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Camino Entries Part II

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Jun 6th, 2008, 07:51 AM
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Camino Entries Part II

/7/2008 Castrojeriz
(Burgos to Rabe de las Calzadaos to Hontanas to Castrojeriz)
Leaving Burgos, we enter on to the plains known as the Meseta. These are sparsely populated farmlands with few towns, less people, no trees for shade and little water (donīt forget to bring your own). People who cross this section remember the lonesome sound of the winds as they walk. The meseta is a cereal-producing area. Wheat is grown on the rich soils of the lowlands, oats and barley on the poorer hillside soils. It has been raining in Spain since Pamplona, hard on the crops which now lie beneath a layer of water, and hard on pilgrims whose days have been muddy and cold. But this day, the sun comes through and the road is dry and hard. We are expecting an easy walk. Outside of the town of Tardajos, we begin to cross a vast wheat field. We notice that the pilgrims up ahead are behaving strangely. Usually, there seems to be a line of walkers, like richly colored beads on a string, who we can watch to mark out our route. But today, the line is broken. The pilgrims have stopped. Some are back-tracking and others are walking off on paths of their own. When we finally reach this spot, we discover that the river Arlanzon has breached its banks and is flooding the field. During our 3 days in Burgos, this river was only a few feet from our hotel and we would walk out on to one of the cityīs many bridges to watch its flow becoming more violent and the river growing wider almost before our eyes. In August of 1936, during the Civil War, bodies of murdered Republicans were found every day floating in the Arlanzon and it is hard to look at the olive waters without thinking of those bodies.
Right now, in the wheat field, the riverīs water is up to my ankles and then up to my boot tops and it is advancing. I have visions of myself as Ophelia, floating and dying in a sea of grass. (Was she wearing a backpack with her underwear floating behind her? I believe she was singing but Rub A Dub Dub is all that comes to mind.)
Before and after us, the camino route has disappeared. Pilgrims are moving left and right trying to find a path. A Spanish woman strikes out across the wheat. Much of the way is already under water but little by little, everyone begins to follow her. She cuts across and up an embankment on to the highway. Those behind her, she helps up using her pole to haul them up through the mud. We are now on a major highway and we dart across (no running with a backpack on), climbing over guardrails until we refind our yellow way markers and the camino.
The sun is still shining brightly and Tardajos lies ahead. Beyond that is Rabe and we look forward to this dayīs end. It will have more twists and turns.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 12:04 PM
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The latest

6/16/08
(Carrion de los Condes - Calzadilla de la Cueza - Sahagun - Bercianos Real Camino - El Burgo Ranero - Mansilla de las Mulas - Leon)

Is it me or do the names seem to be getting longer and longer? You may not recognize any of them except Leon; I certainly didnīt without reading my guide book. Geographically while we are still crossing the Castilla-Leon Region, we are off the plains of the meseta. However, visually, it appears the same - endless grasslands, few trees, a huge bowl of blue sky overhead. Some of the towns you enter are so small that you can see the outskirts from anywhere you stand. (Certainly there is no internet in these towns and rarely a phone.) Your neighbors are often sheep or goats. Tractors rumble down the main drag (Calle Mayor) and the drivers wave. In the mornings, when we enter a town, we often meet people out for their constitutional. You always greet them and they greet you and will stop and chat. One fellow carried an autograph book and we signed our names and countries. Another gave us candies. In the states, I wouldnīt eat candies from a stranger but we devoured it. Hope my mother wasnīt watching.

Last week (6/12) on our way to Sahagun, we passed through Terradillos de los Templarios, significant because it is the half-way point between St. Jean Pied de Port and Santiago. 250 miles down and only 250 miles to go. You might think that this would cheer a person up but I found it stunning. Holy cow, I told a passing cow, weīve been walking for weeks and weīre only half-way there. Now we have to do the same distance that weīve done already all over again. But we took the traditional pictures under the town sign. Carmen was all smiles and perky and I looked exasperated and sullen.

A bartender told us we were in luck going to Sahagun. This was the week they celebrated the festival of San Juan and he pressed a calendar of events into our hands. We skipped all references to religious observances but noted that, for the two days we would be in Sahagun, there would be a bull fight and a running of the bulls in the streets and a parade of big heads, something Iīve always wanted to see and thought would make a good painting (people wearing gigantic heads, if you are not familiar with this). Several miles out of town, we began to hear the fireworks exploding. The streets were full of milling crowds. The older generation (my generation and up) and tiny children were very well dressed, as if for a wedding. The teens were roving the streets carrying trumpets and drums and other band instruments and they dressed in color-coordinated tee shirts representing the competing bands that would play. We went to the bullfight that first night but left after 5 bulls were dispatched. All the bulls lost but the matadors lost also because it was a slaughter.

The innkeeper in the pensione didnīt want to give us a room. She said, "You donīt understand. The noise will be horrible." But we were exhausted from our walk (always making bad decisions when exhausted). We relied on Carmenīs stock of earplugs and took the room. The rest of the pensione was empty. The innkeeper was right. The noise was incredible. I slept through it, an irritating habit Iīve developed. I woke up once during the night around 2 am. Carmen was sitting up in bed. The bands were all playing at once, ghastly rock and roll and the drums caused the beds to shake. Carmen said, "We are leaving this place." I was a bit disappointed about not seeing the big heads but said ok and fell back asleep. The next morning, Carmen was up and packing when I awoke. When we told the innkeeper that we were leaving, she said, "Good idea. It will be worse today." By 9 am, the fireworks had begun again. By 9:45 am, we were on the road.

We will remember the next town, Berciamos, as the merciful. To our relief, it is completely quiet. We walked around, looked at the houses. A herd of sheep were tinkling their bells. A dog barked. On a tower, a stork threw back its head and clattered. Finally, we went to sleep.

Some of the word on the road is that some pilgrims rate this section very monotonous and will skip it. (Go to Burgos, get on a train to Leon and proceed from that point.) Itīs not mine to criticize. After all, on the 10 miles to Calzadilla, we were pestered by swarms of flying insects for two hours, in your eyes, in your ears, in your mouth. But skipping this section means not walking along the canals that criss-cross Palencia with frogs chortling alongside or seeing the oddly pleasing lock gates and flights of water. It means missing the strange animals and humans that decorate the corbels of St. Martinīs church in Fromista and not seeing the adobe mud and straw towns with swallows and pigeons creating niches in the walls. It means missing Berciamos.


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Jun 16th, 2008, 12:55 PM
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Are you splitting up this report? Oh no! Please keep it together in one thread.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 01:50 PM
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Jun 16th, 2008, 01:55 PM
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The original thread was getting long. I thought this would be easier.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 01:58 PM
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They have been in many small towns were there hasn't been any Internet or phones. They are currently resting in Leon.

It will continue with this one for all the remaing entries.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 03:48 PM
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The original thread was getting long. I thought this would be easier"

Aduchamp1, it really is easier if you keep the whole report on the same thread. Otherwise, they get separated and folks have to go search for the other bits - plus not everyone will see other's comments.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 08:58 PM
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Hi, Aduchamp,

I don't know how I missed the first post, but I've made up for lost time and am thoroughly enjoying these reports. I've walked this Camino, and your wife's sketches bring it right back to me. She's a very talented writer, and more than than, a very perceptive observer.

And just a word of encouragement to those who think they can't do it. Last summer, I walked with a couple in their mid 70s. They had done no special training for the walk (but admittedly, as Germans, they were used to a lot more walking than the average American). Even more astonishing, I think, in 2004, I celebrated on the Camino with a man who was having his 80th birthday party. I am 57, have done 5 caminos (first one age 50) and use those examples as proof to myself that I have another dozen or so in me.

You do not have to be an Olympic athlete to do this. Training by taking long distance walks and the ability to reduce your packing needs to 10 pounds (or suffer the consequences daily) are the two most important things. One change of clothes, toiletries, first aid, a fleece, light sleeping bag, rain gear, and water/food -- and that's it.

If you're interested, I'd recommend the website www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com It's a terrific resource, has links to a lot of blogs of people currently walking, and has a wide-ranging "pilgrims forum" where every question and doubt is quickly answered by a very large group of caring and enthusiastic walkers. But, beware, the Camino is addictive!

Can't wait to read more -- I completely agree with Aduchamp's wife that those who skip the meseta between Burgos and Leon are really missing a wonderful segment. Buen camino everyone.
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Jun 17th, 2008, 03:23 AM
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Thank Lreynolds for your encouragement and your own experiences.
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Jun 23rd, 2008, 08:04 AM
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Here is the latest entry:

Leon, La Virgen del Camino, Vilar de Mazarife, Hospital de Orbigo, Astorga, Santa Catalina de Somoza)
What is new, since last we spoke, is the end of the cold and the rain and the beginning of scorching heat, the sort of heat where you dart from pencil-thin slices of shade to other pencil-thin slices looking for relief; we have seen the end of flat landscapes and the beginning of rolling hills with the promise of more mountain challenges to come when we leave Leon-Castilla and reach Galicia; we have seen the end of days without sight of people and the arrival of one small pueblo after another. La Virgen, a village on the outskirts of Leon, was probably our one and only stay in suburban Spain. Unlike our suburbs, it had few single family homes and had mostly apartment complexes, in a sort of Miami style. It was full of children and their young parents hopping on and off the frequent buses into the city. One grandfather tormented his teenage grandson into talking to us in English and beamed proudly at the kidīs tortured conversation with us.
Besides La Virgen, we are still passing through rural Spain. Cattle are crossing the same medieval bridges that we cross. A shepherd stops to ask us about the camino and he laughs broadly at my Spanish jokes. When we admire a house in one town, the elderly lady owner invites us in to see every room and closet and each flower in her beautiful rose garden. She asks us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. She couldnīt have picked two greater heathens but we kiss her on each of her cheeks and promise that we will say a prayer for her.
And finally, approaching the village of El Burgo, we come across some anti-Semitic graffiti on an underpass - "Yanquis = judios = Nazis" (Americans = Jews = Nazis) I brood over the whole thing and am dismayed. Frankly, I would like to blame the whole thing on George Bush but that is burying your head in the sand. I love Spain and the Camino, the people I have met and the many kindnesses I have received. But this is part of it too. And, while I would like to say it was an anomaly, I see it twice more in different cities. So there it is, the ancient hatreds surfacing like an ugly virus you canīt kick.
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Jul 1st, 2008, 02:08 PM
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They must be getting close to Santiago! I have a friend walking now who is also suffering a lot with the heat. Hard to know which is easier, the heat or the rain.
The crowds are likely to be a lot larger soon, because many people (Spaniards in particular) walk only the last 100 km, starting in a town called Sarria, since that's the minimum required to qualify for a certificate (the compostela) that says -- you've done it!

As your wife undoubtedly knows, the pilgrims office in Santiago hands out the compostelas (and puts your name in Latin), but to qualify for one you must affirm that your reason for walking was religious or spiritual. If you check the "cultural" or "tourism" boxes, you don't qualify for the compostela but receive some other type of certificate.

Are they walking on to Finisterre after arriving in Santiago? Thanks for these updates, Aduchamp1.
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Jul 1st, 2008, 02:29 PM
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They have their pilgrim passports and have gotten stamped wherever possible. Unfortuantely they understand to get The Compostela, they have to tell them it is for religious reasons.

I will meet them in Santiago in the middle of the month. They will then walk to the farm where their father was born which is approxiamtely 11 miles from Santiago. I will take their backpacks in a rented car and we will spend a week or so there before heading home.

If we go to Finistere it will be by car.
It is very hot and these few days are part of the hardest walking up and down steep hills.
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Jul 1st, 2008, 02:43 PM
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Will we be getting another report soon? This is so interesting.

Note to annhig - I'm almost finished with the book you recommended (on the other thread) - Travels with My Donkey. I'm loving it and laughing my way through it.
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Jul 1st, 2008, 04:00 PM
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Here is the latest entry:

(Santa Catalina de Somoza, Rabanal del Camino, El Acebo, Ponferrada)
We are back in the mountains, up around 4000 feet. Which means, translated into camino speak, you go up 1000 feet, down 1500, up again 1500, down to 500, back up, etc. until you run out of mountains. The descents are the worse and you have to be vigilant. We seem to be walking down shale gullies, full of small round slippery stones. If you donīt focus, it is easy to twist an ankle or knee or stub a toe. I have been having intense discussions with my left foot. It has declared that we are walking almost two months already and wants to know why I donīt take subways or cabs anymore. I pamper it (when we stop and when I can) and am trying to convince it that we are close to the end (we are, but not before we climb the infamous galician mountain, OīCebreiro, 4300 feet).

We stayed two nights in El Acebo, a lovely mountain village with lapis-colored roofs. We came over the mountains, exhausted from the heat and the bugs and from concentrating on not slipping on our butts. When you suddenly see the blue roofs, you are thrilled that you are finished for the day and are in a beautiful place. The innkeeper in El Acebo was a spanish vegetarian, an oxymoron if you have traveled to Spain. If you ask for a vegetarian dish here, the waiters will tell you that, yes, yes, it is only vegetables. And when it is served, you will find chunks of ham in the dish. If you ask what that is, isnīt this vegetarian, the waiter will be astonished. It is all vegetables but how did you expect us to prepare it? I am familiar with this and itīs ok with me. But bearing the culture in mind, the advertisements for a vegetarian hotel in El Acebo were intriguing to us.

Our host had come through this place 10 years ago as a pilgrim on camino from Barcelona. He had the same wondrous experience of trudging along and suddenly coming upon the village. But he thought that perhaps he could live here, rent or buy a place and take in occasional pilgrims. So a few months after he completed his pilgrimage, he purchased this house facing out on the fields and mountains. It was run down and he did the reconstruction, sleeping with his dog that first winter to stay warm. There were only 5 residents in the village 10 years ago. Now, he has created a charming house with 2 extra rooms to rent.

He made us dinner and breakfast with the food from his garden. (No meat.) It was all delicious, fresh and well-balanced. The milk for our coffee came from the goat he milked. He has a two year old cow and hopes that she is pregnant and will give him milk soon and that motherhood will calm her bad behavior. The wheat bread he served came from the oven of a young local man who discovered a workable oven while participating in renovating a small abandoned village. The wine is made in the bodegas of a family of elderly brothers. We walked around town, drew and painted, talked to the neighbors, and sat in the back yard and watched the mountains. There was some brief excitement when a young walker collapsed from the heat in the middle of town. Everyone wanted to send her to the hospital but she came to and adamantly refused. Then everything quieted down. The dogs lay in the middle of the street and refused to move. And we followed their example and went to sleep.

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Jul 1st, 2008, 11:09 PM
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Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Looking forward to the next installment.
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Jul 2nd, 2008, 12:13 AM
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Thank you.
There may be only one or two for a while since I too am headed for Euorope to join them and access to the Net may be limited.
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Jul 5th, 2008, 05:37 AM
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Villafranca del Bierzo, Vega de Valcarce, OīCebreiro, Fonfria, Triacastela)
On Wednesday last, we climbed almost 2300 feet to OīCebreiro, crossing into Galicia. Everything is green and lush, mountainous and wet with constant rain. We were ecstatic when we came to the border crossing into Galicia and when we saw the first kilometer stone marker for the remaining distance to Santiago. And the climb wasnīt as bad as we feared. OīCebreiro seemed to be the top of the world, looking down on the surrounding mountains and villages below. Gallego, a dialect of spanish and portuguese, is spoken everywhere. Signs are now in gallego and several people have responded to us in the dialect, to our confusion. Did I mention that it is cold? Everyone is wearing fleece, even the dogs and sheep. We pulled everything out of our backpacks to wear and are eating hot gallego soup daily (caldo - potatoes, cabbage and kale or some bitter greens). There are many round houses with thatched roofs and we can hear the music of bagpipes playing (from cdīs). OīCebreiro had only about a dozen houses, almost all of them restaurants and/or hotels. Fonfria probably had less houses and almost of them contained cows. An elderly woman in Fonfria saw us passing and popped out of the door with a plate full of filloas. These are gallego crepes which she cooked in a skillet and were also made in a skillet by my father when we were children in Brooklyn. In San Roman, his birthplace where we are headed after Santiago, filloas are made over an open fire with a large stone tilted over it. When the stone is hot, the batter is poured down, sizzling as it hits the flames. That gives you a crepe the size of a small desk, fragrant with the odor of wood. Delicious. We happily gave this woman 3 euros for two crepes. My mother and father would be appalled at such a price and how we caved in to our base food desires. But they were excellent.

With regard to the winning the Euro Cup

spain is ecstatic. it wasnīt too noisy in Cacabelos the night they won but itīs on news and people are so happy. a few days later, we stopped for a coffee before walking and they had reruns on tv of celebrations and I watched the expression on manīs face at bar and his face was wonderful to watch. I did a painting of a little girl reading the paper the next day.
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Jul 11th, 2008, 08:51 AM
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(Triacastela - Samos - Sarria - Ferrerios - Portomarin - Ventas de Naron - Palas de Rei)
Samos is the site of a huge Benedictine monastery, more than 1000 years old and seemingly larger than the town it occupies. The walk to Samos is beautiful. We see our first horreo, a galician corn crib, which resembles an oversized tomb raised on stone stanchions about 5 or 6 feet above the ground and having slotted walls; the slots allow air to circulate while the height of the stanchions protect the grain against vermin. The horreos often have a cross at one end and a sort of triangular stone at the opposite end, a celtic phallic symbol pointing to Galiciaīs pagan history. The camino routes in Galicia are often woodland paths lined by huge chestnut trees that spread over our heads like a bower and keep us in deep shade. We pass through a gorgeous old village with an ancient weir spilling a waterfall behind a line of stone houses. The village also has a tiny bridge to cross the rivulets and 2nd story bridges between houses creating passages from one building to another.
The next day we are expecting more of the same but this becomes a unique walk. First, our hotel accidentally locks us in and delays our departure over an hour. Then, deep in the woods, we meet a galician woman (Isabel) who began her walk only a few days earlier and is limping along in tremendous pain from her boots. We walk and talk and discuss v arious options. Carmen has been walking in hiking sandals for the entire trip and she offers to lend Isabel the extra set in her backpack. Then and there in the woods, they make the switch and we begin walking again. Isabel is completely without pain and we are delighted and congratulate one another. Too soon, because while we are chattering away, we manage to get lost, the very first time this has happened to us. We plow through a few fields with grass over our heads and finally discover that we have made a big circle and are almost back at our starting point. So we begin again heading for Sarria. In that city, we find a hiking store and Isabel bought her very own Teva sandals (this is not an ad).
She also met and introduced us to her friend Endika (Basque for Enrique or Henry). He becomes our friend and helps us over the next few days. Endika has walked the entire camino several times and parts of it on numerous occasions for more than a decade. This year he is walking with his wife and another couple and their 11 year old daughter, Isabel and ourselves become part of their group for at least the next few days.
Beginning in Sarria, there is a sea change in the camino. Sarria marks the minimum distance you can walk and gain a compostela in Santiago. The compostela not only affirms that you walked the camino but, I believe, will forgive me my sins. Since it is in=2 0Latin and I am an atheist anyway, I canīt be sure about the extent of my coverage. Sort of like an insurance policy, if anyone reading this is familiar with one of those oblique documents. In addition to walking from at least Sarria, you need to get two stamps a day on your pilgrimīs credential. The credential is a blank booklet issued at the beginning of your walk and which gets a unique stamp as you go from town to town, the stamp being issued by the local church or hotel or alberque or bar or museum. Since Sarria, the camino has become busy, busy, busy. Rooms are at a premium but our experienced friend Endika has been getting rooms for the 7 or 8 of us. In Ferrerios, he got rooms in a lovely casa rural. Breakfast included butter made in the village, homemade cheese and homemade marmalades. In the meantime, Carmen and I are obsessed with keeping our pilgrim credential up-to-date and we pop into every open church and bar to get stamped.
In five days we expect to be in Santiago, 500 miles from our starting point in St. Jean Pied de Port.

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Jul 14th, 2008, 09:24 PM
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In case anyone missed it, here's a link to the first part of this fascinating account:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=35132211

I am fascinated by the possibility of doing the Camino in 2010. lreynold1 - or anyone else - have you done the camino in the autumn? We're thinking of September.
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Jul 14th, 2008, 10:38 PM
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