Burgos at Last

August 18, 2013

I’ve only walked for ten days but the Camino has taken a toll. My pace has slowed from about 3.6 km/hr to 2.8 km/hr. The walking is slower, especially on the downhills, and the rest breaks are longer and more frequent. I’ll have some deep thoughts tomorrow but today is all about getting into Burgos to meet my wife Kathryn. Her flight to Madrid lands at 10 am and she’ll take a train to Burgos that arrives at 4:30 pm.

So the march begins.

The first part of the walk today leaves Ages and quickly reaches Atapuerca where human remains over 900,000 years old were found. It reminds me of the Mel Brooks routine about the world’s oldest man. Google it.

The route continues over a large hill and finally the city of Burgos comes into view. There’s another prayer circle at the summit of the hill before descending into rolling wheat fields where hunters are using their dogs to flush birds from the rows of cut grain. I’m used to hunting in the USA where you have to stay away from roadways and buildings. It’s a lot looser in Spain and the hunters are hunting within 100 yards as you walk by.

The Camino eventually crosses the freeway and follows the length of the Burgos aeropuerto to a road intersection. This is a critical option to your experience entering Burgos. If you turn right, you’ll walk along the sidewalk along a busy roadway for the next few hours. If you cross the road and walk about ten minutes, you’ll follow the river all the way to the cathedral.

Luckily, my friend Nancy had alerted me of this option and I found the river easily. If I hadn’t, I would still be out on the road mumbling to myself and scaring passersby. The path started out pretty simply but got nicer and nicer as you got close to downtown. Since it was Sunday, a lot of people were enjoying the walks alone, with family or with friends. Those of you who have spent time in Europe know how the people love to walk. By the time I got to the bridge that would take me to the cathedral the walkway was packed with people. I passed through one of the arched entrances into the plaza in front of the cathedral. Our hotel was situated on the plaza as well so I checked in and waited for Kathryn to arrive.

Notes from today:

Left Ages at 0815, arrived Burgos at 1600
Total time 7.75 hours
Total distance 22.0 km
Average speed 2.8 km/hr

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Taking it Easy

August 17, 2013

After two nights in a donativo albergue, I’m ready for a real bed. A donativo is an albergue run by dedicated volunteers who serve two weeks at a time. The albergues are typically associated with a local church, and the experience includes a communal meal, evening prayer service, sleeping mats on the floor, and a simple breakfast in the morning. Sort of like a slumber party for grownups.

The word donativo means that you make a voluntary contribution when you leave in the morning.

When I left at 0745 this morning, most of the other pilgrims had already hit the trail. This is fine with me because the mornings are cool and it’s a great time to walk by yourself. Since there was no wifi last night, I posted my last blogs along the trail today. I took a lot of breaks (note my average speed below) but both my legs were hurting and I didn’t want to push the pace too hard.

The second half of the day was spent without villages so it was a pretty quiet experience. I was considering stopping earlier than I planned but I took a long break, changed my socks and felt like a new man. I’m really glad that I continued because the last hour was through a shaded forest and I got to walk a labyrinth. Now I can walk into Burgos tomorrow to meet Kathryn. She lands at 10 am in Madrid and will take a train to meet me. Monday will be a rest day.

Notes from today:

Left Losantos at 0745, arrived Ages at 1600
Total time 8.25 hours
Total distance 22.1 km
Average speed 2.8 km/hr (it’s not a race, right?)

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Settling into the Camino Flow

August 15, 2013

Today is the Feast of the Assumption so it’s a national holiday in Spain. Last night, there was a procession of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child through the streets of Azofra. A folk dance troupe led the way around the small village. The procession started and finished at the church where mass was held at 8 pm. As soon as Mass ended, the disco cranked up in the town square and the bars started getting crowded. For those who haven’t been to Spain, the normal dinner hour is 9 pm. You’re lucky if you leave your table by 11 pm. It’s a very civilized way to live.

The music and drinking continued all night long but it was remarkably quiet at the albergue. I walked back to the town square at 0800 this morning for coffee and the bar was still filled with highly inebriated people who were singing and harassing any young females who wandered past. I was told that the party was planned to continue for 2 more days. Luckily, the camino traveling circus was leaving town.

Like yesterday, I found myself walking with someone right away. This guy was named Marc and he lived about 1-1/2 hours south of Paris. He was in the final few weeks of his Camino from Le Puy to Santiago. He has walked all of the sections in random order and he needed to walk to Ponferrada to connect everything together. I found a lot of people take years to complete the trip. My experience will be the same.

Notes from today:

Left Azofra at 0830, arrived Granon at 1545
total time 7.25 hours
Total distance 22.4 km
average speed 3.1 km/hr

The photos below are in random order.

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Grinding It Out

August 16, 2013

My left leg isn’t getting any better. i think it’s shin splints because it hurts almost all day. I should probably take a few days off but Kathryn is meeting me in Burgos on Sunday and I’d like to walk the entire way. So far I’ve walked almost 175 km (over 109 miles). I really underestimated how difficult this would be. Even though I’ve backpacked a number of weeklong trips, I’ve never walked 8 days straight averaging almost 14 miles a day. Even if the terrain is flat, it’s still a challenge.

Over course you meet people who are cranking out ridiculous distances. I met one guy who had done 58 km in one day and was averaging over 40 km/day. He was also carrying a big backpack and wasn’t moving very fast when I saw him.

Last night was my first night in a donativo, which are staffed by volunteer hospitaleros and where you make a voluntary contribution for lodging and meals. The accommodations are very simple, including sleeping mats on the floor and a communal meal. Cooking and cleanup duties are shared as well.

The albergue where I stayed was attached to the church in Granon. When you arrive, you are welcomed warmly by the hosts and they offer you a cold drink and (for me) an ice pack. After dinner, we enter the church’s choir loft through a secret passage and hold a prayer service with candles. It’s a moving experience and each pilgrim gets to offer a prayer for a special intention. I’m planning to repeat the experience tonight in Losantos.

I’m really looking forward to a rest day in Burgos. Only two more days until then.

Notes from today:

Left Granon at 0745, arrived Losantos at 1430
Total time 6-3/4 hours
Total distance 20.5 km
Average speed 3.0 km/hr (note that I’m slowing down)

Once again, photos are in random order. The WordPress app makes it hard to move photos around.

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Every Day is a New Adventure

August 13, 2013

I was very apprehensive leaving the albergue this morning. My left leg was really hurting the day before – something I’ve never experienced. Perhaps it was shin splints. I looked at the planned destination for the day. It was Azofra, 14.5 miles away. Luckily there was another large town about 3 miles before it, so I decided to take it slow and re-evaluate when I stopped there for lunch.

I got an early start and and ran into a Spanish guy named Alex who wanted to practice his English. We walked together to the first town which turned out to be 1-1/2 hours away. Alex was an interesting guy and I got to practice my Spanish too. Here’s Alex. After we said goodby he took off jogging back to where I met him.

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After that I was on my own for the rest of the day. I took it slowly, especially on the downhills. The temperature was perfect – in the high 70’s – and the terrain was gently rolling. I tried to stop every hour to rest my leg. At lunchtime I rolled into Najera and got a coke and a bag of ice for my leg. I also took more ibuprofen and put some anti-inflam cream on my leg.

The final push into Azofra was 3.6 miles, and I spent the time thinking about my sister Mary who would have 53 today. After struggling with addiction to prescription pain pills for many years, Mary died of an accidental drug overdose five years ago. Like many families, my family has been affected by drug and alcohol addiction multiple times. Although Mary’s death was the most tragic episode, each of the situations reminds me of all the people struggling with this terrible disease. My walk today was dedicated to all those people.

Notes from today:

Left Navarette at 0730, arrived Azofra at 1500.
Total time 7.5 hours, total distance 23.2 km.
Average speed 3.1 km/hr

Bintang shirt on the Camino!

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The Soul of the Camino

August 12, 2013

From my experience last year, I knew I would meet some interesting people on the Camino. The act of walking strips away the human condition and leaves the true soul behind. I believe that’s the reason that the Camino is so addictive – once you’ve experienced the movement of souls along a common path, with a common objective, it changes the way you relate to others. You tolerate, you forgive the human condition, while you yearn for interaction with the soul.

Over the past few days, I’ve crossed paths with Mark, Susanna and Nina from Germany. They’re walking with their fox terrier Hancock. They’ve tolerated my German and we’ve enjoyed a few albergues and meals together. Last night in Los Arcos, we enjoyed a late meal in the plaza in front of the church. During the course of conversation, Mark mentioned that he had been a professional body builder who enjoyed a certain amount of fame in that world. His regimen included usage of the most extreme performance enhancing drugs. His weight was more than 250 pounds and his body fat was in the low single digits.

One day, for reasons that were lost in translation, Mark decided to give it all up. Perhaps it was his two friends that had already died. It took him three years to wean himself from the juice, but he was just as dedicated to getting himself back to normal as he was to build his body in the first place. Today Mark is still ripped, but he is a kind, thoughtful, gentle man who shares his struggles and gives you a hug that touches your soul. He gives credit for his success to Jesus and his wife Susanna. They share a glance and it warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes.

Tonight I attended the pilgrim mass and many people were there that I have met along the way. I sat in the pew behind Mark and Susanna. After the mass, the priest invited all the pilgrims for a special blessing and shared a few kind words in our native languages. Aftet the mass, Mark invitred me to the albergue where they were staying. It was attached to the church and provided simple mattresses on the floor. It reminded me of a slumber party. As the pilgrims gathered for their dinner, I was a bit jealous that I couldn’t join them. It was truly a communion of souls.

Notes from today:

Left Los Arcos at 0730; arrived Viana at 1300. Total time 5.5 hours. Total distance 18.6 km. Average speed 3.4 km/hour.

20130812-214722.jpgMy friends Mark and Susanna

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20130812-214911.jpgMy friends Angels and her nephew Bennet with a guy selling cold drinks

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My first tostada (half-eaten)

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Hot Times on the Camino

August 11, 2013

Last night’s dinner at the albergue was over the top. I debated briefly before deciding to eat there because I was craving meat and papas fritas. I’m really glad I decided to stay because they were serving vegetarian paella which is cooked in this big clay pan.

We started with appetizers and a choice of three wines followed by an amazing salad. Then with a flourish, chef Miguel entered the room with a huge pan of paella garnished with red peppers and dates. I’ve never tasted this dish before, but I can recommend it highly. You may need to travel to Villatuerta to enjoy it however.

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After the paella and a bit of wine, I slept really well. There were only two of us in the room so no earplugs were needed (at least for me). I woke up around 6 am and slowly got organized. Nancy (see last blog) had walked the Camino before and she asked if I would join her on the scenic bypass around Estella. I had noticed it in the guidebook but probably wouldn’t have taken it on my own.

We finally got rolling around 7:30, found the turnoff to the scenic route and quickly got out of town. The path immediately turned to single track and then overgrown single track. Luckily there were the familiar signposts so we kept going no matter how sketchy the path became. At one point we crossed a bridge over a very clear river so I immediately checked for signs of trout. Immediately below me under the bridge was a 24-inch trout. That’s it. Next time I’m bringing my fly rod.

One of the features of the scenic route was that it passed through very few towns. In fact, there was only one town along the entire 15 mile path. I had gone shopping the night before so I had enough food and water the make it to the town. We stopped for lunch around 1130 and it was already really warm. There was a pool at the restaurant but I didn’t have time to enjoy it.

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At the lunch stop was Tim, a guy from Australia that I had walked with a bit yesterday. Tim is currently living in Wurzburg, Germany where he dances in the local ballet company.

Here’s Nancy and Tim.

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I looked at the map and I calculated about 10 km to our final destination, Los Arcos. What I didn’t calculate, however, was the heat of the midday sun and the absence of any shade along the way. There were some nice hills thrown in for good measure. By this time it was over 80 degrees and we were walking on light colored gravel roads that bounced the heat back in our faces. I had enough water so I was trying to power it down, Grand Canyon style. I don’t think I could have walked another step after reaching the town.

The recommended albergue, Casa de la Abuela, was already full so I settled in at the also recommended Casa la Fuente. Definitely a step down from last night but quite adequate. A number of my friends from last night are also staying there.

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The Tough Life of a Pilgrim

August 10, 2013

The journey of a pilgrim is not easy. There are many hazards along the way – blisters and getting lost are the small prices to pay. The road can be very dangerous as well. The descents are very tricky and loose stones are everywhere. You sometimes have to walk on the roadway and there is no shoulder to provide a margin of safety from oncoming traffic. I can’t imagine what it’s like when it rains.

I’m reflecting on this as I sit by the swimming pool in Villatuerta enjoying a cold beer.

Since I walked a few more miles than expected yesterday, I planned to walk less than planned today. I got on the road by 8 am and walked to Puente La Reina for breakfast of coffee, juice and a croissant, There’s a really cool Roman bridge as you leave town.

Other towns were spread out fairly evenly so I didn’t have to carry much water or food. The path was really busy today. There were several sections that resembled traffic jambs. The good part was that I was able to meet a lot of folks, including two brothers from Oberammergau who participated in the famous playa in 2010. I also walked with two ladies from South Africa who were carrying small packs and using the luggage transport service. Their only question about my albergue was about the bathrooms. I don’t think I’ll be seeing them in any algergues along the trail. Also walked with an Australian ballet dancer who was working the the company in Wurzburg, Germany. He had broken his foot during a performance (ouch!) and was therefore taking some time off for rehab.

I got to walk quite a while with Jill and Murray, a lovely couple from New Zealand. We walked quite a while up some very tough hills and their age did not seem to be a burden. Turns out Jill had both knees replaced in December. She was also a breast cancer survivor. We talked quite a bit and learned that he was a chemistry professor at University of Illinois when I attended in the 1970’s. I told him I had never taken a Chemistry course in my life and he said “Lucky guy.”

I finally rolled into Villatuerta around 2 pm and settles in at Casa Magica, a very cool private albergue run by Simone and Miguel. Simone used to work for Disney in NYC and France but somehow ended up running an albergue on the camino. I think a number of people have found themselves in similar situations. After checking in I was joined by Nancy from Laguna Woods, CA, about 15 minutes from where I live. The small world continues to shrink when she tells me that she used to be General Counsel for a Orange County homebuilder that I know very well.

So I’ve completed my laundry and walked back to the municipal pool for a quick swim and reflections on the hardships of the Camino.

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Back on the Camino Again – Part 2

The albergue in Obanos was less than half full when I checked in around 3 pm. I thought this was odd because I expected beds to be hard to come by in August. I took a shower and did my laundry and headed down the street to have a beer. They offered a pilgrim menu at the bar where I stopped but the vibe didn’t suit me so I decided to check out the other restaurant in town. The place was closed but the sign outside said they offered a pilgrim menu at 7 pm.

Shortly before 7 another pilgrim showed up for the meal and he joined me at my table. His name was Carlos and he was just finishing his camino from Arles. Arles is the southern route through France that crosses the Somport Pass and joins the Camino Frances at the church in Obanos (see photo in previous post). Carlos was born in Chile but moved to Canada at an earlier age. He was ex-military and a veteran of many caminos.

The restaurant owner showed up after 7 and offered us a beer while we waited for dinner. I turned out we were the only pilgrims so we spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with the owner as he cooked. After a few beers and a plate of local olives, our dinner was served. It was definitely not the typical pilgrim fare. First a huge tomato, cucumber and onion salad with an excellent oil and vinegar dressing. Then came a fresh local trout, well prepared with pommes frites. A nice bottle of red wine and Carlos and I were soon talking about religion and politics like old buddies.

The curfew at the albergue was 10 pm so about 9:45 Carlos and I paid our bill and headed back. When we walked in we saw that almost every bed had been filled but no other pilgrims were in sight. A few minutes later, they all showed up at the same time as they had all been at dinner together at the first bar I went to. I hit the sack and was sound asleep before the lights went out.

Looking back on first albergue experience, it was pretty good. The place was clean but very simple – one shower and one toilet for each sex. They kept the windows shut at night so it got very warm quickly. Folks started moving around 6:30 which was fine with me because I was up too. I was ready to go by 7:30 but ended up hanging around a bit longer to upload my previous post.

Back on the Camino Again

August 9, 2013

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah. Leaving Doha and flying to Madrid. Piece of cake. The plane was more crowded than Jakarta-Doha but I still got my favorite seat – aisle on the exit row. The middle seat was occupied by Nicole, who had also flown in from Indo after spending time with her family in Oz and Bali. Nicole is a recent real estate school graduate so we had quite a bit to talk about. Her trip is eight months long, so I felt like a lightweight only being a gone a month. I felt better when she picked up her 75 liter pack from the carousel. I’ve seen sherpas carry less.

Going through immigration and customs is ridiculously easy. I think it took about two minutes. Nice change from Indo and the good ole USA. Grabbed some euros at the ATM, bought my train ticket to Pamplona and asked about my refund at the Qatar Air counter. They sent me to their downtown office which was right on the way to the train station. Said it was open until 6 pm.

I moved efficiently via commuter train and foot and arrived at the office a few minutes after 5. Guess what? The office closed at 5. Qatar is making it very difficult to get my refund. I actually think it was a long shot because i didn’t have the credit card with me but I wanted to give it a try nonetheless. Kath will try one more time in Bali.

My train to Pamplona left at 7:30 pm and it arrived right on time at 10:40. A quick cab ride to the Hotel Eslava and I was sleeping by 11:00.

Today was an up and down day. I slept well until 3 am and then off and on until 6. Not bad after a 6-hour time change. It took me quite a while to get going. Lots of organizational stuff. I had never put all my gear in my pack before but it actually swallowed everything well. It’s still less than 15 pounds so I’m happy. After a leisurely breakfast, I wandered around Pamplona for a bit. Checked out a new pilgrim equipment store that opened since we were here last year. Turns out the shop owner led a student group to Orange County last year and stayed in Newport Beach/Costa Mesa. I’d say “small world” but you already know that.

After that I really had a hard time getting going. Lots of bathroom breaks (TMI) and looking at this and that. Finally left the center at 9:15. t’s a beautiful walk out of Pamplona through the university campus. You’re quickly into the countryside and slowly climbing the famous Alto de Perdon, which has the iron pilgrim sculpture and wind farm. It’s not a bad climb (spoiler alert) because you actually go olver the shoulder of the peak rather than the top.

By this time I had shaken off my early morning blues and was cruising along singing and whistling. I moved along from town to town, walking alone and greeting other pilgrims when we passed. I got to Uterga still feeling great so I continued on Obanos. It’s only 4.4 km but I really hit the wall during that stretch. Dragged my butt into town and grabbed a bed at the first albergue. It was 3 pm and I had walked 21.8 km or about 13+ miles.

More later, I have to hit the road…

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