Thanks for the memories!
It is impossible to adequately describe the Camino, this unique mix of contemporary reality and historic legend crossing northern Spain. Walking past extraordinary structures or humble abodes, breathtaking vistas or chaotic sprawl, magnificent sculptures or simple symbols the actual topography and weather often dominate your immediate reactions as a pilgrim. Is the Camino going uphill? Sliding down on scree? Crossing water? How fast is the traffic? How thick is the mud? Is it raining? Will the ice melt? How deep is the snow? Can I see through the storm? What is tomorrow's forecast? When can I sit? Luckily this complex blend of banal and superb is often tempered by the gracious kindnesses of strangers along the way who offer smiles, water, conversation, help and hospitality.
Each page of this Camino Gazetteer recounts a mix of personal memories. All are precious to me. Some of my most vivid recollections of natural events, man-made sites, and, of course, human interaction are highlighted directly below. To read all posts follow my route by clicking on the Home tab and choose any place name in the Blog Archive in the left column. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port starts my itinerary.
Vistas and landscape
S a Brazilian with whom I walked in 2006 said that I reminded him of his mother!! Half my age and trilingual in Portuguese, Spanish and English, he could be very humorous; when he imitated Dixie accents from the American South I shook with laughter as icy tears of amusement rolled down my cheeks. What a surreal situation it was! The oddity of the setting, the disparity in our lives as well as the heady mix of mundane, philosophic and absurd conversation resembled some play by Samuel Beckett! One might call it The Snow Job. ...Also in 2006 Rob, Tony and Cath who all worked for the British YHA walked with me from Sarria to Santiago and on to Finisterre. Our hearty pasta and friendly conversations shared in many albergue kitchens always cheered me up.
Such pleasant chance encounters and instant friendships are part of the Camino's serendipity! We share our journeys, hopes and fears. We often stop at the same bar for a coffee and sleep in the same co-ed dorm but in no sense do we move as a single force! Each of us creates his own pattern as he moves along.
And thus the Camino is composed of all pilgrims' patterns; the multitude of these individual units together form a whole. Our way has nothing to do with sending backpacks ahead, taking taxis or buses during rough patches, staying in heated hotel rooms or complaining. At the moment all of us are relieved and thankful to be out of the incessant rain and mud. We try to take it as it comes enjoying the good and bearing the bad. After all this is life. Thankful at the end of each day for simple shelter, a bed (preferably a bottom bunk for me), working toilet, hot shower, something to eat and if possible good companionship. Carpe diem!
Out of the rain 2010
Thinking in the rain 2014
The late autumn weather was dreadful; skies were grey and heavy with rain while the ocher landscape was thoroughly soaked. Puddles were everywhere, but pilgrims were few. Nor were the weekend pelotons out since this was hardly weather for easy biking.
For those who 'want to think things out' this IS the perfect moment. Few distractions impede your thought while the cold drip of rainwater on your face and the puddle-hidden path help keep you focused. You continue walking because you must in order to get warm, to have a meal or eventually to find a bunk for the night.
Dangerous cold 2010
Anita and I continued crossing the cold, bleak forest landscape to Vilaserio where we stayed in an old school which is now a minimal albergue. (The only alternative was to walk 20km further to the next accommodation.) The school had a toilet, shower, floor mattresses and NO heat! Outside it was sleeting; inside on tile floors the constant cold was hardly bearable! Of course I wore my woolly hat plus gloves to try to sleep, but there was no relief. Frankly I am surprised that we even made it through the night! By dawn a thin layer of treacherous ice stretched to the horizon outside.
Bitter winter weather 2006 and 2010
On the Camino the sun shone and sky was cobalt blue, but the temperature was below freezing and bitter cold. Although the path was flat, the wind was fierce. Treeless this immense Castillian plateau known as the Meseta must be hot as hell in summer, but it felt like the Klondike. S and I trudged 20 k across frozen mud and snowdrifts to Hornillos del Camino. Unheated, the municipal albergue was frigid, dismal and empty; at least there were blankets. An old farmer who lived nearby and served as hospitalero brought us cocoa powder and milk. We cooked pasta in the basement kitchen and crawled into our sleeping bags piled with blankets. Never in my life including the Canadian years have I spent the night in a colder interior space! Our breath hung suspended in the air!
It was a long cold slog in 2010 to the unheated municipal albergue at Villadangos del Páramo; the wind was brutal and rain teemed. The other pilgrims were a French couple traveling on bikes plus their two year old son who clad in a snowsuit rode in a enclosed little wagon pulled by his biking Daddy! Having been issued his own Credential, just like a grown-up, the little boy, too, was a bona fide pilgrim. His family had been traveling by bike throughout northern Europe including the wilds of Iceland for over one year and were vaguely headed towards north Africa after Santiago. It was fun to hear of their adventures and share their dreams. Nevertheless we all went to our bunks quite early in order to get warm or at least warmer! Luckily there were plenty of blankets available. By folding one in half and inserting my sleeping bag between the halves all was quite toasty. Wearing my 'evening dress' of socks, fleece pants, technical undershirt, and long-sleeved winter undershirt plus my woolly hat I was snug enough. However, I did dream enviously about that little boy's cozy snowsuit!
First blizzard February 2006
Second blizzard March 2009
Third blizzard November 2012
Delights of early spring 2009 in Galicia
Golden autumn days in 2013
Restorative early morning sunlight in 2014
The long hard 5 hour slog up the Valcarlos alternate route to Roncesvalles monastery was as always exhausting and seemingly endless. I was so pooped at night that I wondered if I could ever get off the bunk to continue!! Yet after fresh squeezed orange juice ( better than champagne) in the new morning's dramatic light going downhill was easy and my confidence while walking this sunlit trail returned.
Special places and people
During earlier Caminos I have always stayed here in simple accommodations which were very minimal in winter. Now however much has changed! An old wing of the vast complex has been handsomely rehabilitated into a splendid albergue sheltering well over 100 pilgrims. Sleek stainless steel kitchen, large dining areas, computer and wifi facilities plus a reading room are all available. A huge coed dorm is divided into cozy four bunk units. In mine were men from Japan, France and Germany. None had walked up but had arrived by taxi!!
Climbing up the Alto del Perdon
In 2012 all was pathless, churning mud on the infamous Alto de Perdon. Cold white fog hid any view as alone and thoroughly frightened I plodded on balancing with my invaluable walking stick. Almost by instinct precariously and repeatedly I slowly lifted each heavy mud-covered boot. At last on the windy summit I ate a chunk of chocolate and gulped some water. Rain poured down. Next began the even more hellish descent. Scree and multitudes of tennis ball size rocks covered the treacherous downward muddy path for the next few kilometers. Once again the walking stick was invaluable for balance and for probing to find solid footing.
Santa Maria de Eunate.
Villamayor de Monjardin.
Viloria de Rioja
San Juan de Ortega
Close to Léon
Amidst industrial sprawl a new pedestrian bridge carries pilgrims high above the auto-route. When I arrived in 2010 the wind was so terrific that at first I could NOT MOVE! Seeking help but seeing no other pilgrim I backed down the ramp and calmly walked into a nearby BMW car showroom. After I explained that I needed assistance to cross and that we had a BMW in France the slightly astonished but very elegant manager put on his coat and took my arm. Eventually we both made it across, wind-blown and breathless! With a casual Adios he further added that he had never walked the Camino and if it was all like this crossing he certainly never would!
An accident at Hospital de Órbigo
the Casa de los Dioses
Rabanal del Camino
Our trail in 2004 slowly started to climb. Eventually we stopped at Rabanal del Camino where the refuge Gaucelmo was another special place. Named after a local hermit it had been comfortably renovated by the Confraternity of St James. The fire burning in the library was most welcome. The Confraternity, an English group of pilgrims, had also published the useful, terse guidebook, The Camino Francés, which I used and have a wonderful website and on line forum.
Cruz de Ferro
Villafranca del Bierzo
Santiago de Compostela
Continuing to Finisterre
...By the old stone cross near the marker for kilometer 0 while looking out to sea, I offered heartfelt thanks for life, for strength, and for determination to have successfully walked all these thousand kilometers. ...Weeping I wondered about other journeys yet to be.
...Just after dawn I walked alone the final kilometers along the sea to Finisterre. Rain and tears were pouring down when I finally reached kilometer 0 at the old iron cross by the famous lighthouse. Yet nearby the sky cleared for a bit at the new marker for peace. Since there at land's end my 7th Camino ended after 1000 kilometers and nine weeks walking, silently I gave my heartfelt thanks for all that has been and for all that have helped to make it so. Indeed, thanks for the memories!