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Spain. Camino de Santiago. Utrega- The Journey Continues.

The First day of our Journey North.

overcast 22 °C
View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on The Islander's travel map.

Early the next morning, we left our hotel in Pamplona, walked down the street and in a bar near the town hall had a breakfast of toasted bread with olive oil and fresh sliced tomatoes sprinkled with oregano, semi cured cheese and two cups each of hot Spanish coffee. It was delicious. The rain had stopped and the air was fresh with a bite to it. We started walking out of the city, following the signs of Scallop shell, the emblem of Santiago de Compostela. After one km. or so, we came to the edge of the city and the road became a street and then a track going uphill. And it started to rain again. Luckily there was a restaurant nearby and we ran to it and had one more coffee until the downpour became a drizzle. But dark rain clouds still hovered over the horizon, threatening us with another shower if we did not immediately start our journey.

We started our trek uphill, it was humid and hot, the backpack although it was less than six kilos, weighed a ton. The rural track, strewn with stones, not pebbles but good sized rock stones, went up all the way. Holly smoke! I thought, we are not pilgrims, we are here for a morning walk, why this test of our faith laid bare on the rocks? My wife also was distressed and we thought of going back the way we had come, but our determination took hold of our wavering thoughts and we continued onward. To be honest, going back on that treacherous way down, would have been equally hard. We soon learned that on the Camino, there was no way of going back, one simply had to go on.

After going uphill for about 2500 meters, the track levelled out, and we came to a halt. A tree had fallen upon the ground, from one bank to the other of a rivulet swelled up by the recent rains. In order to continue our journey, we had to climb a mound of mud bank, walk over the tree trunk to reach the other side of the rivulet, which was presuming to be a stream. Every thing was wet and slimy and I tried to grasp the tree trunk with my hands, but slipped and fell into the muddy water. My wife helped me climb back and I tried to help her walk over the tree trunk, but the tree was so slippery and our boots full of the mud that we both once again slipped down in the muddy water. Without another word, my wife picked herself up and waded the few metres to reach the other side and climbed up, holding some branches of the tree. I followed. My chance of picking her up in my arms like Tarzan and bringing her safely to the opposite side faded.

We cleaned our boots as best as we could, with the leaves of the tree and with the grass growing on both sides of the track and continued uphill and suddenly we were up on top of the mountain and could see the signs of civilisation in the form of a village, silhouetted against the sky. The sky had cleared too and we saw a group of pilgrims on the other side of the mountain top, going down too. Some were walking, with long staffs in their hands, others were sitting astride horses and donkeys, followed by dogs, with flags of their faith on long poles, waving in the wind. All were silent, the men as well as the animals. Perhaps they too had sighted the village in the distance and were, like us, anxious to reach it, find accommodation, feed their mounts, wash clothes and then sit down and have a glass or two of the local wine and break bread with olives and olive oil, cheese and chorizo. And in silence lay down upon bunk beds and slumber or sleep of the weary traveller, with aching limbs and be up early in the morning to continue on their journey north. We all were on the Camino del Perdon.

The Silent Journey

The Silent Journey

We said hola! bueno dias (hello, goog morning) to our silent fellow travellers, but received no response, they all seemed to be absorbed in their own thoughts, so I murmured Vaya con Dios (go with God), and continued our way down and were soon on the edge of the village. We calculated that we had barely done 10-12 kilometres, whereas it was our intention to do at least twenty kms. every day. It was late afternoon when we reached the village which was called Uterga (province of Navarra) and the Albergue, a private place run by a family of welcoming hosts.

We took off our dirty boots, slid off our backpacks and sat down on the floor outside. To our surprise there already were many other travellers inside the place, mostly females (young and middle aged) some were unpacking their things on the bunk beds, others washing clothes or hanging them on the lines outside in the patio. There were 18 bunk beds and charge was 10 euros per person. We handed our Credenciales which were duly stamped, paid the money and settled down until there was a chance to do the same chores, shower and rest. The albergue also had a restaurant so later we went in and had some food. The day was turning into evening and in the dormitory all was quiet, so we also went in, changed our clothes and lay down on the bunk beds to sleep. It was our first day on the Camino de Santiago.

Posted by The Islander 20:53 Archived in Spain Tagged landscapes mountains beaches churches buildings bus monuments santiago backpacking pilgrimage camino air-travel Comments (0)

Spain,. Camino de Santiago. An interrupted Journey

The pilgrimage begins.

View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on The Islander's travel map.

In June 2008 we had visited the city of Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia in the north of Spain, starting our pilgrimage from Barcelona. I had started writing about our journey but at that time not feeling upto it, I had postponed further writing and promised to do so at a later date. Now I am doing so. Better late than never.

Portrait of Apostle Santiago de Compostela painted by Rubens.

Apostle Santiago is the patron saint of Spain. According to a medieval tradition, after Pentecost (about 33 d. C.), when the apostles were sent to preach the Gospel and convert the faithful to christianity, Santiago crossed the mediteranian sea and landed in Hispania (Spain & Portugal).. According to some accounts, his preaching would have begun in Galicia, There are many versions of his landing on various points in Spain. After converting some people, he returned to Jerusalem where after persecution by the king Herod Agrippa, he was beheaded on the orders of the king. His body was hidden by his desciples and secretly taken to Spain in a mythical stone boat. Thus the legend began.

Throughout history, kings and knights, saints and sinners, defenders of the faith, countless illustrious pilgrims from all over Europe have taken the journey. It is an ancient and spiritual pilgrimage, which comprises of a nearly 800 kilometer trek across fields, mountains and valleys, towns and cities. People do the Camino for many reasons and books have been written by those who have travelled the whole way, revealing the results of their quest.

It was our plan to start our journey from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France, then Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León, Astorga to Santiago. This is the Camino Francés, the original and most popular route. In the early times when the pilgrimage started, this route to Santiago de Compostela was safer because of the protection provided by the kings of France, where the majority of pilgrims started their journey and they did not have to traverse the country ruled by muslim kings in Spain. In the end we decided to start our journey from Barcelona to Pamplona and then continue on the same route (Camino Francés), as we were told, the route was mountainous and rough and without any practice of walking long distances, we may find it difficult to continue.

We had obtained our Credencial del Peregrino from a church in Barcelona which entitled us to stay overnight at the albergues, hostels, hospices and churches.The Credencial is a booklet, which is stamped at each halt on the way, and on reaching Santiago de Compostela, it is finally stamped by the Cathedral authorities, as having completed the pilgrimage by the officially authorised route and the certificate Compostela, is given. To earn this certificate, a pilgrim must complete at least 100 kilometers on foot or 200 kms. on bicycle.

Pilgrimage may be made by foot, on bicycle, on horse back or donkey but those travelling on motor bikes or by buses are not considered authentic pilgrims and are not entitled to stay at alberges. The charges for staying the night at places run by the local municipalities (ayuntamentos) are about 6 euros, private places between 10-15 euros, and individual rooms which cost upto 40 euros. There are some places where you may be asked to leave a donation and only at León the accomodation was free and we paid 4 euros for breakfast. Albergues have bunk beds, capacity from 18 to 60 persons in one room or a hall.

In ancient times, the pilgrimage took months, the ways were rough and many pilgrims old and infirm, and in order to tend to their injuries and sicknesses, hospitals were erected on the route to Santiago. Many pilgrims died on the way and it was considered a privilage to die on the pilgrimage of one of the most holy cities in christiandom.

The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings. In the ancient times wearing a scallop shell not only gave the pilgrims the privilage of free lodging and food, it also warded off thieves and bandits who infested the country, but who dared not attack the pilgrims, as they were under the protection of kings.So we also bought two scallop shells and wore them around our necks, as a sign to any one on the road that we too were pilgrims, although our purpose to walk the Camino de Santiago was not religious.

Although the Camino had been popular in early times, its importance had vained and it was not until Shirley MacLaine, the American actress who did the Camino and wrote about it in her best seller book "The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage" did the trend suddenly increased and now thousands of people from all parts of europe and other countries do the Camino.

Posted by The Islander 10:27 Archived in Spain Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches churches buildings monuments santiago de backpacking pilgrimage camino air-travel Comments (0)


We say Adios (GoodBye)

rain 34 °C
View Vamos a Mexico. (Mexico Here we Come) on The Islander's travel map.




I could not sleep during the night, there was a strong breeze and noise which I could not fathom, so I got up and came out on the balcony. The sky was alight with thuder, dark clouds streaked with violet spread out in the sky and over the treetops I could see the sun rays trying to burst through. So it must have been dawn breaking. As I was looking at the sea, it started to rain, thunder clasping its hands at the joyful downpour. Further sleep was out of the question, so I went in and cleaned my teeth, shaved, showeredDSC05358




and put on a fresh shirt and shorts.

Alex was up when I got ready so I went and bought fresh mango and orange juice, fresh tomatoes, radishes, and had a nice breakfast with fresh bread, olive oil and fruit juice. Alex just had mango juice. He is again uneasy, says that he does not want to travel, etc, etc. However he has received a SMS message from a friend who is in Cancun and will wait for him until the 16th October. And Alex is looking forward to meet her there.

In the afternoon we again went to the Muncipal market and a hearty lunch of grilled fish and prawns, calde de camarones, salad, rice and guacamole.

A very good meal indeed. And came back to the hotel to have a siesta as the day, after the rain, is very hot. It was our plan to continue our travel by bus, however, Alex says it wil take eleven hours to reach Merida, so he has gone to book seats on the plane. We go back to Mexico city and from there fly to Merida. We leave tomarrow at 15hrs, have a four hours stopover at Mexico city and reach Merida at 22hrs. Can't say if travelling by plane will take less time than the bus.

Our original plan was to continue our journey west, visiting Las Lagunas de Chacahua in the National Park, stay a day or two at Puerto Angel, lie down and take it easy at Zipolite beach, where swimming is dangerous and surfing is committing suicide. We are told that food is good there and even vegetarian food is available. And then on to San Augustinillo, where not only the surfing is good but swimming too.But our plans are now changed.

In the evening Alex wanted to go out and see who was hanging out, instead decided to stroll together with me. So as soon as it was dark and felt a little cooler but was not, we went out. The street was empty and so were the restaurants. We came to a place where loud music was being played, the drinks were 2x1free. We ordered mojitos, the waitress brought two small glasses which were just water, ice and a few mint leaves hanging on the rims. No rum. On our complaing, she took our glasses and brought them back with a little rum (there was no rum) and the liquid tasted awful. We paid 100 pesos and left the place, mojito untouched, and returned to the hotel.

09/10/2008: The night was very hot, only after 2 O'clock a cool breeze started and we could sleep a little. Alex has gone to supermarket CHE to buy fesh bread and some fruit, as it wil be along day. After four days' stay at Puerto Escondido, we are on the move again.

We are now at the airport which is modern, has a nice bar and restaurant. It is raining but hot outside and many soldiers and local police are patrolling the area. I asked a security guard if carrying a bottle of olive oil on board was permitted, he said their only concern was terrorists carrying dynamite on board.

Posted by The Islander 09:36 Archived in Mexico Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches churches buildings planes landscape bus monuments backpacking air-travel Comments (0)

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