I hope you all said Easter.  It is exactly what I got this morning.  Yes, it is very pretty but walking, especially on the Camino was not nice.  The only good thing was that walking on the road until we were below the snow line was an option.



The Camino route is full of villages with population less than 100 and declining.  One can understand that when you see the lack of industry.  Much of the farming is marginal.  A lot of land has more stones than soil.  These villages are all very pretty with old stone buildings (many falling apart) and churches much bigger than the size of the village can support.  It is very sad really.  The young are leaving for the cities.  The only industry for some villages is pilgrim support and a true pilgrim does not spend that much money.  My daily cost is about 30€ when I stay in pilgrim hostels, eat a big meal (pilgrim’s menu) and graze in between.  Camping and doing own cooking cost even less.

I don’t know the answer but … maybe they can develope some art tourism … beautiful land… quaint villages … friendly locals … the price is right…

Easter Parade

i have a confession to make.  I was going to “sit out” the Camino, at least over the Easter weekend.  The main reason is the weather.  Snow, rain, and cold weather were promised.  Walking in those conditions plus cold indoor temperature just was not fun.  However, Easter in Spain is a really big deal and travelling around is not easy.  A lot of things will be closed and transportation choices are limited and expensive.

I am currently I the city of Palencia, a regional capital with a population of 80,000.  A Easter procession just went by my window.  I did go and check it out as there was no way I could get any sleep.  The thumping of the drum and the band!   It is at the level of high school.  Other than the music, it was a quiet procession.  People of all ages and both sexes marched (or I should say glided) in the parade.  Most dressed in long robs with a hood (like KKK) and a rope hanging around the neck.  I believe in Catholicism, the costume represents the equality of men.  There was a couple of floats, of religious themes of course.  In this case, the floats were not carried.  They had wheels and were simply push/pulled.

The Pilgrims

Okay, this fellow is not a picture of the modern pilgrim.  The sketch is based on a carving in the Najera monastery.  I don’t know his age but he had the standard pilgrim attire for hundreds of years.  He is clutching a book (I am assuming the bible).  On his walking stick was a scallop (to scoot up water) and a gurd (water container).  What is not apparent is that his feet were bare.

I don’t have a photo of a fully loaded modern pilgrim (something for me to work on) but we are much better equipped.  We may or may not have a walking stick; but if we do, it is likely the high tech adjustable variety and very likely 2 (have to be balanced).  No bare feet for this bunch.  Instead we are shoed in the latest waterproof hiking boots.  We also need another pair of foot ware for the end of the day. There is also debate on one sock or two sock system.  There is all sort of discussionson the material of the layers (synthetic vs wool) and the number.  Needless to say that there is no agreement on the best type of rain gear (poncho, plastic, gore text, a hump for the pack, etc).  Most of us carry some sort of communication device (the smart phone predominate).  Communication with the outside world happens as soon as we are in free wifi range.  Camera?  Why bother except the old fashion type like me.  There are cameras on every phone and pad. Oh, we have water bottle instead of gurd and the scallop shell is only for show.  None of us bother with a bible.  If there is one, it will be on an e-device.

Yes, life is simpler back then.  Would I trade all the modern gear for the true spirit of pilgrimage?  NO WAY.

Another hard day on the Camino – by bus

If St. Peter is checking his list at heaven’s gate, I may not get in because I am a really bad pilgrim so far.  I skipped all the mass en route and I bussed 5 out of 9 sections so far.  However, I would get double bonus points for surviving and maximizing my personal comfort.

Monastery at Najera

Above is a picture of the monastery in Najera (more about that later).  I want to point out that snow is visible on the hill just behind it.  It is very cold here.  Snow is making the headlines all over Spain.  I am lucky in that it is not staying on the road around here.  In the last couple of days, the weather swing between damp-windy-and-cold, to rain-windy-and-cold, to snow-windy-and-cold.  I am prepared for some cold weather but this is nasty-to-your-bone cold.  The Spaniards don’t heat their indoor space to the same toasty temperature as we do in Canada.  So, getting warm has been a challenge.  Needless to say, I rather stay as dry and warm as possible.  The really determined ones are still doing the Camino but I saw more than one using the vehicle transportation.

I spend last night in the town of Najera, population 8500.  It was the capital of kingdom of Navarra in the 11 and 12th century.  The monastery, a museum now, has a fine church attached with all kinds of VIP buried in it.  It is in wonderful condition and much bigger than I would expect in a town of that size.

The churches in the area has a tradition of providing for the migratory birds.  It really is a strange sight to see bird nest attached to the bell tower.

From the pension window

That is all for now.  Wish me luck.  There should be no major amount of precipitation tomorrow.

History on Camino Francais

I have to use real pictures for this as I have been too busy walking to do complex sketches.  The other issue is that I am not that good at drawing a large number buildings.

One thing that everyone (including the Germans and a guy living near Barcelona) has commented was the history (that means the churches) on the journey so far.  Each day, we would walk through 4 to 6 towns of various sizes; some of them small (a few hundreds inhabitants). Each would have at least one church and much bigger than one expect for the size of town.  All the churches would be in good repairs (on the outside) and the church bells would ring at the appropriate time.  In addition to the churches, there are benches (for the pilgrims to rest on), and drinking fountains.  This is all part of being a well-known pilgrim’s route for hundreds of years.  I was told that one do not see this in most of Europe.

You will notice that I did not name the church or the town.  That is because they are already blending into each other.  I only said that they are in Navarra because I walked in that state for the last 4 days.

A small town in Navarra

A church in the state of Navarra

Just a Few Random Thoughts

A door in northern Spain

I just finished my second stage (day) of my Camino walk and muscles of my legs are … not exactly killing me but they are making their presence known.  As someone who is doing the Camino tells me, “Day 1 is okay but every muscle in your legs will be painful by day 2 and 3”.  Ok, it is my fault.  I know the training required (lots of walking on hard pavement carrying a pack) but did not manage to fit it in.  Now, I am paying for it.

You can say that I now have a real appreciation for the pilgrims of yesteryear.  I have good modern gears, guidebooks, knowledge, and a whole system to support the pilgrims; and it still is not easy.  There is the unpredictable weather and our sedentary lifestyle does not help.  I know that one of the goal is to get away from the modern world.  But when the upcoming village pop up in my vision, I think of lunch, pee break, or, the best, end of the stage with shoes off and shower.  I certainly would not dial the time back a few hundred years.

I tried to keep my pack light but it is always too heavy by the end of the day.  It weights about 15 pounds without food and water.  I have eliminated a lot of my stuff and can play the tourist carrying the pack.  I often do wonder if  I left something behind in the last place because there is not much there.  However, I have not really missed the stuff I left behind and it is an incredible feeling of freedom not be weighed down by my worldly possessions.  Now, the real nuisance is laundry.  It is constant or there is no clean cloth.

I know that opinions vary but I find the Spaniards are very friendly and helpful.  This all started when I stared at the automatic ticket vending machine at the Madrid train station.  I was lost and probably had the panic expression on my face.  A young lady stopped and walked me through the experience.  I hope she did not miss her train.  The locals are always calling out greetings and “buen Camino” as sign of good will.  The owner of a local restaurant was determined to teach all the pilgrims Spanish, with laughter and humour.  As a pilgrim (we are treated way better than the tourists), no one tried to rip me off.  I already have so many good memories, regardless of what I do in the Camino.

Doing the Camino in March is a solitary experience.  Right now, there is probably 20 or 30 of us doing the walk at any one stage.  We are spread out in different hostels/b&b/hotels and all start out at different times (usually early) and we walk at different speed.  I walked by myself most of the time.  Route finding can be interesting as I can miss that little yellow arrow.  However, I am still in my physical awareness stage (the weight of my pack and aches and pains).  Walking needs to become automatic and then I can sort out my life.

these are some of my early impressions.  Things may change as I settle into the pilgrimage.  Stay tuned.

El Camino (March to April 2018)

Yes, my friends, the world is calling again and it is time to go and explore another corner.  This time, it is the pilgrim trail in norther Spain.  I guess the questions are “why?”, “why now?”, and “how?”.

Why?  The most common reasons are “as a religious pilgrimage” and “to be in touch with my innersole”.  The answer is neither.  I am definitely not religious.  As I live by myself and spend enough time walking/running and skiing by myself, I should have myself all sorted out by now.  My best answer is curiosity.  The Camino Francais has been a pilgrimage route for hundreds of years.  A library of books has been written about it and films have been made about the experience.  There must be something that fascinate the horde (300,000 completed the pilgrimage last year).

Why Now?  I could never justify spending a month doing potentially a boring walk while I was working.  Now, I have the luxury of time as I am retired.  Second, I am a loner and doing the walk with thousands of my closest friends does not appeal.  March/April is considered the low/shoulder season.  I should not have to compete for bunk space in the pilgrims’ hostels.  Third, I rather walk when it is cool/cold (vs the heat of July and August).  I did forget all about Easter until 2 weeks ago.  Easter is a big deal in Spain and I have no idea what will happen.  I was assured that I will have someplace to sleep and food to eat.  The rest?  Like the pilgrims from the Middle Ages, I will find out when it happens.

How?  I like to stay true to the old spirit of pilgrimage as much as possible.  That means I will carry my own pack and stay at the pilgrim hostels, as much as feasible.  But, this is not the Middle Ages.  I am sure that I will enjoy the luxury of my own bathroom at least once.  I will not walk every step of the trail; there is definitely plan to use bus/taxi to skip the really boring bits.  I am also a faire weather pilgrim; there is no plan to walk in the rain.  I only bring rain gear for the unexpected showers.  I will not be completely e-device free; it is the 21st century.

I have not yet decided if I am going to do my travel blog.  After all, there is little I can add to the mountain of information already available.  I am planning to sketch every day.  I made that mistake by revealing that information.  Ladies of my Thursday watercolour class already requested to see the result.  So, I better do as I planned.  If I do the blog, you will likely getting my art work instead of photos.

So, my friends, adieu until next time.  Oh, I leave for Spain day after tomorrow.