaller and smaller, and was obviously just an access road for the turbines. There were no signs. No arrows. No people. There were beautiful red poppies and other wild-flowers, and beautiful views down into the valley below, but that was cold comfort as I limped on and on. 
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Eventually I came to a tall rickety watchtower and a sign with a large arrow on it, but the sign had fallen over and there were several spooky looking overgrown paths radiating out from here. I have no idea what it was. Maybe a campground of some sort. Didn’t look like a Camino arrow, and the paths were obviously little-traveled. I rested, tried to re-bandage my aching feet, drank the last of my water, and felt sorry for myself, then continued down the narrowing road. Surely it would lead somewhere.
 
Around the next corner I could see the A-12 in the far distance and from my map I could tell that I was on the wrong side. I was north-west of it, and the Camino was south-east of it. The road continued in a northwesterly direction and would carry me farther and farther from where I wanted to be, so I felt I had to turn left, go down the mountain and find some way back to the Camino. So down-hill I went, over rough rocks, loose gravel, generally following a eroded gully. It was agony. 

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At the bottom I found myself in a field of what I later learned was called Avoine, a cereal grain fed to cattle and livestock. The field of was enormous. Surrounded on three sides by steep hillsides of scrub pines. The field was actually a finger several hundred yards across. I had no choice but to walk through it. The grain was just over waist-high and the ground was hard-pan, but with ridges left by the plows and rain storms. Like walking on dull knives. I tumbled down in a ravine thinking it might be easier to follow the little creek bed. Wrong. There were brambles and fallen trees and broken limbs. It was impassible. I climbed out the other side and found myself back in another gigantic finger-field. There was no hope for it. I would just have to walk until I came to something. I walked for about 45 minutes before the terrain changed. The grain became more stunted and looking down I could discern tractor treads running perpendicular to the direction I was walking. I turned and started following the tractor tracks. They lead me to a narrow farm path—obviously made by farm equipment traveling to and from the field. And then to a small farm road, and then past some tumbled-down farm outbuildings, then to a proper gravel farm road. Civilization! I wasn’t going to die in the woods after all! After another 30 minutes of walking I saw a car up ahead emerge from a cloud of dust. I was saved! They would stop and give me a ride some place where I could get some water, and sit down for a while.
The lady smiled and waved as she barreled past.
 

 (to be continued)

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