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Overseas Trips

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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Comments
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 3:59 AM by
I enjoyed the scriptures you threw in and the word Franglish. Also, remembrance stones much better than grave stones. I don't believe I have ever heard that used before. Beautiful scenery, I wish we had such wonderful architectural buildings here. Seems other countries are so much more artistic than the U.S.
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