Hiking the Camino de Santiago
Some of the following may in fact be true
Upon returning to the US after ten years of cruising, we found that newspapers were in a precipitous decline. People are now gathering their "news" from the internet allowing the choice of what is news up to themselves rather than to an editor. This simplification and streamlining of the process leads to hard news stories becoming short clips and soft "news" being morphed into bullet points that I find irresistible. You know the allure of; The 10 Best Beaches in the World, The 7 Best Shower heads, The 9 Best Cheese Sandwiches.......I can't help but click on and compare my mental list to that of some "expert" on the topic.
Since we will not be writing "news" and we have to compete with an internet full of all its trickery, we will abdicate to the detached short clip or the bullet point rather than doing the hard work of writing a story or article.
This adventure or endeavor of walking the Camino de Santiago takes its theme from President John Kennedy when he announced the manned lunar program. .....not because it is easy but because it is hard......, not because we are young because we are not, ..............not because we are looking for some religious fulfilment..........okay you get the idea. So why? Well the answer is simple. It's because we think we still can. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken this pilgrimage, most are young, many only complete a small portion, some ride and from what we can tell from the blogs we read, the majority complain. Just to make it clear we are not climbing mountains and we won't be risking our lives. What we are looking for is a sense of accomplishment, to be part of the international community we found while cruising, and of course to recapture a sense of adventure.
It is believed that after the crucifixions of Christ the Disciple James traveled to Garicia to convert the Iberian pagans but found little success in doing so. James returned to Jerusalem in 42 CE and was eventually beheaded by Herod.
There are many stories about how the body of St James was returned to the northern plains of Spain. But lets not quibble about which one we like. Eventually a shepard sighted a field of stars that he believed marked the final resting place of St James. A cathedral was built on the site and a city, Compestela (a field of stars) sprung up. Around 1000 CE, pilgrims from throughout Europe started to find their way to Compestela. In the 1980's the Camino was rediscovered and from this resurgence of pilgrims a tourist industry sprung up that now provides food and shelter for the pilgrims hiking "The Way of St James".
Today there are many "ways" to Compestela and UNESCO has designated part of the path and many of the cathedrals and churches as protected historical sites.
You can find enough factual information on the internet so, let's get on our way.
August 6 2014
Flew to Spain
August 7, 2014
Arrived in Madrid and traveled to St Jean
August 8, 2014
Random Thoughts on the Camino
The French Route
After the arduous hike from St Jean Pied de Port, France, we arrived in Orrison, a remote albergue in the Pyrennes. The hike is only 9 km but we quickly learned it's not how far you hike but how high you climb that makes the difference. As soon as we arrived it rained and hailed but the bad weather quickly disappeared and the vista from the deck across the road from the albergue was to be one of the best views on the entire Camino. Not only were the mountains and pastureland breathtaking but there were cows, horses, goats and sheep and even though they didn't smile we have their pictures and they will forever be immortalized in the cloud. Rene is into photography as you will see in this article and the accompanying Flicker site.
That night after the pilgrims dinner, we were asked by the young lady running the albergue (a dorm like facility with six pilgrims per room and shared restroom facilities) to introduce ourselves. So the group of twenty or so pilgrims looked something like this....
a lady who had hiked from Lyon, France and would spend the next ten days on the Camino
a couple who had hiked from Brussels
a couple who had hiked from Holland
a man who had hiked from Switzerland
a couple from Arizona who had hiked the Camino last year
a lady from the Basque region in Spain who now lives in Idaho
a lady from Honduras now living in Canada
a father and son from Japan who had 10 days to hike as far as they could
two "soon to be friends" from NYC, John and Neil
a guy from Denver
four people from Germany
I don't recall the rest of the stories of the remaining pilgrims.
So in the weeks ahead we would be sharing the trail with an international community similar to this group. Everyone was enthusiastic and full of anticipation as we set upon this new adventure.
The next morning after a large bowl of coffee and tostadas, we hiked higher and higher into the Pyrenees. Besides the lush pastureland in the mountains, we found a rift of jagged outcropping reminding us how these mountains were formed. Finally sunshine broke through and the blustery winds died down just a bit as we trudge upward on steeper trails. Each time a ridge line appeared we just knew it had to be the summit. But it wasn't so we soldiered on. When we finally reached the top there was a border marker delineating France and Spain and a large marker reminding us that it was 786 kilometers to Santiago.
Then it was sharply down on jagged trails you wouldn't let your worst donkey use. Later we found out that there was an easier descent that most pilgrims have taken because the trail we were on is too dangerous. Finally we arrived in Roncesvalles exhausted but pleased with ourselves. We enjoyed the pilgrims trout dinner in a large hall with "old" and new acquaintances.
After two days we know:
The Pyrenees can and will kick your butt
The first two weeks of any endeavor is never reality
You should buy boots that are one half size larger than you normally wear.
Long days of hiking give one way too much time to think. You can't talk because of the altitude and the exertion won't allow it. So here are some things to think about
Try and recall every word you know in Spanish.
Make a mental list of all the items to remove from your pack, damn thing is too heavy
Am I getting a blister?
What is happening in the world outside of the Camino and need I care?
Most peligrino dinners provide wine and typically you can drink all you want. In fact you have to buy water but the wine is refilled as if they are trying to get rid of it. Yea, it's that bad. Sour as vinegar but plentiful.
When you are tired you get cranky
When you are hungry you are cranky
When you are hiking the Camino you are always tried and hungry, ergo.
Early on we found that a small percentage of the traffic on the Camino is made up of bicycles. Riders are outfitted with padded spandex with advertising all over their shirts and butts, Go-pros stick out the side of the helmets and saddle bags that take up the entire path that you're trying to hike on. They whizz by and expect you to get out of the way. As they pass it's always with a "Bueno Camino" because they know they are a pain in the ass and it is their way of trying to ameliorate the irritation. Sorry, doesn't work.
Upon arriving at Puente La Reina on day 5 of our hike, we are standing in line to check into the albergue and one of the patrons outside is loud and obnoxious and even tries to break in line. But hey, we are here to enjoy the experience so we ignore the lout. We find our bunks for the night and return to the courtyard to have a beer. There is this same guy sitting with two deaf mutes who are signing and we never hear another word from him as now all his communication is written. Ironic isn't it..
When I would ask my European business friends what they did outside of work they would often tell me they enjoyed hiking. Now I relate hiking with military tactical exercises and am in disbelief. No really, what do you do for entertainment? Well, sometimes we camp. Yes in fact many Europeans hike. It's good exercise but it's so god awful boring. During our cruising career we would on occasion hike to the top of an island but I could never figure out why. Hiking is not a sport, a hobby or something you can do for entertainment. It never caught on much in the US because we live in an ecomony based upon consumerism. You can't spend very much money on hiking not like golf or boating or tennis. Maybe this is why the savings rate in Europe and especially Germany is so much higher than the US. Okay you can spend several hundred dollars on German treking poles made of Titanium but its not like a new set of golf clubs or a tennis club membership.
You find many different surfaces while hiking the Camino but wether it's up hill or down hill you will always find loose rock. I don't mean gravel but rather fist size or larger rocks that want to grab your ankle and give it a good twist or wrench your knee, or bruise your heel and always wear you down while trying to keep your balance.
When mentioning our next adventure people would ask how far............15 to 18 miles per day and they would say....that doesn't sound too bad. How much will you carry?..........20 to 30 pounds.........so not too heavy. You say you stay in hotels? Well you can see in their minds they believe this can't be a very challenging adventure. But here's the truth. You hike a minimum of six hours per day all of which is constantly up or down hills...again not how far but how high...now imagine carrying 36 cans of coke in your pack on a washed out cow path in 95 degrees F ..............not too bad. For every decade under the age of 60 add another 12 cokes. Now do it every day for thirty-three days. Sorry, does this sound like I'm complaining?
Todays hike ends in Los Arcos and we are in the middle of a festival. People are dressed in white with red scarfs and singing groups serenaded the population at different intersections of the old part of town. We splurge on a private room in the albergue (which would quickly become our requirement as we moved down the trail) and decide to spend an extra night in order to participate in the running of the bulls. I mean will we ever get this opportunity again? All day the streets are full, there are carnival rides and the restaurants and bars are doing a robust business. A troupe of young people is going from bar to bar singing at the top of their lungs and disrupting business until they are provided a drink and then it's off to the next bar.
Late in the afternoon the next day, the streets are barricaded and people are perched from their favorite observation point. I entered the inside of the corridor waiting in the town square for what I wasn't certain. Suddenly cannons thundered and three bulls were released to ravage the streets which are filled with teenagers. A crowd of people are rushing toward me with many jumping behind the barrier erected in front of a nearby bar. Finally there are the bulls headed up the street and I am just in front of them. People quickly disappear and I'm the lone person with an empty street in front of me. I had a barrier picked out where Rene was to be filming all of this but it was more than a block away. I head up the hill, yea up the hill, running faster and faster and look back occassionally to find that those damn bulls are gaining and I am the only target on the street. Finally I'm running for all I'm worth and gain a little space. These are fresh bulls and this is the first run of the day and they are angry and frustrated. At the top of the hill I turn left and in the turn gain a step or two since it appears that I am a bit more agile that 3 two thousand pound bulls. I slip behind the barrier and am admonished by an elderly gentleman about being too close to the bulls. I detected a half smile. After the bulls disappear around the corner, I check with Rene and expect a good amount of adulation but instead she ask me to run again since she wasn't sure she got the pictures. She was jostled by the crowd and lost her position. Well, I hung around in the arena for a while but I am much more cautious.
I climb over the barrier and out of the arena and we walk around the town to find a better vantage point to watch the final release of more bulls. Without finding a good vantage point to film the activities, we decide to climb the barrier back into the town center where the fountain is located. The bulls have yet to enter this area of the cordoned off section of the town. Again the cannons fire and three fresh bulls round the corner but this time two of them enter the courtyard. I look for Rene and she is sitting in the portico of the church by the door concentrating on her cameras. The bulls are headed down toward the entrance and are about to turn into the portico. I grab Rene's arm to find a barrier to hide behind and she slips and falls. Not understanding the urgency, she wants to get up and brush herself off. No time, I start dragging her across the floor when the bulls enter and turn right. If they turn left we will be trampled but we are not out of danger yet. We need to get to the rail so we can jump over if necessary. Without letting lose of either of her cameras we make it to the rail and wait to see which way the bulls turn. Rene is a bit skinned up and I am happy we aren't in the hospital.
Upon returning to the albergue later that day, the owner, who could see my first run from the front door of his establishment, just shook his head and told me I was crazy and I think he was right.
Before departing for Spain people would ask why not just hike the Appalachian Trail. Well, people who do any long distance hiking know what a burden every pound of gear can become. It's no exaggeration, a half tube of toothpaste is better than a full one because of the weight. So as our thinking goes, I know from personal experience that there is a gun for every man, woman and child in North Carolina. Many Tar Heels have a hand gun and a carry permit and there are a great number of assault weapons with a thirty round clip in case a herd of deer attack you while hunting . So we conclude that not all these people can be rational and that I would have to carry a hand gun to protect Rene and Rene the same to protect me and that's a great deal of extra weight. Too much to carry for thirty plus days so it's off to Spain.
Now, you may ask how I know there is more than one gun for every man, woman and toddler. Well I have it on good authority that the maternity wards in NC are in touch with the local gun dealers and the hospital births are relayed to the gun stores...... 6 blue and 8 pink, that sort of thing. So the gun stores run special promotions. You know, buy a baby carriage get a free gun, enroll your child in pre school get a hand gun, get a loan or mortgage for an additional bedroom and you can have an assault rifle. This keeps gun ownership up to the rate of population growth.
Well, the US is nearing zero population growth and you might think there would be an oversupply of guns in NC. Just in case, the NRA has a new promotion to address too many guns (okay stay with me on this I realize many people think there is no such thing as too many guns). It doesn't require a license, registration, training or anything just a $100 donation to the NRA. It's called "you can take it with you". This campaign was thought up by Wayne Lapierre before he stepped down from his position with the NRA. It goes like this...... when the final bereavement services are over and the funeral director removes the favorite locket and wedding ring from granny before he closes the casket for the last time he wraps granny's cold dead hand around her favorite Glock. This helps keep the gun ratio in NC under control. Other surplus or unwanted guns are taken to Tennessee and sold outside of a gun show from the back of a truck, problem solved.
Now Granny opted for the "you can take it with you" program for two reasons. First, she is unsure if God ever forgave her for the incident in Barstow and if not she may not be headed to heaven. In fact she had a couple of extra magazines put in the casket just in case. And second, St Peter may not have the same interpretation of our second amendment rights as Wayne Lapierre and the NRA. Well, St Peter just needs to get right about our God given rights to bear arms.
While on the topic, this morning we saw hunters in the field hunting grouse, I suspect since that is the only game I have seen and the hunters all have dogs. The only thing that crossed my mind is "I wonder where Dick Cheney is?" Soon after seeing the hunters we were hiking next to a military base and firing range and the smell of cordite filled the air.
Okay,Lets go through the numbers
GDP per Capita
% of GDP spent on defense
Gun murder rate per million
Cigarettes per year per adult
Oil consumed bbl/per day/1000 pop
I like to add a little history to these observations especially for my younger audience who might not think it's important
711 Moors invade Iberia
(When the Moors Ruled Europe, documentary)
1094 El Cid conquered Valencia
(El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren)
1478 Spanish Inquisition
(The Pit and the Pendulum, 1991 genre horror)
1492 Chris Columbus Discovers the New World
(1492: Conquest of Paradise, released 1992)
1588 Spanish Armada Defeated in the English Channel
(Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Kate Blanchett)
1936 Spanish Civil War
(For Whom the Bell Tolls starring Gary Cooper)
1986 Spain joins the EU
20?? German avarice ruins EUROZONE, Spain withdrawals
(Movies still in production)
See my young readers, you don't have to read history books just watch the movies on your mobile device.
On every mile of the Camino the surface is different; country roads paved in asphalt, farm roads of stone, single paths too small for cows and just plain stone. Wherever you walk you are constantly looking for the smoothest path and the smallest stones. Your heels are already bruised and your arches have strained muscles so you wander from one rut to the other searching for the softest surface. Back and forth, back and forth and from behind you must look inebriated.
We are somewhat surprised that the young Spaniards are a bit behind when it comes to the latest trends. You see we have yet to spot a neck tat and there are none of those ear lobe enlarger items and although we have seen more that a few bands playing no one was grabbing their crotch. Behind the times, well we think so, but wait maybe it's just that the crotch grabbing isn't part of a new trend in the US but rather the result of a medical condition, crabs. Could it be?
Every twist and turn of the Camino brings you to a church. You wander your way through many small villages that were long ago abandon but with the surge of new pilgrims they have been brought back to life. Churches are being rebuilt in isolated locations, everything is turned into an albergue and restaurants abound. Yellow arrows also point the way to the commercialism of this hiking adventure.
One night we stayed in an albergue with a beautiful stone entryway leading to a courtyard. As with several other albergues this one was run by an order of nuns. When the charge was a donation of 5 Euro's per person we knew not to expect too much and that is just what we found. We shared a room with a gentleman from Spain who spoke excellent English and truly exemplified the religious pilgrim of today. We asked how far he planned to go. He answered "if God decides, I will go all the way to the sea". Kind of a thoughtful response.
Later that night Rene walks to the main floor of the albergue after dinner and comes back to tell me that people are gathered in the dining room and are singing, accompanied by two guitars. Now for three days I have a brain worm of the song by the Singing Nun. I think it was 1972 or something (actually 1963 a song named Dominique).
Several days later we see the same gentleman from the albergue at the top of a steep hill we had just ascended. Rene commented about what a steep hard climb it was. Our new friend answered, "Sometimes we must rise to meet the challenge". So now I start to answer Rene's questions in parables and end in Grasshopper. You remember David Carradine in Kung Fu the TV show. (ran from 1972-1975)
How much further today?
Until we take no more steps, Grasshopper.
Where do you want to have dinner?
Where the table is set for us, Grasshopper.
I can be annoying as hell when I set my mind to it.
I am unhappy with the author of our Camino guide, John Brierley. Everyday it's the same thing...... very little shade for this 25 kilometers so be sure and wear a brimmed hat and take plenty of water. And then he provides some gibberish about the mystical path and personal reflections with very little factual information much of which is outdated or inaccurate. Okay John forget the personal reflections and give me something useful to think about while hiking in the hot sun for six hours or more ie.,
where are the tapas bars in the next town
try and remember the words to Louie Louie today while you hike
never carry chocolate in your pack
don't eat the low hanging fruit on the black berry bushes where the pilgrims pee
vaseline can be your friend
and how about listing some decent apps for accurate and current information while on the Camino since every bar, albergue, cafe, grocery store and stable has wifi.
What's the difference between a Cathedral and a Basilica?
A town or city can have only one Cathedral
A Basilica has special ceremonial rights granted by the pope
Actually it's too complicated to explain here
On to September for the rest of the story.