Camino de Santiago, 9-22-17: An early start and the wisdom of Paul

Okay, here are but two of the rules, customs – and – downsides – to albergues, the 10 or 20 to a room hostels for adults:

Snoring. So, you expect anything different in a room full of older adults? Earplugs are standard equipment. Deal with it. 

Sorta clean but creaky bunks. Deal with it II. You get what amounts to a paper mattress and pillow cover to ward off bed bugs. And when the peregrino above you rolls over (or passes gas), you feel and hear it. So just go back to sleep. 

Today’s 28km jaunt from was more of the same. Which is to say amazing, gorgeous and inspiring. Look down and you miss the ruins of an Iglesia to your right. Fumble with your water bottle and you miss a castle on your left. 

We cut through wheat fields, walked within feet of untold vineyards (after all we are in the arid wine region of Espana) and touched olive trees as we plodded mile after mile. 

Dragging me along in the predawn darkness was Paul, a 46-year-old from Boston. A great guy who was walking for a week then heading home to his job with Pfizer. 

Whereas I go unknowledgably with the flow, Paul is a reader and apparent historian. Why is this decrepit stone structure in the middle of that hill? “Oh, that looks like a hospital for pilgrims,” he said. That castle up on that ridge? “That was likely an outpost to fend off the Moors in the 14th century.” I learned of Barbary pirates enslaving Christian’s captured along the coast, and how European businessmen were reluctant to interfere with rampant warfare as long as trading lanes stayed open. I needed to be around a guy like Paul. 

Alas, we parted ways in one of the coolest medevil towns we’ve encountered, Viana. He wanted to learn more about a 13th century church. I wanted to buy pan and chocolate for lunch. That’s why he knows stuff and I merely walk along in wonderment. 


Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

Camino de Santiago 9-20-17: “That’s the plan”

Already I’ve lost count of the languages overheard on the walk. There are the easy ones (at least to recognize): Spanish, French, German, Japanese. I’m a bit sketchy in the Slavic tongues but there are 26 more days of hoofing it to make acquaintance. 

Regardless of nationality, these peregrinos are an interesting bunch. 

They’re all trying to make it work, all trying to figure out where to stay, where to eat, how to put one foot in front of another. How to keep on keeping on. 

If they share one other commonality, it’s a stock response to perhaps the most benign of questions – ‘Are you going all the way to Santiago?’ And invariably their answer: “That’s the plan.” I’ve heard that who knows how many times, most recently from Larry, a jovial Canadian. 

I guess there is one other trait that is a dead giveaway of the weary walker. Everyone is sore. 

It’s a given no matter their pace. You can instantly spot an aching pilgrim especially after they shower and make their way – slowly – to the central plaza for the obligatory menu de peregrino (a fixed item meal for usually 10€) and something to ease their suffering. They are the ones who limp or shuffle along at a snail’s pace, sometimes with bandaged feet and toes visible through their sandals. They seem to feel they’ve earned their cerveza or vino tinto. Come to think of it, that’s what I’m doing right now. I share their pain. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

Camino de Santiago 9/20/17: of things lost and the real Camino

It wouldn’t be a major trip without the loss of things either misplaced, absentmindedly set down or just plain left behind. For example, my Spanish-to-English dictionary that rests on a table outside St. Jean or a bag of chocolates and my guidebook left in a stall in the bano de hombres of Pamplona’s major catedral. Honestly the tasty chocolates were the bigger loss; I wasn’t too enamored with the jumbled and confusing guidebook. Both were quickly replaced. 

Replaced, too, is the temporary gaiety influenced by cervezas and vino; those mask the real and true meaning – a spiritual quest – that has driven pereginos in their thousands to walk through Spain for nearly 1,000 years.

Pilgrims such as Gibert, a young Brazilian, and an unnamed 20-year-old from Arizona, both of whom are overt about the answers to life questions they hope their Camino journeys may provide. Others, like me, walk for lesser reasons, as Hillary said of Everest, “… because it’s there.” This heathen is under no illusions otherwise. 

But there is no overlooking the religious, spiritual element; it is present in virtually every step. Iglesias dot the route in close proximity to the route dictated by tradition and history. Religious symbols, either ancient or newly fashioned by pilgrims, are visible within feet of the path. It is why the Giberts and others trod for nearly 600 miles. They expect to discover an internal or external influence to manifest itself for their benefit. 

The brief backstory. St. James is the patron Saint of Spain. Although James never walked the physical path, nevertheless the Camino honors him via roadways from several directions – from Belgium, Germany and Russia, et al – that converge at a common start point, St. Jean Pied de Port, France. 

So my quest differs marginally from that taken by the faithful. I suppose the best others like me can hope for is for the same result Gibert and others so earnestly believe will happen to them. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

Camino de Santiago … The unchecked liberation of cervezas

So, this post is not written under duress but under the influence of muchos cervezas – and laughter – with my friends Jane and Dave at a bistro near the main square in Pamplona. Cervezas hold some sort of unchecked power that liberates (addles?) the minds,  reasonings and words of travelers. 

The 21.1km walk today from Urdaniz was mercifully downhill for the most part. As per usual, long legged Jane left Dave and I in the dust (mud, actually, since we started in light rain). We wouldn’t see her again until Plaza del Castillo in Pampalona. 

The countryside remains a marvel. The trail was particularly narrow and unsuspecting souls could snag easily against brambles and black raspberries. But while the views weren’t in the vista class of the Pyrenees, the buildings were. How something built in the 12th or 13th century with rudimentary tools and bare hands can still stand, let alone be still in use, is amazing (American builders, take note).  

We breezed triumphant into Pamplona, found Jane (90 minutes ahead of us) and made a beeline to Cafe Iruna, a favored haunt of Hemingway. I don’t know if we replicated his consumption of spirits, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. 

To honor the spiritual nature of the Camino, we toured the beyond-belief main cathedral then retreated to another Hemingway-esque bar for yet more-more-more cervezas. We hugged and parted ways for the last time as they jet off early Tuesday to Italy. 

I traipsed off to my meager  peregrino lodgings. Pamplonians are just out of siesta and are ready to go as they sit along building walls and on cobblestone calles to talk and laugh and imbibe as we did. 

My albrugue is only 17 Euros, and while there’s a vocal, pompous Brit bunked next to me, his snobbery is of no concern. I’ll be up and at ‘Em early for a side trip to San Sabastian on the northern coast. He can pontificate at someone else. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

Day 4 … oh, those hills

Among my first discoveries is that all my Camino materials – the guidebook and maps – were terribly mismarked. At least for the first couple of days anyway. 

Rather than show the first official day’s hike from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain as a 24km ascent over the ‘Pyrenees,’ it should have read the ‘Himalayas.’  

Because that’s what the incredibly steep uphill route resembled. It was as tough a slog as can be imagined. Up, up, up. Then up some more. 

But no self respecting hiker would have it any other way. 

It is spectacular countryside. The Pyrenees are completely different than I imagined. Rolling green (really large, largely treeless hills) with a twisty, single lane asphalt road that accommodated both sporadic local traffic and many dozens of peregrinos. There are so many walkers you’re never out of sight of others strung out ahead of you in small groups. 

But we finished in good order – a shade under five horas. There was muchos cervezas and vino tinto at the end, which eased some of the sting. Roncesvalles was fun, with lots of chatter among the weary pilgrims. 

By contrast, today’s 24km jaunt to Urdaniz was a walk in the park. Sure, it was still up and down as bells clanged around the necks of sheep, cows and horses in distant hillside meadows. On occasion the Camino intersected with la calles in quaint small towns. 

So tomorrow it’s on to Pamplona where Jane and Dave and I will have a ceremonial ‘goodbye’ meal (and vino) before they head for an Italian holiday. After that, it’s all on me, the solo hiker for another 30 days. 

Buen Camino. 

1 Comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

Day 2 en Espana …

I’ll start with Day 2 since Day 1 was a no count (‘Am I really here? Is this really happening? Where am I?’). 

But the travel waters have calmed and I have warmed to Spain. I write this sipping cerveza at a table of Cafe Iruna just off Plaza de Castillo in Pamplona. 

The first impressions of Spain, based on Barcelona and Pamplona, are good. The Spanish, it seems to me, are a lot of things, all positive. 

They are cultured. I say this because they are, in any age group, stylish from top to bottom; hair, clothes, shoes. They are undeniably social. Invariably seen are women, mothers and daughters, arm in arm. They collect at coffee shops and bistros, caught in conversation. They aren’t tethered to their phones (ala me). The Spanish don’t walk, they stroll, always talking. It’s so, so cool. 

They could be described as distantly affable. I’ve looked for a chance to say “Buenos Dias” but they are loath to make eye contact as they approach you. If they do, it’s without smile or acknowledgment. Perhaps it is that if they do, it ropes them in to yet another ‘Where am I?’ conversation. It could be they’ve tired of inane questions with obvious tourists like me.  

In a few minutes I head to the aeropuerto to meet my friends Dave and Jane. But there is a glimpse of what’s ahead not 10 feet in front of me: A group of Camino walkers – all looking tired and bedraggled. 

Buen Camino indeed. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

All aboard the mundane train … and a 500th post

When you look at where my kids have traveled – especially Reid – I’m a relative neophyte compared to those globe hoppers. 

But travel isn’t the only thing going on these days. I’m trying to play catch-up in relating all the little mundane things before zooming – hopefully the post-Irma weather will cooperate – out of CLT. It’s not just about letters these days. A couple of phone calls and FaceTimes with the kids helped to fill in the information ‘How are you doing?’ gaps, too.

And today marks a milestone of sorts: It’s the 500th post for this blog. That’s a lot of letters over a lot of years. For those of you who’ve stuck with me (and Ellen and Reid) on this compulsive endeavor, thanks.

September 4, 2017

Ellen/Reid: This morning’s 11 mile practice slog with a full pack went well enough. It took a shade under four hours, which equated to about 20 minutes a mile and that wasn’t pushing it very hard. Most of the Camino days are in the 20 – 28 Km range which works out to about 13 – 16 miles which should, heaven forbid, be doable.


Here’s the whole shebang – all 14.4 pounds of it. Enough for nearly seven weeks on the trail.


And it all fits (with room to spare) in this 2,100 cu. in. Osprey pack.

Everything of consequence has been purchased; the final major item was a silk sleeping bag liner in the event the evenings are too warm in the hostels. My guess is the final pack weight will be in the 16 lb. range. Not really sure how that could be shaved down. It is what it is.

Celebrated Labor Day by rolling out the grill on the drive way and charbroiling a few burgers. Those were the first of the season and were washed down with a couple of cold ones. Read the Camino guidebook while the cooking was going on. Hard to believe in less than two weeks it’ll be boots on the trail.

Miss Emma is atop the car for a run to Charleston in the morning. I am really fatigued by the walk and the activities of the past few days but if fishing isn’t done tomorrow then there won’t be another excursion until mid-November at the earliest. It looks as if there will be a race against Hurricane Irma which I just saw has grown to Category 4. That’s a biggie. In a way, if it hits us in the next seven days that’s good for me in that it might otherwise delay my outbound flight to Barcelona. I did purchase a train ticket that gets me into Pamplona early in the evening of the 14th; I’ll find a place to bunk then meet Jane and Dave at the local aeropuerto. I’ve arranged for a taxi from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied de Port which is our jumping off point in France. We’ll walk five or so miles and stay at a B&B that Jane found. Reid, it is amazing how many nations – 19 or 20? – you’ve visited. That’s just one hell of a list. The offer of minor help to Sri Lanka is still on the table. You’re putting your old man to shame.

There wasn’t any more time to run the rings over to the jeweler for a final assessment as to their realness. They’re sitting in a little box awaiting for my return. It is amazing that the matching wedding band was a mere few feet away from where the ‘diamond’ engagement ring was found. How could I have missed the diamond-encrusted band, let alone it still being there a week later? Bizarre. No more true valuables have been discovered on any of my recent walks. After you’ve found gold and (faux) diamonds, anything less is a downer.

No more Airbnb guests, and it was a little bit puzzling as to why the dearth of visitors until I scoped out the competition. My place is a hovel compared to what the options are; above garage guest quarters, opulent baths, well appointed bedrooms, etc. And I don’t even offer a TV. Maybe that’s the downer that separates nicer places from mine. Perhaps I should promote my pad as ‘pet friendly’ if the dog is housebroken and behaved. That’s doable, too.

Went to the Panthers NFL preseason game and it was a complete yawner. I don’t know why they even bother having those games. Here’s what’s really stupid, however. I found myself watching virtually every play on the JumboTron screen rather than the real action down on the field in front of me. How insane is that?

Okay, I’m at the end of my rope. Time for shower and a bed. Gotta get up before the chickens in order to arrive at Charleston in the dark. The coffee maker is locked and loaded.

Love, Dad

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing to adult children