Sunday, October 19, 2014

Arriving in Santiago!

 I arrived in Santiago de Compestela today at noon. It was a good ending to a LONG walk, and it was great to see Beth.
The Cathedral is being worked on 
But here is a view from the North
I quickly got in line at the Pilgrim's Office and soon received my Compestela 
We will spend three days with Bob and Teri Pennison in Santiago, so I will have more to say about the city after this.
For now, the Camino itself is successfully completed! My joy is that I finished and that I do not have to walk tomorrow.
It has been a Buen Camino!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Go West young man!

I am in Palas de Rey, just three days from Santiago. Here's a question from the Camino. 
What do you do on the Camino when it rains?
Answer: walk!

Today I left Portomarin looking at the last bit of elevation left on the Camino. Portomarin is at 1400' and the high point of the day was Sierra Ligonde at 2400'.
I would need to ascend this in nine miles so really it seemed to be quite doable considering what I'd already been through.

There are a couple of new factors since Sarria. One is that the number of pilgrims has grown remarkably. The minimum number of kilometers that can be walked and still qualify for a Compestela is 100 and Sarria is just beyond that number so most Spanish pilgrims begin in Sarria and walk only the last 100k.

The mood seemed to change along with the increase of numbers. Where before there has been a sort of comaradery among the walkers, with a lot of friendly "Buen Caminos" being shared, many of the new pilgrims seem to be in a different place. Perhaps they are nervous, or busy trying to spot the yellow arrows? Or maybe it's just me after a month on the trail.

The other factor dampening the mood literally is rain. Today it rained the entire day, often very hard especially around the peak. 

I still continued to exercise my climbing ability and since my hip has improved, thanks to many prayers, I was able to hike the first three hours to the top in fine fashion. The encouragement for today was the knowledge that this is the final mountain to cross. After this it is mostly downhill.

So, I hiked uphill in a sea of pilgrims, in the pouring rain, and was still happy!

I met and walked for a while with Edward a Frenchman, probably 35 years old, who lives in Germany, and he reflected on the neglected state of the churches, wondering what will happen to them. 
He had attended mass in the Monastery in Samos, an ancient and sacred place, 

and he said there were only 8  monks  and most of them were very old.
No answers, just questions.

Well, I found an electric clothes dryer for my clothes so I will be dry to begin the day tomorrow. We'll see how long it lasts as it is forecast to rain for the next three days.

The good news is that I can still walk, I have good rain gear and I am three days from my goal. Beth will be leaving Tulsa tomorrow in order to be in Santiago for our Saturday meeting.
Buen Camino!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Accepting Hardship as a Pathway to Peace

I'm in Fonfria, Galicia, Spain tonight, an ancient town with good wifi! Technology is amazing!
Today was the day that I climbed out of the Rio Valcarse valley in Vega de Valcarse (elevation 2000') to O'Cebreiro, pronounced "O-thay-bray-Air-oh" (4300').
This elevation was gained in less than six miles of hiking so I knew I was in for a climb.
On day one of the Camino as I hiked through the Pyrenees from France to Spain the hiking was very difficult. I had not done much mountain work and knew I needed the practice.
Elevation chart of day 1
Elevation chart of day 28

So instead of feeling bad about my physical condition I decided to use the other hills that I  encountered as an opportunity to train.

In the Serenity Prayer there is great wisdom:
 "Living one day at a time,
 enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. 
Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next!"

The change of focus from "oh no, another hill to climb" to "Great, this is another opportunity to train" has paid off and today was that day.

After 28 days of practice my body naturally goes into a climbing stance when I approach a hill where most of the hiking is done by my legs and although the climbing was physically strenuous I was not winded or worn out when I reached O'Cebreiro. Which was a good thing since I still had seven more miles to go to Fonfria (cold fountain). 16 miles total today including the climb. I'm proud of my sixty year old body!

Here are some shots taken during the day.
If you look closely you can see a castle in the mist!

A shot of the valley and a friend Yves from Quebec who picks flowers every day and wears them in his hat and then leaves them along the trail.
Interesting people on the Camino. He reminds me of the fable "The Man Who Planted Trees"

The building styles are very Celtic in Galicia 

Less than 100 miles to go now. I have a couple of shorter days and plan to arrive in Santiago before noon next Saturday.

Buen Camino!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Catching up!

I've neglected blogging for a few days but have a good Wi-Fi connection, pronounced "wee fee" in Espanol, so I'll catch up.

I did get out and explore Leon on my rest day and had a kebab at the fiesta 
I also found this pilgrim statue and a German couple took this shot
I left Leon early the next morning and walked 16 miles to a small village San Martin del Camino for the night. I bunked with Fabio from Italy and Jamie and Gerard from Barcelona. Four Frenchmen were in the next room and it made for interesting dinner conversation as Fabio was the only one besides me that spoke English. The owner of the albergue gave me a local fruit that she called "ojo" but I'm not sure.

It tasted good, reminded me of some of the fruits in Jamaica. 

The next day was to Astorga. It was a beautiful sunrise 
but the trail got rather rocky later in the day. On the steep downhill walk there was an interesting statue of a pilgrim drinking from his flask and a local man took great joy in showing me how it worked. 

Everyone has been more than welcoming all along the way.

In Astorga  I again ran into my Australian pastor friend Ray and his wife Pura as I was looking at the Cathedral.
The next day was a much longer day because I have moved away from the flat plains of the Meseta back into the mountains. I wanted to get most of tomorrow's climb out of the way so I extended myself and hiked 17 miles to stay in an albergue in Founcebadon. The trail was rocky and steep in places but I was at my destination and checked in by 2:30. 

Founcebadon is an old village that really only survives by providing services to pilgrims. There were 35 of us this evening and for once I met up with several Americans and a few Canadians. The most interesting to me though were two seventy year old ladies from New Zealand who were walking the trail together.

Our meal was a riot when the chef brought out his masterpiece paella
This was probably the most filling meal I've had so far. Muy bueno!
There was this interesting sign in the coed bathroom that I need to add

The next day was a hike past the highest point of the Camino (4934 feet) where the Iron Cross, La Cruz de Ferro, stands.

 I've made a practice the past several years in my recovery to leave my recovery chips in different places. I was planning to leave my 24 year sobriety coin at the Iron Cross.

It was raining as I left the albergue so I suited up in my poncho
but as I was climbing up the mountain this was the view
As I approached the Cross

 thinking of my sobriety and also our friend Clark who has been gone for two years this day I once again ran into Ray and Pura. I recognized God at work here giving me someone who could witness my ritual.

This is Ray, my brother from another mother, but as he says "the same Father"! with an Austrailian accent.

It's good to be sober and it's been very easy to have agua solo with meals, instead of wine. Cheaper too for the restaurant!

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and the rest of this day, some 20 kilometers, was spent descending to 2000 feet. I find the descents much harder on my feet and knees than ascents and this was a painful, rocky trail.
I had been passing a group of guys from Brazil for the past three days, one wearing a cowboy hat. I commented on his hat and he started calling me "Oklahoma" whenever he would see me
The trail continued down forever it seemed until I reached Molinaseca, my destination for the day. I was very glad to arrive and I stayed in a hostal with a private room to get a reprieve from the snoring. As I arrived the rain began again but I was safe inside!

Dinner was oxtail stew,

and I ate with Kristof from Berlin who I had met at an earlier stop in Granon.

A good night's sleep does wonders and my feet have healed enough that I didn't need to treat my heels today. The toes still take a pounding but are getting better as well.

I left later than usual this morning and arrived in Ponferrada to see this
Castillo de los Templarios, a 12th century Templar castle, now a national monument. I wish I had the energy to explore, but I don't.

It was a reasonably short day, 14 miles to Cacabelos. This will allow another 14 mile day tomorrow before I need to climb the last mountain before Santiago. I'll climb from 600 to 1300 meters in 10 kilometers. These mountains separate Castilla y Leon from Galicia. The rest of the Camino is through this ancient Celtic land, much wetter than I've been used to.

I'll let you know how it goes. For tonight, resting my feet in Cacabelos!

Buen Camino!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Reflecting on Three Weeks of the Camino

I'm in Leon today, Friday October 3 and also tomorrow. I've been walking the Camino for three weeks and want to pace myself a bit.

I've traveled over 315 miles in the past twenty days and my feet can tell the tales. It's been interesting to be more in tune with my body, to be aware of the different stages it goes through in the course of a day's walking. I started out this morning virtually pain free for the first time since Logrono, two weeks ago. I've walked through the creation and healing of blisters on both heels and now overcoming blisters on my little toes.

I got a certain thrill out of asking the pharmacist for Compeed because "tengo   ampollas en mis dedos de los pies" "I have blisters on the fingers of my feet" and was understood!

A word about Compeed, I consider it a miracle product and has allowed me to continue walking while the blisters improved. Like I wrote earlier, this was a pain-free day of walking up to mile nine when tiredness sets in.

So, as you can tell, the first reflection is an obsession with the health of my feet. If my feet give out, the Camino is over. Mine seem to be improving.

Another reflection involves attitude. I have time as I walk to think, a lot, and can see the danger of falling into a negative mindset. Thoughts like "why am I doing this?" Or "I wish this were over" set up an attitude that is deadly. I've observed different persons on the Camino who have fallen into negativity and for them the joy is gone.

The truth of the Camino is that there is physical discomfort: pain, crowded sleeping quarters, unfamiliar languages, snoring, but there is also an extreme opportunity for gratitude. A private room is a special thrill!

Anytime I feel tempted toward resentment the first thought is "I'm hiking through Spain!" The next is "Everyday I am getting physically stronger" and then an extreme gratitude for the closeness I get to have with The Lord as we experience the real life difficulties together. I experienced pure joy today when I realized that my feet were pain free!

I am grateful for my mother and father who taught me about The Lord.

I am grateful for my brothers, and particularly Al who bought me a Camino guide book two years ago. It has proven to be invaluable.

I'm grateful to my Band of Brothers who encouraged me to begin hiking way back in 2006!

I'm grateful to my small group, the Body of Christ for me at this stage of life and their prayers and support.

I'm grateful for a good sponsor and the freedom I have to drink aqua y Coca Cola when offered vino tinto or cervesa!

I'm grateful for the Boys in the Hood every Wednesday as I eat lunch. You know what I mean!

I'm grateful for finding the Body of Christ alive on the Camino in the people I meet and talk with every day.

And I'm grateful for Beth who supports my hair-brained adventures. I'm looking forward to seeing her as I walk into Santiago two weeks from now.

Believe it or not, Leon is having a festival this weekend, The Feast of San Froilan, so it may prove to be an exciting night.

I'll be resting my feet!

Buen Camino

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Just Past Halfway

I completed the first half of the Camino de Santiago yesterday and commenced the second half today.
The experience is almost surreal, I often still feel new to the Camino and at other times it seems as if I have been walking forever. I've walked 265 miles in the past 17 days, just a bit over 15 miles a day on average, but today I humped out 20 miles, 30 kilometers in seven hours. I think this is my limit. The next two days are much shorter as I approach Leon and a rest day on Saturday.

My feet are doing better and the heel blisters are almost well. My toes however continue to take a pounding. I think this is just the price to pay for the constant walking on rough terrain!

Life offers simple pleasures, a good bed, and the joy of allowing my feet to rest. I'm impressed with how my body regenerates each evening allowing me to continue the journey in the morning.

My English clergyman acquaintance caught up with me yesterday, but got ill in the night and I again parted with him as he got to the hostal in Sahagun. He said it was just something from the dinner the night before and he wanted to have a short day. We said our goodbyes just in case we don't run across each other on down the road.

We may very we'll see each other as I often see the same people tracking with me. There is a loose sort of community that builds from walking and eating and often rooming with the same cohort day after day. I spent the afternoon yesterday butchering Spanish with Lucian Rudolfo from Buenos Aries, Argentina and Hermann from Germany, Brandon from Dublin, and Morris from Brazil were my roommates last night in Terradillos de los Templarios, the last holdout of The Knights Templar.

 The albergue we stayed in is named after the last Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay. The meal served was traditional home made sausage and potatoes (I think this is what didn't sit well with Graham).

I'm in El Burgo Ranero today and head to  Mansilla de las Mulas (Hand on the saddle of the mules) tomorrow, an easy 12 miles. I'm looking forward to a day of not walking on Saturday!

315k to go!

The Arco San Benito in Sahagun

Buen Camino!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday in Fromista, Spain

I'm in Fromista, Spain today on a Sunday, two weeks and 220 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port. The beginning seems long ago and the end is still nowhere in sight. My feet are asking me "What have you done to us" and sometimes I ask myself the same question!

I checked into a private hostal this afternoon for a little privacy and a night of sleep without a chorus of snoring. Last night in Castrojerez I was in a room of thirty people sharing a common bathroom, shower and kitchen. There were at least ten different nationalities represented and everyone got along well. Tonight I'm enjoying a private bath and quiet bedroom.

The past two days the Camino has been passing through the Meseta, farm country with fields either holding sunflower, or plowed and waiting for the next crop.

As I walk along this landscape there is lots of time for reflection, and this is good. I think about my feet a lot and hope to keep them healthy enough to carry me the rest of the way. 

I've fallen into a routine in order to get my 15 plus miles in each day: Wake at 6:30, treat my feet with moleskin and get dressed, breakfast, and then on the Camino by first light, 7:15-7:30.

This allows six or seven hours to walk and take in whatever sights my be on the route and still get to an albergue in time to shower, wash and hang clothes to dry and rest for the next day.

Meals are taken on the road, a bocodillo (sandwich) and cafe con leche! Dinner in Spain is usually after 7pm so meals are late and carb heavy. So far the food has been good.

In two days I reach the mid point. I'll write about the people I've met then.

Buen Camino