Monday, June 21, 2010

Arca - only 21km left!!!

It´s honestly hard, very hard to believe for me, but the morning after tomorrow I´ll be in Santiago! Today is the last walk, about 20km to a monastery well within Santiago but outside the old city walls. The following morning I´ll walk through the gate into the old city and start all the procedures there for the compostela and the visit of the cathedral (a very high security operation as up to 1900 pilgrims arrive every day and its a prime target for terrorist threats - no bags allowed, x-rays, etc.). So, technically, I´m arriving today, and on wednesday I´ll cease being a pilgrim.
I am full of very mixed emotions. On the one hand I´m so excited and happy to be arriving, on the other terribly sad to leave my life as a pilgrim behind. I wish I could´ve written more often in my blog as I have hardly had a chance to describe the amount of wonderful things I´ve seen and experienced. My overall feeling on most days was that of incredible happiness. The beautiful landscapes, birds, flowers, churches and encounters with people from the areas and other pilgrims, it was worth every bit of hardship - and the camino isn´t easy, it´s hard.
It has changed now since Sarria, it´s full of pilgrims doing just the last 100km. That´s just a week´s holiday for people from Spain: 5 days walking (20km per day) and 2 days in Santiago. Though they´re now suffering with stiff muscles like we did at the beginning it´s impossible to even imagine what it means to struggle along more than 800km to reach the desired destination - and I wouldn´t want to miss this experience for all the money in the world! The camino since Sarria has become very commercial as well, and people don´t greet each other any more - well, I still do, and so does Paulo, a guy from Brazil with whom I´m walking the last two days and about whom I´d love to tell you more, but my money is running out and I need to leave. So many things I couldn´t tell you about, I hope you got a little idea of what I was up to, and maybe you want to try for yourself. For me it´s been amazing, and a religious, spiritual and cultural revelation. Though RTE were trying to sell the Camino as a great holiday destination on their holiday show I truly believe that it is something that´ll call you - and take your time! Don´t race through it, you´ll miss so much it has to offer. On my card it says: "Go your path with courage, have no fear of being criticised by others, and most importantly, don´t get paralysed by your own doubts. " I´ve seen the camino transform lives here - handicapped people loosing their fear and becoming self confident, shy people blossoming etc. etc. I´m the most lucky person to have had this opportunity. See you all later!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Portomarin - crossed the 100km mark, and saved a hawk!

I can´t believe it - I crossed the 100km mark!! I´ve actually walked more than 700km at this stage and have a little less than 100 ahead of me! If anyone at this stage uses public or any other form of transport your not entitled to the Compostela at the end. The last 100km are a MUST if you want the Compostela (or the last 200km if you´re a cyclist). So therefore it´s really important to be in top condition once you reach that all important 100km mark. All of that went through my head when lying sick in my bunk bed in Villafranca. The people in the albergue wanted to drive me up to the top of the mountain the following morning, to O´Cebreiro, but I felt so much like a cheat! It´s a pretty steep climb and hadn´t I trained extensively in the mountains between Oviedo and Leon for stuff like this? On the other hand maybe I should allow myself another day rest for my body to really recover?
The next morning I felt much better and asked them not to drive me all the way to the top but to La Faba, about 6km below the top. At least I wanted to walk that bit up, and what a great walk it was. Steep uphill with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains. Sunshine with a little cloud and a light cold wind blowing, absolute heaven. When I remember how I huffed and puffed climbing up the Pyreness, and now? One dose of Ventolin and I am good to go - I think I´m actually very fit at this stage :))
I crossed the border into Galicia and a while later O´Cebreiro eventually came into sight: the village with the Holy Grail! Well, not actually thee grail, but nevertheless the GALICIAN GRAIL, I suppose that´s impressive enough. Legends has it that one windy , snowy night a farmer came all the way up to O´Cebreiro to attend mass. The priest, not impressed with the low attendance rate of "1" didn´t want to celebrate mass but the farmer was a bit pig headed, as farmers are, and insisted. Then the wine turned to blood and the bread into flesh, and thus revealed the Galician Grail itself. And it´s still there and you can take a close look!
Apart from the Grail it´s an absolutely enchanting village: round (!)houses with thatched roofs. I had originally planned on staying there and taking care of my tummy, but since it was only slightly cramping I decided to move on across the mountains and not to feel like a total wimp. I walked actually 17km that day, to an amazing albergue, furnished with thick logs on the inside. Even the bunk beds were made out of logs and the windows were all panoramic with an endless view across the mountains. I slept like a baby. The next morning the view was gone. We were engulfed in clouds and I could see the early risers from albergues before this one march by in rain ponchos and big jackets....., while I enjoyed my brekkie with a hot chocolate ;) It cleared up though and the walk that day was almost easy. Apart from my insides I have hardly any pains in my legs or feet any more. I´m well used to the weight of my backpack and if I hadn´t had the twitchy tummy with the heartburn everything would´ve almost been 100%. But you can feel that things have changed: way more people are on the road and the fight for sleeping places, the getting up early, the rushing and running has even more increased. I am still determined not to let all this craziness affect me. I´m still the last to leave the albergues and I might arrive at 6pm if that´s the way it is. I trust to find a bed, and if not, I have my tent with me. But queueing at the door of closed albergues from before 1pm on to secure a bed and get into fights with other pilgrims, running past everything that is beautiful or interesting, no, that won´t happen to me. What´s the point of bringing your everyday stress onto the Camino?!
The next day I found another great albergue, the day after all was full and I slept in the tent. A frechman lost his nerve and screamed for a taxi to bring him to Portomarin. After all the walking on old roman mountain paths and mud he just couldn´t hack it any more. And so I crossed the 100km mark the following morning. I still can´t believe it - I walked 700km, across mountains and plains, through forests and fields, while the countrysides were changing, people´s dialects were changing, types of buildings changing, miles falling away behind me, and now Santiago is so near! While walking down towards the big lake of Portomarin I saw a bird on the side of the road ahead of me. First I thought it was a goose because of the sheer size but then I realised it was a hawk. Hit by a car with a badly broken wing. Now, I know a little about hunting birds and how to handle them, and totally love them. So I was able, with the necessary precautions, to pick him up and to carry him towards Portomarin. A spanish guy had joined forces with me and together we tried to find out if there was a veterinarian in town. Unfortunately for the beautiful bird there wasn´t, but a woman showed us the way to the Guarda Civil. The policeman there called the animal welfare and they said they would send a vet over within the next 30 - 60 min. I do hope they were able to stabilise his wing for healing. He wasn´t hurt anywhere else on his body and a he was a young, strong bird. He was just too young and silly to know he couldn´t compete with a car....... Here, have a look - and until next time. Keep your fingers crossed for my last 100km!! :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Villafranca - I had it coming ;)

Well, I guess I was asking for it. No, actually I wasn´t asking for it at all, but I had it coming. The next morning after El Acebo I marched in the direction of Ponferrada, quite excited about the prospect of visiting the Templar´s castle there! It was mostly downhill in slight drizzle on old roman paths (love them!!) and at some stage I was walking through the "Nightingale Valley" which was as lovely as it sounds. Huge old trees everywhere which must´ve seen thousands of pilgrims in their lifetime, tall, blooming broom bushes and the mountains as a backdrop. Walking through Molinaseca I couldn´t take the advice and bath in the river.... My guide constantly tells me "have a dip here", "there´s a good spot for bathing" and I´m just thinking "yea, well, NOT since I bought a bathing suit! I bloody jinxed it!" Anyways, when I arrived in the albergue in Ponferrada I was the last lucky pilgrim who´s washing was being accepted for washing and drying, hooray! That, on the other hand, meant that I didn´t really have anything to wear now....., apart from my little summer dress. Since I really, REALLY wanted to see the Templar´s castle I slipped into that with a little jumper and jacket over it, bare legs and sandals - and went out into the flying rain. Though everyone looked at me as if I wasn´t the full shilling I really enjoyed the castle, though it was.., yeah well.., very cold and wet. And afterwards I still had to find the post office and do some other running around. The next morning I felt even sleepier than usually and while walking I started to get stomach cramps. I didn´t pay much attention to it as I was walking through absolutely gorgeous countryside: soft hills covered in wine fields - the Bierzo wine growing region. The weather was nice too but when I finally reached Villafrance del Bierzo - the little Compostela - I did something I hadn´t done before: I stayed in. Stayed in the albergue and didn´t move. Now, Villafranca is called the Little Compostela because since the middle ages pilgrims, who couldn´t make it any further due to sickness, could receive the Compostela here, after walking through the "Door of Forgiveness" at the side entrance of the (romanic, 12th century) "Church of Santiago". The door is closed normally but apparently will be opened on July 25th, the feast day of St. James. Last year 4 pilgrims actually received the Compostela here, after much scrutiny of course, and this place is unique as there´s nowhere on the pilgrims route another place that offers this indulgence. The Church of Santiago is for some reasons considered to have the same spiritual grace as the Cathedral of Santiago, at least when you have severe health problems. So normally I would´ve been out there in a flash but instead crawled into bed with a burning head which was even more red than ususally (I seem to sport a red head, don´t ask me why...) In the night I suddenly woke up puking, same the next morning plus a blazing headache. I had managed to catch a full blown tummy flu - guess with the cold and all that crowding of people it´s easy to catch a virus. Anyways, I had to stay in the albergue (normally you MUST leave after a day, you can only stay when you´re sick) . At this stage I really want to thank my medical team. Aha! So you didn´t know I had a medical team on stand-by, but I do! My parents!! They´re both doctors and whenever something goes wrong I try to describe the symptoms and get advice through the phone. Of great help and peace of mind, for example when one, like me, suddenly discovers a blister UNDER (!!) the big toenail! Didn´t even know one could get a blister there (but unfortunately my right shoe is about half a size too short.....) My father´s advice was: "Drill a hole in the nail to relieve the pressure from under the nail." Ah..., yeah? Thankfully I could do the same from the front of the toe, but I was ready with my knife to do some serious surgery! ;)) So here is a BIG, BIG THANK-YOU to my parents!!!!! The best medical stand-by team ever! XXX

Back to Villafranca: I needed to look for a pharmacy, so I dragged myself out of bed, finally looked at the church (which is absolutely beautiful in its romanesque simplicity) and then walked into the heart of the little town, where there was a market in full swing. I found the pharmacy, and also this: pulpo. That´s octopuss, and just like you have beergardens in Bavaria you have `Pulperias´ in Galicia (though technically Villafranca´s not yet in Galicia). I´m always open to try new things, and I will (I promise!) try pulpo at some stage (already had it in Logroño in its ink, but not like this here..), but if you feel like puking, have a weak stomach and a headache, the sight of someone cutting up an octopuss with scissors is the last thing you want to see. I fled the scene, and slept for the rest of the day.
Have I grossed you out enough for this time? So sorry, I´ll try and be more considerate in my next post. :)))) Enjoy your lunch people! hehehehehehe.....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

El Acebo - the worst day ever!!!

It happened to me, the worst day ever. I was told it would come, that some day I´ll just stand there and wonder why, or at least feel totally lost and miserably. But, even with my leg hurting like hell on the Camino de El Salvador, and believe me, it DID, I never came close to crying. But here it came, heavy and hard : the worst day ever. As mentioned before, it had started raining in Astorga. The next day it wasn´t any better. Everybody wrapped up tight and I got my long-johns out and was incredibly happy that I hadn´t been able to send my rain coat ahead to Santiago as I had planned (the post office at the time only opened only between 1pm - 2pm, so I just motored on, parcel with the jacket in a bag). Now I opened the parcel again and thanked my lucky stars! That day I met YangJi, from Korea on the road, an absolutely lovely girl. We clicked instantly, and YangJi takes about as many pictures as I do, which was brilliant as we both would more or less exclaim in unisono: "Oh wait, I HAAVE to take a picture of this!" We motored through the rain, which wasn´t going to stop us from making a little detour to a little place called Castrillo de los Polvozares, which apparently is totally enchanting. Our detour though involved taking the wrong field path, where the grass eventually grew higher and higher, which meant that our pants and boots got more and more soaked (remember, it was still lashing rain!) until the path suddenly ended and we found ourselves in the middle of a couple of fields. Since we still could hear the road and didn´t feel like backtracking all the way, we decided to cut across all those fields to eventually get to that road which would hopefully lead to somewhere with a warm bar. Well, you should´ve seen us hauling ourselves over stone walls and fences, through thigh high dripping grass, passing a sleeping "wolf" and actually appearing like drowned cats on the roadside, hilarious... BUT - just a few 100meters ahead was that little town! If we´d stayed on the path beside the road we coul´ve been long there, and dry-ish, but we were convinced to have found a brilliant shortcut or the right way anyways...., well the main thing was we were there. And.... everything was closed. Why was I even surprised? This town apparently lives a lot on tourists with its cobbeled streets and restored little red sandstone houses with green shutters. All that rain meant no tourists, so no business, so let´s shut everything down. We were dripping and had so much hoped for a warm bar to dry off in, and then, with a very loud ringing noise, the bread van arrived and a very helpful woman, buying bread, led us to a restaurant which was actually open. They were so nice inside and we almost managed to dry off completely, helped by huge bocadillos and hot caffee/chocolate. (A bocadillo is a sandwhich. And if you´re thinking of a flimsy, overpriced thinny, soggy little thing like you´d get in Ireland you´re sadly mistaken. Here you get a massive, half a baguette with f.e. cheese about 1 inch thick for roughly about 2 Euro!) By the time we got on our way again, the rain had stopped and we marched talking and laughing (and taking pictures) to Rabanal, where we arrived around 6pm, quite a bit later than anticipated. Unfortunately we had to part the next morning. YangJi had found her former korean marching partners here in Rabanal (which must be a lovely, lovely place when it´s sunny - gorgeous little mountain village!) and needed to walk further than me, so we parted with a lot of hugs and heavy hearts. And that´s how the worst day ever started....... (swelling music....) Outside was a rainstorm. I kid you not, it was a veritable storm. I was the last to leave the albergue (again) and continued packing the rest of my stuff under a big oak tree. When I put on my rain poncho over the rain jacket it pulled on me like a big top sail. As soon as I started to walk I felt the rain flying into my face like sharp little needles. It was impossible to look up. I tried to tie the poncho tighter around me and began my march. Bent down, leaning forward against the wind, I looked at the tip of my boots and maybe a meter ahead. The countryside was spectacular. I believe this must be one of the most exciting walks of the Camino - in good weather. Around me was pink and white heather in full bloom, big yellow broom bushes, an incredible amount of wild flowers and an lovely nature path to walk on. The view, which consists of the surrounding mountains was lost in rainclouds and fog though. It was just a question of motoring on and trying to stay dry and warm. Again I was very happy about having had the foresight to bring gloves. I was wearing the windy gloves with the woolly little thinny gloves inside. Both are not really made for wet weather, but are a whole lot better than nothing. Until Fontebadón I didn´t feel too bad. And since I had made some cool pictures of bad weather I got the idea to warm up an bit and write the blog in the the bar there. And then....: I cracked the memory card while pushing it into the card reader. . . . !!! I don´t know why I used so much force but "crack" it went, and snapped right in the middle. I frantically wiggled it around a bit, and for a second the pictures appeared on the computer, but then they were gone again and nothing I did could bring them back (so, if anyone of you out there knows of a specialist for this kind of thing, please, PLEASE let my know!! I´ve wrapped it in sellotape now..). To say I was destraught was putting it mildly. Still cold, with the wind and rain lashing out at everything and everyone on the outside, and all my pictures since Leon lost - and that includes all the funny pics of YangJi and a couple of people I met since Leon - my mood dropped to quite a low point. I gathered my things and set up into the clouds again, which surrounded the mountain at this point. Walking further and further my mood didn´t get a chance to raise as a lot of cross country bikers decided to choose this particular path as their training ground. You can´t hear them, certainly not when you´re wearing a hood, a hat over the hood and have a loudly flapping poncho wrapped around you. Instead of using the road, like the cyclist pilgrims, these bikers in their little pants and shirts suddenly appear out of nowhere behind you and make you jump to the side on some rocky ground or muddy path, which they widen every time their tyres dig through them, thus creating bigger puddles and water flowing in their tracks. After what seemed like forever ( and it wasn´t really that long a walk) I reached the Cruz de Ferro. That´s a tall pole with an iron cross at the top, surrounded by millions of stones. Every pilgrim lays down a stone here as a sign of putting down a load, a load they´re carrying from home, some burden they carry in their life, so you´re supposed to have brought a stone from your country. Which I wasn´t aware of. So, instead, I collected all the stones that fell into my boots and made walking hard, plus one stone from a particular painful walk on the Camino de El Salvador. This is supposedly a great moment for any pilgrim, it was a very wet one for me. I climbed up the hill of stones, added mine to the others and continued my way. 12.1km were still ahead of me. Again, I must say that the path was gorgeous. One of those beautiful nature paths that I love, and sometimes in the distance you could just make out that there was a spectacular panorama to be had on nice days, but all I saw were the tip of my boots and the dripping off the water off my hat and clothes. At some stage I passed by the "Templar´s Albergue" - some guy decided to open up an albergue in the middle of nowhere, with just the bare minimum of comfort, that means no showers and a latrine across the road. Seems like good craic (= irish for fun) in good weather again, and I think I would´ve liked to check the Templar out on any other day, but on this occasion it was just a sharp reminder that I had only walked 4.7 km since the cross, which was a bit depressing. Walking on and on I got wetter and wetter. On paths with steep stone slabs I was forced off the way again and again by mountain bikers who rode their bikes at a ridiculous speed. One of them almost crashed into me and if I hadn´t been so cold and wet I would´ve given him a piece of my mind. At some stage I thought I ´d lost my way as the next village just wouldn´t and wouldn´t appear and my spirits sunk with every step. Then the boots started to fill up with water and every bit of my clothes couldn´t hold up against the hours of the wind relentlessly throwing the water against me. There was no dry layer left on me and the swapping of water in my boots made walking harder and harder. Finally, FINALLY El Acebo came into sight. This had´t been my village of choice, mine was still another 3.3km away, but there was nothing for it. As soon as I saw the lights of the albergue/bar I stepped into the place and, dripping and shaking all over, asked for a bed. Which I got, thankfully. A bed under the roof of a place, cold, with damp matresses and one of the windows had a cardboard instead of glass. When I gor out of my boots I could pour the water on the floor. And that was when I guess my inner last straw broke and the tears came. I felt SO miserable, cold and awful. I had dreamt of a dry, warm place at the end of this hellish walk and got this - I just couldn´t see the bright side here. But there was one! I was given a heater and during the night no other pilgrim was brought into this damp attic. Which meant that I could string my washing line over the heater, move a chair close to it with wet stuff on it and dry all my clothes this way. After stuffing my boots twice with newspapers during the night and leaning them tight against the heater I had them more or less dry the next morning. I found a thick blanket which I put over the damp matress before putting my sleeping bag down, which thankfully is very warm (and light as well!). The heater was right next to my bed and I didn´t have to share it with anyone, what a luxury! After peeling myself out of all my wet clothes, wringing them out and hanging them up, I slipped into my only dry thing: a little summer dress and ran over to the bar where I treated myself to a pilgrims menue, which warmed me up and made me feel like a person again. Arriving back in my attic I actually didn´t sleep too bad, though I woke up every now and then, checking that the heater was still working. Which it did. I immersed the heat all night long and so when I woke up the next morning the attic wasn´t all that cold any more, AND: I could slip into warm clothes! Warm pants and socks - have you any idea how lovely that is?!! The breakfast in the bar was heavenly since they had the most gorgeous toasted hazelnut-and-raisins-bread and freshly pressed orange juice. That´s how the Camino works: for every down you get a lot of highs, and you should never give up cause you don´t know what´s around the corner. Maybe a lesson to be learned for life. Who knows if I´d gotten a bed in a dorm with 20 other people and only one heater if my boots and clothes had been dry the next morning. The fact that I´d spent the night in that attic had worked out the best for me, and I just have learn to trust the Camino, it works its own magic. After that spirit lifting breakfast my worst day was definitely over and I set of into the slight drizzle and dense fog outside with a happy heart again. Though...... if anyone of you out there knows anyone or any business, shop etc. who knows how to retrieve information from a broken memory card, you´d totally make my day!!! Thank you!! :))

Asturga - back in the rain...

Yep, the rain is back. I should´ve known. WHY did I buy a bathing suit in Leon?? I jinxed it! I haven´t been in a pool, on a beach or similar for, ah...., yonkers, and then I go ahead and buy a bathing suit?! Big mistake........
I was just before entering the province of Galicia, which supposedly looks like Ireland. Well, no mistake there, the heavens opened and I strolled into Astorga in the pouring rain. Just one big difference to the first two weeks in the rain: my hat isn´t rainproof anymore...! Yes, I had it washed in Leon with all the other clothes and it never occured to me that the water repellent could´ve washed out! Well, let me tell all you hat-washers out there: water repellent won´t stay on your hat once you wash it! So, instead of the rain dripping from the rim like before, the hat lovingly soaked it all up and then dispersed the water evenly over my face where it dripped off the nose and chin. Why I insisted on wearing the hat all the way to the albergue I honestly don´t know. It would´ve made no difference if I hadn´t worn a hat at all.
I can´t really tell you much about Astorga as I didn´t get much of a chance to see much. There is a great cathedral again, the outside of which is rather baroque, while everything else here has been mainly romanesque or gothic. The cathedral (like everything else here in Spain) wouldn´t open before 5pm. There is also a bishop´s palace, built by Antonio Gaudi between 1889 - 1913, which looks rather like a Disney castle, and he again modelled the Cinderella castle on the bavarian castle of Neuschwanstein. The Gaudi palace ranks as Art Noveau, so I decided to better be a bit impressed. To be honest, I liked the inside way more than the outside. It also opened at 5pm. I needed some food, and - urgently - some water repellent. The shops open, you guessed it, at 5pm. So WHAT does a poor pilgrim do??? If I go shopping first I can´t see sights. If I see the sights I go hungry and wet. You always have to do the shopping first. And it´s not that I just know by some divine intervention where the frack to shop for water repellent in Astorga...... A lot of time was wasted looking and asking around, and then... a stupid bank machine swallowed my card! So I started running to the police, making phonecalls, all with absolutely no effect. I was on the mobile phone, getting transferred for 20 minutes by NatWest resp. Ulster Bank from `not-responsible´ to `don´t-know´ to `haven´t-the-faintest´ before I reached the right person, who then hung up on me by mistake. I can´t wait for the bill. So, I decided in the little time I had left to check out the Gaudi Bishop´s Palace with it´s Camino Museum inside. And that´s all I know about Astorga, sorry guys! Apparently there is a good bit of a roman house to see, a chocolate museum, couple of churches, but at least I know where the police is. Anyone interested? To relax you all, it turned out fine the next morning. I went to the bank which surprisingly opened at 8.30am and they found my card in the machine. No money had been deducted and when I tried it again it worked fine. Still sore at that machine though for ruining my afternoon. Ah well, "Drop the thought!" All´s well that ends well :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A few pics from the Camino de El Salvador (2)

Happy :)

Just to make this totally clear

The Meson Quico. Wonder what´s going on here.........

Now let´s get serious! This is the highest point. All: "Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!"

If you can make out the tiny, tiny house there in the middle on the laft hand side: thats where my guide said "don´t follow the path or the stream, but climb up that ridge". Which I did. Looking down now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A few pics from the Camino de El Salvador (1)

They used to build their sheds in Asturia on stilts - and still have big dogs......

Yes, stilts. Pretty cool, ey?

Walking an ancient, roman(!) path....

Hermitage de Santa Catalina, absolutely stunning!!

Yes, I limped up there. And proud of it :))

Wild camping, in a great secretive spot

Still ahead of me..!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Leon - back in civilasation!!

I´m back!! Did you you miss me? ;) I sure as hell did miss writing this blog, so a big THANK-YOU to all you followers, and especially to you lovely people who leave comments! I really appreciate it! Always looking forward to checking out if someone made a comment :)
It´s been a week or so before I disappeared into the mountains - and what a very different adventure that was....
First of all, apparently there has been some confusion about the Camino I was attempting to do, so let me enlighten you:
Loads and loads of old paths all through Europe lead to Santiago. So they´re all called CAMINO SANTIAGO. In order to differentiate between them, they´ve been given additional names. The most famous ones in Spain are the
Which is the most famous one of all. It starts at St. Jean Pied den Port, leads straight to the west and, of course, finishes in Santiago. It´s about 805km long and had its heyday during the 12th century.

Starts at the coast in St.Sebastian, goes along the coast to Oviedo and is nowadays followed by the
which goes from Oviedo southwestwards to Lugos and then on to Santiago.

And then there´s also the
4.)CAMINO DE EL SALVADOR (4 valleys)
It´s 120km long, starts in Leon and heads straight northwards to Oviedo across a serious mountain range (4 mountains and 4 valleys - hence the name), from where on pilgrims normally continue on the Camino Primitivo.

Clear so far?? Now, I started on the CAMINO FRANCES all the way up until Fromista. It´s 118km from Fromista to Leon, all in the Meseta, which is too hot for me, and too boring ;) So I figured: why not replace the 118km Fromista-Leon with the 120km Oviedo-Leon? And that´s what I did: I took a train from Fromista up north to Oviedo and started the CAMINO DE EL SALVADOR southwards, which means in the reverse direction.

Arriving in Oviedo I discovered that the saying I´d written about earlier about the "Master" and the "Servant" actually applies to Oviedo! "When you´re going to Santiago and not to Oviedo, you´re visiting the servant, and not the master"! (Ehm...., that rhymns in spanish...) So, I was definitely on the right track! In Oviedo is a medieval wooden statue of Christ, holding the earth (round,mind!) in his hand and blessing it with the other. This statue is called "El Salvador" and ancient pilgrims coming from Leon would´ve first visited the statue and then the Camera Sancta with all the reliques, before commencing on the Camino Primitivo to Santiago. This route was most popular in the 10th century.
Enough history and information? Okay! How was it??? WELL............, it was great!! How can I write about a whole week in such a short time before the rest of the other pilgrims are planning to assassinate me for hogging the computer too long..... Firts of all, it´s lonely. And by ´lonely´I mean LO-NE-LY as in totally alone. There isn´t another pilgrim in site. Anywhere. As far as you can see and beyond! It´s total Lord of the Rings stuff. Without the bad guys. Now, I met a few ( as in 2 lonely pilgrims plus a small group) along the way, but that was only because I was travelling in the "wrong" direction.The ones walking, climbing, scouting towards Oviedo wouldn´t have met a soul along the way (apart from me, well, obviously). The scenery is breathtaking. Snowcapped mountains, first reminding me of the austrian alpes, later of the italian dolomites, total dramatic stuff. Albergues are rare and few, distances are very long, and 1km across some mountain path, or across some ridge, through some swamp or through dense forest is just not as quickly walked as on a nice gravel path, so all takes much longer. The first day I was slowly ascending into the mountains, through light forests and meadows. Reaching the highest point I had to walk for kilometres and kilometres downhill a small serpentine road. And that killed my left leg. I think I might´ve mentioned once or twice (or a million times!) that asphalt or concrete is a total killer, and here it´d done it, killed my leg right-out. The stress on my front tendon (along the front of the shins) proved too much started to get inflamed. At the same time, though wearing long trousers, the skin just above the end of my boots got in contact with either grasses or insects or both and reacted allergic with swelling. I didn´t take much heed
of either reaction, just thought it´d been another tough day with another pumping leg at night, so no biggy. Didn´tfeel too bad the next morning but when I started walking I realised that something was definitely not in order. The whole day I had to walk on concrete, through the whole valley and up to a big town (Pola de Lena) which is the gateway to the higher regions. The pain was getting worse and worse.Most of all it was Saturday afternoon, so all the pharmacies were closed, same goes for sunday. What was happening, without me knowing over the next week, was that the skin with the allergic reaction got worse and joined forces with the inflammation of the tendon below. Whatever I did or had with me couldn´t really help it properly, so slowly things got worse and I basically limped across the 4 mountains until Leon, where I started serious treatment with some badly needed rest. But all of this didn´t really hinder my excitement and enjoyment about crossing those mountains. The albergues were an adventure in themselves. No-one there, no closing hours, no kicking-out hours, you just get the key and can even stay for days ifyou want to. Two of them didn´t even charge anything, didn´t even want a donation! One was an old apartment, half falling apart with two small rooms, beds leaning against the wall, a kitchen with a rusty old oven, which obviously was way beyomd working, a shower which leaked like hell and the water needed to be switched on in a hole under a lid in the road! Others were almost luxurious. I had to walk so slow that I also camped in the countryside cause I wasn´t able to reach my destination, and my cooking equipment came in handy not just there but also in the albergues. A good bit after Pola de la Lena I eventually left the bloody concrete road (not though before having to walk beside a motorway,just 3(!) metres away) and entered the stuff of adventures. First I walked along mountain ridges through dense forests, steadily climbing. Sometimes I had to walk straight uphill for kilometres and thought of the Pyrenees crossing as of children´s stuff. Beautiful wild flowers and wild streams lining my way; later on in the week I had to negotiate my way through huge goarse bushes and swampy underground before eventually reaching the dramatic heights of white cliffs and massive stone formations. Every day there was a point where I lost my way, as the reverse direction is quite complicated, I mean, even the right direction doesn´t seem that easy at all! My book also sometimes didn´t have crossings in it which I encountered, or was just too old in parts. Twice I walked (or limped..) for many, uch....., MANY kilometres in either the wrong direction or on a roundabout way to get where I wanted; THAT was really annoying. On the Camino Frances you just look out for the next yellow arrow, which is there without fail. Here I got directions like: "yea, well, and when the path ends there you don´t follow the little stream but just climb up straight the (EXTREMELY) steep ridge in front ofyou until you reach the mountain pass or top where the big stones are and then you´ll see new signs", .....which weren´t there. The mountain villages are dying a slow death. Young people moving into the cities, so there are no shops, bars or anything, just a few old people tending their gardens, even washing their clothes in washing wells. A van drives through those places in the morning, delivering bread and milk to the houses - not a chance a pilgrim can buy anything anywhere. They also have...DOGS. Very protective dogs. Guard dogs. Dogs, who whisper to each other, or bark it way ahead, "There a hapless pilgrim on the road, the scare the living daylights out of this one!!" I walked with my pepper spray at the ready. Some are absolutely vicious and I was always furious at the owner for showing up so late! Once, in the middle of nowhere, between white cliffs and rocky fields, a big dog showed up, then another, and another, until I found myself surrounded by 5 (!) big dogs. Pepper spray and stick aimed at them I told them what"nice boys" they were ;)) , Which didn´t interest them at all. "Nice boy" or sweet talk doesn´t really impress the spanish dog, thought you might want to know that. Then, out of nowhere, a shepherd appeared. God knows where his sheep were, I didn´t see one, anywhere. In the end it was good that I met the guy as I was at a loss as to where to go next and he helped me find my way again, but, oh, that was one..... interesting... moment.
But- LEON - what a change that was! I got myself the lovliest little room in the absolute middle of the city, with TWO REAL TOWELS!!!! Brought all my clothes to the cleaners for proper washing, raped the pharmacies for antibiotic creams and cortison - and it worked! After very intense treatment and looking after my leg, and two absolutely GORGEOUS days in Leon, which is a total beauty (!!honest, go & see!!), I´m on my way again. I´m not 100% yet but I´ll be soon, no doubt. It´s fun to be in the big stream of pilgrims again, soI´m not really as I´m always walking behind ;) Apparently the province of Galicia "es un chaos!" and Santiago "es un chaos!" I heard the barman say. Well,that´s just another challenge then :)
Hope this wasn´t too long and I manged to bring you up to date. Next time I find a place with USB I´ll put a few pictures from the mountains in. Cheerio!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fromista - a very shifty barman, and the end of the first part of my adventure

Fromista! Here´s where this bit of my 3-part adventure is going to end. Fromista has train connections and from here I´ll be taking a train to Oviedo in the north of Spain. There is an old Camino from the Camino de Santiago FRANCES (which I´m on at the moment), which goes from Leon up to Oviedo. People in the middle ages would travel that way in order to see the important reliques that are kept in Oviedo, which was until 914 the capital of the kingdom of Asturia (yes! You´re learning stuff here!). From there they would travel along which is now called the "Camino Primitivo" to Lurgos, join the Camino Frances again and on until Santiago. Now, I´m doing this part of the Camino (and quite unknown) in REVERSE. I wanted to do some the "alternative routes" and initially meant to walk through the Picos de Europa, a mountain range between the Camino Frances and the Camino del Norte, which runs along the coast (to Oviedo, Lurgos, Santiago). I had hoped to walk to the cloister of Santo Toribio de Liebana, which holds the largest relique of THEE cross and which became so important in the Middle Ages that Santo Toribio could also call a "Holy Year", just like Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago - and nowhere else. There was even a saying at that time with respect to pilgrims who would "only" do the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela:" Why do you go to the servant if you can go to the Master?" Well, I thought it would be so great to do the pilgrimage to the "Master" and the "servant" but in Burgos, when I eventually got my head around looking up mileage and making a little plan so as to arrive on time in Santiago, I discovered that the path through the Picos de Europa from Santo Toribio to Oviedo isn´t just long but also difficult and maybe a bit dangerous. It seems to be totally amazing but I think it shouldn´t be attempted alone. So, sadly, I had to say good-bye to this idea. I´ll hope though that maybe at some other time I can come back and do this unknown pilgrim´s path with someone (another wink at Gary, hehehe...). So I decided to do the Leon - Oviedo Camino in reverse, which my little book of "alternative routes" highly recommends. It´ll be very lonely and a welcome break to all the madness here. And this is where my tent will come into play for the very first time! The distances between the albergues are so far (30km and more) that I won´t be able to cover them in one day. Since it´s also a serious mountain range I´ll have to cross I´ll be camping about three times according to my schedule. So exciting!! Internet will be far and few in between, so don´t worry if you won´t hear from me in a while - I´ll be crazy typing as soon as I´ll get a chance.

Now back to the Meseta: after my first, successful walk to Hontanas I walked another 21km the next day, hoping I could reach a place called St. Nicholas. Thankfully there was some cloud there and a cool wind blowing, so I found it pretty easy to walk. And it IS true: the pain in the muscles isn´t half as bad any more now that I´m in the 3rd week, hooray! I had to cross this table mountain, but otherwise it was all flat. The place, St. Nicholas is a very special albergue: run by the Maltese Order, they practise their help towards the pilgrims as they would´ve done 1000 years ago. the albergue is in a tiny church with only about 12 places to sleep. There´s a little altar on one side, the beds on the other and a large wooden table in the middle. NO eletricity exists - in the evening they light candles and if you want to charge your phone or you´re camera, you´re definitely in the wrong place! Everyone cooks together and then, before the meal, the maltese monks(???, honestly don´t know) practise an old ritual which was normal in the Middle Ages: they wash each pilgrim one foot. Now, how special is that??! But of course I´m not the only one thinking that way, and when I arrived it was already ´completo´. They let me have a glimpse inside and then I had to mosey on to .....ehm..... Ibera de la Vega (or similar....) - not a name one needs to remember anyway as it was a total low-point. So I won´t linger on it, just tell you that a met a really nice girl from Limerick there, Katie´s her name. Katie with the red hair. We joined forces against the sadness of that place and marched together the next day to Fromista. Along an architectural wonder of the 18th century, a canal which watered this hot and dry region, and still does.

Fromista is...., what to say about Fromista? It isn´t big. It´s spread out. It´s as hot and dusty as the Meseta (well, obviously). It has the most perfect example of romanesque church building in Europe! (see very first picture) I´m taking so many pictures of the in- and outside of churches that I´ll be able to publish a book about churches soon......... But they´re all SO fascinating! This one (St. Martin) has also incredibly beautiful carvings at the top of the columns, otherwise is the church quite bare inside, but bright because of the light sandstone. There´s also a church called St. Pedro in Fromista, from the 15th century. Which looks..... weird, to put it mildly. A mixture of styles, half falling down, half strangely repaired, not fitting together, but you just can´t take your eyes from it. Inside it´s definitely 15th century and quite beautiful, with a little museum to boast. And did I ever mention the storchs?!!! Northern Spain is a paradise for birds, and on every churchtower are at least TWO nest of storchs!! So lovely! And I hear cookoos all the time while walking!

Now quickly back to Fromista: it also has a good few bars, and one of them got the better of me last night. Not wanting to have a full meal I opted for 3 tapas and a glass of wine - 16 Euros!!!! (to compare: in Burgos I ate tapas all night long, plus loads of wine and internet:15 Euros. I was so dumbfounded that I didn´t even complain. But from know on I will - "¡No soy loca!" Until whenever!! XX

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hontanas - ...thankfully got my head back.....

I´m actually in Hontanas, 21km into the Meseta. For all of you who are wondering what that is, it´s a stretch of highlands, a million miles removed from the scottish highlands. It´s all flat, straight, wheatfields, no shadow, no trees, sun blazing down, quite an experience. And one I was really afraid of! As I can´t sweat (yea, well, that´s just the way I´m born, and normally it´s a pretty good thing), I tend to just get hotter and hotter, until I eventually faint. So the idea to walk through a kinda hot desert type of lanscape is a bit unnerving. And yesterday, ooooh......, yesterday........, don´t talk to me! I have to go back a bit: Burgos is BEAUTIFUL!! An amazing city, the little Paris of Spain is what sprung to my mind. And so, after the night in the 5-star-albergue, I got myself a nice little room for two nights in the centre to be able to appreciate the place. And to do some medical work on my feet...; I suddenly realised I couldn´t really see my ankles any more - aaah, so that was the reason for my throbbing feet at night: I have an inflammation of the achilles tendance! I feel I´m quickly becoming a wandering pharmacy for feet problems ;) So most of friday was spent first washing clothes, then shopping. I was out of most of my every day items: shampoo, soap, creme etc. I also needed a card reader (since most PCs don´t have one, or it doesn´t function) which proved quite difficult - and expensive in the end. I bought another USB stick for good measure as well. So in the end I had wandered all over the place but not really seen anything. Still, it was fun, Burgos is well worth a visit, and I will have to come back for a proper weeks holiday! (Wink, wink at Gary!) The next day I looked at a couple of things, most of all the cathedral, which I can´t even begin to describe here. But(!), I bought a book, so you´re all welcome to have a look at it. The cathedral is unreal! It took me 2 hours to walk through it, an amazing place. More of a museum of lots and lots of chapels, one more precious then the next, and art than a church. Very. Impressive. The evening found me in an internet cafe, where I struggled with my new card reader. Next to me sat a guy from the Netherlands, his name being Ron (Jacobus his second name, it´s true!), who´d just lost most of his photos on the computer. Our struggles got us talking and after he´d recovered his pics with the help of the very nice bloke who ran the internet cafe/ bar/ theatre, Ron tried to help me get my card reader going. He´d also bought one today, which worked perfectly. In the end he offered to sell his to me, but then he discovered that his photo card was different to mine - and worked perfectly on my reader! So, we switched the readers! What a coincidence! In the meantime a magic show had started which wasn´t just good but also hilariously funny. We drank wine and ate tapas, and drank more wine, and more wine, wine, wine, wi........ I was in bits the next morning! Couldn´t even have breakfast! My tummy rejected everything, my head was throbbing (despite some paracetamol I took). At 12 I eventually took off. The backpack hadn´t felt that heavy, ever! My head couldn´t get in touch with my feet, who were constantly signalling, but couldn´t get through that muddy cloud which seemed to surround me. I dragged myself out of Burgos, into the intense heat and onto a dusty gravel path. Constantly yawning, taking more paracetamol (no effect), cursing myself and taking loads of little breaks, after each of which my backpack felt even heavier. My head was truly gone, lost somewhere, left in Burgos perhaps.... My feet were lost without my head and the rest of my body was revolting. The heat was incredible! And neither shadow nor wind anywhere. I had planned on doing about 21km that day, after 11.1km I reached Tardajos. At this point I was sure I needed a wheelchair for the rest of my life and had to finish my Camino. So I checked into the albergue there and slept like a dead person vom 3pm until after 6pm without waking up once. Then I dragged myself to the one little shop in this tiny village, where in the main square a big stage was being erected for a nightly music performance and all round celebration of Pentecost (Pfingsten), bought some lunch, ignored all the festivity and fell asleep again despite the loud singing and hollering which travelled through the window (pink earplugs! Did I mention them before?!). And so, this morning, surprise(!), I was a new woman! My head has made it out from Burgos and has joined forces again with the rest of my body. I was a normal "peregrina" again, and set off in the direction Hontanas, which lies in the Meseta. Lucky for me a little wind walked with me, the morning wasn´t too hot yet, I found a lovely breakfast in the next village and headed, quite with a spring in my steps, into the dreaded Meseta. And then I had another encounter with a guardian angel: a while into the meseta - and you have to imagine a path in the heat, that stretches on and on and on without any mercy, shadow or water, a guy wasabout to overtake me. We started talking, his name was Paco, from Mexico. And now a bit of information which I´m sure none of you know: "Paco" is the short form for Francisco! As St. Francisco is known as "PAdre COmmunitas". Yes, you´ll learn somthing here :)) Paco will fly to Dublin after he finishes the Camino and live there for a year. Soon we were yapping and yapping. He was really easy to talk to and we yapped and laughed away while the road flew away under our feet. And the, suddenly, there below the level of the Camino, appeared Hontanas, quite unexpectatly. I was there, I braved the first bit of the Meseta, and it wasn´t that hard! Course, everyone else was complaining how tough that last bit was, and I didn´t even know what they meant with "the last bit"! Paco will leave early tomorrow morning, and I will most certainly be again the very last, so I´m loosing him like I lost a couple of other nice people before. But we´ll hook up in Dublin, what´s email for? But thanks to him, I´m now not afraid of the way to come. Hontanas is a really lovely looking, little village. Dusty, houses built with big blocks of sandstone, small streets, it feels like I´m in some Western set in Mexico, it´s so different to everything I know. I can´t believe the many contrasting landscapes I´ve walked through so far! As always, there´s people queuing up behind me, so I´ll better hand the PC over. Til the next time! X

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Burgos - lost in (the) mace/ maize/ space..., take your pick

Unreal! What a day! I don´t know who I should be more frustrated with: those fabulous people marking the way in the most artistic freestyle manner or myself for carring a guidebook from 2007...?! But let´s start at the beginning: the night in San Juan de Otega was lovely, until at 6.10am an almighty noise broke loose, people yapping loudly, lights being switched on - what the frack?!! Can I just mention here again that those PINK earplugs from that one pharmacy in Parnell Street are just THE BUSINESS!! They don´t just stay in the ear (that´s a feat in itself!), they really shut out most of the awful noises one might hear when one sleeps with up to 119 people in one room. So, again, as most mornings, I turned around with an angry groan, pushed the earplugs deeper in my ears and did my very best in ignoring those rude racers around me. By the way, we had to be out at 8am, so what´s the bloody rush? When I woke up again around 7am - I was alone in the dorm. Everybody had vanished. Then the gregorian music started, nice :) That´s how they wake you here, I thought, at 7am with gregorian songs. Pity it was totally wasted on 95% of all the people who´d stayed that night. In the bathroom I met two slow coaches, one of whom I´d met before. She was ready to leave and lectured me again that I should get up earlier, leave early, blablabla..... I smiled and said that I would sit now outside for an hour, writing my diary and looking again at the equinox carving in the church until the little bar opened at 9am and I could have a lovely breakfast. With that the two women disappeared, shaking their heads. Guess I´m a lost cause now. And that´s what I did, so there. When I eventually took off the air was fesh (it´s pretty high up there), but the sun was bright blue and it promised to be another gorgeous day. On the way I met a couple of schoolclasses with small children, guess it was what we in Germany call "Wandertag", best translated as "Walking- or Hiking day". I wear a pretty big hat with a broad rim ( think I mentioned this marvellous hat before, brilliant in rain and now it´s proving just as brilliant as a protection from the sun, good buy in the sale basement of the "Great Outdoors" for 15 Euro!) and that very long walking stick. Therefore I look quite a bit as one might imagine a pilgrim to look like, as they are depicted in the carving of the churches, or the cartoons.... Well, the children started shouting "Buen Camino!" and then we had question and answer sessions with them and their teachers. When they heard I lived in Dublin they did their best to wish me "Good Bye" and I marched on quite uplifted by this little encounter and the knowledge that I wouldn´t have met them if I´d left before 7am, ha! I arrived in Atapuerca, and for those who are not familiar with that name (as, for example, me), this is the cradle of european humanity! Here in those soft hills were, just by accident, the remains of a new human species discovered, older than 800,000 years, which makes them older than the Homo Heidelbergensis (who is the pre-neanderthal man) and "only 300,000 years old. Thus this new species was called Homo Antecessor and the area is now a World UNESCO site since 2000 where intensive research is taking place. Yes, you´ll learn something here! I was really looking forward to visiting the caves where the first finds were made, but didn´t count on the spanish relaxed attitude to... tourism in this instant. There is only one tour per day to the caves, at 11am - and it was noon now. Yeeeees, if I´d started earlier......! So I just looked at the exhibition at the visitor centre and walked away 100% more informed than before. Those antecessors were cannibals at times!! Grim, grim...... The countryside presented itself very stoney, white big stones on steep hills with just a few crippled trees here and there, sheep with bells, a cold wind and a blazing sun. And then it happened: two arrows. Should I´ve not mentioned it before, we all follow yellow arrows (and a few shells, yellow mostly). Yellow arrows on trees, on roads, on stones, on house walls, poles, wherever you can imagine. And here, in the middle of nowhere, two of them. In different directions. I decided on the right one. My guide book didn´t mention two different choices, so I suspected foul play, just like the jokers in Ireland who have great fun turning sign posts into the wrong directions. Next crossroad: two arrows again. One painted over white. On the other side another one painted over, but scribbled on again. I made my choice and walked. This scenario repeated itself a couple of times until I stood at a Y-junction wit no indication where to go anymore. Again, I made my choice, quite pissed off it had to be said, and from tha point I wandered up and down hills, from path to path to path. Nothing but rolling hills and green corn fields waving in the wind - and me, the idiot. The lost idiot. Would you think there was ONE farmer to be seen anywhere? Or another pilgrim? Course not. At some stage I just looked at the sun and decided by where it stood that Burgos had to be THAT direction and walked up another hills on tractor tracks. I´d read in a book that there are people asking the universe loudly for things - and get them. So, since there was nothing to loose here, my feet etc. was hurting badly and I was way, way past the time when I should´ve reached the hostel, I shouted very loudly and very angry at the universe that I wanted NOW, bloody ASAP a fracking yellow arrow, or something bloody else which would tell me definitely where I was!! At the end of my screaming at the skies I walked over the top of that hill - and there was a village. I couldn´t believe it, it had worked, and there was a yellow arrow. Of course, that village was kilometres past the albergue I had aimed for, and between here and Burgos were about 14km! Suddenly two spanish guys appeared out of nowhere, one looked like ´Jesus´from the Big Lebowsky, the other could´ve been a barman in an italo-western. They told me I could possibly get a hotel in Villafria and I started trotting behind those two, with a good distance between them. When the stupid place came eventually after almost an hour into view, I jumped for joy: it had a camping place! But since the signs for it where nowhere to be seen, I asked a couple of people. The answers came quick and without mercy: "Camping non funciona." Yea, great. As I listlessly meandered past some trucker hotels the two guys from before jumped out of a bar and asked me to join them in taking the bus into Burgos. They´d been walking more than 30km that day, were utterly wasted and also just wanted to arrive somewhere. The 8km ahead of us are all along industrial areas along a main road of heavy traffic and a total backbreaker. Since it was 6pm already and 8km take me almost 3hours, and everything hurt, I decided to join them. AND I didn´t regret it. I hadn´t planned on ever taking a bus, but I´d already walked way more than I wanted today, and when the bus zipped through soulless, dusty, gritty outskirts I thanked my lucky stars - and the two guys, who incidentally also paid for my busfare :) They weren´t going to stay a the main albergue but walked with me to it because they wanted to make sure I arrived there safe. Wasn´t that lovely! My two beardy angels! The albergue is just beside the cathedral, the beds are pure luxury ( so is everything else, the shower, the toilet etc.) and secluded little private things, and I got a bed in a big dorm with only 6 other people. And the dorm was called: SANTIAGO - for today I had arrived! :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

two more cold pics ;)

Finally, the highest point! Oh, a church! Yes, dry, and maybe warm, and......closed.

In Roncesvalles: 120 freezing pilgrims in one room, quite an experience!

San Juan de Ortega - an equinox wonder

Another day, another 22.8km ahead of me. Being the last to leave, again, I searched the small town for a pharmacy. I found a cloister built into the "El Dorado" rock - pretty cool - , a ´Schlecker´(!!!- Schlecker is a german chemist chain), and a pharmacy which was about to open ... in an hour´s time. Knowing that Villafranca (12.2km away) was the next place with a pharmacy I decided to chance it. 12.2km, poppycock! I do that in my sleep! On my way out I bumped into a couple with a 19 month old kid, who´d spent the night in the same place and slowly do the Camino with a pretty hard core stroller. It´s the 3rd time they´re doing it, and they´re too telling me it´s way, WAY fuller than the other years. Ah well, it´s my first time, and when it gets too hectic I just imagine how full it must´ve been during its high time in the middle ages. I meet less people on the road anyway since I don´t run with the masses. A little bit on was a supermarket and since they had shared they baby´s muesli with me this morning I decided to buy them a new pack, and a bit of stuff for the way for myself. Then I tried to catch up with them, as I imagined they´d overtaken me while I was shopping, but when they were nowhere in sight it became pretty clear that they were still behind me. So at a petrol station I made the attendant swear a solemn oath that she´d hand over the bag of muesli to the niño as soon as they would come into sight. The walk was not to bad, the sun was shining, the Camino not as flat and also far from the road. Mainly fields everywhere and no shadow, but despite the last day´s hardship the going was surprisingly good and I hummed songs or got lost in thoughts. Arriving in Villafranca 4 hours later though was abit of a disappointment. The pharmacy was a little room with nothing but a few shelves and a very unfriendly woman - and nothing for poor, sore feet. Along the Camino? Is this woman against making money? I had expected a bigger place of a town, and since I had already past the one bar I gritted my teeth and decided to just start the long stretch of 12.6km with no interruption, village or well. But then on the way out of this bland place (the church was closed too, of course) I came across a (couple of stars) castle hotel - with an albergue and bar sign. Well, why not chance my luck, so I strolled dusty and not at all royally looking into the big entrance hall and met a woman who quickly served me a bocadillo (a big sandwich for all you non-spanish speakers) with a yummi tortilla inside and a lemonade, happy days! While I ate some other pilgrims found the place, amongst them the couple with the baby, who´d actually gotten the muesli from the petrol station´s attendant! There you go, things just happen on the Camino. After over an hour and with refreshed feet I headed on, uphill this time and into a big forest full of low growing trees, called the "Goose Forest". My taget for the day, St. Juan de Oretga, lies 1.000m high up and I had to climb 1.160m first, sigh, ...good thing I have my Ventolin. Since it was a forest it wasn´t too hot, a nice wind blew too, but then the path widened into a wide, straight stretch, made to prevent forest fires from spreading. From then on it was tough. Still uphill, hot and you couldn´t see the end of the road. I don´t know, I guess it´s a psychological thing: when the road winds you never know what´s around the corner and every sight is new. With long straight stretches you just now that the end is nowhere in sight, and that´s not good , well, for my psyche anyway. Have I mentioned before that things just sneak up on you on the way? Whoops, suddenly there´s a guy with a big dog in a veterinary´s collar behind you, whoa, there´s a flock of cyclist almost running you over, oops, there´s the lone ranger creeping up on you. So I got into the habit of every so often turning around and checking the path behind me, and in the distance I saw someone. Some time later that someone was much closer, it was a guy with an insane speed on him. A little bit later again he was about to overtake me. Since most people greet everyone else on the way with either an ¡Hola! or ¡Buen Camino! or ¡Ultreja! if they´re not total pricks (who do exist, believe you me..), I hollered my ¡Hola! and we got talking, in english. It was pretty obvious the guy was german, so we changed over into german. Then I felt suddenly very at home, language wise. That guys accent was so very familiar. Before he could dash off I said:"hey, hope you don´t mind, are you by any chance from Hessen (Hessia, a german county, the one I grew up in actually)?" Yep, that he was. "Where from?" "From the Westerwald." WHAT??! That´s more or less where I´m from! Here in the middle of nowhere, with no soul anywhere to be sen, on an neverending stretch of road, I bump into someone from the Westerwald (the western forests, very LotR, hehehe..), from near Montabaur to be precise (I´m sure all of my family will appreciate this bit of information). I told him I was from Herborn and the forest echoed with our laughter. If we´d tried to meet here we wouldn´t have succeeded! What a chance meeting. We walked a good bit together, but eventually I had to slow down again and he needed to find his fast pace agin - he´d already walked over 30km that day! Pity, now I was again alone onthat wide, straight, endless stretch through the forest, and my legs and feet started to complain again. But eventually in the end I made to St. Juan. Now this place is famous for its old priest, who does a very quick mass and then invites all the pilgrims to his garlic soup. Apparently he died recently, so I wasn´t quite sure what to expect, but as soon as I´d arrived in the old monastery building, about 6.10pm, I was told to hurry up, as the communal garlic soup was about to be served in 20 minutes! Delicious it was! I had still bread in my backpack which I tried to share with my fellow pilgrims and with it scraped the last out of my (2nd) bowl. The place was pure magic! Gregorian music was played in the old courtyard, where we all hung up our washing, and the resto f the ancient place. I ventured off to the church to see St. Juan de Ortega´s grave and mausoleum - and "The miracle of the light". Now, St. Juan spent his life to care for pilgrims and opened a cloister in the 12th century. He is buried here, and here is where you´ll find an architectonic masterpiece of the middle ages: twice every year, at the Equinox on the 21st of march and the 22nd of September at 5pm the sun creeps in through a small window and lights up a scene at the top of a column (I believe you call it a Capitel?), where there is a beautiful row of carvings: first the light shines on the annunciation, then it creeps over to Mary holding her hands on her belly, then to the Nativity scene. The whole thing takes about 10min and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Yeeees, I can hear you yell, the people in Newgrange have done it way before the 12th century, and of course you´re right. Newgrange is an incredible Wonder of the world. But this here is unique in the world of medieval architecture, so it deserves a special, little place in history. It was only discovered in1974, mind you! Had been forgotten since then. Despite my always sore feet and stoney calfs I´m so glad I´ve made it to here. This is one special place. I feel like going to bed a bit earlier tonight, still a bit wrecked from yesterday´s torture, and my feet are thumping. Falling assleep with gregorian songs, nice.......... :)

Belorado - the El Dorado of pain....

As beautiful as Santo Domingo de la Calzada was, after that embarrasing incident I was actually a bit relieved to walk out of its walls. It was already noon, a bit late for a walk that would last for about 24km, but my feet felt good and I felt like walking, walking, walking! The landscape is very different now. The woods are long, long gone, the scenery is all a bit same-ish: fields, sofly climbing up and down, mountains in the far distance. It was hot, so it didn´t take too long before I did something I hadn´t done before: I took off my fleece jacket, and my shirt! And walked in my spaghetti west, not before putting a lot of sunlotion onto myself. One sunburn is enough. I also shortened my pants a bit. And thus, I tan in stages, which looks really ridiculous. My lower arms are black (well, almost), my shoulders and upper arms are white. I expect my lower legs to tan a bit from where the socks end all the way up to just below the knee, very sexy. I walked past an amazing albergue situated in the tower of another gorgeous church - and I climbed the tower. No tower is safe from me, if there´s a tower, I´ll climb it! By the way, I can´t reall count how many beautyful churches I´ve seen by now. Some boastful, some touching, some serene, some fragile in their decay, but all quite awe inspiring. You can really see how the stream of pilgrims in the middle ages brought riches to all the places along the camino. A whole infrastructure developed around the Camino and its pilgrims and that in turn made the churches along the way wealthy. ou can go into the smallest churches along the way, you´re bound to find beautiful artistry inside. And loads of gold or gold colour. I had a plan as to how far to walk that day. My wish was to make it to Belorado, where the church albergue is situated in an old theatre and they have a special pilgrims blessing in the evening. I walked and walked. At the beginning I had such a drive, but the hotter the day, and the straighter the path, the harder it all became. The villages I passed through seemed totally deserted. Where are all the people living here? I felt like the lonely stranger passing through the hostile western town, shutters closed, the showdown waiting on the far side. But there was nothing waiting for me, not even an open bar, or a machine with drinks. And sure enough, at some stage my heels started to say ¨hello¨again, bastards. In Viloria, the birthplace of Santo Domingo, who´s birthhouse was of course closed, I made a long stop, changing socks, putting plasters on, cooling my feet in a well, and sharing my food with a rather forward little siamese cat. I also made good use of the children´s swing there, until realised I was about to loosen the anchorage of that swing - hm, guess I´m a bit heavier than your average child... When I started off again, I had another 8.6km ahead of me. Straight, along a busy road. I can´t tell you the pain that started to develop. I was exhausted from the heat, the arches of my feet just didn´t want to support the weight of the backpack any more and my heels were acting up. My muscles slowly turned to stone, and I dragged myself forward and forward. At some stage some italian bikers stopped for me and gave me their water. I pulled and pushed myself forward with my stick, and eventually, very late in the day, I think it was 7.40pm, I stumbled into Belorado, which is fittingly built into and in front of a steep cliff of a rock. I actually got the last bed in the albergue I wanted so much to reach, and I made the pilgrims blessing. In order to kneel in the church I needed both my arms to support me getting down or up, and in the albergue I was barely able to walk down or up the stairs. But I got another beautiful surprise: I was SO hungry, and there was food left over by some other pilgrims who offered it to me. Those were not just some random pilgrims, but a CHEF from Australia, so I wolved down the most exquisite risotto withan absolutely gorgeous salad! And, guess, who was the last to go to bed, and instead had a lovely chat with Thomas, the hospitalero from Switzerland? Qui, that would be little moi... ;))

Santo Domingo (part2) - a lovely cock and a bloody eejet...

There was no need to call that cock a bloody cock, he was a lovely cock indeed! The one who deserves that adjective was me, the bloody eejet! Here´s what happened: I walked into the cathedral, totally mesmerised b the beauty surrounding me, and had totally forgotten about chicken flying off plates and all that. The cathedral was quite, I fought silent fights with my camera, trying to get it to see what I saw. Walking deeper into the place I suddenly heard a strong and very loud "keekereekee" (or something like that...,) behind me. I looked behind me and up, and there he was - up high in a huge cage in a wall of the church, the white cock and his white hen. He crawed again and a big smile crept on my face. This was for me, no-one else. This cock crowed for my safe arrival in Santiago. Later on he did it again, when I walked past another time. And in between? Well, let me just say there were people standing under his cage, clapping their hands, but received nothing but total silence, the cock ignored them thoroughly. I felt really uplifted, and the beauty of the place did its own work. After also visiting the museum I bought a book about the place, and left as the very last visitor. And then everything went pearshaped...... Sneaking into my dorm at almost 9pm 90% of all the people were already asleep! I felt like such a total scoundrel for still being up, imagine, at 9pm! My bags made noises, I rumaged in my backpack for food I wanted to cook in the kitchen downstairs, and then I couldn´t find my money-/document-belt any more. I felt the black sleeping bag up and own, nothing. I shook it a bit (just a bit, didn´t want t wake anyone..), nothing there. I ran over to the cathedral, which of course was closed. Ran back to the albergue, checked the sleeping bag again - in total silence I might add - nothing. So I went downstairs to the albergue ladies and told them of my loss. At which stage everything was put into motion. Everone was being called, everyone mobilised. At 10pm, when the albergue normally shuts its door tight to the world, the young padre from the cathedral picked me up and we snuck into the cathedral again via back doors (not without him having to ring someone else since he´d forgotten the security code..) and searching the place. Without success. The padre rang the guy who´d sold me the book earlier, but he didn´t remember anything being left behind. Back in the albergue everyone was already waiting for me since the place was now 40min overdue for closing. I was told I´d have to contact the police the next morning and then I went up to my dorm. I grabbed my head-flashlight, switched the low, red light on and preceeded in getting ready for bed, soooooo quietly. The last thing I did was slowly moving the red beam of light from the bottom to the very top of the sleeping bag. And.......!! There... it.... was!!!!!! The stupid, stupid black belt on my black sleeping bag!!! I felt so embarrassed, well, and relieved as well, but, oh, the shame! The whole town in search of my money belt, an excursion with the padre into the nightly cathedral, what a mess! Since I couldn´t find the hospitalera any more I just fell asleep, dreading the morning. Which came, without fail, and with it that very woman peeking her head into the dorm, asking how I was. I told her of my nightly find, and she hissed at me "Well, thank you VERY much for giving us all so much trouble!" I must say, I was abit dumbfounded. It´s not as if I go around, thinking of ways to wreck my own brain and that of others all the time. In had checked that sleeping bag twice, I was in a heap because of the loss of The belt contians everything that´s important, so I didn´t do it on purpose. Anyway, I went down and apologised profusely - and made a big donation to the albergue. Then I went to the cathedral and made a big donation there. And then I had a couple of coffees. After which I climbed the bell tower and saved a swallows life. Does that way up the stupidity of me in the grand scale of things? Hope so!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pictures 3 - still have ten minutes credit left!! :)

Entering Pamplona

Pamplona town hall

Looking back to the snow covered pyrenees from whence I came, doesn´t seem real somehow...

And that´s all for today folks! Have a date with a certain cock now :)))))))))

More pictures, much more pictures.....

A very unusual pilgrim...... ;)

Wild little orchids by the roadside

Mud and running rainwater, oh the joys......!

The abbey of Trinidad de Arre.....

........ and its Trinity!

Pictures, finally :))))

Crossing the Pyrenees in the snow This is Danielle, a girl from Brazil, who, on the one hand, was ecstatic about seeing snow, on the other hand afraid her fingers would fall off, as she hadn't brought any gloves

I'm finally arriving in Roncesvalle. Was I happy to see the abbey!!

Santo Domingo de la Calzada - a cock in a church

Oh my God! Sick people all around me!!! People with banadages around both feet, people being brought to hospitals with putrified heels, people in bed from the afternoon on, people giving up, people limping on - slowly the Camino takes it toll. I´m in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, only a mere 15km from where I was yesterday, but it´s so beautiful here and there´s so much to see that I decided to stay. I´m in a brandnew pilgrim´s albergue, with boiling hot showers, heaven! And in the room I´m gonna sleep in, are half the beds already full with people sleeping. What is that all about? They sleep, then they cook & eat, then they go to bed at 9pm, then they leave at 7am. That´s not for me. I found a quote in my diary which I wrote on the blackboard in the classroom last night: "The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are travelling for. (Louis L´Amour)" Right he is!
I´m not a morning person at all. I find it very hard to get used to those early mornings.... I´m always the last to get up and the last to leave the albergue. Then I head straight to the next bar to wake myself up with a little breakfast and a couple of coffees before heading out at least an hour later than everyone else. By this time, sometimes, I can already meet pilgrims from places 12 or more km behind me! But the evenings are even worse to get used to. The albergues mostly close at 10pm. By which time 99% of the pilgrims are already wrapped in their sleeping bags, snoring away (oh, don´t get me started on this! I have to write a little blog just about things pilgrims do.....) Most of the time I´m sneaking around with my flashlight, trying to brush my teeth, get into bed, find my ear plugs etc., feeling like a total scoundrel for not sleeping already!
Back to this place where I´m planning to see things as well (instead of sleeping), especially the church with the cock ;) There is a legend for which this place is famous: a couple and their son were on a pilgrimage to Santiago and stayed in an inn. The daughter of the innkeeper fell in love with the son, but he wasn´t interested and the next morning the three moved on. But the scorned maid secretly put a silver cup into the son´s luggage, accusing him of stealing it, so the boy was sentenced to death by hanging. When the parents went past the hanging tree again, they discovered that their son was alive, being supported by Santo Domingo. They ran to the judge, who was just having dinner, telling him about the miracle and their son´s innocence, but the judge replied "your son is as dead as those two chicken I´m eating". With that the two chicken became alive and flew away! And since then they keep a hen and a cock in the cathedral. And if I´m lucky enough and the cock crows when I´m inside, then my camino will end successfully. Well, I´m just gonna stay in that cathedral until the bloody cock crows!
So now, instead of telling you about the last two days I´m going to try and do a new post with..... tatatadaaaa.....- pictures!
Hope it´ll work!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Azofra - 206km today!!!!

Wanted to write a little bit today as I´ve seen a couple of really lovely things and been blogging in my head all day, but have been waiting for the computer over an hour - and now we have to go to bed..... Can you believe it, like little children. So, just to announce: I did my longest walk since I started, 24.6km. And that also means that I crossed the 200km treshold today! Since St. Jean Pied de Port I walked exactly 206km!! And instead of celebrating in the 2-bed-dorm with a lovely bottle of wine, I´ve been moved to an old classroom with 9 other poor souls. So please, have a glass of red wine from the La Rioja region in my honour!
Signing off, the happy tired pilgrim :)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Logrono - a bit of a washout....

Yes, I limped into Logrono, after almost 23km. Everything hurt, I can´t even start to describe the feeling. Torres del Rio, by the way, was quite lovely. Sitting on the top of a hill, it - again- looked like it hadn´t been altered since the middle ages. Unfortunately the same could´ve been said about my hostel....... ANYWAYS, the place has something quite special to boost: an octagonal church, romanesque, with a 12th century cross inside. The inner structure was quite similar to the one from Eunate, the Knights Templar church, but the design and the carvings were very different. The ceiling was the most striking feature: from all 8 corners the columns merged together on the top - everyone placed their cameras on the floor underneath the centre of the ceiling to take a picture, me too, of course. One column had a beast with a vicious, gaping mouth, in which a lamb was stuck. (That reminds me: in Estella one of the churches had the entrance to hell carved into the gothic arches: all the poor sinners had to march into a huge beast´s mouth - hopefully I can put up pictures at a later time). Back to the church in Torres del Rio: the crucifix was really well preserved, but while I stood there in admiration, Martha, an older woman from Venezuela (now in Atlanta, Georgia) shouted: "Oy, doesn´t Jesus look like a dwarf?" Ehm, well, on closer inspection he did, cause the proportions were wrong and his head was a bit too big for his body..... She ruined my whole impression! No, I still think he was quite beautiful. Medieval art isn´t exactly known for proportions (Yea, why is that?? The greeks and romans mastered the art to total perfections, and then everything sank..... into the middle ages, making a big step backwards. Odd.)
And another ANYWAYS! I left Torres del Rio in good spirits and in good speed. Shortly around eleven I´d already walked almost 12km and arrived in Viana, which boast a splendid cathedral with a grave of some Lord outside the church. He was the son(!) of some Pope (Alexander??? Don´t have my little, clever book with me....) and such an ass that they didn´t want to bury him inside. Well done.
Then on to Logrono everything started to change. The countryside started to remind me of ...... - oh dear, I´m going to offend people now...., apologies in advance! - ....Co. Offaly. As in: it was just there. Flat. With people driving through it, shouting "Boggers!!" out of car windows. Though later on I decided I liked the Offaly countryside better than this. It all turned to three W´s: wine, wheat and wasteland. And slowly the wasteland took over. And the path turned to concrete. OUTCH! Here came the "I´m a horse on a motorway"-feeling back. Motorways and roads multiplied. And the fact that I came ever closer to a paper factory didn´t help at all. The air hung full of the smell of glue and other chemicals, and my heels decided to act up big time. I think the tourism bureau of Logrono thinks that to tar the Camino is wonderful for pilgrims. Good intentions. In fact, people who carry a shit load on their back want everything but concrete. Soft, natuiral ground, yes, even mud, or stones (they massage the feet at last) is much, MUCH better than unforgiving hard concrete. Since my heels started to hurt quite badly again, I walked very unnaturally, with the result that my calves turned to stone.
The only highlight on the approach to Logrono was the stop at "Maria´s", the daughter of Dona Felice, who for years waited for the pilgrims under an olive tree, stamping their Credentials and selling refreshments. She died in 2002 and now her daughter Maria has taken over the baton.
At the bridge into Logrono is the old custom house converted into a pilgrim´s information centre. They got me a single room for 20Euro and with my last breath I limped to this place, dreaming of a Cafe con Leche on the plaza in front of the cathedral. Despite my pains I fell asleep for a bit, and then, after my shower....., it was lashing rain! And I mean lashing, hammering down! Grrrrrrreat! So I wore all I had, just as if I was crossing the pyrenees in the snow again, and limped through the little calles, where they were advertising tapas and wine on every door. It looked like a brilliant place in warm weather! The spaniards were all wearing big winter coats, scarves and gloves. Every mediterranean person I meet is swearing it´s still winter, not even spring! Since I was by myself, I didn´t feel like hanging out in the bars alone, so I looked in the pouring rain for a place that would serve the local speciality: calamares in their own ink. YES. That´s what I said. I found a place, and it was yummy! I also had the local speciality, asparagus, as a starter. And wine of course. And when I fell into my little room, I discovered that the good people had switched on the heating, yay! So I spent a quiet, warm night and slept til 10am, yes, I have to repeat that: 10am.
This morning I spent a forune at the chemists on stuff for my heels and against muscle aches. Apparently they (the muscle aches) only disappear after the 3rd (!) week. I also found a place with cheap, soft scarves. One of them I´ll wrap from now on around my waist before putting on my pants. The stitching on those pants is so hard that the waistbelt of the backpack presses them into my flesh, and I´ve been fighting blue marks and little wounds since the beginning. The second scarf I´m using as belt from now on, as my pants are starting to slide down a bit - a good sign! :)) On my way out of Logrono I visited the Santiago church, which shows the saint over the portal as a killer of maures - not exactly political correct these days... He rides on a massive horse over heads lying on the ground, pretty impressive though ;) Inside (which was gobsmackingly beautiful!) they had a mass which was more special than anticipated: apparently today is the day of some Saint, who´s responsible for a good harvest, so people brought baskets with fruits and veggies, and the saint was lifted on the shoulders of 4 guys and carried out of the church on a little tour round the town. Have to google the saint, anyone knows who he is?
Then I walked 13km to Navarrete, yes, in the rain, and especially the howling wind. With my rain poncho I looked more like a windjammer than a pilgrim. A couple of times it blew me off the path, kinda funny though. The lanscape was nice, little woods to cross, past a lake, through loads and loads of wine fields, but all on concrete. Someone should tell the tourism offce of Logrono "Thanks for your concern, but no thanks. Give us the natural ground back!" Thank God I went to the chemist! The stuff they gave me did the trick and I could actually roll my feet from heel to toe. Now I´m in this little town called Navarrete, gorgeous little place (again, with a big church) on top of a little hill, all big sandstone again, which always appears orange in my camera. And the computer I write on is in the sweetest smelling shop ever! Guess that is, because it´s full and full of sweets. It´s a children´s paradise: sweets and internet! The two little guys beside me were very concerned I´d spent too long writing (which, indeed, is true...) and they wouldn´t be able to play. But then the woman beside me got up and now they´re very much into their game, and their crisps, and their sweets :))
I, on the other hand, wanted to Skype a bit, but have forgotten my Skype name.... Not the password, no, I have that. To my parents: who am I on Skype????? Ophelia something??
I better head back to the albergue with my bread. Still have to shower, to wash and to cook, and it closes at 9.30pm. And they also want us out before 8am! Well, I need a kick in the bum, otherwise I never get going. Good night all, and thanks for reading!