Monday, July 31, 2017

The ants go marching 2 by 2...

Upon leaving our lovely farmhouse in Rente this morning, we were greeted by a troop of 50 Italians led by several nuns and a priest with a bull horn. This set the tone for the day. Sarria is the starting point for about 30% of those who get a certificate for the Camino and we were about an hour from Sarria and getting a late start. Most of the morning was passing hordes or being passed by hordes.

I re-read a blog post of mine from the 2011 trip and it seemed to indicate we noticed more pilgrims at this point, but neither one of us remembered the numbers being so great until the last day - this really doesn't make sense, they should have been with us for five days. We think because of our starting place each day, we managed to avoid most of them on the road.

Tonight we do the first and probably only repeat accommodation for the trip - a reasonable small hotel in the nowhere cow town of Gonzar. Interestingly, most of the pilgrims we have met over the last few days seem to be staying here - some at our suggestion.

We think we have our routes and accommodations mapped out through the end - then we rest for a day before going on to the sea.

That's all for today. I need to stop doing these before bed as I'm just exhausted after 9.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

There is no cheating

I already posted my run from Triacastela to Sarria on Facebook so I'll just mention here and move on to a somewhat related topic. We had seen people running along the Camino on our last trip and I thought it was an interesting idea. We discovered the 5 euro portage network for our backpacks a few weeks back. I knew I wanted to somehow liven up my walking routine. The stage was set for my half marathon (almost). Janine left about 7 am with her full pack. I ate a chocolate filled croissant (the only food I could find in this sleepy hamlet) and was on my way at about 8:30 with just my water bottle and a few essentials in my slowly decaying rock'n'roll marathon free goodie backpack.

I passed Janine after about an hour and a half and finished about 30 minutes late. It was a great run on roads and trails with a few amazing vistas. I especially liked running by pilgrims that I knew and greeting them by name as a whizzed by. The hips were feeling the distance and all the previous days of hiking during the last 5k but overall it was super to be running again after my ankle injury and more than a month since my last run.

View from my run

I wondered as a I ran - which is harder, running this distance or walking it with full pack. Honestly I think it's about the same, although I imagine that many non-runners that I passed would never think about running that distance. To some extent, it's what you are used to.

Did I cheat today? Sending my pack ahead to unburden myself? I feel fairly certain in saying "There is no cheating". The Camino is what it means to you. Whether you walk the last 100 km as required OR walk some other arbitrary distance (from St Jean or Roncevalles or Irun or Somport or Jerusalem or Paris or...). If you need to take a bus part of the way or do it in parts or take a boat (which was recommended on the Northern way), all of this is okay. What does the Camino mean to you? It seems it should mean more than that piece of paper that you get at the end. Each pilgrim took the time to do something difficult that very few other people chose to do and maybe found some insight along the way. The distance, the mode, and path are all relative. The only person who can say you cheated is you.

P.S. When I skipped out on the Meseta, I certainly cheated myself of a really long, hot, boring part of the trip and chose to sit on the beach for a few of those days. I'm totally okay with that - in fact, I think it was an incredibly important part of my Camino experience.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Engineering Marvels - Ancient and Modern

I sit in the dark as most of my bunk mates are trying to doze off before 10. It's still light outside but many of them may start rustling in the dark at 5. Janine will be up at 6, I will try to sleep until 7. Tomorrow I send my pack ahead and will run the Camino. The distance is about 13 miles and most of it will be on pavement. I needed something to shake things up a bit since it seems like I am in this for the long haul - probably no more side trips. Since my rest on the coast and the recuperation of my ankle, the walking has been, for the most part, more enjoyable.

Not much to report today other than big dogs (see last post) and pimientos de padrones (once for lunch and once for dinner). Triacastela is a one street town that despite having probably a dozen places to stay is full up for the night. Starting tomorrow in Sarria the competition for beds really begins as it is the point where you must start if you want to receive a compostela (the certificate for having walked the Camino). We have about 6 days of walking/running left.

One of the things I was contemplating yesterday is how easy we can become jade
d to wonders all around us. Certainly the first things that comes to mind on this journey is another beautiful church, another darling town, another stunning landscape - been there, done that. But in particular yesterday I was noticing a flyover above one of the villages. To most of the pilgrims, I imagine this modern convenience was somehow in conflict with their amble through the medieval countryside. However I thought, if we had never seen structure before we would be amazed: Smooth rectangular columns rising 100 or more feet in the air supporting a massive bridge bearing the weights of gigantic speeding vehicles. It was an engineering marvel, as is my phone and my wireless keyboard and and my microwave oven and my electricity grid and my paved roads and my indoor plumbing. There is so much amazing stuff all around us that we are so accustomed to and we seldom give it a second thought. I am trying to give it a second thought. Nuff said.

Misty Watercolored Memories

[Date above will be one day off- couldn't get weefee (wifi) last night]

I mentioned briefly, before I passed out from exhaustion, that yesterday was the first day the we trod ground which we had covered before in 2011.

Previously we had started in Ponferrada (named for its Iron Bridge) but at the bus station on the Santiago side of the city. The city itself with its impressive castle and beautiful basilica is a mix of both ancient and modern. Here, we ran into again, a young man from France who had rescued both a dog and a cat along the way and was pulling them in a bicycle pull-behind that he had converted into a pedi-cab contraption. He then sang a sweet song in the basilica as he played his tiny guitar. These are the strange and lovely oddities of the Camino.

On the far side of the city, we picked up our former path. I remembered one unusual tunnel through a school but not much else. At lunch time we arrived a Cacabelos, our first night's stay in 2011 and were blown away by our incorrect memory of the town. We thought is was a very small town without much there, but as we walked in we realized it was sizeable with quite a bit going on. Perhaps it was the weather (it was raining and dreary in 2011) but other than the place we stayed, most of our memories were blank or highly questionable.

Later in the day did not yield much better results. The only memory I had of the road into our destination of Villafranca was finding a hiking stick in a field - we took a slightly different route this time so no repeat adventures there - plus I found a hiking stick by the road about 3 weeks ago. Villafranca itself yielded a few more accurate memories, including the location near the edge of the city where I had to knock on the door and beg for an emergency bathroom for my wife - it's now a hostal.

near O Cebreiro - do not remember the market

Today was the big climb up to O Cebreiro, definitely Janine's favorite town on the Camino. It's perched at 1300 meters with stunning vistas on two sides. The tiny church is special and is associated with at least one miracle. We remembered a few things along the way today and actually remembered our destination quite well, but as the title of this suggests, I'm just amazed at how fickle and pliable one's memory can be - the fact that Janine had the same experience was helpful in validating the phenomena.

All of this reminds me of my return to Hungary a few years back. I lived in the town of Jaszbereny for almost a year. There was a church in the center of town that I probably passed three times a week. But upon my return, I only vaguely remembered the church and certainly did not remember it's prominence or orientation in the square. The tenuous nature of memory is a lesson in humility.

postscript: restaurant on next stage remembered but not in correct location or with correct surroundings. Contained the giant dog below begging for scratches.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Your Way is lifting me Higher...

the highest point?
Today we hit the highest point on the Camino. It should have been at the Cross of Iron although technically it happened 4 km later at an unmarked turn with a panoramic landscape. The Cruce de Ferro was a giant pile of rocks, possibly that started in Roman times, with a telephone pole at the top and a un-impressively small iron cross on top of that. The custom is to take a rock, ideally as large as you can carry, and leave it at the top of the pile. I think you are supposed to leave your troubles behind here, I chose to leave my aspirations.

Unlike the walk we did in Italy, the Camino doesn't have nearly as much climbing but the 1500 meter peak we reached wasn't trivial - however it was generally a gentle climb. Unlike the descent on the back side. Today we dropped about 900 meters over the course of about 10k - far more than we've gone up over the same distance at any other part of our journey. All the downhill just about injured my good leg. Luckily Molinaseco had a chilly stream to soak my weary bones in.

I'm already into the next day now and it's bedtime again. Both legs survived a hard 30k day. Went through Ponferrada this morning so we are starting to see things from our first Camino. More on this later, another hard 30 tomorrow with the last big climb up O Cerebreiro. Must sleep...zzzz

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

St James Day

We limped out of Astorga slightly refreshed after a day's rest. Today would be special - it was St. James Day. Unbeknownst to most St. James the Apostel and Santiago refer to the same person. For some reason, Diego is the Spanish version of James and Santiago is some variation of Saint Diego. The walk was pleasant but unremarkable other than a side-trip to the cute little town, Castrillo de Los Polvazares, that was completely locked down despite being a well-known tourist destination.

But we had high hopes for our destination of Rabanal Del Camino. A town with Camino in it's name. Certainly they would have something special planned for our day.

The story of St. James has many variations but it goes something like this. James Zebedee or James the Greater (there were two apostles named James) left the Middle East to spread the word as instructed by Jesus. His time in Spain was cut short by a vision of the Virgin Mary telling him to return to Jerusalem. Upon his return, he was martyred. (There is some moral here about listening to visions of the Virgin Mary). His body was then put into a boat and at some point arrived near the northwest corner of Spain. The body eventually travelled a hundred miles inland.

Santiago
Around 900 A.D., a farmer found some bones in a field illuminated by a bunch of bright stars. The Catholic hierarchy use their post dark ages CSI skills to verify the authenticity of the bones. A church grew up around the bones, a pilgrimage route to see the holy relics flourished, and the rest is, both figuratively and literally, history. The full name of the city containing the church is Santiago de Campostela which means Saint James of the Field of Stars.

Back to our destination... We immediately stumbled upon a sweet but crumbling church that was having a special lunchtime Mass with five Benedictine priests presiding and a cute little old man playing a fife and a drum. Later in the evening, there was vespers - vespers is usually when nuns or monks sing for about 30 minutes. Tonight, the vespers centered around Santiago (who I would later learned is called Jacob in German). The same five priests led the singing with the rest of us stumbling along in Latin (nunc et sempre means now and forever - we sang that along). Most of the priests spoke English (and German, as I would also later learn) and they would occasionally address the group in English. Father Jeremiah spoke first in Spanish about the legend of Santiago and the Stone Cow that had brought him to Spain. Or so I thought. He said "Barca" which means Boat and not "Vaca" which means Cow - those Spanish speakers out there may forgive the mistake as they DO sound somewhat similar. His English translation resolved my puzzlement.

After the service, there was a small party put on by the priests where we were able to talk to Father Jeremiah a bit. He and two others were on "Home Leave" and just visiting. He had help start the Monastery in Rabanal some 15 years ago as well as revived the practice of having a celebration on July 25th. We could have been many places on this day, but we felt we had landed in a special place.

Tomorrow, to the highest point on the Camino!


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Way

We left the small town of Mazarife at about 7, well behind the crazy Slovenians who were doing 40k each day and rising at 4 to walk in the dark for 2 hours. In addition to not knowing how these people were physically doing this with the size packs they had, it seemed to turn the Camino into a new level of endurance sport. I met a lass from Ireland later in the day who was doing 45k a day. To each his own.

One of the highlights of the day was an impressive medieval bridge in the town of Hospital de Orbigo. A local legend, which Janine mentioned in a Facebook post, tells of a knight that showed his love for a young women by fighting everyone who crossed the bridge for a month. It can all be spun in a very romantic and chilvarious manner, but the guy could also been a violent stalker unwilling to take no for an answer - no wonder the woman chose not to return his affections.

I'm currently reading a book about Isabella (Columbus's sponsor) and the motivations and back stories of all the characters in question can be seen through many lenses. Was Isabella's older brother really concerned that his daughter (possibly) Juana become the queen, or did he feel slighted by Isabella's opposition or was he being manipulated by his possible sexual abuser, Juan Pacheco. Even with the facts laid out clearly before us as to the events, the intents of those involved are often complicated.

street view of the way bridge maybe

On the lighter side, Janine also mentioned the bridge we crossed was probably the one where Martin Sheen lost his pack in the Movie, The Way. If you've not seen this, it's an enjoyable night-sea journey film that does a reasonable job of capturing the spirit of the Camino - unexpected friendships, loud and crowded albergues, long walks through endless fields dotted with small villages, and some resolve to the personal demons that plague each of the main characters. Some of the mundanities such as blisters, doing laundry, and trying to get directions in a foreign language are left out. I agreed the bridge looked similar but felt the river below was not fast enough and that, if they were attempting to stay true the progress along the way, the bridge would have to be in the first few stages - much closer to Pamplona. Strangely, the Internet did not immediately yield an answer. Eventually I found that in order to find a fast enough river to meet the criteria of the script, the film crew left the Camino and used an ancient bridge just below the Itioz reservoir. I pulled up a Street View from Google Earth on a nearby bridge - it seemed like it might be the one.

It's now a day later and we are still in Astorga - another town with a major Cathedral that we will check out later today. It's a day of rest for Janine who has been walking non-stop since I last saw her. Tomorrow, we attack the hill leading into Rabbanal, just short of the highest point of the walk.







Back in the Saddle

My last day on my own consisted largely of riding buses, watching movies, and being in intestinal distress. From Santander, three of us vied for the laziest pilgrims in the Albergue, not rising until all the lights went on at seven - most of the hikers were gone. I had an 8:30 bus to León where I'd be reunited with my sweetheart. Unfortunately something I ate the day before did not agree with me - the dangers of adventurous eating while traveling.

The first bus had a movie in Spanish and the second bus allowed me to finish one I had started the night before on my kindle.

Janine and I met at the amazing parador San Marcos - an ancient monastery that had been turned into a four (?) star hotel. We re-visited the unbelievable León Cathedral and had a nice dinner. I could (and may) do a whole blog on the León Cathedral - I've been to most of the biggies and I think it outdoes them all.

rest stop
Janine slightly hobbled herself during her week of solo walking - something is going on with her knee and she was moving pretty slow in the morning. We chose to do the "optional" route which was lovely and well-marked. The highlight of the day was probably a donation rest area complete with 2 Burning Man style geodesic domes - one a warming hut and the other a bathroom with full plumbing.

I'm happy to be on the road again with Janine but also thankful for our adventures apart. She's determined to walk another 16 days to the ocean. I'll see how I feel in another 7 - once we are in Galicia, we are awfully close to Portugal.

Stork nests in Mazarife



Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Legend of St. Rete

Rainy Day walking along the highway. Rainy Day in Santander - a not very interesting big city. I have to include a picture, so here's a confusing one - 20 minutes to go 4.9 k - because it's by boat. My map only has this crossing, no land crossing even listed. Father Ernesto said last night that there's another place in a day where you need to do a exclusive train bridge crossing or walk an extra 7k. So even pilgrims must abandon their feet occasionally.

As I walked along the lonely, rainy road, I recalled the story of St. Rete - a variation of which I related at an open mic at Burning Man after our first Camino seven years ago.

The Catholic Church has a pantheon of Saints that are enlisted when God needs a little extra bugging about our entreaties. St Francis and St Roque are the only two I ever recognize in picture or in stone - Francis for his stigmata and Friar Tuck haircut and Roque because he is usually accompanied by a dog that is bringing him bread. St Rete, aka the Saint of Timely Advice, is not (yet) officially part of the Catholic Super Friends.

There was a young man named Rete from Switzerland who went to walk the Camino de Santiago. Ten days into his journey, he turned over in bed one night, and dislocated his shoulder. The doctor he consulted told him his journey was done - he could not carry a pack with such an injury. Head hung low sitting on a bench on the street outside the doctor's office, he looked up and noticed little old ladies coming and going from the grocery store across the street - each of them with a small cart trailing behind them. Shortly thereafter, Rete returned to the trail pulling his own pack-laden cart with his good arm. It was unbelievable what type of terrain he covered with his modern day mule and the speed at which he traveled. He often beat us to the next town.

After meeting Rete, and getting his most interesting story, we noticed that he seemed to have quite good insights as to the Camino. Saints are required to have 3 miracles to gain this title (post-humous miracles are fine - but don't worry - nothing bad happens to Rete). The first timely advice Miracle occurred at our favorite town of O'Cebreiro. The Albergue on the far side of town was filling up fast - his advice, "not a good hostel, if you can find a reasonably priced pension in the center, take it". Running around avoided, Mike-Janine argument diffused, and no trip required to next town to find beds (which many pilgrims were forced to do) - Miracles do not have to be large.

Rete's second miracle steered us in a different direction. He encouraged to stay in the 500 year Old Convent in Samos that had 100 hostal beds in one room. Not the best night's sleep but a unique experience in every way.

The Timely Advice Miracle #3 occurred when he suggested we not follow the prescribed destination (top of the page of the map for those of you who have read earlier posts), and instead stop a little early at a very nice B&B in Morgade. We did so but there was no room in the Inn. It was lunch time and we decide to dine, informing the woman we were interested in a room if for some reason she had a cancelation. Lunch was great and as we were getting ready to move on, the phone rang. Room canceled - awesome place to stay for the night.

A post-Camino miracle also occurred. As mentioned, I told a version of this story at open mic at Burning Man. I had notes but the story was not tight and in preparation I needed to get the bit down to 5 minutes. I walked off into the desert to work on my timing. Far from my camp and on the edge of civilization (no more tents, just deep playa), I realized I didn't have a watch. As this happened, I looked around and LITERALLY saw the Virgin Mary inside a Guacamole - the St. Mary of the Guacamole Camp was immediately to my left. I took it as a sign, went in, explained my predicament, and successfully borrowed a watch for an hour. Both the Playa and Camino provide.



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Albergues

I'm currently on the Camino Del Norte (or the Northern Way). Janine is on the Camino de Frances (the French Way). The vistas here are hard to beat, but I'm a beach freak - I'm assuming if you loved endless wheat and corn fields (and lots of little villages) you might prefer the French Way. But one thing I definitely like about the traditional Camino better than my current route are the housing options: More frequent towns, more choices, wider range of prices. On the traditional way there is usually a town every 5 km and usually some place to stay in most of them, often an Albergue.

El Albergue de Abeulo Pueto
The Albergue is essentially a hostel for pilgrims. Often you can't get in unless you have a credential ( a pilgrim's passport with stamps from various churches and stopovers along the way). They are often full late in the day (2 nights ago I slept in the garden). They usually charge 15 Euro at the high end (if private) and 5 at the low end (if municipal). Some are strictly donation. Janine tends to not like Albergues with good reason: we're often in a large room with 14 other people, 5 of them with severe sleep apnea. The common showers are often a little gross and out of hot water (last night). But occasionally they are amazing, such as the one I am in tonight.

I've met several travelers going backwards on the Northern trail - they all said "Make sure you stay in Guemes, it's really special". It is.

Father Ernesto, after traveling the world in his Land Rover, returned to his birthplace to rebuild his family home and start good works in Spain and abroad. About 18 years ago, he saw the opportunity to help the pilgrims and reach some like-minded folks. The place has a dozen or so rooms and can sleep about 70. It's the first Albergue I've been to that serves three meals a day - I made it in time for lunch which was just as delicious as dinner. It's run by a small army of volunteers including a Californian and a young women from England who translated from Spanish to English the talks given by Father Ernesto and his helpers about the history of the Albergue and the Camino.

Father Ernesto is a proponent that the struggles and joys on the Camino are a metaphor for life. The real secret is not so much to make it to the end but to help each other along the way.

Two days for the price of One

Yesterday, which seems ages ago, was a trek across town with full pack to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. (Brief stop, by chance, at the Inglesia de San Francisco de Asis). Richard Serra with his free standing 12 foot torqued steel plates were worth the price of admission. Toulouse, Claude, and their pals were also okay.

Massive Steel Installation by Richard Serra

Morning Fog and Del Norte Arrows
A hot walk across the city got me to a semi-local bus that delivered me to the coastal town Castro-Urdiales where I somewhat successfully managed to pick up the Camino Del Norte - another road that leads to Santiago but along the northern coast of Spain. The ankle seems to be doing better and it needed a test drive. Supposedly accommodations are somewhat sparser on the Del Norte and this was certainly true my first night - I ended up sleeping on my air mattress / pool raft / sciatica relief cushion in the garden. It was a nice night, so it was all fine except the occasional bug and some light fog that required me to cover myself with the poncho in the middle of the night.

The day was spectacular with shortcuts supplied by locals and seaside vistas. I did take one wrong turn near my destination and ended up walking about an extra hour - backtracking on the good advice of a friendly Spaniard who was particularly intrigued with Lombard Street in San Francisco.

I bypassed the massive beach town of Laredo to stay a little further down the road in Santoña - another resort town that has probably seen better days.

Several people I've met are walking the Del Norte backwards, and they've all mentioned tomorrow's destination of Guemes as a special place.






Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pinxtos

Since I stayed in San Sebastián, the self-proclaimed gastronomical center of the universe (unlike Fremont, that does not categorize the centrality), I thought I'd write about Pintxos and a life lesson.

Life Lesson #1: Always ask your waiter what they like.

This doesn't mean you can't refuse their advice or steer them towards your taste - but 8 times out of 10, if you are an adventurous eater, your waiter will nail something you never would have ordered. This was never more true in the Pintxos world.

Most bars in the Basque Country have an insane array of food, usually atop a piece of bread, that you pick and pay 1 to 3 Euros for. For many in Pamplona, and Estella, and San Sebastián, and Bilbao, these can constitute a meal - after eating these for almost a week, I tend to disagree, but I am a curmudgeon.

The tapas wave hit the US about two decades ago and while fun, always seemed to me a scheme to order more food and run up my bill. Pintxos, while I actually love many of the ones I've tried, seem to have turned this capitalistic corner.

Regardless - I encourage whether you are ordering food at an Appleby's (gasp) or a Mom-and-Pop roadside stand, ask what they like and try to let go.

Here's how my adventure unfolded in San Sebastián :

I took a bite of the Bacalao
First time out. I was jonesing for some sardines and anchovies so I pick one of each and then asked the waiter, in Spanish (aren't you impressed), whatever you think is best. What he brought me cost a bit more, and I waited for 20 minutes, but the result was a Foie a la Plancha (liver!) that almost made me cry it was so good.

The next night out, I simply asked the bar man to give me three of what he liked. Strangely one had both anchovies and sardines, one had a purée of Bacalao (cod), and the third had mushrooms with grilled goat cheese. I was in heaven.

The forgettable plate
Statistics do catch up with us. At the next bar that evening, I tried the same tactic and the food was somewhat forgettable.

Life Lesson #2: Nothing makes food tastes better than being hungry. Not hungry? Have an apple or some protein and skip a meal.

Here Endeth the Lesson. St. Mike

Learn more about the Tapas vs. Pinchos debate:
https://www.tripsavvy.com/pintxos-pinchos-and-tapas-1644384


Saturday, July 15, 2017

And then I found out it was made of people!!!

Just a little Solyent Green click bait. Read previous post, better pictures.

Going to keep it short (and parenthical) today. The picture is a local delicacy from the Panaderia below my hostel. Essentially cake with a small cream center - their version of a Krispy Kreme. (Not really, but I had to make a Winston-Salem Reference - speaking of which - shout out to my sister - I met a Welsh guy who worked at Camp Cheerio - although probably this century - ouch).

Great wandering in San Sebastián. Swimming in ocean. Good Grisham novel in Kindle (thank you Seattle Library). Multiple glorious walks on beach. More Pintxos later tonight (I had a Foie a la plancha last night that almost made me cry).

They are setting up for the Jazz Festival. Sadly I'll be gone. Off to Bilbao tomorrow (Perhaps Samwise Gamgee the next day?)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Off the Road

Janine's Birthday is the day I left the Camino. It's convenient to blame my sprained ankle - I'm actually surprised how well I've done on it for a week. The day was somewhat unfortunate but it just worked out well on the calendar and it sounds like she had a great day without me. Walking 20 miles because she and her compatriots just felt like walking.

This morning I rose early with her and caught a 6:45 bus to Donostia (the Basque name for San Sebastián ). Shortly after getting off the bus I ran into a fellow pilgrim (we recognize each other by our limp and our scallop shells). He had walked much of the Camino including the northern route (the traditional route is called the French Way). I had pondered walking a day or two up north after a couple of days off. He encouraged my plan - suggesting I walk a few days to the west of Bilbao. I'll likely do that. He, like everyone else, made it a point to mention we were at the grastronomical center of the universe (his caveat: western food).

As much as I think I'm a desert person, I so love to walk along the beach. It was overcast and yet I was overjoyed to be walking sand with the waves washing against my feet as the myriad of children in surf school ran back and forth on my path. San Sebastián is a very touristy town but they do it well. The buildings are a mix of ancient churches and more recent colorful beach high rises that all seem to blend well. The aquarium was wonderful (although a little heavy on the maritime history even with the audio guide). I haven't been too hungry today so I've mainly been feasting with my eyes on the fantastic layouts displayed in all of the tapas (Pintxos) bars. I've taken my nap so I'll be off to explore the food and the nightlife shortly.

pintxos




Thursday, July 13, 2017

A day late and a Euro short

Despite having lots of free time yesterday, it was suddenly almost midnight and I had not yet written my daily musings. Now I sit at a late morning breakfast outside an incredible bakery on the walking promenade in Burgos - a wonderful metropolitan city with much of its 12th century charm in tact.

Even though we hiked ahead two days ago, yesterday's walk was still a hard five hours including several miles through an uninspiring river park leading into the city. We booked ahead at what looked to be a wonderful 3 start hotel for 2 nights. The room was fair but the view of the cathedral was beyond expectations - perfectly framed in our full length window - just 100 meters from our hotel. The Cathedral was more stunning than the one in Logroño, especially the stone motifs around the back of the altar. Fun Fact: A Cathedral is church where a bishop is seated - Cathedra is the Latin word for seat. (Not researched: but it's what I remember from an audio-guide - feel free to fact check, I'm offline)

Burgos cathedral from our room

We managed to wind our way through the labyrinth of restaurants behind the Cathedral and found a gem named Moritz. We simply pointed at the couple next to us and said, "We'll have that". It was so good that we returned to the same restaurant for dinner with our new friend, Marie from Montreal. Later we found it was one of the highest ranked restaurants in Yelp.

lunch!

The well regarded Museum of Evolution of Humans (amusingly, to me, called MEH) was worth another hour or so of exploration time. A pilgrim's mass and a brief visit to the ongoing Folklore Festival performance rounded out our day.

We rest today. No packs and minimal walking in sandals. Tomorrow, will bring a big change. Janine will head off to the Meseta (a boring high plain) towards León. I'm taking a break. I knew going in that 37 days of walking was probably more than I cared to do. We've now done more than our first trip or our Italian walk. I think I'm off by bus to the beach town of San Sebastián on the Northern Coast and I'll see where that leads me. I'll meet up with Janine in about 8 days in León to continue he walk (with hopefully a well rested ankle).


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

and now for something completely different...

my favorite descanso
I hope...
Today was a very good day from Tosantos to beyond the "top of the page" city to San Juan de Ortega and into the next page and Atapuerca. We had heard many travelers talking of going on from there and this is the first time we felt lucky to get a room - it had gotten seemingly crowded in the last two days. We had a nice day walking with Marie from Montreal, a fun stop at the hammock descanso, and an unexpected group meal at our accommodations. But I want to talk about birds and my favorite time of day.

stone soup dinner
I am so much more cognizant of the birds here. They are are everywhere but particularly in the morning from 6:30 to 9 am, I am particularly aware of their movement and their song. I walk Jackomo every morning in Seattle at about 7 and yet so rarely notice the birds. I think partially because Seattle is overrun with crows and not so many other birds. The occasional swift or hummingbird will cross our path but rarely do I notice them or hear there song (do hummingbirds even sing?). But now I'm really tuned in and I love it - makes me want to become a birder. All I can do is say hello to the little guys and enjoy their chirping.

Another simple pleasure that I was keenly attuned to today but often appreciate is what I call my favorite time of the day - when the heat breaks and you can feel the first breeze of cool air of the evening. Tonight was particularly hot. We had an italy style dinner on the terrace of our farmhouse (those of you who were there know what I'm talking about). It was blazingly hot even at 8 pm - so much so that I had to abandon the group and go sit in the cool of the nearby church for a few minutes. I returned but it was not until almost 9:30 that I felt that break - The tiniest chill in the air that says the heat of the day is over. It was almost sunset. We would sleep well tonight.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Day 13 - Santo Domingo to Beyond Belorado

Another strange morning as we had an offer come through on the house from a guy I play basketball with. After a few phone calls, we broke away from Santo Domingo at the late hour of 8 am. We knew it was going to be a relatively mild day so we were okay with walking until later in the afternoon. Little did I know that we would push on through our intended destination and land at the tiny hamletino (not a typo, I'm adding a diminutive ) of Tosantos. Our choices for accommodations: the free (donation) Albergue associated with the church where you slept in a room with 30 other smelly hikers on mats on the floor or the bar across the street that had 8 sets of bunk beds in the adjoining building. Given our old bones (my old bones), we opted for a proper mattress and a cold beer. Lots of people hanging out in the courtyard of the bar with their good wifi but only one other traveller in the bunk house - Deidre (I think) from Belgium.

Stain Glass in Groñón

As with most days, some of the sections went faster (mentally) and others went slower. My foot seems to be doing better but it's still sprained - often seems worse when we stop. Our fast first 7k to Grañón was rewarded with a nice breakfast where we caught up with a few people we had seen along the way, a great bakery supplying bread and cookies for our picnic lunch, and the modern day stain glass from a very ancient church.

The rest of the towns were pretty uninspiring which is why we pushed past Belorado and onto Tosantos. (The delicious fresh cut Iberian Ham and a deviled egg from the roadside cafe León adding a bright spot.) Tomorrow has a hard climb and our extra mileage has shortened our day by an hour (unless we press on further).

Now I sit in my bunk typing away as Deidre snores lightly and Janine texts back and forth with the realtor. So ends another day in our journey.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What to Pack

We are 10 days or 8 stages or 130 miles into our a journey. Today was a relatively short 13 miles from Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A fairly boring walk through a somewhat quaint town and then a somewhat depressing town attached to a golf course. The Cathedral museum in Santo Domingo is quite special (be sure to see the live chickens!! Courtesy of the legend of the hanging man) but otherwise not much to report (day 5? on sprained ankle and swelling is down a bit - but I continue to worry about it).

I was actually thinking about pulling out everything from my bag and seeing what's been used and what hasn't. Then someone on Facebook actually asked what to bring. So here goes.

For the most part, I did pretty well on stuff I haven't used;
-Earplugs to give away
-vitamins
-tissue
-flashlight (kindle and phone make irrelevant)
-eye cover
-stretch band
-pack lock (carrying for Janine )
-extra water bottle
-compass
-Tupperware

Maybe list. Using but could live without.
- Running shorts
- 3rd pair socks
- 3rd pair underwear
- 2nd t-shirt
- thick sweatshirt
- inflatable raft (was critical for flight over given sciatica issues - could dump. Cost $4).
- Wireless keyboard - using lots for blog

most of my stuff

USING LOTS:
- Plastic Bags and ziplocs.
- Pocket knife
- day bag
- Camino Guidebook
- Kindle
- Phone (camera, watch, e-mail when wi-fi)
-Euro adapter plugs and phone/kindle cords
-poncho
-sleeping bag (maybe could have done a sleep sack instead)
-detachable long pants
-collared wick-a-way shirt
-collared long sleeve shirt (for cool evenings)
-2 t-shirts
-IBUPROFEN. O sweet inflammation reliever.
-sun screen
-toothbrush and toothpaste
-razor and travel size shaving cream. Once every four days!
-floss
-shampoo
-soap
-fingernail clippers
-Camping towel
-Tiva Sandals
-Tennis shoes
-2 pairs sock liners
-3 pairs athletic socks
-3 pairs underwear
-hat (bought a really nice one, left at home, found one on trail)
-water bottles
-hand sanitizer
-passport
-2 credit cards
-2 atm cards
-duct tape
-bandana (for neck)
-$

Logroño to Najera


This day started off oddly with the closing of our house falling through. Janine handled it well and we had planned for this unlikely contingency - leaving the house in order for further showings. She talked to our realtor as we wound our way out of this sizeable town.
Today was one of the longest days on the Camino - 18 miles - and we wisely sent our packs ahead by a shuttle service - we were happy when we found them at our end destination.
My ankle continues to be a concern - definitely sprained. I go between a 1 and a 4 on the 10 point pain scale. My back is also having some spasms - so that adds to the fun. Good day to let someone else ferry our packs.

photo by Seong Bong
Probably the highlight of the day was striking up a conversation with a young Korean Mom who was trying to find a new path for herself. She had just sold her school and WA trying to figure out what to do next. The Koreans are big walkers and evidently the movie "The Way" was a big hit there - about 8 Koreans are in our daily cohort of hikers. I think all of them were staying in our Algergue this evening.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sleep late, walk for 2 hours

That was the plan for today. It worked pretty well. We were glad we got to stay in Viana and also happy to sleep until 7:30. After a leisurely breakfast of delicious local pastries and watching Bulls trample people (day 1 of Pamplona dominated the news cycle), we had a nice stroll to the large town of Logroño. Not much to report on the walk, lots of birds, some sheep, and a little old lady selling trinkets on the road side (Janine now has a traditional gourd and another silver scallop).

New Tats for Mike from Mural in Logroño
Logroño seems a bit like Pamplona only bigger. Not quite as crazy but touristy with lots of tapas. In fact on the way in there was a pun-ny sign that said the Camino de Santiago is made for tapas. The sign said etapas which means stages but they had crossed the e out to make it tapas.

Having a bag sent ahead one day
I'm glad it was a short day - not only because 6 hours of walking was becoming a bit of a repetitive drag but because between my sprained ankle and my tweaky back, the last three mornings I've had my doubts if I would make it to the end of the day. Tomorrow we'll try something new for fun - walking without packs. It's an 18 mile day tomorrow and we noticed that there are regular services that will take your pack to the next town for 5 euros. I wonder if they'll notice that I'm stuffed in my pack...


Thursday, July 6, 2017

No Hay Blog

We were the last ones out of the Albergue, sleeping in to the late hour of 6:30 meant most of the pilgrims would have a 45 minute jump on us - not that it mattered. Today, we were only going to Viana, about 2/3 of a normal day and as of yet, there hasn't really been any competition to get into the dorms. Given the number of people that walk the Camino every year, Janine and I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and felt there should be about 400 people in each of the major stops at the end of each day - there weren't. Most of the end stops seem to easily support about 200 guests and we questioned if there were even 100 in town on any given night - most Albergues seem half full. Even at the end stages which we had walked seven years ago (the last 100 km which is where 25% of pilgrims start), the competition for beds had been more fierce but it never seemed like the hoards that would be needed if the statistic of 200,000 compostelas (certificates) each year is true.

From Los Arcos, we had another relatively long pre-breakfast walk to Sansol and then on to Torres del Rio with the very small, but very historically significant octagonal church (think Knights of the Templar). Between here and the 11 km to Viana there was little other than the makeshift shrine at the high point in today's trail and a makeshift diner in the middle of nowhere (hats off to industrious Cafe Lusita).

We arrived in Vianna to see a few of the people that we would lose because of the short day. The most notice able was the young Spanish woman who lives in Logrono and had bravely limped through a great deal of the trail so far.

We passed on the chance to sleep in the church annex (on mats with 16 other people) but did go back to Mass and get blessed by the priest. Viana is a sweet little town and we enjoyed exploring it, especially the crumbling ruins of the Iglesia de San Pedro - it was like a church without a top.

No philosophical insights today. It's late. I did a little research on hay versus straw today but nothing yet to report.





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havin difficulty uploading images. Test pic from this morning.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This is the church, this is the steeple...

Our plan to get up and beat the heat more or less succeeded. And because of the lack of proper cappuccino stands, we ended up hiking half our distance by breakfast. The little town of Azqueta had a perfect oasis for watering our metaphorical camel. From there we did what thought would be a difficult climb to Montejardin - another small village sitting below ruins of a thousand year old fortress. As we were hiking up, I suddenly noticed a hoard of hikers behind us - we both guessed that a bunch of pseudo-pilgrims had been dumped by bus at the bottom of the hill. The made it to the top, got there credentials stamped, and were never seen again - we imagined they went back down the way they came and then headed off for their next mini-hike.

Wine Fountain along the Way
The last 6 km was hot and long. We ran across a couple that we've dubbed "Knee Braces" as one has a brace on their left knee and the other has a brace on their right knee. We had noticed them the previous day as the woman had rescued an injured bird and was inquiring of the locals as what she might do with it. Today, the man was looking pretty injured himself. We offered them cookies in the shade of a lone tree but they refused. I did manage to get the man to drink some of my water. They were both young and we only had about another hour to go, but I imagine they had to summon up some inner reserves to limp into Los Arcos.

The Mother of all Haystacks

Los Arcos is small but Janine's historical tome (this trip in Kindle form) listed the church as one of the best on the Camino. Having seen Leon and Santiago, I was skeptical but it was impressive. I found particularly interesting the Black Virgin Mary (evidently a common thing) which had been white-faced.

Vaulted Dome Ceiling in Los Arcos Church
One of the things that has always surprised me is how big churches are - particularly the vaulted ceilings. I understand desire to point towards the heaven and be closer to God but it seems like a large waste of space - I wondered if their might be some other architectural or historical reason for their size. In doing a little I nternet research I learned that most churches (and castles) often mimic the safe places of earliest humans - hills. In addition, my sense that these places often seem supernatural because they are so large is exactly what many of the builders were going for: Inspire a sense of awe and draw our eyes and thoughts towards heaven. I also
found an interesting article about steeples and the ROI of a copper steeple over a wooden one, but that will have to wait for another time.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It's not the lack of water, it.s the heat that kills you...


Being overly dramatic again but both of us thought we'd be risking heat stroke if we had continued on today. We stopped just short of Estella, the top of the page for those following the Camino Guide. We swore off the 90+ degree heat for the afternoon of the 4th of July. Instead we chose to luxuriate at the Albergue Casa Magica in their amazing shower and by their pool. Happy Birthday 'Murica!
Highlights from the day include not dying rom the heat, a myriad of beautiful churches, a delicious picnic lunch in the shade of a Roman era bridge, more sightings of the Donkey Couple, and a nice dinner in the city we never made it to (Estellla - we took a cab, then back tracked - still have to walk it in the morning ).

Quite honestly, if anyone is reading this,keep the other pilgrims in your prayers. I fear for those with a schedule to keep. The heat tomorrow could make the hiker with a later start make really bad decisions. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid day sun.

Puente La Reina

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Bum (ankle) makes it over the pass

We slept in this morning in our little apartment on the fourth floor of the Albergue by the French Gate in Pamplona. The plan was to go to mass in the Cathedral around 9:30 and then see how far I could make it on my leg. We left the outskirts of Pamplona and made our way toward the 900 meter pass known as Alto de El Perdon. A couple of small villages along the way would allow us to stop if I thought I was going to injure myself further - we pressed on and made it down a treacherous downhill. We stopped somewhat short of a full day but both of us seem to be done and the ankle was only slightly swollen.

Other than stunning views, the highlight of the day was probably the climb and the monument at the top of the mountain (made famous in "The Way" - see my previous post about Emilio Estevez's death).

I'm getting into the habit of trying to light a candle for loved ones who have passed. I try to light one in one of the churches that we visit each day. I feel that I haven't been touched by death that often, so I'm surprised that the list is as long as it is. It seems a nice practice to spend a little time reflecting on what each of these people have meant to me. Today I lit a candle for Ray - a close friend who died in 2009. Ray would have loved the Camino (at least all the people - he may have been so-so on the walking). He definitely would have talked to everyone on the road and attempted to speak Italian to them all. RIP Ray.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Injury on the Road To Pamplona

If you don't want to be completely grossed out, don't scroll down to see Janine's injury. She hurt herself pre-Camino but it was (and is) a concern. I'll put something more pleasant in the post first so if this gets re-posted to Facebook that the accompanying picture is not her knee catastrophe.

Mike in the Morning. Pre-Pamplona, Pre-Injury

Since this blog is all about me, I'm here to talk about my possible injury - and it's not the sciatica / ischial tendonopathy old-man injury stuff I've been dealing with for the last 18 months. I was hoping not running for a month might fix that particular problem. The Camino is a strange place and I often joke that after the first week everyone has what I call the Camino Limp - there is some small part of you that is out of whack and the rest of your body is adjusting for it. I spotted my first case of it today, a young woman slightly favoring one leg. A little further down the road, a Japanese young man that was stepping gingerly on one foot. I had been worried about a blister on my bottom right foot but had wisely changed out of my wet shoes for the last hour yesterday and put on my Tivas - disaster avoided. But then, as we were getting close to Pamplona today, I noticed the outside of my left shin was rather tight. As the afternoon progressed, it really felt like a weird case of shin splints - so now what the hell do we do? It's not too painful to walk but I don't want to damage it further. I'm icing as I write. We wanted to spend a little longer in Pamplona anyway so I think the plan will be to stay here in the morning and do a half day tomorrow, probably just a few hours of walking. If it gets worse, I may end up on a beach while Janine continues the walk.

As for Janine's injury, she massively wiped out while running a few weeks back - hit some uneven sidewalk hit all fours - her knee taking the worst of it - one of the nastiest scrapes I've ever seen. Why do I bring it up now? One reason is that it's been a constant concern - a pharmacist in Biarritz told her to go see a doctor (two weeks after the fact). She's been minding it well and it seems to be on the mend. But then WHY subject the reader to the horrific image that follows? Because Jesus too has such wounds. Twice now we've been in churches where Christ is bleeding from the knees. I'm used to the wounds on the side but I've never noticed the knees. Check out the pictures below and see if you can determine which is which.




Saturday, July 1, 2017

First Real Day and Letting go

Our first day was really 1/3 mileage, albeit 700 meters of climbing. The second day was 2/3 long, just a village beyond where everyone else stopped. Today, was really our first full day, about 23 km of walking on mixed terrain in pouring rain (it's supposed to fall mainly in the plain!).
We did our soon-to-be typical stop for breakfast and cappuccinos after about an hour of walking. We ran into people from our first night off-and-on as the today progressed. Kathy, the teacher from Newport Beach, just arrived at the Albergue where Janine and I currently sit reading (and writing) while sipping an adult beverage of our choice. A little bit of laundry, socks and underwear, sits nearby drying on the line. I just finished reading the 10 page training manual given to us by our dog Jackomo's boot camp - they swear they can help with his leash aggression - the dog's stay may turn out to be the most expensive part of our vacation.

A Typically Ridiculously Adorable Spanish Village
Other than our endless walking, not much to report - the rain does lend itself much to sight-seeing or socializing on the road. We think as we near Pamplona tomorrow that both aspects may improve.

The vagrant life we've chosen for the next month requires a bit of letting go. For both Janine and I, it requires constant effort to allow the other to occasionally be in charge despite our own opinions. It requires not worrying about the things that were lost or left behind, so far - a walking stick, a new hat, sandwiches (twice), and my credential (which magically appeared later). These things which we think we need are often useful for our journey but so rarely critical. The walking stick may have been a burden. The Camino provided a new hat today. New meals were purchased. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I feel extremely grateful that the second cup of cappuccino is not going to break the bank. There are others on the road that are flying much closer to the ground in regards to their expenses.

I hope that letting go will also let us both think more about what's really important. What's important today and for the next 20 years? We have a lot of time to think while walking under Spanish skies.

Emilio Estavez died here but you really won't believe what else happened...

Stopping in Orisson was an excellent idea. It was the last refuge on the climb over the Pyrennees. Getting to it was a not insignificant climb of 700 meters over the course of 8 km. The sky was misting when we departed St. Jean at about 2 but generally it was good walking weather. We stopped briefly at Hontos, the only village (5 houses) of any size on the way to Roncevalles. As we sat on the empty patio outside the guesthouse, the skies opened up. We retreated under the terrace and in 10 minutes the storm had passed. Another 40 minutes of steep uphill later and we had arrived at the Refugio Orisson, a lone hostel on the side of the road. We met good fortune again here as the heavens opened up further, including hail, just as we were arriving - the pilgrim we passed an hour before arrived soaked to the bone some 10 minutes later.

Approximately 40 of us had decided that "half-way" was far enough for the day. As I would soon learn, the "normal first day" was just as brutal as advertised. We split it in half and it was still a bit much.

The evening's family style dinner in the Refugio was fun - good food, free wine, and tales of how we all landed on this trail. Some 10 countries were represented and strangely 4 Seattle-ites (followed closely by 3 from Santa Cruz) - only one east coaster in the bunch. Most impressive was the 84 year old Minnesotan grandmother hiking with her daughter and grand-daughter.

Mike finds WIFI
The next morning most of us were on the road before 8. The sky was bleak. The rain was not terrible but relentless and it was strangely cold for late June - due to both the 3000 foot elevation and a poncho shredding wind. We continued to climb for the 3 hours eventually reaching the high point on the trail. The only respite was a brief stop in a concrete mountain hut that allowed 10 of us at a time to get out of the wind and drop our packs for a few minutes. After reaching about 4500 feet, we had a ridiculous one hour ascent which challenged both our footing and our hips. On a fair day, with the ability to stop and sit in the sun once in a while, The typical day one route would have been difficult but do-able. The challenge of the weather would have made doing the whole thing both mentally and physically exhausting. I'm glad we chose to attack the hill in the manner that we did.

Janine in the rain
Because we started early (and we were a bit wet and cold), we decided to by-pass the 200 bed hostel and go to the next town and rent a single room. Tomorrow our more regular schedule will begin - up early, walk for an hour, stop for coffee and pastry, continue walking most of the morning, eat on the trail, and arrive in our destination early afternoon.

Click Bait Resolution

Emilio Estavez, in the movie "The Way", he died on the trail the first day. We could see how that could happen. We saw several grave markers. Another 10 degrees colder and I could see getting hypothermia. But we think everyone made it today.