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We Made It To Santiago…

After 43 days & just over 500 miles, Natalie and I made it to Santiago de Compostela. The last 3 out of 4 days it poured down rain on every mile with a holy vengeance as if to restore the ying/yang balance of the last 40 days of perfect weather in 72 hours of torrential downpour. I’ll take it! We dried out in a lovely hotel in Santiago until the noontime pilgrim Mass at the cathedral that was unforgettable. Wow, words fail me.  This trip was so full of grace and wonder.  More photos to come.

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Just Passed Half Way…

Sunday, September 28, 2014

“A man who walks 100 miles should consider 95 half way.” – Confucius

Well this was a good week on the Camino de Santiago del Norte. Another week of unspeakably beautiful coastal views on our right and majestic mountains on our left. We crossed the half way mark on Thursday and ate dinner at sunset on this amazing beach.

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At one point a horse and rider came down for a swim. More daily magic.

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Tonight we reach an important decision. Tomorrow we must decide whether to continue along the coast with del Norte or take the more demanding and mountainous inland route along the Camino Primitivo.

We have been thinking about this decision for some days now and today we decided to take the Primitivo. First, we have seen so much of this beautiful coastal territory that we feel seeing new terrain might be a refreshing change. Second we want to go through the cities of Oviedo and Lugo for their historic significance. Lastly, this is the original ancient route and we have really been awed by antiquity along the Camino. Today for instance we happened upon a 9th century church. The Sunday Mass had just finished and two women invited us in to see the holy space. This keeps happening to us. If we had come by 10 minutes earlier or later we would not have been able to see this church. Also, because Natalie is so fluent in Spanish opportunities unfold before us where they might have been completely missed otherwise.

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SO THE BIG NEWS IS that since we will be going on Camino Primitivo I MUST lighten my pack. I probably carry the heaviest backpack on any Camino weighing in at 20k or 45lbs. I have not minded so far but reading ahead at the mountain climbing we will be doing, it seems reasonable for me to send my iPad and some other items ahead to Santiago. So I might not be posting too much more that a few facebook photos when we can find a WiFi signal.

There is so much to tell and we are just a bit over half way! I can’t image what the next 250 miles will bring. Each day I wake up wondering, “what great surprises await us today?” I hope I can live the rest of my life this way! AMEN?

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“Completly Crazy”

Everyday on Camino is like the best day you had this year! It continues to be amazing – or “completely crazy” like my french friend always says.

Tonight we sleep in Poo.  The small coastal town of Poo.  Yeah that’s right… Poo.

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A Time Warp In Santillana Del Mar

Sunday September 21, 2014

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We woke this Sunday morning in a private room with our own bathroom which houses a huge bathtub. That alone would be cause for celebration, but what tips this off the scale of great experiences is that we are on the top floor of the fully restored 16th century home/hostile/albergue of Jorge Hidalgos who was born here in Santillana del Mar. Jorge tells us that his great grandfather bought the place and his grandmother did a lot of the restoration but it’s easy to see that Jorge has also decorated this place with exquisite taste and character.

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This is what I am looking at as I write this today.

But this story really begins with the night before last. After an exquisite and breathtaking walk along a vast coastal cliff descending to a long … long beautiful beach,

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we crossed the bay via ferryboat to spend the night in the city of Santander at an overcrowded, stuffy albergue. After a less than satisfying night, Natalie and I then walked about 45 km (26+ miles) of the most uninspired and boring stretch of the Camino to date. This was also the hottest day so far with temperatures in the 90s. Mile after mile we followed a pipeline bordered by refineries and flatlands.

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Many people avoid this drudgery by training through and that’s probably what I would do next time. It was 12 hours later, exhausted and totally spent, that we decided to stop at the next possible hotel we could find. And then…

We turned the corner into what seemed like a fairyland.

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Suddenly without warning the streets and buildings were authentically preserved from 500 years ago! Within 10 steps we entered a time warp and stumbled into Jorge’s Solar de Hidalgos. We bathed, changed our clothes and walked in utter amazement through the cobblestoned streets of this beautifully preserved town. Finding a restaurant in an outdoor courtyard we dined on fresh seafood before falling deeply to sleep in our own room.

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Today we decided to recover from the long walks of the past week and stay here in this sanctuary. But the other reason to stay was the caves of Altamira. Google that and you will know why we stayed.

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We have walked 311km so far and still have 555km left to go. We are pretty much on schedule. Most people on the Camino have a fixed date in which to finish which puts some pressure on them. We are blessed to not have to worry about that as we saunter through the Camino del Norte one day at a time, one step at a time.

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More stories from The Way as we have time to both live them, tell them and find a good WiFi connection.

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For more photos…

https://www.facebook.com/destinypictures?fref=photo

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From Castro Urdiales…

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We are in a beautiful coastal town called Castro Urdiales in the region of Cantabria. Today is a holiday/festival day of some sort. We are staying here an extra day because Natalie has what seems like bronchitis or strep throat. She was seen by a doctor at the hospital ER and given 3 Rx. She seems comfortable and on the mend. I expect we will be back walking in a day or so. It is a good opportunity to reflect and write a bit.

This blog is not working as I had hoped it would. It takes a long time to upload photos and also requires a strong reliable WiFi signal. WiFi is not as common as I had expected and even when we do find a connection it is intermittent and weak. So the best way to follow our journey on a more regular basis will be to join my Facebook page. I can post photos faster there.

I had also hoped that each day or so I’d have time to reflect and journal on this blog, posting an appropriate photo or video. As it turns out, the first weeks journey has been so grueling that we end up walking 10 or 12 hours a day. Then we have to find a place to stay. Sometimes there are Albergues, which are essentially large bunkhouses with 10 or 20 bunk beds tightly packed in together. It is hard to unpack your stuff and keep organized in such close quarters. We then take a shower which feels great under any circumstance. Sometimes the shower stalls are just a bit smaller than a phone booth! After that I will generally wash our clothes in a sink, ring them out and hang them somewhere to dry. Often laundry is still damp in the morning and it is not unusual to see pilgrims along the way with socks, underwear, even pants and shirts hanging off the outside of backpacks. Once we have a bed to sleep in, a shower, clean laundry, and a fresh change of clothing it’s time to find dinner. Usually it is the only real meal of the day so we are quite depleted and hungry. Sometimes there is are special Perrigrino (pilgrim) meals offered for a set price at an earlier time than the standard 9:30pm dinner time. These meals come with three courses and vary in quality from place to place. The important thing is that they are offered early because we are very hungry and also need to get some sleep. When an early meal is not available we have what are called pintxos (peen cho z) which are small sandwiches with an amazing variety of toppings ranging from squid drenched in it’s own ink to anchovies and egg. There are cheese selections, salmon, lots of tuna and many kinds of ham. The way it works in Spain is that people seem to gather in huge crowds between 4 & 8pm in these bars for pintxos and drinks, then quite suddenly the bars empty out within minutes, shops close and restaurants open for dinner. There is a fantastic sense of community since these bars and restaurants surround a town square of some kind. Children run freely, playing with each other among unleashed dogs. Grandparents sit conversing, and middle-aged men gather outside the bars for a cervesa (beer) and a chat. Each town or city has a palpable sense of close-knit, safe community. It is enviable, and I wonder how this might be duplicated in our culture.

By the time we’ve done all these basic daily tasks, it is 10 or 11pm. If there is an internet connection I might be able to post a photo or so on Facebook but pretty much we are exhausted and ready for sleep. The albergues are very loud at night with a great deal of snoring, snorting and movement. One pilgrim had it right. I asked if he slept well during the night. He said, “No one sleeps on the Camino, but I rested well.”

In Bilbao we stayed in a nice hotel for two nights. It felt like a great luxury compared to the albergues. I took everything out of my pack to dry it out from a week of sweat and humidity. We found a fluff and fold laundry service to really clean our clothes. The next day we visited the Guggenheim Museam then left the city with clean bodies, clothes and renewed vigor.

We have walked just over 100 miles and it’s been fantastic. Each and every step has meaning. Every step brings new sights, smells, sounds, and surprises. This is the adventure of a lifetime. We have been treated to a private tour of a thirteenth century Basilica, invited to sample ripe figs, pears, and apples from an old man’s garden, watched the sun rise from a 100 foot cliff over the ocean, and all kinds of daily surprises and joys. I will write more as I can.

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3 Days en Camino…

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Well I can’t believe how fantastic this has been so far!  We have climbed up and down mountains that offered spectacular views of the country side and ocean.  The road so far has been quite grueling.  We have met so many people from all over the world.  Each town and city here in the Basque Country is amazing.  Many adventures to tell about but the internet is very spotty along the way so far.  Our bodies are hurting but our spirits are very high as we continue along the way.  Buen Camino!   

 

 

 

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At The Starting Gate!

Irun Albergue imageSeptember 2, 2014

Well we’ve finally made it to Irun! It’s been a pilgrimage just getting to the starting line! In Boston we encountered a 90 minute wait to check our bags, then the flight was delayed about an hour. As a result, we missed our connecting flight from Paris to Madrid so we waited at DeGaulle Airport. I bought 2 double cappuccinos’ and was charged 12 Euros (about $17.00!) We had to wait for 6 hours to catch the next flight, but finally made it. Our hotel was in a very cool section of the city; narrow streets, old stone buildings, lots of shops and outdoor cafes. We had an excellent dinner and watched the crowds of people walking by, and milling about. We scouted out the train station for the morning, then went to bed exhausted. Our room was in a clean and comfortable Hotel. What was funny was that the room was just a touch bigger than the queen size bed! Natalie’s blog will have more on that. http://www.mybraininspain.blogspot.com

Early the next morning we boarded a comfortable Amtrak-like train and traveled about 6 hours to arrive here. We settled into the first Albergue we came across where we met people from all over Europe already. Seems we are the only one’s from the USA so far.

So we have our credentials and are ready to begin walking El Camino Del Norte tomorrow. It all will begin with one step. More to come!

 

 

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