More Camino adventures: the fountain of free wine

A short distance beyond the town of Estella 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 Estella and walked out by the church of San Pedro de Rua. It is one of many medieval buildings that remain from Estella’s past as an important city in the former kingdom of Navarra.

Church of San Pedro de la Rua in Estella 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 stopped 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.

Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain” available in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.


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 Estella. 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.

Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

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 hilltop village of Cirauqui.

Hilltop village of Cirauqui.

Follow my Camino adventures on this blog. And check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.

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.

Follow my blog for adventures on the camino.

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.

Oh for just a drop of rain, please!

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!

Portuguese health care options

The private Hospital Da Luz in Coimbra
Hospital Da Luz in Coimbra is one of the many private hospitals and clinics in Portugal.

Healthcare is a big concern for many people who move to Portugal. The country has a well developed national healthcare system, Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), that is funded by taxes and can be used by all legal residents. They can seek care at little or no costs at the SNS network of health centers(Centro de Saude) in towns and villages all over the country or at public hospitals which are located in the larger towns and cities.

There is also a growing network of private facilities and providers, such as Hospital da Luz, CUF and HPA, available throughout Portugal to those who pay for medical insurance.

These public and private healthcare networks rank well overall. The World Health Organization gave Portugal a number 12 ranking in its 2019 World Health Report.

How does the public system work?

Americans and residents of countries outside the European Union who want to move to Portugal must obtain a D7 visa. In order to get the visa, they must show proof of travel insurance which covers medical costs. (Since January 2021, because of Brexit, people from the United Kingdom must also have a D7 visa to move to Portugal.)

In effect this means that residents of these countries must have private health coverage when they arrive in the country in expectation of a permanent stay.

D7 visa holders can apply to be covered by SNS once they have been granted a residency permit by the immigration and borders service, Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF).

Once a person has their residency permit, they can register to be covered by the SNS at their local health center to get the health system’s user number, or número de utente. They will have to show documentation such as passport, tax number (Número de Identificaçao Fiscal or NIF) number and residency permit.

After registering, in theory, you are assigned to a local primary care doctor and will be able to make appointments in person, by phone or online. There is a small fee for consultations and tests, usually less than 20 euros, services are free for those aged 65 years and older. In practice, the Covid 19 pandemic has put a severe strain on the system and many local health centers no longer have a doctor. So people have to travel further for routine appointments and care. Many hospitals are also experiencing staff shortages which have forced them to temporarily close certain departments or services during recent months.

A public hospital in Tomar, central Portugal.
Hospital Nossa Senhora da Graça in Tomar, a public hospital in the Medio Tejo region.
A sign for a local “Centro de Saúde” or health center and the associated pharmacy.

Private healthcare options

Numerous private health insurance options are available in Portugal through companies like Fidelidade, Allianz, Cigna and Medis. Plans cover most or all of the cost of routine check-ups and consultations with private specialists and hospital charges.

Coverage for pre-existing conditions is not typically available through these plans. However, the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal (AFPOP) also offers its members special insurance rates through Medal Seguros. Under certain circumstances those plans will cover pre-existing conditions.

One thing to be aware of is that the cost of different plans increases with the age. In addition, there are very limited options for people over age 65. For those people, private insurance is available from MGEN, Medis (Vintage Plan) through Millennium bank, or Allianz-Medal, through membership in AFPOP.

For more detail on healthcare in Portugal and interviews with people who have moved here, read my article “Portuguese Health Care: Public and Private” on page 83 in the current issue of Portugal Living magazine.

Follow my blog to learn all about life in Portugal

My novel getting great reviews

The cover of my newly published novel “The Power of Rain”

It has been brutally hot in Portugal in the last month and the weather reminds me of New Mexico. That’s where my newly published novel, “The Power of Rain” is set. Like New Mexico, it has been very dry here in Portugal and a little rain would be more than welcome. Especially as we have had many wildfires burning uncomfortably close to where I live.

My novel became available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format in early June and I am thrilled each time I see a review appear on Amazon or Goodreads. These days authors have to do almost all of their own marketing, so I am hoping to get more reviews (hint, hint) so all the more people will get to enjoy the book.

Here is what some of the readers have said so far:

Page Turner

The Power of Rain is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Digger Doyle mysteries. Set in a city in the New Mexico desert, this novel has all the characteristics of a page-turner –romance, underhanded or bewildered City officials, journalists at work to shine light on bureaucratic dealings, nefarious developers and the power of local people who keep showing up and speaking the truth. Digger Doyle is a journalist who, true to her name, digs in and doesn’t give up. I hope the author is working on the sequel – so many mysteries that need sunshine, and stories that need telling.

 Beautiful cultural insight

This novel brings alive culture and life in New Mexico and puts forth connections between politics, ethics and love. Recommended!

 This is such a fun read!

It’s a treat to follow the beautifully drawn character, Digger Doyle, in her investigations. Wonderful to see New Mexico, with it’s unique culture and magical landscape, shining so brightly. Can’t wait for the next one. And by the way, this would make the first of a perfect Amazon Original series. Just sayin’.

This Goodreads review from a Dutch reader living in Portugal

As a resident in a region in Portugal that is upset by developers that had support of a mayor that didn´t factor in drinking water (of which there is an enourmous shortage), not to mention the damage to nature, this story resonated with me. 
The main characters are likable and developed, the story is multi layered, the pace is fast and as a reader you go through all kinds of emotions. I especially appreciated the wittiness. I laughed out loud several times when the author described people.
Can´t wait for the next book in these series!

Famous Portuguese book store

A couple of days ago I learned that the historic and very famous Portuguese bookstore Livraria Bertrand, is now selling the book in English. Livraria Bertrand was founded in Lisbon in 1732. The original store in the Chiado district of Lisbon has been declared by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest operating bookstore in the world. Livraria Bertrand also has branches in Coimbra and Leiria.

The entrance of the original Livraria Bertrand bookstore in the Chiado area of Lisbon. The store has a wide selection of books in English as well as Portuguese, French and other languages.

The novel was inspired by a lot of the weird and wonderful experiences I observed as a reporter in New Mexico. Now I am retired in Portugal, I am working on another Digger Doyle mystery. Follow my blog to learn more!

Portugal burns as temps soar

Half-burned oak trees are all that remain on a scorched hillside in central Portugal.

Portugal, like much of Europe, has been sweltering under a prolonged heatwave for most of the past two weeks. Temperatures remained over 38c (100F) for days and soared in some parts of the country as high as 47C or 116F. With the hot temperatures came the wildfires.

Fires are common in Portugal each summer but they popped up with a vengeance in July this year. Each time I spot a plume of smoke billowing in the distance I worry. During two decades living in New Mexico I saw the smoke from several deadly fires that consumed tens of thousands of acres and took weeks to extinguish. And this spring there was the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon which become the biggest fires in the state’s history.

But the Portuguese seem to have learned a valuable lesson from a disastrous fire in 2017, which claimed dozens of lives near the central town of Pedrógão Grande. The Portuguese firefighters, Bombeiros, spring into action almost as soon as the smoke appears. Usually all signs of the blaze are gone within a few hours.

This year has been a test

Between July 5 and July 11, multiple fires broke out within 5 km to 15 km of where I live near the towns of Ferreira do Zezere and Tomar, in central Portugal. Bombeiros units from all over the country rushed to the scene, officers from the Guarda Nacional Republicans (GNR) controlled roads near the area. They even closed some major highways temporarily.

Thanks to the swift response, most of the smoke would be gone by the next morning. But as the temperature rose again and the afternoon winds kicked in, the ominous clouds of grey, brown and dirty yellow smoke would reappear. News reports attributed the new blazes to wind-blown embers which ignited tinder dry vegetation in the surrounding areas. At one point, I drove toward a nearby village and saw a line of cars stopped by the roadside. The occupants were standing watching the flames burn a hillside about 2 km, roughly 1.5 miles away.

During the evening, friends and neighbors sent messages back and forth checking on each other. Two of my friends had to evacuate for a couple of nights because the flames came within a half mile or so of their homes. I kept a suitcase packed with vital papers and other important items by my door in case I too had to leave. Luckily it didn’t happen.

Aircraft bring water to extinguish the fires

The drama in my area of central Portugal lasted for about four days. During that time planes and helicopters rumbled overhead all day long, carrying precious water from a nearby reservoir to douse the flames. I say precious, because Portugal is in a drought situation. Everywhere the lakes, rivers and reservoirs are seriously depleted.

Thankfully, the fires have now calmed down. A friend of mine who lives near a forest that has been mostly obliterated was deeply grateful to the Bombeiros when they told her that her home was safe. The Portuguese regard their firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, as heroes. I wrote about them in a recent article in Portugal Living, the online lifestyle magazine I’ve been freelancing for.

A burned hillside near the villages of Travessa and Quebrado do Cima, in central Portugal.