Sunday, December 31, 2017

Camino de Santiago Primitivo: A Little Bit of Heaven—Ruminations

Day 24: Cornellana—Bodenaya      10.2 miles
17 October 2017

Today turned out to be magical in so many ways. It was showery and foggy as I left the monastery in Cornellana. I chose to walk back into town to eat breakfast. I spent some time writing before I headed out. From my journal: 
It occurs to me as I eat my breakfast of fried chicken bocadillos and sweet café con leche that this Camino is not (or no longer) one of perseverance. As I prepare for probably 10 miles today, I am looking forward to the walking. If someone were to say that it was time to stop, I would rebel. I am not read to quit. Will I feel the same when I get to Santiago? Or Finisterre?
Only a little way out of Cornellana, I walked past a house. There was a long woodshed behind it that ran along the fence line. Inside was an old man, who must have been recovering from a stroke, perhaps, walking back and forth. I recorded my thoughts:

After a few hours of walking I was ready to rest and eat a snack. I don’t know how many times in my walking—both here and in the UK—that I had experienced an interesting phenomenon: I would think, “I am about ready for a rest and a bite. A bench would be nice, or a table, or even a nice sitting rock.” And within about 5 minutes, one would appear—often with a view! Today, that phenomenon reached a whole new level. It was raining and to stop and rest would mean that, in unpacking food, stuff would get wet. It is also a bit difficult to eat in the rain. I was trying to figure out what to do when in front of me appeared not just a bench, but a bench with a cover! I could not help but laugh...and be amazed!

In the afternoon, enjoying a café con leche at a café in the quaint town of Salas, I wrote:
Funny—I could stop here. There are lots of options for albergues. But I am not ready to end the day; walking has become a way of life for me—for now.
I walked for a bit with one of the young American women who I had met in the monastery the evening before. She had a bad cold and wanted to just curl up in a warm bed somewhere. She was almost near tears. Their group was pushing through the Camino in 30 days non-stop, which in my mind is crazy. A few rest days here and there and time to savor moments is so valuable—not just on the Camino but in all living as well. It made me think of all the ways that people walk the Camino: 
  • The people who treat it like an extreme sport—30, 40, 50 kilometers a day, almost non-stop.
  • The people who get up and leave the albergue while it is dark so they can get in as many miles as possible.
  • The people who do little walking at all, but take busses more than walking.
  • The people who do it in big groups, chattering and chattering the whole way. (The Spanish say “habla-bla-bla-bla.”)
  • The people who have their bags carried via shuttle from albergue to albergue.
  • The people who carry everything the entire way.
  • The young couple I met who stop at about every settlement having coffee or wine or food all day and taking short hops each day, laughing all the way.
  • The people who stay in posh places every night.
  • The people who camp almost every night.
  • The people with huge, overblown packs and those with almost nothing.
  • The people who always stay in mixed-dorm rooms.
  • The woman who is doing it to lose weight.
  • The people who want a change in life.
  • The people who do the Camino a little at a time from year to year, as vacation allows them.
  • The young couples from different countries who have met on the Camino, holding hands and conversing in English, because it is the lingua franca.   
  • The people who stick to the guidebook stages like they were handed down from God.
  • The people who research every stage.
  • The people who just take the days and moments as they come.
  • Those who are looking for a spiritual awakening.
  • Those who walk the whole way silently.

So many ways; so many Caminos…

And so, what is my Camino—my Way?
  • My normal pace is slower than most people’s, so mine is necessarily a slow Camino, especially because of my pack weight.
  • I turn around often to see the view behind me. I stop to take photos and record my thoughts.
  • Mine is a Camino of gratitude. 
  • I enjoy walking mostly alone, only occasionally walking alongside other pilgrims. I want the time to think and meditate.
  • Rachel seems to come to mind often and I cannot figure out why.
  • I take regular rest days to enjoy the place I am in and savor the atmosphere, food, and sites.
  • I don’t care much for monuments, palaces, cathedrals. Museums are okay in moderation.
  • Each day, I prepare my little thermos of sweet tea and carry it so I have it to enjoy with my lunch while I rest. It is my little luxury.
  • I like the views and the little hermitas (chapels) and how many kinds of waymarks there are.
  • I like meeting so many kinds of other pilgrims at the albergues at night. But I only have a couple days at most to get to know people because they ALL are traveling faster than I am—even the 76-year-old lady I met at Guemes!
  • I like to take lots of photos.
  • I love sharing my experiences with my friends and family back home.
From my journal:
It has been such a Camino of tears for me. Emotions often run higher than usual and I am getting better at allowing them to. What does that mean for me and my future self? Buen Camino, Cathy!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Camino de Santiago Primitivo: Days 21–23

Day 21: Oviedo—Escamplero     7.4 miles

14 October 2017 

It was a bit of a walk just to get out of the city, but by late morning, I came upon this little Capilla (chapel) del Carmen with benches for resting facing a view of the village and valley. Since I planned on a short day, I stayed here quite a while resting and eating a snack. Actually, it was a nice excuse to pull out my new yarn and cast on!

But I got to thinking about how taking advantage of this refuge fit in with my gratitude choice for the daybeing appreciative of things that happen in my life. If you are appreciative for the offer of a gift or opportunity and accept it, then you honor the giver. I was honoring the intention of those who built the hermita and those who maintain it by using it as it was intendedas a resting place for travelers. They would be hurt/disappointed if no one ever stopped there.  

In the afternoon, I approached (uphill!) Escamplero, where the albergue was open, but completely unattended. I was the first one there and made myself at home. The albergue was very clean with a nice little kitchen/sitting area.

It is common for albergues along the Camino not to have linens. We are expected to have our own sleeping bags. Some provide disposable sheets and pillowcases! 
Soon a young woman, Astrid, from Estonia appeared! This is the first Estonian I have ever met and I showed my delight, which made her laugh. (I am hoping to visit Estonia before I leave Europe to meet some of the lace knitters there.) Her English was impeccable and we enjoyed our visit. 

We were supposed to go down to the local butcher shop to register, but it was closed up tight on this Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend. In the morning, we decided to leave registration information on the table along with a donativo, since there was no hospitera around.  

Day 22: Escamplero—Grado     8 miles

15 October 2017

I knew that there would be a Sunday market in Grado, so I left early in order to make it there before it closed. (In case you hadn’t noticed—I think markets are probably the most delightful thing about traveling.) 

In the guidebook, I had read good things about about the café Casa Dylsia in Premoño, so I decided to put off having any breakfast until I reached there—about 3 miles. I was so glad I did…I got a huge bocadillo con guisada (stewed beef sandwich) created by the mother and served by the daughter, with smiles all around. The beef was piled on and made a mess on the plate, but perfectly delicious and just the protein boost I needed to hoof it to Grado in time for market.

The crowded market was as amazing as I hoped for. Lots of artisan cheese, chorizo, sausages, bread, and, of course, fruits and vegetables. And there were street performers, including a puppeteer with marionette playing a violin, and another bagpipe band. It was too early to check in to the albergue, and I was challenged to maneuver in the crowd with my pack, but its presence told everyone I was a pilgrim. I almost got tears in my eyes every time someone wished me “Buen Camino!” the customary greeting to send pilgrims on a “good trip.” It always made me feel like I had a kinship with thousands of years of Camino pilgrims. A couple vendors insisted that I take the vegetables I had picked out.

After over an hour in the market, I still had time before the albergue opened, so I sat in the park writing in my journal. All of a sudden, the day felt hot and people were slowly disappearing from the streets. Time for siesta on this Sunday afternoon!

The albergue was just across the park and the volunteer hospitera welcomed me with cold lemon water before registering me. This is a great municipal albergue—clean, clean, clean, nice kitchen, great outdoor laundry area, beautiful showers, breakfast included! It is also a donativo albergue, meaning that you give what you can afford/wish/feel it is worth.

Day 23: Grado Cornellana   8.5 miles

16 October 2017

Today was such an uneventful and short walking day that I did not take one photograph!

We had to leave the albergue by 8:00 am. (Each albergue has its own rules, but most allow you to stay at least until 8:30!) Spain uses the same time zone as the rest of continental Europe, even though it is in the same general longitude as the UK. As a result, as we approach the end of daylight savings time, the mornings remain darker later each day. Add heavy fog, and you have a bunch of lost peregrinos wandering the town, huddled under misty lamps trying to make the maps and the streets agree. We could not find yellow arrows anywhere. Eventually after several wrong turns and backtracking, another peregrino (who happened to be a Korean from Texas) and I managed to find the way about the time it began to get light.

My albergue this night was on the grounds of the Monastery of San Salvador de Cornellana, which is mostly in ruins, except for the area which housed the albergue. It has a great kitchen and sitting area. I was the first one there and made myself at home. The only other guests to arrive were a group of six students who were beginning a gap year and their teacher. They happened to be from Bellingham, Washington!

The monastery is in the foreground and the area that houses the albergue is behind the wall on the left side. The village of Conellana can be seen behind the monastery. 
Our hospiteros at the monastery gave each of us a yellow arrow pin, which I promptly added to my hat. 

Pins from the Camino. Next to the yellow arrow pin
is the wee lamb given to me by Gerry Brown, the
organizer of the Roscommon (Ireland) Lamb Festival.
I met Gerry and his wife, Caitlin, earlier on the Camino.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Under the Douro Fog

I'm taking a little segue from my series on the El Camino. Yesterday I experienced one of those days that made me want to pinch myself and just had to share it right away!

I am lingering in the Douro River Valley here in Portugal. Sometimes, when I walk through the countryside, I feel like I am in a scene from Under the Tuscan Sun. Although it is November, the sun is shining brightly on most days and the mornings are clear and crisp. Great for an accidental tourist wanderer like me, but the farmers are quite worried. It is supposed to be raining—a LOT!

Yesterday, I took a break from my work to take a downhill walk from the nearby village of Castedo to Pinhão on the banks of the Douro—about 8 miles. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my traveling year.

I took a bus from Alijo to Castedo. This shortened the hike so that I did not have to rush down to Pinhão to be sure I made it in time to take the last bus back up to Alijo. The day was clear in Alijo, but as we descended into the valley, I noticed that the river was cloaked in fog. “Oh well,” I told myself, “it will burn off soon.” But by the time the bus dumped me in Castedo, I was surrounded by “pea soup.”

Oh great…this was not going to be the scenic hike I had planned. I was disappointed. But not for long. One thing I have learned on my travels so far, is that things always seem to turn out. It is important to embrace your surroundings.

So, I set off, looking around. And it was not long before I discovered that the world around me was enchanted. The church became mystical; rows of colorful grape leaves disappeared into the distance; the dew hung heavy on forgotten grapes; and like wizened ancient wizards, the pruned vines seemed to hobble away into the mist. 

Over the next couple hours, the sun won its battle with the clouds and slowly the distant terraces emerged.

It was still cold and the sweet tea in my thermos was calling me.  I found a bench in Vilanrinho do Cotas to eat a snack and enjoy the hot tea in the sunshine. The village straddles a saddle between valleys and to my right I noticed the fog trying its best to creep over the ridge to make an assault on the clear side. But it dissipated weakly under this Douro sun. 

Two more kilometers brought me to Casal de Loivos, where I had been told there was a stunning miradouro (an overlook) that I should not miss. 

BUT, before that, I came across what would be the unexpected highlight of my day: The Olive Oil Press Museum! Surprised it was open, I walked in to see a small tour group immersed in a tasting. I walked through to a terrace overlooking the Douro river and Pinhao far below. Susanna, the museum host, walked out and offered me a tasting, “Outside or inside?” she asked. I chose the terrace and she proceeded to treat me to the local offering. 

This museum is run by the D’Origem estate, where they grow grapes, olives, and almonds. They also have honey from bees who feast on the local nectar of rosemary, rockrose, and lime!

Before long, I was sitting before a tapestry of local foods: three table wines (white, a rose, and red), olive oil, almonds, honey, and grape juice! 

A very special grape juice.
The estate bottles some of their grapes into juice so visitors who do not drink alcohol or do not wish to will  have an opportunity to appreciate the fresh-squeezed fruit of the vine. 

Once the tour group left, Susanna joined me and enlightened me about the origins of this fare. The extra virgin olive oil was smooth and flavorful—I think the best I have ever had! Susanna explained that it is because it only has 0.3% acidity, which is very low for olive oil. My favorite wine was the white, which I later could not resist purchasing (for the amazingly affordable 8 €). The rosé was unexpectedly sweet even though most rosés are dry. Susanna said that while most rosés are a blend of grape varieties, the D’Origem family produces a single-variety rosé, resulting in a sweet wine.

Here’s what ended up in
my daypack.
When another small tour arrived, Susanna excused herself and invited me to join the group while she explained the museum’s equipment and how olive oil is produced. I also purchased some olive oil. I eat salads almost daily and I have decided to donate my current bottle of oil from the store to the hostel’s kitchen. I now have a special stash! 

Downhill a few more kilometers brought me to my destination. I explored the town a bit and crossed the Douro River for some photos. 

I enjoyed a nice sampler of local ham and cheese with salad and wine before boarding the bus back to Alijo. It was dark now and on the return I savored a different view of the valley—twinkling lights from the passing villages and hillside estates. 

Sometimes at the end of such a day, I get this overwhelming sense of “This cannot be my life,” and all the gratitude of which my heart is capable is not enough. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Camino de Santiago Primitivo: Day 20

La Vega de Sariego—Oviedo     16.8 miles

11 October 2017 

This would turn out to be mostly a long, uninspiring day. Except for the first few miles while I walked and visited with Caitlin, the way had little variety and the last half was on suburban and industrial pavement with little variety. The only upside was that there were few ups and downs.

There was a short stretch in a lovely wooded area where I captured these mushrooms.

We started the day at about 3º C—pretty cold—but by the time I reached Cerdeño on the outskirts of Oviedo in the late afternoon, I was hot, sticky, and completely wilted. I stopped in a grocery and bought cold water and cold orange juice and downed them all at once in a nearby park before continuing on into Oviedo. 

Just before entering Cerdeño, I crossed this medieval bridge. 
And then it happened…the hostel in Oviedo I had picked out to stay for a few days was CLOSED and it was almost 7:00 pm. Why do these things happen at the end of a LONG day? My guidebook indicated that the peregrino albergue would be closed by this time of year, but I decided to try it anyway. When I got there, the hospitera assured me that it is open year-round. I had a bed for one night at least and was grateful for that!

Oviedo is the official start of the Camino Primitivo and many people who are doing just this Camino fly here to begin. At the albergue, I visited with two Australians and one Danish woman who were just starting their Camino. It felt funny to be the Camino “expert” of the group.

12 October 2017

The next morning, I had to leave the peregrino albergue and find another albergue privado where I could stay a couple more nights. I had quite a bit of work to catch up on for a client, so I needed good wi-fi. La Peregrina was recommended. It turned out to be pretty run down with no kitchen, but I had a room to myself and the wi-fi was good enough for me to upload files and use Skype. Also, it was very cheap: 7 €!

October 12 is Columbus Day in Portugal. It is not much celebrated in the US, but you can imagine how important it is to the Portuguese. Shops are closed and there are many festivities. I came across these bagpipers in a plaza. Did you know that bagpipes originated here in Asturias, Spain? Evidence of them has been found beginning in the 14th Century.

Even though I worked quite a bit, I had time to go out and explore (and eat!) in this compelling city. I visited the main park, Campo de San Francisco, and sat on a bench catching up on my journal for a couple hours. Then I walked around admiring the public art, especially these captivating statues.

I was intrigued to find this famous sculpture of Woody Allen. He made a movie partially set in Oviedo, Vickie Christina Barcelona, and he fell in love with the city. The plaque nearby quotes him (and can't you just hear the voiceover?), “A delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city….As if this world did not exist…Oviedo is like a fairy tale.”

Then I explored the neighborhood, and discovered a knitting shop (YAY!) that was closed for the holiday (BOO!). But it would be open the next day (YAY!). 

Then I came upon the Brótchen Café and enjoyed a huge piece of chocolate cake baked with dark beer and with a cream cheese frosting. I almost stopped the server from adding whipped cream on the side and then came to my senses, “OK!” I laughed. It was so rich, I only could eat half of it and packed the other half in my bag for later. All these extra calories don't seem to matter...I am still losing weight!

13 October 2017

More city exploring today. On the list was the large indoor food market. BUT FIRST: as I was walking there looking out for an ATM on the way, I heard, “Cathy!” At first. I ignored it—who could know me here? When I heard it again, I turned and who was walking toward me but Caitlin, who I met two days earlier!! I could not believe it—the likelihood was so remote that I would meet her and Gerry again, even though I was hoping we would. I had so enjoyed their company. It turned out that I was passing the hotel where she and Gerry were staying. They were sitting by the café window and just happened to look out as I passed. We enjoyed one last café together before they flew back to Ireland and I continued on to the market. I think I will see them yet again!

I don’t really believe in 
coincidences much anymore.

I love markets and this one was so very colorful and lively. One woman only sold ingredients for fabada!  

And the fish! Makes me wish I had a kitchen. 

Next was an obligatory (!) return to the yarn shop, Lana Y Punto (“Yarn and Stitch”). The shop was not busy and I spent almost an hour visiting with Marisa. 
I purchased a striking ball of multicolored merino/poly blend. Not sure what I am going to do with it, but is sure is pretty and does not take up much room in my pack, where I also have stashed a couple needles and small spindle in case of a fiber emergency. (There’s always room for fiber stuff!!)

For dinner, I entered a restaurant that advertised a menu of fabada and a bottle of cider with  arroz con leche for dessert. The fabada was okay, but they obviously added the sausages right before serving because they were cold. I had to pour my own cider and could not even approximate the artistic pour I had witnessed in Vilaviciosa, but it was all good enough. 

Tomorrow I would hit the Camino trail once again.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Day 19

 Note: This is a camino of gratitude for me. Each day, I choose something I am grateful for in my life and think and journal about it throughout the day. I will share an excerpt from my journal entries at the end of each days post. 

Villaviciosa to La Vega de Sariego  10.8 miles
10 October 2017 

I would have loved to stay in Villaviciosa another day, but I was pretty much caught up with work so I had no excuses—off I went. The walk out of town was lovely—an urban trail along the river. I met many people out for their morning walks and runs, with and without dogs.

“Today the mist from my breath is hanging on a little longer in the morning. Fall is truly here. It will get cooler as I walk up into the mountains.”

In a small village, I came across this pilgrim’s fountain where I dumped the city water from my bottle and refilled it. How special are these people who are looking out for us! 

Soon, I came to the place where the Camino Primitivo splits from the Camino del Norte. It is a weighty decision for me to choose to do the Primitivo. Most pilgrims who start on the coastal path, stay on the del Norte all the way; some choose the Primitivo. The official start of the Primitivo is actually in Oviedo (two more days walking), but this is the place where pilgrims coming from the del Norte must decide.

I had chosen the Primitivo before I started because it would take me through the mountains and would probably have fewer pilgrims. This meant I would have more time to walk alone, which is important for me. For this Camino, I want plenty of time to think and meditate as I walk.

And here at the crossroads was a sweet little ermita (a small isolated chapel)—The Ermita of San Blas—and on its door, was this lovely poem recently composed. When I first read it, I could only translate it roughly, but even so, unbidden tears erupted. What I am doing is profound for me!

As you passed through the Village,
has estuaries and rivers
forests and also meadows
and here in Casquita
is a special destination.

You arrive here pilgrim,
In the morning and relaxed,
With a great emotional expectancy
From your accumulated steps.

Steps long and short
but always firm and thoughtful
and almost always accompanied
by the dust of the road.

And it is here in Casquita
where the farewells
arise and the emotions emerge,
As it is a symbolic place
of decision making.

Some decide the coast,
others the interior,
and behind these stone bricks,
silent and observant,
This our beloved San Blas
As…Elder Pilgrim.

I added the translation that I came up with later. But, of course, it sounds more beautiful in the original Spanish. I love the metaphor of the decisions we must make in life and how hard and emotional they can be, but also beautiful and fulfilling.

I began to flag and needed to rest and refuel. While hiking in the UK and here on the Camino, I wish I had kept track of the number of times that this happened: I begin to look for a comfortable place to sit—preferably a bench or table and in a few minutes, one would magically appear! Today it was a picnic table at the junction of two ways to travel on the Camino: The steep, hard, and 1.3-kilometers, shorter way with supposedly “impressive views” (according to the guide); or the longer, easier way that also takes you by the Monasterio de Santa Maria de Valdedios where I could sleep in their albergue. I chose the longer, easier way, mainly because I wanted to stop at the monastery. 

As I sat down to eat, the local church bell tolled 12 times—twice!

Unfortunately, I arrived at the Monastery too early to stop for the night and decided it made more sense to push on to La Vega (and it was fortunate that I did as you will see). Once I left Valdedios, I began CLIMBING! (So much for the guidebook’s “easier way.” Glad I did not go the “hard”  route.) But the effort required me to stop regularly and look back toward the monastery.

In La Vega, the municipal hostel was adequate…I had to go to the grocery store to register and the hospitera there was as nice as could be. Because there were beds in different rooms, I had a room to myself. Turned out that only two other pilgrims showed up and they got a private room as well. And here is the fortunate part of my choice to push on at Valdedios: it turned out that they became quick friends. Caitlin and Gerry from Roscommon, Ireland were wonderful conversationalists. 

As Gerry left for provisions at the store, I called down to him from my window, “Choose a bottle of wine—I’ll pay for it if you will share it with me!” I am such a baracha barrata (“cheap drunk”) that I am always on the look out for people to share a bottle with me. 

We talked over dinner in the tiny kitchen until we could not keep awake any longer. (As you can imagine pilgrims tend to eat hearty and find their beds early.) 

In the morning we started out early together in the coldit was close to 0º C! Gerry walked  ahead and Caitlin and I enjoying a last visit  (or so I thought…) before she pushed ahead of me.