Ease on down the road

Sept 29 and 30

Every now and then your age catches up with you. It has happened to me and to B on this walk. 

I am just on one side of 70 and B is just on the other. We have joined the ranks of the “formerly young ” and it had taken its toll on our feet, our hips and our backs to name a few of the more sensitive spots.

This camino route is beautiful but it is also very rigorous. I think of all the routes we have travelled this is the most strenuous.

In two weeks we have walked 217.57 miles and gone up the equivalent of 1,286 flights of stairs. Time for a correction.

The question was whether to slog on in misery or find a way to make this incredible walk as enjoyable as possible. 

The solution was simple. Have our bags moved from one place to the next and walk carrying only the bare necessities in a day pack.

One phone call to the  only taxi in town and our bags plus one of a friend are lined up and ready to go. If we had known how easy it was to do this we would have done it earlier. 

Without the weight of the bags our walking speed  nearly doubles. We now have the time to enjoy everything Spain has to offer.  

And so we do.

The Caves of Altamira in Santanilla Del Mar are one of our stops.  This museum is a replica of a cave found in the late 1800s by an amateur archeologist. 

He and his daughter found a cave filled with artifacts and painting of what we now know go back at least 20,000 years. 

At the time he reported his discovery he was accused by the  scientific community of being a fraud. Only after his death was the validity of his find acknowledged. 

Although the actual caves themselves are closed to the public, the replica cave is excellent and the copies of the original  paintings done with ochre, charcoal and hematite are amazing .

In San Vincent de Barquera – St Vincent of the Boatman- we have time to enjoy a bit of their seafood festival.

 Not only do we have a fine lunch of mussels, anchovies and octopus,we spend some time watching traditional Spanish dancers and listening to their music .
IWe have time to comparetheir fancy shoes and beautiful clothes with our “walking clothes”. Note the wooden clogs designed to  keep you above the mud.

In recent years the priceless art work of small churches has been collected and displayed in Diocesean Museums. This is a practical solution for  the parish and the diocese and the “tourist”. The treasures are in a safe place and  access to them is much easier.

Here are a few of the treasures I have seen.

Silver Book stand

Ivory crucifix

Saint Christopher

Baptismal shell


A row of Saint Roche

Visit of the Magi

Madonna and child

Madonna and child with Saint Anne

Saint Barbara

And, of course Saint James

Thus enlightened in more ways than one  we continue on to Santiago de Compostela.

A good decision and we are old enough to know it !

Thoughts while walking…

Sept 28-29

There are two types of people in the world; extroverts who thrive on being with people and introverts who enjoy solitude

. I am definitely in the latter category.  Time alone for me is not just a luxury, it is a necessity. 

I need to be alone with my thoughts and my fears. I have always joked that I could solve any problem if I could walk far enough. 7,000 miles and counting.  Still trying. 

Happily B enjoys her silence as much as I do. Maybe this is why we make such  good walking partners. 

Although we travel together and enjoy meals together, we walk separately-usually within sight of each other but not always. Every few hours we stop and reconnect, have a bite to eat and check  on the condition of our feet.

People ask what I think about day after day, walking between six and eight hours. Amazingly the time flies by. 

Sometimes an email sets my agenda.

An email from my husband makes me think how lucky I am to have a husband who puts up with me disappearing for a month or more each year.

 I think of  the amazing adventures we have had for the past 45 years of marriage .  I think I don’t tell him often enough how good it all has been. I vow to tell him more frequently the future. 

I see a young couple and think of my children. I remember the days they were born and try to figure out how they hit 40 so quickly. 

I look at their marriages and hope they will be as happy as I have been. I think of them and wish I told them more often how proud I am of the lives they have made. I will try harder. 

I see some children and think how much I miss my grandchildren and how much it hurts that they live so far away. I think how much fun it would be to walk a camino with them. 

I laugh at how they make fun of my Rhode Island accent. I resist sending them post cards with my illegible handwriting. I vow to do better at keeping up with their lives. I vow not to sulk as one by one they grow taller than I am. 

I think about all the people I have hurt and hope they can forgive me. I think about the people who have hurt me and try to forgive them. I tackle my fears and try not to live in the past. Every step is a prayer.

I look ahead and see B and think what a good friend she has become over the past 17 years. I think back to friends now dead and give thanks for their place in my life. I thinks of friends who have been there for me when I really  needed a friend. I vow to be a better friend. 

I pass a garden and wonder why my peppers grow one pepper at a time and the Spanish plants are covered with fruit.

I wonder what kind of fertilizer makes a spaghetti squash grow as big as a pumpkin. 

I wonder why their dahlias don’t get mildew.

I vow once again to find a place to plant sunflowers- maybe not quite this many. 

I plant my garden over and over.  I dig things up and move them around the yard. I see a great window box and think I will copy it next year. I order hundreds of bulbs in my mind.  

When the path is easy and I can look up instead of down, I marvel at God’s beautiful world and determine to do my part in taking care of it. 

I wonder what god was thinking when he created slugs and llamas.

I really wonder what god was thinking when he created me!

Happily I’m not done yet although today’s walk is over and it’s time to think about food.

And tomorrow I will walk on with a new set of thoughts to see me down the path, one step and one prayer at a time. 

Off the path – three museums

Sept 21, 22 and 23

I need to backtrack just a bit to mention three incredible museums that  are on the path of the Camino Norte. Each is very different. Each is  worth a visit.

First, the Guernika Peace Museum. 

This museum initially opened in 1999 as a museum of the history of the Basque region and the Spanish Civil War. In 2003 it was renamed and reopened as the Guernika Peace Museum. 

The museum explores the concept of peace, the paths to peace and the abscence of peace within the historical events of the town. 

Since the Middle Ages, the oak tree has been a symbol of peace.  Basque assemblies met under oak trees to do town business, settle affairs and take oaths. All important matters and arguments were settled under an oak tree.

King Ferdinand took his oath under the tree in Guernika in 1476 and although each town had its own oak tree, the tree in Guernika became the symbol of democracy for the entire Basque region. 

The official oak tree has been replaced over time from acorns of the original tree. In 2004 a new tree was planted to replace one planted in 1860. Thi newest tree is dying and a new one will not be planted  until the soil is replaced.  A comment on our world today??

The second event commemorated is the aerial carpet bombing of the town on April 26, 1937 by combined forces of Germany and Italy. Franco had asked for their help during the Spanish Civil War in hopes of defeating the Basques. 

The planes bombed the city for three solid hours. The town was destroyed and more than 1600 people were killed. The munitions factory however was intentionally spared and after the city was taken by Franco, the remaining men went back to work there.

The photos and the stories are beyond words.  Pablo Picasso said it best with his paintbrush. A copy of his painting simply entitled Guernika is on permanent display in the city park. 

Sobering reflections and much to think about as we moved down the path. 
The next day in Bilbao we visited the Guggenheim Museum.

This museum designed by the Architect Frank Gehry, has been called a masterpiece and it is, both inside and out. Although it must say I like outside better. 

Gehry’s challenge was to fit a museum into a space that had a river on one side and a large bridge on another and construct it on a sloping hill. 

 His design is brilliant. It goes under the bridge and the bridge goes through the museum?? Approached either from the water side or the street side it is breathtaking. 

We walked along the river in the rain. As we came to the museum we were met by a gigantic sculpture of a spider and jets of steam and fog- two of the latest exhibitions. We passed another sculpture, a tree made of huge steel balls. 

The angles are impossible and titanium “skin” covering the limestone blocks picked up light and cast shadows. It was stunning.

Inside was overwhelming.

 Glass elevators, see through paths and walkways , hidden stairways and galleries and lots of famous very modern paintings, videos and sculptures that left me overwhelmed and out of my depth.

I did however like the Jeff Koons tulips and the flower dog. I like anything that has flowers (60,000 self watered internally) a dog and is so big that even I look little!

And finally another masterpiece built one hundred years earlier in Portugalete just outside of Bilbao and also on our path- the Bizkaia Bridge. That is Basque for Bilbao.

Built in two years and opened in 1890, this work of engineering art was the first transporter bridge in the world and the only one in use today. 

Not only can pedestrians and cars cross the river by gondola, since 1999 it was been possible to take an elevator up 500ft. to a pedestrian walkway which allows   you to look down on the gondola and the river as you walk across . Quite terrifying going up but ok going across. Ride back was free! 

Since 1893,  650 million people have crossed this estuary by gondola. Since 2006 it was been a world heritage site. If you are in Bilbao don’t miss it.

And one last modern touch. We were whisked up the hill out of Portugalate by a series of electric hill climbers ! In seconds we were back on the path heading into the country.

Un buen dia

Sept 26

Today was a great day which was welcome after the adventures of yesterday. 

What better way to start the day than with  trip to the coreos, aka, the post office! 

Many years ago we discovered that the post office was the walkers’ best friend. 

There is no better way to lighten the load than to empty the backpack, pile everything on the bed, and put together a package to send home. It takes about a week for the first purge. Every ounce counts and less really is more (better that is).

 Some countries have cheaper rates than others but whatever the cost, it is worth every penny.  The quickest way to know what you can live without is to carry it on your back for eight hours a day.

 This morning we were at the post office, ready and waiting when the grate was raised at 8:32. 

While we waited I practiced how to say ” I’d like to buy a box , to send as slowly and cheaply as possible, to the US.”

I did pretty well but the heroine of the morning was the woman in the post office. She was kind, patient and funny, helping us put the box together  without  tearing it, filling out the endless forms, and taping it all up tight.

Slightly absurd in that we were sending home  one pair of shorts, a hat, B’s reject walking shoes, the first fifty pages of our guide book (neatly cut out with my Swiss Army knife), and a snow dome of the flower dog at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao-total of 5 pounds. 

Not much?? Just 15 percent of the total weight of the backpack . 42 Euros and worth every penny!

By nine we were finished and rewarded ourselves with coffee and “sugar pillows”. Not sure what they are called in Spanish but they are fat, sugar coated puffs filled with custard. Not the typical  one teaspoon of filling, more like a quarter of a cup! The weight that was taken out of the backpack was put right back onto the carrier of the backpack.

With spring in our steps we were off. It really was a two boot day. Easy that is. We had the usual ups and downs  but walked 14.85 miles in a record six hours, including a stop at the grocery store and a picnic in the woods. 

The weather was beautiful- in the sixties  and a picture perfect blue and white sky. We walked mostly on back roads and talked with various pilgrims (more on them later). We had time to enjoy the scenery around us and check out some of the local critters, butterflies and and more snails.

We checked into our pensione and are the only guests here. It is rustic and charming and the walls are covered with photos of the area taken by the owner.

We had time to do laundry and even time for it to dry.

We took a tour around Guemes and even found an open church- unfortunately a rarity in Spain.

An early dinner in the garden and we were in bed by 8pm.

 After ten days of walking we are finding our rhythm and settling into our walking groove. We are one third of the way to Santiago de Compostela.Ultreya!!

The …by the sea

Sept 24-25

Officially it may be autumn  in America but it is still summer in Spain and people are still going to the beach.  Beaches along this route are numerous, accessible and free to all. They are spotless.

Sunday the temperature was in the high 80’s and the beaches were crowded with families of all ages. Those who were not at the beach were enjoying tapas in the town.Not the be outdone we or at least I, did both.

We tried out some anchovies in oil and some Pulpo( octopus very tasty) and then hit the beach. B held the fort while I had a nice swim- water cold but not freezing, small (by Rhode a Island standard) waves, and no undertow. A pair of lifeguards, flippers in  hand, patrolled the  beach from end to end. A nice way to finish a walk.

Today’s forecast was for afternoon rain but the dawn came cool and sunny. The mornings glories were out in full force-a little color to start the day.

Morning glories grow rampant here covering the hillsides and going high up into the trees. We don’t expect to see many today as our route calls for a pleasant stroll along two beaches with a little walk up a hill in between to get the blood pumping. A two boot day.Or so we thought.

We set off on the first beach – a two hour five mile barefoot walk on a sugar sand beach.

We ambled along collecting scallop shells and black oyster shells. We played in the water. We watched surfers,complete with crash helmets,  trying to turn a two foot wave into a memorable ride. We were joined by several other groups of pilgrims and compared notes and blister tales.
The beach ended on a narrow strip of land where we sat to wait for the “ferry” to take us across the river. These small ferries are a common way to cross when two towns are separated by a river.

This one was great. It pulled up close to the beach, threw a metal dock onto a sand dune and we climbed aboard. For two euros each we took a ten minute cruise. 
Back on terra firma the rain finally caught up with us and we played raincoat on raincoat off until it was pouring and we were soaked.

And as they say, when it rains it pours.

For the first time in ten days we lost our path. We missed a turn and ending up walking two miserable  kilometers on the highway , mostly behind the guardrail thus keeping most but not all of the car splash away from us. But we eventually found the path and we didnt become roadkill.

During our trip down to the boat a spanish couple walked with us and gave us long fast complicated and incomprehensible advice-something about a hill and a road.   Our Spanish guidebook had a tiny exclamation point with the words” sentia muy duro”. We weren’t too concerned.

On my 60th birthday,crossing the alps, there was a sign that said, ” path not suitable for horses and bicycles”. After coming off of that path I was relieved to be alive to celebrate my birthday.

This little hill outdid the birthday adventure. The rain had turned an already  steep narrow and rocky path into two hours of treachery. We could either slip up or slip down, but hopefully not slip off that “little hill”.

We  crawled on our hands and knees, clawing our way up through the red mud, packs swaying on our backs We sat on our butts and slithered down through the mud. We wondered how it has come to this.

Once B got stuck. She couldn’t go up or down. She removed her pack and I dragged it up the hill. I went back and hauled ( not dragged!) her up too.

Three feet at a time we inched up one side of that “little hill”and down the other. It wasn’t pretty but then neither were we.

Down on the flat of beach number two B said, ” I think that couple was telling us to  go on the road and not over the hill.”

Still it is was not a total waste of an afternoon.

Because were so close to the ground we had a chance to discover another  new rock  formation and to see a phenomenal snail. Pale green no less.
For the last five miles, we were spent. We walked in the water in hopes of making ourselves somewhat presentable  although the hotel  advertised a pilgrim discount so they knew about dirty walkers .

Naturally the entrance to town was uphill and the pensione higher still. We had to stop  and eat  a pear to fuel us up that last incline.

And then we were in, into the pension and into the shower.  Clothes too. Took ten minutes for the water to run clear.

One last adventure.

We had earned a beer and we needed food. Man at bar recommends these delicious “percebes”. We are too tired to argue.

I watch father clean and cook these things and he too assures me they are delicious. We are too tired to argue. We get a lesson in eating these delicious things. Grab claw. Twist rubber part. Pull apart. Eat the pinky hose like thing.  Suck juice out of the dragon claw end.

We are to tired to argue. We eat them.


What did we eat??                  GOOSE NECK BARNACLES.

Can’t wait to get up tomorrow and put on all those wet clothes. Rumor has it tomorrow is an easy day. Too tired to care.

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