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Published: December 6th 2017
CRUZ DE FERRO
This is one of the most important traditions of the El Camino. Here is where pilgrims throw or place a stone, brought from home or picked up on the trail. It can be for a loved one, deceased, or fighting a disease or needing special prayers. For some pilgrims this is the whole reason they walked the trail.
Hiking the El Camino
At the start of our journey everything was new and interesting. The ancient villages were a constant source of amazement, the stones having withstood the wear of centuries. In each village there was a church standing in the center on the highest ground. We could see it for miles before we arrived. I became fascinated with the variety of terrain we walked over: rocks, gravel, pavement, large round stones, soft duff in the forests, tiles and cobblestones in the villages and towns. After the two days of relentless sun without a tree for shade as we crossed the Pyrenees, I appreciated the paths that wound next to small streams under twisting arbors. In the thirty five days we walked we had only one day of drowning rain, lightning, and hail, and a couple of days with small regular showers. The weather for the rest of the trek was unusual for May and June, the locals said. The temperatures hovered between 100 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit, with one scorcher at 107 degrees.
As days passed we began to look for places of interest. Then our day might extend to 6 p.m. or later.
THE VILLAGE AND THE CHURCH
We saw the approach to villages many times, with the church spire at the top of the town. It always seemed to take forever to reach the site, especially the last mile.
On one drizzly day we found the “Chicken” church. It was like a museum, with liturgical relics, paintings, and intricate miniatures of houses, churches, and country life scenes. Inside there was a special chicken coop, high up on the wall, fronted by a window facing the altar. Chickens were kept there throughout the ages in honor of the first miracle of St John, when he brought a cooked chicken back to life.
We stopped at a winery with three “dead olive trees” in the front yard. They were not dead as I thought. They were in dormant winter mode. One was huge and was a thousand years old; one was five hundred and the other was one hundred years old. We tasted the wine, but didn’t buy any since Lauren has a sulfate allergy.
One day as I stumbled along trying to keep up with Lauren, she turned left and walked up a driveway toward a large building in an industrial area. It turned out to be Bodegas Irache, where for hundreds of years the monks of the local monastery answered a pilgrim’s knock on the door with a splash of wine in his scallop shell. The monastery
We walked on roads, rocks, gravel, dusty paths and trails wending through wooded parks beside streams...thank goodness for the shade.
became so popular, the monks put a hole in the wall of the winery with a spigot on a wine cask and the pilgrims were able to pour their own wine. We met a lovely couple from Portland, Oregon here and they took pictures of us drinking our wine from our scallop shells. Lauren felt this "must do" El Camino tradition was worth the allergy. (There is a sign on the wall asking the pilgrims to be conservative, and not to fill up bottles with wine.)
Around day ten I was exhausted and thought I would never be able to do the whole walk. Since quitting wasn’t an option I developed an “all I have to do is keep walking” attitude, and my doubts disappeared (although sometimes my attitude slumped). And on this day we celebrated our “one hundred mile” day. It was quite the achievement, but also a little frightening; one hundred miles in ten days? We had to up our game if we were to make Santiago by July 1st
, when our plane left for home. We did the math and decided we had to average 14 miles a day for the rest of the trip.
Besides the many different artistic renditions of Pilgrim statues, the path could change instantly and frequently. I especially feared the four inch round rocks which made treacherous footing.
Lauren pushed me to send my pack forward. I finally had to agree. There are several companies who will pick up a pack at an albergue in the morning and take it to another albergue farther down the trail, for a small fee. This is a life saver for the old, the infirm or for those pilgrims like us, who packed too many “essentials” and don’t want to throw away all the unnecessary items. I filled a little cloth book bag with my money, passport, lip moisturizer, sunscreen, hat and scarf. Lauren put her sleeping bag and some of her heavier things in my pack and placed my water reservoir in her pack, since my book bag was too shapeless to carry it. We put the fee in an envelope attached to my pack and asked the owner of the albergue to call the company for a pick-up. The company must know where to take the pack so it is necessary to know which albergue you are going to stay in that night. Lauren continued to carry her pack, a few pounds lighter, and I carried my little drawstring book bag, only two to four pounds compared to twenty or
PILGRIM IN SANTO DOMINGO
I especially enjoyed the whimsical art work in this church which has a Chicken Coup behind a glass window high up on the church wall. I call it the "Chicken Church."
more. This worked remarkably well. I don’t think I walked any faster, but I was able to walk greater distances in a day.
With experience we also realized we had to get an earlier start to beat the heat. We developed the pattern of rising at 4:15 a.m. and doing half an hour of floor exercises, packing up and getting on the trail by 5 a.m. We walked in the dark with Lauren’s headlamp illuminating the trail. My headlamp was better suited for reading in a darkened room; it lacked enough power to illuminate anything farther away than two feet. Listening to the world awakening, roosters crowing, donkey’s braying, dogs barking and watching the sun rise was almost mystical. And we met fewer pilgrims. It was so silent. Sometimes I became a little giddy with the quiet and the peacefulness and I would sing silly songs and giggle and try to make Lauren laugh.
Most cafes didn’t open until after eight a.m. Then we would stop for breakfast. I usually begged Lauren for forty five minutes to an hour break. Sometimes she agreed. Then we walked on to our destination, usually stopping for the day between noon and
ALTAR IN SANTO DOMINGO DE LA CALZADA CHURCH
This church was like a museum, with miniatures of villages and churches, and many liturgical treasures.
2 p.m. After checking into our albergue, we would eat lunch, have a snack, or often just fall onto our beds, exhausted, for a little nap. Woe to us if we met one of our friends or someone to talk with. If we missed our nap we would feel it the next day. After dinner we might visit with people we met along the way. Sometimes we played rummy or Phase 10 in our room, and we kept up our journals and planned our next stop. Lauren did most of the planning, then she would dial the phone and I would use my broken Spanish to reserve a room for the next day. This worked pretty effectively. And sometimes we were able to pass this responsibility to the owner of our albergue.
Tot: 2.305s; Tpl: 0.049s; cc: 25; qc: 96; dbt: 0.0613s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb