Fog City Boy #19

Fog City Boy on the Camino Francés

San Francisco, California – June 26, 2015

I returned to San Francisco four weeks ago, and, after plowing through nearly two months of accumulated snailmail, junk mail, and magazines I never read, had an opportunity to reflect on the Camino and my peregrinación. Here are some thoughts.

 

Comparing the Camino Portugués (2014) and the Camino Francés (2015).

Both Caminos are worthy and I can easily recommend them if you are looking for a good long – or not so long – walk. Upon reflection, I would recommend that a first time peregrino walk the Camino Francés. That is the best developed and most frequently walked of the several Ways. In effect, it defines the Camino experience.

Here are some statistics (source – my analysis of data in John Brierley’s guidebooks):

· Camino Francés: Distance from St. Jean to Santiago = 776.2 kilometers (482.3 miles) with aggregate elevation en route of 12,080 meters.

· Camino Portugués: Distance from Lisbon to Santiago = 615.6 kilometers (382.5 miles) with aggregate elevation en route of 6,665 meters.

Neither the lineal distances nor the elevations should be a deterrent. Some of the climbs are steep, but there aren’t very many of them. Pace yourself and you will do fine!

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You don’t have to start in St. Jean or in Lisbon. Most peregrinos start closer to Santiago, although I met one peregrina who had started in Paris. And last year, I heard about a young peregrino who had started in Moscow!  And, if you want, you can ride a bike!  (Though you will need to cover 200 kilometers to qualify for a compostela.)

On the Camino Francés, frequent starting points are Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and Sarria. (Sarria is 115 km from Santiago, and completing the Camino on foot from that point will qualify the peregrino to receive a compostela upon arrival in Santiago.)

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On the Camino Portugués, frequent starting points are Porto and Tui. (Tui is 115 km from Santiago, and completing the Camino from that point, like Sarria, will qualify the peregrino to receive a compostela.)

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That said, my recommendation for the Camino Portugués – if you don’t have time or interest in walking all the way from Lisbon – is to make your way to Lisbon, spend several days there exploring and enjoying the city, and then take a regional train to Tomar. There is a relatively new alberque there that is reputed to be quite commodious, and the Knights Templar castle is well preserved and seeing it is a must. Begin your peregrinación from Tomar.

And, under no circumstances fail to walk the alternative Way out of Porto, wherever you start on the Portuguese Way!  It departs there from the standard waymarked route, proceeds to Matosenhos, and from there proceeds up the coast with beautiful marine views and good footing with a destination for the day of Vila do Conde.  Check out FCB #8.  From Vila do Conde a waymarked route returns you to the main route from Porto to Santiago.

The principal differences between these two most popular Camino routes are the following:

. The Francés has vastly more pilgrims from day one. I encounterd over twice as many pilgrims at the railroad station in Bayonne headed to St. Jean than I had met in the first 20 days in Portugal. And the number on the Way increases noticeably at each of the starting points mentioned above. The same thing happens on the Portugués, but the overall number of pilgrims is much lower

. The infrastructure to support pilgrims is much more highly developed on the Francés in comparison with that on the Portugués. That means that the peregrino need not worry that lodging doesn’t exist when it is time to stop for the night – although there are occasions when every bed in town has been spoken for. Making reservations ahead is a good idea on either route. On the Portugués I often had to truncate my daily distances in order to ensure that I had a bed for the night. I expect that the infrastructure in Portugal will be built out swiftly so this concern may no longer be relevant. The camaraderie of the Camino is more evident on the Francés for the simple reason that there are so many more pilgrims on The Way.

. The food is better on the Francés than on the Portugués, though I still completed the Camino suffering from vegetable deficit and I didn’t find an open Chinese restaurant until I got to Paris! Also, the ubiquitous “pilgrim menu” – an inexpensive three-course meal that includes bread and wine or water (usually at a cost of 10 euros more or less) was uncommon on the Portugués. This may change as the infrastructure is developed and the many businesses that do now or will cater to peregrinos learn from their Iberian cousins to the north. The lack of a pilgrim menu may not be all bad.  I got awfully tired of it and eventually asked for the regular menu which certainly was more costly, but not as repetitious and limited.

. Approximately 2/3 of the Camino Francés is on path or rural track with the remaining 1/3 on asphalt roads – secondary or primary – or on sidewalks through cities.

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The reverse is the case on the Camino Portugués. Though the scenery on paths and tracks generally is better than that along paved roads, I found the pavement easier on my feet than most paths and tracks. In addition, the waymarks on the Francés are obvious and well maintained. That is not always the case on the Portugués, though as with other attributes, I expect this to change as the infrastructure is improved.

 

Flora and Fauna

The countryside in Spain is beautiful. Walking the Camino in April and May, my Camino was largely in the early spring. There were many wildflowers to enjoy, especially at the higher elevations.

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Heather was a frequent companion, but often it was interspersed with yellow, white, and blue flowers as well. I wish I knew the names of the others.

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The gentle reader may recall that nearly every dog in Portugal barked at me last year. That was not the case on the Francés this year. Relatively few dogs felt obliged to lunge at peregrinos. Also, interestingly, northern Spain seems to have a strong preference for German shepherds versus other breeds. I saw very few Siamese cats.

In addition to the heard but not seen cuckoo who accompanied me, English sparrows were ubiquitous on the Way.

Several times, I came upon pine processionary caterpillars (procesionaria del pino). These little creatures formed chains of a dozen or more – all except the lead caterpillar burying its head in the posterior of the next in line. The chain would travel as a group – perhaps as a defensive mechanism. Chains can be as long as 300 caterpillars.  The hairs on their bodies produce serious allergic reactions – sometimes fatal – in humans and other mammals.  They are extremely destructive of pine forests.  Fascinating.

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And from time to time I saw “herds” of black slugs all of which were progressing across the Way all in a common direction. I wonder what motivated the mass migration.

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The Church in Spain

I have heard it said that there is no more Roman Catholic a country than Spain. And this may well be true.

Nearly every small town hosts a parish church, some rather grand considering the present and likely historical population.  Certainly the cathedral in Burgos (hardly a small town) has stood the test of time.

However, it is also widely reported that the people in Spain are becoming less actively religious with the passage of time, as generally is the case throughout the developed world. There is a shortage of priests. And funds to maintain existing Church properties are less plentiful than once they were. Some churches are simply closed. Others have fallen into disrepair and appear to be abandoned.

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Political Graffiti

Graffiti is ubiquitous along The Way. Some of it has political content. Here are a few examples:

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Fracking No?  The Camino is a long way from any drilling rig I know of.  I actually saw this exhortation more than once along The Way!

 

Flags Along the Way

Though I am not a student of the history of Spain and France, I became intrigued by such history as I was able to learn as I walked The Way. I am interested that so many regions and provinces in Spain, and indeed throughout Europe, were their own small kingdoms at one time or another. Their flags and coats of arms endure on public buildings and elsewhere. Here are some of the flags I encountered:

Aquitaine

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Navarra

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La Rioja

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Castilla y Leon

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Galicia

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And the Basque flag

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The Basques are a people with a proud heritage who find themselves split between the southwest region of France and the northwest region of Spain. I encountered many locals along The Way who pointedly announced that they were Basque – not Spaniards. The Basque language (there are several dialects and the language is unique – not a Romance language at all) is widely, though not universally, spoken in the seven Basque provinces. There are recurring calls by Basques for independence from Spain, and no doubt from France as well. Neither country is likely to grant that independence, though accommodations to regionalism are frequent in Spain.

I was interested that the ATMs in the provinces through which I walked generally provided eight language options at the beginning of each transaction:

  • Spanish
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Basque
  • Galician
  • Catalan
  • Aranese

 

The Camino as Big Business

The economy of Spain, as that of Portugal which I observed last year, has suffered.  Unemployment is at 25 percent.  Many capital projects have been suspended or abandoned.

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In 1984 only 423 peregrinos completed their pilgrimages and were granted a compostela. There are estimates that in 2014 fully 240,000 peregrinos will have completed pilgrimages. The enormous popularity of the Camino has been a major underpinning to the Spanish tourism industry which accounts for over 11 percent of the Spanish GDP. It is the only component of the economy that has not suffered during the recent economic downturn.  As such, the Camino is a big business.

A big business with thousands of small players.

Hundreds of baristas at the many cafes along The Way. Cooks, waiters and waitresses, too.  Bakers who bake the bread and those who cure jambon for the seemingly omnipresent bocadillos every peregrino will consume almost daily.  

And the many personnel at the alberques, pensions, casas rurales, and hotels along The Way. And many, many cab drivers who will gallantly transport the frightened peregrino up and over what looks to him like a mountain to rival Mt. Everest – or transport the exhausted peregrino that last few kilometers to his destination for the day.

And the drivers, dispatchers, and coordinators who, for a nominal fee, will transport peregrino backpacks or other luggage from one alberque or hotel to another, provided it is along The Way. 

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Jacotrans is preeminent among them.  I carried my mochila the whole way this time, but next time . . . .

And then there are the many shopkeepers who will outfit a peregrino as he or she sets out on the journey, or who sell scallop shells to tie to your backpack, walking staffs so you can emulate St. James, and t-shirts once you reach Santiago.

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All in all, the Camino provides employment for a sizable number of folks in northern Spain and along the recognized alternative routes. Certainly thousands.

Voices are heard advocating the establishment of additional “official” Camino routes in order that the wealth be shared with communities not presently benefitting from the Camino traffic.

There’s money to be made and it has brought forth substantial private investment in the construction of built-for-the-purpose alberques, or the reconfiguration of existing pensions and other buildings. However, the popularity of travel destinations is known to ebb and flow.  What will happen to the investments of these entrepreneurs if traffic on the Caminos falls off in future years? 

Advertising is rampant along The Way.  This one advertises an alberque a few kilometers ahead, but one kilometer off the waymarked route.  Which inspires the peregrino?  The cross among stones placed by passing peregrinos?  Or the strategically placed ad for Alberque San Bol?

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I was approached by operators of private alberques on many afternoons an hour or more before I reached their hostels. Sometimes they were on foot, sometimes in automobiles, and once on a motorcycle traveling on The Way itself. Business cards and flyers are left at shrines visited by peregrino.

Occasionally, placards placed by one business are vandalized by competitors.  “Don’t go here” written in English.  An English-speaking peregrino would have to have been awfully irritated to trudge back up a steep hill and come equipped with paint and a brush to make that statement.  I think it was done by the competitor whose adjacent placard was not defaced!

When approaching the village of Villalval, The Way splits to provide an alternate route. The signage was defaced, likely by the owner of a bar who wanted to direct peregrinos to his establishment at the end of the alternate route, rather than see them follow the main route and stop at a competing establishment on the near side of town.

A waymark pointing to the left is painted over and a yellow arrow pointing to the right is substituted.

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A waymark showing the principal route is defaced.  “Don’t go!”  – Why not?

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In fact, I followed the route to the left, through town, and ultimately found myself at the bar at the end of the alternate route.  I felt a certain angst, but didn’t turn back. The café con leche was one euro forty.  The going rate.

The commercialization of the Camino is discouraging. But should not dissuade a future peregrino from embracing the experience. One must simply look beyond the commercialization and walk on.

Walk on, peregrino.  Walk on.  And remain focused on why you undertook this peregrinacion.

 

Things to take with you or buy “over there” before you set out.

Should you decide to walk the Camino, or a similar trek, get a good guidebook and pay attention to the suggestions there. And be sure your guidebook is the most recent edition. Here are a few suggestions that may or may not be included in your guidebook.

· Take a sink stopper that will accommodate different size drains. You likely will be doing laundry (as did I) in hotel bathrooms or at alberques with primitive clothes washing facilities. And they don’t all have stoppers! I used shampoo as my laundry soap.

· Take two – not one – two hiking poles. One for each hand. It is a rule: If you lose your balance and start to fall to your right, the single pole will be in your left hand. If you start to fall to your left . . . . You get the idea. My poles saved me from falling numerous times. The Camino is often merely a gravel road and sometimes steep. And sometimes the Camino is slushy to a fare-thee-well. Poles are a must.

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· If you walk the Camino in the spring or the fall, take a pair of mittens. It can be quite chilly in the mornings and your hands will get cold.

· Wear real shoes – hiking boots that provide ankle support are even better. Sandals or cross-trainers won’t keep you safe and likely will engender blisters. Be sure the shoes fit properly and are snug to your feet but not “tight.” Remember – your shoes, socks, and feet all have to work together as a system. Mine did. I had no problems with blisters.

· Take a feather-weight pair of town shoes for after the day’s walk. That allows your hiking boots to dry out while you are out and about!

· Take more than one water bottle. It is critical that you stay hydrated. I kept a small (33 cl.) bottle of water inside my pack as a standby in case of hydration emergencies. I used it twice.

· A small pillow (inflatable or compressible) was a great boon to my slumber. Many “pillows” in Spain compare favorably with sacks of cement.

· Always have a small roll of toilet paper with you. You may need it on the trail, but also you may need it in an alberque or pension where supplies sometimes run low.

· And stuff from your medicine cabinet: Anti-chafing balm, your NSAID of choice, vitamins (especially to manage electrolytes), sunblock, medicated wipes. Unusual first aid or health needs can always be met at any of the hundreds of farmacias you will encounter on the Way. Just look for the garish blinking neon green cross.

· Buy a couple of tins of sardines or other canned food to nourish you if you have to start out in the morning after a very inadequate “European breakfast” – toast, butter, jelly, and one cup of coffee. I wonder how any European power ever won a military victory if that’s all they ever fed their soldiers in the morning. Keep the standby food in a handy location in your pack.

· Take a very small notebook (mine was 3”x4”) and a pen, and keep it handy to capture names and addresses and other miscellaneous information you won’t want to forget.

 

Kindnesses and Camaraderie

Peregrinos have at their disposal a tremendous resource:    Each other!  The fact of being on the Camino walking with or in tandem with other similarly committed pilgrims produces both and instant bond and a sense of trust that would not normally characterize everyday life.  A commonness of purpose and a commonness of experience.

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Peregrinos help each other and willingly share their experiences, food, water, ankle braces (I gave one to a peregrina who was having trouble with leg pain) and money, if needed.

And supporters of the Camino have established opportunities for the weary traveler to sit, rest, and refresh.  A nominal donation is requested, but not required.

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Whether overnighting in the alberques or in pensions or hotels, peregrinos typically share dinner together and enjoy each others’ company.

One of the best experiences on The Way is being reunited with peregrinos one has not seen for several days, or longer.  This happened for me several times, but especially so in Santiago.  The last night’s dinner – before several of us said a somber good by to the Camino and returned to our homes, was a joyous occasion.

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The Way Forward

In FCB #18, I speculated about what the next walk might be. And I still haven’t decided – after all, next year is a year away! I won’t have a two-month window that would accommodate another six or seven week hike. But the Camino Primitivo, which originates in Ovieto, can be walked in about three weeks. If I do another Camino next year, I think that will be the one.

Stay tuned! And again, thank you for following these chronicles.

Buen Camino!

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #18

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

Hendersonville, North Carolina – May 26, 2015

The flight to Paris was uneventful (recall that this is the best kind), but about 3 hours late. Even so, I found my lodging (conveniently located at the Charles de Gaulle Airport) timely, checked in, and formulated a plan to explore Paris the next day. As Ginna can attest, I am a cheap date in any big city in the world. Buy me a one-day pass on the subway system, and I’m set for the day.

In fact, the next day I did explore the vaunted Paris Metro, as well as one of several surface tram lines that ring the city. They are slow but elegant.

I find more interest in observing how people lead their daily lives than by wandering slowly through a museum that interprets how they did it hundreds of years ago. So I had a good walk down Avenue de la Grande Armee from the “Grande Arche” (a newly built and imposing structure anchoring a modern office, shopping, and residential complex, and dedicated to humanitarian ideals) about two kilometers to the Arc de Triomphe (dedicated to military victories) .

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I encountered many Parisians swiftly going about their business, tourists wandering about, and traffic moving with dispatch. En route, I found one of the things I had been missing for six weeks: A Chinese Restaurant! My Camino now was complete. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Paris, eat Chinese. I ordered a plate of mixed vegetables, and almost inhaled the brocoli-carrots-cabbage-mushroom melange.

I must report that the food on the Camino Frances was noticeably better than the food last year on the Camino Portugues. I think it may be the influence of Spain’s neighbor to the northeast. Even so, vegetables were scarce on the menus del peregrino.

I walked from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower and was truly impressed. Next time I am in Paris, I will know to reserve a lift ticket a week or more in advance!

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I enjoyed my brief sojourn in Paris. It truly is the beautiful city it is reputed to be.

The next day found me on an airplane en route to Hendersonville, arriving about midnight local time (6 am Camino time) where I have been recouperating from jet lag and enjoying the opportunities to tell tales of the Camino!

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I have been able to upload and embed in this blog entry a number of short videos I took during my peregrenacion. Together they constitute a video complement the still photos I have shared previously. I hope you enjoy them!

On the first day from St. Jean, the Way follows the Rio Chapilets. Lots of water. Beautiful scenery.

It is fed by numerous waterfalls and rivulets along the way. Here is one.

The outskirts of Pamplona boasted bridges and water works dating to Roman times.

Three days after Pamplona,I overnighted in the small town of Estella (population 14,000). It was a Friday evening and about 5 pm, many families converged on the town square. There was a musical ensemble in traditional garb playing tradtional music. But, soccer is king for youngsters there, and everywhere along The Way.

Hornillos del Camino is a very small town of 60 souls, though the number of residences would suggest a much greater population. The municipal alberque had not opened at the time I arrived (I stayed at a different alberque, in any case), but I caught s panorama of this dusty little town, including the Iglesia Santa Maria and the town square before it. The town and surrounding farms are part of the great Meseta. The tractors and other farm equipment require the entire roadway, and they don’t slow down. Peregrino beware!

The Catedral de Santa Maria in Burgos dates from the 13th Century. It is extraordinary.

I have previously addressed the long, steep climb from just outside Castrojeriz. Here’s the warning sign to serve as a refresher:

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The reward after the ascent is the extraordinary panorama looking back down at the velley below.

Once upon the high Meseta, the verdant farmland stretches for as far as the eye can see.

In Carrion de los Condes on April 24th, I was treated to a regional event that featured serious farm equipment all over town. The townsfolk enjoyed watching the preparations. Loudspeakers delivered exhortations and upbeat music for the occasion!

 Villafranca del Bierzo is the gateway to some serious mountain paths that will challenge the peregrino. In Spain, where there are mountains, there will be plenty of water, as well.

I overnighted in the small village of Trabadelo. Elle, a young woman from Holland, presides over the Casa Rural El Puente Peregrino. A vegetarian menu is available and Elle was extremely helpful in securing lodging for me further along the way.

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The Way then continues its climb into Galicia.

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Finally, O’Cebreiro, and the most wonderful panoramas of the Camino Frances.

The young fellow at the end of the clip is named Frazier.  He and five other members of his Canadian family walked along with me for three days.

I arrived in Santiago several days later. As previously reported, a video of the swinging of the Botafumeiro is embedded at the end of FCB #10. After the pilgrims’ mass on the evening I arrived, along with other peregrinos who had just completed their peregrenacions, I visited the closely guarded crypt under the alter containing a casket holding relics of St. James and of his followers.   The video is quite brief.

I lited a candle for a friend who has gone on to her final resting place.

The cathedral and other religious buildings that form the core of the old city are spectacular. But Santiago is more than just a destination, more than simply the Camino de Santiago. It is a substantial city and regional seat of government. There was a vibrant festival in full swing during the weekend I arrived. Here are two clips that capture the mood of secular Santiago:

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Epilogue:

I’m home. I have read comments that many of you made to the blog as I published from time to time. I appreciate the comments and encouragement. I had more than one of you suggest that rather than discard my boots, I have them bronzed. Alas, the boots are with me no more.

So I can’t close with a picture of my boots on the floor to reassure the gentle reader that, yes, there is another walk in my future. But rest assured, there will be one.

Another Camino? Perhaps. Likely the Camino Finesterre from Santiago to the Spanish coast – about a 60 kilometer walk. And I very much want to return to St. Jean and walk the Napoleon Route over the Pyranees – rather than around the mountain as I was forced to do this time because of the weather.

One of the other traditional Caminos with destination Santiago? Perhaps. But the world offers many other walks and beautiful countrysides. The South Island in New Zealand is highly rated. And a coast to coast walk in England or Scotland sounds promising as well.

So, the boots aren’t off. They are gone!

But the feet are with me still, and they are sound. 

I will do one more posting with reflections about the Camino just completed, and the Camino Portugues last year.  Stay tuned!

Thank you for following this chronicle.

Buen Camino!

And, happy trails!

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #17

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

Santiago de Compostela, Spain – May 17, 2015

Well. . . I made it!

I walked through the Porto do Camiño at about 2:30 on Friday, May 15th, two days ago. The historic gate through which peregrinos passed for centuries is gone now, but the intersection and entrance to the old city is still there. An obliging townsperson took my picture. The Way continues into the old city behind me.

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I thanked the kind photographer and continued for a few more minutes and into the Plaza do Obradorio – the plaza before the most grand and imposing Cathedral. A fellow peregrino (from Texas, it turns out) took my picture there.

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44 days, 776.2 kilometers (482.3 miles) after departing St. Jean Pied de Port, I had arrived. It felt good!

I proceded to the pilgrim office where an attendant inspected my credentiales (two of them – I had more stamps than the one issued by the American confraturnity would accommodate) and issued me a Compostela attesting to completion of my peregrenacion from St. Jean. The Compostela is written in Latin, with my name inscribed as “Knute Michaelem Miller.”  What a hoot!

I walked on through the old city, found my hotel, checked in, and went up to my room. With a bit of wistfulness, I took off my boots for the last time.

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They are worn out – parts of the sole are missing or worn through. Toes and heals almost completely worn down.

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They served me well – two caminos, training for those caminos, and a dozen or more walking tours back home in San Francisco. About 1000 miles in all. Time for a new pair of boots. But it is hard to say goodby. We have been through alot together! They won’t be with me when I go to the airport tomorrow morning.

Friday night, I met up with a number of peregrinos I had encountered along The Way. It was great to see them, trade stories, and invite each other to stay in touch. I joined the family from San Luis Obispo and a peregrina from Austria for the pilgrims’ mass Friday evening. As it was last year, the mass was a moving experience for all in attendance. The swinging of the giant insense burner – the Botafumeiro – concluded the mass. It was originally used to fumigate the sweaty (and possibly disease-ridden) pilgrims upon their arrival in Santiago. Today, thankfully, its use is more symbolic than practical.

A 6 minute video of the swinging of the Botafumeiro last year is embedded in FCB #10.

I have spent my time since arriving sleeping and relaxing. Both have been productive and regenerative! And I ran into several other peregrinos I had met along the way – Manuel from Bavaria (who reported on Paulette from Vancouver Island’s Camino progress), the guy from Finland whose name I still can’t pronounce, the two Italian military guys who were doing 40 km per day, and others.  A joyous reunion each time!

I fly to Paris tomorrow.

A few thoughts about The Way from Sarria from which I last posted. . . .

There were several noteworthy changes immediately evident upon departing Sarria. The first was the dramatic increase in the number of peregrinos. They were easy to spot because most had new hiking shoes that were clean! Pardon my conceit, but my venerable boots were stained by hundreds of miles of mud, and other substances encountered along the mostly farm roads over which The Way passes.

Another change from earlier experience was the condition of The Way itself. The last 115 kilometers were much better maintained than The Way generally, with fewer ruts and almost no boulders to negotiate. I think Galicia wants to encourage peregrinos to come walk The Way, even if only from Sarria, and minimizing falls, scrapes, and turned ankles – always a risk on the rougher sections of The Way – must be part of that strategy.

And there was an intangible as well.  Peregrinos who had been on The Way for even a day or so before reaching Sarria seemed to embrace the commaradarie of the Camino more readily than did the folk who just joined in the pilgrimage.  Sure, they responded “buen camino” when greeted by other peregrinos, but they seemed less confident – probably just a function of being the new kids on the block.  And many were just that – young folks with a week off of school or before heading on to a new challenge.  Who knows?  But they were legitimate peregrinos and I was happy to have them with me on The Way.

I have not previously written in this blog about the cuckoo.  But now I shall.

The gentle reader no doubt is bracing him or herself for a possible determination that your humble scriviner is himself cuckoo.  That may be, but not because of what I now report:

A few minutes after departing St. Jean Pied de Port, I heard the call of a cuckoo.  Heard but not seen.  That cuckoo followed me, in fact, all the way to Santiago!  Every day, except in the larger cities.  But the cuckoo was there to follow me, and encourage me, once I departed the big city.

Now it may be possible that there was more than one cuckoo along The Way.  If so, northern Spain has a lot of cuckoos.  I prefer to think that one cuckoo followed me all along The Way.

Always heard at a slight distance.  Never seen.  I heard him again in Santiago.

Well, enough of that.

The last few days on The Way brought its own collection of sights:

Granite steps and an archway leading to Portomarin.

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The fortress-like church in Portomarin that had been moved from the old city of Portomarin which now is submerged in the reservoir adjacent to the town. Each stone in the structure was numbered as it was disassembled, and later reassembled in its current location. The river was dammed in 1962 to create the reservoir.

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The next morning was cold and misty, denying the traveling peregrinos the greatly lauded view from atop the ridge.

Walk on, peregrinos, walk on.

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A statue of St. James in pilgrimage garb and carrying a bible marks an early gathering point for peregrinos beginning their peregrenaciones from Palas de Rei. He is facing toward Santiago.

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From Melide, my next stop after Palas de Rei, I had only three days walk remaining on my Camino.  I had need to repack my backpack and in the process, came upon a rock that daughter Elizabeth had entrusted to me to take with me and deliver to an appropriate location on The Way.  The rock was a true “San Francisco” rock – serpentine, common in San Francisco, and also the state rock of California.  I had carried this rock for 41 days, awaiting the appropriate place to deposit it.

I put the rock in a side pocket of my backpack so that it would be more readily accessible when the time came, finished repacking, went to bed, and headed for Arzua the next morning.

When in Arzua I enjoyed pulpo for the first time on this Camino.

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Part way through the mid-afternoon pulpo lunch, I realized that I had made a horrible blunder.

At a rest break a few kilometers before reaching Arzua, I had come upon a rest area – an “area de descanso” – doffed my pack, placed it and my walking sticks on a picnic table, and put the rock there too – intending to simply carry it in my hip pocket rather than keeping it in the backpack’s side pocket.

After a 10 minute break, I collected my usual “stuff” – backpack, poles, water bottle, guidebook, hat, made sure I had my passport and wallet, and set off again.

And, yes, part way through the pulpo, I realized that I had left the rock on the picnic table.  It had not been part of my routine checklist of “things not to leave behind.”

OMG!  What do you do?  What do you do?!?

Well, I decided to go back and look for the rock.  I was sure the area de discanso was in Ribadiso, about three kilometers back (and the day was still young).

I set out to find Elizabeth’s rock.  Or more accurately, my rock.  I started to think about my blunder.

What if it wasn’t on the picnic table when I got there?  Perhaps some passing peregrino had simply pushed it off and into the tall grass.  I would search around the table.

What if it wasn’t there at all?  Perhaps a passing peregrino would have placed it on a nearby waymark.  I checked every waymark on the way back.  No luck.

And if it wasn’t there at all?  I would find a rock of similar size and take it with me.  And deliver that one.  If rocks have a spirit, perhaps that spirit would transfer and be transported with me.

I walked to the rivulet and across a bridge from Ribadiso where I remembered the area de descanso to be.  

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But the rest area wasn’t there!  It must be just a bit further, just around the bend.

But no.  It was almost another three kilometers, up and down several hills and around several bends.  But I found it.  And it had picnic tables.  I looked for the one where I had been.  I saw it.

There appeared to be something on the table. Was it my rock? Or just a jetizened orange peel or apple core?

Fortunately, it was my rock. 

And so, my blunder muted, I took out my iPhone and using the Map app, determined that I was 5.9 kilometers from my lodging in Arzua.  I headed back, encountering a burro accompanying several peregrinos headed to Santiago.  They had stopped at an alberque, perhaps to spend the night.

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I made it back well before dark, with morale adjustment stops at more than one cafe along the way.  And when I got back to my lodging, I placed my rock safely back in my backpack.

I can’t claim to have walked a mile for a Camel.  But I have walked 7.316 miles for a rock.

If the report about the cuckoo followed by the report about the rock hasn’t raised concerns about my sanity, thank you.

Further along The Way, I encountered eucalyptus forests (planted years ago and still harvested for the paper pulp industry in the region).  They have been relatively common along the last days of the Camino. As in Sigmond Stern Grove, and elsewhere back home, ferns cover the floor of the forest.

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On the morning of the last day of my peregrenacion, I came upon a marker at the edge of Santiago de Compostela. Passing peregrinos had left small stones on and near the marker, attesting to their continuing journey.

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This was the place I had been looking for.

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I decided to leave my rock at the Santiago marker.

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I continued on.

As I got closer to the old town, brass conchas in the sidewalks led the way.

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And then – first glimpse of the Cathedral.

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And in a few minutes, the journey was complete.

* * * *

Paris, France – May 18, 2015

The good folks at my hotel called me a cab which responded promptly and 20 minutes later I found myself at the Santiago International Airport. Flights arrive and depart there – mostly ferrying peregrinos to and from the Way. Regular bus service is available to Sarria and other starting points along the Camino.

In the cab, I watched Santiago and its suburbs fly by.  I thought about my peregrenacion.  I thought about The Way and its challenges.  And the friendly peregrinos I had met and hope to stay in touch with.

And gratitude.  Gratitude that I am strong enough and healthy enough to undertake a challenge like The Way.  Gratitude for the spiritual wholeness that accompanied its completion.  Gratitude for the encouragement I received from others. 

And gratitude for Jim’s training.  Teaching me to bring together body, mind, and spirit. 

I would never have attempted the Camino, but for Jim.

I checked in at the airport, gave them my backpack, and walked around the terminal.  I walked outside and looked at the countryside.  Galicia is beautiful.  I could see Santiago off in the distance.

I listened for the cuckoo.  But he was not there.  Perhaps he was keeping his distance – frightened by the “big birds” at the airport.  But I prefer to think that he is flying back to St. Jean to find another peregrino, and accompany that lucky pilgrim along his peregrenacion on The Way of St. James.

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With that, I’m off to Paris.  I’ll post again from North Carolina in a few days.

 

Knute Michael

camino pix

 

Fog City Boy #16

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

May 9, 2015 – Sarria, Spain

The Way from Leon to Sarria was pleasant, if wet. It rained off and on for several days. When the heavens opened up, I generally was able to get my pancho on timely which not only gave protection against the rain, but wind and windchill as well.

But that said, it made for a squishy path forward and muddy pants to wash upon arrival for the night.

I am taking an extra day in Sarria – a recovery day and a day to post to the blog. While the elegant hotel where I was fortunate to get a room – most of the town is sold out – had clean sheets and hot water, it could not supply a computadora but a local Western Union representative could! Thus the composition of this blog entry.

Sarria is the point of departure for many hundreds of peregrinos who are able to walk only the minumum number of kilometers (100) necessary to qualify for receiving recognition as pilgrims upon arrival in Santiago and the accompanying compostela. Sarria is 115 km from Santiago.

The hotel this morning was filled with peregrinos rolling suitcases to be ferried by bus or truck from daily destination to destination. They set out on their respective journeys at about 0830 this morning, prompting me to focus on future lodging reservations.

Lodging has proved scarce going forward, but so far, so good.

The gentle reader must be getting tired of pictures of statues glorifying perigrinos on the Camino. But two more seem particularly noteworthy. The first is a famous one in the plaza before the noted museum and parador in Leon. It shows the pilgrim with his sandles off, next to him. And a pained expression while looking skyward.

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The second is on the pilgrim´s approach to Astorga, two days beyond Leon. It caught my interest because it captures use of the drinking gourd rather than simply portraying it as an accessory to the pilgrim´s staff.

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There have been many more thus far, and more to come, I am sure.

Generally, once the clouds lifted enough to see the surrounding territory, the towns and the scenery were quite lovely. Here are some images from along the Way:

Bodegas (in this case, wine cellars no longer in use) encountered on the climb out of Leon.  “Bodega” means “cave.”  These cellars were dug into the top of the hill many years ago.

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Puente de Orbigo, a midieval bridge dating from the 13th century.

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A cross overlooks the approach to Astorga.

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A mechanical clock in the Plaza Maior in Astorga.  The man and woman dressed in traditional garb swing hammers and ring out the time four times each hour.

 

 

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Young cyclists on a tour prepare to depart Astorga on the Camino.

 

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The Camino has its share of excentrics in residence.

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At higher elevations, the mist forms over the landscape.  It is everchanging.

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When the sun emerges, the heather and other wildflowers are resplendent.

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Santiago is in Galicia and crossing from the Province of Leon into Galicia is a milestone for any peregrino.  

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The most profound vistas of the entire Camino thus far were at O´Cebreiro, a mountaintop village a few kilometers inside Galicia. The shots below don´t begin to do the views justice. I´ll have a panoramic video for you once I get back home. The views were truly among the most profound I have been fortunate to see anywhere.

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The next day, I passed a corn crib with a thatched roof – attesting to the the Gaelic heritage of Galicia.

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By taking a recovery and blog day in Leon, I lost many members of the cohort of peregrinos with whom I had been walking for a time. Happily, I connected with several others who had been in an earlier cohort and now were walking in tandem with me! Such is the nature of the Camino!

I also had the good fortune to meet and walk in tandem with members of two families. The first was composed of a mom, dad, and an adult son from San Luis Obispo. We shared good times and some laughs, but have found ourselves a day apart by this writing.

Another family was a family of six – hailing from Calgary – and boasting representatives of three generations!  “Mom” – who is 77 and matriarch of the Calgary contingent – poses in front of a fonte decorated with a concha, one of the symbols of the Camino.

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I have enjoyed knowing them – and like the family from San Luis – shared good times and some laughs. They have gone on ahead. Perhaps we will reconnect in Santiago. Such is the nature of the Camino!

Each peregrino carries with him or her their respective Credenciales del Pregrinos – their pilgrim´s passport which must be stamped each day to document the pilgrim´s travels on the peregrenacion to Santiago. Stamps may be had at alberques, churches, restaurants and bars along the way. I got one here in Sarria from a store that specializes in outfitting peregrinos for the Way ahead! The history the credenciales represent will be scrutinized in Santiago at the pilgrim office before granting the successful pilgrim´s compostela.

Late one morning, in a small town on the Way from Trabadelo to O´Cebreiro, I was approached by a French peregrino of about my age who called out to me and approached me holding a credencial, and asking in broken English if it were mine. I examined it and told him it was not mine. He asked other peregrinos in the cohort moving through the town, but none could claim it. Apparently, he had found it on the ground, or at a resting place along the Way.

This was a profound moment for all of us. The credencial is a very important document and one to be protected at all costs! The French peregrino and his wife had to decide – what to do?

Several times that afternoon, I thought about the lost credencial and how devistating the loss must have been for its owner.

I did not know their decision, but as it turned out, the French couple wisely took the credencial with them to O´Cebreiro where they checked into the large Alberque there.

As it happened, the family from Calgary also had checked in to the alberque that night, and Braedan (a member of the third generation in that family of peregrinos) also had been asked by the French couple if the credential were hers. In the alberque, Braedan came upon a distraught peregrina. It seems that she had lost her credencial earlier that day! Braedan remembered the name on the lost credencial. “Are you Hazel from London?” she asked. Yes she was! And so the peregrina and the credencial were reunited.

Much to the relief of all concerned! What a loss it might have been, but for the attentive efforts of the French peregrinos, and the swift recognition by Braedan.

Upon arrival in Sarria, peregrinos climb the ancient granite steps “Escalinata Maior” to the central hub of pilgrim Sarria.

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The path through the old down boasts at least a dozen alberques and numerous cafes and restaurants catering to peregrinos passing through or overnighting there.

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A mural captures the difficulty and hardships faced by peregrinos of times gone by, including aid given to the infirm by other peregrinos passing this way.

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cruciero caps the Way as it approches a monestery at the top of the hill.

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Last night, at the top of the steps, I met up with the family from Calgary. We had dinner together, shared some laughs, and today they have gone on ahead.

And so, tomorrow begins the last week of my peregrenacion. I look forward to it with anticipation and more than a little excitement. I´ll post again from Santiago.

And with that, I´m off.

 

Knute Michael

camino pix

 

Fog City Boy #15

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

Leon, Spain – April 29, 2015

Leon is a beautiful city with a long history. Many parts of the stone walls that were built to defend this ancient city still stand.

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It is the capital of the autonomous region of Castilla y Leon and is home to 130,000 souls. There are may grand buildings – the grandest, of course, the Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon.

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Not far away is the Plaza Mayor with its own grand buildings. And, on the morning after my arrival, a farmers’ market that was well patronized.

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However, modern mercantile cannot forsake the influence of American culture.

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Castilla y Leon has nine provinces, three of which are host to The Way – Burgos, Palencia, and Leon.  An obliging peregrino captured a picture of me crossing from the Burgos province into Palencia.

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The great Meseta plains occupy much of these three provinces, and The Way makes its “way” through them.  A vast agricultural region located between 1000 and 3000 meters in elevation, it is home to many cereal crops providing broad expanses of green scenery for the peregrinos who pass through it.

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The Camino is about many things, including geographical obstacles that challenge any peregrino.  One is encountered about two kilometers beyond Castrojeriz where I had overnighted. The placid countryside abruptly produced a mountain! Actually, not a mountain, but rather a climb up to a broad rocky plain with this year’s crop successfully rooted and flourishing. Here’s the advisory to vehicles and peregrinos beginning the climb . . . .

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I considered the best mental approach to this challenge. For shorter climbs, I have used the device of counting my steps or counting pole clicks as I swing my walking sticks for balance and stability. I have used this techniques (counting breaths, not pole clicks) while doing long planks ata the gym. It helps keep extraneous thoughts at bay (like “whennnnn is this gonna stop?)

This time, I thought to employ the state of “no-mind,” a much more powerful, if somewhat illusive, tool to get through an extended physical challenge. It involves clearing the mind of all thoughts.

It worked. I made it to the top of the grade in 20 minutes. And it seemed like a much shorter time.

Thank you, Jim.

There is a monument and an area de descanso at the top of the grade.  The view of the valley from which the peregrino just climbed is extraordinary and my camera does not do it justice, but here’s my best shot.

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Although a long day on The Way is certainly a physical challenge, we encountered a noteworthy mental challenge a couple of days later (and continuing for several days more). The challenge? Boredom.

Once dropping down from the Meseta, the Way shifts to an extended succession of sendas that run immediately adjacent to secondary and sometimes primary roadways. All peregrinos in my cohort of travelers agreed. Boring!

Senda translates as “pathway.” They are of relatively recent construction – say the last 10 years. They are paved with sand and gravel and good drainage is part of the design. And if the roadway goes straight without a bend for 10 clicks, so does the senda. If the roadway does not encounter a town or a monument, neither does the senda. Peregrinos have been spoiled, it would seem, with discoveries along the way to break up a day’s hike. Not so, now that the sendas are the way forward. Rumor, and a plausible one, is that the several governments through which the Way passes built the sendas because of the tragic numbers of peregrinos who died walking on the often busy highways that often made up long stretches of the Way until the sendas were built.

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Happily, not all of the Way from Burgos followed paved roadways. For about 4 kilometers, the Way traverses one of the towpaths of the 18th Century Canal de Castilla – originally both a source of agricultural irrigation and transportation (hence the towpath), as well as a source of power to turn the mills that ground the corn grown in the region in times gone by. Today its use is irrigation and some recreational boating.

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The system of locks is in disrepair and disuse. There are plans to rebuild the 50 locks, but I fear they will be on hold as long as Spain’s economic woes continue.

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With that as a segway, I will make an observation concerning the economic woes and what I speculate are long-term demographic changes that Spain has experienced in recent years. The Way passes through dozens of small towns – populations estimated variously from 70 to a few hundred. And in almost all of these towns there are dozens of residences the fascades of which are well kept, but shuttered, and with no autos parked nearby, suggesting that they are unoccupied and have been for a time.

I think what has happened is the same thing that happened in Collinsville, Texas, my late father’s hometown, some 50 or 60 years ago. The towns, Collinsville and in Spain, were built to support the agricultural activities in the vicinity. But today, sadly, there is no need for these towns to service that activity. Industrialized agriculture means that “Dad and one son” can do the work that previously took the labor of many families.

So. . . the young people leave for the city. The family home stands vacant because there is no market for these houses in a town with no jobs, and too distant from employment to retain a viable population.

The Way passes through Carrion de los Condes where last weekend there was a major agricultural fair. Call it a localized trade show with tractors bigger than anything I have seen before!

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Peregrinos have inspired communities and artists for many years, and it seems that tributes to peregrinos are increasing in number as the Way wends its way ever closer to Santiago. Here is a sampling. . . .

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A few days ago, just before arriving at Terradillos de los Templarios, an ancient Knights Templar stronghold, the cohort of peregrinos in tandem with whom I am walking crossed the halfway point from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago! Everyone was quite pleased (and a bit self-congratulatory).  It seemed then as if we hadn’t really come far enough to be half way.  But I think we all accepted the statistic as pleasing and reassuring!

I have mentioned the “cohort” with whom I am walking. This is not a “Camino family” or an organized group of peregrinos – simply an assortment of peregrinos who find themselves on The Way at the same time and more or less in the same places from day to day. We have had conversations and shared laughs.  And occasionally snapped pictures of each other.  Here’s one of Fog City Boy posing resolutely by a hay bale in San Anton, followed by one of the Boy happily taking a break.

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I’ll name a few names! Linda from Vancouver (the hay bale photographer). Remy from Holland and Claudia from Cuba/Spain/Miami. Jack from Holland. Julia from Sweden. (Julia bears a striking resemblance to a girl of Swedish descent with whom I attended 7th through 12th grades back home in San Francisco. Julia is charming, articulate, and is completing her studies in pharmacy in Gotheburg.) Katherine and Dana from an island in Puget Sound, who have already one on ahead. Paulette from Vancouver Island. Manuel from Bavaria. They have gone on ahead by now. The two French girls and French Canadian guy I have urged to “rock and roll” on their Camino. (Credit to A.J. for that one.) Two young German peregrinos – Flo and A.K. Michael from Newcastle. Jenny from New Zealand. Both have gone on ahead. And a remarkable trio. . . . With 9-month-old Valentina in the lead, Mom and Dad walking the Camino starting in Burgos. The family hails from a town near Stuttgart.

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I saw them yesterday here in Leon, likely for the last time. Today, they have gone on ahead while I take a recovery day and post to the Blog. They hope to go on from Santiago to Finesterre, as do several other members of the cohort.

There are others who should be listed with the cohort, above. Be assured, I haven’t forgotten you.

It is the nature of the Camino that the peregrino meets many others and – for those who get the reference, just like in PMAX,  one gets to know the others in a deep but very focused way because of the shared challenges and shared experiences. Several peregrinos have mentioned to me that the Camino experience is like none other they have ever had. The ability to speak immediately to other peregrinos about the Way, their experiences there, and even issues in their lives – these are new and important experiences for them.

I think the Camino gives the peregrino permission to trust others on the Way and those along the Way who respect and cater to the needs of the peregrinos. A special thing.

Sitting at a cafe along a major street in the old town last evening here in Leon, I was found by Jack from Holland and Julia from Sweden. We agreed to have dinner and, searching for a suitable pilgrim menu came upon two Italian peregrinos known to Jack and Julia, but not to me. No matter! We all are peregrinos, after all. We had a delightful dinner together. And with that, I will close. The Italians are in the forefront, Julia on my left, and Jack on my right.

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I’ll post again (hopefully – depending on the availability of a computadora) before I reach Santiago.

With that, I’m off!

 

Knute Michael

camino pix

Fog City Boy #14

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

Burgos, Spain – April 21, 2015

Burgos is a busy, bustling city, and quite astonishing after spending parts of six days walking through the rural countryside of Spain. It is good to be in a big town for a change and to be able to access the internet – having finally been able to publish FCB #13 and compose this FCB #14.

But before sharing images of quite a remarkable cathedral, I´ll share some images and thoughts about the Way from Logroño to Burgos.

The Way from Logroño traverses an extended city or regional system of parks. The Way through the parks is paved but access is limited to those who go by foot or by bicycle. The author of the guidebook used by almost all English speaking/reading peregrinos grouses about the paved Way, but for me, it was a relief. The open trails and track of the Camino generally are studded with embedded or loose rocks of varying sizes and difficulty. (And furthermore, my boots that served so well in Portugal last year, and have served well to this point in Spain, are starting to fall apart!  Yikes!)

While the scenery adjacent to these tracks is beautiful, a wise peregrino is staring at the Way so as not to trip or turn his ankle! There was a dirt trail adjacent to the paved Way for peregrinos who preferred the more traditional footpath.

Emerging from the park system, I passed a young olive orchard, graced with wildflowers, and began a climb that eventually brought me to Navarrete, another town that welcomes peregrinos.

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I continued on to Ventosa where I spent a comfortable night in a Casa Rural. There was no food service in this small hotel, but peregrinos (most spending the night in an albuerque in town) gathered at a local cafe and enjoyed the menu del peregrino – three courses including wine, water and bread, for €10. I joined a table that included a 74-year-old lady from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, a young Bavarian fellow, and a recently retired American woman from Seattle. At desert, I invited a an older gent from Finland to join us. Good conversation followed. We repared to our respective lodgings.

I was up early the next morning and out on the Way. I passed a curious structure as I neared Najera. I have not learned its purpose or its history.

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The Way through Najera winds through the old town and then climbs steeply before settling into pleasant framland. A series of handsome waymarks placed by the government of La Rioja keep the peregrino informed of progress from kilometer to kilometer.

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Unfortunately, many have been relieved of their conchas and/or distance plaques by peregrinos or others who took them as souveneirs. Some passersby simply complained about the statistical information provided, and apparently removed it out of spite.

My energy level this day was good, and I reasoned that at 1400, it was too early to overnight, so I continued on the last leg of the day, from Azofra to Cirueña, a distance of 9.1 additional killometers. There was weather along the way that afternoon. Not a downpour, but sprinkles and mist along the way. The town is emblematic of the economic problems Spain confronts. The town is essentially a newly built suburb of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the next town of substance along the Way. Row after row of newly built housing blocks stand vacant and signs of “vende se” are on every street. There was a nicely manicured 9-hole golf course, but no golfers.

All in, all done, the day was a 16.5 mile day for me and I was tired but I felt ok. When I checked in at the Alberque Victoria, a welcoming glass of vino tinto provided by the hospitalero certainly helped. The next morning, however, I felt it! Vino or no!

There were eight other peregrinos there (one from an adjacent Casa Rural operated by the same folks who run the alberque). All nine of us enjoyed the menu that night. The Finnish guy and the Bavarian from the night before were there, as were two Dutchmen, a Swede, a woman from Japan, another American and another German woman.

After dinner, which of course included wine, we had another bottle of wine. And then another. The conversations were spirited, needless to say. And cordial. The big take-away for me was the unanimous concern voiced by the Europeans about the recent Russian adventurism on the borders of Central and Eastern Europe. The fellow from Finland mentioned a recent military alliance with Sweden that was unprecedented but that both countries felt necessary in light of the Russian military presence not faraway.  And the unpredictability of its leadership.

On a less harrowing note, the Swede provided me with something that all my life to that point I had not known: “Knut” (the proper spelling of Knute) is a very old Swedish name that literally translates as “knot.” He observed that many old Swedish names have a common language meaning in addition to serving as given names. Well there you go! It´s taken 70 years, but now I know!

I could go on about the days between Cirueña and Burgos, but I will spare the gentle reader all that detail. Here are a few highlights:

I arrived in Viloria de la Rioja (having crossed from La Rioja to the state of Castilla y Leon) and stayed at a Casa Rural named MiHotelito run by a delightful Basque woman who reported on the progress of her adult children and goings on about town. She was not able to offer dinner and there were neither restaurants nor cafes in that small town. I made my way the small Alberque Acacio y Orietta that sleeps just 10 peregrinos. They were sold out that evening, but took me in for a family style meal of green salad, rice, lentil stew, and ice cream for desert. The hospitaleros (Acacio and Orietta) asked to go around the table with each guest giving their name and where they were from and why they were on the Camino. When it came to my turn, I told them of the physical challenge – the endurance challenge – that was at the center of my peregrenacion. I spoke to the confluence of body, mind, and spirit. My sentiment was well received.

Thank you Jim.

In Belorado, the Way passes by the Iglesia de Santa Maria y San Pedro. The belltower is home to four storks´nests and at least one stork!

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And nearby is a wonderful mural commerating the success of Alfonso the Brave in battle nearby.  An advertisemet seeking the attention of passing peregrinos was not added by the artist.

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The trek from Villafranca Montes de Oca (altitude 950 meters to the second summit reached on the climb – 1120 meters) literally started at the backdoor of the Hotel San Anton Abad which also included a substantial alberque under the same roof and management. The two peaks are separated by a narrow valley formed by the Aroyo Peroja. Here are two views of the Way at that point.

Going down:

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And having crossed the Aroyo on a small woodplank bridge, come up the other side!

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Spain appears to have made good use of renewable energy, and to be sure, there are regular gusts of wind at the crests of the hills across the plains.  Windmills have accompanied me along the Way.

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A day later, on the last (quite chilly) segment of the Way before reaching Burgos, the Camino traversed a Roman road, eventually reaching a summit shrouded in mist. A reminder of the faith stood out in the mist. A bit further, devoted supporters of the Camino have constructed a waymark from stones collected nearby.

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Burgos is a city serving as a government center with many substantial buildings.  The most dramatic, of course, are the churches.

The  Way takes the peregrino into the old city through the Arco San Juan.

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The Way eventually arrives at the Cathedral of Burgos which is spectacular, to be sure.

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I ran into the Baverian fellow and the Canadian lady who graciously memorialized my presence there.

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I took a tour of the Cathedral and stood in awe of the majesty of the structure and the extraordinary collection of religious art that graces it.

Today is a recovery (and blogging) day for me. I´ll be up early tomorrow (the 21st), and continue along the Way. I´ll post again in a few days.

With that, I´m off.

Knute Michael

camino pix

Fog City Boy #13

Fog City Boy on the Camino Frances

Logroño, Spain – April 14, 2015

[Ed. Note – I continue to have difficulties including photos with the text of my blog entries, thus the delay in publishing this post – datelined Logroño, April 14th.  I have encountered a challenge not found on The Way last year, to wit, the habitaciones where I have been staying either don`t have internet access, have it but don`t make it available to guests, or don`t support it with recent software updates.  I think the difference between this year in Spain and last year in Portugal is two-fold:  Time marches on and more and more travelers are bringing devices that connect with the web using wifi (available at every hotel, alberque, and bar in Spain), and the economy of Spain is better than last year`s economy in Portugal.  Fewer folks want access to the web using a PC and so the hospitality industry locally doesn´t spend the time, energy, and money to provide it.  Local libraries do, however, and that`s where I`m generally able to polish and publish.  With that preamble . . . .]

Pamplona is a delightful city with a strong Basque heritage and an all encompassing enthusiasm for all-things-Basque and all-things-partying. It is quite endearing. The days I spent there (one and one-half more than planned) were enjoyable if frustrating because of the electronic challenges I faced – both in terms of acquiring a working SIM card for my iPhone, and the ongoing struggle to upload photos to this blog. Fortunately, those difficulties largely have been surmounted.

Here´s a lovely bridge I crossed when approaching the city center.

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Without dwelling excessively on those challenges, I will simply report that the Way from Pamplona traverses city streets that are well way-marked leaving little opportunity to get lost – in contradistinction to my experiences in the early days of the Camino Portugues. The Way passes directly by the Public University of Navarra which invites peregrinos to enter the campus and get a stamp (“sello”) on their pilgrim passports (“credenciales”) – an “accreditation” attesting to their peregrenaciones at this point. Not a sheepskin, but a valued acknowledgment of commitment that embraces body, mind, and spirit.

Thank you, Jim.

The day was clear and pleasant. Perfect weather to commence the next stage on the Way.

Because of the late start, I only reached the small suburban town of Zizur Maior (its Basque name). The next day saw me taking a bus back to Pamplona to work again with the Vodafone folks who eventually, using trial and error, got my iPhone to receive and transmit data. Bravo. But half the day was gone by the time I finally returned to Zizur Maior, retrieved my backpack, and set out on another short day. The Way passes stacks of hay bales reminiscent of scenes from Martin Sheen´s movie, The Way.

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And further along, the Way passes the ruins of the Guendulain palace dating from the 16th century.

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Eventually, the Way brought me to Zariquiegui, a small village on a hilltop amid verdant fields. A tour of the town took seven minutes, but the views were spectacular.

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I checked in to Alberque San Andres, a clean and welcoming facility. I shared an 8-bed (four bunk bed) room with a Swiss lady of about my age, a young Spanish mobile-app developer between gigs, and a delightful young lady from Taiwan whose English was impecable. In the adjoining room were three other peregrinos with whom I would walk in tandem for the next several days – an architect from Newcastle, England, his nephew who was walking a bit of the Camino in anticipation of his wedding a few days later, and an educator from New Zealand who had just completed her service as the principal of an international elementary school in Germany. Though we did not become a “Camino family,” we did hang out together, along with others who formed kind of a loose cohort of peregrinos all headed along the Way at the same time.

My friends have since continued on beyond Logroño while I have lagged behind to enjoy a recovery day and to post to the blog. I hope to catch up with them. We have become good friends in just a few days on the Camino. Such is the nature of the Camino.

The climb out of Zariguiegui the next day was steep and windy. No doubt a consideration in the placement of the windmills on the ridge! A sculpture honoring peregrinos graces the crest of the mountain.

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Later that morning, I decided to pursue an alternate route along the way to visit Santa Maria, a small church in Eunate (near Obanos).  It is Romanesque and octagonal in design, built in the 12th century.

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The church was not yet open when I arrived. I stretched out on a bench and took a brief nap. When I awoke, I discovered that a peregrina from South America had also arrived. She kindly offered to share the bread and cheese that she had had the foresight to bring with her (it now was well past midday). I accepted with thanks.

I set out to explore the grounds and eventually returned to the door to the sanctuary which by then had been opened by the warden. My fellow pilgrim was on her hands and knees before the alter in a supplication and prayer. I waited respectfully. In time she arose, overwhelmed with emotion, and tears in her eyes. I offered a hug. She accepted.

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The sanctuary is small and only dimly lit. Recordings of Gregorian chants enhance the experience which encourages contemplation and prayer.

That evening she and I found ourselves at the same table where we were partaking of a “Menu Peregrino,” a simple three-course meal served by many alberques and restaurants along the Way. I had a delightful conversation with her. She is an attorney who has devoted her career to defending economically disadvantaged youth in her country. The faith is quite strong with her. She hopes to walk the Camino de Fatima upon completing the Camino Frances. She intends to reach Fatima in time for the annual festival commemorating the vision of the Virgin seen early in the last century by three young children of Fatima. I saw her again a couple of times, but by now she has gone on ahead.

The Way at this point traverses interesting and varied territory. I´ll let some photos tell the story.

The ¨Queen´s Bridge¨ at Puente La Reina.

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Armorial crests on homes and other structures in Cirauqui.

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Leaving Cirauqui through an ancient archway and a steep climb that follows.

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On the way, with other peregrinos in the lead.

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En route to Los Arcos, I passed the 13th Century Fountain of the Moors – Fuente de Los Moros.

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Last night was spent in Viana where I rested before the final push this morning into Logroño.  In the afternoon, I passed several refugios – stone huts built centuries ago and still stanidng.  Built toprovide shelter to earlier peregrinos who might find themselves exposed tothe elements between the pilgrim hostals of the time (often churches and convents encountered on the Way), local townsfolk regularly brought food, water, and kindling to these huts in order that the travelers would have the means to stay strong and healthy,and to continue their pilgrimages.

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Somewhere along the Way at this point, I left Navarre and crossed into the famous wine growing semi-autonomous region of La Rioja.  Navarre was Basque country with many reminders of the separatist sentiment that is strong with the Basque people.  Here are four such reminders.  The first is a menu written in two languages – first Basque, then Spanish. 

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Note the difference in the lettering.  Both use the Roman alphabet, but the Basques do it a bit differently.  The second is a street sign. 

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The third and fourth are political slogans found on walls just before entering the final push to Logroño.  Green is the color favored by the Basques.

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I am intrigued by what I sensed traversing Basque country.  I´ll have more to write about that when I return home.

I arrived in Logroño about midday today, in the company of other peregrinos I have met recently. Such is the nature of the Camino.

I found comfortable accommodation at an alberque near the Cathedral and was able to replace several necessary items (sink stopper, cell phone stylus) I had lost en route.  The source, as in Portugal, was a Chinese Bazaar.  Every big city on the Iberian Peninsula seems to have one.

There were many people out walking during the early hours of the day (1000-1200) and early evening (1800-2000).  I was struck by how many were muslim women, covered, in conversation with each other, and guiding their children along their paths.  North Africa is not far away.

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Lograño is a bustling city of about 155,000. It welcomes peregrinos with waymarks and with a statue in a plaza honoring modern day peregrinos.  Note that there are two peregrinos.  Compare this statuary with that in Pedron last year (see FCB #9).  That one features a solo peregrino walking the Way.  The pair in Logroño features two more contemporary peregrinos with determined visages.  The leader is a peregrina with a pigtale.  A sign of the times along the Way!

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I´ll post again from Burgos.

And with that, I´m off.

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #12.1

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Francés

Pamplona, Spain – April 7, 2015 (republished April 14, 2015)

[Ed. Note:  I have had the very positive experience of working with WordPress staff in resolving issues involving posting of my photographs.  While I am not sure that we understand what went wrong yet, I am able to proceed using a “patch” of sorts.  Enjoy the pictures.  Thank you for your patience!]

The flight from San Francisco to Paris was the best kind – uneventful. I arrived tired but optimistic, made my way to the SNCF railway station at the airport, and took a train to Biarritz (France) where I spent two nights, recovering from transmeridian travel (aka jetlag).  I highly recommend Hotel Le Bon Coin whose staff were friendly and eager to please.

Biarritz is a lovely coastal city with a long maritime tradition. I enjoyed walking along the beaches which were shrouded in overcast skys and boasted turgid waters just offshore.

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The town has an aquarium and maritime museum that is well worth the time should you visit Biarritz. The aquarium is actually the best one I´ve ever visited!

Adjacent to the aquarium is a very moving memorial to citizens of Biarritz who died in World Wars I and II. Particularly poignant are plaques listing not only the soldiers and sailors who died in uniform, but also the members of the resistance who were killed, those deported to the Nazi death camps, and also common citizens of Biarritz who were killed during the second world war. The statuary adjoining the memorial brought a lump to my throat.

Followers of this blog will recall that last year on the Camino Portugues, I met only nine peregrinos between Lisbon and Porto – about half way to Santiago! But on the Camino Frances, I met over nine peregrinos at the railway station in Bayonne – before any of us even got to the start! Americans, Australians, Japanese, Germans – all the world was there.

St. Jean Pied de Port (France) is a lovely small town of only a few hundred inhabitants – most of whom appear to be there to service the needs of tourists, not all of whom are about to set out on the Camino.

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I called at the Pilgrim Office, got a stamp on my Credencial (pilgrim passport) and inquired about the weather on top of the mountain. Bad news – there was 16 inches of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. Clearly the preferred route to Roncesvalles was not available. That notwithstanding, I met a 20-something young fellow traveling with a Rhodesian Ridgeback named “Apache” who was determined to brave the “route of Napoleón.” I hope he made it. Or better yet, I hope he took the alternate route as did the rest of us.

Immediately after departing St. Jean, the Way traverses lovely rural highways and byways. After about two hours, the Way crosses into Spain. There is no marker at the boarder. But the language changes abruptly.

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I allowed two days for the first stage – not wanting to over commit until I got my “walking legs.” Once in Roncesvalles, I toured the facilities, including a beautiful church, and an alberque (pilgrim hostel) that can house over 100 peregrinos. A hospitalero there told me that they had housed 350 peregrinos the previous night. Apparently many Spaniards take advantage of a four-day Easter holiday weekend and walk from Roncesvalles to Pamplona as an Easter pilgrimage.

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The next morning, many peregrinos set out for the two day walk to Pamplona. Clearly, Fog City Boy has a ways to go!

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Most of the two days that brought me to Pamplona was through rustic territory rather than along busy highways. Again, quite different from the early stages of the Camino Portugues last year.   Not all of the Way is flat and user-friendly to your legs and feet.  Much of the Way is steeply up hill.  And steeply down.

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My lodging in the small town of Zubiri was a small pension that was a fifth story walk-up . . . after a long day of ups and downs!  But peregrinos go on undaunted!

In addition to peregrinos going by foot, I encountered cyclists, and others traveling by horse. Apparently there is a service that boards the horses overnight and returns them to the caballeros fresh in the morning.

Along the Way, I encountered a memorial to a young peregrino whose Camino ended earlier than it should have. Passing peregrinos have placed small stones on the cross in recognition of the pilgrimage, and the loss.

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Pamplona is a lovely city with many magnificant builidings and a charming old town to explore. On the day I arrived, a Basque separatist demonstration was in full swing. Literally thousands of Basques had traveled there to make a point and to party. It was a big and joyous party!

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The bulls were not running, but a large monument in the center city attests to Pamplona´s pride in the event, and the danger inherant in it.

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Throughout its history, Pamplona has welcomed pilgrims of all nationalities and faiths. They even welcome cyclists with special waymarks emplaced on their streets. Steven, this one´s for you!

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Thank you for following my progress! I´ll post again in a few days.  If this is your first visit to the blog and you wish to follow it, click on the button on the lower right corner of your screen.

With that, I´m off.

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #11

Fog City Boy on the Camino Francés.

San Francisco, California – March 27, 2015

“The Camino is calling to me . . . “ quoth daughter Elizabeth some months after she returned to San Francisco, having completed her Camino pilgrimage in April, 2010. I had a sense of what she meant. Now I know for sure. The Camino is calling to me, and has been for a time.

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For many, the Camino is a religious pilgrimage. My Camino experience last year did not rise to that level, but there were spiritual aspects to it, and I completed the peregrinación with an enhanced clarity of purpose for the future.

And so, tomorrow I will travel from San Francisco and return to the Camino – this time the Camino Francés – the most traveled Way of St. James. It begins for most in the small town of St. Jean Pied de Port in France close by the border with Spain. The first stage is a climb up and over the Pyrenees to the small Spanish village of Roncesvalles. Then the Way turns west toward Santiago de Compostela. 

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There are many established Camino routes, though actually one may start from anywhere in the world. But all Caminos end in exactly the same place – the plaza in front of the Cathedral of Santiago.  Some peregrinos go on from Santiago to Finisterre or “the end of the earth” as the Romans understood it.  I’ll save that for another Camino.

I’ve been training for the Camino – rowing on the erg (the indoor rowing ergometer), cycling on the Spinner, and walking with my pack. Unlike last year, this year I know what I’m getting into. And I can’t wait!

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(By the way, the snapshot of me above was taken by an obliging peregrino from Brazil on the last day of my Camino last year – shortly before I climbed into SantiagoI’m clean shaven today, but I will again leave the razor at home.  After all, it weighs about 8 ounces, and who would want to carry all that extra weight?)

I’ll be posting to this blog about once a week – my first post will be from Pamplona, about 5 days after I depart St. Jean. I hope you will follow this chronicle, and share your thoughts as I go.  If you wish to follow the blog  – to receive notifications directly to you shortly after I publish – click on the button on the lower right side of the screen.

With best wishes, buen Camino!

And with that, I’m off.

 

Knute Michael

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Fog City Boy #10

 

Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués

San Francisco, California – June 19, 2014

Home again, home again. It is one month since I arrived in Santiago and completed the Camino Portugues.

Ginna and I enjoyed several days in Santiago, took a very long train ride that eventually deposited us in Bilbao (a city on the Camino del Norte, though we looked in vain for way marks), and after two nights, boarded a Brittany Ferry for Portsmouth. We had almost a week in London. Time to visit friends there, and to bridge from Camino to the joys and challenges of being home again.

That said, I’m glad to be home! I lost about 8 pounds over the 46 days of the Camino, but arrived at my destination in good health. I am fuzzier than I was when I departed San Francisco three months ago – referring to my physiognomy, hopefully not my intellect. My electric shaver and charging cord weigh a bit more than a half pound. I didn’t want to carry the extra weight, so I left it at home!

Selfie #1 was taken in Vila Franca de Xira five days after departing San Francisco.

Selfie #2 was taken in London five days after arriving in Santiago.

This post will serve several purposes.

I use it to address a number of issues, observations, and experiences that I did not include in earlier posts, and it will serve as what the Army would term an “After Action Report.” I have included a number of assessments about my Camino, my preparation for it, and the gear I took with me in hopes that it will be of use to a future peregrino who might read this blog. The blog is a public blog, available to anyone. It will stay on the web for a while (and likely be added to as future adventures unfold).

I conclude this posting with a video and audio of the swinging of the botafumeiro at the Cathedral in Santiago.

First, I wish to acknowledge the many comments I received to the several postings. I did read them all but was unable to acknowledge them while en route. They were encouraging and I appreciate them!

Next, I wish to thank those who helped prepare me for the Camino: in particular, daughter Elizabeth, friend Lin, friend Joan. And Jim.

And now to the substance of the post!

  • A way mark that didn’t post.

 The picture I took in Viriville, France several years ago did not post successfully when I published Fog City Boy (FCB) #2. I had to return home in order to upload it properly. Here it is.

Old salts (San Francisco Bar Pilots) may seek it out the next time they train at Port Revel.

  • Corrections and amplifications.

In FCB #1, I wrote that the Camino de Santiago is thought to be the most important pilgrimage in the Roman Catholic communion. I stand corrected. The pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to Rome are of a higher order. The pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal also ranks high in the hierarchy of pilgrimages.

In FCB #7, I reported that the outdoor community laundries all had a similar design. In fact that turned out not to be the case as I made my way north. I found the laundries in Spain, as well as in Portugal. One constructed quite recently had individual “stations” for the townsfolk using the facility.

In FCB #3, I reported that a pickpocket in Lisbon had relieved me of my wallet. When I returned to San Francisco and sorted through the boxes of mail that had arrived, I found a small white package from France addressed to me. Lo and behold, it was my wallet – with driver’s license, military i.d. card, credit and debit cards (long since canceled and replaced), and US dollars placed in the “side pockets” of the wallet. The euros, of course, were gone. The pickpocket wanted only the cash, and none of the other items that would have been incriminating in his (or her) possession. A vacationing Frenchman found it on the floor of the tram where the larceny occurred, and very kindly sent it to me with a note explaining how it came to be in his possession. How very thoughtful.

In FCB #8, I included a reference to a World War II German submarine that was scuttled by its crew after the secession of hostilities. Here is the plaque again, and English description:

The German Submarine U1277

At this spot, about 30 meters deep, lies a sunken German submarine of World War II, the U1277. On the 3th [sic] of June 1945, almost a month after the Germany capitulation, the crew of the war vessel decided to simulate a fault and sank the submarine in Portuguese waters. This would prevent the vessel from falling into Allies’ hands as well as returning to its home harbor, taken by the Soviet army. The crew surrendered at the Angeiras Maritime Police headquarters and was imprisoned at the Sao Joao da Foz Fort before being handed over to the British. The U1277, built at the Bremen shipyards and inaugurated on the 18th of March 1944, provides today shelter for a rich sea fauna and flora, and is considered one of the main underwater diving sites in this coast.

  • Fashionistas.

I couldn’t help but notice the young women in Portugal, the majority of whom dressed a la mode, which is to say that their pants appeared to be spray painted on in solid colors (usually black or denim blue) or displaying outrageous floral or geometric patterns. And many wore 5 inch heels, supported by 1 1/2 inch platform soles. These presentation choices were ubiquitous both in large cities and small towns. The platform shoes increased in frequency as I headed north, likely because of the passage of time (time to “get with it”) rather than changed geography. Spain was no different!

When I got to London – all the world was there in Picadilly and in Mayfair – attire was the same, only more so: a fashionista every three meters.

The older women in Portugal and some of the younger married women as well, often wore black skirts and tops, or a black house dress. It was not unlike the images from post-World War II movies set in southern Europe. This attire was particularly the case in smaller towns along the way, but even in the cities, most older women dressed quite conservatively – in deep blue if not in black.

The professional men and women I encountered along the Way (including a substantial number of women who were advogados) would have been quite at home dressing for a court appearance in the States. All wore conservative dark colored suits. And all business people in Portugal seem to carry an obligatory, if small, briefcase to and from the office. Whether the briefcases contain homework, or lunch, or simply are a convenient way to cart one’s ipad, I don’t know.

The young guys along the way dressed the same as their counterparts in the States: Lots of athletic jerseys and t-shirts. The older, apparently retired gentlemen wore tired looking trousers and sport jackets, often with a cap or other headgear.

Not surprisingly, the young guys in London were just as fashion conscious as the young ladies.

  •  Dogs and Cats

I believe that I was barked at by every dog in Portugal north of Lisbon (except two). With few exceptions, all the farm houses in the rural areas, and many of the houses in the residential sections of the cities and towns through which I passed, had guard dogs. Generally they were tethered to a post or a stake in the ground. But that did not stop them from barking and growling menacingly and leaping in my direction only to be constrained by the tether.

The first dog to espy this peregrino would bark furiously and, as I passed, the duties were transferred to the dog next door, and then to the dog further on. This process often went on for a dozen or more houses or farms.

Occasionally the dogs were not tethered but were allowed to roam freely behind a high or relatively high wall surrounding a pleasant house. That circumstance often was anxiety-provoking because any of many large, loud, and angry dogs could have leapt over the wall and taken a bite out of my neck had they wanted to.

One small terrier that was not tethered and was free to roam the street in fact did take a nip at my heel – likely incensed that I had simply ignored him while passing by his house. No harm done but, though ineffectually attacked, I turned and faced my attacker, leveling my walking sticks in his direction. That kept him at bay but the ensuing cacophony emanating from the outraged mutt eventually brought forth his owner, who silenced the dog, and apologized to me for his behavior. I went on my way.

The only two dogs that didn’t bark at me were both Labrador retrievers! They ignored the uproar in their neighborhood as I passed through it, and in typical lab fashion, smiled at me as I walked by.

As to cats, it may have been my imagination, but it seemed that there were an unusual number of Siamese cats in Portugal – running free in the vicinity of their owners’ homes. Most Siamese cats of my acquaintance in the US have been “indoor” cats. Not so in Portugal.

  • Nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes.

Some time ago I embraced the notion that food should be viewed as fuel for the body and that fuel intake and processing need to be harmonized with the demands placed on the body. In the context of the Camino, that meant what, when, and how much I ate needed to be reconciled with the endurance efforts I would ask my body to do that day.

Don’t come to me with nothing in the tank.

On mornings when I had access to a hot meal at breakfast (typically scrambled eggs and bacon, cheese, ham, and sausages, too) or when breakfast went beyond white bread, butter and jam, and coffee or tea – the basic European “continental breakfast” – my walking pace and stamina were noticeably better than on those mornings when bread, butter, and jam were all that was available. On those occasions (four of them), I sought out a cafe as early as possible and loaded a pastry of some sort. That and a cafe con leche would get me up and moving – but I knew that the sucrose/lactose/caffeine boost would burn off in two hours or less, so I kept looking for something solid to eat before it got too late in the morning. I carried two tins of sardines with me to serve as emergency rations. I’m glad I had them along, though I never had to resort to them.

I had some good meals in Portugal, but most of the simple restaurants along the way served a large slice of meat (roasted previously and reheated upon order) or fish, with a scoop of white rice, a small salad of chopped lettuce, shredded carrots, and a tomato slice – and a half plate of soggy french fries. Chicken was more frequently available as I walked north. Fresh fish, squid, and octopus were available in the larger coastal towns, and in Santiago. I saw goat on the menu from time to time. I had cabrito a couple of times.

Bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish) is ubiquitous in Portugal and often available in Spain. There are as many recipes for reconstituting the salt cod as there are cooks in that part of the world. I had it a couple of times and lived to tell the tale. But it certainly wasn’t my favorite repast.

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What was lacking in virtually all meals in Portugal was a fresh vegetable. I know that they grow veggies in Portugal and Spain because I have seen them in the farmers’ markets, but the restaurants patronized by the common folk apparently haven’t gotten the word yet. I completed the Camino suffering from serious veggie deficit. On two occasions when I told the waiter “no batata – legume si” I was able to avoid another round of soggy french fries, but what came in their stead was a mound of soggy broccoli florets.

Most of the shops and public offices are closed from noon until 2:00 p.m. or so. The siesta lives! Lunch is the major meal of the day in Portugal and lunch time is usually about 1:00 pm. I discovered that it is possible to order a “1/2 dose” for many items on a typical (but limited) menu. But even the reduced serving size was easily enough lunch for two people – even peregrinos who had walked all morning. Most meals at lunch and dinner begin with a plate of olives, white bread, and a bowl of thick orange soup of indeterminate composition. If you order vegetable soup, they put some cabbage or white beans or carrots into the orange base. If you order fish soup, they put some fish of indeterminate species into the soup of indeterminate composition. These soups actually taste pretty good, notwithstanding uncertainties about composition. I found that simply ordering a soup and some bread along with the olives did nicely for me at lunch.

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Proper hydration is critical to success in any athletic endeavor, so much the more so when it is an endurance trial. There were a few days when the Way was long and the sun was hot and I became mildly dehydrated. No harm came of it, but after my woosie arrival at my destination on that first long hot day, I packed a standby bottle of still water inside my pack just in case. In addition to carrying and refilling my water bottle, I typically ordered a bottle of water (still or con gas) at the cafes where I stopped to rest and use the available facilities. There are fontes in every town and along the roads in both Portugal and Spain. However, most bear signage warning that the water is not potable, or at least, not controlled. I avoided the water from those sources, and had no gastric issues on the Camino.

Electrolyte management also is important. Eventually, I found myself getting a bit light headed early in the afternoons. I didn’t have the presence of mind to go to one of the ubiquitous Farmacias and ask for an appropriate supplement, but I did combat the problem by salting my food moderately heavily, which normally I wouldn’t do. I survived the challenge, but would recommend that peregrinos take with them a supply of supplements designed to manage electrolyte imbalances.

  • Injuries, aches, and pains.

I was quite fortunate not to suffer any injuries and only had a single, very small blister which I drained, cleansed, and bandaged. It healed in two days and there was no recurrence. My legs got sunburned on the first day I walked without the lower leg portions of my convertible hiking pants.  And, I did experience shin splints. Typically they came on at night but abated immediately when I walked a few steps. I was quite faithful about doing my AI (active isolated) stretches each morning before I set out. That discipline prepared my whole body (not just my legs – I was carrying a pack, after all) for the miles ahead of me. Also, before setting out each morning, I applied BenGay lotion to my lower legs, rubbing it in thoroughly, as suggested by friend Joan. That was most helpful in preparing my legs for the challenge of the day. I ran out of BenGay but found a similar camphor-menthol preparation at a Farmacia along the Way.

As an experienced peregrino from North Carolina explained to me, most hikers think that having good shoes is the way to avoid blisters. But actually it is more than just shoes. He pointed out that the shoe, the sock, and the foot together constitute a “system.” And all parts of the system have to work together properly in support of the hiker. I had great hiking shoe from a manufacturer named Asolo, socks from Tilley that were woven in such a way as to provide support to the instep and lower leg above the ankles, and two feet that have been with me for a long time. All three pair worked well together with the result that my feet never hurt and blisters were never a concern. My feet were snug in the hiking shoes. There was no rubbing – the source of most blisters. I had a second pair of shoes – feather weight – that I carried in my pack and wore around town after getting off the trail. They are the barefoot line from Merrell. That allowed my hiking shoes – damp from perspiration – to dry out daily.

The other key to avoiding injury was my decision to carry two walking poles. I got carbon poles from REI that are strong and lightweight. Those poles saved me from falling any number of times on rough terrain and on steep grades. Most injuries on the Way occur when descending a grade. I would urge all peregrinos to take two poles on their Camino – not just one. You can be sure that if you have only one pole, it will be in your right hand when you loose your balance to the left – and vice versa!

  • What to take and what not to take.

The many Camino guidebooks provide lists of things a peregrino should take. Inevitably, a first time peregrino will bring more “stuff” than he or she will actually need on the Way. The solution is to mail the unneeded “stuff” to yourself at the post office in Santiago and collect it after you arrive. The Spanish post offices can help with this. One way to minimize excess “stuff” is to be sure not to have more than one item of a particular sort. I started out with two flashlights (albeit of different designs). I sent one on to Santiago. I had a first aid kit with lots of contents when I started. I sent a number of duplicate items on to Santiago. The Farmacias along the Way can provide whatever might be needed from time to time. I had a set of long-johns when I started, but it wasn’t at all cold when I arrived. I sent those on to Santiago. All in, all done, it reduced the weight of my pack from 17 pounds to 15. The change was noticeable!

One thing that proved invaluable, and that was suggested by my guidebook, was a sink stopper. I did laundry almost every afternoon when I got off the trail. Typically in an alberque/pension/hotel bathroom sink. Not all bathroom sinks had stoppers, but I was prepared!

I carried a small notebook and a ballpoint pen in my shirt pocket. It was hugely helpful to have it close at hand.

My smartphone had two apps that were extremely helpful.  The first was a mapping function with GPS capability.  It got me un-lost a number of times.  The other was a translator app.  It has capabilities that go well beyond English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  When I shopped in the Chinese bazaars along the Way, I explained what I needed by translating from English into Chinese characters on my phone!

A thoroughly researched and easy to read guidebook is a must. I had a guidebook, of course. John Brierley’s “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugues” – carried by virtually all peregrinos whose first language is English. The edition I purchased was the most recent at that time. However, unbeknownst to me, a later edition was published before I set out on my Camino. Especially because of the rapidly developing infrastructure on the Camino Portugues, the changes to the guidebook were many and important. Had I had the 2014 edition, I would have avoided a number of wrong turns and been apprised of a number of alberque options that eluded me. I looked for a copy of the 2014 edition several times along the Way, but didn’t find one until I had completed myperegrenacion! So, I’ll just have to make do with the memories that accompany the one I had with me.

Choose your backpack carefully and learn how to pack it and cinch it before you go. It sounds obvious, but in my case, learning how to arrange the contents of the pack, and how to adjust the many straps so as to adjust the weight and shape of my pack to my back, shoulders, and hips took longer than I care to admit. I would recommend peregrinos do a “dress rehearsal.” Pack your bag so that it is comfortable and the weight distributed evenly. Then go to the shop where you bought it and have an expert adjust the straps for you so that it “sits right” on you. I did eventually get it right, but there were some painful miles while I was trying to figure it out. I had an Osprey back pack. I was extremely happy with it. It had a 35 liter capacity – a beneficial constraint that forced me to adhere to good packing discipline. Finally, take to heart the advice I was given – limit the weight of your pack to 10 percent of your body weight. No more! Travel light! Schooner rig! 

  • Whatever happened to . . .

On the Way, the peregrino meets others headed to the same destination. While each pilgrimage is its own story, some of the stories are particularly compelling. Unfortunately, because peregrinos progress at their own paces, it is not always possible to know the outcome of some especially poignant stories. Here are three:

 Whatever happened to “Santiago?”

I spent one night at a rural casa called Casas Do Rio – houses of the river.

A lovely and serene estate with historic accommodations for peregrinos and others located in Cossourado, Portugal. (I highly recommend this rural casa.) There were three women peregrinos from Phoenix who over-nighted there, and five young German peregrinos – one guy and four women. And a very nice stray dog that had followed the Germans for much of the day. One of the German women decided to adopt the pooch. They were very devoted to each other. She spent considerable time on her cell phone determining the requirements to take him home to Germany with her after the Camino. Next morning, the women from Phoenix and I left before the Germans did. We walked together for several hours. One of the women announced that they had decided that the dog should be named “Santiago.” None of us knew what “Santiago’s” new mistress would actually call him. And we had concerns for him, too. He had a bit of a limp and appeared to have been separated from his original family. Walking all the way to “Santiago” might have been as difficult for him as it was for us. And it is not clear where he would overnight along the Way. Would the alberques along the Way take them both in? We did not see the cohort of Germans again, and never learned what happened to “Santiago.”

 Whatever happened to Gisela?

(Not her real name.) Gisela was a lovely, young, very intelligent, very blond, very sunburned German peregrino who, with a group of other Germans, were walking the Way for several days in tandem with my own progress. As a group we had gathered together at cafes along the Way, and dined together and they had been very tolerant of my very awkward, mostly forgotten, gesprochenen Deutsch. We had dinner one night at a pleasant restaurant in Ponte De Lima. The conversation was casual all around. We returned to our respective lodging, with Gisela and another woman returning to the alberque via the bridge crossing the Rio Lima.

 

I learned the next morning that half way across, Gisela produced a notebook in which she had written of all the troubles she had had with her family. She tore the pages out of the book, tore them in pieces, and threw them all into the river. And watched them float away. “Now I am free,” she announced. “I am going to get to Santiago as quickly as I can, and go home. I’ll make 30 kilometers a day.” Apparently she was up and out of the alberque and on her way at 6:30 the next morning. She was a very nice girl, and I hope that the Camino had given her the freedom she had sought and believed she had found. We did not see her again.

Whatever happened to Richard from England?

(Not his real name.) Now in Spain, one morning I met a peregrino from Ireland named Richard. (Not his real name, either!) He was a bit older than I and on his 10th Camino. He said he walks two Caminos each year. We walked together for a time, and then I went on ahead. I passed through Redondela and spent the night at a pension four or five kilometers further along the Way. The vista from the pension was wonderful. I thought that I had found California poppies when I looked out the window. Close, but clearly a different species.

Both Richard from Ireland and another peregrino, Richard from England, spent the night at an alberque in Redondela. That alberque is reputed to be quite comfortable, albeit located close to a nightclub that is noisy into the wee hours of the morning. Though a long way from that alberque, I got a late start the next morning, forgot my hat and had to go back to the pension to retrieve it. In due course, I saw Richard from Ireland and others some distance ahead of me. I paused at a fonte for a snack and noted a passing peregrino – a burly fellow with a wooden staff for a walking stick, walking in sandals without socks (guaranteed to bring you many blisters), and sporting a swetty red shirt. I wished him buen Camino but he didn’t acknowledge me.

Farther down the road, I came upon Richard from Ireland sitting in front of a cafe drinking a beer. I tossed down my pack and decided it was time for a break and a bite. “Did you see a pilgrim in a red shirt today?” asked Richard from Ireland. I said that I did but that he had gone on ahead of me. Richard said that the pilgrim in the red shirt was inside the cafe, also was named Richard, and would be out in time. He then went on to say that last night, Richard from England had been in the other of the two bunk rooms in the alberque (each with about 10 bunk beds), and that when they met at the cafe a bit ago, Richard from England said to him, “Did you hear the commotion last night?” Richard from Ireland had not heard it. “Well, I urinated on a woman in the alberque, and she complained to the hospitalero. He called the Spanish police, who came to the alberque and threw me and my stuff out into the street. I spent half the night on the street.”

About that time, Richard from England appeared. We introduced ourselves and I told him I was from San Francisco. “Ya been up to the jail yet?” I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, so he clarified, “Alcatraz.” Ahhhh. That was easier to deal with. Yes, I have visited Alcatraz. I considered asking him which jails he had been “up to.” But I decided against it.

I got up to go get a sandwich. “Buy me a beer,” he directed. “I’ll pay you back.” Well, this might have been my first Camino, but it wasn’t my first time around the block. I got him his beer, assumed I would never be repaid, and was not disappointed. Richard from England downed his beer and went back into the cafe. I turned to Richard from Ireland and said, “He is a strange fellow.” Richard responded, “you forgot one word.” . . . “What’s that?” . . . “Very!” I ate half of my sandwich, finished a bottle of water, and headed on. I didn’t see either peregrino again. I wonder what kind of trouble Richard from England got into later on his Camino.

  • Way marks.

I know that the blog has included images of a number of way marks I encountered. But here are several more that I found particularly noteworthy.

And the prizewinner is . . .



This way mark was atop a boxlike structure in a clearing in a wooded area shortly before descending into one urban town or another. The Way at this point is shared by the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrimage to Fatima. The pilgrimages head in opposite directions through most of Portugal, though they share the same trails. The Fatima way marks are painted in blue; the Camino’s in yellow. This way mark is composed of two hiking shoes pointed in opposite directions – one in blue, pointed toward Fatima, and one in yellow, pointed toward Santiago.

  •  Kindnesses.

As I consider the Camino – my Camino – I am reminded of many acts of kindness of which I was the beneficiary. The locals who showed me the right way, when I was headed the wrong way. The fellow who offered me a lift when I was exhausted and in difficulty. The British ex-pats living in Portugal whom I met in a rural cafe who helped me order a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, and then bought me lunch! The hospitalero who was prepared to collect me some distance away from her pension and find me a place to stay, if the next pension on my way was closed or full. Another hospitalero who, rather than rely on my comprehension of his directions, drove me to a bus stop to be sure I knew where to catch a bus the next morning. The restaurateur who gave me a tour of the town after I finished dinner one night. The peregrinos I met along the way, especially Monika and Siegwart from Germany, who – fearing that the alberque they had found would not have space for me should I arrive later that evening – prepared a window cushion mattress for me in their room so I would have a place to stay. In fact, I was safe and slept well at the Casas do Rio that night. And the French vacationer who mailed my wallet back to me.

And so, as I contemplate my Camino now, a month after my arrival in Santiago, I again find myself thinking of gratitude. Gratitude for the fitness and strength to begin and complete the peregrinacion. Gratitude for the kindnesses shown me so frequently on the Way. Gratitude for the Camino itself.

  • The Pilgrims’ Mass and the swinging of the botafumeiro.

The Cathedral de Santiago is great and magnificant. It harbors many examples of extraordinary religious art commissioned over hundreds of years. Here are images from one of the chapels around the walls of the church.

Ginna and I attended the Pilgrims’ Mass shortly after my arrival in Santiago. As I reported in FCB #9, I was not able to upload my video and audio recording of the swinging of the botafumeiro incensor (which concludes the mass) at the time I completed that posting. I have since been able (with some help from Ginna) to achieve that feat.

The swinging of the botafumeiro marks the end of the pilgrims’ mass at the Cathedral, and in so many ways brings closure to the many peregrinaciones that conclude in Santiago. The swinging of the botafumeiro seems to be an especially appropriate conclusion to this chronicle of the Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugues. I hope you will watch it and enjoy. The video is almost 6 minutes long and includes words from the celebrant setting the context before the actual the introduction of the botafumeiro. The audio is important, too. Peace be with you.

 

Thank you for following this chronicle.

And with that, the boots are off. My feet are up.

And I’m not off to anywhere just now. . . but stay tuned!

Buen Camino!

 

Knute Michael

Fog City Boy on the Camino Primativo

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