Friday, May 13, 2016

Mi Compostela

I went to the Pilgrim's 0ffice this morning to get my first Compostela certifying the completion of my pilgrimage walk. At the start of your walk, you get a proper Credencial. Along the way, you get sellos or stamps from churches, alburgues, pensiones or bars. In the past, I'd done that much but never gone to the Pilgrim's Office. It has a reputation for long lines and a hostile attitude. But it was raining today. More importantly, friends had told me that because Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Year of Mercy, I could have all my sins forgiven by obtaining a Compostela. Normally that only happens on the caminos in a Holy Year, when St. James Day, July 25, falls on a Sunday (not until 2021). After standing in line for 45 minutes, my moment of truth arrived. I was told that next time I should get more sellos from churches rather than only bars. I put aside my junkyard dog riposte ("I got a sello from every church that was open" [a painful issue on the Primitivo]), and nodded docilely. So now I have a Compostela. Unfortunately, later research tells me that has zilch to do with having my sins forgiven. Which seems only fair; this was all too easy. The historical and contemporary theological intricacies of pilgrimage indulgences is beyond the scope of this blog, however interesting. I also haven't told any of my friends that their compostelas are fine for framing but nothing else. (Although I hope I run into my Norwegian systems engineer tomorrow -- he'll be interested, and probably already knows more than I do about all this, being Catholic.). After my expedition to the Pilgrim's Office, I went to the noon Pilgrims' Mass. It's always an inspiration. Really. No snarky asides. Unfortunately, the incense in the botafumeiro sputtered today, so my picture of it is much more bland than in 2014.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Final day on the Camino

Today I walked the final 40 kilometers to Santiago. An hour from the start, I was able to visit the property Vanessa Llanes -- the co-leader of my 2009 Camimo walk -- hopes to rehabilitate into a bar and alburgue. So far, after two years, she is still waiting for the necessary permits. Vanessa is away leading a walk of the full Camino Francés, but I had a great conversation with her partner Ashley, the woman in the picture. Later in the day I walked with a 78-year-old Norwegian man who is walking the last 200 km of the Francés with his granddaughter Hannah. Two years ago he did the same with her older brothers. He has three younger grandchildren. He said he will keep doing caminos "as long as I can walk."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Primitivo to the Francés

I walked the remainder of the Camino Primitivo this morning. Twenty-odd kilometers with no "towns" bigger than a few adjoining farm houses. No bars or stores of any sort. Beautiful country but hollowed out by abandonment. Then the Primitivo reached Melide, where it joins the Camino Francés, the happening camino. Zing-zing. Hordes of jostling pilgrims. Cool young guys in pursuit of girls made up for a college mixer. The Primitivo is a hiker crowd, grimy and proud of it. The Francés is a mobile meet-up. I walked about 15 kilometers after lunch in Melide on the Francés to Arzúa. After zero bars on this morning's Primitivo, there were 15 or 20 on the Francés, complete wth large patios and table umbrellas. Plus a few fruit stands.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Video blogging the Primitivo

I left Lugo across its wonderful Roman bridge in the morning fog. After 10 kilometers I stopped at the only (coffee) bar on today's stage. I struck up a conversation with Marcin Bandych, a young Polish e-commerce entrepreneur. We spent the rest of the day discussing his small business, Polish politics (he disagrees with Anne Applebaum), Donald Trump (inevitably), etc. He's also video-blogging his Camino on YouTube. Search on his name. My connection here is much too weak for video. But if he posts today's video, there should be a few of me, and one I took of him crossing a creek on an ancient stone footbridge. My second picture (how low tech) is of Marcin, when we were crossing a field.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lucky Lugo

I just reached Lugo, through this portal in the massive Roman walls built in the 3rd Century. They're still intact. If it wasn't raining, I could walk around the top, a 2 kilometer circuit. But Lugo was still abandoned in the 8th Century, despite its world class walls. Not to worry -- at least for the long view -- the Catholic Church refounded the city in the 10th Century. It was, and is, an unbeatable anchor for the Camino Primitivo. Indeed, today Lugo is about all there is in central Galicia. It's a bustling, prosperous city with a fine cathedral and great restaurants (I'm in one now). The countryside around it is beautiful but hollowed out, with few young people and those remaining are desperate to leave.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rain in Spain does not fall on the plain

It may have made a good elocution lesson in My Fair Lady, but actually the rain in Spain falls mainly in Galicia. Today though it mostly held off for my walk. It's now quite nice to look out at the real rain through my hotel window. As usual, my window offers a fine panorama of flowering trees, pastureland with stone fences, and forests of conifers and hardwoods on the hills leading to mountains in the distance. Even better, if anything, in the rain. My walk was just as good, apart from threatening clouds and a cold wind in exposed areas. The usual aggressive climbs and steep descents on muddy tracks. But the country side more than makes up for any of that.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Which way does the scallop say?

The scallop shell is the direction marker on all caminos, and on the Primitivo you can count on finding one -- as a roadside marker or inset in a wall every time (almost) a decision needs to be made. No one really knows how the scallop shell got this role. It has always been associated with St. James. But it's usefulness as a direction marker is mildly complicated by the fact that in Asturias province, where I've been walking until midday today, you're supposed to follow the flat or hinge side, but in Gallicia it's just the opposite. You follow the longest ray. Thoughtfully, though, graffiti artists have added yellow arrows or squiggly infinity loop arrows ("keep on walking. . .") to clarify.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rainy rest day

The Church of San Salvador in Grandas de Salime traces to 1186, although today it has very little if any of the original. It looks a little sad in the rain. But it's indisputably the most impressive thing in town. There are, however, 5 bars (beer, coffee and maybe sandwiches), 2 restaurants depending how flexible you are (one is quite good), my La Barra Hotel, an alburgue (hostel) for pilgrims who have to or think it's a necessary part of the Camino experience to sleep in a bunk bed dormitory with two dozen other people (one of whom inevitably snores, I'm told, and at least one other who hasn't washed since the start). As well as a grocery store, hardware store, electronics store, and so forth. So Grandas is a vast improvement over the four building hamlet where I had a bottle of water at noon yesterday and was supposed to spend the night. I couldn't figure out what I'd do all afternoon, let alone eat for dinner. So pushing on an extra stage seemed an obvious solution. Especially since it was forecast to drizzle all day today, which it has. It seemed too much trouble to reschedule all of my remaining hotels, so a rest day seemed the solution. I'm happy to be dry, but restless. Walking can become addictive.

Best water slide ever?

Not designed as such. These are the sluice ways for a large dam, several hundred feet tall. I thought that it would work as a slide if you relaxed and kept your whole body leaning back against the sluice. My pilgrim companion shuddered and thought you would surely pitch forward and tumble down. We were both a bit giddy at that point. We had just walked down 700 meters vertically to get to the narrow roadway along the top of the dam. On the other side, we had 6 kilometers of stiff uphill walking to get to Grandas de Salime, our destination for the night. The second picture shows the view from about a kilometer along the way. You can see the dam we walked across at the end of the reservoir.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bartenders make poor photogs

Either Sebastian or Christina decided the bartender should take a picture of us at breakfast. So of course everyone had to have a picture. The results -- given the backlighting from the window -- were deplorable. Everyone pretended to be impressed that my app could produce a picture that was merely terrible. Since pilgrims tend to be solitary creatures, we then set off separately with vague thoughts of sharing a morning coffee in Campiello, 14 km. down the pike. Another beautiful morning. Today there was a heavy bowl of fog sitting in the valley, which the Primitivo path quickly climbed above. Later, waiting for Sebastian at the cafe in Campiello, a pilgrim from Madrid told me that in Spain, it's illegal to work when you're over 65, since that would be inconsistent with your (apparently mandatory) state pension. Sounds both pleasant in a way and fiscally suicidal for the economy, the latter being his point.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Not for this pilgrim

Just kidding. This frail bridge would have been a right turn off the Primitivo. But the stream shows the spring runoff in this area. I've picked up a bit of height -- 1600 feet in the first three miles today -- so spring is a bit behind Oviedo (and about two weeks behind Washington). The Primitivo spent most of today going along the shoulder of a higher ridge line. So there were lots of rivulets cascading down and across the trail. Luckily, all of them could be crossed, with the help of a few stones placed by earlier pilgrims. It was exceedingly pleasant to have the bubbling, burbling sound of all these rivulets, and of the larger steams alongside the Primitivo, for much of the day.

Monday, May 2, 2016

There goes the Camino

Hey! That's my Camino where you're building your autovia flyover. And pushing me onto a rocky path down to the river that only a goat with a good walking stick could descend in comfort. But other than that, another perfect day. Fifteen miles of paths and lanes, with a goodly smattering of pilgrims. Mostly Spanish, but all flavors of Western and Eastern Europeans -- no Americans.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Woodland Walking

The Primitivo is surprisingly well maintained, except when it isn't. This well-built wooden bridge avoided a stone-to-stone hopping across a small stream. But several hundred yards later I was left on my own to traverse the slick mud sides of a mini-ravine. It was only two or three feet deep, so I wasn't threatened with anything worse than a muddy bottom. But that wasn't appealing. Luckily, I had my Black Diamond walking stick to give me the stability of a third point of contact. Other than that small challenge, my walk was flawless. A bright sunny day. Forest paths alternating with small lanes. It was a short day, so I got to my hotel in time for the late Spanish lunch (say, between two and four). A nice hotel in a hamlet with nothing else. But even so I was surprised to be told the dining room was by reservation only. The bartender explained it was "el día de la madre." In Spain that apparently means mom gets to go out to a restaurant, even if it's the only time all year that happens, other than christenings and weddings. So I had the set menu in the bar. Very good.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Alfonso's Whatever

I detoured from the start of my camino to visit this UNESCO site built by King Alfonso II in the 9th Century. It's now called a church. The guidebooks say he built it as part of his palace. But a local guy on the scene says no one knows why he built it. But it should be part of the Camino Primitivo, which is best translated as the Original Camino, not as the Primitive (although it is that, too). When the remains of St. James were supposedly (and exceedingly improbably) found in Galicia, Alfonso built the first Camino to Santiago de Compostella so that hordes of pilgrims could walk to see St. James's remains, and in the process provide enough Catholic boots on the ground to discourage the Moors from trying again to complete their conquest of Spain (Alfonso had beaten them off once, barely).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why the Primitivo?

Well, because the more famous Camino de Santiago (the Camino Francés to us peregrinos) has become too famous, and therefore too populated.  This won't be a problem with the Camino Primitivo, which proceeds from Oviedo in a southwesterly direction until it joins the "main" Camino in Melide, a hard day's march from Santiago de Compostella.  Although the Primitivo attracts a goodly number of hardy souls in the summer nowadays, I expect it to be fairly empty at this time of year.