Friday, November 12, 2010

Camino de Santiago

DSC_5185.jpg, originally uploaded by Matthew San Diego.

In early July this year, Matt and I enjoyed 5 days on the Camino de Santiago. A different sort of hike than we've made before, we enjoyed walking this ancient pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago, where St. James is buried.

Many people begin this Camino much further out than we did--we took the easy, quick journey. But, discovered a beautiful and meaningful journey that was well worth our time. Walking with two friends of ours, we enjoyed the time together, the beautiful landscape, the experience with the community of pilgrims on the Camino, and the spiritual gifts of this religious journey undertaken for centuries.

I regret not posting these entries sooner, but I guess this means you get my memories filtered through the intervening months. Distilled, perhaps...

If we had it to do over again--or if we went again--there are a few things I'd do differently. First, I needed even less stuff than I took. Sleeping bags and pads were totally unnecessary for this part of the Camino--a simple sheet would have been plenty, as the refugios supply a disposable bottom sheet, pillows and blankets. Few clothes are necessary, as washing facilities are easy to find. A shirt, fleece or jacket, rain layer, pants and shorts would be enough (plus at least 2 pairs of underwear and socks, of course), as well as a sun hat for while walking and flip-flops for the evening. Traveling light definitely makes the journey more fun...

On the Camino Santiago, Day 5: Monte de Gozo to Santiago

Our final morning's walk felt like a breeze, as we wound our way down into the city. It felt a little funny to be in the midst of a city again--with traffic and traffic lights and lots more concrete.

As we got into the city center, the spires of the cathedral became visible. And, though our journey had be shorter than many and our perspective is already skewed by our contemporary world, I admit to an awe-inspiring sense of wonder as we drew near the majesty of the cathedral.

Our finals meters were accompanied by a bagpiper, reminding us of the long and deep connection between the Celts and Galicia. Odd as it may seem, the bagpipes were right at home in that stone walkway. (You'll notice, though, that there was no kilt involved here...)
As we got the plaza in front of the cathedral, it felt wonderful to look up at the intricate facade, and to imagine ourselves in the same place as so many generations of pilgrims before us.

We made it in time for the Pilgrim's Mass, but, to our dismay, discovered that the Botafumeiro--the gigantic incensor in Santiago's cathedral--would not be used that day, as it was being repaired. Still...the mystery and wonder of mass together with pilgrims from all over was inspiring. Unlike hikes in USAmerica, where we finish and drive home (maybe stopping for a burger...), it was a delight to stop to worship together in community at the end of the journey.

After mass, we went to the Pilgrim's Office to show our credentials and receive our Compostela certificates. And, we enjoyed most of the day exploring the old parts of Santiago on a wet, rainy day. (Also, before the day was over, we were successful both at finding a geocache AND one of those commemorative Estrella Galicia beer mugs...)

On the Camino Santiago, Day 4: Arzua to Monte de Gozo

Walking a thousand-year-old trail, we found a delightful mix of ancient and modern along the way. The primary landscape was shaped by rolling hills, dotted with small farms and their simple, old, stone buildings. Several times, we saw workers building or repairing the stone structures, meticulously laying stones they way they've been laid for centuries. Now and then, the romance of time travel is punctuated by a jarring reminder that these farms are not a museum piece--they're home to real people, some of whom realize they can bring in a little extra income by hosting vending machines along the Camino.

Our morning breakfast stops--always after we'd gotten a few km down the road--varied in terms of the classiness of architecture and design, but were unwavering in the menu available: always an omelet sandwich (un bocadillo de tortilla). Fortunately, this is a fine thing to eat every day.
The beauty of things planted along the way continued to delight me. Here, spectacular and beautiful hydrangeas lined the path.
And, signs of all sorts--painted on the ground, on sides of buildings, in ancient monuments--kept us on the right path.
At lunch, we explored the menu options available. Here, Colin dared to try an empanada with octopus. I tasted better, I think, before we looked inside...

But, really, it's hard to complain at all about a hike that lets you drink your lunchtime coke out of a wine glass, enjoying the beauty of the day.
On this day--our longest of the journey by far--we began to long longingly for these concrete markers, many of which are marked with mileage. I do not know how many of these little monuments line the path, but they because a reliable companion on our walk. Well, reliable, that is, until we got close to Santiago and they suddenly disappeared. Because, I've come to believe, the Camino's path was re-routed around the airport property, adding a few extra km toward the end...but who's counting?!?
Alas, we were counting on this long day. I suppose it wouldn't have taken much to figure out that a town called "Monte de Gozo" is likely to be atop a hill. With tired feet and legs, we pressed on up the "monte," waiting for the "gozo" to set in.

Fortunately for us, we got to enjoy a rare celebration that night. Besides having made it to the HUGE alberge on the hill that overlooks Santiago, we made it to an ideal location for watching Spain win its first World Cup. We ate dinner and watched the match; Matt enjoyed a pint of his favorite local beer in a special, commemorative pilgrimage mug. (If you look close, you can see the Camino arrow...)

On the Camino Santiago, Day 3: Palais de Rei to Arzua

One of the delights of the Camino is how beautiful this part of the journey is: so often, we were walking through tunnels in the trees, shaded and enchanted by them. In the morning, we walked through trails made mysterious by misty fog; later we were especially grateful for the shade lent by the trees.
And, though the trail felt a bit crowded in the early morning when we'd all just set out for the day, it surprised me how quickly we spread out and the journey felt much more private.

This old stone bridge in Ribadiso was lovely--one of the many landmarks in the trail that serve as a reminder of just how many pilgrims have taken this path over so many years.

Just on the other side of the bridge, we paused for a little break by this horreo--a little stone granary like we saw so often along the hike.

As our days continued, we discovered that we grew a bit tired of ham sandwiches. And, that trail-side fruit stand were a truly beautiful thing. Here, we shared a basket of fresh berries. And they were delightful.

On the Camino Santiago, Day 2: Portomarin to Palais de Rei

We began our second day with an ascent out of Portomarin. And, it seemed, a long walk to the first place where we could take our breakfast break. (Probably, we should have eaten more before leaving for the day...) A breakfast of tortilla (which, in Galicia, is something like a omelet sandwich) and juice, we were much happier... The cafes along the Camino are filled up with pilgrims. While we're walking, we spread out, but collect together at these rest stops. It's fun to get an idea of the many, diverse people who are walking with us.
We stopped for a little rest break by this marker, which told us we had just over 78 km to go...
Then, later, we stopped here, at one of the many stone crosses that mark the Camino.
All along the way, we admired the beautiful kitchen gardens that belonged to those who live alongside the Camino. Also, they had chickens.
Toward the end of the day, we stopped to fill our water bottles here, an another ancient fuente, this one staffed with volunteers from the Spanish equivalent of Campus Crusade for Christ. Their hospitality was lovely, and the water refreshing...

We stopped for the nice in Palais de Rei, where we found a brand-new albergue that looked to be more than adequate. (We were tired.) Having put our bags down and showered, we headed further into town to find some fruit and ice cream. In the church there, we got a stamp for our credentials--the kind man in the church who offered the stamps was from Alcala, home of the San Diego who is namesake for our hometown. We delighted in our strange kinship...

On the Camino Santiago, Day 1: Sarria to Portomarin

We started our Camino in Sarria, a town just far enough away from Santiago that we could qualify for the minimum 100 km to be Peregrinos; Matt and I flew to Santiago and then took 2buses to Sarria, arriving in time to catch the semifinal match of the World Cup from our table across the street from the bar. I enjoyed watching both the game and the enthusiastic crowd. There was much celebrating--including a man who spent the night with his vuvuzela just outside the doorway of the refugio where we stayed that first night, in the charming and beautiful old town. Periodically through the night, he'd wake up, remember that he was supposed to celebrating, and make noise until he fell asleep again.

We also got our first taste of refugio life, staying in a recently remodeled room in a very old building, with perhaps 20 bunk beds and bathrooms down the hall.

I have to admit my excitement, as we left the bus station in Sarria to seek out lodging, at seeing my first yellow arrows and shells. They would continue to mark our path the rest of the way to Santiago!

In the morning, our room emptied out quickly as folks got on their camino. We waited around, planning to meet our friends as they arrived on the morning bus. Watching those early morning pilgrims from our second-story window, as they moved through the dim light and morning fog on that ancient street, gave our journey a mysterious and beautiful beginning.

Our first real day on the trail, we started to get the hang of things: of stopping to enjoy snacks and lunch at little cafes and bars along the way, of drawing water from fuentes along the way (enjoying both their status as watering hole for centuries of pilgrims AND the reality of their somewhat bizarre modern renovations), and of shady rest spots. Late in our day, we found a little rock shelter near a farm where we rested for a while, encountering other pilgrims headed to Santiago and one enthusiastic Portuguese man who was hiking backwards from Santiago on the Camino. We spied an absolutely beautiful albergue and restaurant, about 7 km short of our daily goal--it had a gorgeous, grassy garden and looked beautiful. But, in order to make our goal, we decided to press on...

Our day ended as we descended to the river in Portomarin. We were all quite tired, and no one was enthusiastic about hiking much of the hill above the river, where the town stretched out. (The mandatory stairway up to the lowest part of town was enough for us all!) So, we were delighted to find both lodging and food in a refugio near the bottom. And, just as we got settled, a spectacular thunderstorm began. From the restaurant, we had a beautiful, panoramic view across the river, as lightening danced in the sky and the sun set.

The only photo evidence I came away with, though, was this shot of our dinner. Which was delicious.