Fog City Boy #31

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primitivo

Dublin, September 23, 2017

The respite in Lugo was a welcome break – an opportunity for recovery before launching on the final stages of the pregrenacion. Lodging was comfortable. Food was good.

While wandering the old town in Lugo, I crossed paths with two young couples I had met along The Way. Both had walked the Camino del Norte which originates at Irun (Spain) near Biarritz (France). It proceeds west along the coast with the Camino Primitivo serving as one of two traditional routes that eventually connect with the Camino Frances. I met the American couple (from the Pacific Northwest) on the Hospitales Route. I met the German couple (she from Poland) a couple of days later. Reunifications are one of the most rewarding elements of the Camino experience. Though you may only have known a peregrino for a day or so, you share a common bond that makes you “old friends” when The Way brings you together again.

Both couples had experienced a fully booked town when they arrived in Berducedo (where this en suite peregrino was disappointed not to have his own room and an unlimited hot shower). Both had walked on about 5 kilometers to the home of a generous woman who undertook to provide shelter and dinner to them and to other peregrinos who could find no other habitacion for the evening. The price? Strictly donativo. All four spoke of their experiences with gratitude.

The Way proceeds past the cathedral, through one or another arched gateway (there are alternate routes out-of-town), eventually crossing the River Mino and casually traversing the suburbs of Lugo.

As The Way moves from suburbs to rural venues, it is clear that harvest is coming soon.

The peregrino traffic on the respective Caminos increases upon departure from Lugo (Camino Primitivo), Sarria (Camino Frances), or Tui (Camino Portugues). Each of these towns is a gateway of sorts – a point where the distance to Santiago de Compostela is a few kilometers over the 100 needed to obtain a compostela – the certificate attesting to one’s status as a pilgrim and to the completion of the peregrenacion – upon arrival there. Many pilgrims begin their pilgrimage from one of these gateways.

I was particularly pleased to set out on the last 100 km or so because guidebook references made clear that most of the elevation challenges were behind me. That meant that I would be able to “step out” – use my full stride rather than taking “baby steps” as I had done so frequently in the days before. Baby steps were my safety measure when dealing with ascents and descents. I marvel at the 20 and 30-somethings who blithely stride swiftly up and down graveled byways, many without walking poles.

In time, The Way returns to its usual farm road/byway character. Entrepreneurs capture the opportunity.

The Way follows secondary roads but also diverts into wooded paths. I took a break in a shaded spot, only to discover a waymark monument with a statement by a Canadian peregrino who had recently passed by. Exactly why this location commanded the peregrino to jettison his boots is unclear.

But also there are enduring reminders of the faith.

The Camino Primitivo presents an assortment of challenges (elevation being one, as previously reported). One of those challenges is the paucity of facilities between Lugo and Melide or alternatively Palas de Rei where the Primitivo joins the Camino Frances for the final distance to Santiago. The distance from Lugo is 46 km to Melide with very few albergue spaces or other habitacion available. The peregrino must plan carefully!

My plan was to break the Lugo-Melide stage into three substages. I had booked accommodations accordingly.

Unfortunately, I missed the cues as reported in my guidebook marking the edge of town at San Ramon da Retorta (population about 50, not including peregrinos staying at the two alberques) – the intended end of my first substage. I had planned to call for a taxi there, return to Lugo for the night (I already had booked and paid for my hotel there), and return to San Ramon the next morning to continue on. But I blew by the town and found myself a long way out of town before I was forced to acknowledge that my plans were superceded by a new reality!

Having no other choice, I persevered.

About one hour and 3 km later, I came to Burgo de Negral, a tiny farming village (population 37) that formed around a pilgrim hospital established in 1223. Burgo also was home to several 30-somethings who might best be described as latterday Iberian hippies. I assign that description with affection. They were most kind to me.

They had a display of leather goods, simple jewelry, and other souveneirs of the Camino assembled by she who was the leader of the family assemblage. Fruit and beverages were available, as well as a selle for the passing peregrino’s credencial. Everything was offered donativo.

I collected the selle, made a donation, and explained my plight.

She who was the leather artisan and leader of the pack volunteered her brother to drive me to Lugo (there were no known taxis for miles around). “How much would it cost?” “Donativo,” was the response.

So I climbed into Alejandro’s very basic little car (not his real name), and off we went to Lugo. I arrived safely about 40 minutes later. Actually, he was a far more conservative driver than any of the actual taxi drivers I had engaged in Spain.

Alejandro with broken English and I with broken Spanish talked as best we could. He communicated that he thought the Primitivo was more difficult than the other Caminos. I indicated agreement. He said that he had biked the Camino Primitivo at some point in the past. We arrived in Lugo, I made my donation, he was cordial and returned home.

The next day, there were no busses that would get me to Burgo de Negral. But the information office at the Estasion de Autobuses in Lugo directed me to a regional line that would get me to Guntin, a substantial town in the general vicinity of Negral. “Take a taxi from there,” was the advice. Ok. Today is a short day (because yesterday was longer than intended). Let’s give it a try.

I enjoyed the ride through rural hamlets, eventually arriving in Guntin. I exited the bus, collected my mochila, and looked for a taxi stand. To make a short story shorter, there was none, but the operator of a Repsol (petrol) station called a friend who had a local delivery service who was willing to take on the challenge of getting me to Negral. He only got lost once, but eventually – after receiving directions from a resident farmer – deposited me in the Bergo de Negral across the street from a Camino waymark.

I made a point of calling on my latterday hippie friends who were glad to see me. I was glad to see them! We all embraced, and I continued on The Way.

About 5 km farther along the Way, the path leads through the farming town of Ferreira. The Way crosses a Roman bridge part way through the town.

A little farther along The Way, there is a small parklet off to the side of the road. A stream has been channeled through it and a monument commemorates a local benefactor and hero.

The next morning, I came upon a very welcome sight – a small cafe/bar that was not reported in either of my guidebooks (published in 2013 and 2015, respectively). The Camino infrastructure continues to evolve!

[Strong advice to future peregrinos: Never rely on a guidebook more than one year old if you can avoid it. The Caminos are always changing.]

I had the breakfast sandwich – very welcome after the inadequate Continental breakfast that was offered at my lodging that morning. A Camino McMuffin?

The establishment was run by a cordial woman whose dress, carriage, and visage suggested she might not be a Spaniard. Another peregrino placing an order asked her, hesitantly, if she spoke English. She responded, “I’m Irish, but I speak English.” Several peregrinos present chuckled at that.

So, paying for my cafe con leche and Camino McMuffin on the way out, I told her that one week later I would be in Dublin. What should a peregrino do in Dublin? “I suppose you should sip a pint of Guinness!”

I told her I would, and have followed through on the promise!

Melide is 53 km from Santiago. It is the point of convergence between the Camino Primitivo and the very heavily traveled Camino Frances. There were peregrinos everywhere! Many albergues were there to house them. Many bars available to help them relax. A pleasant fountain graces the town square.

A cruciero welcomes the many peregrinos passing by and reminds them of the origin and purpose of their peregrenaciones.

By this time I had caught up with the German couple. I spotted them as they proceeded through town, I hailed them from my comfortable seat at a cafe. We acknowledged each other and compared notes. They were planning to continue another 6 km that day (it was early evening by that time) to Boente where there were two albergues that between them could accommodate 76 peregrinos – and hoped to complete their travel to Santiago the next day

That would be quite a long day, indeed! [Do the math: 53 km – 6 km = 47 km * 0.62 = 29.14 miles.] But, intrepid peregrinos that they are, off they went. I returned to my lodging and got a good night’s sleep.

From Melide onward, I was (largely) repeating several days I had walked in 2015 when I walked the Camino Frances. “Largely” because the Camino is always being rerouted for various reasons, one of which is peregrino safety. The many involved jurisdictions want to encourage visitors to walk the Camino. Among other things, that means keeping them off the highways and other primary thoroughfares.

The province of Galicia, within which Santiago is situated, hosts vastly more pregrenios than any other jurisdiction. The Junta de Galicia has appropriated over €500,000 for improvements to the Caminos that traverse Galicia. This includes improvements to drainage, construction of new sendas (track separated from thoroughfares) and waymark monuments and an occasional placard affixed to a wall.

The waymark monuments are noteworthy because they include a single incised (carved) arrow painted yellow indicating the direction of onward travel, and an incised “signature” logo of Galicia (painted black) at the bottom attesting to the authenticity and implicitly the validity of the waymark. These new (or updated) waymarks have been strategically placed at virtually every junction or crossroads on The Way in Galicia where a peregrino could get lost or be uncertain about The Way. Older waymark monuments apparently have been sandblasted to achieve the same “carved” and painted signatures.

The particular design is important because the carved arrow cannot easily be tampered with as is the case with a simple yellow arrow painted on a rock or other surface. That carved arrow, in accounting lingo, constitutes a good control mechanism.

I wondered whether the new waymark monuments would supplant the need for the ubiquitous yellow arrows that guide peregrinos on other parts of The Way. I think the answer is “no.” This collection is in Pedrozo.

Over the next three days, I walked in tandem with a peregrina from North Dakota. This was not her first experience on the Camino and would not be her last this year. She had injured herself during her first peregrinacion and completed it on crutches! That’s commitment!

In Boenta, the Igrexa Santiago welcomes pilgrims and offers a selle for their credentiales.

Other experiences along The Way from Arzua (where the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances) to Santiago:

A monument to a chicken graces the small plaza before the town hall in Arzua. (This is new since I passed through in 2015.)

Also, a barracks to the Guardia Civil, a paramilitary force with a complex history in Spain.

There were many cyclists along The Way. All were friendly, but alas, not all warned peregrinos on foot of their often high speed approach.

The monument identifying the outskirts of Santiago cheered all peregrinos passing by. This is where I left Elizabeth’s rock in 2015.

From here, it is all downhill!

The plaza before the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is as grand as I remember it from earlier visits.

[wpvideo qwdmT61a]

The parador in the plaza.

Having had a day or so to reflect, here are my thoughts.

First, I was somewhat bemused and somewhat disappointed to observe peregrinos with earbuds in place proceeding along The Way. How can you be in the moment, how can you reflect, how can you have a religious or spiritual journey listening to something that takes you out of the moment. I don’t believe they were listening to Gregorian Chants or the Missa Solemnis.

And to add injury to insult, I observed quite a number of peregrinos holding their cell phones and actually carrying on extended cell phone conversations as they marched on. They were in their own moment, but it was not a moment on The Way.

Second, I was disappointed to observe that virtually all waymarks from Melide to Santiago had been “annotated” – to employ a term that gives too much credit to what, in fact, is simple graffiti.

Further, the “distance to Santiago” plaquards previously glued to an inset into the waymark monuments had all been removed. As were some of the ceramic conchas. I believe they were taken as souveneirs, rather than removed during the Galicia improvement process because they might no longer have been accurate. Some of the ceramic conchas were partly in place, a corner broken off, suggesting that it had been broken when a collector attempted to pry it off the monument.

So it seems that with the astronomical increase in the popularity of the Camino, and with the saturation of the experience with young people with characteristic exuberance, the quality of the experience has changed in just the four years since my peregrenacion on the Camino Portugues (2014). This should not discourage the gentle reader from walking the Camino. After all, in times gone by peregrinos encountered robbers and other brigands as part of their pilgrimage. Know that you make your own Camino experience. It is yours alone.

In Santiago, my Map App was unavailable because my cell phone was out of battery. Eventually I was directed by kindly merchants to my small hotel in the old town. There I discovered a new kiosk. . . central to a new-to-me business model . . . and cousin to the ubiquitous ATM.

Call it an ADCM – automatic desk clerk machine. Upon confirming your identity by scanning your passport or national identity card, and confirming your reservation, the ADCM vends a keycard that admits you to the property and to your room. The property in fact has an on-the-property desk clerk/manager during the morning and afternoon. Then the ADCM takes over! Actually the device is feasible for this property because the owners have five other properties in Santiago and several have all night desk coverage. Those non-automatic desk clerks can rush to the guest’s assistance if the ADCM is recalcitrant. Time marches on.

The next morning, I was up early and presented myself at the Pilgrim Office well before it opened at 8 am. I was third in line, received my compostela swiftly, and set out to enjoy the city. It was bustling with peregrinos arriving in large number, and others setting out for Finesterre and Muxia. And gaggles of tourists alighting from luxurious tour busses with guides leading them through the old town.

I attended the pilgrim mass at the cathedral. (There is one at noon each day and one at 7:30 Friday evenings.) The cathedral is undergoing external and internal reconstruction. As in the past, it was standing room only. The organ is an awesome instrument, and a work of art in its own right.

Even so, the mass included the swinging of the giant incense burner – the Botafumeiro. I did not photograph it this year, but see FCB #10.

I found a quiet chapel in the cathedral and lighted a candle for the late wife of a good friend. She was also my friend.

And outside, I looked for someone to take my picture with the cathedral in the background.


I waited for a time, and happily, I saw the Polish girl walking into the plaza. She was pleased to capture an image of me at our common destination. She was headed home that evening. I asked her to greet her friend for me. He was going on to Finisterre the next day.

I was sad not to see the others with whom I had walked in tandem. But all were off to their own adventures and, after all, so was I.

What’s next?

Hard to say. Perhaps another walk in the UK? The Camino Ingles? The Camino Portugues along the coast? Or somewhere in Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Chengdu or Tibet? Time will tell.

With that, I’m headed home. Thank you for following these chronicles. I’ll post again next year.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #30

Fog City Boy Returns to the Camino Primitivo

Lugo, España – September 11, 2017

 

The bus ride from Pamplona to Oviedo was long, but interesting. The intercity buses in Spain – most operated by ALSA – are comfortable and swift. They assign seat reservations which gave me a window seat for much of the journey. More beautiful Spanish countryside and a nice view along the coast for part of the way.

My lodging in Oviedo was directly across the street from the major retail shopping district. Very few restaurants there, but eventually several appeared as I strolled through town. The cathedral is illuminated at night. Truly grand!

The next day, ALSA took me from Oviedo to Tineo where I formally rejoined the Camino Primitivo by securing a selle (stamp) in my credencial del peregrino. The hotel there is a dual facility – a well appointed albergue in the basement with the usual communal bathrooms and sleeping cubicles. This en suite peregrino chose a room upstairs in the hotel. The staff was most helpful in reserving for me accommodation for the next night in Berducedo where I overnighted after walking the Hospitales Route. In fact, the accommodation was in the same casa rural that I stayed in last year when I arrived in Berducedo after walking the Pola de Allande alternate to the Hospitales Route. But. . . there were no private rooms for this or any other peregrino booking so late! I was grateful to secure a bed in the albergue in the basement of the casa rural. It was clean, the other peregrinos respectful of each other, and I slept well.

The gentle reader will recall that last year I walked to Berducedo via the path through Pola de Allande – longer than the Hospitales route, but easier on the legs and with the opportunity to overnight half way in Pola. This year, I decided to walk the Hospitales route – again like the Napoleón Route – over the mountain rather than around it.  Why engage these challenges? Like Sir Edmund Hillary said, “because it was there.”  I don´t fancy myself Sir Edmund, but the rationale seems to me to apply here.

I engaged a taxi from Tineo to take me to Borres, a tiny village not far from where The Way divides with one path to Pola and one to the mountain.

I had walked to that point last year before choosing to follow the route through Pola. The Way from Borres starts with a climb. Hey, this is the Camino!

The minders of the Camino, in this case the government of Asturias, were quite direct in informing peregrinos of their choices where the Way splits. Distance and elevation both were addressed.

The Hospitales Route is 16.5 kilometers (10.23 miles) in length from Borres to Montefurado and involves many ascents and descents. 

There are no facilities on the Hospitales Route. No food, no water, no connectivity! Peregrinos are well advised to be well provisioned before they start. I had three bottles of water of varying sizes, some bread left over from breakfast, and a can of prepared peas and meatballs I had purchased in Tineo. (I also had my trusty 3-in-1 dining tool – part spoon, part fork, and part serrated knife.)

Before launching on the first real ascent, the Camino Primitivo passes through a tiny village.  As is often the case, The Way passes by small chapels that are still in use.

After surmounting the first real ascent of the day, peregrinos were greeted by a solitary bovine who seemed unconcerned – perhaps bemused – by our arrivals and departures.

We saw many more cattle, sheep, and horses along The Way. We also saw beautiful scenery, sometimes partially shrouded in fog.

And the Hospitales.

La Parodiella.

Fanfaron.

Valparaíso.

Eventually the Hospitales Route unites with the route through Pola after a long climb, which ever route the peregrino has chosen.

From here it is a long way down from the mountain, but eventually the peregrino reaches Berducedo and – hopefully a place to lay one´s weary body.

Out of curiosity, as I massaged my feet after the day´s walk, I checked the “Health” App on my iPhone, mindful that I had walked not only the 16.5 km over the mountain, but an additional 7.4 km to get to Berducedo.  The App reported as follows. . .

Steps for the day:  24,484.

Distance walked:  8.9 miles.

WHAT?

Then the kindly App, seeking always to improve the well-being of its accolytes admonished me:

“Sit less, move more, get some exercise.”

Whereupon, mindful that I had just walked 15 challenging miles that day, I determined to delete that App.  Take that, “Hal.”

Peregrinos and those who attend them are not the only inhabitants of Berducedo.

Having walked from Berducedo to Grandas de Salime last year, I opted for a taxi that allowed me to continue my peregrenacion without unduly repeating what I accomplished last year. I sent my bag along to A Fonsagrada but asked the driver to drop me at Grandas de Salime where I could pick up where I left off last year. I began at the Collegiata  de El Salvador.

The Way traverses pleasant countryside which included this eucalyptus plantation.  It is a species of eucalyptus with which I am unfamiliar.  Eucalyptus can be raised for raw material in papermaking.

I returned to Pension Casa Monolo in A Fonsagrada, the same accommodation where I spent one night last year. I remembered the innkeeper, and he remembered me!

Down the block was a cruciero reminding the faithful of their faith.

There was a festival going on that weekend.

A caballero and his horse danced nimbly with a señora in traditional garb while the townsfolk watched approvingly.

[I am sorry that my intended longer recording did not take.]

Townsfolk in traditional costumes danced and others played Asturian bagpipes.

There were a selection of amusements for children. 

That evening the dancers and musicians called at Pension Casa Monolo and performed again.

From Fonsagrada, I continued until I reached O Cadavo.

Again, having previously walked the stage from Cadavo to Lugo, I indulged in onward travel by intercity bus the next day which brought me swiftly to Lugo, in time to return to the wall built by the Romans that rings the ancient city.

The gentle reader will recall that almost exactly one year ago, I was forced to curtail my peregrenacion because of delays I had experienced due to weather – hot, cold, and wet – depending on the stage along The Way. See FCB #26.

Well, I´m back, with the rock that I took then from the battlement way by the cathedral.

[Nothwithstanding possible technical issues in this presentation, I believe the video will play in the appropriate orientation.  FCB]

I spent a few minutes exploring, as I had done last  year, the graffiti posted near the cathedral.  Again, see FCB 26.  The one about Stalin was still there, and not challenged.

And nearby there was a new one, I believe (from the style), offered by the same anarchist.

And as I reported last year, there are many grand structures awaiting rehabilitation.

I will continue the Camino Primitivo tomorrow, making my way over several days to Melide where the Camino Frances and the Camino Primitivo converge.

I´ll post again after I reach Santiago.

With that, I´m off!

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #29

Fog City Boy on the Route Napoleón

Pamplona, España – September 4, 2017

The flights from Glasgow to Paris and  on to Biarritz were comfortable and uneventful. The  city bus from the airport to the Bayonne SNCF station – a  block from my hotel, cost all of €1,00 and I had a nice talk with an American couple who were about to launch on their long-planned and greatly anticipated first Camino.

I decided to sleep in that night since  peregrinos are generally ousted from their albergue lodgings by 0830 each morning. The sleep was good but the  logistics turned out not to be great. I had intended  to take a 1215 train to St. Jean but considered that getting on The Way earlier than mid-afternoon would be a good
idea. So I asked the hotel to call me a taxi. I inquired of the driver of the cost to take me to St. Jean. €100,00 was the response.

Yikes!

That was decidedly more than a poor pilgrim should spend on
the first day of the Camino.

So I apologized to the driver for the inconvenience – observing that I didn’t even have €100,00 – and walked a block to the railroad station. (And stayed on the outlook for an ATM.)  The  ticket to St. Jean cost €7,60, a bus was substituted for the rail service that day, and I didn´t arrive until about 1330.

Upon arrival in St. Jean, I proceeded to the Pilgrim Office, received a sello (stamp) in my Credencial del Peregrino – my Pilgrim Passport that verified my status as a pilgrim and that would verify my peregrenacion upon arrival in Santiago.

I was ahead of the crowd arriving at  the Pilgrim Office. When I left, a long line had formed.

I headed for the Porte D’Espagne, the ancient gateway into Spain, purchasing what would be the first of many bocadillos – Spanish for “sandwich” – that keep body and soul together midday on The Way. Bocadillos generally consist of a couple of thin slices of ham slapped inside a crusty roll without benefit of mustard, mayo, lettuce or tomato.

They keep body and soul together, but would not be confused with a culinary triumph.

St. Jean Pied-de-Port translates as “St. John at the Foot of the Pass.” The pass in question is a gap in the Pyrenees through which the Camino path proceeds, and through which Napoleón withdrew his forces in 1812 toward the end of the Iberian Peninsular War
(retreating back to France in the face of the assault by Anglo-Portuguese forces). Local signage identifies the path as the Route Napoleón. Since this is Basque country, all official signage is in both French and Basque.

The gentle reader may recall from my post from Pamplona on April 7, 2015 (republished on April 14) (FCB ·12.1) that I had intended to walk the Napoleón Route to Roncesvalles when I intially walked the Camino Frances, but was warned off by the hospitaleros at the Pilgrim Office who reported that the mountain was closed because of snow, and that pilgrims had sometimes become lost in the snow, and died on the mountain. (This is a premise of Martin Sheen´s movie, The Way.) So in 2015 I walked the alternative route through Valcarlos.

This year, I came back to take on the challenge of the Napoleón Route.

The time was 1420, definitely later that I had hoped to start, when I started  the climb – and what a climb it was. Up. Followed by more Up. Followed by more Up. No undulating pathways (until the very end of the hike that day).

But there were beautiful views along the way.

I arrived at Albergue Orisson at 1715. I was very glad to be there. I got the last bed in the albergue, fortunately having made a
reservation three months in advance of my hike.

The shower felt very good, indeed, though the automatic clock shut off the water at exactly five minutes. Thankfully, I had been forewarned!

As is always the case, the peregrino commaradarie is palpable. Dinner at Orisson that night was communal – a rich vegetable soup, roast chicken, mixed (albeit stewed too long) vegetables, bread, water, wine, and an assortment of small deserts. Yum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way up to Orisson, I passed a group of Spaniards who were walking as a group. Two of them were blind – each walking with one stick and holding to the backpack of a colleague. The gentleman toward the  end of the table with the dark glasses was one.

The Camino attracts all manner of pilgrims. Some are quite courageous. These gentlemen are among that number. Their bravery recalled for me another pilgrim I met along the Camino
Frances in 2015. She was an older woman with no legs. She had a fifth wheel bolted to her wheelchair and was using her arms to “crank” her way to Santiago.
 
The bunk was comfortable and the other nine peregrinos in the bunkroom were considerate. Unfortunately, two  of the younger but lamentably overweight men in the room snored loudly until about 0300. No one else slept until the snoring stopped. There were quiet hushed conversations to this effect at day brake. This is not unusual in the albergues, and accounts for my determination to proceed as an “en suite peregrino” whenever posible. It´s darn hard to hike if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep.

Dawn from Orisson. A beautiful vista, but rain clouds on the horizon!

After a characteristically inadequate Continental breakfast the next morning, we all set out to complete the 14 km trek up the mountain and through the pass. I shared part of The Way with an American couple.  We would cross paths several times over the next days.

We were met with more beautiful vistas, and a statue of the Virgin Mary at Pic de Orisson atop an outcropping of rock along  the way.

Further along there was a simple shrine to a peregrino who died on The Way.

The rain came later that morning and obscured most photo opportunities.

A fellow peregrino took this picture of  me just on the “other side” of the pass.

From here, the trail was generally level or slightly undulating,
eventually crossing a cattle guard that was strategically placed at the border between France and Spain. Pilgrims welcomed. Cattle, sheep, and goats, not! There were no other formalties.  A bit farther along, The Way passes the ruins of a customs house long ago abandoned.

The total meters ascended over the two days was 1390! The highest point – Col de Lepoeder – is 1450 meters above sea level.

I overnighted at Roncesvalles at a hotel there. Good thing I had a reservation – all 120 spaces in the albergue were taken and there were no vacancies at any of the other facilities. The number of expectant pilgrims overwhelmed the capacity of the entire town.

Dinner was good and I slept well, “en suite peregrino” that I am.

The next day, I embarked again on The Way From Roncesvalles  it proceeds through a gentle Wood.  Rain was falling.

As the wood opens into a nearby village, it passes a cross,  one of many to be encountered on The Way.

A nearby post had been annotated by a supporter of Basque independence.

Murals greet the passing peregrinos welcoming them to the village of Burguete Auritz.

The early morning rain created challenges along The Way. But nothing great enough to stop or discourage an enthusiastic peregrino.

A memorial shrine at the top of a long climb was a welcome discovery.


There were some tough climbs in the  rain. Eventually the sky cleared, permitting this vista to be captured. The ruins are of
a former pilgrim inn, Venta de Puerto.

The large cohort of peregrinos who had descended on Roncesvalles on the previous day did not bode well for finding accommodation at Zubiri, the next town of any size to speak off. There had been speculation among those of us who had not reserved in Zubiri about what we would find when we got there. As it turned out, our fears were wholly justified. The whole town was sold out.

The several albergues in the town had beds for 142 pilgrims plus a few in private rooms.  The five pensions and two hotels also were sold out.  Yikes!

What to do? A cohort of four peregrinos – three American women and a gentleman from Cape Town, South Africa with whom I had been hiking in tandem, arrived ahead of me in Zubiri. The proprietress of a pension in town had located a small albergue out of town that could accommodate them. Fortunately, it also was
available to me.

Xavier, the hospitalero, drove to Zubiri, collected us, and brought us to the private albergue  he and his wife operated in Ilarratz, about
three kilometers farther along The Way from Zubiri. He also provided at no charge a lift to a nearby restaurant which offered a very good pilgrim menú for €12,00.

The albergue is so new that it is not listed in the several guides to the Camino.  Here is contact information. 

Albergue Ezpeleku

Ilarratz

+34 (country code for Spain) 948 30 47 21

A view of The Way from Albergue Ezpeleku.

Two Australian women found the facility on their own, hiking out of Zubiri before we had arrived. We enjoyed overnighting with them at the albergue, having walked in tandem with them on and off during the day.

Peregrinos refilling their water bottles at a fonte near the alberque.

A little farther along, a 12th Century Abbey stands in remarkably good repair.

The Basques do not shrink from declaring their national identity.

Along the way, peregrinos had arranged the rocks to make a waymark for those who followed.

The Way follows the River Arga all the way to Pamplona.

The Way passes another memorial to a peregrina whose peregrenacion ended before she reached Santiago.

Noisy geese guard a privately owned manor house and chapel in Arleta.

The entry to Pamplona is scenic, but along a noisy motorway.

An ancient bridge over the River Arga. (I remember it well from 2015!)

It was good to make it back to Pamplona.  It is a fun city, and upon reflection, the one I enjoyed the most during my 2015 peregrenacion on the Camino Frances.

A walk along the battlements of old yielded a view of the suburbs of Pamplona . . . of new!

Many cyclists cycle The Way. They are acknowledged with emplacements through the old town in Pamplona.

(This is another one for you, Stephen! Buen Camino!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, inevitably, political graffiti, the meaning of which is not clear to this peregrino.

The running of the bulls is celebrated even when they aren´t  running.  As is Ernest Hemingway.

The cathedral in Pamplona is grand and inspiring.  A magnet for Camino walkers and responds.  There is a wonderful plaque before the entrance.  It captures the many ways to say “Buen Camino!”

Having had a day to contemplate the completion of the Napoleon Route, I am glad I did it.  I´m sore and tired.  The baby steps I take on gravel trails meandering up and down mountain passes – to guard against falls – are hard on the calf muscles and the feet too!  But it was a worthwhile endeavor.

And Jim was with me every day.

Tomorrow I am off by bus to Oviedo, and then on to Tineo and Campiello to complete the peregrenacion along the Camino Primitivo that I began last year.

I´ll post again from Lugo.

With that, I´m off!

Knute Michael

 

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Fog City Boy #28

Fog City Boy on the West Highland Way

Glasgow, Scotland – August 29, 2017

The transit from San Francisco to Aberdeen was quite comfortable – Aer Lingus provided wonderful service and the best airline food in memory.

We enjoyed elegant and cordial hospitality at the Royal Northern and University Club in Aberdeen, and had a good cruise around the Aberdeen harbor and its approach. The bottle nosed dolphins were playful and entertaining.

No maritime pilots to be seen, though we did see two pilot boats moored in the harbor. These pilots, skilled I am sure, have a transit of but minutes from boarding on before docking their vessels in the harbor. Not quite the same challenge as those faced by San Francisco Bar Pilots! The vessels tied up in the harbor did not resemble the ones I know from my time on the waterfront in San Francisco. But then, those ships in the Bay don’t service drilling rigs in the North Sea.

We were fortunate to have great stalls at His Majesty’s Theatre for a performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.”  The theatre itself is worth the price of admission – wonderful design and how wonderful that it has been preserved.  The show was great and we recommend it to all!

We did a quick hop from Aberdeen to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. We spent a day and a half with local guides – a half-day city tour, followed by an out-trip to archeological sites of merit. Among them the spectacular Ring of Brogdar, a neolithic stone circle and henge monument, with the Loch of Harray in the background.

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And the excavated village at Scara Brae.

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Helen Woodsford-Dean and Mark Dean (reachable at http://www.spiritualorkney.co.uk) were our guides for both days. They are archeologists, formally trained as guides (required for licensing there), knowledgable, cordial, and accommodating. They went out of their way to search a windswept field to locate the very rare Orkney Primrose for us to see! We recommend them highly when you visit Orkney.

However, the Fog City Boy’s most memorable experience in Orkney was renting a right-hand drive Ford which the Fog City Boy managed to navigate around the island under Helen’s watchful eye. Somehow, I managed not to collide with anything or run off the narrow two-lane roads with no shoulder. I think the experience took 10 years off the lives of all aboard. And Helen has a new job description to add to her portfolio – coaching an experienced albeit orientationally-confused wrong way driver.

The Cullen Skink (a fish stew of potatoes, onion, and smoked haddock) we had for lunch was delicious. I tried haggis and found it palatable. After all, haggis is simply sausage without a casing.

And our visit to the Highland Park distillery was quite worthwhile. Learned a lot, and enjoyed a wee dram at the conclusion of the tour. I stand by my approval of their 12-year-old single malt offering. (The others are good, too!)

There are many takeaways from our Orkney visit:  Orkney is quite a ways North.  There is a lot of flat and a lot of wind.  Hey, get used to it!

And, as the Orkney folk are proud of pointing out – the nearest major railroad station is in Oslo, Norway! I think many yearn to be Vikings again! 

From Orkney we hopped to Edinburgh. We arrived as The Fringe was well underway. The Fringe is an annual festival in Edinburgh each August that increases the population from 800,000 to 1.2 to 2.0 million, depending on the day. There are perhaps 400 entertainment venues. Comedy seems to dominate but all genres are to be found. The most celebrated event is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo performed most evenings adjacent to the Edinburgh castle – itself worth a visit. Alas, we were too late to book seats for the Tattoo. I suggest booking in April or May if you want to enjoy the stellar event.

 

Arthur’s Seat – Prequel to the West Highland Way.

Whilst in Edinburgh (the Brits do like their “st’s”) I decided to walk to the top of a local mountain styled “Arthur’s Seat.” The name derives from a Victorian assessment that the majestic peak would have been an appropriate location for King Arthur’s castle and seat of power, had he made it that far north. He did not, but the name stuck.

The hike is within a large public park – Holyrood Park – a rare example of unimproved grassland, effectively unchanged since its enclosure as a Royal Park in the 16th century.  From the starting point – the grounds of building housing the Scottish Legislature, one of the most architecturally ill-conceived buildings in Christendom – the 2.75 mile trail climbs 823 feet to the summit.

Some have scoffed that Arthur’s Seat is a hill, not a mountain.  However, (Bohemian) Robert Louis Stevenson described it as “a hill for magnitude [but] a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”

But no matter, the Way up, though steep and occasionally rocky, boasts dramatic and rewarding views of Edinburgh, the harbor, and the surrounding countryside.  I spent a couple of hours on the climb.

 

 

 

The way down was much shorter than the way up – or so it seemed. The climber finds waving grasses and a profusion of lovely Rosebay Willowherb as the trail unites with the road circling the mount.

The Willowherb accompanied me throughout my travel in Scotland.

A view of the mountain as dusk approaches.

We took ScotRail to Glasgow the next day. The West Highland Way followed soon thereafter.

 

The West Highland Way.

The West Highland Way was the first official long-distance footpath in Scotland. The idea was conceived in the 1960s but it took until 1980 for the Way finally to be declared open. The delay was necessitated by planning, gaining permissions from landowners through which the Way would pass, engineering and construction. The Way is well waymarked and getting lost would be difficult. However, though most of the Way passes through enjoyable, moderately challenging but not difficult territory, a number of segments are quite demanding indeed!

Fording streams with swift currents, ascending and descending steep inclines and staircases, persevering in the rain (did you know that it rains in Scotland? Frequently?) – all are part of the West Highland Way experience. Much of the Way is laid out on gravel paths, sometimes doubling as drainage troughs.

The thistle is the national flower of Scotland.  It is stylistically emblazoned on the waymarks along the West Highland Way.  This one is adorns the official start point in Milngavie.

Here’s one I found along the Way.  Someone annotated the waymark at its base!

And real thistles accompany the walker along the Way.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Fog City Boy cannot claim to have walked the entire West Highland Way. On a single day, I combined two extremely strenuous stages (Rowardennan to Inversnaid, and Inversnaid to Inverarnan) which amounted to a mere 13 1/2 miles in total, but which were far more demanding than anything I had encountered on any of the Caminos I have walked. The challenge was mile after mile of unending ups and downs (politely called an “undulating” path) that required steep climbs up rocky outcroppings, back down and across streams with nothing but gravel and large stones offered as footfalls.

And, unlike most Camino paths, there are few opportunities to “set a spell,” enjoy a bar, grab a cafe con leche, with a place to rest one’s weary feet, or bail out if it is just too much for this day.  (Peregrinos reading – recall the many taxi phone numbers tacked to trees and posts along the Way!  You won’t find them on the West Highland Way!)

The next day was necessarily a recovery day. I would urge any future trekkers on the West Highland Way not to combine the available stages. Take it slow, don’t fall, have a pint when you get in, and get a good night’s rest before heading out again.

And then there was the night that the fire alarm went off at 2:45 am at Bridge of Orchy Hotel. It was nice getting to know all the other residents for 45 minutes while we were standing around in our sleeping costumes and waited for the false alarm to be shut off. Hiking the next day was not in the cards.

So, all in, all done, I walked about 2/3 of the 96 miles, including several sidetrips. But for the prepaid, non-refundable hotel reservations, the full distance was certainly achievable. Ahhh, the tyranny of the prepaid reservation.  No opportunity to chill, recover, and go again.  You just have to keep going.

That said, here are some images my walks along the West Highland Way.

Rivulets and waterfalls are ubiquitous along the Way.  I crossed literally hundreds of them.  So are wildflowers.  Here are a few.

 

Common Ragwort.

Ling Heather.

 Orchids growing wild along the roadside.

Steep hikes are rewarded with beautiful vistas.  This one is just outside Balmaha.

The Devils Staircase is about 800 feet of switchbacks.  There was a light rain that day.  Tiring but manageable.  Here and elsewhere, entrepreneurs seize the moment!

Walkers have constructed a cairn at the top of the Staircase.

And the vista is worth the climb.

We overnighted at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, a charming four-star inn.  The stone bridge was constructed as part of a military road constructed in the 18th century.

The final day was challenging and rainy.  But the vistas, albeit under cloudy skies, were wonderful.

The Way passes the ruins of a farmhouse built long ago.

A thoughtful lady from England offered to take my picture along The Way.  Earlier, a walker from Canada asked my name.  I told her it was “Michael” and she thanked me.  “We wanted to know your name.  We have been calling you ‘the man in the hat’ for several days.”

Walkers on the West Highland Way, as with peregrinos on the Camino, are a friendly and supportive lot. 

Recurring companions on the Way were swarms of tiny insects known locally as “midges.” They are barely visible but they swarm and they bite. The bite itself is not painful, but it will raise a welt and remain for several days.

A good insect repellant might not keep the midges off of the walker, but it will dispatch most of the midges before they have you for lunch.

That said, the midges ought not be a deterant if you are considering walking the West Highland Way.  Take an insect repellant with you, and an itch cream to deal with the midges that get through your perimeter defense!

A final suggestion to prospective walkers of the Way – or any other trek – walk with two (not one) walking sticks. They will save you from many nasty falls, especially over rough terrain.

The official end of the Way is in the center of Fort William. I spent the night in Fort William, a pleasant town with a small harbor.

The official end of the West Highland Way in Fort William.  Note the sculpture on the bench – a walker examining his feet at the end of the trail!

 ScotRail the next morning brought me back to Glasgow and preparation for the Camino walks. I’ll post again from Pamplona.

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #27

Fog City Boy Returns to the Camino Primitivo – With a Warmup Hike through Scotland and over the Pyrenees.

San Francisco, California – August 3, 2017

In two days’ time, the Fog City Boy and Ginna, the Fog City Boy’s consort (and wife), will depart San Francisco for Scotland. We will visit Aberdeen, the Orkney Islands, and Edinburgh before the Fog City Boy sets out to walk the West Highland Way.

This Way begins in a suburb of Glasgow named Milngavie – but pronounced “Mulgai” – and proceeds 96 miles to the town of Fort William.

There are campgrounds and sleeping barns along the route, but no hostels or pilgrim albergues such as are found on the Camino.

A travel agency in Glasgow – Mac’s Adventure – has made reservations at small hotels and bed and breakfast locations along the route. The trek is 96 miles and will last 10 days. I will be joined along parts of the Way by John and Linda, friends of ours from Half Moon Bay, California. I’ll post again after completing the West Highland Way in late August.

A few days after the West Highland Way, the Fog City Boy will journey by air and by rail to St. Jean Pied de Port, a traditional starting point for the Camino Frances. I commenced my Camino Frances there in 2015 but was not able to pursue the “Napoleon Route” which climbs up and over the Pyrenees before descending to Roncesvalles (Spain), and then onward to Pamplona. In April, 2015, the snow was blowing on top of the mountain, often obscuring the waymarks, thus causing pilgrims to become lost, and sometimes perish. I took the alternate route around the mountain. So I’ll go back this time and climb the mountain – no snow expected in September!

From Pamplona, I will travel to Tineo, a major town on the Camino Primitivo which I began in 2016, about one year ago. From there I will repeat some of my days from last year’s Camino, ultimately covering new territory and completing the Camino in Santiago. Here’s a video from 2016 taken just outside Oviedo, the traditional starting point for the Camino Primitivo.

I’m looking forward to all three treks! And I hope you will continue to follow my postings. If you are not yet on my blog’s “mailing list” you may click on the button marked “Follow” in the lower right corner of your monitor to sign up. This option may not be available on cell phones.

With that, I’m not quite yet off but will be soon!

 

Knute Michael

 

Fog City Boy #26

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primitivo

San Francisco, California – October 17, 2016

I was up timely at the small hotel in Embalsa de Salime, downed the characteristically inadequate continental breakfast, but with an extra cup of café con leche, and headed toward Grandas de Salime. Long needle pine trees were abundant and left a lovely orange carpet at their base. It was a pleasant walk, mostly up hill, and the forecast rain did not immediately appear.

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My guidebook advertised the availability of internet at the local library in Grandas. The folks at the town hall drew me a map but cautioned that the library was not open until 4:00 that afternoon. So I gave up – again – the idea of making immediate progress on this blog.

I had hoped to check into a hotel at Grandas to assure myself of lodging for the night and then strike out on The Way and make as much progress as I could, returning to Grandas by taxi in the afternoon. Alas, the hotel was full! The owner suggested that I try the pension around the corner. When I knocked on the door there, the owner appeared at a third floor window and simply said, “completo.” They were full, too. So I returned to the hotel and the kindly owner agreed to get me a reservation for the night at A Fonsagrada, about 25 km away, and a taxi to get me there. Walking the 25 km would have made the total for the day about 20 miles – something I have been known to do, but not something I relish. And the skies were threatening.

So, off I went with a pleasant taxi driver. Shortly after leaving Grandas, the heavens opened up. And I watched sheepishly as we passed a half dozen peregrinos I had been with at Berducedo. I have walked many days in the rain and generally it is not much of a deterrent. But this rain was a different rain. It was driving and cold. And the wind and wind chill that accompanied it was biting. I had hoped to walk some distance once reaching A Fonsagrada, but the wind chill was prohibitive. So, I found the local cultural center and its library where, happily, I had a good internet connection. I made progress on the blog.

Upon returning to my hotel, I found several of my fellow peregrinos there. They didn’t hold it against me that I had arrived by cab rather than on foot. Peregrinos are a charitable lot! I joined the Irish couple and we had a nice dinner together. The hotel offered a special entre which I enthusiastically selected:

Pulpo!

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The next day brought more rain and wind. I determined to finish the blog entry I was composing (so back to the library I went) and later that day I published. I had a nice lunch at a local bar – hamburguesa con patatas fritas – and actually set out to walk a few kilometers forward.  The weather did not relent.  I returned to my hotel and threw myself on the mercy of the hotelkeeper who made me a reservation at the next significant town on The Way, Cadavo Baleira. Again, I traveled by taxi, not on foot. But fortunately, by the time I got to Cadavo, the weather had cleared and the prospects for the next day were for sunshine. Again, I met up with my fellow peregrinos. The four French women were there, as was the Irish couple and the two young Americans. We organized a large table and enjoyed a nice dinner together.

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The next morning, I was up timely, had an inadequate continental breakfast, and headed back along The Way, leaving my backpack at the hotel. I would overnight there for two nights. From Cadavo, The Way traverses a succession of farm roads, passing through a number of hamlets, some of which had small churches.  The weather was a pleasant light rain for an hour or so.

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I stopped at one of the churches, took a break, and devoured a can of sardines and an orange – my “field expedient” cure for an inadequate continental breakfast.

I pressed on, passing a cross guarding a field of pumpkins.

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In time I came to another hamlet with a lovely church and across the street the town’s tiny plaza with seating that gave me another opportunity enjoy a quiet solitude before going on.

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Eventually The Way arrives at Vilabade with a handsome church dedicated to Santa Maria. It dates from 1457 and is home to wonderful religious statuary and other art. It is a national historic artistic monument.

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An enterprising gentleman has set up shop adjacent to the church. I paused and enjoyed a bottle of agua con gas. He was disappointed that I didn’t augment my hydration with one of his cakes and other pastries.

img_2252A manor house next door, Casa Grande de Vilabade, was built in the 17th century by Diego Osorio Escobar, Spain’s viceroy to Mexico. It has been restored and is available for public functions.

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I had been dodging this tractor all morning!  The driver was a man with a mission.

I continued on along the comfortable paved streets of Vilabade, passing a comfortable home with handsome wayside cross near the entrance.

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Wayside crosses are more common in Galicia than they were earlier on the Camino Primitivo route in Asturias.

I arrived at Castroverde a short time later. The town is one of some substance and appears to be a favorite of local tourists. The parish church and plaza are well maintained.

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And a charming fountain graces the plaza. The sculpture is of five children sheltering under an umbrella in the rain.  And the rain is integral to the sculpture.

I had considered Castroverde as a likely place to find a taxi to return me to Cadavo. But the day was still young, the weather favorable, and I was eager to move ahead. I walked a short distance through the town and The Way brought me again into agricultural country.

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I continued as far as Santa Maria de Gondar, a small village wholly devoted to agriculture.

img_2274There I discovered a taxi whose driver was heading out for his day. This was pure serendipity. I had feared that I would end up walking all the way to Lugo before finding a taxi. I hailed the taxi and returned to Cadavo. The driver was somewhat incredulous that he had landed a fare in that tiny hamlet. 

He got me swiftly to Cadavo and I indulged in a hot shower back at my hotel. After a bocadillo at a neighborhood bar, I set out to explore the town in the late afternoon.

Not all fountains in Spain and Portugal date from hundreds of years ago. This one was completed in the 1980s.

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I came upon the town’s alberque which is a new one, but has only 20 beds and, at that time of year, many more peregrinos hoping for a place to spend the night than it has beds. I saw a half dozen dejected looking peregrinos heading toward my hotel in hopes of a vacancy. I don’t know how they fared.

I stopped in at a a small bar/restaurant a short distance from the alberque and learned that the hotel keeper was building a private alberque immediately adjacent to her establishment. It will have 40 beds! That is a very large private alberque, and it will provide capacity that will be greatly welcomed by future peregrinos.

I had a nice, but solitary, dinner that evening. All my peregrino pals had by this time arrived in Lugo. I would follow the next day, taking a taxi from Cadavo to Gondar and picking up The Way where I had left it the day before.

There I met a young American peregrino from the Midwest.  He had completed his degree at an American university and was walking the Camino before continuing his studies at the London School of Economics.  Wow!  We walked together for a time and I let him go on ahead.  He had a tight schedule ahead of him.

And one more interesting thing about this very respectful young man.  His given name was, “Miller.”  I had never before met anyone with my surname as his given name.  You never know what you will discover on The Way.

As one approaches Lugo, the environment becomes more suburban, but agricultural pursuits are still prominent.

Crossing the A-6 highway on the approach to Lugo, I found this admonition to future peregrinos passing by, followed by a pointed response:

After traversing the residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of Lugo, the peregrino crosses a river and the railroad, eventually climbing up and into the center of Lugo, the old town.  The Camino has long been a part of Lugo and its public infrastructure reflects that long history.

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Historically, Lugo was a walled city originally built by the Romans, but one that changed hands a number of times over the centuries. The wall which surrounds the old town is the largest of the surviving Roman walls – 2 km long, 8.5 meters high, and featuring 85 rounded towers.

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I had arrived on a Saturday and the town was festive. There were many tourists and quite a number of peregrinos just starting their journey on The Way. Lugo is a bit over 100 km from Santiago – which permits a pilgrim to begin in Lugo and qualify for a Compostela (a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage) upon arrival in Santiago.

I had a nice dinner in the old town that evening. Pemientos padron,dos pinxos, and vino blanco were a treat!

img_2287The next morning, I made my way to the Lugo railroad station and bought my ticket to Madrid. My reservation was for the next day, but I was there in time to observe a train departing Lugo en route to Madrid. (The video that follows is over two minutes in length. You may wish to skip it unless you are a dyed in the wool rail fan.)

I returned to the old town and visited the cathedral.

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I walked the wall and noted the many varying structures immediately adjacent to it. Some were well kept.

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And some were in a state of profound decay – an opportunity for substantial reconstruction.

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One wall sported a curious political statement.

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After circumnavigating the wall, I stopped at the cathedral and reflected on my journey. 

In time, I collected a rock, and made this selfie:

My perigrenacion is not compete. It is interrupted – but to be continued. As I reported previously, I have run out of time to complete the Camino Primitivo as I had intended.  I’ll be back next year, walk the stages I had to skip this time, and complete my third Camino de Santiago.

At the insistence of Darlin’ Daughter – Elizabeth the Adventuresome – I plan to combine completing the Camino Primitivo adding a hike  with a hike somewhere in the U.K. Perhaps a coast to coast walk in England. Or perhaps the West Highland Way in Scotland. Or something else. Time will tell.

And with that, I’m not off, but I’ll be back!

To be continued.  I’ll post again next year.

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #25

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primitivo

San Francisco, California – October 6, 2016

A friendly taxi driver returned me to Tineo from Pola de Allande shortly before noon that day. My lodging had been booked before I went to the festival, just as my lodging in Pola two days hence was booked before I left. So, what to do with the afternoon? As it turned out, there was a library in town and, like most libraries these days, it had a room full of computers with internet connectivity. I used the afternoon to clear my email and to make progress with my blog, and got to bed early.

The next day, I was up timely and resumed my perigrenacion. The route was moderately strenuous, but the views were breathtaking!

A panorama that includes Tineo:

Other views along The Way:

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I arrived in Campiello in the early afternoon. There are two private albergues in that farming village. One is run by a charming and solicitous entrepreneur named Herminia. She actively manages a restaurant/bar, a grocery store, an albergue, and several single rooms that she rents. Also a sports club and a farm supply business.  A very nice young lady from Holland showed me to my lodging and helped me with more than one reservation for future evenings along The Way.  Her English was excellent!  She is a student of languages and working in Spain to develop her fluency in Spanish.

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I enjoyed a good menu del peregrino that evening and met several interesting peregrinos in the process. Two were from England. One had just passed his exams and was about to be frocked as a solicitor. He and his friend were celebrating by walking the Camino Primitivo. They were on a tight schedule and were committed to making at least 30 km (20 miles) each day until they arrived at Santiago. We had a light breakfast the next morning and they were on their way.

There were four women from France who had taken what I think of as a novel approach to any Camino. Each day, three of them walked and one drove to their next destination. The next day, the driver walked and the driving duties were devolved on another member of the group. We walked in tandem for several days.

And, I met two young Americans. She was in the State Department and posted to the American embassy in Afghanistan. She had some interesting stories to tell, as you can imagine. Her friend, who lives in Northern Virginia, is a security consultant. He had interesting stories to tell, as well. We walked in tandem for several days.

The road from Campiello starts out flat, but doesn’t stay flat. A few kilometers after Camiello, The Way splits, offering the peregrino choices.

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One route takes the pilgrim on a 20 plus km hike with beautiful views but no civilization of any kind for 16.5 km (about 10 miles) – no food, no water until reaching Montefurado. The alternative is longer but takes the pilgrim through Pola where one can rest before pressing ahead. I opted for the route through Pola.

The Way to Pola involved multiple climbs and descents.

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I rested much better the second time I visited Pola de Allende than the first.  But, the fiesta memories are nonetheless good ones.  I continued on the next morning and encountered a lengthy climb that took me up and down ravines as the adjacent highway wound its way ever upward.

The most dramatic climb was the assent to Puerto del Palo (elevation 1146 meters). Fortunately, the weather was cooperative. Lovely little flowers along The Way cheered the passing peregrinos.

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I met up with the two Americans at the crest of the mountain. The Way down was beautiful but treacherous.

The Way passes through the tiny village of Montefurado.

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The Way actually passes through a cow pasture and then continues through dense mountain foliage.

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Eventually The Way winds itself down into Berduceo. I had a reservation at Camin Antiguo (which I believe to be Camino Primativo in the Asturian language) – a private albergue that could provide a private room with an en suite bath. The shower felt very good. The albergue, located in the basement of a private home, sported a “two star” rating as an albergue. This was the first time that I had encountered a rating system for albergues. The private rooms were on the second floor.

After my shower, I walked back to the center of this very small town where I found a number of other peregrinos gathered at a café/bar enjoying various refreshments. What an international gathering it was! A couple from England – he was Polish and she from Argentina. A couple from Ireland and another Irishman who would have been my contemporary. And the two young Americans. They had been very fortunate to get the last room at the pension in town. Berduceo, it seems, was sold out that night!

I noticed two Asian peregrinos – a young couple from South Korea.  They had just received that bad news that the pension in town was sold out and the albergues all were full.  Their faces betrayed a high level of anxiety.  I approached them and suggested they try for a room at the Camin Antiguo. Their English was good enough that they were able to follow my directions.  Luck was with them.  They got a room, and were greatly relieved to have a roof over their heads – especially because rain was forecast for the next day.

Meanwhile, the peregrino happy hour had continued to expand. Eventually we ran out of space at our table and moved to a larger one across the road that also was serviced by the café/bar.

And then came a remarkable, but very Camino-like, experience.

A peregrina from Holland, who likely is my contemporary or perhaps bit younger, strode up to the group and, in English, asked to address us.

She said that she knew that we were pilgrims and she wanted us to know about a telephone call she had just received from one of her sons who had called from Holland. He told her that his brother, her other son, who is in the Dutch Army and was part of the Dutch forces in Afghanistan, had been in a firefight with the Taliban. He was unhurt, but apparently, the emotional aftermath was such that he was being repatriated to Holland. The son who called would meet his brother at the airport. She just wanted to share that with us, she said.

We were all supportive of her, of course. The young American woman and I exchanged glances, but she did not volunteer her posting to Afghanistan. Later she and I talked and agreed that the young soldier undoubtedly was experiencing PTSD.

The Camino truly brings out the best in people. Peregrinos help each other in many ways. We helped the peregrina from Holland by listening, and hearing. She needed to unburden herself and trusted us to be there for her. And we were.

Peregrinos are trusting of one another. I observed this phenomenon on both of my other Caminos. There is a commonality of experience and purpose that supports an openness that none of us would allow in our regular, non-Camino lives.

There was heavy rain that night.  My room included a continental breakfast in the morning prepared by the matron of the house.  We had no language in common, but when she looked out the window and said, “malo!” I didn’t need a Spanish-English dictionary to translate her observation.

The day brought interesting countryside and a long descent through a pine forest, eventually arriving at Embalse de Salime where I spent the night. It was, indeed, a rainy day, but I had my poncho and my Tilley (hat) and my walking poles, so the day was manageable, if damp.

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The Way passes through severl tiny villages, farm land, and past a charming little chapel dedicated to Santa Maria de Buspol.

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I noted that roofing materials had shifted from terracota tiles to slates. The mountain I would descend boasted frequent shale outcroppings.

img_2236img_2237img_2238The descent from Buspol was almost 6 km in length and required almost three hours.  Finally I reached bottom of the path and was pleased to encounter firm footing for the next kilometer or so!

The road led to Embalse de Salime, mostly a ghost town.  But one with a very decent small hotel and restaurant.

Embalse translates as reservoir.  And, indeed, there was a dam, a power station, and a hillside of buildings constructed to support the building of the dam in 1954.

img_2239Upon reaching the hotel, I called it a day, had a nice late lunch – a large one in the Spanish tradition – took a shower, and took a long nap. 

I’ll post again in a few days.

 

With that, I’m off.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy on the Camino Primativo