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Friday, October 13, 2017

Aussies Saved my Camino...


In 2013, my second Camino began at a koala’s pace as far as the social scene went. I was Happy Houring and eating alone too often.

Fortunately for me I performed a Waltzing Matilda into two Aussie couples on a World Wide Walk-About. 

Melanie, Chris, Daniele and Martin allowed me to hang within their kangaroo pouches. They were fun, funny, interesting and told great yarns about the exotic places they’ve been. They didn’t seem to mind the fact I was the same age as their parents. These youngsters seemed to get a kick out of me for-how do I say this. Uniqueness? 

Through them I met other Pilgrims for many multi-national, multi-generational Happy Hours. Camino 2013 turned out to be swell. I owe it to them.

Camino 2017, as I’ve mentioned before has been different. Nationalism and technology is the New Order of the day. There’s an over abundance of Americans here, much to the chagrin of the Europeans. I don’t  blame the Continental Locals for these feelings. The current invasion has been on a D-Day scale minus the bullets and bombs. Once again I found myself eating and drinking alone.

That changed on the outskirts of Burgos. On a Sunday morning I bolted from the city high on caffeine but low on calories. I was famished when I pulled into a suburban cafe. I ordered the old standby Tortilla de Patatas. (Egg and potato omelette) with tomatoes on crusty white bread. The cafe owners were sort of in hysterics over my pantomime of what I wanted to eat. Out of the kitchen came a Nautilus class submarine sized sandwich of Tortilla de Patatas. That’s Big. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two women glancing at me in a stranger than normal way. Their look said it all. How the heck can a little man like him eat all that? They were right. I couldn’t. This being the Camino, I offered them half. They politely declined. With their few words I  detected the unmistakable twang of Fair Dinkum Aussies. This is how I met Toni and Catherine. 

Our hemispheres cross every few days. Either I or they would perform the International Sign of please take-a-seat and join me/us. Once comfortable the first question is, “what are you drinking?” Then they will regale me with their Camino tales.

Long distance trekking is foreign to them. Toni confessed, “I don’t even like to walk!” Yet, they are typical Aussie tough despite the blisters, sore muscles and achy joints. They make light of their plight. They exemplify the Aussie “She’ll be Right!” Attitude. 

Yesterday, Catherine told a story of a plugged up drain in an Alburgue’s communal shower. She went on to elaborate about her virtual swim in other Pilgrims effluent. 
She summed up the funky experience this way, “It was shocking!” Classic Aussie understatement. I howled. They both make me laugh. This is something that’s gone missing from Camino III. More Pilgrims equates to less human interaction. Sad but seemingly true. 

If you’ve read this far, you might think I’m having a miserable time here. Not at all. This Camino might not be my favorite but this has been the most enjoyable European journey I’ve ever taken.  Chasing yellow arrows through the Iberian landscape has provided me with a perfect excuse to be in Spain once again. Which if you haven’t figured it out is a superb place to be. 

Plus, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting two Awesome Aussies who bring a smile to my face.

Thanks Catherine and Toni for making this Camino like Old Times even for brief moments.

Next post will be about the upcoming Sarria Syndrome portion of this Pilgrimage. 

Until then, Buen Camino,

Friday, October 6, 2017

“I’m in a good

Place,” is an often used line one would hear on an Oprah show. More than likely the reference would be in the spiritual sense of place rather than the physical one. 

On this Camino de Santiago Third Edition, I’m nailing this cliche on both levels. I’ve accepted the concept that “Santiago Provides.” 

When I leave my hotel in the early morning, I’m running on an empty stomach. That is unless one counts three cappuccinos as a source of calories. I’ve come to believe I’ll find something edible along the Way.  Whenever I’m running out of water, there’s a spigot oozing cool liquid in a rest area. If I go off-course, there’s someone verbally pushing me  in the right direction. It’s sort of a carefree trip. 

The one thing Santiago doesn’t provide is shelter for a Wandering Wondering Jewish Prince. For that, I count on Saint

Sure, it’s a somewhat disjointed Camino crowd. I’ve only learned a few names.  Once in awhile a fellow Pilgrim will offer me a seat at a table. A few generous folks have bought a round of drinks. Most of my time is spent solo. Nationalism and technology seems to be the Rule of the Road. Yanks gravitate towards fellow countrymen. Each town boasts a version of the “Hotel California,” where the residents are predominantly Americans. seems to place me where the Europeans Pilgrims reside. I’m OK with that. They seem to enjoy this outsider’s smile and off-the-cuff manner. Like I’ve mentioned previously, Camino 2017  is definitely different. 

Ahh, but the weather has been wonderful, the food is fresh, tasty and plentiful. (The cost is less than a visit to a Macdonald’s). The beer is served up in icy mugs accompanied by a bowl of oily olives. (Gratis). It’s good to be in Spain right here, right now. 

Soon, I’ll be departing from the Meseta. Leaving the Land of Flat won’t bring a tear to my eye. I’m never sentimental about escaping from the clods of dirt, endless fields of stubble and the vast distances between quaint Spanish villages. A week-plus of walking here is plenty for this Lover of Altitude. Manana, I’ll be in the Bright Lights-Big City of León. Soon thereafter, I’ll be taking my first break after 22 days of Westerly Wandering. I’m looking forward to it. 

From Marsilla de las Mulas, (and about half way to Finesterre.)


Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Que Sera Sera."

"Whatever will be will be" was the song a Hornillos Del Camino garage band played to a sparse audience of Pilgrims in a local bar last Friday night. It was  only 7:30pm. Apparently, on this very Senior Citizen version of Camino 2017, it was Lights-Out-Nighty-Night Time. 

As I've mentioned more than once, it's an older crowd here. A majority are recently retired folks who prepared themselves financially for the coming years. For these oldsters, the Camino is their step (many steps) into retirement. It's a Bucket List fulfillment. 

From what I'm noticing a goodly number might not have prepared themselves physically for the unrelenting monotony of walking Bigly distances on a daily basis. There's many who are overweight. It all adds up to a whooped, wounded mob. 

So how does this translate to me? 

Gone are the multi-cultural and multi-national Happy Hours. My H/D (Hugs/Day) average is a sluggish .153. The feel good intimacy of the past Camino's are now a sigh-full memory. Multitudes of walkers are now plugged into headphones and ear buds. Others are caressing their I-Phones as they text or talk their way through the Spanish countryside. This Camino features more Geritol drinkers than beer or wine quaffers. There's a higher percentage of folks attending Mass. 

In other words, it's a totally different Camino than my first two. 

So back to Doris Day's cheesy song and it's epiphany affect on me. While the band was strumming I thought to myself, "Self! You're in Spain which is a part of Europe. It's cool to be in Europe! You are eating good food and getting lots of exercise. You are drinking quality coffee in the morning and easy sipping lagers in the evening. You are sleeping in hotels fit for a Jewish Prince at less than Motel 6/Meth Lab prices. The weather has been mild and gentle. If I weren't walking here, I'd be walking somewhere else. I'll see this through to Finisterre and gaze at the surging Atlantic Ocean once again. It'll all work out and whatever will be will be. 

Besides, everyday I'm in Europe is one less day of living in the Dark Ages of America's current four year plight. I'm still reading the daily Tweets of President Lying Scumbag. Unfortunately, the US now seems foreign to me. 

From my Spanish viewpoint I'm hoping for another Saint Santiago intervention. The Miracle of Impeachment. 

Heck! If that were to happen, I'd even attend Mass. 

Cheers from Spain,
Jeff the Pilgrim

Last photo: another possible fix-er-upper I might possibly buy.

Friday, September 29, 2017

I don't remember ...


from my previous two Camino de Santiago's. It might be due to my advanced age. Or maybe it's a result of my love of Imperial IPAs (9% Alcohol by Volume) murdering my helpless brain cells. 

However, in reality I don't believe either excuse is true. 

I think the majority of the Camino is a monotonous landscape of tawny browns and hazy greens. This time of the year, I'm seeing a lot of field stubble. Every now and then, (rarely) we get to walk past tree farms.  There are times we negotiate our way through cities complete with noise, traffic, trash, used car dealerships, transients and junkyards. Not the stuff of pretty picture postcards. I'll say it bluntly. Many of the kilometers of the Camino are not awe inspiring or memorable. 

Now I'm beginning the famous/infamous Meseta section.  In my guidebook, “Walking 

the Camino de Santiago” by Davies and Cole, 30 pages of the 166-page book are

dedicated to this segment. An astonishing 143 miles of the 500 miles of the Camino 

takes place in this Kansas look-alike territory. The Meseta has a nasty reputation with

 descriptors such as endless flatness, desolate, strange, monotonous, barren, and the

 stretch most likely to be bypassed by pilgrims. My favorite thought on the Meseta is 

of walking through hell and escaping toward heaven when this incredible horizontal 

portion finally surrenders. I can honestly say I'm not grinning at the thought of taking 

It on once again. 

That being said, believe it or not, I'll take it slower this time. The distances between real towns are vast. I'm not up for the big 20-plus mile days like on my previous two transits. I'll spread my Euros around in tiny Bergs kept from going ghost by the infusion of Pilgrim cash. (I'm now in Hornillos Del Camino-population 56.) I'll take it easy.

So what do I remember from Camino I and II?

 I get deja vu's and memory snippets from the towns. Wasn't that the bar we had a huge multi-national Happy Hour crowd in? Didn't I meet so and so in this Plaza? Wasn't this the coffee shop where I made the elderly owner howl with my goofy pantomimes? Wasn't this the street corner where an attractive Spanish woman gave me a shy grin? 

 This is what I remember from my Camino's. It's about the people. It's  about smiling at strangers. It's  about being extra nice because it's the right thing to do. The Camino is about feel-good human interactions. That's why I'm walking my third Camino. It's not about the scenery. 

From the start of the Meseta,
(Don't expect beautiful photos!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who is this Apostle Saint James...

and why this Pilgrimage?

    The saga of James is a mixture of fact and fable with a large scoop of J.R Tolkien-like characters thrown into the blend.    

   Apostle James was last seen alive in Jerusalem, trying to convert the locals to a new religion. King Herod didn’t take kindly to this and had the young man’s head removed from the big part. (Present-day Mormon missionaries are lucky that this practice is now frowned upon.)  A few of James’ followers deposited the body and unattached head into a rudderless boat. James’ groupies hopped into the boat and went along for the ride. Somehow they arrive in Galicia in what is now western Spain. James’ flock spread out in search of a decent burial site for their former mentor. Now this is where the story gets really weird.

    They meet up with the very-pagan Queen Lupa. They plead their case and request a nice piece of property with perhaps a pleasant cathedral over it. She proceeds to set them up for failure against mean kings, unmanageable oxen and the inevitable fire-belching dragon. Of course our Hobbit-like heroes overcome all of these obstacles, and create many Christian converts along the way. Finally, the Apostle James gets his plot of dirt with a humble mausoleum above it.

    After all of this fussing, the grave whereabouts went missing for 800 years, until the hermit Pelayo had a “divine revelation” complete with “angels singing” and of course, “altar lights.” The remains were quickly established to be that of the Apostle Santiago (Saint James in Spanish). Thus one of the world’s first tourist attractions came into existence.

     Many famous people have trod the Camino since its inception in the 1100’s. Anthony Quinn walked the walk in 1999 while filming a TV show about the pilgrimage. I guess he felt compelled to do it; after all, he did play a Russian pope in “The Shoes of the Fisherman.”

    In 1994, Shirley MacLaine slept in hostels and spoke to fellow pilgrims. She went on to write a book named, “The Way, a Spiritual Journey.” I often wondered, with her belief in reincarnation, which Shirley MacLaine wrote the book.

    One of my favorite old-timey pilgrims was Aymeric Picaud, a French monk and curmudgeon who wrote the first travel guide of the Camino around 1140. It was called the Codex Calixtus. Mr. Picaud was a rather opinionated writer who didn’t hold back from calling a spade a spade. He lambasted most of the people he met along the way. He didn’t like the Basques at all, though for the most part, I’d consider him to be an equal opportunity racist. In my mind’s eye, I pictured him to be an Andy Rooney look-alike.

There's more myths and legends surrounding the Camino. 
    There’s a fable in Santo Domingo de la Calzada concerning German pilgrims, jilted lovers, vengeful magistrates and the usual intervention of good ol’ Santiago to save the day. Oh, yeah, there’s a footnote of two roasted chickens coming back to life to crow again. In other words, your typical miracle.

   Now in honor of those pollos, a few well-groomed barnyard animals hang out in a holy coop at the local cathedral. At the church, I was allowed access to gaze up at those blessed birds. (After making a 3€ "donation"). Another legend says, if you score a "Cock-a-Doodle-do" from the poultry; your Camino will be blessed with Good Vibes. I craned my head up to hear. Nada! But then again, I'm sort of deaf. 

That night I ate chicken for dinner.

Now you are sort of all caught up. 

From Villa Franca-Montes de Oca,

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Do you like to...

Walk?" Is the question I'll ask people after they display an interest in doing the Camino de Santiago. Their answers are varied but sort of along these lines. "Sure, I love to walk. I walk to the grocery store, sometimes the Post Office. I'll even walk to a bar!" I'll nod my head in a caring manner, then I'll give them the Camino wake up call.

There will be days when you look at your watch and see three hours has elapsed since you left in the morning. You'll consult your map and realize you're not half way to your destination. That's a lot of walking. 

Egghead scientists have figured out there's approximately 2,000 steps/mile. The average American shambles along for 5,117 steps/day. (NY Times, October, 2010). A measly 2.5 plus miles. At this rate, one would be in Santiago a light year from their start-up date. Today, I had a Lite day of Camino-ing. A mere 18,000 steps-give or take a few. 

Pilgrims will ooze sentiment about the spiritual nature of the Camino. Bullpoop! This Pilgrimage is a marathon-a long distance physical ordeal. People who are more adept at pushing on a gas pedal soon discover the reality of their feet pounding the pavement, cobblestones and dusty trails over and over and....

Wait! There's more! Pilgrims are burdened down with a cumbersome backpack. People learn quickly there are few things more difficult than going up a hill with weight on your back. I've noticed a lot of brand new backpacks and walking sticks to match the still-fresh REI wardrobe. For many, all this walking is a new life experience. I'm sure many are asking themselves, "When does the spiritually kick in?" 

Like I've mentioned in the past, this Camino sports an older crowd. There's a lot of mincing steps, grimaced looks, knee braces and noticeable limps out there. For these folks arriving in Santiago de Compostela will be an ultimate life goal achievement. And rightfully so. Every Pilgrim should be proud of this accomplishment. 

Maybe the spiritual message is: Life is a marathon, not a sprint. 

As for me, I've developed a bothersome but not debilitating shin splint. I've decided to take more time on this Camino. My daily mileages will be less. I have plenty of time. Remember, I don't have a return ticket to the US. 

Santiago de Compostela has been around since the 10th century. I reckon, it'll still be there a month or so from now. 

From Santo Domingo de la Calzada,
It's Sunday and siesta time...


Last photo: Yes! Those are buzzards circling us Pilgrims.

Friday, September 22, 2017

For me, the best time...

to stroll around a city is the early morning. I'm not a Metropolitan kind of guy. The crowds, noise and constant tumult are an overload to my senses. That being said, I always enjoy waking up early to watch a municipality gets out of bed. This morning in Logrono, Spain, I did just that.

I had time on my hands. My Camino walk was a mere seven miles for the day. That's nada for Pilgrimage standards. 

As usual, I went looking for a few jolts of Java. I didn't have to search very far. Adjacent to my hotel was a cozy bar/cafe. I saddled up to the bar and ordered "dos cafe con leches. Por favor." The young man nodded and went into barista mode. The coffees were strong and tasty. The price is way below Starbuck standards. I'm happy to say, the Spanish do coffee right. The cafe's other patrons buried their heads in the morning newspapers, or their coffees and croissants. No one spoke. It was very peaceful and soothing.

After downing the two brews, I went looking for food and more coffee! Just say YO! to drugs on the Camino. Caffeine will get you through all those mindless miles of Spanish countryside.

I twitched my way into the Old Town and found a cozier bar/cafe. The owner even smiled at my awkward attempt to habla Espanol. Two more coffees were ordered along with a few egg and veggie sandwiches. I savored the whole scene. Once again, I thought to myself, ""I'm in Europe! How cool is this?" 

By this time, people were moving about. A steady stream of Pilgrims were starting their westward journey once again. I went back to my hotel and made ready for another day's walk.

Happy Jewish New Year. 5778. We are still around despite Pharaoh, Haman, Queen Isabella, Pogroms, Hitler, White Supremacists and Trump. The Hebrews are survivors. (Like me.)

Enjoy the photos of Logrono waking. 

Good night from Navarette,