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Archive for August, 2012

Our second Sunday on the road…I didn’t write yesterday; was too tired and didn’t have an Internet connection unless we were sitting outside on the church steps where it was chilly and breezy. We walked just over 17 miles yesterday ending in a small village. We chose to stay in an albuquerque located in a church. There was room for 40 pilgrims in two rooms with 20 mats in each. The floors were old and wooden, the laundry area was in the belfry, and dinner was communal. The plan for the evening was dinner prep at 6:00, followed by mass at 7:00, and dinner at 8:00. Walker declared he wasn’t going to help prepare the meal as the kitchen is not his forte, he wasn’t going to mass because he wouldn’t understand it and would fall asleep, and he most certainly was not going to wait until 8:00 for dinner as that was stupid and he was hungry. He left to go across the street to the bar for a sandwich while I joined in the meal preparation to peel, chop, and slice food for dinner. I always enjoy the camaraderie of being in the kitchen with others, and it is especially pleasant when actions are the common denominator as not many spoke the same language. When I went down for mass, Walker was sitting on the church steps checking email or something. I went in for mass; guess who followed me? Mass lasted for about 40 minutes, we didn’t understand a word of it, we just stood up and sat down when others did, but the significance of it all is hard to describe. An ancient church, beautiful singing,and incredible ornamentation are just a few of the highlights. We noticed that the majority of the congregants were women in their 60’s and 70’s, dressed similarly in skirts, long cardigan sweaters and chiffon scarves. They all looked like they had been to the beauty parlor earlier in the day. At the end of the service, the priest invited all pilgrims to come forward and offered a special prayer for us. (Side-note : today we walked for awhile with Aymeric, a 24 year old French med student. Though he doesn’t speak Spanish, he somehow knew where to follow along in his Bible, and said the lesson was on the Parable of the master with two servants and the talents.) Back in the kitchen after mass, I noticed I didn’t see any of the food we had prepared except for the salad. This albergue was hosted, as some are, by volunteers. In this case our hosts were two Spaniards, a male and a female, and neither spoke English. Guillermo, one of our fellow pilgrims, was commandeered to assist as interpreter, and he told us that the pans of food had been taken to the local panaderia (bread bakery) to be cooked, and we had to either sing or dance en masse to get the food back. The only thing off-limits was the Macarena. So, there we were, 26 of us, trying to find a song we all knew. We agreed on Frere Jacques, divided in to two groups to sing in rounds, and headed out with Walker as our leader on a guitar. As we paraded down the street, both locals and pilgrims, and even a few resident dogs, came out with big smiles/ears. After Walker performed a solo on the guitar, as did a French pilgrim with a flugelhorn, we received our pans of hot food and paraded back to the albergue. The priest arrived with bottles of red wine, offered a blessing, and we all enjoyed what, in my opinion, has been our best meal yet. (When everyday you walk, shower, do laundry and repeat, meals become a big deal!) We enjoyed salad and a delicious casserole of rice, chickpeas, potatoes, chorizo, blood sausage, and tomatoes with a side dish of butternut squash. The squash also served as dessert with a drizzle of honey. We each washed our own dishes; our hosts took care of the pots and pans, and we were in bed (on our mats in our sleeping bags) by 9:30.

After dinner last night, we went around the table to introduce ourselves and say what inspired us to walk the Camino. People did this in their native languages, so I didn’t get all of the stories, but I did get this one. Michael, from Austria, has been dubbed Quick Mic. He had been planning a vacation in Bolivia with a good friend, but she was killed in an auto accident a few weeks ago and instead of going to Bolivia, he decided to walk the Camino in her honor. He has been moving along at a fast pace, hence his name. This morning at breakfast I asked him if he was ready for the day, and he said yes and asked if I wanted to walk with him. I told him maybe if I was 20 years younger! We then determined that he was 24 years younger than I am, and I said to the other middle aged ladies at the table weren’t we lucky that we could say we slept in a room with a 29 year old man. He asked what he could say about that, and I told him he could say he slept surrounded by wisdom. He then went on to say that to learn to ride a bike, you must start with an old one, or to learn to cook you should start with old pans. That started our day with a good laugh. Later today, we passed him and I joked and said the cafe we were leaving had the best cafe con leche ever, and that he should get one and stay for at least an hour. Then, as we were headed back to the Camino, he told me to go right (instead of left), and to be sure to observe the speed limit. We didn’t see him again and who knows if we will or not. That’s how it works on the Camino.

After a nice breakfast in the albergue (having breakfast where you stay is not the norm), we packed up and departed just before 8:00. As we rounded the corner to get on the Camino, we saw Marita, a pilgrim friend from Sweden, and two Brits having coffee. I paused to say hi and ask where they had spent the night, etc. and Walker said, “come on, we’re late.” Late?! Late for what I wondered…not for a bus, nor brunch reservations…nothing I could think of. Time doesn’t really matter here (except for the 10 pm lights out rule). Walker, bless his heart, has finally taken his watch off, but hasn’t yet been able to forget the time constraints of our old life. There’s still time; we still have A LOT of miles to go!

Today on the walk I listened to another Kati Marton audio book, Hidden Power, Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History. It is about the women behind the presidents of the 20th century, and I recommend it.

We’ve been following John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago which gets one from our start in St. Jean Pied de Port to the cathedral in Santiago in 33 days. We hope to get to Santiago with enough time to reach Finisterre, so we have added a few extra kilometers these past two days. Feeling entitled today after a longer than recommended walk, we’ve checked in to a nice private albergue. We even upgraded from an 8€ per person space to 10€. The only thing it bought us is twin beds across from each other, with a partition on either side of the beds. I’ve taken advantage of the space and emptied my backpack to see if there’s anything I can get rid of, but all I’ve done so far is reduce it by one piece of candy! We really enjoyed hot showers after two days of lukewarm, and the abundance of clothes lines and clothes-pins is a simple pleasure.

All for now; we enjoy reading your comments. As always, questions are welcomed!

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We have entered the region of La Rioja which is famous for its wines. So we are walking through field after field of grape vines. It seems that the grape plants are pruned to grow like small shrubs rather than allowed to spread out on wires as we have seen back home in Virginia.

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Celebrating 100 Miles

Cathy and Andrea, from Germany, celebrate passing the 100 mile mark at a roadside snack bar.

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This morning we left our favorite albergue so far, Casa de la Albuela, in the lovely town of Los Arcos at 7:00 a.m. th begin the 18 mile walk to Ligrono. The weather was cool, around 60 degrees at midday, and the terrain was relatively flat so we made good time.
At noon we stopped in Viana to visit the church where Cesare Borgia is buried. Borgia was an interesting character and we want to do more research on him but here’s the gist of his story…
Cesare Borgia was the illegitimate son of Rodrigo Borgia who was elected Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Cesare was put in charge of the Papal armies and became the patron of both Leonardo da Vinci and Machiavelli. When Pope Alexander died, Cesare was banished to Spain where he died defending Viana in 1507. It is believed that many artists of the time, including Leonardo, used Cesare’s image as a model for their images of Jesus Christ.
We arrived in Logrono shortly after 2:00 p.m. and checked in to a pension. After a walk around town we met some other pilgrims and had dinner then went to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day!

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Last night, we sprung for a pension. Walker wanted a good night’s sleep, something he finds hard to get in a room full of strangers. In fact, I think he’s almost beginning to tolerate my snoring. He says it is more like night music than the noises others are making!

Logrono was a delightful university city complete with tapas bars, gelato and frozen yogurt shops, and music on the streets. We went to bed with accordion music making its way through our third floor balcony windows.

After tapas and beer on our own, we had dinner with the German father-son duo we met our first night, and Andrea, a German woman. I can’t remember if I’ve already talked about her, and I don’t have an Internet connection to check, so excuse me if this is redundant. Andrea has used her vacation time over the last few years and has walked from Munich – 2,000 kilometers. This year, she is completing her trip by going all the way to Santiago. I believe she is in a photo Walker posted yesterday. Her backpack weighs at least twice as much as mine, her feet are sore and blistered, yet she soldiers on. I am inspired. When we officially met last night, I introduced myself as Cathy. She said, “why do you say that? I know your name is Virginia.” I explained that I live in Virginia, and she said, “but when people see you coming, they say here comes Virginia”. We shared a good laugh; seems like Walker and I are not the only ones coming up with trail names for people.

Yesterday we also met a young lady from Vancouver. She was having trouble finding the hotel she wanted to stay in. As she was obviously directionally challenged like me, Walker tried to help her out with the map, but still we saw her pass us several times in both directions when we were sitting in the plaza. She was at the table next to us at dinner and remarked that we were in the same pension. She asked what time we were leaving in the morning, and I told her probably around 7. She was worried about finding her way out of town, so I told her we would knock on her door when we departed. This morning we were unable to get to her room as we were on different floors and the hall doors were locked. We stepped outside on the street where it was still dark. We saw a window on the second floor that was open with a light on inside, stood under it and said “psssst”. She appeared at the window and said she would be right down. Incidents like this always make me smile; it’s just part of life on the Camino.

We had a nice, but long (20 mike) walk today. I finished the audiobook Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton who was married to both Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke. It was quite enjoyable and I recommend it.

Walker and I walked separately about half the time today; twice when we met up, he had presents for me. The first was a bootie, a rubber boot to fit over the spike on my walking pole. They are very useful when walking on sidewalks or asphalt. He found it along the path. Later, he picked up a pair of pants for me that were hanging on a fence. (It is common for people to discard things along the way as their packs feel increasingly heavy.) They are made by Ex-Officio, the makers of our 17 Country, Six Day underwear that have been priceless. I haven’t tried the pants on yet to see if they’re keepers, but he has said he will carry them if they are.

We’ve noticed that we’re seeing and meeting a lot of different people on the trail. Hans and Frans left as was their plan, and we’ve gotten a bit ahead of Andy and a few others as their feet are bad. Two new “friends” I call Silvio and Romeo are from Rome. They have sort of trolley-like things with them. One pushes his, the other pulls his. They are always cheerful despite the only words we exchange are “buena sera”. Today as I plodded along, they were off to the side of the trail under a tree having a picnic and drinking red wine from a box. They offered me some, but I knew if I stopped, it would be very difficult to get going again. They just walked by my bunk. We’re in an albergue that is pay by donation only. There are probably 80-100 beds in one room with two sets of bunks pushed up next to each other. We took two bottom bunks (we usually share one set). Walker is taking a shower and doing his laundry; I haven’t budged from the bed since I got here. Once again – or still – my feet hurt. They ache. I have a blister on each heel, but I switched to my Keen Voyagers yesterday and don’t feel the blisters at all. I’m having the best time lying here watching people parade back and forth to the shower, seeing pilgrims I haven’t seen in a few days and checking out who’s hobbling and who’s not. I think nearly everyone but Walker is hobbling!

Today I’ve noticed quite a few new fashion trends. In addition to wearing socks with Crocs, people are sporting one hiking boot and one sandal. Some walkers wear gloves to avoid the sun. Today one girl wore gaiters because she thought it was raining, but it turned out the sidewalks had just been hosed down. Then there’s always yesterday’s laundry hung from the backpacks. We’re embracing the fact that anything goes!

If you care to read our fellow pilgrim Andy’s blog, it is Andy’s Camino Blog
He has a nice photo of Walker there : )

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Today Pokey hopped out of bed and was ready to go well before sunrise. However her feet now ache after another 12 mile day so Walker is writing this blog while she applies Compeed.
There was an “alternativo” today – an alternative route which was advertised as being slightly shorter but more difficult because it involved more elevation gain and greater isolation in a remote area with no place to get extra food and water.
We were advised by Camino veterans before we left the States not to always walk together since our natural gaits and walking paces are different. So today seemed like a good day to have solo walks to the next destination – Los Arcos. I took the alternativo since I am a “path less traveled kind of guy” and Pokey took the more popular route since she is very popular.
I found a spot on the map called “Cruces” where the alternativo and the main route came together about 5 miles before Los Arcos. As a back-up plan we said that if we somehow missed each other at Cruces we would meet at Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos.
I had a wonderful walk on the alternativo and felt like i was flying along the narrow trail. Even the climbs felt great and I hardly worked up a sweat. I saw only about 10 other pilgrims along the way and did not stop to talk, only saying “Buen Camino” as I passed.
After a little more than three hours I came upon a town and was confused when I saw the sign indicating that I was entering Los Arcos. Somehow I had missed Cruces altogether! I was worried that Cathy would think that there was something wrong because I did not meet her at Cruces. If I walked back to Cruces to meet her it would add as many as 10 miles to the walk so I decided to wait at the albergue and hope that our back-up plan worked.
After about an hour and a half I was relieved to see Cathy and Marita, a Swedish pilgrim, walking down the street towards me. Now we’re resting and preparing for a long say tomorrow – 17 miles. The lesson of the day is to be sure that we select a good meeting place for each day’s walk.

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This post somehow did not get published back when it was written, so here it is now.

With less than a month to departure time and plans to start The Camino on August 24, my coach (Walker) decided we needed to bump my training up a notch. Today we hiked 11 miles on the Appalachian Trail. We wore our packs and went with a friend who hikes like a mountain goat (of course Walker would, too if he wasn’t gallant enough to walk behind me). Several times on uphill stretches I gave Walker the okay to pass me. At one point he turned around and said “Come on Pokey”. Pokey?!…that’s what I call our 12 year old dog when she lags on our daily walks. I guess I deserved it, though, I’ve got some improving to do before Day One in the Pyrenees.

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