Oh for just a drop of rain, please!

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The curled leaves of this orange tree show the effects of prolonged drought in Portugal.

The weather app on my mobile phone is telling me that there is a chance of rain this coming week. I’m looking forward to hearing the sound of it hitting my roof, maybe even using the windscreen wipers on my car – if I remember how to turn them on.

It’s been about two months since we’ve had any rain here in central Portugal. All around me there are signs that nature is suffering as a result. Leaves on the many fruit trees are parched and drooping. The apples, pears and persimmons, normally so abundant at this time of year, are scarce and tiny. Vineyards which have been irrigated sport clusters of grapes that are already dark and ripe; weeks earlier than normal. On the vines that haven’t been watered the grapes are just wizened raisins.

This is my fourth summer in Portugal. Up to now, the summers haven’t been as hot as those I was used to in Albuquerque. All that changed this year. July was the hottest summer on record, with the temperature hitting an all-time-high of 47 Celsius (116.6 F) in Pinhão, northern Portugal on July 14. We endured many days of 38 C-plus, (triple-digit temperatures in Fahrenheit.) I don’t have air-conditioning but I was thankful for my stone house and the ceiling fans I had installed.

The blistering heat followed on an abnormally dry winter. By early July, 45 percent of the Portuguese mainland was in extreme draught. Then came the fires!

Smoke billows above the horizon just a few kilometers from my village, signaling yet another wildfire.

Every few days for about three weeks I would look out and see huge plumes of smoke billowing nearby. Thankfully the Portuguese firefighters, Bombeiros, respond rapidly and sound of helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft bringing water to douse the flames was almost a daily occurrence.

So now it is September and the prospect of rain is tantalizingly real. It can’t come soon enough for many people. A friend of mine who lives in the Alentejo region, south of Lisbon, depends on wells which are almost dry. She’s been forced to ration her showers to once a week and is contemplating having to buy bottled water for her horses!

Camino adventure: the slow way is a better way

Cathedral of Santa Maria y Real in Pamplona.

After I walked the Camino in 2015 I said that if I ever did it again I would do it more slowly. This 10 days in Spain on the Camino has been just that, a time to observe and appreciate the places we rushed through seven years ago.

I’ve walked shorter distances and explored the little villages and towns which I didn’t take time to do before. I’ve seen places like Cirauqui and Villamayor de Monjardin which were just morning coffee stops on my last Camino.

My companions and I took two nights in the city of Logroño. During the time there, we saw the square where the Game of the Goose is painted on the paving stones. It is supposed to be connected to the Knights Templar and follow the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

I bade farewell to them this morning as they headed off to continue their journey. I took a bus back to Pamplona. In Pamplona on my last day, I toured the cathedral of Santa Maria y Real. It is filled with ornate carvings and paintings, much of it seems a bit too much for my taste. But I did see a beautiful picture of St Mary Magdalene.

Painting of Mary Magdalene in the cathedral in Pamplona.

And of course being in Pamplona there were references to Earnest Hemingway and the famous running of the bulls in the festival of San Fermin in July. All in all it has been a wonderful experience and I hope to return and walk another part if the way, perhaps next year.

Since I live in Portugal, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away!

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Camino: the journey is the goal

My pilgrim companions Andrea and Geraldine on the way from Viana to Logroño, Sept 27.

My latest Camino experience is about to end. I must return home to Portugal in a couple of days. I didn’t plan to go the whole way to Santiago de Compostela this time, but I wanted to relive the very special camaraderie that I’ve felt before on this pilgrimage.

So many people have written articles and books about the Camino that it has become trite to say it changes your life, but it does. It is a unique opportunity to step away from your regular routine and live very simply. It is an opportunity to be close to the natural world, observing the changes in the land, the crops, the architecture and the weather. You meet people from all over the world and share meals with them, share dormitory space with them, listen to their snoring and often forge lasting friendships.

Mural at a chapel to the Virgen de las Cuevas near Viana. The weird figures made us think of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

On my last day of walking we just covered about 10 kilometers, from Viana to Logroño into the Rioja region. The intention was to explore this historic town. We had some good meals, toured the museum of Rioja and attended mass at the cathedral.

The cathedral in Logroño, Santa Maria de la Redonda.

Tomorrow I will take a bus back to Pamplona and fly to Lisbon. But I will come back to the Camino and I look forward to exploring more of Spain.

Me in my pilgrim outfit outside the town of Viana.

Camino ups and downs: finding your rhythm

Today’s 10k walk from Torres del Rio to Viana involved several steep ascents and descents.

One of the pieces of advice I heard when I was preparing for my first Camino in 2015 is that the Camino you do is “your Camino”. Each individual has their own pace of walking and it can be uncomfortable over a long distance to match someone else’s stride if they are naturally faster or slower than you. The ability to compromise is a great virtue but it doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice who you are.

I’ve found that the best way to maintain genial feelings on the Camino is to agree to allow everyone to walk at their own speed and agree on meeting spots.

This tree beside the Camino path between Torres del Rio and Viana has been festooned with mementos by passing pilgrims.

Our journey today took us into the Rioja region which is famous for its wines. The hillsides and valleys are covered in vineyards and olive groves.

We made it into Viana by early afternoon and got bunks in the municipal hostel of Andres Muñoz in the historic part of the city.

Entrance to the now ruined church of San Pedro in Viana.

Camino adventures continue: Templar trail

Flags bearing the Templar cross hang outside the Albergue La Pata de Oca in Torres del Rio, Navarra, Spain.

One of the reasons I wanted to walk this section of the Camino was to visit a church that has a similarity to the chapel at the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, where I live in Portugal . It is the small church of Santo Sepulcro in Torres del Rio.

The small church is in built in the same eight sided design as the Charola chapel at the Convento de Cristo. It comes from an earlier time and is very simple inside. But there are Templar symbols everywhere in this little town, including at the Albergue where we are staying.

The church of Santo Sepulcro in Torres del Rio is built in an eight sided shape.

The walk today from Villamayor de Monjardín took us along relatively flat terrain through farmland where the crops had been harvested. There were some vineyards and olive groves and mountains in the distance.

The way stretched on for many kilometers over farmland.

I was very happy to have the company of Andrea and Geraldine and a couple of others as I walked from Villamayor de Monjardín via Los Arcos. We stopped in Los Arcos for a bite to eat and then visited the church of Santa Maria de los Arcos. Walking inside I was immediately stunned by the contrast with the Monasterio de Irache which I saw yesterday. This church is crammed with ornate, gilded Baroque carvings and paintings. Choir practice was in full swing when we visited and it was a relief to escape to the peaceful cloister beyond.

From left: Andrea, Rosalie, Geraldine.

More Camino adventures: the fountain of free wine

A short distance beyond the town of Estrella is the Bodega de Irache and a big attraction is the”fuente de vino”, a trailside spigot that flows fresh red wine for all who pass by.

Today we took a leisurely start from the Alda hostel in Estrella and walked out by the church of San Pedro de Rua. It is one of many medieval buildings that remain from Estrella’s past as an important city in the former kingdom of Navarra.

Church of San Pedro de la Rua in Estrella where the ancient kings of Navarra took their oaths. It stands opposite a former royal palace.

We continued on towards the village of Irache. On the outskirts there is the Bodega de Irache and you can get a free sample of the local wine at the trailside fuente de vino. This attraction was a big hit with a group of Mexican cyclists who were riding the Camino. They were stopped there when I arrived and were all laughing as they filled their water bottles with wine.

Just up the hill from the wine fountain is the Monastery of Irache. Since we are doing a slow Camino we stopped and went inside. The church is a gem of elegant romanesque architecture, with simple clean lines, curving arches and just a few statues. I far prefer these churches to those filled with baroque and rococo gilded decor.

The path took us on to a small village called Azqueta where we stood for a wonderful “bocadillo con jamon y queso” or baguette with ham and cheese. This part of Spain is still in the Basque region and all the signs are in Spanish and the Basque language.

The cafe bar Azketako where we stopped for a much appreciated lunch.

The next couple of kilometers wound through a beautiful forest of oak trees, then onward and upward past vineyards to the village of Villamayor de Monjardin.

This building covers a fountain that used to feed a pool where the horses of pilgrims used to be able to drink. Now the water level is much lower and can only be reached by steps.

Camino adventures: many new insights in life

Walking through a tunnel that I remembered from my previous Camino journey in 2015. Someone took a similar picture of me 7 years ago. It is like a metaphor for life.

Today we did a short journey walking from the delightful hilltop village of Cirauqui to the town of Estrella. Seven years ago we just walked right by Cirauqui, but this time I was able to explore this small, beautifully kept village.

Paloma, the lady that ran the Albergue where we stayed in Cirauqui, said only 500 people live there year round, but there was a library, a health center and a bank. She said many people have summer homes there or come for the weekend from larger cities.

She gave the guests at the Albergue a wonderful evening meal with a delicious salad and a tasty stew of chickpeas and mushrooms.

View from our room at Albergue MARALOTX in Cirauqui.

On my walk today I thought about how the Camino experience is a wonderful opportunity to let go of all the anxieties of your daily life and be completely present as you move through the countryside and encounter people from all over the world.

Church of Santo Sepulcro on the way into Estella.

Camino adventures: red & green in Puente la Reina

Today was an easy day with a couple hours set aside to explore Puente la Reina. As we walked along a side street I caught the unmistakable smell of roasting chile.

The guy roasting the red chile insisted on taking a picture of me operating the roaster.

This is something so typical of New Mexico in August or early September. I followed my nose to find an outdoor market where women were peeling red chile and a guy was roasting them. There were even chile ristras hanging on walls.

Red and green chile in the marketplace in Puente la Reina, Spain.
Red chile ristras, called chorizeros in Navarra, Spain, hanging on a wall at a market in Puente la Reina.

We walked on out of the town and looked back at the medieval bridge that gives the town its name.

The bridge that gives Puente la Reina its name.

After leaving the town we had a long steep climb and finally a descent through farmland and vineyards towards the hiltop village of Cirauqui.

Hilltop village of Cirauqui.

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Camino adventure: Up, up, up to the Alto de Perdon

Walking out of Pamplona into open countryside on the way to the Alto de Perdon.

Today was my first day of walking on this short Camino adventure, and it was a tough one. Last night I met up with my friend Andrea and several new friends and we had a delightful evening at the Cafe Iruna a hangout of writer Earnest Hemingway.

This morning we walked out of Pamplona bound for Puente la Reina. The route took us out of the city and throughout wide open ploughed fields. In the distance we saw mountains and ridges sporting rows of wind turbines.

Iron sculptures symbolize pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Andrea and me at the Alto de Perdon.

Our path took us up a long, and in some places, very steep stony way up to the top of one of the ridges, at 770 meters. It is called “The Alto de Perdon”. The place is memorable for a row of iron statues symbolizing pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

There is also a stonehenge-like memorial to dozens of local people who were killed during the Spanish civil war in the late 1930s. A dark time in Spain’s not so distant past.

Then it was down a long steep stony path to Uterga and on to Albergue Jakue where I had stayed in 2015. Lots of memories.

A sign on the post points to Puente la Reina, the next destination on our Camino.

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Pamplona pulsing with pilgrims on the Camino

I arrived in the city of Pamplona, Spain, last night and am amazed at the numbers of Camino pilgrims. It seems like there are many more than when I walked the Camino in 2015.

I’m hanging out and exploring the city today while I wait to meet up with Andrea, an acquaintance from the experience seven years ago. I recognize many of the narrow streets from before and even found my way to the cathedral of Santa Maria. I couldn’t go inside but ran into an Irish woman sitting on a bench in the sun outside. We started talking and it turned out she is from County Leitrim, the home of my mother’s parents. You can’t be lonely on this Camino.

City Hall in Pamplona.

I had heard that September is one of the busiest months on the Camino, but I still got a shock when I arrived at the Albergue Jesus y Maria just after it opened at noon and found a huge long line of pilgrims waiting to check in. I waited almost an hour to be assigned a bunk. I may have to make reservations going forward. We never had to do that before, until the last 100 kilometers.

Ancient fortifications outside Pamplona. In some places they look more than 100 feet high.

I will be posting every day during my walk. Follow my blog to experience the journey.

The Camino calls again: destination Spain

The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

On Monday I am heading to Spain to walk part of the Camino de Santiago again. This will be my third experience of the ancient pilgrimage which takes people along many routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern province of Galicia in Spain.

In 2015, my former partner and I walked the entire length of what is known as the “Camino Frances” which traditionally starts in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and covers a route of nearly 800 kilometers through northwestern Spain. In 2018, I did part of the Portuguese route, walking from Porto north along the coast and then inland to reach Santiago.

This time, I am flying from Lisbon to Pamplona, via Madrid and will walk for about a week towards Burgos. My plan is to meet up with, Andrea Mayfield, an acquaintance with whom I walked for a few days back in 2015. We stayed in touch on Facebook and when I saw that she was planning to walk the entire route again I asked if I could join her for a few days.

I had been thinking about walking part of the Camino Frances route again. I wanted to explore it more slowly, appreciating some of the historic spots I did not see before. When you are walking for 800 kilometers, your feet get pretty tired. Often it seems too much to go even a kilometer out of your way no matter how interesting the sight. This time will be different!

One of the typical markers along the Camino, showing the shell symbol of St. James the Apostle who is supposed to be buried at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The yellow arrows guide pilgrims along the way.

Santiago de Compostela has been a place of pilgrimage since the early middle ages. As legend has it, a shepherd discovered bones in a hillside and local bishops determined that they belonged to St. James, one of the twelve apostles, who came to Spain. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people make the journey on foot, bicycle or other means, using many different routes.

I will be posting each day as I walk along the Camino, so don’t forget to follow my blog. Sign up to get notifications emailed to you when I post.