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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)