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!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Torres Del Rio - another mountain behind me:)))

Arrived in Torres del Rio today - 21km, yay! Only did 9.5 yesterday, but that was defifnitely enough for me, lame as I am. The stupid blister is healing well though, which is cool as already people can´t go on any more because their feet are ruined! I´d say a lot of those "racers" might regret their speed at some stage. There is nothing but your feet to carry you, so one better take good care of them.... Today a girl had to stop her camino because she got sick, as in the flu or something. She felt really miserable, had pains all over and probably fever as well, not good at all. My way yesterday was quite beautiful when it comes to the countryside (across little olive woods and ´norma´woods as well, with massive mountains in the distance - and the mountain I had to climb right ahead of me, but for some reason the backpack felt like it was carved out of marble. I pretty much dragged myself up that mountain, past a moorish well from the middle ages and through wine fields, so glad when I eventually reached the mountain village Villamajor de Monjardin. The albergue was right at the very top, in an ancient house of stone, with small rooms with massive wooden beams on the low ceilings. It was quite special I have to say, a real family athmosphere. Even the breakfast this morning at 7am didn´t feel as early and I was on the road much earlier than normally The walk to here (Torres del Rio) was like a motorway for pilgrims: easy, broad, more or less straight and always slightly downhill. It rained, which suits me fine, my arms are still burned - and so I didn´t even sweat at all during the march. Nothing to note when it comes to countryside, a bit boring actually. That reminds me: there were actually two really interesting bits on my way from Puente La Reina to Estella: the one thing was that a good bit of the way was an old roman(!) road, complete with half caved in roman bridge! I walked on that road for at least 45min. Can you imagine how many people walked there before me?! The other thing was, when I stopped along a the path between a wheat field and some bushes to correct my hip belt once again, I heard the "clack-clack" of walking sticks. Other walkers often creep up suddenly behind me, so I looked around - and there was no-one there. The walking stick noise continued and I realised that it came out of the bush. Then it changed to a bird song before turning into the walking stick noise again. Whatever bird lived in that bush, it was certainly very talented!! :)) Another 21km to Logrono tomorrow, until then!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ghosts in Pamplona??!

Okay, now, I don´t really believe in these things, though..... I´m open to everything. I´ve never seen, heard or experienced a ghost, I think that ghost hunting program on telly is just a heap of ...., but I wouldn´t totally dismiss everything straight away. Well, this is what happened: the little room in Pamplona was cold. That in itself isn´t very interesting, but it was warmer outside. I tried to switch on the heating, especially since I´d washed my clothes and wanted them dry for the morning, but the heating wouldn´t come on. When it was time for bed I curled up in my sleeping bag and started rubbing my legs and feet to warm them up. I closed the collar and the hood of the bag and eventually I fell asleep. At 10 minutes to midnight an almighty banging woke me. It sounded as if someone was hammering nails into my door. I got quite a fright. Why the frack hadn´t I put my pepper spray on the bedside table?! The banging continued, at irregular intervals. Sometimes I thought it was coming from the door, then from behind the wardrobe. What was going on? Were people having sex and their headboards of the bed was banging against the wall? It was freezing now, and I mean seriously freezing. I switched on the light, grabbed my knife, opened it and put it at the ready beside the bed - any intruder would meet a dangerous woman, and I wouldn´t let any ghost mess with me either! The banging continued, but now it came from a different part of the house altogether. This totally freaked me out and I decided that should this be otherworldly, I didn´t want to know and it could go on without me. I pressed my earplugs deeper into my ears and decended fully into my sleeping bag, closing the collar and the hood totally above me, with just a little breathing hole left. At 5am I woke up again. I was lying on my back and wasn´t quite sure what woke me. Then - yea, well I know, it sounds totally stupid and made up - suddenly the matress under me lifted and expanded under me with a ffffftt-sound, just as if someone had gotten up out of the bed. I totally froze. This was the craziest thing EVER. I hadn´t waited for this, I didn´t welcome it, I don´t believe in it. But there it was. Something got up from my bed. Shortly after the room got warmer and eventually I fell asleep again. When I checked out, the old senora cocked her head to the side and asked me with a wry smile "Did you sleep okay?" I said ´yes, I did´. She looked at me as one would look at a lab rat and slowly nooded her head. Needless to say that if I´m ever again in Pamplona, I WON´T stay there. So now, make up your own mind. I felt pretty disturbed afterwards........

Estella "la Bella" - falling victim to the foot curse

Last night I arrived in Estella. Very proud, cause it was another 22.2km!I was actually very tempted to stop earlier but the village just before Estella was so ugly that I decided to continue. An Albergue tried to tempt me with massages and hammocks but since they refused to advertise their price I just swept past. The walk yesterday was.... nice. And that´s about it. Rolling hills bringing me up and down (apart from one really steep climb directly after Puente La Reina which was a total bitch!), mainly wheat fields and small forests - and the first olive trees showing up! Also asparagus fields; it´s the time for asparagus right now, so there are a lot of people cutting them out of the sandy ground. Oh, yes, and... wine plantations! Very nice ;) Last night I went for another pilgrims meal and was told that wine and water was free, everything else I would have to pay for. I decided on wine - and got a whole bottle! Estella is very pretty, with a lot of amazing, mainly romanesque treasures: beautiful churches, the palace of the old kings of Navarre, a palace of justice and detailed carvings everywhere. All the buildings are built from heavy stone, but the towers or top stories are built in brick. An old spanish guy, who saw me taking pictures, stopped to tell me a lot about the history, and explained that after Navarre was conquered by the Castilianos, they stripped every church, palace etc. off their towers as they were considered militay defense positions. Later they were rebuilt - but in brick. Well, there you go, a bit of history for you. I seem to be about the only one who´s interested in that kinda stuff. Most of the others leave early, walk as much as they can, eat, sleep, get up early again. What´s the point? We´re walking on an ancient path, thousands and thousands of people walked the same way before. The amount of history is almost tangible, and the wealth and beauty of the towns along the way is due to the fact that in the middle ages everything developed along the Camino to cater for the massive stream of pilgrims. To race past all of this seems a bit of a waste to me. Since most of the other pilgrims wakl the hell out of their shoes they´re all suffering with terrible bisters etc. My shoes actually feel lovely, no rubbing or similar, so I felt quite blessed. BUT: last night I discovered a sneaky blister at the very back of my heel - bastard! Now I´m one of the "feet people".... Well, today lies a very steep climb ahead of me, and since I suffer from asthma and now have a little sore foot, I will only go up the hill (9km) and stay in the cloister there. On the way is a ´Bodega´ which has a well outside with two spouts: one with water, the other with wine - for free! I think I´ll take a nice rest there before reaching the peak. Thank God I have time! Poor Erika and Amy were on a very tight schedule, still sorry I lost them, they were quite special. As I´m only walking a bit today I´ve seeked out the library to blog a bit. So now, in the next blog, I´ll tell you about my ghostly experience in Pamplona ;))

Monday, May 10, 2010

Puente La Reina - burned to a crisp.....

Yay!! Walked 23km toady! In the most gorgeous weather. Actually, the weather was SO gorgeous that I realised it too late, much too late when my arms were already burned to a crisp. What can I say? I´ve been walking in rain and snow for the last week - who´d expect such a turn? I actually managed to be on the road early enough and crossed the next mountain top "Puerto del Perdon" at around noon. Up there was an amazing monument depicting all the different types of pilgrims that have crossed the place over the centuries, and the view was something else! (I sent a tweet but found out that all my tweets since I reached Spain never made it to Ireland! Thanks to a certain Shane Carr I´ll be signing up to AG Tweet now and hopefully it´ll work from now on) In the distance I could make out the snow covered peaks of the Pyrenees...., did I really walk all the way from there? The mud kept itself to a total minimum (yay, yay, YAY!) and after my little rest (bread, salami, water & chocolate) I actually walked past a lot of pensioners today (not them past me as before), so I didn´t need to feel humiliated :)) One thing I discovered is that I walk much better when I listen to music. No wonder soldiers have to walk to drums or sing songs! I have a special Camino playlist on my iPod, made out of 18th/19th century walking, drinking, soldier and student songs, medieval Santiago music and the "Into the Wild" soundtrack (eh no,I have no intentions to eat leaves or berries from the wild and end up like the guy), but all of which have great walking rhythm to them, especially the 18th/19th century student songs, which have all to do with drinking and walking - not with studying, wouldn´t you know ;) ANYWAY! I made it to this place today: Puente La Reina, and met the 2 lovliest women! A nun from Hungary, Erika, and a Korean woman from Vancouver, Amy. Both are the craziest walkers ever, Erika having walked about 35km today, while Amy walked close to 40km!!! Both don´t have much time, so they´re on a tight schedule. Which is a total pity, cause they´d be great walking buddies! Full of humour and kindness, but.... tomorrow I´ll loose them to the Camino. At least we´ve exchanged email adresses. I´m pretty proud with the amount I did today. I actually took a detour of 3.5km to see an octagonal church built by the Knights Templars: it was closed of course..... But in the end I manged to let the woman in charge let me and 5 others have a quick look and she opened the gates. You´re supposed to take off your shoes and walk round the church 3 times to feel the energy of the place. Course I only discovered that once we´d left the thing again... Ah well, she´d let me walk round the church only once anyway. The one thing I found really fascinating was one of the entrance doors: the carvings looked so celtic! It could´ve been a door to a church in Ireland!
Don´t know to where I´m off to tomorrow, I´ll decide that over breakfast. Amy and Erika will be long gone by then. Still have to tell you about the ghosts in Pamplona! Drunk people falling into their bunk beds now, guess I better get a move on as well. Still can´t get used to those 6am mornings....

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Slow progress.....

Pamplona lies behind me, just about, just 5km behind me. What day is today? Sat.., Sunday? On Friday I was hell bent on Pamplona. Leaving Zubiri the sun was shining and I had almost(!) a spring in my step. The pains in my legs and achilles heel were almost gone and though at first it was still so cold that little clouds formed in front of my face, pretty soon I was taking off my jacket and my fleece. Then, I lost my way...., just a bit, in the middle of a massive magnesium factory, but it was pretty annoying. The path at this point were big slabs of stone in concrete which are very hard to walk on - I think I know now how a horse feels when it has to walk on a concrete road. The horse in me was longing for nature paths again, and that wish was granted sooner than I though: the camino started to wind through gorgeous forests, but it was dotted with big mud puddles which very again not easy to circumnavigate. You kinda need to find a certain pace when your walking and all that stopping and starting again made it quite hard to find my pace that day. And for some reason my backpack felt even heavier than before. At a beautiful wild river, swollen with the rain and the melting snow I stopped for a little rest - at this point I thought I should throw my backpack in there and be done with it. But, like everyone else, I soldiered on - and the rain started, which I pretended to totally ignore cause I didn´t want to stop again to take out my rainponcho.... And then everything deterioated (????, that can´t be the right spelling....): the path couldn´t be called that any more. Did I call my way to Zubiri a mud-fest? It was nothing against what was waiting for me now. Slipping and sliding, wading and getting stuck, traces of pilgrims sliding down hills, water and mud en masse. At some stage I almost gave up trying to find ´dry land´, I just murmured ´Pamplona, Pamplona´and marched straight through the depths of the mudswamps. With a little stop at a gorgeous little chapel, where the nun, who opened the door for me, allowed me to climb up the belltower (very risky business, built in the 12th century and never been altered! - great fun!) and ring the bells! Anyways, when I came to the medieval bridge in Varre and saw the cloister, I gave up on the Pamplona idea. And that was the best I could have done: this little cloister with the chapel was absolutely magical! And in the chapel: a statue of the Trinity! I kid you not, I´ve never seen anything like it - Jesus sits beside God on clouds woth little angels and the Holy Spirit is behind them. If I´d enough time I´d put a picture in here, but there´s already pilgrims queuing for the computer behind me... Next day off to Pamplona, jusy 5km, where I stood out like a sore thumb. I decided to treat myself to a pilgrim´s menue, but my shoes were caked in mud and so were my pants. Having only that one pair I tried to find a skirt somewhere so I could wash them and go out as well. NO SUCH LUCK. It was Saturday afternoon, all shops closed. The few that were open didn´t sell anything for less than 25 Euro - eh, no, thank you. So the afternoon was spent with washing and shoe cleaning, and an early rest. I had a look around Pamplona today. Not that I was able to see much as everything is closed on a Sunday! But I went into the cathedral, looked at the Plaza de Toros from the outside and the impressive fortification before heading on. And now I´m at a lovely place where tortoises are having sex in a pond :) Tomorrow I have to cross a mountain again - and walk a proper distance! Til the next internet encounter! Ultreja!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Zubiri - a mudfest

Oh my God, I can´t believe I made it to Zubiri today! 22.8km - I can´t walk down steps any more, my achilles heels hurt like mad. 22.8km up and down the western hills of the pyrenees; I´ve never walked that far in my life, never mind up and down steep slopes. I actually found it pretty hard to fall asleep last night. No, not because of the smell of 120 people in one - it has to be said - quite impressive medieval hall, or the snoring that went on (I have the best ear plus: pharmacy in Parnell Street, the pink ones, can´t beat them!) but for the aches in my muscles. From the tip of my toes right up to the top pf my thighs. I would´ve LOVED to cover my whole legs in Deep Heat, despite the smell and everything. No such luck though. Woke up this morning and had to jump off the top of the bunk bed (no ladder, you see), ha, what joy! Ah yes, 6am and all the big chandeliers were switched on and the "father" of the albergue walked through the rows of bunkbeds, shouting ´Good Morning!´in all languages possible, before making sure we´d all be out well before 8am: I was still half asleep when I stood outside in the snow... An austrian woman had her walking boots stole though - can you believe it?!! One "pilgrim" stealing another´s walking boots. She was in a flood of tears, the poor woman. I´m keeping my boots close from now on. Another one was bitten by bed bugs. The matress was immediately carried away for desinfection. I hope she doesn´t have them in her sleeping bag! Thank frack I bought the bedbug protection sheet on the very last day before I lft: it looks like a mosquito net and is treated with some pesticide. You put it over the matress -highly recommended! Anyways, the day started quite miserable. Though everythin was still white it had started to lash rain. I dedided not to join all those eager, early walkers and instead antered a cafe for some breakfast. Half the day was then spent walking through melting rivers of snow and water again pouring off my hat, running down the rain poncho. But today I had my warm gloves AND my banana! Yes, I can learn from my mistakes ;) After 2pm it stopped raining and with my slow walking pace I was now all by myself on the way. I must say, I enjoy that much more than being in a whole, neverending bulk of walkers. Also: most of the walkers here are pensioners. Well trained pensioners. And somehow it´s not so great for the ego when you get overtaken by people that are 60, 65, 70 or over! Yesterday I got overtaken by a Dutch gentleman and his wife: he´s 70, she´s 78 (not that you could tell). Both overtook me easily. I was in awe. Anyways, I´m not trained, I can´t walk uphill without breathing problems and, yes, I´m pretty happy with my progress so far. Towards the evening suddenly the sun came out -hopefully the path dries out a bit over night. Tonight was everyone just slipping and sliding through mud - and later washing clothes in the shower. My two most precious items for walking are again: my broad rimmed hat and the long stick. At times I could use it like a gondolieri to balance me through water and oceans of mud. So if anyone wants to do this: get yourself a LONG staff in St. Jean, not the short ones they sell everywhere - the long one is THE BEEEEZNEEEZ! Signing off in Zubiri (which is not worth mentioning, apart from a small medieval bridge, and the fact that I made it this far).
Oh, and P.S. Saw a four legged ´pilgrim´today: a dog with backpack! Took a picture, maybe I can put it in here in Pamplona

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Roncesvalles - finally internet!

I crossed the Pyrenees to Spain!! In DEEP snow!! First it was lashing rain, then it started to snow, and finally I was fighting my way through deep snow in a snowstorm. Whenever I hit a normal road I saw cars sliding backwards, emergency vehicles helping out, a caravan blocking the road etc., etc. Me and my fellow pilgrims were walking for hours uphill, uphill....., so glad I have the most brilliant pilgrim´s walking stick ever! Taller than me it pushed me up, up until I hit the highest point. Nothing there but more snow and thick fog. I could make out a small church in the clouds and thought that, maybe, finally, I could put my backpack down and eat that banana I´d been dreaming off for the last two hours - but it was closed, hm. Anyways, the abbey of Roncesvalles couldn´t be too far off now and, boy, was I happy when those massive stone buildings came into sight! My hands were freezing at this point, not too bad considering there were people who didn´t bring gloves at all. Mine are mainly against windchill, with extra thinny gloves for more warmth, which were in the bagpack and I couldn´t get to them. It´s not that I´m too stupid to put down the thing, open it & take things out, it´s just that I (like everybody else) was wearing multiple layers, topped off with a big rain poncho. To take that off would´ve meant to stand umprotected in - first: the lashing rain, and then the snowstorm. To put the poncho over oneself and the rucksack is quite tricky too and also, where to sit?? Rivers poured down that mountain - and from my broad rimmed hat whenever I tilted my head. Later it had a thick layer of snow on the rim, which I discovered in the pilgrim´s albergue after taking it off. I´m now in a huge, gothic looking hall, thick stone walls with small slits for windows and impressive, massive round iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Hot air is blown up from under the - in my estimation - over a hundred bunk beds, which is such a blessing. Strung up my washing line and am drying clothes, after a lovely sleep (with earplugs) and a hot shower. The more pilgrims arrive the more sweaty the aroma in the hall, but soon it´s 7pm and that means: pilgrims dinner! Can´t wait, absolutely starving! Outside ist everything in deep white and the abbey with it´s church looks quite magical. What a day! Wonder what tomorrow brings ;)