Saturday, August 30, 2008


I just got into Santiago de Compostelle, Spain, at the crack of dawn in rain and lightening and thunder. 1080kms walked in 45 days. Some alone, some with others. Last night stayed in the fairly prisoner-type alberge (can house 800 people, in blocks) where I was in block 30, room 6, unable to sleep as red and white streaks of lighening tore up the sky, making a nearby mountain visible briefly. I walked up onto a hill and looked out towards what felt like a return to civilization--a big sity with interstate and peripherique roads running in and out of it, hotel lights and the still hidden cathedral hunkering down somewhere amid the neon mass. The storms that passed over were beautiful, angry, and calming too. I thought of when I used to listen to Fresh Aire tapes as a teen to help me sleep, and the ones which had rain recordings on them. Between each small storm was the silence interrupted by crickets. And then it was morning, and the masses in all of the blocks gathered their things into packs and onto bikes for a last march forward, the tiny 5km distance left between them and the end of this voyage, this part of a voyage. Many stopped for breakfast or were still getting ready as we departed the complex in the dark.

As I came into the city with Nora, Capitane and George--3 Czechs I have been walking with--the city and its suburbs was not yet awake. Busses passed us heading out to farther suburbs to pick up sleepy workers, some whose faces pressed against the panes as they napped en route to work with the returning public transport vehicles. I felt terribly disappointed in how banal it all felt, the blocks of housing, the concrete, the grey sky which, for the first time in all of this trek, did not erupt into some brilliant striation of color as the sun rose. Yet also it felt fitting, this HLM/city housing like a space of purgatory before we got into the fabulous old town center with its buildings with their statues, ironwork, attention to aesthetics. A transition from nature through its destruction to somewhere between the two. Also pasts and future colliding, construction and destruction, reconstruction. The transformation of arrival?

There was a peculiar moment as George and Capitane took a detour when Nora and I came to the Cathedrale in silence and there was just us, for the longest time, only two of us, and the dawn, the rain pausing, the face of the statue of St Jacques (St James in English) looking down from his perch above the door at the old pilgrim´s entranceway, now the one few people use. We had a good quarter of an hour there, alone, to just take the moment in, to look up at the ivory colored face of the clock in that dark and wet becoming ever lighter, before we went round from to find the first tour busses arriving and a sort of Versailles-visit frenezy of tourism pick up.

Now the city has filled up and is bustling with pilgrims and tourists, tired and wired groups. I am staying in a great place in the center of town with big windows onto a church and flower market, for a whopping 12e50 a day along with Nora, Capitane and George--the 3 I have been walking with much of the time since El Ganso. My journey here is finished, but we will go out to the sea and see the waves and then head home to the next road waiting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

100 kms, and then 1000kms

In Portomarin. It is a village of white buildings in these soft, leafy green and rolling mountains, more like rolling hills, in Galicia. I left Sarria realize about this morning in a white fog which lifted and became a sunny day over the 23 or so kms, during which I passed the well-graffitti laden official 100km marker stone. And tomorrow I will pass my own marker stone, when I hit the 80 it should make 1000kms (perhaps a bit more) that I have walked myself. A surprising amount, and with only one sort of half day off in all of this time, the day I spent in Poitiers getting train tix to St Jean. What does one learn on the road walking everyday for this long? What does one themselves, others? As a writer, what does this experience give words? Or take from them? Last night, as the alberge prive rattled with the snores of others in every room, I lay awake wondering at these things, at what it will feel like to enter Santiago in the early morning alone as I hope to, to see the great Cathedrale (far bigger than the one in Astorga, pictured right below along with the Gaudi building pic which is currently a museum for the camino I passed through a few days ago), to then go by bus to the sea, to Finisterre and look out on the horizon line which the Spaniards once believed was the end of the world, the place where a giant waterfall lurked, a waterfall that would shoot you into the sky (so Jose, a Spaniard I walked with for awhile this afternoon told me)

I think everyone is sort of slowing down. just in no rush to be there, at their destination, at the end of whatever this for each of them, us, me.

Today, in the fog of the morning I came to a small monastery from the XII century, and took the path left to it (the camino went right) and stopped in and said hello to the woman minding the door and admired the wooden mantelpiece and the simplicity of the place but especially outside the crosses bordering its stone walls which were just grey enough to be distinguished from the white of the air. Then I went on, the sun came out, the fog burned away and the day became green and fragrant. People picked the ripening blackberries along the walk and ate them, and again I came to a cafe and had a drink while a heard of cows trundled past the tables with their shepherd. The terrain here is all ups and downs, rural roads winding between small farms, plots of land separated from others by stones and small stone walls like I have seen in Ireland and parts of England. There were sometimes no sounds at all, and others there were chickens, roosters, carious wild birds, dogs and the constant tic-tic-tic of walker´s canes on the paths or striking stone. Parts of the trek also reminded me of Iowa, corn fields and like up near Dubuaue, rolling hills dipping into valleys. Only here the houses are very thick old stone, often small flat stones stacked together to make the dense walls protecting the inhabitants from the winter--which people are already preparing for, as I keep seeing stacks of wood, or people getting their wood delievered and piling it up under shelters or in barns.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On the clock...

So this will be a short(ish) shot in the dark! Got into Sarria this afternoon after a long lost wander with the Czech woman I have met, Nora. We sort of went öff Camino¨as it were, exasperated with the highway we were along we followed an alternate sign for Sarria--dashing through the woods and fields and then along the paths that said our destination was originally 4,9kms away, the next sign read 3kms away and then the next sign again read 3. Oops!!! We laughed a lot as we kept along the path we´d hit, unsure whether we were even heading in the right direction at all. But there were waterfalls everywhere and the river was too gorgeous for us to leave. We decided if all else failed, the path would certainly lead to some road and we could get directions from there. But the path did do what it had originally promised, and we got into Sarria late but with the pleasure of having traipsed around in the woods of Gallicia. It is lovely, damp, rich with plant life here. So much of a change from the past trekking the meseta and the mountains (note my picture at the right going over one of the last mountains out of those dry days!).

But I must admit the recent week or rather post-Leon days felt like they were part of some epic heroes darker part of his quest. My descent into hell? Or passage through it? Or just the obstacles the questing heroes must overcome on their journey (ex: "heroes" like these 2 great Spanish pilgrims I took a snap of here at the right as they and then I stopped after staying in Torradillos del Camino into one of the many wine cellars built into the hills of the meseta, here in San Nicolas I believe--the wine maker here has his place decked out with camino shells and invited us in for a drink, perhaps fortifying us for our trials and tribulations!)? But to go back to the logic of passages and obstacles, for example, the Camino alberges are increasingly infested with bedbugs and some of us (as in me!) are quite allergic to them, then I had the double pleasure of having an allergic reaction to the allergical cream, so--funnily enough in a town called Hopital de Orbigo--had to stop into a medical clinic and see a doctor. This might seem easy enough, but then again, you perhaps speak Spanish. I do not. I understand quite a bit, but cannot say much of anything! Regradless, between the Dr, nurse and a med tech who happened by at that moment, I got a new cream and set of antihistamines and was quickly looking less of a leper though my arms are still quite a fright. To add to this sense of being attacked by night creatures which makes it difficutl to sleep or decide where to sleep (I even slept outside an Alberge with half the alberge one night after we all found them everywhere!) I took a bit of a tumble down a mountain. Did a nice little roll, pack and all, and ended up like a beetle on my pack-back with all fours in the air. Though I really was lucky to have broken nothing and only perhaps strained a bit the right arm and scraped and bruised myself, the tumble left me feeling wary of the very very steep descents we had that day into El Acebo and then into Molinasecca. Tender steps, slow on the slick stone and gravel. Here is a grat image I took of an earlier part of the trek, looking at the ruins of a castle on the hill and at the right the old catholic school and church. It is called Castrojeriz, and I came into it out of the rain after leaving Hantanas:

But now I am down the last of the major mountains, this last one covered with trees and mosses and heather. Lovely actually, as is the region of Gallicia, despite its cows wandering all over the place (as in behind us for a bit yesterday with a farmer trying desperately to get them back, then as we had dinner at a cafe a whole heard came trundling by in between the cafe tables!) and with their cowy odors!

Much has not been said of recent journeys, but I do have a few of my own photos from many many of the days along the trek, and with people I have walked or had drinks with from the English group now down to the lovely trio of Rachel, Jana and Paul who I meet up with every now and again, to what a German named Martin calls the "French Connection" which is also down to a trio doing the final days here, and to an Australienne named Sophie doing the trek alone as well and who I had a delightful few days with as we strolled out of Leon. But it appears that the blogger and this computer´s system do not want to put many pics up today, so I suppose photos may have to wait for my return.

I am about 5-6 days max from Santiago. I must say, blogging as I get into towns a bit later is less an option, but I will certainly do my best to leave another message before the final destination is met. And hello to all you Parisiens back for the rentree already! I so look forward to my own bed, especially after some of the group experiences I have had in dorm spaces! The silence of waking alone with no bags rustling, the ability to slip into bed without fearing that there will be insects attacking me in the night, and the beauty of not waking at 4 then 5 then 6! This said, I loved my rest at the Jesus Alberge (room pictured here at the right) where Australian Sophie and I stayed. no one even woke up before 7! And we were on the road at 8! It felt luxurious, and I enjoyed the graffittied walls, as Rosa Mystica pictured here above our bed!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

La pluie du matin...

n´arrete pas le pellerin! Or so they say in French ("The morning rain does not stop the pilgrim!" and with a computer with accents!) And so it was. In the pre-dawn dark of El Burgo Ranero (church of the town is pictured at the left here) in the house of a gramotherly señora who had fussed over everyone as they cooked in her garage-cum-kitchen set up for the purposes of pilgrims passing through and making dinner, I and various other pilgrims (2 French, 2 Belgian, 1 German living in Barcelona) gathered in the spare bedroom with a foldout couch and its white satin sheets, table with 2 chairs, ancient tv that probably hasn´t worked since the 70s and a microwave: our ticket to coffee and around which we discussed the weather: RAIN. And cold wind.

Regardless, a little while later we geared up`and headed off in twos or alone whenever we had managed to talk ourselves out the door. It was still mostly dark when I took to the road, my father´s waterproof fishing pants on and the big green pncho doing as much to protect me from the wind and cold as the rain, which was only spitting a little. I told myself this would not be so bad, really. But then there was the lightening and thunder and I thought, hmmmm...aren´t I the tallest thing out here in this flat expanse and carrying two metal poles (walking poles) perfect to attract lightening? As if to confirm this, I passed 2 stone crosses on the path by some small, recently planted poplars, as if there had been two pilgrims struck by lightening some other morning in the past! (Later, many of us would have a laugh about thinking the same thing) And as we headed off the 12kms to the next town, at first it seemed it would just sprinkle from time to time, but then, about 8km out, it began to take on that grey sky solid rain may never stop all day. I wondered whether the gear was doing its job as my glasses rain water directly under my nose so that from time to time I would inhale it as if at a pool (ah, other summer choices: beaches, pools...) I passed and was passed up by various walkers, and we all gave each other a little, wet nod like soaked cats and "Hola" ed and "Buon Camino" ed one another with a sort of "where on earth is the next town, perhaps I will stop already" look.

The end of the rain... Of course, as weather likes to laugh at all of us below it, I trekked into Reliegos just as the sky cleared up. Dripping, I pulled my hood down to see whether the wind might start to dry me off already. I looked round for the ever prominent "Bar" signs and arrows that greet the masses of pilgrims at each village, and a few señoras came out onto their porches to sweep them of water and some leaves that had collected. As I said hello to one, we both laughed and I managed to say something that I hoped sounded like the sarcastic "Aren't I gorgeous? This is the new fashion" and she laughed, so something made some sense to her, if not the sense I sought.

In the bar, a warmed slice of potato tortilla and a cafe con leche mulled over long enough to see the sun peer out and have the clothes dry a bit. The gear had held, but as I had been wary of the cold, it had also successfully held in all of my perspiration and condensation. Damp on all sides.

I then trekked back out and off to the lovely village of Mansilla de las Mulas (Pictured left is the cross with statue of pilgrims taking a break that one encounters just before entering the walled older part of the town, and old fort village). I felt like I had poems running through my head, a return to language that came to me in a voice I had not heard through my fatigue in a great time. Poems from the Lili series, bits and pieces of images from here. Perhaps words returned in these sorts of rhythms and bits because I have been listening to various authors every afternoon at points when I get a bit tired: Y Konenyakaa, Oppen, Clark Coolidge, Joan Retallack, Rae Armantrout, Susan Howe... Yes, thank you PennSound for the recordings.

Today also I listened to some poems on my walk to Puente Villarente (the sign, like many we see upon entering each village, is pictured at the right. Each sign contains symbols to tell us what commerce and monuments exist, and what roads one can take in and around the town) and the Alberge San Pelayo, after a great visit to the center square of Mansilla where pilgrims and locals alike seemed to enjoy sitting about watching the Saturday shoppers and passersby and tourists, eating pastries, sandwiches, fruit, nuts. It was not an exciting last walk, as the path under trees bordered the highway which was busy with Leonnise folks heading out of the urban center and off to the country. Nonstop traffic whizzing by one one side, though some lovely fields on the other (the path pictured at the left is from yesterday. Nice benches which I often paused on for a few minutes of conversation or a foot break. Today was similar visually but the fields are corn and there are more trees and the road is a real highway, darker paved with painted lines and traffic buzzing along it). Greener and greener here as we head back to areas with more water. I wonder why it is that I keep marching on forward joyfully, seeing as I can already the foggy bluish purple of the next mountains, the end to the flat terrain of here, but another climb and then a greater descent, as El Burgo was 881m and here is at a similar height.
A last image to end with: of a village I passed through yesterday called Moratinos. One can see on the right side of the photo the doors cut into the sort of hill. These are where wine is made and stored, and a villager seeing a few of us called us over and took us inside his cellar, to see the big old oak vat where he mashes the grapes. You can also see the color of the houses, many here are made of what is called Chaume in French, a mix of mud and hay.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Of Templars and Tarot

Today, woke late, and weird. I got up so late (6h45) and took ages also to get onto the road (into a cafe by 8, and out by 8h20), after catching an escaped lobster on the street (Yes, the Fish shop was getting its deliveries and the little bugger had made a getaway and was doing a crustacean sprint across the parking lot.Two Italian pilgrims, when I picked up the thing, its rusty red claws waving like crazy in the air unable to reach me, said that the shop folks would just eat it, and I said that otherwise it would just get hit by a car, so....) So it was a peculiar day, timing wise. I also wondered where the masses had gone, vansished, out onto that vast landscape pouring itself smoothly before me towards horizon after endless golden horizon line. In fact, I must say that though I mention the crowds a lot, I rarely see them on the road. There are moments, and small packs at bar and cafe stops, but one is only aware of "the mass" when one wants to find places to sleep.

Anyway, as if my day had not gone peculiarly enough, about halfway along to Calzadilla de la Cueza I came across a sort of fortune teller seated at a stone table with a red heart sprouting a cross on it. I took a photo of her hands over the heart as she dealt out a series of cards and I picked one which felt surprisingly in line with reflections I have had along my walk. The encounter was unexpected, and I was joined there by an Italian woman who also seemed to be struck by the card she picked. We then continued along our route towards the next town together, in silence, perhaps meditating ont he energy of the world and the correspondance between things.

Tonight, in a Alberge called the Templars in Spanish in a village called Terradillos de los Templarions. The Templar cross is often part of the monuments and stones with shells carved into them that we pass on our route. Now edging closer and closer towards Leon. The delight of a city... or not. As I always seem to stumble through them on Sunday, when everythign is closed!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What gets left behind....

And what gets picked up along the road? Here, in Carrion de los Condes tonight I have rejoined the crowds it appears. When I arrived (stopping into the Santa Clara church, pictured at the right here) most of the Alberges were full, but I found a spot in the nunnery (Yes, Hamlet's line flashes to mind once more!). No surprise this town is packed, as this is the last stop for over 16kms, and it feels quite civilized (as in I am not on dial up today)!

I walked 34 to get here this morning and afternoon, leaving behind me at the crack of dawn in a lovely mist as the sun was just rising, the French troupe I had hooked onto. Unfortunately they needed to slow down for a friend who had joined them and was struggling, especially after that climb up the mountain outside Castrojeriz (see the new pic I added to the previous post, it is looking back from the peak of the mountain between Castrojeriz and Itero where we stopped last night, and the one here at the left is one looking then forward after crossing over a plateau at the top of that little peak whose name I have already forgotten, though it is taken at a very different season--thus all of this green hay is currently golden yellow, and cut often in wonderful wave-like patterns over the fields. It is yellow and brown as I head through it).

Today, along the way, breakfasting outside a little bar in Fromista, I met up with some other pilgrims--2 from Poland, one Germany and one from Spain. We walked the rest of the morning together, then had a lovely pause for over an hour in the town just before this one where we met up with a pilgrim from Holland (who is carrying a baby oak tree with him, either to Santiago or back home from the Camino) . We did the last, hot six kms in the sun along the route departemental through the dry, hot, still golden mesa, seeing the village of Carrion emerge massively before us at around 3kms away. Tomorrow, it is really out into the wilds again, back along trails like the one here pictured at the right--much more representative of the dryness I am seeing here! It is another of Andy's photos, from a site I found when he did the Camino, and this one shows part of tomorrow's trek. I hope he will forgive my using his pics until I can replace things with my own in the nearish future, so do check back in case I manage a few of my own images soon!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Of Deserts and Mountains and Mesas...

Far and farther from the maddening crowds. Sometimes too far perhaps, but comfortably so. I walk solo much of the day, and feel recentered in that. Access to internet services is also far between now, and often on dial up. Mostly because after coming over the last of the lovely Montes de Oca mountains (from Villafranca--steeple of its church which sat opposite our Alberge and was the site of the party--with teens still partying for their Fiesta even drinking pint glasses of wine, offering me drinks, at 7 in the morning as I headed up and over the mountain) and onto Burgos (with its famous Gothic cathedral, a massive structure, pictured below at the right here) pictured a day and a half later, but a Sunday (thus all amenities closed), I have entered the Meseta.

This is the first of two mesetas, a sort of desert area, arid and vast and arid and more of that. I had been warned about drinking water, carrying extra just in case, not drinking from fountains, and distances between drinking water options, but no one mentioned the WIND. With no trees or, well, anything in sight at all for many many many hours yesterday I walked straight into the most astounding wind in the early afternoon at the end of my 30+km trek. Sand kicked up and stung my shins and I often had to keep my head down to use my dad´s fishing hat and sunglasses to try and keep my eyes and face a little protected. I often thought of desert tribes with their big scarves and thought how logical it would be to have one! I almost decided to get out the cool Navarra souvenir scarf that Michael, one of the Irishmen who has now left the trek for home, got all of us when in Estella. But being me, I kept my head down and tried to just keep going forward, my sight on the stones before me. I tried to breathe through my nose as much as possible to avoid inhaling so much of the dust and bits of hay also flying in from various fields and chalk dust from the stones. It was the hardest going yet, warm too, but I just felt like I was pressing myself and my sack against a force pressing back against me. I continued like this for awhile, feeling sure that I was making good time, as I was constantly heading forward. But When I came to a marker in the middle of no where which read "Hantanas, 6km" I thought I would flip out. I was not even half way.

It was just so terribly battling the effort of going forward and seeing no one and everywhere you looked vast golden-colored plains, no trees! It was beautiful, when I turned my back to the wind´s sheer force and looked out over the vast mesa or along the path at some of the bright violet thistle and wildflowers which still grow there. I was passed by a few bikes, but was always surprised that after spotting them behind me it would take so long for them to get to me, and then it took them ages to get much farther than me in the wind.

After every slight upangle on the mesa, I tried to look forward and spot Hantanas. I thought if I could just see it was there, that would make the going easier, more reassuring. Tired, I took another pause on a pile of rocks I came across near a tractor digging some irrigation ditch (it felt a bit comforting to know another person was within sight, and was also a sign that the village had to be somewhere). You could see in 360• and I kept thinking "where is this village!!!???" When I thought it was just crazy I suddenly came across a sign which read "Hontanas, 0,5km" And I looked and looked and NOTHING! I thought, it cannot be. But just a little farther there was a sudden dip and there was a sort of bowl in the earth and inside that bowl sat the village and I thought THANK GOODNESS, and How marvellous!

And then today, rain. Isn´t that ironic? Come to the desert and you get rain? It was kind of nice. It stopped within the first hour of my walking, but I did get out the rain gear and put it to use, and it made the morning cool and kept the dust down in the afternoon as the wind picked back up. It brought out rabbits in throngs, and huge black bettles along the edges of the trail, and ants and some birds. It pinned the dust down for a short while at least.

I am mostly trekking in companionship with a group of French people. We meet up in the evening and at pauses, such as in the town picturedd here by Andy Burgess, which is called Castrojeriz, and which I also took a picture of when I got to the top of this little mountain) sometimes cook or go for food together. I also see the remaining troops from the English and Isish band (the 2 Canadians, Paul and on occasion Lars who has had a lot of foot problems). It is nice now to run into people, as the effect of the masses died down at Burgos. The groups fan out across the villages and there are always spots to stay in. I am going a little slower than originally planned, though did 30 some kms most of the past days and only around 22 today. Also had to go over another fairly sizable mountain today, which was a bit unexpected (had I read the guidebooks, well...I might have known!) I have gone over 2 sets of pretty major mountains (the Pyrenees and the Montes de Oca), a few smaller and now there should be more flat land until at 2 last points closer to the end there are again some mountains to deal with.

Tomorrow, back out onto the Meseta. Looking forward soon to areas where there is nothing for a minimum of 16kms. Big plains of hay and dry chalky land. The earth remains difficult for me to describe, because quite peculiar, but there is a beauty to the vast space, the sky and the shadow of clouds over the land. There is a beauty in keeping going, in the walk, the path. I listen to recordings from time to time of poems by Susan Howe, George Oppen, Ted Berrigan, Charles Olson, Nathanial Mackey, Kamau Braithwaite, Michael Palmer. There words come at me, competing with the wind, under the open sky.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Miles and miles to go before we sleep...

Tonight, here in Redecilla del Camino, a cool breeze (dare I say cold?!?) is wafting in. We have been steadily climbing, but so steadily that the effort goes mostly unremarked. I would say this is the region onf Spain most like the one in France where I began, but the region (La Beauce) in France is flat as Kansas whereas this is rolling mountains we will edge up to 1150 feet up again perhaps tomorrow already.

The pleasure of staying off the main tracks continues. I adored waking in a little sleepy village and heading straight off into and across fields (vinyards this morning, wheat this afternoon). I have latched onto the French contingent a bit at the moment, enjoying a bit of company in a "group" that is not one: all of the people are travelling alone, and each takes their own space and time in a variety of ways throughout the day and evening.

But one of the pleasures of today was long breaks in good company. The first for tapas in Santo Domingo de la Calzada (pictured at left is the lovely chirch whose spire led us towards it from a great distance!). It was a charming little city where I am sure the swarm of guidebook followers has descended tonight. We got in around 10h30 and people were already lining up for spaces in the hostel that opens its doors at noon. Ran a few errands then found a great plaza OFF the main path in the city and plunked ourselves down on the terrasse for drinks--excellent coffees, and even better Tapas--in particular an odd combo: small piece of toasted bread topped by spicy sausage patty, fried calamar atop that and then little fried quail eggs. This cost 1euro20 a piece, as did the mini lasagnes in a tart format. Yum!

After this brake, we charged on towards Grañon where many people were already stacking themselved along the floor of a church converted into hostel. One of the French walkers I have met had decided to stay here (he got in early and by the time we traipsed in he had decided to stick to the plan and that village.) I had already decided I felt like going farther, and so did the others, but we again had a lovely break. This time a sort of thrown together picknick on some stone tables and chairs under trees. Cheese (Spain makes wonderful cheese) and ham, the usual cereal bars of every sort, some figs I had picked up at the village Alimentacion in Azofa, etc. Around 4 or a little after, we headed back out into the vast landscape of wheat. The trail trekked right and left through fields then over a bluff into a new region of Spain the Castel y leon or something like that (I will have to get back to you on it!) and down a last slope into Redicilla del Camino--a village under total renovation, with no shops, just the hostel tucked behind the church with its wild organ (in photo at top of this blog entry) and a few great statuettes among their gold leafed decor. After a quick tour around town to watch electricians stringing wires over houses and yards, construction workers pouring concrete and lugging some heavy equiptment round in a wheelbarrow, I took a quick journalling break on one of the benches (proudly declaring they are provided by the catholic church!) of the village opposite an old couple watching pilgrims pass through or just enjoying the last of the afternoon sun (while I hid in the shade!).

One of the great things about villages in Spain along the Camino (and perhaps generally) is that many villagers come and sit along the paths or roads in the evening and wave and say "Hola, buenas tardes, buon camino" as you pass.
When I am tired during the afternoons, too, I find it strangely uplifting as one of the bikers flies past and waves and calls back "Buon Camino!" No, my little feet will not carry me so swiftly to my next resting place as their two wheels, but the distance seems possible again, the solitude of my own steps part of a moving, part of a path, part of going forward.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Local: 00

That is what the scoreboard read over the high school gym floor with 200 melon-colored mattresses awaiting displaced pilgrims when I got into Logroño (pictured at left) after walking 29kms in the heatwave yesterday. Visitors?

The effect of the masses, its charm, is over. People getting up at 4am to be the first to official stop sites to get rooms in the Auberge. I thought today off all the ways that we are like locusts spreading over the countryside. But there is of course light at the end of every tunnel... in this case, just as despair was about to settle in, there was the suggestion to not sleep in the stadium that was being opened for all of the overflow at Najera but to go on 6kms to a smaller village. After a sort of afternoon siesta by the riverbank under a tree in Najera I followed a troupe of French pilgrims on one town, and so here we are in one of the loveliest Alberge, happily fed and about to go to bed in rooms for two. The village, a small agricultural town in the middle of this Rioja region of wine growers, has felt like a haven, a small moment of calm away from the mass--and the promise of more small towns to come, as avoiding returning to the massive group seems wise.

Photos? you ask. Not yet. Sorry!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Heat Waves and Fiestas

Estella, España yesterday: the town all in white with red scarves and red sashes, white shoes laced up with red laces. A postcard-perfect Spanish girl leaning out over the great plaza over her iron balcony, backed by the warm ochre and mustard-yellow colors of her building. Below her, song, dance, ice-creams, balloon sales, late-night fireworks and.... bullfights. I sat in the shade of the Plaza de los Fueros with the anglophone contingent (the Irish drinking their wine of course--a fabulous influence on us all!) and watched the Siesta hour pass into early evening.

As the town reawoke to their second day I, along with many other locals, traipsed up to the Plaza de Toros to see a bullfight. When I got there, a little after 6:30pm, I saw that, as this was "dia 3" of Fiesta, the prices for entry were still quite steep. Instead, I peeked over the blue beret of the man at the door to catch sight at just the right moment of the upper third of the matador's body. I was just in time to see one shoulder tilt up and the other down, the gold of his costume reflecting the bright sun as he swirled and then UP came the red cape! It seemed a graceful dance move, his partner out of sight below the walled barrier of the stadium.

But the entrance became blocked, as other customers entered, so I decided to take a tour round the Plaza's exterior in case there was another potential view. Many locals who has apartments in neighboring buildings were out with their families watching the event from their balconies. It seemed unlikely that I would catch a glimpse of anything more, but then I came round to where the two Picador's were sitting astride their steeds in a parking lot! They were completely out of place there among the parked cars, also in elaborate gold brocade tops, chatting with some of the other men about what was taking place inside the ring. I took a few photos of them (to be posted when I get access to my pics again) and then returned to the center of town just as a Celtic music group struck up in the town's square.

It felt for the first time, in Estella, like the night was alive. The vibrancy of Spain's nocturnal side seeped from every corner, even though I myself had to dash back after a quick dinner (in Casanova Restaurante) like Cinderella from the ball. I was in bed by just after 10:30pm. Not long after I had climbed atop my upper bunk bed in the room with around 40 others the fireworks exploded outside, the room shook (we were very close to where the fireworks were being launched). So I hopped back town from my top bunk and with my face mask (to keep light out so I can sleep!) round my neck I ran outside with a few of the Hostel staff to watch the brief light show.

Morning again. comes earlier now. The first alarms go off around 5 and with the increasing heat wave and tomorrow's longer hike through perhaps more fields (thus little to no shade) some of teh pilgrims have decided to get up at 4:30 and be on the road by 5. In the pre-dawn hours in the dark they will inch out of the town we are in tonight: Los Arcos, heading over towards Logoraño. The idea is to arrive before the heat becomes unbearable, thus before 2 or 3pm. We expect this heatwave to last through Thursday, and as we walk sometimes cars kick up dust coating us and bikers pass leaving a white trail in their wake. The ochre and white soils like the air taste arid, which I imagine is great for the vineyards lining our trails. We are more attentive to drinking water, water and more water.

As I head towards the desert and a totally different climate, soon to leave this Tuscan-like region, it feels like the long trek lies ahead. Tomorrow I will be entering into my 20th day of walking. The idea of flying from one place to another in a car, bus, train, plane seems peculiar, fast. The news of the word, incomprehensible to me here, seems small and insignificant. I focus on my body moving forward, on my thoughts of friends I look forward to sharing stories of things I see each day with. But also, I have adapted to the energy of the group, a sort of electricity. We move like a herd at times, other times stretched out into little points over the landscape, sometimes hours wandering the paths alone, other times chatting with people the entire way. I already beging to realize the arrival in Santiago will feel extremely powerful. There is the energy of the river growing between languages and people here flowing quickly quickly towards the west coast of spain, and Santiago, Santiago. We are like rivulets who enter and depart (like, sadly, our 2 Irishmen--Michael and Gerry--who are heading home after tomorrow along with others) but others will join in. I look forward to discovering the path that lies ahead, the fields, the colors of the landscape and the peaks of mountains fading at our backs, paling farther and farther away beneath the bright sun.

Friday, August 01, 2008


The running of the bulls, the twisted necks and flared nostrils in Picasso's drawings and paintings, the colorful design of the torrero's constricting costume, the red red waving of the cape or scarves in the grandstand of the Plaza de Toros.... none of that is happening tonight. But the city is alive with crowds eating tapas, drinking cervezas and having sticky gooey pastries. And for me, it is soooooo nice to have come over a small mountain into what feels like civilization! I felt joy at the scent of it, humanity in all of its mess, noise, confusion: WONDERFUL!

Especially when, getting here meant coming over the beautiful Puente de la Magdalena (pictured at right here) after seeing from afar the back of the cathedral towering majestically over the green trees around it (a nice view of the Cathedral on the left here). It felt less like a day of pilgrimmage and more like a tourism moment... in ways. After all, I think all of us are hurting a bit, and though spending the day here was touristy, it also meant lots of walinig and wending my way round calles and plazas and parks.

And I say "us" as this really feels currently like a strange mass mouvement, waves of limping walkers and sturdy-legged walkers wending their way up, up UP mountainsides then painfully DOWN, down down the opposite side. Sleeping on bunk beds often in huge dormitories, then hitting the trails again at 6 am. Often we cannot really tell where we are, but there is always a shell painted or plastered or tacked or posted somewhere, or else a yellow arrow. And if in doubt, one can wait for the next pilgrim to take the lead. I find myself sometimes walking alone for an hour or so, then either I come upon someone who was up ahead or is taking a break, or someone comes up to pass me (I must admit, this happens frequently, not only because I go at a snail's pace, but because I do think some folks are out here racing from one place to the next not taking in all of the odd sights along the way: crosses, old architecture, the beauty and constant shifting in the landscapes around us--I tend to currently be obsessed with how many kinds of thistle there are, and how gorgeous thistle is in different light!)

But back to Pamplona. The city which inspired DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON. If you have not read it, rush out now and get a copy. Anna Akhmatova even complimented it. For me, a good ol' Hemingway fan, being here is one of those life goals. You could practically not hold me down as I walked round and round teh Plaza de Toros, took pictures, had pictures taken, strolled the Paseo Hemingway thinking... he was here, alive, full of life here in the days of his life, time folding, steps, images. It is not possible to touch certain people but there is something about sharing a space, even separated by epochs. I was surprised myself by how moved I felt here, looking up at the grandstand, round at the wonderfully serpentine streets, their colorful buildings, varied architecture.

Well, it is time for me to go and have a few tapas before I must get to sleep. Top bunk tonight--hope I don't roll off! Here are some maps for those of you who have been wondering "where?" "when?" I am off over another mountain tomorrow into Puente de la Reina. OUCH... more more mountains!