Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 31, Olveiroa to Fisterre, Spain Oct. 10

My last day of a 550 mile walk across northern Spain on the Way of St. James Pilgrimage.
21 miles, hilly along the coast. 8 am to 2:30 pm.

Going to the Coast of Death, as it is known for the many shipwrecks off this coast. 1987 was the last shipwreck.

Dip in the sea at the first chance I get. Take off boots and socks and jump in in all my clothes. It is warm and feels good. Everything dries after walking another half an hour.
The villages are charming. There are fishermen repairing their nets in their yards.

Check into the last hostel, 3 Euros and receive my certificate for reaching the coast. It is colorful. Wash my clothes, have a beer and a siesta. Pick up cheese and bread and jam at the market.
Stop by the local castle San Carlos, which is now a fishing museum.
Then walk 3 more miles to the cape where the lighthouse is.
Watch the sunset.
Now the walk feels really over.
A Dane passes out wine in little cups.
There is a fire and we burn something. The Dane walked from Denmark and burns his socks. I write something on a piece of paper and it goes in the fire.
My legs turn to lead. It is really over.
My emotions are mixed. I loved it all and am glad to be going home. But I will miss all the friends I made.

The we walk 3 miles back to town, Fisterre, in the dark. I have a very nice dinner of seafood chowder and bread.
I am finished!

Tomorrow I will stay another day in Fisterre to enjoy the sea, and  another sunset on the cape. Then on Oct. 13 I take the bus back to Santiago. On October 14 I fly from Santiago to London. October 15 I fly from London to Seattle, where I stay with my children for a few days before returning to Eugene, Oregon. It was a fabulous adventure.

Day 30, Negreira to Olveiroa, Spain Oct 9

21 miles, hilly, breezy, beautiful walking through villages and countryside

Walk out of cloud covered valley at 8:15 am.
Dairy farms with huge stone barns and houses. Old women herding big blonde dairy cows.
Lemon trees with ripe lemons
Traditional dresses, shoes on women. with a cotton dress that sraps around to the front, like an over-all apron. Very few women in the country wear pants and NONE of the older woman wear pants.

Old stone grainery supports are used for tables at a roadside cafe. Pilgrims stop for beer and coffee.
There is a youth group from Portugal walking the pilgrim route with their priest and several other adults, probably parents.

Hostel is 3 euros. Again, this town does not have enough beds for the many pilgrims and some are in tents.

I got my hair cut and colored for 24 Euros with a gift of bright pink lipstick. I put it on and feel a little more feminine. My wardrobe has been the same outfit, one hiking outfit for day, the other black t-shirt and capris for evening, since August 22, when I left for England. Plus I have a rain jacket and pants and black silk pants and tops for layering and sleeping in. It is nice and light to carry.

Day 29, Santiago to Negreira, Spain Oct. 8, 2008

12 miles, 850 ft. descent, 1,150 ascent in rolling countryside. 9 am to 1:30 pm

The first three hours are lightly foggy.
Leave Santiago on an ancient footpath through vineyards,
farms woods of holly and eucalyptus, which is fragrant.
The modern suburbs are dimly above and separate from the trail.
Scarecrow in a cornfield.
Black grapes in vineyards.

Stone walls and iron gates of Negreia, a medieval fortress.

The hostel is in an old stone farm house, with additional bunks in the stables, which are clean, but the doors are only gates. Fortunately, a French pilgrim got in early and saved me a bunk inside. There are not nearly enough beds in this village and later pilgrims must continue 6 miles farther. Some are sleeping on the floor of the stable, where it is cold.

I meet Pam, a young Canadian woman I met the first night in France at St. Jean-Pied Pont and we share our stories. Along the way, she has fallen in love with another Canadian, who lives only three hours away by plane. At dinner I meet the two other couples they are friends with, all whom met on the trail for the first time. Some are French, German and Italian. There is another Japanese woman with them. The Italian wants to know what I think of Obama, a question I am often asked on the pilgrimage.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 28, Monte de Gozo to Santiago, Spain

about 3 miles into Santiago, all downhill to the city boundary.

Through the modern suburb, into the old medieval town.
Following the yellow arrows and the shell, the Pilgrim's symbol of resurrection or new life.
It is on the sidewalk, the lamp post, a special post. Sometimes it is yellow paint, or perhaps a bronze shell embedded in the sidewalk. It changes as we go through regions of Spain.

Walking into the city, I separate myself from the other pilgrims, wanting to be alone.

Today I feel the love of those in my life who have already passed into eternal life.

Arriving at the cathedral, I go in and it is the 9:30 am mass.
The huge altar piece covers the entire front and sides. Top to bottom angels and figures gilded in gold. It is like the angels paused for a moment, were caught and cast into gold mid-flight. Flitting away, their figure was cast, but their spirit moved on. The mass is Spanish or Latin, but the priests in red or white long, garments were impressive.

The three finger salute, the thumb and next two fingers, are the blessing of the pope. We see it in some statutes and wave it to other pilgrims.

After mass I find the office where I stand in a short line to receive my certificate of completing the pilgrimage, which have been issued for over 1,000 years to pilgrims. I am thrilled, more so than I would have imagined.

The mass for pilgrims is at noon, so I have breakfast and coffee and attend that. The church is filled with pilgrims. The priests name the countries we are from and blesses us. I am beginning to feel Catholic!

Stay on the third floor of the Seminario Menor for 10 Euros. Just inside the medieval town, on a hill overlooking the valley. It is a spectacular building and must have been a seminary.

I spend the afternoon resting, sketching in my journal, washing clothes as per usual, visiting with other pilgrims. One of them goes out and finds the way out of town for tomorrow's hike, which is not easy, and is kind enough to pass on the information.

Having arrived a week before my plane reservation to London, then home. I decide to walk to the coast, the end of the known medieval world. I was sure I would need days off and be exhausted. But I am excited and ready to walk 55 more miles in 3 days. It is not flat.

Day 27, Arzua to Monte de Gozo, Spain, 2008

22 miles, 656 ft. ascent, on rolling terrain, with 1,000 ft. descent

Walked fast with Patrick from Sweden all day. We walked and talked and entertained each other. Had lunch then dinner together and it was pleasant.
Although I did think it strange, as he promised I would, that he brought his medium along, one went in front and one behind him. 

Passed a village with an outside stone oven.
Silver tanker trucks collect milk from the many dairy farms. One is labeled Nestle.
Footpaths through small villages
Through eucalyptus woods.

Excited to reach Santiago in the morning. Sad that the adventure is nearly come to an end.
Stayed in the Monte de Gozo hostel for 3 Euros. It is new and nice.
Dinner for 7 Euros of salad, pork chops, french fries and the almond cake with the Santiago cross or emblem on top, made from sprinkled powdered sugar. Patrick highly recommended it.

Day 26, Palas dei Rei to Arzua, Spain Oct 5, 2008

17 miles. 1,350 ft. ascent, 1,300 ft. descent. 8:30 am to 2 pm

Clear blue skies, crisp and breezy. Perfect for walking in my long-sleeve shirt.
Now in the Galacia region, where James the Apostle of Jesus, preached the Gospel for 30 years. This is documented evidence. After 30 years he went back to visit Rome, where they remembered him and beheaded him. Tale is his bones washed on the Spanish coast at Muxia, and are now at the cathedral in Santiago. It's a longer story than this, of course.

Acorns fall about me in the breeze.
Yellow leaves herald the beginning of fall.
Blossoms of purple heather with yellow gorse blooms amongst them, much like England and Ireland.
Etched in concrete or an outdoor, common laundry structure for the village hand washing is the date 1987. A small stream is directed through it.
Yellow arrows guide pilgrims to Santiago.  They are every 20 to 50 feet, perhaps on a fence, the road, a rock, a telephone pole. It is great entertainment looking for them, hoping I did not miss one.  But I do occasionally and a local person shouts to me and waves me in the other direction. I am sure I provide great entertainment for them.

Day 25, Portomarina to Palas Dei Rei, Spain Oct. 4

14 miles, 1,350 ascent, 400 ft. descent.

Beautiful day of walking. I feel so good and love my new boots.
Traditional woven and thatched corn crib for maize
Working windmills creak.

Invited into a caravan camper for tea by Englishman John Frances, a trail angel offering aid, water, tea or temporary or permanent travel companion!!!! Later when visiting with another pilgrim, we compared notes and she was offered the same. He has been trolling the El Camino for eight years and people have written about the aid he offered to them on the trail and photographed him. He is almost a fixture, but one with a mission.  He was still looking for his travel companion when I left him, in case you are wondering.

Stayed in a new albergue, built by the local municipality, for 3 Euros. The pilgrim menu of salad, boiled potatoes and fried fish and flan was delicious as always. 9 Euros.

Day 25, Barbadelo to Portomarna, Spain, Oct. 3, 2008

12 miles, 1,700 ascent and 2,000 descent. 8 am to 12:30 pm

Cool, lovely walking day.
Crowing roosters
Hamlets of old stone farms
Wicker corn crib with thatched roof
Stone corn cribs, raised on stone pillars
Tiny chapels
Clucking hens
Vegetable gardens
Traditional dress of locals, all women wear skits, with smocks over them.
Ripe, green acorns fall on me occasionally.
Ripe blackberries, just like I pick in Oregon.

The French pilgrim hands me a nectarine gift as I sketch on the trail and he passes me by. We have been leap-frogging down the trail for days now.

Stayed in Pension Manuel for 20 Euros. A friendly older couple welcomed me, showed me the cooking stove in the cement patio. The sheets are threadbare and I share a bathroom. But no one else comes, so it is all mine.  I buy chicken, spaghetti and salad makings at the market and fix my own dinner. Had later afternoon wine at a bar, a glass for 80 cents.

Day 24, Triacastle to Barbadelo, Spain, Oct. 2, 2008

15 miles, not much ascent, mostly easy descent on ancient paths lined with chestnut trees.
7:50 am to 4 pm

Fabulous day of walking.
Beautiful, green country looks like England.  
Met Wilson again, good visit with Wilson about life.
The stone pathway, called a corredoira, is lined with ancient, huge chestnuts and oaks.

In Paiscais, a tiny village, I stopped to relax, eat, and stroll through the graveyard surrounding the church.  It was here that the unbidden and somehow fascinating thought came to me, "When I die, I will be tired of my body. I won't miss it." I had just never thought about my death like that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 23, Las Herrerias to Triacastle, Spain. Oct. 1

16 miles, 1,300 feet ascent and descent. 7:30 am to 3:30 pm

Begin with a steep grade along a stream.
Emerald green fields, trees along the stream. Cows taken out to graze for the day by an older man or woman. 
Another day of walking with Roberto. "Good companions make short miles."
His girlfriend is still calling to complain about the cold weather in Italy, where she has moved to study.  But his phone is going on the blink. Hopefully, soon it will quit working altogether.
Over the pass in a mist. Coffee break in an ancient village. Order something on the menu and it turns out to be a wonderful egg sandwich. Two thick slabs of brown bread with scrambled eggs, cooked solid, in the middle. It is delicious, but I can only eat half and take the other half for a snack later.
Stone houses with slate roofs.
Down into an alpine valley with chestnut woods.
Through farmyards guarded by German Shepard dogs. The dogs are not tied and pay no attention to us.
Recognize many pilgrims and meet new ones. Conversations start out the same, Where are you from? When and where did you start? Then when we know each other better, Why are you walking hundreds of miles to Santiago, Spain? 

I will walk 555 miles before I am done. I enjoy walking and like to experience a country and the culture on my two feet.

Hostal is 3 Euros, in a new facility along the stream. The priest runs it and has a special mass to pray for pilgrims at 7 pm, which I attend. I am continually surprised at how touching these are. 
Dinner at a small cafe is 8 Euros for salad, french fries, pork, flan for dessert and a beaker of local wine.  

Day 22, Cacabelos to Los Herrerias, Sept 30, 2008

17 miles, 1, 500 ft. ascent, 8 am to 3 pm

Gorgeous fall day with blue skies. Leaves are starting to turn to yellows and reds.
Climbing into the Sierra de Ancares mountains.
Women in peasant garb in trucks going out to pick grapes, wearing peasant scarves and dresses.
In the mountains a woman in a traditional black dress, scarf, tanned and weathered face herding big blonde milk cows with bells around their necks. Nice sounds.

Coffee break at 10 am in Villafranca over looking a river with an arched Roman bridge, castle, churches and medieval village. Sit in the sun with my new walking companion, a young Spaniard named Roberto. He walks fast also and we enjoy the day visiting about life, his girlfriend he is trying to forget. But she calls him on his cell phone several times to complain about her new life as a student in Italy. He looks totally miserable. Some young women, beautiful pilgrims, try to engage him in conversation at coffee and he is only polite to them. 

Instead of choosing the route along the bottom of the valley, we go up into the mountain and descend about six miles. Beautiful chestnut forests on top, with some great views. An elderly woman herding her milk cows.

Stay in the tiny village of Las Herrerias. Hostel is 5 Euros. There are only 5 Pilgrims here but one man snores outrageously loud. Fortunately, he went to sleep in another room. Dinner of a mixed salad, three delicious fried fish, probably sardines, cheesecake and wine for 7.5 Euros.

Day 21, El Acebo to Cacabelos, Spain, Sept. 29

18 miles, 1,300 ft. descent, 8:15 am to 5 pm  I buy NEW BOOTS.

The view down the mountain into Ponferrada from the Leon mountains is spectacular.
It feels schizophrenic to walk from the "time stood still" village yesterday into a town with two nuclear power plant stacks today, only 11 miles away.

Walking down into Ponferrada, an medieval town with a large cobblestone shopping area, I find a sport shop.  But their boots feel narrow and the toe box seem small.  Yesterday an Australian couple recommended Keen boots and sandals, which had solved their foot problems. While perched on a stone water trough for animals in the mountains, I had been dipping my feet in the icy water while enjoying the sunshine. And getting a little siesta as other pilgrims walked by in amusement. They stopped to rest and chat about life. Which is one thing I love on this trip.

Coming into Ponferrada, I take a detour route to visit a Roman spring. It is still encased in the Roman's quarried stone and kept as a historical site. Plus I avoid an area of ugly suburban sprawl, instead entering through vineyards and older, charming homes with vegetable gardens and a few horses.

Surprising me as I come around a corner in Ponferrada, is a spectacular castle of the Knights of the Templar.  After the crusades to Jerusalem were over, they came here to guard the Pilgrim Way of St. James and protect the pilgrims from bandits and landowners who tried to make they pay to cross their lands. It looks like a movie set with a moat, flags flying and turrets.

In the pedestrian shopping area window shop, passing stores of the latest fashion, and catching my reflection of a hiker with a pack and shade hat in the window. Fashion is the farthest thing from my mind. I am after new boots.  Finally there is a shoe shop of cheap shoes and in the back are cheap hiking boots. They have lots of flex in the sole, a high top and I get the size 10 for only 31 Euros. The women helping me speak no English and my little Spanish is not helpful, but it works. My size 8 boots, with the heel now worn down, go in their garbage. 

Leaving town through the modern suburb on the street El Liberty with a plaza named Marteo Luthero King Jr. reminds me America's struggles for freedom and justice affects the whole world. Stop for a siesta on a park bench beside a cemetery. Pass through many vineyards and popular groves. Flat walking on shaded sidewalks through sleepy villages and flat countryside.
Nine miles in my boots and I feel much, much better.

All locals give or return a greeting of Hola or Beunos Dias. Heads tip up, instead of down, in greeting. 

Stay at an old farm, now a very nice touristy accommodation for conventions, but I am charmed, tired and willing to pay to stay. The farm implements, from threshers to spinning wheels are displayed. Plus I get to see how the farm houses were set up. Big wooden and stone walls encircle a barnyard,  gardens and outside living area.  Plus they restored the traditional round stone dwelling with thatched roof. Food is local and hardy. Empanada of pie dough filled with potato and ham, served with local wine when checking in and again at dinner. More boiled potatoes for dinner, a salad and thick pork steaks and flan for dessert. Visit with two German pilgrims at dinner. They just met and are from adjoining villages.  While the room is very nice, I don't sleep better than in a dormitory and miss the companionship.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 20, Murias to El Acebo, Sept. 28, 2008

19 miles, 1,300 ft. ascent and 1,000 ft. descent on trails through countryside and forested mountain. 

Blue skies, nice trails, some road.
This is Maragato country of Celtic origins. The people are Maragato, one of the four ethnic groups. One Pilgrim remarks the buildings look like those in the Lake District in England and I agree. Probably they came from that area of the world, being Celtic.

I pass into the Leon region. The dogs have changed, now they are the big yellow Leon Mastiff guard dogs. As big as and similar to a St. Bernard. They are all loose, but they ignore everyone, and simply watch the sheep closely.  One wanders down the main street of a village and a local man tries to move her to one side, without success. She wanders off and looks like she has puppies somewhere.

Black, short hair dogs work the sheep while the Mastiffs sit and watch them all.

Pass through a village of most ruins, some have old thatched roofs.
Big, blonde milk cows in the field with a ruin of a large, stone arch, now free standing.

Pass an old man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.
As one Pilgrim put it, Time has stood still here.
There is a traditional round house of stones with a thatched roof.

Stay at the first place I came to in El Acebo, a casa rural for 35 Euros.  Very charming with a porch and spectacular view over the valley. And beer in the fridge. Wander down into the village for dinner, 10 Euros.  Ordered the local dish of chick peas with a green leafy vegetable grown locally, potatoes and a round bundle of salty pork parts wrapped in skin, called Bierzo and lemon mousse.  They are very proud of this local dish.  It was enough to stuff me and I eat a lot. All dinners include all the local wine you can drink. Water costs extra!
Visit with Norweigns and Aussies at dinner.  

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day 19, Hospital de Orbigo to Murias, Spain, Sept 27

12 miles, 600 feet ascent. 7:15 to 1:30 pm

My feet are killing me today. I am battling large blisters, draining them with a needle every night and putting blister pads on them.

Today is my day! In spite of my feet, I am joyous.
At 10 am there are church bells in the distance.
"Good speed is your speed." is painted on a sign, surely an encouragement to pilgrims.

This morning I dwaddled over my tea in the kitchen, as it was still dark. Wilson quickly ate his breakfast, was ready to go and asked for my email address so we can stay in touch. He was thinking would not see me again. He left.

I took my, but it was pretty dark at 7:30 am, so I took the alternate and more direct trail along the road instead of wending through the woods.

Gorgeous sunrise over the rolling green countryside.
Passed a huge barn guarded by three barking black labradors while at least three German Shepards lazed in the sun. I was not even close to the barn, but the labradors were doing a great job this early.

By 9:30 am I stopped for coffee with milk and sugar at a small village.  Visited with two German women doing parts of the El Camino a second time.  Who should come in but my Brazlian friend, Wilson.  He stared at me and said TYLER, HOW did you get here?  After a few minutes he figured out I did not use the magic carpet as claimed, but took the shorter route along the highway.  We laughed and laughed.  Then I finished my coffee and left, somehow without seeing him or saying goodbye. Must have both been in the restroom.

Two hours later I am perched at top the steps to a cross over looking the valley and city of Astorga.  Airing my barefeet in the sunshine, enjoying the view when here come the two German women from the cafe.  They laugh as Wilson had seen them on the trail and asked where I was.  They told him she is up ahead, sticking out her tongue at you and saying nana-nana-boo-boo.
And who comes down the trail but Wilson, calling out Tyler, WHAT are you doing? WHY are you still ahead of me.  We laugh again. He goes on and I pull on my boots and head down into Astorga. 

This is a beautiful medieval town once surrounded by a wall, which  has a walk way and I stop for a snack, overlooking the country.  Walk down cobblestone streets to a palace and the cathedral. Large bus loads of tourists gather with guides.  In the cafe overlooking the palace, I use the restroom and order meatballs for lunch. What a beautiful town but I am not a tourist and my feet ache and I am not up for looking inside the buildings, so I pick up a chocolate bar with almonds for the road.

Just outside of town there is a tiny chapel where pilgrims have stopped, some to avoid the tourists at the cathedral, for a rest or holy moment.  Who is there but Wilson.  We laugh at meeting each other again and walk and talk for about an hour.

Stopping at a hacienda-type hostel, we go in for a soda, I got a Coke, and visit.  It is run by a Brazilian, they serve a Brazilian dinner and it is super clean and charming with a yard in the back for hanging laundry, a washboard as part of the sink and great big clean showers are restrooms.  The dormitory is also huge.  I stay and Wilson goes on. He refuses to say goodbye as he is sure we will meet again.

A French Pilgrim visits with me about my sore feet. He recommends boots two sizes larger and wiping out the salt sweat from the boots immediately after removing them.  In two days I will pass through a town large enough to have boots. It's the first I have heard about wiping out boots, but it might be a good idea.

Dinner was lentils, rice and deviled eggs and no dessert. It was very plain with no spices. Wilson later told me this is very authentic Brazilian cooking.  It was good and filling. Dined with a young Spanish married couple bicycling the route.  He had good English and said it is not fun. They cycled 75 kilometers today and did 150 yesterday. Some roads are busy with traffic, off the walker's route.  Some are cobblestone they share with us walkers and I can see their head bobbing as they tackle the stones.  He says it is crazy. It is cold when they go out in the morning, and they are not allowed into the hostels until 8 pm, giving all those walking first chance to get a bed. Plus bicyclists do not always give walkers warning on the trails and we have to get out of their way quickly as they speed by us. I was smugly satisfied to hear it was as miserable as it looked.

Hostel 7 Euros, dinner 9 Euros.

Day 18, Leon to Hospital de Orbigo, Spain Sept 26.

23 miles, pretty flat. On the trail at 7:10 am, wandering through Leon with Jan, in search of the trail out of town. I decided to take a detour along the river. It is pitch dark and I am so glad Jan is with me, but I do wish she would stop cursing when I lose the way!!

By the time it is light, about 8:30 am, and we are out of town, she is very slow from the huge blisters all over her feet. She tells me to go on ahead, which I do, whistling off to find some coffee in a cafe in the first village.

Meet my first Leon Mastiffs, looking down an embankment at them. Three of them are guarding a large corral of cows. They look like St. Banairds, but the coloring is like a yellow labrador. Is all their loud barking at me?

Pass fields of cut grain, corn or maze fields, beans, potatos, sugar beets and apple orchards. Bamboo grows along the irrigating ditches. A small pond near a village has two ducks floating in the middle. I stop for a closer look, then realize they are wooden and tethered. It is a funny joke on me.

My hostel tonight is in the home of a local priest, 4 euros.
The architecture has changed. All the homes are now quarried stone in old villages, which are not separate home at all. The village is lined with walls that have doors and windows. But it is impossible to tell where one home ends and the other begins. Entering the priest's, the first place is an inner courtyard with the old water well, a nice flower garden. It is enclosed with a two-story window structure that overlooks the courtyard. The balcony overhangs, providing a sheltered area around the perimeter. The back of the courtyard opens into a small field, where they have built a dorimitory for pilgrims, a washing area, clothes lines, showers and toilets. There is a kitchen for us and a computer with DSL for free. This is very nice.

I do the usual, shower, wash my clothes, take a siesta. And who comes in but Wilson. We laugh and laugh that we keep running into each others. Dinner is communal in the garden area picnic tables with Italians, French, a Canadian, a Brazilian, and I am the only American.

Day 17, Mansilla to Leon, Spail, Sept. 25, 2008

17 miles, 300 feet ascent. Feel good.

"Free Leonese Country" is spray painted on advertising signs.
Yesterday I crossed the border into the Leonese region of Spain.
Fall tint of red and yellow in leaves.

Checked into the Benedictine Convent and was warmly greeted by a nun. Payment is on a donation basis. They separate the women from the men. It doesn't matter, as I am sure the women snore as much and as loudly as the men. I have only woken myself up once snoring, so I am part of the chorus. The bathrooms are big, clean and have hot water and a washboard type sink for washing clothes, which are hung in the courtyard to dry. The metal bunk beds are all white as are the threadbare sheets on them. It looks like an olden hospital ward or lunatic asylum.

With Jan, the Canadian woman, I explored the cathedral, crypt, and a museum chock full of medieval, leather bound, vellum books. Some were open for display. It was incredible.

We happened upon a massage office and went up for a massage from a handsome Spanish man. He was in his 30's, stocky, curly black hair and a nice big smile. Jan went first as she was having shoulder problems, thinking her backpack is too heavy, perhaps. After her 30-minute for 30 euro massage, he worked on my feet.

I told him of my blisters and that they ached at night. He said when people walk on the flat, hard surfaces, their feet spread. It is more, and was more, comfortable walking in the mountains. Plus I had walked 84 miles across England before coming to Spain. But the terrain was often soft fields and fewer miles each day. His recommendation was to soak my feet in hot water with two aspirins dissolved in it. Then he put a hand on each foot, bowed his head and God only knows what he was doing for a moment of silence over my feet. Oh well, it did feel better. Upon leaving, I thanked him and extended my hand. He came closer and kissed each cheek. I love Spain!

Dinner with Jan and Wilson in the town square.
Evening prayer with the nuns at 9:30 pm. They lock the doors at 9:30 pm, so you had better be in by then. The chapel, the nuns singing and praying was beautiful. The oldest nun prayed for us, the pilgrims, at the end and it was translated into English. It was very touching and I would never have been able to see the chapel and nuns without staying at this convent.

Day 16, Sahagun to Mansilla, Sept. 24, Spain

22 miles, flat. 8 am to 3:30 pm.

Fabulous fall day with blue sky and light breeze.
Plains of Spain are covered with yellow fields of grain stubble.
Sunflowers in the fields look at the ground, at the end of their bloom.
Mountain to the north, along the coast, are visible.
Picnic lunch of salami, cheese and bread, peach and chocolate and almond bar.
Storks nest on church steeples.
Walk on a nice dirt road, shaded by long rows of young beeches. They look planted just for giving the pilgrims shade.

Pilgrims on bicycles zip by me on the road adjacent to the nice trail. I think unpilgrim-like thoughts about them.
About 3 pm a woman on a bicycle, coming from a garden, gave me six big ripe tomatoes! I ate one immediately and shared the others at the hostal. They were delicious. Nothing like this would happen to a bicyclist. They go too fast.
Pass an open warehouse with a front loader filled with old bread loaves.

Walking in town past a bar window, I see the cyclists inside sipping beer. Unpilgrim-like thoughts return, but then I spitefully remember my fresh tomatoes and they don't have any.

Checked into the old hostal, with charming slanting well-worn wooden floors. Hand-washed my hiking clothes, hung them to dry in the courtyard, which was enclosed. The walls and windows sported baskets of red geraniums. It was lovely. Took a short siesta, visited with a roommate, a young man from Korea who was also resting. Three English women were chatting, but left so others could doze.

Then I went out to explore the little town. Passing through the old stone walls coming in, I decided it needed further investigation. Much of the wall is left, although not intact. The stones are all round brownish-gold river rocks. The town has spread beyond the walls, which is bordered by a walking path and lit at night.

I went in a spectacular Ethnological Museum, at a special pilgrim price of 1 euro. There were no other pilgrims there. Thankfully, each display had an English version. Local traditions, farm implements, peasant clothing for dress and everyday work, musical instruments, pictures of old farm structures, videos of traditional dances and music were treated as though they were jewels, being dispayed in glass cases. My favorite part was the display and photos of the four different ethnological groups of people in northern Spain. In some villages I noticed the people looked distincly alike and it gave an explantion why and where some originated from.

Hostal 4 Euros and dinner was 10 Euros.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Day 15, Calzadillo to Sahagun, Spain

13 miles, fairly flat terrain. 7:30 to 11:30 am.

Highlights of the day:
*Hovering kestrel hawk over the harvested grain field.
*Blue sky, light breeze, cool. Delightful path through open country.
*Caffe con latte with sugar and crossiant mid-morning. Things I NEVER have at home. Coffee upsets my stomach, sugar is bad and a crossiant is way too bad.
*Medieval leper hospital has picnic tables on the lawn, a good resting place for a picnic lunch. A Roman built bridge takes us to the ancient hospital,  now closed.

Hostal in Sahagun is a 16th century chapel, for 4 Euros. Dinner across the street for 10 Euros, with a Spanish pilgrim.

Day 14, Formista to Caleadilla, Spain

22 miles, flat. 7:30 to 4 pm.

Lovely walk through the country side.
Birds flocking and chirping.
Fields of maze, sunflowers and harvested grain.
Stop for a snack on the lawn of an old Abbey.
Two motorized wheel chairs whip by me on the stone road. Now that would be a rough ride.
Lunch in the village of Carrion. Potato tortilla, red pepper and anchovies, beer and get a chocolate bar for the road.

Dinner, surprisingly good at the only restaurant in town, who are feeding a large group tonight. The server is from Marrakech, Morocco. Dined with three German men, a young Russian bicyclist on his own, my Brazilian friend Wilson and the Scotsman Robert. I was pretty close to heaven.

Day 13, Castrojeruz to Formista, Spain, Sept. 21, 2008

15 miles, 400 ft. ascent and descent.

Started out just before it got light. Left the village on a dirt road between two barns, going into the countryside. A Scotsman, Robert, joined me at we headed out of town. He was chatty and good walking company for a few days. Not as fast as Peter was yesterday, but I don't need to walk that fast every day.

The road headed up a ridge and I could see several pilgrims going up, about 400 feet, through the farm lands of harvested grain. Several fields had big round bales of straw, waiting to be picked up and hauled away to storage. It was getting lighter every step.

Upon reaching the top of the ridge, the sun began coming over the eastern horizon, beyond the hill with the castle ruins.  Several of us pilgrims had reached this spot to watch the spectacle of the sunrise.  Bright red and yellow sun rays spilled out from beyond the distant mountain range to coat the castle ruins, then illuminate the valley.  When it was all light, I finally turned to back to the trail, now downhill.

Stopped for mid-morning coffee and a stroll through a tiny village. There were many round dove lofts, or dove cottages, falling into ruin.  Along the stream was a huge shelter with red Spanish tile roof, open sides with arches and all painted white.  Upon investigation, it contained a several cement wash boards, with a stream running through it. This is where community happened!  Later I saw a plainer wash house version in cement dated 1987 etched across the top. Oh, perhaps that is why the world regarded Spain as backward for so many years.

Strangely enough, there was helicopter over head. When I lived in Billings, Montana, that always meant a rescue, as the helicopter picked up an injured person and flew them to the hospital.  A few days later we learned from a pilgrim, who happened to be a nurse, that as she got to the top of the ridge, took in the view of the castle and country, then turned to go another pilgrim, a middle-age man who stopped to rest, fell down dead.  She tried to revive him, but could not.  That helicopter was for him. It was very sad.

Nearing Formista, the walk is along a canal and poplars line the path. Stopped for a beer at lunch and then walked more. 

Every day has beautiful weather, chilly in the morning, but warming by about 9 am. No rain, yet. I love walking every day an eat everything for dinner, which is usually three courses. Lots of potatoes are on the menu and I get the french fries and flan for dessert. The calorie burn is so great!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day 12, Tardajos to Castrojeriz, Spain

18 miles, 750 feet of ascent. 7:15 am to 2:30 pm.

Spent the day walking and talking with Peter, who started walking from his home in Nuremburg, Germany on July 2. He has walked across part of Germany, all across Switzerland and France. He is a fast walker and we had lots of fun talking all day.  "Good companions make short miles."  In his late 30's he is a contract employee of a software firm and is between contracts, so he has this time. His wife, Amy, is at home working.

We part at 2 pm, over a beer. Peter is walking six more miles, but I have had enough for today.

Get checked in, wash my clothes, take a siesta and stroll up to the castle ruins on the hill overlooking the town. The restaurant has many old farm implements on display.

Day 11, Atapuerca to Tardajos, Spain

15 miles, 450 ft. ascent. 7:30 am to 4:45 pm.

*Walk into Burgos with Canadian woman, Jan. Chatting with her made the trek through the industrial and ugly apartments on the outskirts just bearable. Looking back, this two and half hour stretch was the worst. Everyone else said it was hard for them too. Perhaps it was because we had come out of the glorious countryside, through a lovely forest on nice dirt roads. The hard, flat sidewalk, four lanes of truck traffic and industry was a mental test, as one pilgrim put it.

*El Cid's tomb and the cathedral at Burgos are thrilling. It is a World Heritage site. Toured the cathedral, walked around the outside. Truly spectacular.

*Late afternoon I walked on, along the river bottom to a tiny town, Tardjos. The hostel was on a donation basis.
*John Deere tractors in the fields and main street of the small towns.
*Moorish influence in the arched doorways and "Hand of Fatima" door knockers.
*Iron rings in the stone walls, once used to tie up horses.

Dinner with Anne, a Danish woman and several Canadians.

Day 10, September 18, Belorado to Atapuera, Spain

18 miles. 1,300 ft. ascent. 8 am to 3:30 pm.

Walk up and through Montes de Oca.
Pine forests to rolling countryside. Peaceful.
Bells jingle on cows.
Lunch with Spanish friends, a local dish of blood and rice and sausage. It was very good! They are leaving tomorrow and I will not see them again.
Met Jan Bryant on the trail. She is also from Eugene and works at Sacred Heart as a traveling nurse. She had heard of my business, Walk With Me.

Hostel in Atapuera is 7 Euros in a new pre-fab building. It is nice and clean. 
Walked to the local archeological museum and a Pre-historic Park. There is a famous dig quite near where early human bones are preserved. The park reproduces the cave drawings found near here. Once a rhino lived here, as well as the wild bulls. It is all very interesting and educational, making it fun to walk through the country side and imagine wild bulls behind the trees.

Dinner with my new friends Dayon, a young woman from Nigeria studying in Germany to be a German teacher, and Wilson, a 35-year old man from Brazil.

Day 9, September 17, Santa Domingo to Beldorado

13 miles, 600 ft. elevation gain, 8:30 to 2 pm. Stop for coffee, lunch, snacks, a siesta on a bench and visit the small churches for a brief moment.

*Rolling hills, harvested farmland. Cross the border from La Rioja into Castilla, Leon. 
*Architecture changes. Vineyards are gone, now farmland.
*Motorists honk and wave at us, the pilgrims. It feels good.
*Buzzards, as in a HUGE flock, circle a farm building.
*A Dubliner plays his pipe, like a flute, in churches in the small villages. Fantastic to sit and listen, or hear as I pass by.
*Visit with an Irishman and others on the trail. It helps pass the time and is interesting.
*See the famous and old baptismal font at Redecilla.
*Walk through Tenth century villages built to house and support the pilgrims.

Day 8. September 16, Najera to Santa Domingo, Spain

13 miles, 800 feet ascent, 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

First night of the bull fights

I met Flor, the receptionist, at 5 pm in the lobby. She was off work, her 7-year old neighbor girl by the hand and we went downstairs to have a beer. Flor insisted on buying and got the little girl a treat, too. She told me why she had offered to go with me to the bull fight.
As a immigrant worker, living alone, she knows what it is like to be in a strange country as a single woman. Since she came to Spain a few years ago, she has learned enough Spanish, English, French and German to work at the reception desk instead of in the kitchen. I asked how he got to the little village in Spain. It seems she has a woman friend who married, and came here and invited her to come, too.

She made a phone call on her cell phone, then we went out to the bull fight. We walked up the block, around the corner, where there was a portable metal bull ring set up. This is not the old part of town, with large adobe-type apartment buildings. That is across the river and truly charming with cobble stone streets, old quarried red stone buildings and spectacular churches.

Standing on the corner for a few minutes, we waited for her friends to join us.  These two women worked in the restaurant of the hotel and were about the same age, early 30's.  But not nearly as attractive as Flor, who has the latest frosted blonde hair style and beautiful make up. She tells me she doesn't like the bull fights, but they are the culture. 

There are four nights of fights. Tonight, the first night, is for amateurs. There are no capes, matadors, or killing of the bulls.  The ring fills with young men, picking their defense. Some are in the two stacks of huge tractor tires stacked three high. A pickup truck drags in and drops a small grand stand with about 6 steps and about 20 feet long in the center between the tire stacks.  The ring itself has a metal bar about 18 inches off the ground that runs around the entire ring.   It is a toehold for the men to step on as they vault over the high wall to escape the raging bulls. On the other side of the inner wall is an alley, then the wall on the grandstands. We sit three seats up from this wall. Great view.

Raging bull is not an exaggeration. The first animal charges in, not a big one, but the horns are formidable, arching up and out and with sharp points. Reaching the center of the ring, it pauses, not sure what is happening.  All the animals are allowed only one time in the ring, by order of the pope in 1063 (or so).  Bulls quickly figure out there is a man behind the cape and if they are not killed in 15 minutes, they are taken from the ring and slaughtered outside. Otherwise, they charge the person directly. One bull killed 16 people and wounded several before the Pope had to make a decree. I guess the locals needed a really higher authority to control the killing by the bulls.

But tonight there are only young men hanging from the side and the tires. At first the bull blasts the ring, trying to catch an amateur. After a few minutes, the bull tires, standing and staring. Now the young men come out a little farther, and the bull charges them.  One man jumps up, tucking his feet up under him, and the bull passes under him. It was fantastic to watch. Some leap for the ring wall. But some brave men cleverly make a simple side step, with the bull's horns passing by their knees and it passes. I guess the bull cannot turn that quickly on himself.
The bull gets slower and the young men braver. After about 15 minutes, a huge old blonde granddaddy bull, with great horns and a big bell around the neck enters, the young bull goes directly to him and they are herded out of the ring together.

The next bull comes in so fast I let out a yelp. It goes directly to the stack of tires, butting it and almost dislodging the stack.  I can see the men inside.  When the bull turns to the other stack, all evacuate and go to the sides, putting a hand on top of the wall, ready to vault over quickly.
This animal is not a bull at all, but a female. It acts as deadly and is very fast. One man makes spectacular jumps onto and off the top of the tire stack. Flor points him out, saying he is Pakistani.  I had noticed several women in traditional Muslim dress and she says they have a community of Pakistanis in Najera. The animal leaves with the granddaddy, easily and quickly.

When the next bull entered, it went to its right, tilting its head toward the wall of the ring, so the tip of the horn nearly brushed against the wall.  Since the previous animal headed straight to the tire stack in the center, the men were now all against the wall. The bull ran around the entire ring with its horn tilted to the wall and the men vaulted over the wall with breath-taking speed, like dominos. Tired, the bull went to the center and the men teased her.  The Pakistani, who was very tall and slender, enticed the bull to charge him. Instead of side stepping away from the horns, the man leapt up, spreading his legs and the bull passed under.  It stopped abruptly and stared at where the man should have been.  It was so comical we all laughed.

In all, there were six animals, teased by the young men, then ushered out by the granddaddy bull.  Each time their fast charge into the ring and deadly aim for the men made me yelp in fear. I have never seen any animal so vicious. Not surprising, as these are wild bulls and don't compare to my Dad's domestic Hereford bulls at the ranch in Wyoming.

Flor told me some of her story as we waited for the next bull to enter. She is from Romania, but  has no family there.  These Spanish people are now her people. She is welcome in their community, the neighbors are kind and the little girl is like her little sister. Flor tells me her two friends would like to talk to me, but they have no English. And my biggest regret the entire trip is I was too lazy to learn more than a few phrases of Spanish before coming. 

By 7 pm the fights are over. I go back to the hotel for dinner and Flor heads home. I am going to figure out a way to walk tomorrow and return to see the first night of the real bull fight. Flor says these are not the good fighters. The best fighters are the fourth and final night. But I will be three days down the trail by then.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day 7, September 15, 2008

This hat I bought the second day on the trail, as the first one blew away in the mountains. It is looking well worn, as I stuff it in my pack until I really need it.

Logrono to Najera
7:30 am to 2 pm.

See many familiar faces on the pilgrim trail today. We all greet each other with "Buen Camino", meaning good path.
Met a new South Korean woman and young Japanese man.

At ten a.m., sit on sun on steps, sharing snacks with a young Spanish couple and the South Korean woman, of licorice, apple, nuts, cheese. The young Spaniard asks, "Can I marry you?" He thinks I am rich to have a month in Spain! Ha, Ha! Good thing his girlfriend cannot understand English.

Then I walk up the steps to visit the local church, which has a carved alter piece covered in gold. Put 1 Euro in the box and it is illuminated. Met a couple from California there, doing an auto tour of the Camino.

Cover my blisters with blister pads. Wear my lighter WrightSocks. Feel good today.

Saw a rebuilt conical stone hut. It has a bench all around the inside and one small window, opposite the door. There are several ruins of these huts along the trail. Were they tombs, shelters for sheepherders or farmers?

A great battle was fought on a snall knoll along the trail. Roland, the Christian, killed the giant Muslim here, which marked the beginning of the demise of Islam here.

Pass lots of vineyards today with dark purple grapes and some light green ones.
Almonds falling to the ground from trees.
Lots of huge, furry caterpillars on the path.
Purple fall crocus.

Around a beautiful lake: Black ducks, fishermen, big, sucker-type fish visible from the bridge.
Stay at San Fernando Hotel, 35 Euros. I am not yet into the hostels.

Asked the receptionist about the bull fight poster ad I saw. Is it tonight and where is it?
Are you alone? She asks. Yes I am. Come at 5 pm and I will go with you to the bull right. It is very close.

Day 6, September 14, 2008

Los Arcos to Logrono
15 miles, 7 am to 1 pm

I feel better today. Recognize people from yesterday.

Ate grapes from vineyard, a couple of ripe figs.
A bad was playing in a village.
Fields of olive trees, and big, gold and round baled hay.
Fig trees and bamboo in ditches.
Hills remind me of Wyoming, as they are dry.

Pilgrim hostal in Logrono. 3 Euros

Day 5, September 13, 2008

Irache to Los Arcos
10 miles, 600 ft. ascent
8:30 a.m. to noon

Cloudy, breezy day, pleasant walking through rolling countryside.

Castle on hill. Moorish fountain.
Huge, round bales of golden hay.
Ripe, black grapes in vineyards along path.
Bamboo in ravines.
Ripe blackberries.
Pines, olive groves.

Chatted with English couple from Yorkshire again.

Stayed at Pension Mali, 35 Euros.
My feet ache and are blistered!

Wine in the main plaza in the afternoon sun.
Visited the Santa Maria Church.
Attended the Pilgrim mass at 8 pm.
Many people there, mostly older, and several other pilgrims.
The church was then illuminated. One of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with a gold altar piece and spectacular paintings. It is nice to see the works or art where they belong, in a church, instead of a museum.

Dinner with pilgrim Anna, a 30ish Spanish woman I met on the trail. 10Euros

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 4 on my El Camino

September 12, 2008, Friday
13 miles, 1, 072 ft. ascent.
Puente La Reina to Frache
8:30 am to 3:30 pm
Cloudy, breeze, cool walking, but a coat is not necessary.

Hilltown appears on the horizon, Maneru. It reminds me of Italy with the church in the middle, surrounded by homes with red tile roofs and vineyards with black grapes leading us to the village.

The path takes us directly through the town, as it was actually built to take care of pilgrims in the 1070´s. Narrow, winding streets and old buildings. Totally charming.

Stopped by a cafe and visited with an older couple from Yorkshire, England, in the sunshine.
Walked over a Roman road and a bridge built by the Romans.
Past two huge monasteries and a hermitage built to help pilgrims in 1060.
Visited with two Australian women from Tasmania.

Next to the medieval hermitage is a wine cellar with special offerings for Pilgrims, a fountain of both water the wine.
Had a little wine here, it was good. And about half a mile later found the most expensive hotel to stay in. I just could not continue on to the Pilgrim hostel.... One man was asleep on the bench at the wine fountain, another had a burro and stopped there, too.

Now that was a fun day.

Day 3, El Camino into Pamplona

From Villava, through Pampalona, to Puente La Riena
15 miles, 1, 150 ft. ascent. Leave 7ish, arrive at 4:30 pm.

Arrived in Pampalona about 10, though once the Basque capital Iruna. All signs are in both Spanish and Basque.
Walk into Pampalona along the river path, passing pens of horses, cattle and gardens.
Up into the huge fortress, across a moat, drawbridge to the cathedral and old, medieval buildings.
Find the Plaza de Toros, photograph Ernest Hemingway´s statue in front of it.
Stroll down the street where the bulls are run, there are photos of it in the shops.
Meet and walk with a couple from California and a woman from Denmark.

Mail my camping equipment home. It is something I will not use, campgrounds are hard to find, a little ways out of town, it rained one night, sometimes it is cold, it is too heavy, and so on. The accommodations of hostels and hotels are plentiful and that is fine.

Leave Pampalona through the university along the old fortress walls, into the countryside.
Sit on a bench on a hillside, sketching and counting four castles in the little villages.
At the Alto del Perdon pass is a metal sculpture of cutouts of pilgrims passing through the ages, starting with capes, donkeys, with dogs, and onto modern dress. There is also a large cross, as there is almost at every cross roads. Get a bicyclist to take my photo.

Fields of sunflowers, asparagus, beans, potatos and small gardens. Walk through small villages. Every one has a water fountain. The water is good and cold.

Stay in a nice hotel and watch the tributes in Spain and the USA to the September 11 victims. It is sad.

It is a cool, cloudy, breezy day. Perfect for walking. I love it.