My last post was an excerpt of the final day of my winter camino, and today I post the remaining chapters of Journey of a Stickman: http://journeyofastickman.com/book-excerpts-walking-the-camino-de-santiago/.
Soon my wife and I will be in Germany touring Baden Wuerttemberg, after which I will hike the 300km stretch through the Black Forest.
If all goes well I will reach Constance on the lake – connecting with my destination of last years Camino through Switzerland.
This is the last blog related to Journey of a Stickman and I wish everyone a Buen Camino
PS: The diary of my walk along the Via Gebennensis, through the Rhone Alps from Geneva to Le Puy en Velay, should be in print by early next year.
Successive posts from the book ‘Journey of a Stickman’
“….. Uta has realized that it is gratitude which is really significant, something I had not previously considered and I now understand and accept that this is a major subject, much deeper than the simple word suggests.
The meaning of a word like ‘gratitude’ can differ from person to person and allowance should be made for this. The same applies to all my explorations and contemplations in this book. I am not claiming to possess any special or specific knowledge or abilities. My thoughts developed while walking and while writing this diary and they are important to me. I would be pleased if they could also have some resonance for the reader.
The following represents my understanding of the word ‘gratitude’:
Gratitude consists of distinctive elements
Expressing gratitude means being able to recognise what is worth appreciating. If we are unable to see the positive, even if not perfect…….” (full text)
“….. on my arrival Uta (my wife) was writing some notes while sitting behind some rocks. She asked for a little more time alone, so I clambered around a bit and found a fire pit behind the lighthouse. During medieval times, after months of walking and finally reaching Finisterre, pilgrims had worn out their smelly habits and to return to some more presentable form for their long journey home, they burnt their old garb in a ritual, leaving the past behind and starting anew again. Perhaps they likened this to the Phoenix rising out of the ashes. I did not seem to be able to muster such a significant notion, however I did bring a pair of rather old and well-worn pyjama shorts which I had used on the way – and set these alight.
“…..Sitting on the steps leading to the cathedral, I added the following to my diary:
‘My peace suddenly came to an end. It is now 18:00 and since midday I am waiting for Uta who today, Saturday, should have arrived either at 12:50 by train or at 15:15 by bus. In fact, as I mentioned before, even yesterday afternoon I was on the square, just in case she had bypassed León and headed straight for Santiago. Up to now there is no Uta in sight. People come and go, but my wife is not among them’…..” (full text)
“…..I collected my Compostela from the Oficina del Peregrino and was amazed how diligently the stamps I had collected on the way were inspected. I assume this was to ensure that I had not cheated by using public transport on the last 100 km. I was also questioned about my motivations for doing the walk. I obviously passed the test and finally received my ‘parchment scroll’ which confirmed that THEODERICUM (my Latin name) ….had devoutly visited this Sacred Church for religious reasons (pietatis causa). A young German pilgrim cited ‘exercising’ as his reason for undertaking the walk and, in spite of his pleas, he did not receive the Compostela. He received a plain letter confirming his physical walk to Santiago and this letter was written in English…..”(click for full text)
“…..Seven o’clock was my starting time after a breakfast in the Santa Irene albergue and I stayed in sight of a pilgrim with a headlight. He walked some distance ahead and gave me a clue of the direction to follow. We went through a forested, bushy landscape, with many twists and turns, so that at times the distant light was not visible, and this created some minor anxieties: I must not forget to take a headlamp the next time around.
It was dawn by the time I had my first coffee in Arca do Pino and being 450 km further west from my starting point certainly had an influence on daybreak……” (click for full text)
“…..The albergue in Santa Irene was once an old school building next to the busy road between Arzúa and, further West, Arca do Pino, which is already a satellite city of Santiago, a sign that we were close to our destination. The walls of the albergue were unusually thick and granite lintels and sills spanned doors and windows and, very special, there was a washbasin chiselled into a windowsill with the water outlet pointing to the outside of the building – likely used by many schoolchildren in bygone days…..” (full excerpt)
“…..Two Canadian ladies, Sussie Hansen and Ginette and an American Chemist called Tony and I had a menu del dia at Ribadiso.
During dinner we talked about our families and our activities and the 65-year- old Sussie, born in Scandinavia and now living in Vancouver, told us that three weeks after returning from Santiago she would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Tony was the one who impressed me most. He had dedicated one and a half years of his life without pay to making a difference in India where he had adopted a village and opened a school with three local women who previously only had a rudimentary school education. He organised furniture and essential teaching equipment, set up a basic chemistry lab and taught chemistry to teachers and pupils. To ensure continuity, he paid the teachers’ salaries for three years, until other sponsors stepped in. Incidentally, Tony informed me recently that one girl from the first batch of children in the village literacy program had progressed to finish her tenth class at a nearby mission school, and had then gained admission to a nursing school in Calcutta. He can be proud of himself……” (full excerpt)
“…..On a typical day my walk now started around 7:00 am, just before dawn. After about two hours I would have coffee, sometimes with a pastry. Earlier on, in a very small bar with granny sitting in a rocking chair in one corner, I had my best coffee ever; probably not the best in quality but best in quantity. The bar did not even have a percolator; it served coffee and hot milk out of large urns. The cup, however, looked as if it belonged to Gulliver. It had an old-fashioned round shape and a big handle and its volume was probably that of three normal cups. It really went down well! Even if quality was lacking, the size compensated. Normal cups always leave me wanting more.
After a further two to three hours hiking I would look out for a good spot for lunch and a snooze, which left me with approximately two further hours to reach the albergue for the night, sometimes having an apple on the way for added energy.
With so many pilgrims on the way, even though they had thinned out to a great extent since Sarria and were no longer a bother, everyone was concerned about finding a bed and the tempo increased the closer we got to our destination…..” (full excerpt)
“…..The next day I arrived in Ribadiso – not even a village, just an old farmhouse next to the río Iso with a medieval-looking bridge bordering one side of the property. The sleeping quarters were converted old barns, built from rocks. They were surrounded by meadows where about twelve cows grazed peacefully. There was no fence in any direction.
After the obligatory midday snooze I sat with my water bottle and some biscuits which I had bought the previous day, next to the riverbank and a short distance from all activities. While trying to catch up on my writing I could hear a cow close by. She was making whish – whush noises when ripping grass with her tongue and simultaneously blowing the dust from her meal through her nostrils. She was only about a metre away and from where I sat with legs sloping down the embankment, the head of the cow at such close proximity looked enormous: the beast was intimidating…..” > click here for entire excerpt <
“…..When I finally arrived in the late afternoon in Palas de Rei, the albergue was full and I was lucky to find a room in a pension. Francine and Miguel from France were not so fortunate; they had to continue for another six and more kilometres to the next hostel.
I had badly neglected my diary in the previous few days. On arrival at albergues I was too tired to put any thoughts on paper, and the longer distances I had to walk on most days now affected me. It was not that I was choosing to walk these longer stretches: albergues in this region were often around fifteen kilometres apart and I was too fit for such a short distance. Also, I wanted to meet Uta on the 26th in Santiago, which dictated my pace as well. Many other pilgrims were just as tired as I was, but Santiago was nearing and this kept us going…….” > click here for entire excerpt<
“…..many disadvantaged countries nowadays, including South Africa, lack this substantial middle class and their majority is exploited by the well-to-do. The world is overpopulated once more – with seven billon humans requiring food and shelter the globe is in dire straits again. Despite vastly improved production yields and industrialisation making a huge difference to employment opportunities, but simultaneously causing jobs to be taken over by machines, the uneducated still rely on subsistence farming as Europe had done in the past – or on hand-outs from the government. Sufficient suitable land is, however, no longer available and, should commercially farmed land once more be divided for subsistence farming, crop yields would drop so drastically that famine could be inevitable. With living from the soil not being sustainable anymore and schooling in some developing countries being inadequate, earning a living through commerce and industry is just as much not an option. The poor are trapped in hardship once again. Only education can change this state, which, as has been proven, will also result in desperately needed reduction of population growth……” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..The Knights Templar had followed a strict code of conduct, maybe with some mystical rituals added for uniqueness. Because of their alleged riches and their secretiveness the French king, Philip IV, and Pope Clement V decided to act against them at the beginning of the 14th century and they eventually confiscated their castles and belongings.
Based on the original agreement reached with Pope Innocent II in 1129, the Knights Templar were responsible solely to the Papacy and not to any secular powers. In this way, for instance, the Knights Templar with their military forces were able to move about freely through any sovereign state without hindrance. This is rather like someone having access to a property without the owner having any say in the matter……” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..As always, when I left the hostel it was pitch dark – so dark that, when leaving Portomarín, I missed the sign to a narrow path branching off to. I had to retrace my steps when I saw torch lights in the distance disappearing to the left. From there the footpath snaked to the footbridge crossing the río Mino. The bridge was covered with iron floor plates and every step reverberated like an explosion. On the other side of the river the footpath continued through a bushy forest and a head-lamp would certainly have been useful. Not having any light, I had to stay close to others.
To reach Mount Sierra Ligonde at an altitude of 720 m the fifteen kilometres long path was almost continuously uphill. The way downhill from Sierra Ligonde was less strenuous, but the closer I came to Portos, a distance of twenty one kilometres from Portomarín, the slower I advanced.
Because of my interest in the history of the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of Santiago, a visit.” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..During the previous day I had walked only about twenty one kilometres to Calvor, instead of the twenty six kilometres to Sarria; consequently the distance I had to cover to Portomarín was five kilometres longer, totalling thirty kilometres. To walk twenty kilometres is fine; after twenty five kilometres one knows what one has done; but for me thirty kilometres was taxing, especially after my marathon to Triacastela.
After Sarria only 117 km remain to Santiago de Compostela. Sarria is the popular town – actually it is a small city – from which pilgrims with time constrained or out of other reasons commence their walk and yet be entitled to receive the Compostela certificate from the authorities in Santiago. In actual fact, the minimum distance permissible is 100 km. The certificate confirms that the poor pilgrim has completed the Camino Francés. The translation of the certificate reads as follows: …..” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..The day was long and difficult and in the end I only did about twenty one kilometres and did not reach Sarria. A new albergue, not mentioned in my guidebook, showed up just in time. The facilities were modern: there were only eight beds per dormitory and a tiled bathroom was attached. We were four pilgrims in our room – a real luxury!
Months after the first draft of Journey of a Stickman was completed, inadvertently I came across ‘My Stroke of Insight’, a book written by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, a teacher and researcher in the field of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. As a scientist she is practical, factual and driven to perfection, until at the age of thirty six, she had a stroke and her book,…..” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..I keep referring to being relaxed, which brings me to another subject. To be relatively successful in whatever we do and say is important. We must feel adequately understood and respected and be granted the space to pursue satisfying activities on par with our abilities and fields of interest. It is as if we must be at least 50% of the time successful in soliciting positive feedback, although this is just a notion and we all have our own benchmark.
Praise is also vital. It confirms our achievements and confidence develops when others rate us to be successful. Without praise our ego will starve and crave satisfaction from less credible sources. Is praise not also a form of gratitude, even an expression of love? Giving praise where it is due is probably one of the foundations of life and relationships. We all have our faults and problematic sides which…..” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..Day 13 – Triacastela to Calvor (20.7 km)
Just before seven the next morning I was on my way to the monastery in Samos. It was still pitch dark, which enhanced the brightness of the stars. Everything was quiet except for a rivulet faintly splashing on the left of the road and Amadeus the owl hooting in the distance somewhere in the forest. Slowly the sky changed to bluish-gray which made the valley and the forests appear to be even more black and solid, but suddenly I was able to distinguish individual trees and from there on it became light rapidly.
My morning timing had now changed. Near León the landscape was flat and getting up early in order to miss the midday sun was imperative. Since reaching the mountains, however, leaving too early …..” > Click here for total excerpt <
“…..Earlier, while sitting in the church of Triacastela, I mentioned love and this leads me to contemplate about Christian faith, which is based on love and forgiveness – the prodigal son taken in and pardoned by the father is an example.
Christianity also raises another thought: in our religion we take it that God answers our prayers and forgives us. However, He is unreachable and His message is delivered through our subconscious. Maybe this means that the answers we seek in life are already established within us since birth – available to access at any time. It would be as if God has provided us with a kind of blueprint – like a road map or guide book for life.
The word ‘blueprint’ refers to engineering drawings from around 1860 when the background of printed plans was blue
and designs were shown in white lines. Around 1940 the printing process improved and now white plans with black lines are now the norm…..”
“…..Finally I left O’Cebreiro and after four hours and twenty-one kilometres, four churches and a late lunch, I reached Triacastela. That was fast going, given that the landscape was undulating and the path at times rough and strenuous. It felt as if O’Cebreiro had supercharged me and in hindsight I would have liked to have stayed in that village for longer. I had absorbed only part of the mysticism and there was much more where this came from. Should I ever walk this stretch again, I will make a point of staying overnight.
I really felt good; perhaps thinking of my past and the present and my experiences in the medieval church had something to do with this. My mind was full of joy and …..”
“…..I am writing these thoughts while sitting in Iglesia de Santa Maria Real in O’Cebreiro, its origin dating back to the 9th century. To me this is a beautiful church, although it was re-built in 1971 by Don Elias Valiña Sampedro in the Romanesque style. We owe this pastor of O’Cebreiro a mighty thank you, he is recognized as the father of the ‘new’ 20th century Camino Francés and is the initiator of the yellow arrow way marker we eagerly search for and follow these days.
As always when entering a church, I lit a candle for my family. This time it was a large, thick candle which would burn for hours to come, not one of those electrical contraptions which light up as the penny drops…..”
“…..Unfortunately our less desirable behavioural traits are more visible to others than they are to ourselves, just as those of our partners are probably more visible to us than they are to them. However, if we can look into the proverbial mirror and notice our shortfalls, we should be able to overcome the difficulties arising within a relationship and reap the benefits.
The baggage our partners bring with them presents a further challenge and if we recognize this for what it is, rather than perceiving it as being problematic and a provocation, volatile situations can be avoided. Differences can either strengthen or weaken us, ultimately the choice is ours. We can grow, or we may despair and blame everyone else and the world for our misfortunes…..”
“…..When I later arrived in the village O’Cebreiro, at an elevation of 1300 m, I felt on top of the world! The albergue in Ruitelán for the previous night was low down in the Valcarce Valley and we had to bridge a 650 m height difference on a strenuous uphill footpath. At first we walked alongside the River Valcarce – with cocks crowing and cowbells ringing and the sky changing from black to dark gray, then to light gray as time passed. The path became quite steep, with veins of rock protruding through the ground and rubble under foot. As the sky brightened, the climb continued for about two hours, levelling off near the top. We passed two villages on the way, so small that they did not even seem to have a church…..”
“…..Along our way through Galicia there are many small churches, minute in comparison to most seen before. Crucifixes and statues of Mary are common along the path and so are stone markers (stele). To me they looked historic and displayed the distance remaining to Santiago.
Even today there are a number of cultural survivals from Celtic times, often reminding one of Ireland and Scotland. The bagpipes are still common here and the sounds and melodies are similar to those played by the original Celts and those in the British northern regions. In Galicia they are called gaitas. I have never been to Ireland but assume that…..”
“…..Not all albergues offer breakfast and only occasionally did I make use of this facility. It was always the same: thick slices of white bread placed onto the bare table or at best on a serviette, but no plates, with butter and marmalade as the spread. There were always a number of large jars with jam but never cheese or polony, not to mention fried eggs and bacon! Coffee out of an urn was available in abundance and was drunk from one of an assortment of mugs.
Today we had a long climb up the mountain and I did not expect to find a bar on the way, which was the reason for having my breakfast in Ruitelán. I soon was on the way,…..”
A Pilgrim’s Rhyme
“…The wisdom we seek and that we require,
Has long been within us, awaiting desire.
The access however, we all should know,
Is tightly guarded by emotions though.
This is the part that really matters
Knowing how we guard emotions in tatters.
Until we learn to handle life’s array
Painfully ignorant we will stay……”
“…..Everyday communication with its emotional and egoistic facets is another topic. If we are greedy, resentful, arrogant, dominating and blaming, or easily intimidated, shy and fearful, for example, we will not be efficient. We will certainly not have a smooth and cushioned ride on magnetism like some trains in China have.
Not many of us can improve the circumstances we find ourselves in; we are even unable to change our partners to any extent. However, irrespective of our intellect, our social standing, our physical wellbeing or any other conditions, we are able to change our own behaviour and move forward more smoothly. We might then develop greater compassion,…..”
“…..I bought some cheese, baguette and bananas and was on my way to conquer the mountain Alto Pradela, which is 930m high and required climbing around 350 m in a four kilometre stretch.
During my second day on the Camino when I had slept in Ledigos, a young female doctor from Barcelona urged me to take this detour. Her comment in broken English was that ‘the path is so steep; you almost walk on hands and feet’. It was not that bad: only the initial approach was really steep, and ‘almost walking on hands and feet’ was a striking but rather exaggerated expression. The rest of the way was quite manageable…..”
“…..This morning I walked the alternative route which leads through Valtuille de Arriba, past vineyards and up and down a decidedly undulating countryside, with the mountains I had previously crossed behind me and further mountains looming ahead for the next day.
When the sky brightened I looked back to see the sun just rising above the contours of a peak where the rays were deflected by a tiny white church which was framed by three huge trees, similar to Norfolk Pines, which formed a sharp and dark silhouette against the sun’s brightness. It was a beautiful picture in a quiet landscape: if it had been a painting, I would probably have regarded it as kitsch,…..”
“…..For days I had been planning to meet Uta on the 26th of September in Santiago, which was the day of her scheduled arrival from Cape Town and before her departure for Finisterre – eighty kilometres west of Santiago. At the outset we had planned to meet on the 30th of September, after her return from Finisterre. As it transpired, I had walked much faster than I had thought possible when we planned the trip. My average stretch was about twenty five kilometres a day, a similar distance to that managed by most pilgrims, so I would…..”
“…..Enough of history; let me return to Ponferrada with its Knights Templar castle. Close to Plaza Encima I visited the fairly large Basilica de la Encina with its impressive gold-encrusted altar wall that reached up to the ceiling and provided proof of the wealth and splendour of the Roman Catholic Church. The main attraction for me was the soft piped music inside the church. I lit four candles and settled down to write the diary for an hour or more before I continued over Plaza Mayor and down the narrow streets of the old town, through the arch of La Torre del Reloj…..”
“…..Talking about wellbeing of one’s soul and manipulation by the Catholic Church brings me to the religious movement of the Cathars – Katharos in Greek meaning ‘pure’. Their history can shine more light onto religious events and circumstances between the 12th to 14th centuries ‒ the time when the Camino was probably in its heydays. The Cathars were a staunchly religious sect that believed in Jesus Christ and his gospel as related by the apostles. However, they also had knowledge of and probably access to some Gnostic writings, which portray a different picture…..”
“…..Initially, facilities for pilgrims were non-existent. They had to rely on the generosity of others and the rule in general was probably ‘everyone for himself – and may the strongest survive!’ I imagine that, to be a pilgrim under these circumstances, one had to be really dedicated – or desperate. It meant walking for hundreds of kilometres and from central Europe it would have been well over 1500 km each way, making it 3000 km on a return trip. And all this to obtain forgiveness of sins and to prepare for one’s way into heaven when the time comes.
“…..Summer Camino – day 10 > excerpt 1
A Pilgrim’s Rhyme
Why should one embark on a pilgrimage, why?
Why should one walk daily, sleep fitfully, why?
Why should a backpack restrain our way?
Why should one cause loved ones dismay?
Is it attention we might desire?
Or sporting achievements we might require?
Maybe indulgence of some unknown sort
Ploughing along like a ship out of port…..”
“…..The bugs were still with me and while I fumigated my clothes in a plastic bag I walked through the old and interesting town, bought some provisions and continued with my diary while sitting on some side steps outside the parish church. People, mainly women, entered and left the church through the main entrance and after a while I heard a choir singing. I could not let this pass, as I have previously explained, so I stopped my writing and investigated the source.
It turned out that the choir consisted of just seven members: three males, three females and an energetic leader, a woman who was also …..”
“…..There are hardly any long-term relationships without complications and complexities. It is the way we handle and resolve them that determines the outcome. The saying that every human being has to take responsibility for his or her own life is relevant. This is irrespective of influences others have on us. We need to accept our own accountability and power, no matter how others may have provoked us. In theory this sounds obvious and straightforward, but consenting
“…..The name Foncebadón had a ring, for me it instilled some sort of mystery in a rough countryside. I mentioned to Walter that maybe on the previous day I should have walked five kilometres further to this village and not stay overnight in Rabanal. His reply was that one never knows what one might then have missed.
This is exactly the spirit on the Camino: you do not worry about what you should or should not have done; you just do what feels right at the time. We do not know if another path, another decision, another action in life would have been better or more appropriate, we might think in hindsight that results would have been more gainful, or perhaps kinder and more appropriate, but it could just as well be the opposite…..”
“…..Burdens are a part of life and I believe they are essential. If we are without burdens, we probably have already reached a very enlightened stage with all its tranquillity and wisdom. Maybe there are some people around who could testify to this. However, for us ordinary human beings with our inflictions, opinions and perceptions, this is hardly applicable. Without burdens and the differences and difficulties we experience in life, there would be no……”
“…..This morning on the way up ton Foncebadón I encountered dense fog from an altitude of about 1400 m onwards, causing the temperature to drop considerably. Later on the way down to El Acebo the fog lifted and a drizzle took over. The scenery turned out to be very beautiful, with rolling hills and deep valleys all round, often overgrown with shrubs. Today’s walk turned out to be more strenuous than expected. It led up and down the mountain of Cruz de Ferro and on the descent, rocks lying about and rock veins on the path with their ridges and ruts made it necessary to constantly watch one’s step……”
“…..The Camino is unique in that every person is equal; even age differences are seemingly irrelevant. Everybody has the same purpose and those that do the walk probably have some similarity in character. Distractions such as television and other deflections forced onto us at home are rare. Life’s challenges – whether related to work or to one’s family, dwindle away or are kept at a distance. The Camino was consequently for me the right training ground……”
“…..Over the past seven days I had walked 180 km and I found this to be quite manageable, but I still had 270 km ahead of me before reaching Santiago, so there was no room for complacency. After rising around 6 am in Astorga and enjoying a generous breakfast of bread, jam and coffee in the albergue, I strode out in direction of Rabanal. Shortly after setting out Don and I caught up with one another and we walked together for most of the way. We were discussing this and that, and, as the sun rose behind us, I introduced Don to my friend the stickman, who greeted us in all his glory. Stickman then also introduced us to his friend, Don’s Shadow, and Don was suitably impressed. I wonder how many pilgrims walk the road and never meet their stickman……”
“…..In Astorga I received a message that my son Arno was horrified by the distances I had hiked, however, the physical build-up over the last seven days had been very helpful, and walking was getting easier as I went along. I could not have tackled 31 km in the first four days, not with my legs seizing and my tendons appearing seriously shrunk. This was no longer the case. After showering and washing my clothes, I felt fit enough to explore the towns or villages of my overnight stays…..”
“…..The need to transform the way our mind works inevitably revolves around modifying emotions. Emotional strength is gained by reducing negative sentiments which automatically raises positive feelings. In my mind I envisage a neutral reference line – positive emotions are above this imaginary line and are beneficial, problematic emotions are below this line and invite trouble. Problematic emotions cause confusion and pain which will only change once we are able to convert these into positive emotions.
By gaining emotional strength we are able to live life more fully and all-embracing, which will make us more attractive to ourselves and to others…..”
“…..Further on, in the hilly and wooded countryside, I spread out my sarong on an embankment next to the path and had my lunch, which consisted of the usual salami, cheese, baguette and bananas. This was an isolated region and I was sitting under some trees about ten meters from the path and, because of my elevated position, the few pilgrims passing by did not notice me.
When I saw Audrey passing by, I called her and we exchanged a few words. She was the American girl…..”
“…..At 6:30 in the morning I was on my way once more and it was as dark and unbelievably cold as it had been the morning prior to reaching Leon. This time, however, I was prepared: I wore a jersey, a coat with the hood pulled up and my wide-brimmed hat strapped over the hood. In spite of being lucky enough to have a warm body by nature, I certainly did not want a repeat of what I had experienced between Mansilla de las Mulas and León when my fingers became stiff and useless. I was glad to have Uta’s gloves with me which from now on were always in easy reach…..”
“…..My previous night’s albergue was in León, where I slept in a monastery with roughly 80 beds in one room (all men). It was fascinating to hear so many males breathing, snoring, coughing, wheezing, letting off gas and steam and creating disturbing sounds when turning over in squeaking beds. Two pilgrims sleeping close to me had a snoring contest, but I was tired enough and in my state the noise just faded away. In fact it almost created an accompaniment similar to a lullaby…..”
“……I should mention the importance of creating a walking rhythm. Rhythm through music is very beneficial, a great “pick-me-up” and motivator. No wonder that military armies had made use of this for centuries. I marched humming all sorts of melodies in my head including the British anthem – the German anthem is not suitable for rhythmic movements. I tried many other songs and compositions of which I knew neither the titles nor the words and also made up my own tunes. Melodies would start, persist for a while, and then fade away leaving a blank or a void in my mind. On noticing this fading away, often accompanied by body slackness, I picked up……”
“……Since the Middle Ages, at a time when literacy was reserved for a few and predominantly practiced by the clergy and monks, the Gospel was revealed in pictures and often they formed the backdrop to sanctuaries in churches and other sacred places. Paintings were generally elaborately framed and in Spain they are frequently arranged as an impressive backdrop to altars. With the help of these pictures church goers were able to follow events in the life of Christ as described in the Bible and preached by the clergy. In this way the illiterate were taught ……”
“…..I went back to St. Isidoro to find the Pantheon Real, the burial chamber of many kings reigning from the 10th century over the Kingdom of León. Similarly the Camino pilgrimage started in earnest at this time. A priest directed me to the Pantheon; he radiated a remarkable sense of peace and tranquillity, bordering on an earthly holiness. The purity and benevolence that he imparted – both physically and spiritually – made quite an impression on me.
The burial chamber contains the remains of 11 Kings, 12 Queens and 23 Princes – the high nobility of the Kingdom of León. Several of these had been instrumental in
“…..Once again I walked around the perimeter of the cathedral and admired the very slender buttresses stabilizing the graceful columns. They looked so fragile and it is not surprising that sections of the nave had collapsed twice in the past. I hoped the roof was now supported well enough and entered the church for a last glance at the windows. Unfortunately the day was overcast, just as it had been the previous day and I had to imagine how amazing it must be to see the interior with sunlight streaming in…..”
“……There was so much to write about: events, thoughts, observations and ideas that had come to me as I walked and which I obviously could not jot down while on route. However, when I sat down after hours, the flow of thoughts had often evaporated, and at times it was even difficult to remember their content or the atmosphere in which they were born. All that one remembers might be that there was something important – which is gone. One should have a microphone strapped around the neck like those used by carpet-cleaning salesmen at a fair. But then, apart from looking ridiculous with this contraption …..”
“…..At midday the temperature was 34°C and I cooled down in the cathedral of León, a most beautiful Gothic church with enormous stained glass windows reaching up to the arched ceilings. They were so high and wide that I could not find a position from which to have an all-encompassing view of these magnificent structures. One wonders how the narrow masonry columns between the windows are able to support the roof – they are extremely slender…..”
“…..Long ago the Visigoths, who originally emigrated from the Balkan states, were allies of the Romans. However, being less sophisticated and rather barbaric in the eyes of their masters, they were frowned upon and mistreated and eventually they moved on to southern France. Around AD 410 they progressed into Spain conquering the Roman legions, and this was one of the crucial reasons for the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire…..”
“….. I left Mansilla de las Mulas in total darkness again and when searching for the path I was misled by a chalk arrow. I turned right too soon, walked through fields, passed some rather astonished-looking cows, who were probably not expecting anyone at this time of day. Finally I returned to the main road leading to León and joined pilgrims who by now had caught up with me.
With the mountains merely a day’s journey away it was starting to get chilly. I need to rephrase this: ‘starting to get chilly’ was a vast understatement …..”
“…..As I ascended Alto Mostelares, the view back to the east displayed the mountain with the castle and a portion of the village Castrojeriz with its church spires and uneven old rooftops at the lower slopes of the mountain. The valley beyond consisted of fields and green pastures and the sun was just appearing in the east. After having missed the sun and it’s warmth during the last few days it was an inspiring sight for me, although there was no warmth. Even the sun looked cold and uninviting – no wonder Stickman was nowhere to be seen in this winter weather. It was probably high time to get home, not only for a warmer sun, but more so to see my wife and the family.
Even the sun looked cold.
Although the view back to Castrojeriz was stimulating, my elation about seeing the sun did not last. Long before I reached the top of the plateau, the customary grey clouds had gathered around it. Only a lighter spot marked the position where the sun had been visible just a short while earlier.
As I reached the top of Alto I saw, not too far in the distance, a figure that looked like a cyclist holding a bicycle. Both appeared bluish in colour and I could not distinguish whether I saw a statue or a real person. While walking I had to watch my steps, so I did not keep my eyes on the cyclist, but when I looked again he was not to be seen anywhere. He had vanished, disappeared from the face of the earth. There were no trees or bushes to obstruct the view on this flat plateau but cyclist and cycle were nowhere to be seen. I marched on and when reaching the western escarpment of the plateau I could see into the valley below, but there was no cyclist either. I could not have missed him (or her) as the path to the west gave an uninterrupted view. I was truly puzzled and could not understand how something I had seen so clearly could totally disappear…..” (click to view all….)
…..I felt well fed and satisfied, and while reading in my bunk on returning to the albergue, I had several biscuits to conclude the day – my last night on this winter walk was relaxing.
The importance of the way our emotions affect us and the part that neurology plays warrants a closing comment from Dr Bolte Taylor on this subject. She maintains in her book ‘My Stroke of Insight’ that it is possible to control neuron responses under certain conditions. Scientists have established that, when buttons are pressed and our emotions are sensitized, chemicals are released and activate the emotional reflexes that derail interactions. The more neuron circuits are negatively charged, the more chemicals are secreted, causing further aggravating volatile responses. The good news is that in about 90 seconds these chemicals are filtered out and ‘fight or flight’ responses, which our neuron reflexes can be compared with, are no more. After 90 seconds, nature’s emotion-stimulation dissolves and from a neurological point of view all is calm again. Afterwards it is our choice whether to continue with the initial momentum, or whether we can let the matter be…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Do we have no option but to be totally honest, straight-forward and to the point? Can we no longer phrase statements in a less than truthful way, wrapping them in flowers for instance as is often the practice? Or should we avoid sensitive subjects so as not to press buttons? Should we alter a topic to avoid an honest reply that might hurt, or may we no longer flatter others for the purpose of making them feel good? Are we perceived to be rude when our approach is based on total and heartfelt honesty which may be construed to smack of dispensing reprimand?
Social niceties, flattery, white lies and concealment, which could also take the form of lying by omission, do not constitute the truth and are equivalent to forms of dishonesty. At present they are part of everyday interactions and without them, and in our present state, we could probably not survive. I imagine that, once everyone has gained in mindfulness, different values and priorities would apply, although it would take a giant leap of change before we were to reach this state and notice the benefits. In the meantime, if the words spoken during an awkward but necessary discussion are truly meant, are prudently selected and bare of emotional distortion, a calm atmosphere and better understanding are achievable.
Even if only a few individuals at present can bring all these attributes together without creating resistance and tension, this is a worthwhile target. Should we, including politicians and those in power apply high levels of honesty and tolerance, life in this world would be transformed…..” (click to view all….)
“…..On my way to Rabé I encountered the worst clay of the route: being wet, it compacted under my boots so that I grew taller and taller – I really felt a height increase – and footprints were at least double their normal size. It felt as if I was wearing leaden shoes and this made walking rather tiring. Even my walking sticks, which I desperately needed to maintain balance, had built-up clumps of clay and became unwieldly. Once I had passed the worst area, it was quite a task to scrape off the clay, but the cleaner condition did not last long. The clay was with me for the next two days, although never as thick as in this region…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Life revolves around apology, forgiveness, gratitude, honesty, respect, tolerance, compassion and love. Are these the major tools to keep relationships on track? I maintain they are the foundation, ingredients and lubricants of a loving relationship and a harmonious life together. These powerful contributors are also what make up integrity; integrity leads to our being grounded, and to confidence – and having confidence leads to relaxation and greater freedom from tension.
Clearly the subject of apology is multifaceted and I am not convinced that our schools could teach it effectively. We probably would need advanced lessons in life as well as a level of maturity to fully comprehend this important topic…..” (click to view all….)
“…..However, they are human like we all are and, perhaps as a result of their sheltered conditions, they are less challenged by everyday existence with its emotional complexities. Does this mean that by being not, or less, challenged, they have fewer opportunities to advance and raise their level of mindfulness even further? Or is the mere fact that they are monks proof enough that they are at an advanced stage already?
Faith has been the backbone of cultures for millennia. Religion, the church and church practices, if we can embrace them, provide a powerful media through which our spirit can be raised. Faith probably gives a person profound advantages and, if based on integrity, love and tolerance, faith serves humanity. But maybe life with all its complexities is still the best teacher of mindfulness and awareness, certainly it is the only tool for the ordinary person if faith is absent.
Life outside monasteries is probably far more complex and gratitude and pardon, which I described after climbing Alto del Perdón, are most essential and helpful. Apology, which belongs to this group, is also vital. This seemingly innocent word is probably underrated and should by rights be written in CAPITAL letters.
APOLOGY – the need for an APOLOGY, to be able to APOLOGIZE, to
hear an APOLOGY, to accept an APOLOGY – this is crucial in all spheres of life and once more I suggest that it would be good if it were part of a school curriculum.
The ability to apologize and make things right appears to be hard for us humans and if an apology is sought and necessary, we often feel vulnerable, maybe afraid of losing face in the process.
I have mentioned the benefit of relaxation and not being able to apologize always creates tension and anxiety. Our resistance to admitting that we are at fault when we have said or done something that warrants an apology, makes both parties feel tense. If no apology from the guilty party is forthcoming, the situation becomes worse and everyone involved is on edge. The effect is like a gray dome hanging over all present. The dome lacks ventilation and the air becomes stuffy – even toxic…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Monks mumbled mostly when seated, at other times they were standing and occasionally they simultaneously bent forward by 90° from the hips, chanting in this unusual position for quite some time – facing the floor. The subdued singing was accompanied by an organ that provided a barely audible, deeply vibrating and soft bass. Obviously it is not the ‘music’ that provides the meaning of the vespers; the words are important, the chanting merely is a foundation for their spiritual expressions – probably creating a meditation-like undertone.
Once I realized that Gregorian chants as heard on compact discs, which are often recorded by these very same monks, differ from those intoned during the vespers, I adjusted to the occasion. My senses were sharpened and I directed all my attention to the deep male droning and repetitiveness.
Certain members of the congregation, numbering only about twenty, were familiar with the proceedings and followed the movements of the monks to some degree…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Returning to Atapuerca and human development, there were many sub-branches in the long line of species that culminated in the Homo sapiens. Although now extinct, they nevertheless contributed to our present state. For those interested, herewith a mention of some ancestral subspecies that were influential:
Homo erectus, the upright man, lived between 1.8 million and 300 thousand years ago and its members migrated from Africa into the Middle East and beyond. They left no traces other than bones. Homo Heidelbergensis migrated from Africa to Asia only 600 000 years ago and spread from there to Europe. A branch of the Homo Heidelbergensis in Europe developed into what we term as the Homo Neanderthal. All these became extinct at some stage but during their existence their brain size increased from 900cc to a volume of 1400cc – the average size of our brain today.
We belong to the branch Homo sapiens sapiens, a designation attributed to the human development over approximately the last 40 000 years…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Whereas other primates with less sophisticated and smaller brains have no trouble delivering their offspring, the larger head of humans and the smaller birth canal resulted in our babies’ delivery being extremely laborious and painful.
Mammals, other than humans, have reached their full brain capacity almost at birth and can fulfil most survival functions right from the start. As a result the offspring of many species are mobile straight after delivery. They are able to stagger to their feet and without much difficulty find their food source.
If this was the criteria for human babies, they would have to possess a more intricately developed brain before birth, which in turn would require more skull space – too large for the new pelvis configuration. Nature solved this problem in a most ingenious way. By reducing the incubation period of our babies in the womb to nine months, the size of the head is still small enough and giving birth is possible, albeit with pain. However, because of the reduced incubation time, our babies are helpless after birth and need to be intensively cared for and looked after for another two years and more. This is where fathers are increasingly roped in to lend a hand!
It would take a gestation period of about twenty-one months for human babies to more or less manage on their own, like other new-born mammals do. Parents would, as a result,…..” (click to view all….)
“…..There were car tracks visible on the snow-covered road and the landscape on either side was white. Later, on the trail to the cruceiro, new snow and wind had obliterated any traces of previous footprints and the path was difficult to identify. Vegetation was sparse and a crooked barbed-wire fence running uphill was partially submerged in snow.
I saw a yellow way-marker at the intersection with the tar road, but after this there was an alarmingly long stretch without any further signs. I was concerned and feared having overlooked a second turn-off. I walked to the next tree in the distance, but still found no sign. I then staggered to a rock further up the hill, still unsuccessfully looking out for a way-marker. I was more and more convinced that I had missed a junction and consequently decided to retrace my steps downhill – only to turn back again and focus on the next group of trees in the distance. Finally, after a lot of doubt, I saw the yellow arrow and was extremely relieved to still be on the right way. I assume that some markers on rocks at ground level had been snowed under……” (click to view all….)
“…..Cowards, as referred to in the Quran, were a hindrance, everyone had a duty to the common cause. A pertinent requirement of the Islamic faith is that fighting for Allah is a holy duty and that those not willing ‘stand in the path of God’. Verses 9:38-9 of the Quran read, for instance:
‘O believers! What is the matter with you that when it is said to you, ‘March out in the path of God’ you are weighed down to the ground. Are you satisfied with the life of this world to the hereafter? The enjoyment of the life of this world is but little compared with life of the hereafter. If you do not march forth, He will afflict you with a painful punishment, and will substitute another people instead of you. You cannot harm Him at all, but God has power over everything.’
These sentiments are still present and are vigorously enforced by radical fundamentalists.
What distinguished Muhammad from others, however, was that, after defeating enemies, he was somewhat tolerant. Whenever he besieged Arabic pagan settlements or Christian and Jewish communities, he fully pardoned those that converted to Islam, irrespective of their previous hostilities against his cause or his persona. Christians and Jews who were not willing to convert to Islam were pardoned because of their affiliation to the same monotheistic God, although they needed to consent to paying double taxes, ……” (click to view all….)
“…..After descending Alto Carnero, I reached the historic village of St Juan de Ortega where interesting events have been recorded. St Juan was a disciple of Santo Domingo, following in his footsteps by building infrastructure and serving pilgrims on the way to Santiago. The mountains and valleys which we had now left behind were inhospitable in earlier times and presented perfect hiding places for robbers and other undesirables. This may have been one of the reasons why San Juan founded an Augustine Monastery in 1150……” (click to view all….)
“…..Frustration and other consequences of problematic communication influence us and the reaction when our space is invaded and we are attacked is indicative of our mind-set. Maybe with change we gain a certain degree of understanding and compassion, if not, our negative perceptions can give rise to resentment and anger.
Although we would not purposely harm ourselves when problematic behaviour of others distresses us, it is nevertheless like giving the consent to be hurt. If we are unable to filter attacks or reprimands appropriately, attach undeserved significance where none is necessary and allow this to throw us off guard, we are likely to respond aggressively, or we are dismayed. In both cases we add to the pain and feel rejected…..” (click to view all….)
“…..My brain seemingly created all sorts of mind-games ‒ such as there being a bogeyman around the corner, or ‘what if a branch fell on my head’, or ‘surely there must be others around, I cannot be as alone as it appears to me, I cannot be in such an empty space’.
I don’t think my brain actually had those impressions, I have described them to dramatize the stillness and my hypersensitivity. The mind is fickle and I cannot record the true thoughts that had surfaced. I do recall the motionless atmosphere and a definite measure of disquiet that went with it. I had to adjust to the stillness and my gray matter had to deal with this new sensation.
Any unfamiliar circumstances may entail changes which could challenge us – even if they would ultimately transform us and be for our own good. In this instance change to these lonely conditions represented peace versus constant noise and unrest that generally surround us. – -Implementing change also requires compelling reasons. If we cannot identify any benefits, there is no incentive to change…..” (click to view all….)
“…..Yesterday was Sunday and all shops in Belorado were closed, so my chief priority was finding food for the day. The first place I stumbled into was at the outskirts of Villafranca, twelve kilometres past Belorado. The shop was a dark dungeon with an old woman grumbling from a back corner. Somehow my hair stood up; I felt distinctly uncomfortable and immediately walked out again, mumbling excuses. I have no idea what made me so jittery: a spooky atmosphere does not normally bother me.
In general, shops in these regions are small and full, with hardly any space to walk through and this does not really matter except that the backpack hinders progress. This shop, however, was everything but inviting. Maybe it was the vibe of the old woman in the dark corner that gave me the shivers. I continued and before I knew it I had left the church behind, passed a fountain with icicles around its basin and walked up to Alto Mojapán. It was a short but steep climb after which the path continued ascending over Alto Pedraja and Alto Carnero with river valleys in between….” (click to view all….)
“…..The friendly hospitaleros offered coffee and biscuits and he then took me into the octagonal church tower, where six bells were hanging in their open arches.
We admired the view, the white rooftops sloping in all directions and the snowed-in countryside beyond. However, after a while my host got restless and wanted to restrict my time in the belfry – almost chasing me out. But I could not take my eyes off the scene and was still dawdling while he had already reached the bottom of the steps. Suddenly the large bell, almost directly above me, rang out. I must have broken the speed record in descending the snow-covered and very steep steps and the hostelleria, seeing this, burst out laughing. It was a spectacle that made his day and I felt rather foolish…..” (click to view all….)
” “…..Along the Via Podiensis, the historic Camino in southern France between Le Puy-en-Velay and St Jean Pied de Port, I came across a number of examples of Mozarabic and Mudéjar decorative detailing, including typical horseshoe-shaped arches and windows, friezes and capitals of columns embossed with chequered patterns and ornate carvings depicting floral and nature-based motifs, demonstrating that the Arabic influence had spread far beyond the Pyrenees. These motives have a pleasant and playful appearance, hardly stemming from aggressive minds…..” ( click to view all …)
“…..In time to come the vision and spirit of Saint James continued to inspire Christian forces and he became, and still is, the patron saint of Spain. Because of these Christian victories, the Moorish armies with their administrative strongholds were progressively pushed southwards. It took place over centuries, until the Catholic monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered the Moors’ last remaining castle, the Alhambra in Granada, in 1492.
The Muslims were finally expelled a few years later after having dominated the Iberian Peninsula for around 800 years. This equals a time span from about the year 1200 to the present. After such a long period…..” ( Click to view all …)
” “…..It was past four in the afternoon when I finally reached the albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The name freely translates into ‘Santo Domingo of the Causeway’ or ‘on the path’. On my arrival Noelia stepped out to check her laundry next door. She informed me that Eric had continued walking an extra seven kilometres to the next albergue in Grañón, and that we were not likely to meet him again. This left Noelia and me as the last members of the group of seven that started the walk in Roncesvalles. Dominique had left us after Torres del Rio. She had arranged to meet her partner in Burgos and had taken the bus for some stages to get there in time…..”
” “…..In the 14th century a magnificent abbey was built over the foundations of the original Romanesque church and the new Gothic building is a masterpiece. It is the main attraction of the complex and the reason for my detour. The apse with the main altar was uncharacteristically constructed on the west side of the church, followed by the choir, the nave and at the far end a second apse facing east. There are no aisles and separating columns on both sides and the side walls rise up to the vaulted ceiling, creating a long, narrow and high hall. In Christian churches altars are usually positioned at the eastern end. The reason for this is that Jesus Christ, who lived in the east, would on his return…..”
” “….. During the 11th and 12th centuries Nájera was the capital of the kingdom of Navarre and the proximity to the king’s court was probably the reason why Catholic bishops and their clergy settled in Santo Domingo de Calzada, a little over twenty kilometre west of Nájera.
The native peasants and pilgrims passing through in those days were not the only ones relying on monasteries and convents. Nobles and other families of note, including in this case those from Nájera, were also dependent on their services. In noble circles it was common practice that first-born sons inherited and managed family estates while the younger males, especially if not suited for military tasks, were
an.com/winter-camino-day-7-excerpt-3/”>Day 7 – Logroño to Nájera – excerpt 3
” “…..In many cultures, including parts of the Islamic world, men still bully women because they are perceived to be inferior or they regard controlling women or restricting women’s movements as their right. Some men consider violent behaviour such as rape to be their prerogative. Only the use of greater mindful behaviour can eradicate this. Any form of manipulation in supposedly true, honest and open love surely is misplaced….”
” “…..It is within the character of a person to be a bully and what makes bullying so unpleasant, even dangerous, is the fact that the bullying tactics are mostly intentional. Lying, exaggerating or withholding information may be an aspect, a way of gaining a misplaced advantage.
Bullies also find ways to hold us at ransom. In politics this is regularly accompanied by unrealistic promises, displays of splendour and cheap appeals to peoples’ emotions. They love to paint a rosy picture of what we can expect from them, or they might threaten…..”
Day 7 – Logroño to Nájera – excerpt 1
” “Nájera, 30 km west of Logroño, was the next overnight stop. On leaving Logroño I crossed an immensely large public park with natural surroundings. A huge lake stretched far into the distance, there were mountains, mostly covered with forests, picnic spots and playgrounds, other facilities were dotted about and buildings were available for recreational purposes. In summer this must be paradise; a most beautiful and relaxing place.
Wherever possible I walked in the deeper snow on the verges, so that I was able to find some grip underfoot, although this called for ducking below tree branches at times. When I say slippery, I mean that the path consisted of iced-up compacted snow. It was most hazardous and, before I knew it, I was sitting or lying flat with legs sprawling in all directions.
When I passed through, the landscape was white and the path iced up, slippery, most treacherous and difficult for me to navigate. Wherever possible I walked in the deeper snow…..”
“…..To warm myself I had coffee in the historic town of Viana, where I bumped into Eric again. This time he was sitting in a wind-sheltered corner under the town hall arcades, had just finished his brunch and was soon on his way. I visited the large and grand church on the main square which had a most luxurious golden altar wall covering the whole width of the apses and rising about fifteen metre right into the ceiling vault. The wall assembly of pictures is gigantic and particularly ornate for this small settlement. Viana nowadays, with its modern outskirts and industrial areas, has only about 4000 inhabitants…..” (full text)
Day 6 – Puente la Reina to Estella – excerpt 2
“…..The promise of ultimate redemption when reaching Santiago was, however, so strong that pilgrims were absolutely determined to reach their goal and the stream of devotees was so vast that on a fifteen kilometre stretch around Viana twelve churches, some minor monasteries and a number of hostels sprang up. They are situated on the direct path that leads through Navarre to Logroño, as well as on alternative routes…..” (full text)
Day 6 – Puente la Reina to Estella – excerpt 1
“…..It was a matter of closing all hatches – even if I felt like a bogeyman, but I was protected and even enjoyed these conditions which, because of my living in Africa, were an interesting and contrasting experience. On the one hand I laughed into my mask and was excited; on the other hand breathing became restricted and I definitely had to grit my teeth to cope. I tilted my head forward to shield my eyes and as much of the remaining exposed face as was possible. As a result, visibility was reduced to just a few meters. Whenever I had to look up in order not to miss any yellow way-markers, the driving snow stung my cheeks. Obviously I put on the new leather gloves; I cannot remember whether I wore my woollen pair underneath for further warmth…..” (full text)
Day 5 – Puente la Reina to Estella
“…..Later we were walking on farm tracks and country roads. The scenery was even more beautiful than before and, surprisingly, the sun stayed out for most of the day. This made the journey a real pleasure, although it was bitterly cold. With the exception of passing through one tiny village on the way, we walked about seventeen kilometres before reaching the next community with shops and bars – Los Arcos. It was a small town rather than a village and boasted an enormously large church with adjoining monastery…..” (full text)
Day 4 – Puente la Reina to Estella – excerpt 2
“…..Pilgrims came from France, Germany and other countries and many were artisans, stonemasons, builders and carpenters, as well as architects, surveyors and engineers. Local Royalty appreciated the skills of these people and offered favourable tax incentives and other benefits to entice them to settle along the Camino. Some took up the offer and returned with their families after completing their pilgrimage. In this way new building styles were introduced and construction techniques not previously seen in northern Spain appeared…..” (full text)
Day 4 – Puente la Reina to Estella – excerpt 1
“…..Although the temperature today hovered around zero, there was no snow or rain. Now and then a little sunshine appeared, which made this a pleasant day. The terrain was quite undulating and the path went along rural farm roads through vineyards, wheat fields, grasslands and olive groves. Villages were medieval and well looked after; they are probably in a better shape now than they had been during the 12th century
A well preserved stretch of ‘via’, a road from Roman times, led to a single-arched bridge of the same period. A part of the road on the far side of the bridge was washed away, exposing its cross-section. We are talking here about road construction that is 2000 years old and it appears the Romans knew what they were doing. They spared no effort to build durable structures…..” (full text)
Day 3 – Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor – excerpt 3
“…..Just as I wanted to leave Eunate, the couple in charge of the interesting and rather cosy albergue next door, which must have been the priest’s quarters of old, arrived and offered a cup of coffee. While the water was coming to the boil, the hostel father showed me the inside of the church. It was stark but pleasantly decorated with plain Mozarabian motifs and arched profiles. There were small window openings in the dome, covered with slices of translucent alabaster. Through the crystalline structure of the thinly sliced stone light was dispersed and magnified and even on this gray and rainy day it sufficiently lit up the interior…..” (full text)
Day 3 – Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor – excerpt 2
“….. Religion and the life of Christ were somewhat abstract concepts to me and it was only at an age of around 55 or 60 that it became clearer that the life of Christ had a historical foundation and was not just a story.
When browsing the internet, I discovered that the hill Golgotha (translated as ‘the place of the skull’) (Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22) is outside old Jerusalem and was at the time part of a Garden (John 19:41) that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. Close to Golgotha Joseph had a tomb hewn for himself out of the rock (John 19:41, Mark 28:59, Luke 23:53, Matthew 57:59 – 60). This tomb had a low entrance, “Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb. . .” (John 20:11 – 12). According to the passages in the Bible, the site on Mount Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried were only meters apart. For the first time I formed a picture of this scene……” (full text)
Day 3 – Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor – excerpt 1
“….. I finally reached the crest and admired the row of silhouetted pilgrim images displayed here. They all walk in a westerly direction with their coats, scarves and headgear flowing – battling against the wind blowing due east from the Atlantic Ocean – right into their faces. This is what we are likely to encounter on our way to Santiago. Close to the statues was an ideal spot for breakfast and a deserved rest after the tough climb.
The name Alto Del Perdón, translated ‘Peak or Mountain of Forgiveness’, made me think of the need to forgive and forget. Could it be that one of the most important and positive human traits we should foster is the ability to pardon others? Perdón (Spanish) – Pardon in English, or, alternatively, forgiving is what matters…..” (full text)
Day 2 – Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor – excerpt 2
“….. Perhaps we can compare emotional patterns with drug abuse. Cocaine and other drugs form addictive neuron circuits. The more often these are stimulated, the deeper these circuits become established – craving satisfaction. Can one consequently also talk about drug-like effects when describing our emotional patterns? After all, as with drugs, some emotional reactions also result in a form of satisfaction – a feeling of having control over the other…..” (full text)
Day 2 – Larrasoaña to Cizur Menor – excerpt 1
“….. After Larrasoaña, Pamplona was now a manageable sixteen and a half kilometres away and we had a beautiful walk right up to the bridge over the río Ulzama, which leads to the outskirts of the city. On the way we zigzagged five times over the río Arga and then, close to the fortified old city centre, crossed the famous Romanesque Puente Magdalena, modified over the centuries like most historic structures are. That amounted to six bridges in one day!
The sun was bright and the air was crisp and what a difference this made compared to yesterday’s dreary day! Shade covered most of the path, and, as this was a Sunday, many strollers were on the way and many ‘Buenos Dias’ or, in short, ‘Bon Dia’ were exchanged…..” (full text)
From Roncesvalles to Frómista
Day 1 – Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña (27.7 km)
Day 1 – Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña
“…..On our first day most of us in the Roncesvalles albergue were up early while it was still pitch dark outside. The excitement of the first day’s walk probably was one reason. The bathroom with shower and basin was adjacent to the dormitory and the separate toilet with a skimpy door allowed little privacy for some beds close by. Luckily I was not affected as I slept in the far corner. Both, dormitory and bathroom, had no windows and the air extraction system seemed to have been either switched off, if it ever was electrically operated, or it was useless. The air was stuffy and I was desperate to get going……” (full text)
Roncesvalles and monasteries
“…..The same pass was also used when the Spanish Aragonite armies under King Peter II crossed here to France in 1213. Peter sympathized with the Cathars and for a while actively supported them in their struggle against the French crusading armies which, instigated by the Pope, were ordered to deal with the ‘heretics’. Unfortunately King Peter was killed quite early in battle and his army retreated over the Pyrenees. The loss of their protector had far-reaching consequences for the Cathars.
If fate had favoured Peter, the outcome of the crusade against the Cathars might have been different and south of France with Languedoc might still be a separate state, maybe with its own religion, language and culture…..” (full text)
Francis of Assisi
“…..Since Pope Francis occupied the papal throne in 2013, his namesake, Francis of Assisi, gained prominence. He was born in Italy in 1181 into a rich family in Assisi. He grew up in luxury and was promiscuous until a serious illness, coupled with a spiritual experience, changed his outlook on life. A vision in which Jesus Christ told him “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins” converted him…….” (full text)
“…..There are a great many monasteries along the Camino, all with their individual histories. The Christian tradition of these institutions goes back to around AD 300 when Anthony of Egypt was the first known hermit to formulate monastic practices with regulated prayer and work sessions and the habit he wore had become the model for the typical monk’s garb. A little later Basil the Great of Caesarea Galilee, now Israel, established the first monastic instructions in the early 4th century. These inspired Saint Benedict of Nursia (Italy) in the 6th century to compile his own rules…..” (full text)
“…..Why do I regard walking by oneself so important? What I had experienced was that, whenever we walk with others, or are in others’ company, our senses deflect. If someone walks next to you – your mind and attention ‘bends’ sideways to the other. In walking alone, this is not the case, our awareness in this case is forward or inwards or it is plain and simply selfishly private, bare of distraction…..”
“…..Very few activities, if any, provide as much distance from everyday life as we know it. In the period of a few weeks one experiences hardly any distractions from ‘outside’ and from conventional life. We are not required to perform or to take major decisions; there is no need for conformity; we have no obligations; life becomes simple and the daily routine is plain and straightforward.
Six or more hours a day are dedicated to walking, a rhythmic exercise with few distractions. In my case, thoughts generated when walking from one village to the next have more to do with establishing a rhythm and working out how much further it is to the next destination, where to buy provisions, what to buy, whether to stop for a meal or just have a coffee, etc. These are remarkably simple considerations.
Under these basic conditions, repeated over a prolonged period, the body and mind seem to resettle. …..”
“Is it possible to be satisfied walking only a section of the Camino Francés without completing the entire stretch from St. Jean Pied de Port or at least from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela? I imagine that this is difficult and that one will always be very strongly drawn to the unfinished path.
This is what I experienced after completing my summer walk. Although I had contemplated walking alternate routes the next time around, such as the Portuguese Way or the Camino del Norte and others, it was always the unfinished Camino Francés that begged for completion.”
“On arrival in Pamplona at 6 pm I intended to find a bus or taxi to reach the albergue in Roncesvalles (valley of thorns). Fortunately, as we disembarked, a young pilgrim, identifiable by his backpack and attached pilgrim’s shell, approached me with the suggestion that we share a taxi. This suited me well, and less than two hours later we arrived at a monastery dating back to the 11th century. The section housing our albergue had been rebuilt in the 17th century after the roof, following exceptionally heavy snowfalls, had collapsed. …..”
“This post is in response to the heavy snow presently experienced in northern Spain. I feel for the Pilgrims on the way at this time. (I also envy them) “Early February I boarded the plane from Frankfurt to Madrid, found my way through the Metro network to the railway station and bought a train ticket to Pamplona. Passing through the security checkpoint at the rail concourse was a challenge. Obviously I had a knife in my backpack, essential for any pilgrim, and it took the authorities …..”