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Month: July 2016

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 3

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 3

** let me start off by saying that I am writing these diary posts from my cell . So please excuse the format, look, possible grammatical errors, and feel of this presentation for normally I would have a laptop but wanted to disconnect is much as possible while walking the Camino de Santiago.

July 15, 2016: Hontanas – Boadilla

Another long day!

We had as a group decided to leave early to walk another 28 kilometers. Today I realized why the Meseta is so feared and loathed,  though personally I felt that it was okay.

Some of the group was suffering a bit from the heat and even James finally picked up a blister. It was tough on the group as we walked for it seemed like forever with no place to stop and escape the heat.

Now on the Camino, we tend to be hidden from the outside world, but today everyone was talking about the Bastille day tragedy in Nice, France.  One of the younger members of our group seemed to be especially affected by this information and asked me, “why does stuff like this happen?” I don’t envy parents at times like this! I tried to offer some insight but I’m sure by failed miserably as she walked away caring the weight of the world on her shoulders. It slowed my walk that morning!

A couple of the others were struggling as well and needed and escape from the steep climbs and the heat.  I understood their issues but could offer no relief.  The walk can be physically and mentally tough on anyone. After 2 weeks its easy to see why are person would want to stop or even quit and go home.

We finally made it to Boadilla and our Albergue.  Hopefully everyone was able to find relief and recharge their spirits for tomorrow.

July 16, 2016: Boadilla – Carrion de los Condes

Not going to lie, I dislike waking up early! I been spoiled recently waking up whenever I want back home. But the gang wanted to leave by 6 a.m. so I reluctantly woke up.

Though a little cranky, I was happy that we did. As we walked along the Canal de Castilla, I was blessed with that unbelievable sunrise. 

 

We headed west so the sunrise was behind us but the western sky line was full of beautiful colors as the sun rose behind us.  As we walk to long the canal, old Spaniards lined the banks with long cane poles and baskets as they were crawfishing. A memory of my home in New Orleans.

The rest of the walk was quiet and slow along the “scenic route” of the meseta.  Finally we arrived at Carrion.  Here I met a priest about my age from Canada name Jeffrey. He seemed like a great guy as we hung out for an hour in the plaza smoking cigars and sharing our adventure stories.

July 17, 2016: Carrion – Terradillos de los Templarios

The Meseta is kind of boring which I guess is great for thinking!

James, Greg, and I got started around 8 a.m. after breakfast but soon we walked the path relatively apart at our own paces. After morning prayers, I spent most of my time battling random thoughts with my intentions of the day.

This day in the meseta kind of sucked because it started with 17 kilometers of no break. That means no towns, no food, no nothing, except heat. Being from New Orleans, the heat doesn’t seem to bother me as much but it wears everyone else down both physically and mentally.  At one point James and I met up with Emily and Marie as we chatted about life to break up the monotony of the scenery surrounding us. Finally we made it to our albergue.  This town didn’t offer much, so we hung out playing games in the dining hall and laughing our exhaustion away.

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July 18, 2016: Terradillos – El Burgo Ranero

The day I was kidnapped!

We left early and walked in the coolness along the tree lined paths. The meseta seems to be ending as they were a few more villages along the walk today.

One of the highlights of today was a field of sunflowers that greeted us after an hour or so into the walk.

 Another highlights was crossing the Ermita Virgen del Puente.  On the other side of this bridge was a beautiful gateway arch. It reminded me of the scene in the movie, The Neverending Story, where Atreyu has to be pure of heart to pass between two statues to continue on his quest.  Here between the two arches is the Centro Geographico del Camino or the direct center of the Camino. We made it halfway!

Then, we finally made it to Bercianos where I broke up the band as they say. My Irish family, James, and Greg stayed behind but I continued on for another 7.5 kilometers in order to get closer to a town called Mansilla where I would meet up with my family from Spain the next day.


When I finally arrived at El Burgo, I checked into a municipal albergue that takes donations only in exchange for a bed. One of the older volunteers showed me to my bed. Then she grabbed my shoulder and said now it’s time to play. So I reach for my wallet, and she said, ” I can’t accept cash I meant to give me a hug”. I replied telling her that I was sweating and disgusting but she didn’t care. She said that all pilgrims need a hug sometimes. So I put down my bag and hugged her.  She was right!  I needed that.


After getting cleaned up, I walked across the street or I met up with some other friends I met along the walk, two Italians, two americans, and an old spaniard. We decided to have dinner together and it was a blast. We had the craziest conversations as everyone spoken in their native tongue while we were trying to figure out what each other what was saying. But that didn’t matter because we laughed.

I was told earlier in this walk a very important quote, “Everyone Laughs in the Same Language!”

After dinner our gang returned outside to the patio where we sat, laughed more, and attempted to drink grappa.

Then suddenly my cell phone rang which was weird because I didn’t have service. As I looked at my phone a van pulled up behind me and a bunch of kids jumped out screaming that they were here to kidnap me! Ah Family…I love them!!

In a whirlwind, I left my dinner party, ran with them back to my albergue to collect all my drying clothes, my pack, and boots. Then I hopped in the van with them! It felt a little weird being back in a car but I didn’t care as Francisco and Bea’ drove me around first to see Amando Llorente’s house and then to their farm house.

From there we ate some more and then surrounded by my many little cousins, we sat outside in the cool summer night as we talked about the Camino, my bucket list, adventures, and life.


July 19, 2016: Rest Day – Leon – Mansilla

Though I wasn’t walking, I still woke up early. So I decided to continue my intentions as the kids and family slept.

Around noon, Bea, Javi, Beatriz, Javi’s friend Eric, and I went into the city of Leon to explore the cathedral there. It was absolutely beautiful. This cathedral is famous for it stained glass windows and it definitely lived up to the hype.

Later in the afternoon after taking a tour of the cow farm, Francisco, Eric, and I took a bicycle tour to the town of Mansilla.  This was great because Francisco is a great tour guide and it allowed me to see a stop on the Camino that I would have missed.

Coincidentally we ran into my Irish family at one restaurant who were staying in that town. Francisco got us some unbelievable meats to try and taught me how to drink Sidra in the traditional way which was a fun event in itself.

Later that evening, we returned to the house where we had an unbelievable feast of tapas. Then after dinner we sat outside in the cool night smoking cigars while the triplets shared hilarious stories of their youth.

It was another perfect day with family!

July 20, 2016: Villafale – Leon

I left my family in Villafale with Pili as she dropped me off at Puente Villarente.  I was happier than anything!

It made me a little sad to think that I might not see James or the Irish family again, but I was too happy to let it bother me.  Then out of no where they all walked up on me.

Together, we all walked again into Leon.  After eating burritos for lunch, I hung out with random people while drinking wine and enjoying a cigar. Emily, the girl from Queensland, Australia, joined us.  She leads an interesting life of travel as she told me of all the places she’s been, where she is planning on going, and how she funds it all.  It amazes me how people can make their dreams work in real life.

July 21, 2016: Leon – St. Martin del Camino

Today was an easy walking day.  The weather was beautiful and cool as we walked through the suburbs and industrial areas leaving Leon.

The rest of the walk was average but about mid day we ran into this great family from southern California.

After making it to our albergue, we just hung out.  There wasn’t much to the town.  However we spent the afternoon with the SoCal family playing card games, charades, and just chatting.

Sometimes you just need to have an easy night.


Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 2

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 2

** let me start off by saying that I am writing these diary posts from my cell . So please excuse the format, look, possible grammatical errors, and feel of this presentation for normally I would have a laptop but wanted to disconnect is much as possible while walking the Camino de Santiago.

July 8, 2016: Viana – Navarrete

I woke up this morning feeling great! My left foot still was really sore and tender but a little better and the lighter bag had Lifted my spirits also!

The girls and Greg left early and James seem to be in a rush, so after we passed Greg, James went after Susanne and her daughters while I walked alone which was good for me. The morning weather was cool. It wasn’t great scenery at all & I often felt a little unsure of where I was going because the markings today were very few or difficult to find. However that had no effect on my joy!

We entered the Rioja region which is famous for its wine which made sense as I witnessed countless rows of grapes everywhere as far as the eye could see.

Finally I made it to Longrono, a big city, where I had caught up with James and the Irish family for my first meal. The city is nice but once past the old town you start entering through the suburbs and then across a gigantic City Park.

As I was walking out of town, I had a fun conversation with my horrible broken Spanish with a local Spaniard woman for about 8 blocks.  When I initially met her, I noticed a cast from her shoulder to her wrist and tried to make some horrible Spanish joke about her karate. She immediately smiled and demanded taking me for a tour of the Camino as she headed to work.  

After a long walk out of town, we finally made it to the small town of Navarrete which has a beautiful church. Here we rested the entire afternoon.

In reality it was nothing special about the walk today but for me it was a happy day!

July 9, 2016: Navarrete – Najera

Leaving Navarrete was ok.  We started in the plaza for a quick bite and coffee while some locals are obviously still out from partying the night before!

For a while James and I walked to the vast countryside. However soon we met up with two new Irish characters: Denis & Brian.  (The Damned Irish are everywhere on the Camino). But I enjoyed their company and their stories as they entertained us the entire time until we arrived in Najera.

The town is very nice and after leaving Denis and Brian, we checked into our Albergue where we met up with the Irish family.

There is a beautiful river that goes through this town.  So, I found a bench beneath a tree along the river and enjoy one of my Cuban cigars as I watched the world go by.

July 10, 2016: Najera – Santo Domingo

Last night’s sleep was extremely rough for me. Between the heat of the night and the locals leaving the bars and discos from around the corner to head home, I hardly got a wink. But I woke up very happy and physically feeling even better than ever.

James and I walked through this extremely boring walk together. It was weird because the Camino was pretty busy today as all the pilgrims were racing to their destination before the heat overtook them.

There was nothing special or visually pretty going on this part of the Walk. Go figure it would be just my luck! I struggled a lot of the beautiful sections of the Pyrenees due to the pain in my legs and feet and now that I’m strong and full of energy, nothing to see!

I think a lot of us we’re starting to get a little weary of the walk. So we decided to bypass the albergues and upgrade to a pension. A pension is more like a dorm room with less beds and a private bathroom.  But it was nice and much appreciated.

The town of Santo Domingo is beautiful. We walked briefly around the old town & explored the beautiful cathedral there. Later we sat for dinner at a street café as I smoked a phenomenal Montecristo Cuban cigar & we all sat watching the world pass us by. It was a great evening!

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July 11, 2016: Santo Domingo – Beldorado

The Irish family left early while James and I left Santo Domingo at our regular 7 a.m. time. There wasn’t much to this walk as we passed countless wheat fields leaving the Rioja region and entering the region of Castilla y Leon.

For the first time the Camino was kind of ho hum to me.  But that was fine as we entered the town of Beldorado at a really early time.

Susanne and her daughters had gotten in earlier and booked us into a great albergue that had a pool and a great dining hall.  It was weird because usually I feel bad about not spending time exploring the towns we visit. But this time we all hung out and relaxed with beers and sangria and just decompressed.

July 12, 2016: Beldorado – Ages

The cold Drizzle day!

Today we needed to walk 30 kilometers, so we left really early. It was a cold day that drizzled on us off and on till 2 p.m…but that didn’t ruin my spirits!

The landscape of today’s route changed some which also kept me happy. One of the unique things is that there are several non religious monuments along Camino in this region. These monuments would share with us information about Spain’s tough Civil War or other battles from their history!

Later we stopped at San Juan Ortega and visited the monastery and church where the famous saint of the pilgrims himself is buried.

However James had walked this one section before and recommended that we continue on to a town called Ages.

It was a great plan and mother nature agreed as the sun came out. Ages is a small town with not much to it .  However, the church totally amazed me.  From the giant stork nest atop the steeple, to it’s history, to it’s quiet cold inside, Saint Eulalia church stopped me for a bit!

After visiting the church, we relaxed in the sun before dinner. Now dinner was a treat, because our hospitelero and his wife cooked us a fabulous dinner made to order. There’s no way to lose weight on the Camino with unbelievable food like this!

July 13, 2016: Ages – Burgos
A long walk in the park!

Today started out really cold but it was a beautiful walk up the sheep path to Alto Cruciero. These hard walks uphill are becoming easier for me though my feet are still a little tender.

I started my walk with Athena, a slightly older woman from Washington DC who has lived a very colorful life of adventure around the world.

I then caught up with James and Susanne as we continue down the mountain into Burgos. It’s nice to stop from time to time at these little towns for tortilla and Cafe Con Leche. Perhaps I shouldn’t stop every five kilometers but it’s so addictive!

From Castaneres, we decided to walk through the park. According to our book it was the scenic route and a welcome relief. We would walk past countless old men strolling around while children would play by the riverside. However this park is enormous and it felt like we were walking forever.

Finally, after a million kilometers, we came into the city of Burgos.  I had never heard of the city of Burgos before but it was great. Apparently Burgos is the city of El Cid! There is a massive Cathedral de Santa Maria in the center as the city sprawls in each direction around it.  We checked into our albergue and then searched for food….Kebobs!  It seemed weird to me not to eat menu de peregrino, tapas, pintxos, or Spanish food, but it was great.

Afterwards, James, Greg, Emelia, and myself took a tour of the city on a fun little tourist train! I’m not exactly sure what we saw, but the train was so relaxing that several of us dozed off.

Then I went to my first mass on the Camino. Now many of the town’s previously visited had offered a pilgrim mass but I didn’t go for various reasons. I guess I feel that my walk is my mass. But we all went as a group and it was very nice.

Tomorrow the Meseta!!!

July 14, 2016: Burgos – Hontanas

Welcome to the Meseta!

The walk out of Burgos was nice but a little cold. I had a horrible night freezing to death and was happy to leave even at 6 a.m.! But today was going to be another long walk, over 30 kilometers exclamation point

Now the meseta is a vast area along the way with very limited trees, towns, or any type of scenery. However to me it has its own type of beauty and I felt that the cold weather was a blessing. For Americans, the best way I can describe it, is that the Meseta is like walking across Nebraska. There’s just countless fields of wheat as far as the eye can see.

Finally we arrived at our Albergue in Hontanas.  This town and Albergue were a great find!  For about seven euros we felt like royalty. The Irish family went to the public pool while James and I sat around a beautiful courtyard beneath the church of Santa Brigida. Later I would take some time to explore this beautiful and simple Church.

Now the highlight for me of this night was our Pilgrim dinner as I ate family style with other pilgrims from Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Spain. The food was phenomenal as it was cooked fresh in the kitchen by our hospitelero. They started out with the traditional pilgrim’s garlic soup and another pot filled with lentils. Then I was served salmon over vegetables followed with rice pudding for dessert. We all went to bed with happy full bellies!

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 1

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 1

** let me start off by saying that I am writing these diary posts from my cell . So please excuse the format, look, possible grammatical errors, and feel of this presentation for normally I would have a laptop but wanted to disconnect is much as possible while walking the Camino de Santiago.

Week 1: A hard lesson in humility!

July 1, 2016

What a physically rough day. They warn that this day is by far the hardest, but come on isn’t that what they tell tourist? No its 100% true.

I started the morning at the gate of St Jean Pied de port where I found a bench to started my novena and prayed. The weather at 7 a.m. was perfect as I made my way out of town. Throughout the walk you would see many eager pilgrims all wishing each other “Buen Camino”!

But as you leave the city limits you realize why they warn you of the difficulty. See the walk to Roncesvalles is only 25 km or for Americans about 16 miles but in that 16 miles you almost entirely walk up hill ultimately reaching a height of 1450 meters or 4757 feet!

Throughout the first 3 hours, I essentially walked alone amid the crowd. It was pleasant and peaceful as I reflected on my special intentions of the day. They were also beautiful French farms and fields lined with sheep, horses, and cattle. Oddly enough the roads were scattered with enormous black slugs easily 6 inches long or bigger.

Around Orisson, I began walking with a older gentleman who had just left Greenland and was returning to home country of Denmark. He was a bit sad because his 18 year old son didn’t want to leave his girlfriend at home to walk with his father on this walk.

Some time later we met up with 3 others: Lucca from Italy, Max from Germany, and Zack from Sacramento California.  We would all walk and talk and tell our stories while struggling to make it to the peak of Col de Lepoeder.

From that point we thought the hard part was over. Boy were we wrong! The downhill was even worse. The constant hammering on our hips, quads, knees, and shins was brutal. It felt never ending until suddenly we crossed the bridge into our town. Hopefully the cool fog will lift and possibly the rain will be over tomorrow.

July 2, 2016: Roncesvalles – Zubiri

Today almost killed me!

I was so sore from yesterday that I walked very slowly all day (about 2 miles an hour in fact). It was a downhill nightmare on my legs.

I started my morning with the morning prayers and intentions and left in the cold mist alone. It was quiet and beautiful as I pondered millions of thoughts. There wasn’t much to the walk except the difficulty and by 2/3rds I way, I was dying physically.

By 2 p.m. I had made it into Zubiri. It’s a beautiful town and I debated on plowing through to another 5 km to the next town. My legs burned and after talking with other pilgrims, I had decided to stay which was great because we sat and rested at a local bar drinking, smoking, and eating a great Peregrino dinner while relaxing. Tomorrow to Pamplona!

July 3, 2016: Zubiri – Pamplona

It was in Irish kind of day!

James, a friend I met in Zubiri, who is from Ireland and I both left around 7 a.m. At first I stayed with him, but soon he jetted off and I lagged behind. However it didn’t phase me because the day was beautiful as I struggled along the beautiful countryside.
For a while I walk with this young Canadian couple along the Arga River. Then I arrived at Cafe Parada, where James sat with others including this Irish mother Suzanne and her 2 daughters. From that point we all decided to walk together into Pamplona.

The second half the day, though still hard, was fun as the 2 young daughters entertained us with their questions, songs, and stories.  I learned that there is an actual Irish language that is still taught in schools and used in many of the towns. Not some dead language but alive like our Cajun French in Louisiana.

One of the highlights was we had decided to take a detour to an old convent still owned and run by the daughters of Sacred Heart (okay only run by 4 nuns but still). We visited with one of the sisters who laughed at my Spanish and showed us around the beautiful church. We were allowed to climb into the bell tower and ring the bell for good luck. Though we didn’t stay there the convent is also still use as a hostel to feed and house pilgrims for a donation. It was tempting to stay but we decided to head on for Pamplona.

We made our way into Pamplona. The city here was alive and noisy as it prepared for the commencement of San Fermin. We walked around a bit as I sat amid the noise of the plaza next to the famous Cafe Iruna, a favorite of Ernest Hemingway.

Today was a great day!

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July 4, 2016: Pamplona – Puenta De La Reina 

Leaving the city was good. We left fresh and happy making our way to the concrete jungle of Pamplona but this would become our longest day. Susanne is a lovely woman and it amazes me how old she is because she’s always smiling, happy, and positive. Though it is evident that she is a mother as she worries for her this health and safety of her daughters.

Walking the long hot fields to Cizur Menor seemed easy but the heat really slowed us down. This made us search for escape which in turn prolonged our daily battle of walking in the heat. Plus Ayisha, the eldest daughter was struggling physically. Hell we all were beaten and bruised but she seemed worse for wear around her knees.

Then we climbed! It seemed a slow gradual climb but in our condition seemed very hard. However you never can stop and soon we reached the top of Alto de Perdon where we witnessed the famous iron silhouettes of pilgrims as we rested beneath the windmills.

At this point some of our group decided to give up their packs as James and I continued down the valley with our gear toward Puente de la Reina. It was a very long walk down the Mountain. A very  long walk!

I did get a chance to stop at a small town called Obanos, where I got to see the skull of St William encased in silver.

It’s amazing how you find yourself missing out on so much. Much like life I suppose. As you walk down the steep hills of these horrible broken ancient Roman roads, you keep your head down staring at your feet so you don’t fall. It kind of sucks!

Usually we end each day around 2 or 3 p.m. but today we crawled into town around 6 p.m. When we found our albergue, we immediately jumped into the pool and later celebrated surviving with a lot of wine. I never slept so good!

July 5, 2016: Puente de la Reina – Estella

My morning with Greg!

James and I left at our typical 7 a.m. time, while the girls and Greg and Australian man who had joined us, had left out earlier.

However, by the town of Manenu, we had caught up with Greg and he was struggling with many blisters on his feet. So I decided to walk with him for a while as James continued forward to catch the girls. It was great hearing Greg’s story.

Greg is a principal from Perth Australia, who was essentially forced to take a 7 month holiday due to some Australian laws since he hadn’t taken is mandatory Holiday in several years.

However a short while later we had caught James who is with Emelia, a young girl from Denmark who reminds me a lot of my precious cousin Graziella.  It was fun as we passed through the infamously evil town of Cirauqui.

Then by the town Lorca, we had caught up with our Irish family and powered through the last 8 to 9 kilometers to Estella.

Estella is a beautiful town along the river with a castle on a hill. It’s a decent sized town but felt small which was nice. Susanne had also found us a place to stay at the Albergue Anfas which was awesome because it was only 7 euros but also it is run by mentally challenged individuals who took special care of us.

July 6, 2016: Estella – Los Arcos

Today was hot! James, Greg, & I left after my morning prayers as the girls had left and hour earlier.

The walk started out nice into Irache where we got to drink from the famous wine fountain.

But then it just became a very long hot walk through the open farmland without a shade! Sadly Greg fell behind again but we did find the young Canadian couple, Nick & Kelly, again and walked with them for a bit.  James also met up with another northern Irish man named John Greene who joined us.

July 7, 2016: Los Arcos – Viana 

Last night was a rough night of sleep for all of us, plus when I woke up my left foot felt bruised, sore, and was super swollen. It was painful all day.

Luckily the Irish girls and their mother had convinced us all to break up the next two days according to the guide book into three days.

So we started out leaving Los Arcos on the long walk to Sansol about 7km away. I personally like starting out at 7 a.m. and walking for a while before having a breakfast break. I tend to feel more energetic that way. The past few mornings I’ve been drinking cafe con leche which is odd for me since I rarely drink coffee but when in Spain do as the Spaniards do I guess.

From Sansol, we walked to Torres del Rio where I saw Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro, a chapel made for and connected to the Knights Templar.  It was beautiful in its simplicity.

From that point I caught up with James who walks a little bit faster than I and we hobbled into the town of Viana.

At first this town looked like a dirty and depressing industrial town, but as we got closer to the old town you could see its charm.

Susanne saved me again! She had found a real post office and I had decided that one week of walking the Camino was more than enough time carrying this massive weight that I was carrying. So I decided to ditch some clothes, my cold weather sleeping bag, and some other stuff. Although it was expensive, hopefully it saves my feet from the 4.25 kilos or 9.5lbs weighing me down!