A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Shantitraveler

Camino Day 15: Homo Antecessor: The Million-year-old Bones

Atapuerca to Burgos: 20km/12.5 miles

Watercolor Sky

Watercolor Sky

Upon awakening I nearly stepped on the bunkmate who had been the occupant of the bed above. His friend had ‘hit the deck’ on my other side. I was trapped on my lower bunk oasis. Little English spoken, so unable to inquire about their alternate sleeping space choice. Later they were getting underway without picking up their bedding until some non-verbal, friendly pointing conveyed their oversight.
Only one café was open in the village, serving up coffee and breakfast, which made for a steady migration of pilgrims. We hung out until the place had mostly cleared.
The walk today commenced with a mild incline up to a hilltop with yet another vast, scenic view. Numerous wind turbines dotted the landscape. Burgos, one of the bigger cities on the Camino was today’s destination for the Evolution Museo exhibit. Usual preference was to dodge the bigger cities, but one benefit was the greater selection of eateries beyond the now, very familiar Peregrino menu. An American couple shared another big city bonus, which was the great discount for last minute internet hotel deals. Not able to resist a bargain and with the high probability of getting a hot bath tonight, a 4-Star Hotel deal was booked.
Kashi could take or leave these higher end places as his views were fairly anti-establishment and he disliked pretentiousness. I liked to play Cinderella occasionally, despite the absence of a ball gown to slip on for the evening. We both enjoyed the thought of not having bunkmates for a night.
People from all walks of life were out on the Camino trail. A German woman was encountered, traveling alone with a 3 year old, struggling with a stroller that was not appreciating the present terrain. A Sri Lankan couple was assisting her as we passed. This brought the pilgrim age span down to 3 and up to 80 years, noted thus far. I had seen a hostel map pinned with the hometowns of pilgrims. Overloaded pin sites were in Korea, France, Italy, Spain, and North America. Lesser-numbered pins were tacked on Australia, New Zealand and England.
A few optional Camino routes were possible today and thus taken, to wander away from the pack. The river walk into Burgos stretched on forever and ever. Kashi stopped to pick stones out of the water. The ubiquitous yellow arrows disappeared and the route became a guessing game. The usual ‘follow the leader’ rule, failed. Pilgrims were randomly turning off the path and heading into the parallel streets of the town at different points. No toilets were in sight and the tall, uncut grass to the left was looking very appealing as an alternate.
Decision made to cut in and as we crossed the street, a woman on crutches insisted on guiding us back to the ‘yellow brick road’. She hobbled alongside and would not part until assured we would not go astray. I was humbled and grateful.
A quaint, local place was found for lunch before meandering further. Hunger had set in. Breakfast food was ordered and a plate of eggs with an odd assortment of meat was served with a glass of vino tinto to wash it down.
The main plaza and the cathedral of any village were reliable landmarks to find one’s home for the night. From these epicenters, one could usually calculate directions elsewhere.
Entering the fancy hotel lobby, I realized we were a bit dusty and underdressed. The sighting of another Camino shell dangling from a pack in front of us helped sturdy my ground. We weren’t the only ones straying from the Camino highway.
The room was a dark, renaissance looking room with a glassed in veranda-like extension and a lovely tub. Times had changed from the earlier Camino days of discomfort, disease and risking of one’s life to complete the pilgrimage. Guilty pleasure took over.
A trip to the Evolution Museo was on the ‘to do’ list. The last hour at the museum was gratis, so we honed in to see the actual H. Antecessor remains from the dig site of the village we stayed in last night. The Latin words homo and antecessor stand for human and explorer/early settler. There were still disputes on exactly which homo species linked with Antecessor, be it, H Ergaster or H Heidelbergensis, but there were some Neanderthal-like characteristics that challenged these theories. My mind spun with all the H-word lineages. Suffice to say, these were some very old skeletal remains. The bones were housed in a special darkened room and they actually had names; Lucy, Mrs. Ples, Turkana boy, Miguelon and more.
There was much more to see, but the clock struck closing time for Cinderella and her humble escort. A quick glance at a few more exhibits was made, before security followed all out.
A slow stroll was taken back to the ‘palace’ picking up kebabs and falafel sandwiches en route. My legs were yearning for a hot bath nightcap. After seeing these old bones and images of H Antecessor, I pondered how Adam and Eve must have looked like compared to their contrasting depiction in the churches. Similar to how Jesus is usually portrayed as a white man, when his birthplace would beg one to question. Another night spent around floating old souls.

Is this the right way?

Is this the right way?

Spanish Sign

Spanish Sign

Stork House Rules

Stork House Rules

Rio Arlanzon

Rio Arlanzon

Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham

Inside Burgos

Inside Burgos

Posted by Shantitraveler 20:51 Archived in Spain Tagged walking spain burgos camino spirituality caminodesantiago atapuerca Comments (0)

Camino Day 14: The Remains of War

May 18: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca: 18.3 km/11.4 miles

Delicious and Artistic

Delicious and Artistic

The morning air had a chill owing to the rising elevation. Today’s walk commenced with a long, slow, uphill climb cresting into a coniferous forest. The cry of the wind through the pines left one with a hollow, empty feeling. To add to the somberness, at the 1100-foot summit, a pillar-shaped monument stood solitary, memorializing a mass grave of 104 of those executed during the Civil War.
The Spanish Civil War, circa 1936 to 1939, pitted the rebel conservative Nationalists against the leftist Republicans holding power at the time. Some called it a war between democracy and fascism. If so, then Fascism won with Marco of the Nationalists, taking charge. Both sides were backed by outside countries. Ramifications of the war were a proliferation of executions and assassinations. The actual mass gravesite was off to the side and most Peregrinos passed without notice.
One could see for miles on this endless plateau. Further down the trail, a snack was taken, while inhaling this vast panorama. The path down was as unhurried as the incline and culminated into a carpet of lovely, yellow canola plants on both sides of the road.
A coffee stop was made in St. Juan de Ortega. San Juan was a disciple of Santa Domingo and followed in his footsteps of improving the Camino infrastructure for the Peregrinos, sans rooster in the church. He lies in a sarcophagus here. The Finnish guys from the previous day passed by. Their pace seemed to have slowed from their banter the previous day. This was a crowded watering hole and thus we pushed onward.
Decision made to berth in Atapuerca: A UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the earliest European human remains of nearly one million years ago. Hoped to catch a glimpse of such historical significance, only to find that the remains rested in Burgos in the Mueso Evolucion Humana. Atapuerca itself was a dusty, quaint village that seemed mostly set up to cater to the passing Peregrinos.
Checking out the first hostel in Atapuerca, we bumped into the Polish guy met in Logrono. In his unique, grumbling manner he warned that the levy for bread and vino was exorbitant in this village. Nonetheless, he was partaking in both at the time. This hostel was quite full already with stuffy small rooms.
Kashi sat with our friend while I scouted around for alternative options. One of the blessings of a travel mate is that one can forage while the other serves as sentry for the packs. Another hostel was found up near the lone, hilltop church, attached to a hotel similar to the previous night. There was a washer and a line to hang clothes.
Most Peregrinos hand-washed their clothes. Since that first hostel where the Chilean threw all our clothes together in the machine, I was spoil for the remainder of the trip. Perhaps I was also carrying more clothes than my fellow Peregrinos. Most weren’t carrying enough clothes to either bother or pay for a washing machine. I had discarded three articles of clothing after only 2 hours of commencing the Camino at my first coffee stop in Orrison. I had continued dropping clothes en route. The process of lightening my backpack paralleled my inner attempt to simplify my life. The shedding of what we think we need, versus the true essentials.
The day was young compared to the usual later hostel arrival time. Destination had been reached, and thus one could chill out like the rest of the jackrabbits. This was an unfamiliar feeling. Once the laundry was out to dry, hunger set in. The only restaurant opened during the mid-afternoon siesta hour was an upscale café that served the tastiest and most beauteous pumpkin soup around.
On return, the hostel room had filled up. An amorous couple hung a blanket down the side of their bottom bunk for semi privacy, while two Asian men settled their belongings above our bunks. It was homey. People were more introspective and quiet, than interactive.
A stop was made at the local market during its’ one hour window of opening. A few items were purchased to accompany the remainder of goods that Kashi had been so kindly portaging around for the past few days. A picnic spot was found, and the colorful, setting sun was indulged.
The night air was brisk and windy. On return we ducked into the restaurant, thinking to quietly sit and sip a vino. Most of our fellow Pilgrims were there taking in the nightly offered Peregrino Menu, which usually consisted of a meat, fish or chicken choice, soup or salad and a dessert. Vino was always offered with dinner, as is the custom. Being in AA would be difficult in Spain. Opted out of the nightcap due to the noisy ambience and headed to the back hostel.
Opportunity was taken to write up some quick notes on the day’s events.
Fatigue and sleep took over before many of the roomies returned. I imagined all the old souls floating around this village of a million years.

Red Roof

Red Roof

Old Spanish Doorway

Old Spanish Doorway

Embedded

Embedded

Camino Bunkhouse

Camino Bunkhouse


Posted by Shantitraveler 16:39 Archived in Spain Tagged walking time peace taking camino spirituality villafrancomontesdeoca atapuerca Comments (0)

Camino Day 13: The Middle Way

Viloria de la Rioja to Villafranca Montes de Oca: 20.3 km/12.7 miles

Old Church Facades

Old Church Facades

Chance to lie in, as the doors would not open until 0700. Some Peregrinos wake as early as 0430 to start their day, packing and shuffling their gear without concern. If they were quieter, the noise could have been easily overlooked, but normally, they were not. A sense of competition was felt with this early exodus, and I was still trying to wrap my head around it.
Silence prevailed this morning. The house ‘rules” here paralleled my own philosophy. Perhaps we were late in walking a more authentic Camino as Kashi had observed. This place seemed to comprehend the nuances of the Camino.
Rolling fields of green were passed today, which a local shared would be brown by summer. One small village cascaded into another. All topped by a church tower, spire and the occasional, tall façade front, giving a pseudo sense of height and awe.
The town squares of these quaint villages magnetized one to sit, savor a coffee and observe local life. At one stop we encountered two Finnish guys toting a guitar and enjoying beers. They had a big itinerary for their Camino, put in long days and often arrived after dark to a hostel. We spoke of the concern many Peregrinos had regarding late arrivals and full hostels. They weren’t worried. I, myself had been tempted to book in advance since we moved slowly through our day, but Kashi gently encouraged to place more trust in the Camino. Thus far, only once had extra kilometers been walked for a bed. The boys boasted how they partied in Pamplona and planned to catch more fun in the next big town. They were young and entertaining.
My legs no longer ached much and I pondered if I was transitioning out of the physical stage and into the second, the mental challenge. Perhaps this would involve slowing the mind down to my walking pace. The Camino offered one the rare chance to divert from the usual fast-paced life routine.
The end of the day brought us to a hotel with an Albergue (hostel) in the rear. There were three options for dorm rooms reflected by price. Every Peregrino arrival that day had chosen either the higher or lower options. We chose the middle and ended up in an empty dorm room. The Camino had spoken. Aristotle describes the middle way as the mean between two extremes, one of excess and one of deficiency. Morality would be found in the middle. We were tempted later to indulge in activities that veered from this middle path as we had an empty dorm room to ourselves. Hmmmm.... "Cause no one know what goes on behind closed doors", as Charlie Rich use to belt out.
We were informed that the town grocery store had only an hour window of opening. This was common in the smaller villages. We headed over, as there was a kitchen in the hostel and we felt like cooking. Our grocery staple list often included cheese, perhaps a can of sardines, olives, bread, avocadoes, etc. Kashi had creative ways to make a few simple ingredients into a delightful dinner. Life can be sweet.

Streak of Yellow

Streak of Yellow

Local Color

Local Color

Monasterio ruins

Monasterio ruins

Posted by Shantitraveler 17:00 Tagged walking countryside tranquility peace camino vilajodelarioja villafrancodeoca Comments (0)

Camino Day 12: The Rooster in the Church

May 16: Ciruena to Viloria de la Rioja: 21.2 km/13.2 miles

Forever Road

Forever Road

One does not step out quickly, when a private room is taken on the Camino. Perhaps assumed wrongly, the exit hour is not as enforced in the private hostels versus municipal/association. A second bath was savored. My legs rejoiced.
The day was overcast again as we headed out. A morning coffee is a mutually shared ritual, so the first step of the day was to locate a bar or café that was open and with espresso maker. Only then does the day truly begin.
The village of Santa Domingo de la Calzada is named after St. Dominic, who played an important role on the Camino in the 11th Century. He helped build up needed infrastructure projects and improved the Camino route by building roads and bridges. A hospital he built here has since turned into a hotel, one of the swanky, historical Parador chain.
There is an old legend in this village, regarding a miracle with a maiden, a boy and a cock that didn’t die, but one must visit the church in the town square to get the full story. A live cock and hen are still kept in the church in their memory, supposedly descendants of the originals.
Within the church lies the revered tomb of the Saint. A stop at the church is worth the Peregrino discounted price, not only to see the buildings elegance, but also, get a glimpse of the start of a progression of splendid churches to come on the Camino.
Several quaint villages passed through today. Met up with an Aussie man whom I’d encountered on and off, since Zubiri. He was sipping wine with a Kiwi woman in a small square in Granon. They were planning to stay the night in the donativo hostel above the church. He said everyone would be cozily sleeping side by side on mats on the floor. We stopped to have a Rioja as he reminded us that we were leaving this great wine making region and entering Castilla y Leon.
We continued onward, and ended up in a hostel that was run by a couple that believed passionately in the old Camino ways. The meal was donativo, meaning you pay what you can. This was the norm back in the day. Pilgrims would take up to a year or more to walk the Camino and had little in hand at the end due to illness or robbery. Remember, they had to walk both directions, as there was no train or bus service in those days. By wearing the traditional scallop shell they could take refuge in churches and hope for gratis meals en route. The scallop shell also served as a hopeful shield against robbers and thieves.
This was my kind of hostel. Doors were replaced with heavy cloth and thus no noise produced when opened or closed. The front door was locked until 0700, so as to ensure everyone received a good night’s sleep. There was a cozy sitting room with wood stove and a cabin-like ambience. Kashi felt that we were about 15 years or more late in walking the Camino. Many traditions had changed over the years.
The friendly Arizonians, who had stayed at the same hostel last night, also ended up here. In the evening everyone broke bread at the long table and ended up singing songs in different languages. People really do just want to get along. Seemed a far cry from the politics that were steaming up in the presidential race back in the States.
We were gaining some altitude so the temps were a bit cooler tonight, but great for sleeping.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo Church

Santo Domingo Church

Grace

Grace

Standing apart

Standing apart

All by myself

All by myself

Beauty in small things

Beauty in small things

Roof Shadow

Roof Shadow

Green Door

Green Door

Red Window

Red Window

P1090944

P1090944

Posted by Shantitraveler 14:15 Archived in Spain Tagged lakes hiking countryside la de camino gratitude rioja ciruena oldcaminoways viloria Comments (1)

Camino Day 11: Paella to Picnics

May 15: Najera to Ciruena: 14.2 km/ 8.9 miles

Spanish Bench

Spanish Bench

When the large group of Spanish students was seen settling in the main hostel room last night, I presumed that I would be in for a less than peaceful sleep. My impression stood corrected. They were so well disciplined that I had to share my admiration with their leader who seemed to be chill, cool and well liked by the students. I also don’t recall any cell phones LCD screens glowing in the dark. Duly impressed.
We were nearly the last to leave the hostel this am, which would basically be our modus operandi for most days. Kashi was not much of a morning person and I just didn’t like to move quickly.
The day was overcast and threatening rain. Sundays made towns look empty and deserted since most shops were closed. Yesterday’s mileage caught up with us, and a shorter walking day was envisioned.
The wonderful, liberating feeling of not knowing where one would end up for the night, haunted me when I returned home post-Camino and tried to adjust back into my life. The thought of taking a permanent job scared the bejesus out of me. A quote that resonated with this freedom-loving spirit read, “It would be like asking Christopher Columbus to be content with a job as a postal clerk”. The image of a wild horse being bridled also came to mind. The societal transition post Camino continues.
We passed a few familiar faces en route today. Familiarity can be grounding for nomadic souls. Greetings exchanged, along with the Camino mantra, Buen Camino (Have a good walk)
Kashi and I were getting reacquainted. Our last rendezvous was in Nepal about 2 years back. What better way than one long continuous walk side by side?
The weather was still hinting rain as we approached Ciruena, a city hit hard with the economic crisis in Spain. The crisis started in 2008 when the housing bubble burst and unemployment shot up to 20%. Some housing developments were built for thousands, yet only hundreds were presently living in them. Ciruena was one of these towns. If not for the Camino passing through, the town would be at more of a loss.
A quick sweep around the village landed us a private room in a hostel. This was to be home for the night. There was even a tub in the room, which I planned to spend a great portion of my time soaking in.
Sunday afternoons don’t offer many options for eating out, but we remembered passing a golf course down the road that promoted a Peregrino menu. The place ended up being packed with locals drinking wine and eating paella. So this is where they were all hiding out.
Due to the late lunch, we had a picnic in our room later in the evening, while most were partaking in the Peregrino menu downstairs. These food spreads in the room were some of my favorite times with Kashi throughout our worldly travels.

Fortification

Fortification

Long and dusty road

Long and dusty road

Layers of field

Layers of field

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

Paella and Vino

Paella and Vino

Posted by Shantitraveler 16:00 Archived in Spain Tagged walking santiago de picnic peace pilgrim paella camino nájera peregrino ciruena Comments (0)

Camino Day 10: Ten More Klicks

May 14th: Logrono to Nagera 28.9 km/18.1 miles

Little House in the Big Field

Little House in the Big Field


Stretched out lazily in bed after sleeping in, sans early pilgrim exodus and a set check out time of 0800; completely luxurious feeling, with a shameful touch of elitism while I nestled under the covers.  
     “Guten Morgen Kashi”, exemplified the extent of my Germanic vocabulary, stuttered out of my mouth. I have been lightly chastised for not expanding my Deutsch verbiage, but I align it to trying to teach a fish to fly. In all likelihood, my bi-lingual mastery will not happen in this lifetime as is for most Americans. Europeans must frown upon our lack of communication skills beyond our borders.
     The day’s plan had yet to be discussed, whether to move forward or to remain in Logrono as a rest day for Kashi. A country boy at heart, he desired to press on beyond the city limits. I concurred. Accompanied now with an ally that prefers a slow start to the day, we leisurely packed and departed from our quaint hotel. The path leading out of Logrono stuck close to the road, so it took some time to actually arrive at greener fields.
     En route out of Logrono a supermarket stop was made. Enjoying the flexible options that picnicking provided, provisions were procured. Gratefully, Kashi proffered to serve as porter of the food bag, which also included items that I had been lugging around. My pack was already a kilo or two lighter with this kilo- portaging kindness.
     My Camino was about to change. Camino wisdom whispered that the pilgrimage should be done for oneself, not another.  How could one fully respect this implicit soul searching rule while traveling with another? My people pleasing, caretaking personality was about to be challenged in respect to this pearl of Camino wisdom. We sauntered through the day. No destination set.
     A coffee stop was made in Ventosa, a quaint village that diverted off the Camino. Decision made to call it a day and find a bed for the night. The options were few as I walked through the village making inquiries. The bonus of two travelers is one sits with the packs while the other forages. Unfortunately, our slowed pace for the day left us without an option in Ventosa. Rooms were completo. Our coffee stop now evolved into a wine stop as we fortified ourselves for our next option, ten kilometers down the road. We had time to hopefully arrive before sunset.
     Singing helps at these times. In fact, 10 minutes of singing a day is said to reduce stress and clears sinuses. Assured that Kashi would enjoy songs from the Austrian story that evolved into the Hollywood movie, ‘Sound of Music’, a few bars were belted out. If only he had worn his lederhosen, (traditional leather breeches worn in Germany and Austria) we would be in the running for a film remake.
     On arrival to Najera, my friend, “Eagle Scout” from the Pyrenees Crossing was hanging outside one of the hostels in town.  Interested in catching up on our Caminos, home for the night was decided upon. Informed where the supermarket was we hurried there before closing time, as Europeans don’t believe in 24/7 store hours.
     While stirring up a lentil concoction on the hostel two burner stove, we swapped stories. Eagle Scout was suffering from fairly severe, painful foot blisters. He was washing down the pain with the 1 Euro box of vino tinto sitting in front of him. At this moment he was feeling no pain. The Polish hosteller from the Logrono hostel joined in the conversation with his low, slightly grumbling voice. The gathering felt like home with Kashi and a few familiar faces.
Truly one of the beautiful things about traveling is how quickly friendly bonds form. 

Angles

Angles

Wine country

Wine country

Noting the small things

Noting the small things

Feeding Frenzy

Feeding Frenzy

Posted by Shantitraveler 13:20 Archived in Spain Tagged walking tranquility santiago de cafe peace logrono camino nagera Comments (1)

Camino Day 9: The Rendezvous

A Rest Day.

Wine fields forever....

Wine fields forever....

Recognizing quickly that the main Peregrino fold advanced from town to town per guidebook suggestions, this pattern was dodged quickly. My preference was to hit the in-between towns, avoid the bigger town bustle and crowds and find those diamond-in-the-rough hostels. I had landed in one of the bigger, suggested itinerary Camino towns, Logrono, for meeting up with my friend, who was arriving via rail.
I woke again early at the municipal hostel. Not wanting to venture out in the dark, I entered the kitchen to hang for a while. There was a handful of folks opening and digging into plastic bags that held grocery staples. Some were cooking up breakfast while others boiled water for hot drinks.
Noting a vending machine in the corner advertising espressos and cappuccinos. I fumbled for coins to fill my morning coffee craving. I was humbled as I watched these huddled, hunched over folks eating their breakfast quietly before the sun rose. I had nowhere to go at this hour, since I was chilling for the day.
Of course, my bed still had to be vacated by 0800 per hostel rules, so that the cleaning staff could enter and give the hostel a quick makeover before the next Peregrino onslaught. Pilgrims could stay only one night in a hostel so as to keep them moving onward.
I dug out the guidebook for suggestions for a room tonight. Accommodations for all budgets are available on the Camino. Beds ranged from donativo hostels (give what one can afford), to 5 plus Euros for municipal or private hostels, up to 30 plus Euros for pensiones or hotels. Some hotels offered Peregrino discounts. I figured a private room would be nice on several accounts.
After various inquiries around town to find that perfect, quaint European stay, I ended up at the first hotel visited. The toilet was located down the hall like many older European hotels. How odd it would be not to have a dozen roommates tonight.
The thought crossed my mind to look for a smaller backpack today. Mine was old and made from heavier material, and was perhaps one of the reasons my legs felt so heavy. Consideration was given to use the transport service that would forward one’s pack to Santiago, should I purchase another lighter version.
At one store visited, the sales clerk bared his chest revealing scars from bedbugs on the Camino. Speaking in Spanish, he named the place and town where he had acquired these pest bites. Vowing to remember the name, I departed, however by day’s end, it had slipped from memory. Undecided about a pack and wanting to rest I returned to the hotel room. I felt strangely alone.
My arriving friend heralds from Austria and would be walking with me for the next few weeks. I will choose Kashi for his pseudonym, one of several nicknames given to him, depending on the countries we had travelled together. Kashi is the ancient name for Benares, (Varanasi) India. This spiritual epicenter in India is where I met Kashi, who has since become one of my closest traveling companions.
During our serendipitous first encounter, the festival of Shivratri celebrating Lord Shiva and his marriage to Parvati was being held. Benares fills with ascetic, sometimes naked, Sadhus traveling from all corners of India for this very auspicious celebration. Bhang lassi (a cannabis laced yoghurt drink) is the festival nectar of choice for the many devotees of Shiva, as is the inhaled form. Shiva himself loved to partake. The atmosphere can get wild, especially among the groups of young Indian men roaming the streets. This major Hindu festival symbolizes the overcoming of darkness and ignorance in life, perhaps similar to walking the Camino, but I digress.
Kashi and I have traveled to over 10 countries since India. Romance has drifted in and out over these encounters. Skype calls carried the friendship across the Atlantic between travels.
We have mused that on one of our international rendezvous’, to meet in a predetermined bar. Whoever arrived last would approach the other as a stranger, introduce one-self and smoothly entice further. I decided to trial this whim and in my last email sent, I stated the designated place. I was to be found in one of a handful of cafes on a square surrounding a church. I chose a table with a good vantage point.
Rioja ordered.
Time passed.
Anxiety rose.
Maybe, he was at the hotel waiting.
Panic started to slowly seep in.
Gulping the last swallow of Rioja, I scurried back to the hotel.
No Kashi.
Fail.
I sat on the hotel steps.
Neither of us had cell phones with us.
Time slowed to a standstill.
A few sentry-like promenades were made back and forth down the alleyway.
I sat back down.
And just when I was about to despair my tall, lanky, unassuming friend stuck his head around the hotel doorway.
So, in a re-write of the script in my head, we embraced, shared smiles of familiarity and then slipped into a nearby bar to catch up and make a toast with the local famous regional vintage. Hollywood movies are generally overrated and unrealistic anyways.
My traveling soul-mate had arrived.

Colors of Rioja

Colors of Rioja

Posted by Shantitraveler 17:19 Archived in Spain Tagged churches hiking trekking village spain festival wine logrono camino mindfulness gratitude Comments (1)

Camino Day 8: Illuminating Ava Maria

Los Arcos to Logrono: 27.8 km/ 17.4 miles

Village on the Camino

Village on the Camino

The aching in my legs along with the stirring of bunkmates were the root causes of an early rousing. Decision made to pack up and head out with the main herd. Coffee and tortilla taken at the sole shop opened at this ungodly hour. The tortilla looked more like a quiche than it’s name, but was yummy and filling.

Lingering until most Peregrinos (Pilgrims) departed, I then got underway. My preference to commence my day solo was recognized. Focus, set daily intention and silence. Ideally every day should be started this way, whether or not on the Camino. The Lebanese poet, Kahil Gibran wrote, “Your daily life is your temple and religion.”

Later, on this overcast day, I linked up briefly with a Canadian couple who had over the years hiked several of the Camino routes. They had their walking down to a science. They used maps and planned shortcuts diverting along the roads and highways when possible to shorten their steps. The Camino at present crisscrossed the road frequently. This sort of navigation seemed stiff and unspontaneous to me. We parted shortly after, as they remained on the road at the next crossing.

Today was the first time where my 'emergency' poncho was needed. The rain was a revitalizing drizzle and made for a day without sweat. My legs ached, but I remained grateful that my soles epidermis remained intact. Some Peregrinos suffered greatly from deeper, most likely infected foot wounds.

A stop was made in the town of Viana to eat my packed lunch outside the Iglesias de Santa Maria. Afterwards, I entered the darken church. A machine with a coin slot allowed one to view the church lit up, an ingenious means of covering the electric bill. Ava Maria played during the illumination. A beautiful and serene moment elapsed in this damp, cold ambience.

Viana was my planned stop for the day, but I had received an email at the last coffee stop with wifi service, that my traveling companion may arrive as early as tonight in Logrono. That thought alone lightened and quickened my steps to the next town. An absorbing conversation with an older French man during the last hour walked, held my interest and thus passed the clicks more speedily.

I landed in a wine bar, the first place offering Wi-fi upon arriving in Logrono, to check my friend’s arrival status. Elated to take cover from the now heavier downfall and to rest my legs, I entered. Despite my desperate looks I was thankfully served.

The latest travel update was that his transit was delayed in Barcelona and arrival wouldn’t be until tomorrow. Saddened, I sat back and at least, enjoyed the nectar of the Rioja region while trying to figure out my next move. In addition, I sinfully had removed my shoes and had no desire to put them back on at present.

Since I had not yet experienced a Municipal hostel I figured tonight was as good as any, and its geographic proximity to the wine bar was very favorable. These hostels are usually bigger and hold more pilgrims per chamber. I was a later arrival, but landed a bed in a room with a minimum of 30 bunk beds, therefore meaning 60 people in the room. There were two empty beds next to mine, which were filled moments later with two previously met Californian wine connoisseurs. They had planned a visit to a local winery in Logrono and I was invited along. Somehow it felt a bit out of place to be participating in all this wine tasting today, and doing a pilgrimage, but I agreed.

I was exhausted on return to the hostel, but realized I had no clean clothes. A washer was available, thus I took advantage of the services. While waiting for the machines, I started up a conversation with a Polish guy who grumbled and mumbled, and later opined that Germans lived too long. He held a job taking care of the elderly in Germany. When the facts were later checked, there was only a 4-year difference in the two countries life expectancies.

Tomorrow was going to be a rest day. I would linger in Logrono to await the arrival of my long-time traveling mate. Hallelujah on both these accounts.

Hot Peppers!

Hot Peppers!

The long stretch

The long stretch


Posted by Shantitraveler 09:17 Archived in Spain Tagged churches walking life wine bars maria camino spirituality mindfulness ava pondering Comments (0)

Camino Day 7: I'll take the High Road

Villatuerta to Los Arcos: 24.9 km/15.6 miles

The High Road Vista

The High Road Vista

I stumbled upon a quote by Lord Cecil, “Solitude shows us what we should be; Society shows us what we are.” Following this thread, the higher elevation ‘alternativo’ path was chosen for today. Few Peregrinos stray beyond the yellow brick road to take these detours, especially if it involves elevation gains. The majority of the pack focuses on completing their day’s journey by early afternoon. The turn off for this route was just past the Fuente de Vino (Fountain of Wine) where a bodega offered one to fill a cup or flask of their vintage from a complimentary tap.
Snacks and extra water were packed per guidebook recommendation due to limited access to facilities en route. No encounter was made during these glorious hours of solitude. My mind had not slowed down greatly since my Camino commencement. However, when walking continuously for days, I imagined my speedy mental pace would eventually parallel my slow, steady walking gait. I savored this Camino diversion with a backdrop of an endless panoramic horizon. Creative thoughts seeped into my narrow brain space as fresh forest air filled my lungs.
The path eventually wound down to a village where the local coffee house was open, which is always a wonderful perk. Pun intended. I entered and encountered a Belgium bunkmate from last night. Not really able to verbally communicate, a nod was shared and a bond was felt. We had both soloed the high road. I felt fantastic. I savored my coffee and subsequently savored a second one. A few klicks beyond the village the road yielded back to the main route. A sense of deflation was felt with the final descent.
Café Movil was a drink and snack stand in the middle of absolutely nowhere allowing pilgrims to quench their thirst and put their feet up for awhile. Common pilgrim practice was to kick off one’s shoes at stops to air, massage, stretch or re-bandage wounds. I bumped into a friendly Arizona couple that I would encounter on several occasions during the Camino. We sat shoe-less and cooled off at the Café Movil.
My legs started aching as I recommenced walking, so my remedy was to bee-lined it to my destination of Los Arcos to shorten the time of this throbbing sensation. Camino buzz also persisted that hostels were filling up and the thought of walking beyond this village in search of a bed depressed me. The rumor proved false on my arrival and a bed was scored at an Austrian hostel. Soon to meet up with my Austrian traveling mate, this hostel seemed an appropriate premonition.
Exhausted and hungry, I dug into the remains of my snack bag in the hostel dining room. A German couple started up a conversation and then offered to share their dinner with me. I was touched. A topic discussed over a large bowl of spaghetti was the upcoming USA presidential primaries. They found the American political scene fairly entertaining this year round. I agreed with them.
The Germans planned to attend the Pilgrim mass that was held nightly in most village churches. I went reluctantly, but arrived late. Sitting through a whole Spanish mass seemed horribly long to me.
The church doors opened onto a square where cafe tables spilled out. After exiting the church, many faces were recognized taking in their dinners, laughing and sipping wine. We were, after all, in Rioja, one of the best wine making regions in Spain. The camaraderie made it feel more like a vacation than a pilgrimage at times. A bottle of wine was offered with most Peregrino meals as per Spanish culture, most likely heightening the jovial spirits. As they say, when in Spain, do as the Spaniards. Viva la Spain!

The long and winding road

The long and winding road

Vino or Aqua?

Vino or Aqua?

Going solo

Going solo

The long and dusty road

The long and dusty road

Pink blossoms

Pink blossoms

Cafe Movil

Cafe Movil

The Austrian Hostel

The Austrian Hostel

Posted by Shantitraveler 21:36 Archived in Spain Tagged walking santiago de camino spirituality transitions losarcos Comments (0)

Camino Day 6: Building Gratitude

Muruzabel to Villatuerta: 22.2 km/ 13.9 miles

Hilltop Village

Hilltop Village


Shockingly, I arose before dawn. Breakfast had been laid out the night before, so I partook while still dark outside. Decision made to investigate what the majority of Pilgrims did regularly and commenced my day unseasonably early. The soulfulness and solitude for the first few pre-dawn klicks were sublime. Perchance the Peregrino “jackrabbits” discerned this tranquility and hence the early storm out of the hostel. Perhaps these were the hours of attainable enlightenment on the Camino. Most Pilgrims had some sort of expectation that a gain of wisdom and peace would result from this eternal treading on the earth, and I was no exception. Was it high hopes to have an experience like Saul on his horse or Buddha sitting under the Bodhi Tree? The author of the most used Camino guidebook, John Brierly wrote, “The Camino can open up a space that allows for profound personal transformation”. These early, serene moments of the morning felt like a tiny illuminating window trying to pry itself open.
The sun slowly rose across the sweeping horizon. Namaste Surya.
Villages still felt like ghost towns as one snuck through them. The archaic, lovely 6-arched Puente La Reina (Queen’s bridge) delivered all Pilgrims safely across the Rio Arga. Prior to the bridge’s placement, many fell to injury or death in their attempts to cross en route to Santiago. Gratitude filled for this medieval stone bridge.
More quaint villages passed, and the desire swelled to stay in each of them, but onward I trod. Village churches, like hostels, offered a credentialed stamp for Pilgrim’s passports, which was necessary to provide proof of one’s journey. Stops at these small, darkened sanctuaries prompted reminders of setting Camino intentions. The steady Pilgrim stream also sustained Church coffers. Slowly the accordion-like document was filling.
My legs were tired today. I had aspirations of venturing further, but this idea was abandoned. An Americano pilgrim stated she was staying in Villatuerta, where a hostel boasted a spa and meditation room. She had pre-booked a massage and was running late for the appointment. This sounded like a potentially good destination for my weary legs.
This spa-seeking Peregrino seemed distressed despite knowing a masseuse awaited her arrival. Unfortunately, her day culminated post pummeling, when the oil used caused her skin to breakout in a small rash, and the ‘smells’ of our bunkmates caused her to gag. She vowed and confessed at breakfast that she was done with hostel stays. From here forward, she would seek out hotels. Hostel life can be challenging even at it’s best with added luxuries. My heart went out to her.
My 80 plus, year-old adventuring friend once confided that (we) travelers would do anything to globetrot, throwing all comforts aside when needed. We swapped stories of sleeping overnight in train and bus stations as needed, when on the road. Her eyes sparkle when we reminisced. Consider yourself blessed to be able to downgrade creature comforts she stated, thus, you can go anywhere. Gratitude continued to rise as I remembered her words.

Independence Tree

Independence Tree

Ghost Village

Ghost Village

The country

The country


Posted by Shantitraveler 08:10 Archived in Spain Tagged walking building santiago spiritual camino gratitude muruzabel villatuerta Comments (0)

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