Ok, it’s obvious, maintaining a daily blog was not my forte. For many reasons, lack of internet service, pure exhaustion at the end of a grueling day, laziness these are some of my excuses. Having said that, I’ll try to catch up here.

I am now back home in Costa Rica. Satisfied that I actually completed the Camino, walked nearly 900 kilometers, lost about 20 pounds and no, didn’t quit smoking. I can honestly say that all of my goals (except for the smoking one) were met and exceeded. I found most of the answers I was looking for on such a symbolic journey. No profound religious epiphanies, which I wasn’t looking for anyway. No ah-ha moments of enlightenment.

I was able to achieve that inner silence on many days of walking through vast open spaces where my mind was free to wander with no distractions. I was able to contemplate my own personal state of affairs and ponder the meanings of “me” and my place and time here on planet earth. Nothing profound, just the space and time to reflect, maybe affirm, maybe question, maybe inspect. In any case, a brief escape from the daily routine of normal life.

On a more personal note, my relationship is stronger than it has ever been and there were many teaching/learning moments that all became a part of the process. One major factor in successfully hiking with any partner, friend, relative or whatever is to discuss the ground rules up front.

We imagined just about every scenario that could arise and talked about our game plan should these situations come about and we stuck to our decisions. Trust me, most all of those scenarios came to be along with a few unexpected ones.

A fellow pilgrim put it best when talking about hiking with another person. It’s not only important to find someone you can talk with, but more importantly, someone you can NOT talk with. There were many days we didn’t speak for very long stretches. Not because we were upset or anything like that, it was just walking or in my case, sometimes huffing and puffing and unable to walk and talk.

Like the Camino itself we had some days that were up and down. Exhausted, irritated, feeling anxious were a few of the factors that contributed to those down days but we made it through them with a mutual feeling of respect for the other.

Also, learning the other persons physical limits and moods, for example, things like my absolute need for at least two cups of coffee every morning ( my hiking partner doesn’t drink coffee) or his inner need to pass everyone in front of us at a breakneck speed that had us sweating like race horses. All little things that were nothing more than a temporary distraction and learning opportunity.

I’d say by the end of the second week we had settled into a routine. Knew each others limits while at the same time discovering them.

On a more general note, we learned early on that we are not “Alberque” types. We stayed in a few that were wonderful experiences on the Camino Aragone but after Puente de la Reina where the Aragone and Camino Frances converge all that changed. The trail got busier, the Alberques got more crowded and noisier and it would of been easy to slip into the mind set everyday that we had to race to the end of the next step in order to secure a bed for the night. We recognized early on that the potential for that mind set might happen and we vowed to remain loyal to our original plan, take our time, enjoy the trail and NOT race.

I can’t imagine doing the Camino on a tight time schedule. We were fortunate that we had the luxury of time and no need to be any particular place at any particular time except for our flight home which was more than two months away.

Having recognized that Alberques were not for us ( I was ready to start sleeping outside in my sleeping bag), we had a finance summit one day and decided if we could trim our daily expenses, make some sacrifices when we returned back home, that would allow us to spend just a little more and splurge for pensions or hostels where we had a private room.

We are not rich people by any means. We struggle to survive like everyone else in the world. As my good friend Richard says ” it’s either chicken or feathers” and we happened to be in a chicken phase and this was pure luxury, sometimes with a private bathroom or some with a shared bath either way it allowed us to sleep and get up when we wanted. There were no rules about what time we had to eat dinner or be “in” at night before they locked the door or be “out” in the morning by 8 am. This changed our experience of the Camino dramatically.

I’m sure it altered our experience of community and group interaction to a small extent. After all we were doing the camino differently than most, but not all. There were many times we arrived in a town to find all pensions and hostels booked (we learned to call ahead for reservations) It was sort of like we were flying first class and the rest were in coach. Nothing elitist here nor snobbish. Actually, it was embarrassing during most conversations when asked where we slept the night before. We`always answered that it really didn’t cost that much more to use these type of accommodations and the Alberques were just impossible for sleep. Most everyone agreed with that last point. What was truly amazing is that it really could be cheaper or cost the same as an Alberque if a few people got together and shared the cost of these private rooms. All had at least two single beds and many times the room had 3 or 4.

I have to mention here that if I were doing the Camino solo I would of preferred the noisy, regimented Alberques. I think staying in pensions or hostels would of been a very lonely experience.

In spite of our  lodging choice we were able to develop nice friendships with many people we met along the way. Usually by the 4th or 5th time you run across the same person hiking a conversation more than just ” Buen Camino” would pop up and you felt a sense of familiarity.

More on people we met in the next blog but for now the photos can tell their story.

 

This day starts after a wonderful day off from hiking where we spend the night in a Pension in Sanguesa . OMG!!! the private room with color t.v., a bathroom with a huge tub for soaking and the lady that owns the place couldn’t be nicer. There’s only 4 rooms in her home which makes it feel exactly like that “home” all that plus a day off from walking. She meets us at the door at 6:30 am as we are leaving and treats us to orange juice and chocolate. This was pure heaven. Can’t wait until next Sunday and another day off from the Camino.

Our goal this day?  30 kilometers and Puente La Reina. This is where we will leave/finish the Camino Aragon an meet up with the Camino Frances which intersects at this town.  We hike for the better part of eight hours averaging about 4 kilometers an hour, give or take and reach Santa Maria de Eunate. Imagine, if you will an area of vast wheat fields, mountains in the distance, small villages and we come upon a solitary church built in the 1100’s. There’s nothing around except this small octagon shaped structure and an adjoining building that is the Alberque run by a french couple. We are the only perigrinos except for a  lovely french woman from Corsica doing the Camino solo. ( did I mention that the average age of people doing the Camino is about 60) I’m sure that will change when we join the Camino frances where there are going to be a lot more people. But, for this night we are special guest of this wonderful, welcoming couple who run the place. We are shown to our room and proceed with our daily routine of shower, wash dirty clothes from the day and have a cold beer. Dinner is served family style at 7:30pm which gives us some time to relax, prop up our aching feet and just enjoy the beauty and tranquility of such a special place. Juan and I play a game of parcheesie ( who knows how that word is spelled?)

Dinner is served and is delicious of course with Gerard sharing a special vintage of Spanish wine from the area. We talk about the journey, the Camino, life at home. After dinner the host brings us small votive candles and written prayers in our native languages and explains that this is a tradition of  Santa Maria de Eunate. He unlocks this ancient, intimate church just for us and we all solemnly enter and place our candles each in turn reciting the prayer from our cards, taking a moment of silence for those who came before us and then finishing with a hug and kiss on the cheek and feeling the warmth and energy from this special place and special hosts. We return to the house for a special herbal tea that is guaranteed to make us sleep better. We are asked what time we’d like breakfast and if we prefer tea or coffee.

This, is what the Camino is all about. The warmth, the hospitality, the sincerity and the uncompromising kindness and generosity of people like this. Did I mention the fee for this was only a donation of what you feel is fair.

They give us big warm hugs and cheek kisses and wish a safe journey and tell us of a magical place we must stay the next next. We are there now after another fulls days walk. More about this place in my next post. Let me say though, they were right, this place is magical.

It Has been a few days since I posted here but internet availability and exhaustion have been key factors in that , but alas, here to post.

The journey so far? what can I say that doesn’t sound redundant and filled with hyperbole ? there aren’t enough superlatives to even begin to describe the incredible experience. The Northern Spanish country side is breathtaking and vast. Let me describe two of my recent days and nights on the Camino to give you a sense of the experience.

We Left Jaca and commenced on a 30 kilometer hike through mountains, valleys and foothills to finally arrive at a small small village called Ruesta. Nestled high in the mountains on it’s on special perch this is an ancient castle/village that has fallen mostly in ruin over the centuries and is now run by a group of  Basque trade unionist who resemble both their ancient ancestors and modern day hippies. On the trail approaching this village the view is like coming  upon Camelot or a scene from Shrek ?  Truly magical. One of those moments when you turn a corner in the road or bend of the path and catch first glimpse of it and say “Oh My God ‘!  The small group of locals were playing tribal type drums and preparing for a bonfire and what seemed to be a political rally. Somehow every element of the place and the people fit the scene.Ffellow pilgrims (perigrinos) for the night included a Spanish police man on a weeks vacation to hike this section of the Camino, a German couple, an Italian man from Rome and a couple of others we hadn’t met yet. We all ate and drank wine and just absorbed the food and our surroundings and the pure exhaustion and body aches and pains from a long hike and the excitement of waiting to see what tomorrow would bring.

Camino de`Santiago update

Posted: June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Two days in Valencia which were incredible. The city is everything Madrid is not.  3rd largest city in Spain, cosmopolitan, beautiful, less tourist, just an amazing place. Great evening with Cirque Du Sollie, then interesting day walking the city and visiting the City of science topped off with many hours at the Aquarium. Love this city and plan to return soon. Oh, almost forgot to mention yet another protest march in Valencia for labor and democracy rights. Photos attached.

After a 5 hour train ride to Zaragoza then another 3 hour train ride to Jaca then an hour bus ride to Somport we finally reach the border of France and Spain. (see following photos) I have seen the Rocky mountains, the Sierra Madres, the Andes but nothing compares to the majesty and beauty of the Pyranies. These mountains are spectacular.We walk over the border into France just to say we’ve been there. The place is so remote there aren’t any officials working the border at 9 in the evening so it was an uneventful crossing.

Our first day of hiking for the Camino begins with a 30 kilometer trek along the Aragon river, mostly downhill hike back into Jaca. A` little grueling for our first introduction to the Camino but with plenty of rest stops and a good pace we manage to make it to the outskirts of Jaca and decide to splurge and stay at a fantastic old fram that has been redone into a working hotel/equestrian center. Only a few rooms and the entitre place is done with great taste and even better service and food. Check them out sometime http://www.hotelcharle.es  they have a full roster of celebs who have stayed there from Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Audrey Hepburn and Antonio Banderas to name but a few. And of course, now us, haha. They had a special rate for people doing the Camino in case you are wondering about the price,  50 Euros for one night of pure luxury. Had a great dinner of tapas during a delicious thunderstorm which cooled the weather to  a perfect temperature for sleeping.

Everything you can imagine hurt on my body. The backpack weighed 20 tons at least. My feet were throbbing, my hips felt like I had been hit and run over by a train. My shoulders ached like I was Atlas holding up the world. I wasn’t sure if a hot shower, one pain  pill and a good nights sleep were going to cure me but surprise surprise, we both woke up feeling restored and not too much pain. We figured out just what we needed to make the hike tolerable. Small rest stops of 10 minutes every two hours and a long lunch sans shoes and socks and letting the feet breath for a moment.

Today we did the remaining 2.5 kilometer hike into Jaca and decided to take the day off. Started with a visit to the church and got our Camino passports and had the local priest stamp them. Now we are sitting in a park with free internet access and beautiful weather. We will check into the “Alburque” around 3pm then enjoy walking/exploring this city which reminds me of Boulder Colorado only bigger.

Thoughts after my first day of hiking?  Great conversations and time spent with my partner, quiet times also for reflection and contemplation. Really intune with the language and state of being with my body. Incredible closeness with nature.

Tomorrow:   25 kilometers to Arres.

More Madrid

Posted: June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last night in Madrid, leave on the 9:40 train for Valencia in the morning. Had a fantastic dinner last night with even greater bottle of good Spanish wine in Plaza Mayor. This is a beautiful city but I must say I thought San Fransisco was the gayest city I have ever been in, until now. Wow, this city is one big gay bar in the open 24 hours a day. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”

Was`also reading that Madrid is one of the top tourist locations in Europe. My fears of  running into tons of American tourist ? They’re all here..in droves. I’m surprised I haven’t run into old friends and neighbors yet.

One more city, two more days then finally onto the Camino.

 

yours truely

Never hurts to support a local labor protest right?

Madrid

Posted: June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Arrived today on an overnight flight from Costa Rica. Flew Iberia and must say it’s the first over nighter I’ver been on that wasn’t that bad. Left San Jose at 5pm and arrived here in Madrid at 11am. great Metro from the airport to city center.

Spent the day running around the city picking up a few last minute things for the Camino. I’m in shock about the price of things here. I don’t know if I’ve been living in Central America to long or what but seems very expensive to me.  So there are a few things I won’t be getting and will probably be happy in the end that I don’t have to carry the extra weight.

First impressions of Europe? beautiful, hot weather, friendly people, their Spanish is spoken really fast but nice to hear it without all of the Costa Rican slang. 2 more days here in the city then onto Valencia for 2 days. I”m anxious to get out of cities and get on the Camino and into some rural conditions.