The King in Yellow
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
The King in Yellow (Act II, Scene ii)
(from my journal)
Easter Friday / Noon
Seven AM wake-up call and on the Road. Ali and Cliff remained in Puente la Reina. Ali is getting some help for an allergic reaction to her socks. Cliff’s blisters are getting worse, so he’s planning on resting a few days and taking a bus to Logroño.
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(from my journal)
Puente La Reina
Easter Thursday / 7pm
Arrived exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally.
Showered. Clothes washed. In a bar looking forward to food and wine. I’m utterly wiped out. My feet are numb and my shoulders ache.
This is the day my pilgrimage actually began.
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(from my journal – the day by day account continues!)
Easter Wednesday / 11AM
This morning about 8AM we left Kristof behind and set out for Pamplona! No coffee or breakfast until now.
Walking mostly with Eamon or by myself. Ali has lagged behind out of sight, and Cliff has pushed ahead, not wanting to stay still for long.( Read moreCollapse )
(from my journal)
Somewhere Over the Atlantic
Less than an hour until we land at Madrid and I make it 6:50AM local time. Managed a few hours of sleep and prayed Lauds. Wide awake now and looking forward to another day of travelling.
It took all of 90 seconds to get through customs and passport control. My bus for Pamplona doesn’t leave for another three hours.
Spent some time working out how to text Francine on the burner phone. Finally managed to get it sent.( Read moreCollapse )
(from my journal)
Just finished praying Prime. So far so good. Airport security was a breeze, though I already managed to lose my first pen. I had to fish one out of my pack to write this.
Already missing Francine.
Last night’s Vigil was wonderful – prayerful and spiritually nourishing. There were a few slip-ups – it would have been nice to have some warning that we’d have to read in the dark, for instance. Two lectors were no-shows, but we handled it. Next year, we need a rehearsal for sure.
Fr. Maurer was nice enough give me a blessing when we met him outside. Lord knows I could use the extra fortification.
Feeling excited and nervous. Mocha will help. I can’t believe I’m doing this!
Landed and found myself some Chicago-style deep-dish for Easter dinner. It was fast food – not great but miles above any imitation from further afield. I don’t think it’s possible to get decent deep-dish if you’re more than 60 miles from the Loop.
The family in the seats behind me on the Seattle-Chicago flight are also flying into Madrid. They’re continuing on to Barcelona. Parents, several smaller children – I’m unclear on how many – three? – and grandmother.
They talked a little about their “next adventure”. Would it be Peru? Africa? Led me to believe they’re in diplomatic service. I’ve lost them now; the gate for the Madrid flight isn’t posted yet.
Found a bookstore and bought Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. Short stories are best for flights.
Two Carmelite nuns at the gate.
Yesterday, Francine posted some very good ruminations on her blog about her time on the Camino.
She was far more eloquent than I on the experience, and particularly the post-Camino experience.
Honestly, after more than half a year, I’m still trying to process it. I haven’t even been able to post and catalogue all my photos yet – although I’ve finally gotten to the point where most of them are up. Every time I look at them, I get homesick for the Camino.
It was a joyful, purpose-filled time full of wonder and friendship.
It was both the deepest, and most fun experience of my life.
Hard to top that. Hard to walk away from that. Even harder to live like that every day in the so-called real world.
Today is the feast of Saint James the Apostle, son of Zebedee and Salome of Bethsaida, brother of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist.
One of the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).
On this day last year, I wrote about what we know of Saint James from scripture and tradition.
That was before I had walked 500 miles to his sepulcher in Santiago de Compostela.
That was before I knelt before his mortal remains.
Here’s the thing, the tradition has it that while he was in Hispania, the apostle made only a handful of converts. He returned to Jerusalem about a decade after Christ’s Crucifixion, only to himself be martyred on the order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea (Acts 12).
By any standard James was a failure as a preacher.
But look at what he’s done in the centuries since his death.
According to the Pilgrim’s Office at the Cathedral, in 2012 192,488 pilgrims walked some portion of the Camino.
That’s just last year.
How many millions of pilgrims over the centuries have walked the Way?
Make no mistake about it, the Saint is watching over every one of those pilgrims every step of the way.
And while not every pilgrim walks the Way as a Conversatio Morum, in my experience most do in some form or another. The Way of Saint James forces us to “a continual change of heart, a daily reshaping of the mind and heart according to God’s plan for us”.
When faced with some difficulty or need, every Peregrino who I encountered took to heart some form of the phrase “the Camino provides”. This is, of course, only an inch away from Deus providebit – God provides.
James, through the Camino, is a much more effective evangelist now than in life.
It’s instructive, I think, to note that along the Camino, James is depicted in one of three ways: as Apostle, most popularly as Pilgrim (with shell, staff, and hat), and as Santiago Matamoros – Saint James the Moorslayer.
In these very PC times, that last title gives many pause.
Let me set the scene: Christian (Visigothic and Roman) Hispania had been occupied by the Moors for about a hundred years. In the south, much of the country was Islamic, but in the north Christianity remained firm. The Moslem armies could conquer the north with relative ease (and indeed, they did several times), but they could not hold it. The locals rebelled just as soon as they could and re-established their churches and monasteries.
Finally, some of the northern Christian landowners got their act together and started raising some proper armies. They formed principalities and tiny kingdoms: Asturias, Navarra, Aragon.
They mostly lost battles, waited for the Islamic army to withdraw, and then overthrew the regional and town garrisons. The Moors weren’t their only enemies, however: in Asturias they also had to contend with Viking raiders.
Legend has it that on or about 23 May 844, the army of King Ramiro of Asturias met a considerably larger (and better disciplined) army led by the Emir of Córdoba (or possibly his son; accounts vary).
The Christian army was going down to its inevitable defeat, when, according to the legend, Saint James appeared riding a white horse and bearing a white standard. He rallied the Christian forces and led them to their first major victory at the Battle of Clavijo.
Now, many historians will point out that the battle is not well documented. Some go so far as to say that it is definitively “a legendary battle that never took place“. Most think it’s a confused retelling of the second Battle of Albelda (AD 859), where the combined armies of King Ordoño I of Asturias and King García Íñiguez of Navarra defeated the forces of Musa ibn Musa ibn Qasi.
Regardless of what may have actually happened, the incident entered the emerging Spanish national conscience and proved a rallying cry for the forces of the reconquest.
Sightings of Saint James in this guise are documented throughout the medieval period and even later. Rather than leading an army, he usually defends a village from Moorish raiders, or carries a pilgrim through bandit-infested countryside.
Now, mind you, “Moorslayer” is probably not an appropriate term for our times, but the idea of defending the oppressed very much is. If this aspect of Saint James had first become popular in the twentieth century (rather than the tenth), he very well might have been called “Saintiago Superman”. He’s even got a cape.
So the three aspects of Saint James that you see depicted on the Camino – Apostle, Pilgrim, Moorslayer – are really just three aspects of what each Christian is called to: to preach the faith, to continually turn towards God, and to protect those in need.
Faith. Hope. Charity.
On this day, Saint James Day, let us pray with the whole Church that we can learn from his example of teaching, prayer, and service in life, death, and beyond.
Almighty ever-living God,
who consecrated the first fruits of your Apostles
by the blood of Saint James,
grant, we pray,
that your Church may be strengthened
by his confession of faith
and constantly sustained by his protection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Saint James, pray for us.
God’s communications with us humans are often subtle. As the Prophet Elijah discovered, the Voice of God is often to be found in the whispering wind (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Sometimes, however, God reaches out and whacks us upside the head, either physically or mentally.
One such time in the history of the Church is the famous story of my name saint, Saint Thomas the Apostle, whose feast is today.
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
In Thomas’ moment of doubt, Christ invited him to touch the reality of His resurrection in the marks of His crucifixion.
Sometimes, folks see the evidence and don’t believe it. God blessed Thomas when he accepted the evidence of his eyes and hands.
Often times, I tell people of points in my life where God spoke to me in one way or another, and the immediate reaction from them is doubt. They suspect embellishment or coincidence. Or in one memorable case, hallucination.
Don’t get me wrong; a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing by and large, but at some point you veer off from skepticism and right into making excuses for your disbelief.
I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Some days I can hear God on the whispering wind; some days I need a whack upside the head.
Recently I returned from a pilgrimage, a 790 kilometer walk through northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago – the Way of Saint James.
The object of the pilgrimage is the tomb of the Apostle Saint James the Greater in the Cathedral dedicated to him in the city named after him, Santiago.
Everybody walks the Way for different reasons. I walked with Christians, with Atheists, with those seeking wisdom or answers or direction, and with those just out for a nice long hike.
At different points of the Way, I suppose everybody finds some answers, but these inevitably lead to more questions. At least for me.
I had prayer intentions for the pilgrimage, but mostly I was there seeking a certain spiritual clarity that typically eludes me in the bustle and busyness of the modern working world.
By the time we got to the end, I had learned quite a bit, and I’m still unpacking the experience even two months later. A book is forming in my head – several, actually. I feel like my brain was jump-started.
But I remember sitting in the crypt, kneeling in front of the tomb of Saint James the Apostle and asking, “now what?”
The pilgrimage was over, the Way was walked. What now?
I had finished the Way, and I was already missing it.
Apparently, God decided that He wasn’t going to be subtle this time.
We went to the Pilgrims’ Mass at the Cathedral the next day, two months ago today, May 3. This is the feast of two more Apostles, Saints Philip and James the Less. The Gospel reading for this Mass is from the fourteenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. It begins:
Jesus said to Thomas, I am the way and the truth and the life.
Sure, you say, “that’s just a coincidence, the reading mentioning ‘Thomas’ and ‘Way’ on the day you just happen to end your pilgrimage, Thom”.
I may be a little thick, but I know the Voice of God when I hear it. Usually.
The Way wasn’t done – the Way continues forever. The Way isn’t just the walk, the Way is Christ.
Now that I’d finished the Way to Santiago, my call was to continue walking with Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Since my return, I wear a pilgrim’s emblem: the Cross of Saint James. It reminds me of my pilgrimage in Spain, but also of my continuing pilgrimage on earth. And every time I put it on or catch sight of it, I remember the Way.
Praise God, yesterday at about 3pm, we arrived in Santiago de Compostela. On the way into the city, we kept running into people we knew – people who had shared some portion of the walk with us – probably a dozen reunions before we even reached the Cathedral.
Entering the plaza in front of the Cathedral was an experience like no other. The emotions were overwhelming: gratitude, relief, wonder, the childlike excitement of Christmas morning all rolled into one.
I have a feeling that heaven is a lot like that: constantly meeting old friends in an overwhelming place of wonder and delight.
We visited the Cathedral, of course. The traditional entry of the pilgrim is through something called the Gate of Glory. Unfortunately, it was covered in scaffolds due to reconstruction work.
The central image of Christ, however, was visible.
We prayed. We clambered behind the high altar to hug the statue of the saint. Then we descended to the tomb and prayed before his remains.
I’m still overwhelmed by the whole thing.
Today will be a busy day. We need to taxi to the bus station to secure our tickets for Madrid.
Then a little shopping, I think.
Confession, and then noon pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral.
Lunch with many old friends.
Post office to ship home our walking sticks.
The bus to Madrid leaves at 9pm.
Thank you so much for reading our adventures so far, and for your support on our way!
An easy walking day today of only about 20 km. Once again, Francine has been powerwalking in the mornings and slowing down in the afternoons, which is fine as this is my method as well. I try to plan our lunch stop for about two-thirds or so of the way through the day’s distance.
Before leaving Arzúa this morning, we visited the local church. It was a very nice little place, crawling with cleaning ladies and the usual sorts of little old church ladies one finds in every parish. One of them gave me a brief tour, pointing out the statues of Santiago as a pilgrim and Santiago Matomoros in the altarpieces.
We meant to have lunch at Brea, 15 km on, but we somehow missed the village and ended up lunching in Santa Irene 2 km further on.
After walking through a series of impressive little forests, we also somehow managed to miss our final stopping point for the day, a town variously known as Arca and O Pedrouzo. We had to find the nearby highway and backtrack about a kilometer.
Tomorrow, God willing, we arrive in Santiago, the object of our pilgrimage. There’s a strange sense of unreality about the whole thing settling on me at the moment.
We’ve made excellent progress the past two days through the undulating farm and forest lands of Galicia. We’ve certainly had our share of weird weather en route, from sudden hailstorms to today’s gale-force winds, but overall it’s been sunny and cool.
In my experience so far, there are three basic kinds of people walking the Camino: pilgrims, tourists, and hikers.
Most people, of course, have all three tendencies at some point or another, but they tend to revert to type eventually. One hopes that all will become pilgrims in the end.
Early on in the Camino, pilgrims predominate, with hikers probably coming in second. Since Sarria, however, we’ve been overwhelmed by all three in (as far as I can tell) roughly equal numbers. It’s kind of a shock to the system.
I should explain about Sarria.
The Cathedral in Santiago only issues a Compostela certificate to those who have walked at least 100 km. Sarria is the town closest to the 100 km milestone, so the vast majority of those walking the Camino start there.
On an average day, you might see 40 to 50 pilgrims, more in the cities. In the last two days since Sarria, we’ve regularly seen groups of 40 pilgrims. For the first time, it’s crowded here. The albergues are full.
We’ve seen German walking clubs, Scottish tour groups, and American day-hikers. The entire tenor and tone of the Camino has changed.
They’re all fresh-faced and eager, with not a smudge on their new day packs and no mud on their shoes. They’re boisterous and they walk fast, carrying their poles rather than using them.
Some of the Germans even have pressed pants.
As I said, quite a shock to the system.
Meanwhile, my body broken by Navarre and Rioja and my mind broken by the Meseta, I am exquisitely conscious of my soul being built up in Galicia.
For one thing, churches are open. For some reason, in Castille y León, it was impossible to find an open church. Here, it’s very different.
For another thing, I’m seeing representations of the Blessed Sacrament everywhere – it’s depicted on the coat of arms of Galicia. Every place sign, every government or tourist office, every trash can, has it.
At first, it was difficult not to resent the people I’m meeting now, but this morning I realized it’s the parable of workers in the vineyard, and my attitude turned around immediately.
21 April 2013
Francine´s second day, and the Benedictine connection continues.
We were misinformed about the local Mass schedule, and it briefly appeared that we would have to wait until 10am for a Mass, meaning we wouldn´t be on the road until 11 or later.
Fortunately, we were told that there was an evening Mass (7pm) at our intended destination, so off we went.
It was a rough day, and we reached El Ganso – our intended lunch target – only at 2pm. We started with a broad, easy path between a blacktop road on the left and a horsepath on the right. Eventually, everything sort of merged, and we were walking beside the highway.
This is, for me, the most tiring sort of walking. Asphalt just doesn´t do it for me.
The views, though, were spectacular. The mountains got larger and larger as we approached them.
Francine had the same sorts of pains, adjustments, and random stops that I suffered through on my first days. I did my best to help her and encourage her.
As we gained altitude, it was easier to get out of breath, so we had to adjust our pace accordingly.
We arrived in Rabanal about 4pm, expecting to find a 7pm Mass, only to discover that this was not the case.
At 7pm it was chanted vespers with the local Benedictine monks. Francine volunteered me to read, so I sat in the choir with the monks and two other laymen. Each of the three of us read the short reading in our native language: German, Spanish, English.
Afterwards, we had dinner with Smith and Terra, and a geeky Irishman named Mark.
Then Compline, then bed.
20 April 2013
After breakfasting in the Benedictine hotel, we walked to the bus station – maybe 1.5 km – and caught the 9:30 bus to Hospital de Orbigo.
We walked back across the town to Puente de Orbigo and walked across (and back across) the astonishing medieval bridge there.
There´s a jousting field next to the bridge. Jousting is something of a local tradition (during fiestas), to commemorate an actual event.
Seems a local knight was wronged by a lady, and he decided that to satisfy his honour, he must break 300 lances against any and all challengers.
So he held the bridge, and knights came from all over Europe to challenge him. He defeated them all. Once he had broken his 300th lance, he took up the pilgrim´s robe and set off for Santiago with his friends.
An easy walk today, over undulating ground with some new friends from Indiana, Smith and Terra.
The hills got larger as we went, and farmland gradually gave way to vinyards, and then to olive groves, and then to forest and lavender fields.
Arrived in Astorga, a city famous for its chocolate, and more or less immediately found a chocolatier. The city is full of them.
19 April 2013
Arrived in Leon after a relatively 18 km walk, made only slightly tiring by the fact that much of it was on city sidewalks.
This is a fantastic city, probably my favourite so far other than Pamplona. Narrow, crooked streets, bursting with life and song and commerce.
The cathedral is glorious. There´s an audio tour, of course, but unlike Burgos, they haven´t turned it into a museum cum tourist attraction. The liturgies are obviously still held in the main part of the church (again, unlike apparently Burgos), with every portion fulfilling its intended function. Not so grand or large as Burgos, it is nevertheless more harmonious and serene.
And the windows! Light pouring in through jeweled windows, in harmony and balance. Just joyful.
Speaking of joyful… Francine has arrived!
We checked into our one and only hotel for the trip – connected to and run by the Benedictine convent next door..
A big farewell to my Camino family, with drinks and dinner, as tomorrow we will take a bus for a bit so that Francine´s first day walking isn´t through the industrial and suburban blah.
It seems like I´ve been walking the long, straight paths of the Meseta forever, though in truth it´s only been six days. Less than a week! But many of the photos taken are of the road I´m travelling, generally a straight line to the horizon.
There´s a lot of time to think on the Meseta while you walk through the virtually unchanging scenery day after day, pushing thoughts deep within with little distraction.
My thoughts ranged everywhere, about what comes next, about various relationships with people in my life, about literary projects and games, about my sins, obsessions, and demons.
So, a light, fun-filled couple of days. Photos as wifi becomes available.
Yesterday, just before the town of Sahagun, we arrived at a small hermitage undergoing renovation. Ermita Virgen del Puente is the halfway point of the Camino, measured from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela.
That was a fun moment, getting my photo taken halfway through my Camino – well, in distance, anyway. It´s very difficult to believe that I´ve been on this road as long as I have.
Certainly, despite the large amounts of local Spanish food (and wine) I´m consuming, I´m tightening my belt week to week. I feel like I´ve lost fifteen pounds.
I´ve been walking quie a bit with Eamon, but also with Santiago from time to time. For great stretches, however, I´ve been alone with my thoughts.
Tomorrow, God willing, I will reach the great cathedral city of Leon and meet Francine! We will continue our Camino together.
15 April 2013
Today Eamon and I walked a record-breaking 34 km.
The walk to Fromista along the Canal de Castilla was very pleasant; it was not yet hot (we left at 7:30), and a cool breeze blew through the trees beside the canal.
Lunch was in Fromista, where I spent some time in the Romanesque masterpiece of the Iglesia de San Martin.
From there, a straight-shot walk next to the highway that continued to the horizon, which brought home the reality of the Meseta.
This pattern would be repeated during the day, as we later walked for a while beside a small river, lined with trees, only to be followed by a razor-straight road going to the horizon like some sort of illustration of the vanishing point, with nothing but oceans of grass to either side.
Eamon typically pulls ahead of me on these long straighaways, and we are each enveloped by the Meseta, left alone to struggle with our own thoughts and our own demons.
The big news today was the failure of my footware. The heels in my shoes are rapidly deteriorating, and as a result, I´ve pounded both pairs of hiking socks to dust – heel holes in both right socks.
Also had my first blisters, both on my right foot.
Both feet are swollen and bruised. I was, however, able to purchase new hiking socks in Carrion de los Condes.
Today in Poblacion de Campos, I saw a lamp post I had seen in a dream in Carcosa and sketched perhaps twenty years ago.
Third Sunday of Easter
14 April 2013
Hot. Dry. Sunny. This is the Meseta, a large arid plateau that makes up the middle third of the Camino through Spain.
The Meseta is said to be the second trial of the Camino. In the first third, you are tried physically. In the bleak Mesta, you are tried mentally.
It has not yet, however, lived up to its reputation for flatness.
We had two trying climbs today, one after we left San Bol, the other near the end of the day.
Eamon and I left San Bol early with the idea of getting the majority of our walking done before the heat of the day set in. I had also hoped to get to Castrojeriz in time for an 11am Mass.
Pretty much a spectacular failure in both respects.
Castrojeriz surrounds a tall hill, atop which sits the ruins of the Visigoth castle.
Thanks to the steepness of the hill, and my collapse after climbing it, we didn´t make it to town until 11:30. It hardly would have mattered, as of the five churches we found in the town, we couldn´t find one that was actually open.
We had lunch and continued on.
The afternoon was rough. Water and sunscreen flowed. And that final hill was a killer, and after a 27 km day, we arrived in Itero de la Vega exhausted.
13 April 2013
Burgos Cathedral this morning. I really wish I could upload photos from this connection, as I probably took a hundred or more.
We spent about two hours wandering through this – superlatives fail me – magnificent? glorious? fantastical? – Gothic marvel in stone.
I was a little disturbed by the decision to turn much of the structure into a museum, seemingly to include virtually all of the little chapels radiating out from the nave. They were, each of them jewels.
Finally, I think I understand the Gothic aesthetic. It is delicated, intricate, given to flights of fancy but also sublime in tender emotion and explosive in its grandeur.
It is, above all things, beautiful.
After saying our goodbyes to Viola (who opted to stay a day or two in Burgos), Eamon and I set off through urban Burgos and onto the Meseta.
Rolling hills gradually gave way to flatter ground, until you would think the world is made of two hemispheres, emerald and grey below, sapphire and while above.
Weather was sunny, and soon became quite warm. Given our late start (11:30), we had thought to walk as far as Hornillos del Camino, 18.5 km from Burgos. By the time we arrived, the only albergue was full.
We had no choice but to walk an additional 5 km in the heat of the late afternoon to Arroyo San Bol.
I am so very glad we did.
San Bol is an oasis of tranquility. Mia (of the Irish contingent) and Santiago (from Columbia) were both here, along with a number of Germans and a heavy-set Italian, making us nine in all not including Felix our hospitalero.
A communal dinner was served, and afterwards we luxuriated in this little copse of trees surrounding an ancient healing spring, hidden in a little valley in the Meseta.
Boots still wet, and wind still howling, the long deathmarch through the industrial wastelands surrounding Burgos needs little in the way of narration.
Suffice to say, it was not the most charming possible introduction to a city.
The central portion of the old city is beautiful, but very trendy and expensive. The cathedral is beautiful – perhaps the most spectacular architecture yet – but they charge admission.
Nevertheless, we attended Mass with a pilgrim´s blessing this evening.
We´re losing Viola tomorrow, as she will take a rest day (or two) in Burgos. We did, however, meet up with Cliff and Carlos.
More soon. Time´s up.
11 April 2013
Felt much better after a good sleep and three boxes of orange juice. We left Belorado in good form and breakfasted in Tosantos.
It was a sunny, if breezy still, walk through the countryside we´d come to expect – brilliant green farm fields in bowl-shaped valleys.
We lunched in a picturesque truck stop in Villafranca Montes de Oca. It was chilly, but still sunny, and we ate outside. Easily some of the best food I´ve had in Spain, and stupid cheap.
Also the first place I´ve seen a portrait of General Franco on the wall.
As we made the steep climb up the Montes de Oca, the wind picked up quite a bit. The forest at the top was eerie – all the trees black and bare, awaiting their spring colours. A note on my map says:
In medieval times, dense forest, wolves, and bandits made this one of the most difficult stretches of the Camino.
I can well believe it.
Instead of wolves and bandits, we got wind and rain. And what rain! I poured out upon us as if from a tap, and when the wind kicked up the raindrops stung like rubber bands.
Eamon had predictably gotten far ahead, so Viola and myself struggled dow the forest road in the deluge as best we could.
Despite the elements, we made good time.
The town of San Juan seems to consist of a single building, containing church, monastery, albergue, and bar.
The church is a Romanesque beauty, left more or less as it would have been in medieval times. I prayed a while at the saint´s tomb. The church was cold enough that I could see my breath, but it was dry.
10 April 2013
After the severe physical trail of yesterday, we were determined to take it easy, starting late and perhaps only going as far as Granon, or maybe Redecilla del Camino, some 11 km distant.
Before setting out, we explored the Cathedral. Santo Domingo himself is buried in the crypt, and I knelt there for a while, imploring the intercession of the saint for the success of my Camino.
The museum attached to the cathedral was wonderful. In particular, there´s a Flemish triptych of the Annunciation that I found both beautiful and moving.
The major pilgrim attraction, however, is undoubtedly the chickens. There are two of them in a gothic cage near the rear of the Cathedral.
The legend is quite interesting. In the interest of brevity, I will just quote the blurb on my map, which sums it up as
…the legend of the roast chicken that crowed a condemned man´s innocence.
Ever since, images of Santo Domingo have included a chicken or two. The whole time we were there, the rooster crowed every few minutes.
We said our tearful goodbyes to Patrick, who flies for home, and Petra, who is pressed for time and taking a bus to Burgos.
Just before 10 am, Eamon, Viola, and I set off into the still severe wind.
Somehow, we attacked the day with renewed energy, and we were in Granon almost before we knew it. We were feeling great, so we pressed on, passing a huge sign indicating that we had left La Rioja and had now entered the Burgos Province of Castile y Leon.
Almost immediately, the wind stopped.
We lunched on pinchos in Redecilla del Camino and decided that we were mighty and could walk to Belorado, a full day´s 23 km.
Needless to say, as soon as we left the village, the wind started up again.
The terrain was a series of bowl-shaped valleyes painted in brilliant green and set against a blazing blue sky. The contrast of the brilliant blues and greens was staggering, and sometimes it seemed as though we were the only people in the world.
Our spirits flagged by the time we got to the village of Villamajor del Rio, but there we passed by a group of Canadian pilgrims.
Huzzah! We were not the slowest pilgrims on the Camino!
The very thought gave us a renewedenergy against the wind, and we walked, rather than staggered, into the Albergue A Santiago in Belorado at about 4pm.
09 April 2013
When you think that the Camino can´t get more demanding, it usually does.
We left Ventosa (which apparently means “windy”, which should have been our first clue) at about 7:30, despite our best efforts to be out the door by 7.
By 9:30, we were drinking our cafe con leche´s in Najera, 10 km on.
In Najera, we visited the beautiful Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real, where some of the kings of Navarre are entombed. It was a grand building, despite a rather ignoble period of its history after the Spanish state dissolved the monasteries.
It served as a barracks, a prison, even a bull ring, before it was declared a national cultural treasure and given over to the Franciscans about 150 years ago.
We spent rather too much time in Najera, but the walk through the vinyards to lunch in Azofra was pleasant enough.
It was after this, that the rather strong and constant winds we´ve had the past few days suddenly became the most absurd headwind ever.
They were listed at 30 – 40 kph, and Patrick mentioned that he´d been in tropical storms that were less windy.
We fought these winds for 15 km that seemed like 30.
We passed through the eerie and apocalytic town of Ciruna, full of new, modern housing developments, but utterly bereft of people.
We expected zombies at any moment.
And then, back to the wind.
Eamon and Petra surged ahead, propelled by youth and long legs. Patrick, Viola, and I struggled, exhorting and encouraging each other, occasionally shouting and swearing at the wind.
When we crested the (almost) last hill and saw the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada in the valley below us, we shouted and wept for joy.
It was, we decided, the most beautiful city ever built by human hands. The streets are paved with chorizo and jamon, the fountains flow with vino tinto and the river is surely cerveza.
Angels sing of its wonders. If we could have danced for joy, we would have.
08 April 2013
Short, difficult day today. The roads were fairly easy, but all of us are feeling yesterday.
Logrono is a big city, and getting in and out of the cities is a lot of walking on concrete. No fun.
Cliff left first and was soon out of sight. Charlie is staying a couple of days in the city to rest up. Allie, Eamon, Patrick, Petra, Viola, and I set off for the long city slog.
We only got lost once. Well, maybe twice.
Urban slog gave way to urban parkland and preserve. The Camino ran along a frontage road for a long way, and this was hard walking.
The highlight of the day was undoubtable Navarette – funky bar for lunch, beautiful church, and an interview and photgraphs by a local reporter.
If anybody is looking for the lost treasure of the Incas, I´m reasonably certain it may be found in the three-story gold baroque altar of the Iglesia Parroquial de la Ascuncion de Maria.
We prayed there for some time, and I was reminded that it was the feast of the Assumption on which Francine and I walked into the Catholic Church.
Our albergue in Ventosa is by far the most tranquil, wonderful spot we´ve stayed so far, the San Saturno. A delightful walled garden, and conversations in English, German, and Spanish over beer from the vending machine.
The only sound is the fall of water on stone from the fountain in the corner of the garden.
It is all as it should be. It is good.
This is how God created the world, not for rush and panic and stress, but for work, for rest from work, for thanksgiving and worship. Not for conflict and avarice, but for simple joys.
07 April 2013
Having been to Mass in Los Arcos, today a rather large group of us set out first thing in the morning. We walked 28 km.
From Los Arcos it was a delightfully easy 7 km to Sansol. Onward, we wlked over easy roads through olive groves and vinyards, culminating in a steep, undulating descent into our lunchtime village.
Mostly walked with Patrick from Florida. He only has two weeks in Spain this year, but he plans to come back each of the next two years to complete his Camino.
Our little group – little? as much as eight, I think – strung out across the long, hilly road to Viana, with Kristof, Allie, Patrick, and I pulling up the rear.
Kristof checked into the first albergue in Viana. With Allie fallen far behind, Patrick and I entered central Viana just as the enormous Iglesia de Santa Maria had thrown open its doors to release hundreds of Mass-goers into the square.
After waiting for the crowd to thin, I prepared to enter the church, which is the final resting place of Cesare Borgia.
Instead, an angry looking gentleman shouted something at me and wagged his finger at me. As I stood there, astonished, he slammed the great door in my face.
I can´t help contrasting this with another walk, with Francine in Tacoma on the Feast of the Assumption, 2004. Had the church doors been slammed on my face then, my history would have been very different indeed!
We found the rest of our group ensconced in the square, eating a picnic lunch. We joined them and pressed on to Logrono.
We have now left the charming Kingdom of Navarre and entered Spain´s premiere wine region, La Rioja.
At least 24 people gathered for dinner for the birthday of one of our pilgrims, Carlos from Columbia. Riotous good fun, with raucous singing from the Irish contingent, and one Bavarian primary school teacher.
Met many, many more pilgrims, too numerous to count.
Given the continuing tech issues, my plan is to post short little posts to catch everybody up to date, and to add a “progress” to show where I am and where I´ve been.
Still very little luck on the photo front, though I´ve now taken over 1200 photos. A couple of them are even good.
I´m currently in the town of Los Arcos. Four of us set off from Estella this morning in high spirits and falling snow. While it wasn´t heavy or constant, it was thick, gloopy stuff. Flakes the size of walnuts!
It didn´t stick to the roads, but did most everywhere else.
We climbed a bit of a hill today, so we were actually walking into heavier and heavier snow as we went.
Fortunately, we also passed the famous wine fountain in Irache. There we generally made fools of ourselves drinking from and posing for photos next to the fountain. We actually didn´t drink a whole lot of wine, because it was about 10:00am!
We continued climbing into the snowfall. By the time we reached Villamajor, in the shadows of the castle of Montjardin, it was downright Christmassy.
Fortunately, it was downhill from there, and we soon left the snow behind. The road wound around hills and ridges through ancient vinyards with gnarled vines that looked rather like the dead thrusting up their misshapen limbs and climbing up out of the ground.
By the time we reached Los Arcos, we had walked 21km and were happy to shower and dinner and attend the Saturday evening Mass at the local parish of Santa Maria. While on the outside, it´s a Romanesque block with a 16th century domed tower, inside it´s a riot of gold baroque. I counted nine altars, and I´m sure I missed some.
The place was utterly overwhelming.
This albergue has both wifi and a computer, and I´m trying to simultaneously type this entry while I upload photos from my phone. The Flickr app keeps crashing, so I don´t think I´ll catch up.
The best link for the photos is http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomryng/.
Just a quick note as we leave Estella. It´s been raining on and off since I arrived on the Camino, though yesterday was clear and gorgeous.
This morning, however, the Camino has a new surprise for us. It´s snowing.
It´s not sticking, mind, but big wet flakes of snow are falling everywhere.
We continue to be confounded by technological problems. Lack of wifi is not allowing me to upload the several hundred photos I´ve taken.
I´m blogging from the Albergue Municipal in Estella at the end of day 4, but what I´d like to do is tell you a little bit about yesterday.
Truly, I haven´t yet processed it all, so I´ll transcribe my journal. Editorial comments will be set off //like this//.
Puente la Reina, 7pm //04 April//</p>
Arrived. Exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
Showered. Clothes washed. In a bar looking forward to food and wine. I´m utterly wiped out. My feet are numb and my shoulders ache. This is the day that my pilgrimage actually began.
We began the day in magnificent Pamplona. We started late, as we wished to atttend the 9:30am Mass at the Cathedral. This proved a good choice.
The interior of the building defies description – I could easily have spent the day there. Photos and postcards might give an idea, but the sheer scale and the profusion of art is designed to overwhelm, and it succeeds better than any place I´ve been outside of Rome.
The Mass was chanted by the canons in Spanish and Latin. Again, I had some trouble working out when the Mass actually began, since they changed the proper antiphons with the psalms.
I caught up at the Gloria and was able to follow after that.
It was an incredible experience, with the weight of history pressing but brought alive in the moment by the chant.
We finally left the Cathedral, after Mass and some photos, at 10:30, putting us about two hours off the pace.
I stopped in a shop to pick up some souveneirs, and left walking in the wrong direction. I sooned turned myself around, but proceeded in getting lost twice more before I made it out of Pamplona.
The edge of the city was quite something; you´re just walking through a quiet urban neighbourhood, you cross the last street, and suddenly you´re in the Spanish version of Tuscany – all gentle rolling hills swathed in shades of emerald, with each hill topped by a shining, whitewashed hill town, terra cotta roofs and an ancient stone church crowning all. //No, really. I have photos!//
We walked a long way through this, until the long climb began. The ridge – really a single steep sping cutting through the countryside, is called the Sierra de Erreniega, and it´s topped by a long line of modern windmills.
We began the ascent, finally reaching the village of Zariquiegoi, where we stopped for a much needed refill of our water bottles. And then, the great ascent began in fully.
The path was steep, and it consisted of stones the size of a fist, irregularly speced through a morass of mud. //Navarre is built on clay, and there have been heavy rains the past few weeks.//
Up and up we climbed, in constant danger of slipping and falling. Parts of the path were entirely wiped out by landslides or subsidence, but still we climbed.
At one point, I lost my balance and caught myself by grabbing hold of some thorny nettles with my free hand.
Although I did not tumble, my hand was covered in bloody pinpricks. They were tiny enough that they sealed up in moments.
Finally, we made it to the top of the ridge, an ascent of 280 meters over a distance of perhaps 9km. In addition to the windmills, there is a great series of pilgrim statues – a long line of them, both walking and horseback – realized in flat steel. As we posed for our obligatory photos, a cold rain began to fall. Ponchos out!
We then began the descent into the valley beyond, some 260m down to the town of Uterga, where we stopped for a late lunch about 4pm.
The clime of the Sierra de Erreniega was probably the most physically demanding thing I´ve ever done.
//And then I ate. Continuing…//
But the day was not over. Some 2km past Uterga, at the village of Muruzabal, we took a little 5km detour to visit the old Templar church of Our Lady of Eunate.
A greater contrast with the Cathedral could not be imagined. Where the Pamplona Cathedral was enormous and ornate, the little octagonal church of Eunate, with it´s surrounding cloister, was the very model of Romanesque simplicity. The tall, narrow windows were not stained glass, but appeared to be a white, milky mica.
The rough pews faced a plain altar and a charmingly primitive carving of Our Lady enthroned as a Queen, with the infant Jesus on her lap. Both wore crowns. Mary´s head was much too large for her body.
As I prayed there, I wept. This is a holy place. None of our party was unmoved, even the non-Catholics among us.
I remarked a little later that “this had been worth the entire trip to Spain”.
When we left Eunate at about 6pm, I was just shattered. I had a profound experience there, and at the same time my body was giving out. My feet had gone numb, and I staggered a little as I walked. By the time we got to Obanos, I was walking on auto-pilot. Allie, meanwhile, was having a bad allergic reaction to her nylon sock lining, and Cliff´s blisters were starting to get the better of him.
Charlie form the UK //who turned 70 today// was using one of Petra´s poles.
We were quite the ragged band as we staggered into Puenta la Reina. We took the second albergue we found, and we all sort of collapsed after our 26km day.
Once we finally got our pilgrim´s dinner, however )at 9pm), we revived: mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by a lamb shank, followed by pears poached in red wine. After this and about a half bottle of vino tinto, I finally feel like I can collapse into sleep.
It´s funny, but the pilgrim hostels (“albergues”) either have wifi or a computer lab. With the lab, I can use a proper computer with a proper keyboard, but unfortunately I cannot upload my photos.
So I´m here in Pamplona, after walking another 21.5km, staying at the Albergue Jesus y Maria, which is perhaps a block from the great Cathedral.
Day two was more difficult than day one, but mostly due to my own lack of foresight. Yesterday I set out walking and had coffee and breakfast in the first big village I came to, so I thought I could do that today.
This, my friends, was a tragic error. Oh, my friend Eamon and I went through village after village, but it wasn´t until 11am that we finally found a bar*.
Confusing note of the day: in Spain, a cafe is a bar (i.e. alcohol), whereas a bar is a cafe (i.e. coffee).
This was in the village of Irotz, and by this time we had walked about 11km. At the bar, I had the Best Cup of Coffee Ever. I also had a bocadillo chorizo, which I can absolutely recommend as the perfect breakfast after a walk of 11 or so kilometers.
One of the interesting things about the Camino is that people naturally form pods – usually called “Camino families”. They form and break up and re-form as the days progress. People get added and people fall away. There´s a metaphor there, but it´s now almost 10pm, and I can´t find it.
Since I can´t upload any new photos today, I´ll just explain of the ones I uploaded last night.
This is my current pod.
From left to right: Eamon from New Zealand, Allie from UK (currently living in the French Alps with her husband and twin 10-year old daughters), Cliff the retired firefighter from Massachusetts, Kristof the self-described “fat Belgian”, and yours truly.
We left Kristof at Zubiri, where he had some communications he had to take care of with the meat-packing plant that he co-owns with his brother, and the remaining four of us walked on towards Pamplona.
Allie quickly fell behind, and Cliff surged forward. He´s not very fast, but he never takes breaks, so there´s a bit of a rabbit and tortoise thing going there.
Eamon and I have about the same pace, so we more or less stuck together through the day.
The terrain today was more hills (up and down and up and down…) and mud. We walked through a fairly industial area, followed by more bucolic countryside with the occasional village, until we hit the town of Villava. This is a delightful medieval town, built up over the centuries.
Villaga transitioned smoothly to the suburbs and then the city of Pamplona.
In the “bucolic countryside portion”, Eamon and I took a detour to visit the fortified hill church of San Esteban in Zabaldika.
It was a steep climb up the hill to the church, but the church itself was a spiritual gem. Photos will follow (I promise) whenever I get wifi. A deeply meditative place, where I felt the full weight of the centuries and of the communion of saints pressing upon me.
The church was very tiny, but the interior altars and furnishings were absolutely exquisite.
The nuns who run the place rather indulgently let me climb the steeple (obviously built for defense, with a tight sprial stair and arrow slits) and ring the bell, cast in the 14th century.
And then Pamplona! Oh my goodness. Words cannot do it justice, though Hemmingway tried. I took perhaps a hundred photos which will give you some idea.
Keep looking at the Flickr link on the left to see when I upload the photos for today!
Tomorrow we will stay for the 9:30am Mass at the Cathedral and then press on, perhaps to Obanos or Puenta la Reina.
So much to say, but my time on the computer is metered, so I will leave off and wish you all a blessed night.
P.S. I must return to Pamplona. One day isn´t enough. I doubt a month would suffice to scratch the surface. It´s simply one of the most beautiful cities I´ve ever seen.
P.P.S. Kristof arrived in Pamplona this evening to join us.
P.P.P.S. This Spanish keyboard layout is making me crazy.
After my arrival in Roncesvalles, I quickly made friends with a young woman from Germany, who had the bunk above mine.
She had walked through the snows from Saint Jean, and she helped me get oriented to albergue life. So Linda and I shared the pilgrim’s menu: first course of a wonderful potato soup (possibly they had once been introduced to a leek), second course fresh local trout.
Afterwards we joined several dozen other pilgrims at the Collegiate church for Mass and the pilgrim’s blessing.
The church is a lovely gothic gem.
In the morning, we were all woken by an energetic rendition of “Wake up Little Susie”, courtesy of a wandering minstrel and his guitar.
And then the walk began!
It was drizzling a bit, but as Linda and I had breakfast in Burguete 2.5km on, the skies opened up. She decided she’d rather have another cup of cafe con leche, so we said our goodbyes and I broke out my poncho and pushed on.
I soon met up with Eamon from NZ and Cliff from MASS. We walked and talked through the forests of Navarre.
The villages were beautiful, and the countryside between them alternated between wild hills, meadows with sheep and horses, and the forests.
There are many photos on the Flickr link to the left.
The Camino itself was a morass of mud.
The three of us lunched at Biskarreta, where I discovered the wonder that is the bocadilla jambon.
Uphill and down through the mud we walked. The sun came out and away went the ponchos.
We have checked into the Albergue Zaldiko in Zubiri, and will soon set out in search of the local eatery.
No photos yet, sorry. The albergue in Roncesvalles has a computer room but no wifi that I can find, so I can´t upload my photos from the camera.
I arrived here about an hour ago, and have had my first stamp on my pilgrim´s passport and a long, long shower. Items still to do include laundry and dinner.
Getting here was a trek in itself. All day yesterday on airplanes, and most of today on two buses, from Madrid to Soria, and then from Soria to Pamplona. I barely made that connection.
In Pamplona I found to my woe that the next bus to Roncesvalles is at 6PM… tomorrow.
So it was a taxi. I can safely report that I no longer believe Italian drivers to be the craziest on earth. This was a windy mountain road, full of hairpin turns, and the cabbie took it at speed, even passing cars that he decided were too slow.
My heart rate only recently recovered.
I met some pilgrims here that had come over the pass from Saint Jean, and I´m very glad I decided to forgo that route; it´s snowing in the pass and the advice is to not cross.
Tomorrow, I start walking!
In less than a day, my flight will be taking off. I’ve gone through various stages of nervousness, elation, and even fear in the past few days.
More than once I’ve asked myself, “what, are you crazy, Thom?”
Add to that the emotions that inevitably come with Holy Week – the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Stations of the Cross, Good Friday – and you’ve got a real recipe for a roller-coaster.
Oddly, yesterday`s fast went a long way toward calming my jangled nerves. I’m feeling perfectly serene as I prepare for the Easter Vigil.
At least until tomorrow!
Time grows short! We`re back from Stations at church and doing all sorts of last minute errands.
Among these are the dreaded final packing. I like to be all packed for trips at least a full day before going somewhere. This way, I tend to discover all the things I forgot still laying about the house.
This post is also my first attempt to post using the equipment and software I plan to use while blogging the Camino. Let`s see how it works!
Back in August, a buddy and I had what I called “an inadvertent Camino day”, where we sort of accidentally walked 25km.
While there’s no such thing as a “typical” day on the Camino, 25km is a pretty fair shot at it.
Well, today I intentionally walked 25km with full pack. Francine (who is a couple of weeks behind me in our training regimen) walked 20km.
We started from Pistachio House at just after 8:30AM, and we returned at just after 3:30PM.
Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a little café we’d never been to before. I had my by now traditional training lunch of a burger and an IPA.
In terms of both speed and distance, I hit the marks.
So how did it go? It was surprisingly easy. There were a couple of times where the pace flagged, and at one point my calves started bothering me. It turns out you really can “walk it off”. Who knew?
So now that we’re home, I can report that my feet are swollen, but there’s nothing close to a blister. I’m tired and sore, of course, but I could easily do this again tomorrow had I the time.
When I took off my shoes (pictured above), they were warm enough to briefly steam in the cold air.
A flagon of cider has largely restored my energy, and I think a shower and a pipe are in order.
This past weekend was a crazy whirl of last minute errands and bon voyages.
Although I’m not leaving until Easter Sunday, and Francine not until the 17th of April, we thought it best to avoid the rushing around the week before Easter.
We topped up our equipment at the REI sale in Tacoma on Saturday. Some crazy deals at the “returns” sale – much of it basically brand new.
We also made trips to get some pipe tobacco for the Camino, a copy of April’s issue of Magnificat from the local Catholic bookstore, and a few other random things.
At Sunday Mass, our pastor graciously agreed to confer upon us the Pilgrims’ Blessing.
It was absolutely beautiful. In addition to commissioning Francine and I as pilgrims, our backpacks (“rucksacks” in the text) were blessed, as were our walking sticks and shell medals and patches.
It felt distinctly odd to be shouldering a backpack in Church, especially while wearing a suit.
Our friend Mary took some photos, and I’m sharing just a few of them here.
After Mass, we had a lovely brunch with daughter Victoria, though I’ll never make the mistake of going into an Irish place on Saint Patrick’s Day again!
Then we were off to Feisty Gals Coffee for an afternoon of board games and camaraderie with many of our friends and family.
This lasted into the night, and we had quite a crowd of folks there to see us off and wish us well.
It was great!
Pilgrims on the Camino carry a Credencial, or pilgrim’s passport. They are issued by various Confraternities of Saint James, and you can also get one at Cathedrals and other places along the Way.
The idea is that you get it stamped each day – ideally several times a day – to record where you’ve been and to prove that you’re actually a pilgrim walking (or biking) the Camino.
Most pilgrim hostels (usually called albergues or refugios) require that you have a credencial in order to stay there.
Ours were issued by American Pilgrims on the Camino, and as of today, they each have their first two “stamps”. Well, really the two we have are embossed seals, but the ones we get on the Camino will be ink.
On 04 March, we got them sealed by our home parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Tacoma. This seal, as it turns out, was affixed sideways.
On 15 March, we got them sealed by our Cathedral Church of Saint James in Seattle. This one’s upside-down.
Seems about right for us!
- Current Mood: accomplished
The photo here was taken by a pilgrim yesterday at Roncesvalles. The passes are choked with snow, and at this point people have to walk on the highway to get from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles.
And it’s taking them two days.
I won’t have that kind of time, and I’m leaving in just over two weeks. Even assuming the snow is done by then, the locals are saying it’s going to be a morass of mud.
I’m seriously thinking of bagging the first trans-Pyrenee day and starting in Roncesvalles instead.
This has the added advantage of some level of certainty. I’ve got a bus ticket from Madrid to Pamplona, and there is a regular and frequent bus from Pamplona to Roncesvalles. Getting to Saint-Jean would require a taxi-share with fellow pilgrims, which is sort of catch as catch can.
We shall see what the situation is when I arrive.
Meanwhile, later this afternoon Francine and I are heading over to Saint James Cathedral in Seattle to get our Credentials stamped. Photos later!