Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Camino

I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela--the "French Way"--between August 12 and September 18 of this year. It covers 820 kilometers, about 500 miles, between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia, north of Portugal and about 40 miles from the Atlantic coast. Each day, I posted some pictures and some narrative on Facebook. This blog post is a compilation of those Facebook posts, with some very minor editing.

Friday, August 12
The sun sets over the Pyrenees as seen from my hotel room window in St Jean Pied de Port. Serious walking begins early in the AM.

Saturday, August 13
Two views from the patio of an albergue where I had lunch, called Orrison. Spectacular day. That was after a lot of climbing, but nowhere near the crest.

A record number of steps for one day on my pedometer. (Time still set to CDT.) 17+ miles. The last thing Brenda said to me when I left was "Don't die." So far I'm honoring her request, but it doesn't feel like it! Never have I been so happy to arrive at a town than I was to see Roncesvalles.

So I walked across an international border today with no one asking for my papers. Not even a checkpoint. Not even a sign. (Of course, the Basques would not recognize it as an international border!) I also walked across a mountain range with a name that American kids learn about in geography class (or at least used to). Both pretty cool, I thought.

Sunday, August 14
My itinerary said today's trek was supposed to be 4 miles shorter than yesterday. My pedometer says it was about the same. Not sure to account for the discrepancy, but, in any case, it took me only 8 hours, versus yesterday's 11.5. Feeling human after a shower and a nap. Need to get dinner, but my legs feel like they're filled with lead weights. The photo was at the beginning of my route.


Proof of hydration and a shot of my two lunch companions. Yes, Brenda Martins, I fed them generously and, with some effort, equally. (The Siamese was a bully.) Hope they liked sautéed pork loin.


Monday, August 15
From a bridge over the Arna River as it flows through Zubiri. Today's Camino route pretty much followed the course of the river, sometimes from afar, sometimes from well above. Again, today was supposed to be a shorter walk than yesterday, but it came out about the same on my pedometer--just over 40,000 steps. Rather easier, however. Not as much "altitude adjustment." I arrived in Pamplona slightly less physically devastated than the previous two days.

In honor of Our Lady's own day, I decided to patronize her dad's water company.


I'm in Pamplona. No bull.

Tuesday, August 16
A little preview of today's route on the west side of Pamplona. I was not thrilled when I saw the ascending and descending that would be required. But it was a beautiful walk, over ridge strewn with wind turbines. I was close enough to hear the whooshing sound they make.

Pamplona in the distance from the top of the ridge. This view represents four hours of walking!

How could an Illinois boy resist taking a shot of some corn? (Remember that corn is not native to Europe. Its presence here is a remnant of the Spanish Empire.)


Itinerary said 14.6 miles. Pedometer says 20.1. With rest stops (a couple in medieval village churches), an 8.5 hour day. Now where is that massage therapist?

Wednesday, August 17
This was the View of the Camino route as I stepped out of my hotel this morning in Puente La Reina. Eight hours later, I was in Estella. It was a little bit less grueling than the previous days. If my feet and shins could just recover…

This is the little village of Ciriaqui. Just as picturesque inside as it is from a distance. I used some optical zoom on this shot. It was about 35 minutes from where I stood to the edge of town.


Being out of the country lets me turn down the volume a bit on US politics. But there's always Spanish politics. I can decode these graffiti partially, but not completely.

I know there's a Spanish word for "stop." Maybe the fact that I'm still in Basque country makes the English more preferable. But this looks like it could be any number of places in California or Arizona.

Thursday, August 18
The little yellow arrow was the sign that I was rejoining the camino route this morning, about three blocks from my hotel. Sometimes they're a little more obvious, but you have to be alert.

I'm not much of a wine guy, but I know some for whom this is a dream come true.

And I'm the only guest here! Even had to wait a while for the owner/manager to show up. There's some HUGE Basque festival going on in town. Shortest day of walking yet, due to much more level ground, for which the feet are very grateful.

HotelLos Arcos, Spain
32 people checked in here

Friday, August 19
Day 7, Los Arcos to Viana. Shortest walking time yet, about six hours. Some peaks and valleys, but lots and lots of nice level surface. For some reason, my iPad won't connect with the hotel wifi, so I had to wander down the street to find a bar/cafe. It cost me the price of a beer.

CafeViana, Spain
32 people checked in here

My reassuring yellow arrow as I headed west this morning out of Los Arcos.
Never heard of Our Lady of the Popo. Don't know how to decode the image. But it's interesting. On the side of an abandoned building pretty much in the middle of nowhere about halfway through today's route.

This is now a hotel lobby decoration. It once had another use.

Grabbed these shots of the "old" parish church in Viana while waiting for Spanish dinner time to kick in.

This is the "new" church, which wasn't open for inspection.

Saturday, August 20
Day 8: Viana to Navarette. 7.5 hours on the trail, which would have been 6.25 had I not missed a sign early on. Details to follow. Pretty easy day walking-wise; mostly gently downhill. Much of it was traversing the city of Logroño. Urban areas require great mental focus to keep up with the trail markers. My feet are very glad to be elevated.

HotelNavarrete, Spain

Not one of your smaller markers on the Camino coming out of Viana. It says clearly to take a left. I managed to go straight instead, and in cost me 75 minutes and 8500 steps, half erring and half repenting. Repentance is emotionally (and, in this case, physically) laborious. It costs. But the comfort of knowing you're on the right path overshadows the regret over lost time and energy. This will sometime become a sermon illustration. Don't know when, but it will happen. (Silver lining: It happened at the beginning of the day when I was fresh, rather than at the road-weary end.)

In the Middle Ages, fountains were set up along the Camimo for pilgrims to refresh themselves. I didn't use this one, but it looked like it was working. Next to a church in Logroño.

A lovely and large park area west of Logroño, through which the Camimo traverses.

Coming into Navarette, the trail overlooked a freeway for several yards. California friends, is that oleander in the median?

Right on the edge of Navarette are the ruins of this 12th century lodging for pilgrims. Not sure what business Don Jacobo is in, but from the looks of things he might be a vintner.

Off now to attend a vigil Mass at the church less than a block away. It starts at 8pm. That certainly wouldn't fly in the US but works with Spanish culture

Sunday, August 21
Day 9, Navarette to Nájera. An even shorter walk-day--8:30 to 2:00. 10.1 miles on the itinerary, 12.5 on the pedometer. Very good weather and trail conditions throughout (which I could only dream about a week ago). Got to Nájera before it shut down for siesta, so I was able to score some blister bandages at a farmacia. While my Spanish works pretty well for me in restaurants and hotels, it was useless shopping for bandaids. Somehow we muddled through. I am now 120 miles into this trek. From Springfield, that far southwest would put me into the western suburbs of St Louis, east past Danville and well into Indiana, northeast to somewhere between Pontiac and Joliet, and west past Quincy to maybe around Hannibal, MO. Makes me feel like I've something, yet so far to go.


The parish church in Ventosa, with parishioners arriving for Mass. I took this from the church parking lot. That's quite a hike up the hill!

Oregonians, this would make you feel right at home on the Camimo. They're everywhere along the side of the trail.

Monday, August 22
Day 10, Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. 6.5 hours of trekking. 13 miles on the itinerary, 16 on the pedometer; just over 35K steps. Not staying in the albergues, I miss out on a bit of the social dimension of the Camimo. Being an introvert, that's not a huge problem; I wouldn't want to give up my private bath! But sometimes even an introvert could do with a modest amount more human interaction ... which is to say, there were no interesting little chats along the trail today the way there have been many other days. The hotel I'm in tonight doesn't have room numbers. Each room has a name. Mine is Chia. One doesn't know quite where to go with that, but there is surely somewhere to be gone.

I've been walking through wine country in the region of Las Riojas. Is that a known name in the wine world? At some angles, the terrain actually does resembles the Napa Valley ... the main difference being that there are also a lot of hay fields here (recently cut, it appears, with huge stacks of bales in the fields).

I'm blown away when I see art that could be hanging in a first-rate museum still serving its original function decorating a church. This is the baptistry of the cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

A fiddle-back chasuble right where it belongs (IMHO) ... in a museum showcase!

Nothing on this scale in any of the catalogs I shop in!

[liturgy need alert] So ... I'm in the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Wandered into the cathedral church of the Pantocrator and the Assumption. It's a mostly Gothic structure, begun in 1158, with a lot of Baroque additions and decorations. The altar area was redone in 1994. Have a look. Clearly many with whom I have riposted over "orientation" before my travels effectively took me out of the conversation will find it a travesty. If it were my cathedral, I would put a nice brocade Jacobean frontal on the altar, center it, put a Christus Rex on that cross, and look into staining the wood a darker color. But basically, "I like what they've done with the place."

Tuesday, August 23
Day11, Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado. 6.5 hours on the trail, 14.5 miles on the itinerary, 16.9 on the pedometer. A little bit less plain and level that the last couple of days. More little villages to walk through (church photos in a bit). Wine country appears to be in the rear-view mirror, replaced by sunflowers. And still hay, of course. The hotel here is on a truck route rather than the quaint city center, so it won't be among my favorites.


The Camino at 8:30am as I headed out of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Madrid and Pamplona were bustling at that hour. Everywhere else I've been has been just this quiet.

I'm learning that Spain consists of "autonomous communities," which, in turn, consist of provinces. Today I entered to autonomous community of Castille & Leon (it's huge) and the province of Burgos. Also a shot of the view ahead from that border. You can see that landscape of hay fields.

For those who were traumatized by my photos of a cathedral interior yesterday, perhaps these shots from Our Lady of the Street (interesting) parish in Redocilla del Camino will be healing balm.

A gorgeous installation, featuring the ubiquitous-in-Spain horizontal reed pipes (I'm sure they sound appropriately pinched and nasal). But ... what's missing? There are drawknobs but no keyboard! One hopes the instrument is under repair. To think of something this beautiful being abandoned is horrifying.

Then there's the church in the next village down the road, Castildelgado. The book adorning the font is an old Latin missal, which I don't think would ever have been used in that spot. But it looks impressive.

"Spanish crucifix" is sort of a genre unto itself. Here a a couple of examples. There will no doubt be more.

All along I thought Fresno was one of a kind. This is kind of scary.

Thursday, August 24
Day 12, Belorado to San Juan de Ortega. Not the relative cakewalk that the last two days were, due to elevation changes, but all is well. 6.5 hours, 14 miles on the itinerary, 17.2 on the pedometer. 36,300 steps. This is what Brenda and I call a "waffle town" (because of the way it looks on my car's navigation screen). The guy that runs this facility also runs the only restaurant/bar in town, which is where I had to go to check in! ki

Hotel & LodgingSan Juan De Ortega, Spain

Upon further poking around ... this isn't really a town so much as it is the establishment surrounding a former Augustinian monastery established by St John of Ortega in the 12th century. It was abandoned in the 19th. The monks' quarters have been turned into an albergue. There appears to be still regular worship in the church. One of these photos is of the saint's tomb. The reredos above it depicts the Last Judgment. Another is of a shrine to St Dominic of the Calazada, whose disciple St John was. Both poured out their lives physically improving the pilgrims' way and establishing places of hospitality for pilgrims. 900 years ago, no less! People have been doing what I'm doing for a very long time.

The beginning of the Camimo leaving Belorado this morning. Not much room for error there!

I've been mentioning hay fields and hay bales. Here's an example of a very frequent sight along the route.

About halfway along today's route (about seven miles in), just coming out of Villafranca Montes de Oca, the terrain suddenly shifted from agricultural to wooded. There was also a rather steep ascent. You can't see it here, but much of the ground cover under the trees was made up of ferns. Quite lovely, and the shade was welcome. The view of the distant mountains is looking to the south.

There is at least some resemblance to a certain seminary's chapel tower, right? Only this one is not missing bells!

Thursday, August 25
Day 13, San Juan de Ortega to Burgos. 16 miles, 7.5 hours. About half rural and half urban; Burgos is a sizable metropolitan area. Hung out with Germans much of the day. Conversation included the semantic distinction between 'Gemeinschaft' and 'Gesellschaft.'

HotelBurgos, Spain

A teeny little church in a teeny little town. It didn't come out well on my iPad camera, but the light emanating from the BVM's head was provided by six electric bulbs.

In a conversation earlier in the day, the subject of McDonald's came up as an example of one of the negative effects of globalization. But I confessed that, at that moment, I would be overjoyed to come across a McDonald's (we were in the middle of nowhere). Hours later, in Burgos, what do I find? Treated myself to a large Coke Zero. But I had to order and pay at one of these kiosks, then wait for my number to be called. It was the same way in Madrid. Coming soon to America? Threw in a proof-of-life pic while I was there.

Burgos Cathedral is officially amazing. First Gothic cathedral in Spain. Interesting to compare to the English ones I've been to.

Comparing to an English cathedral ... the choir and entry area take up the entire length of the nave west of the transepts. The pews for the congregation are all east of the crossing, where the choir would be. And the choir is closed off at the west end. (Not sure what the actual function of the "choir" was or is.) All this means that the 'seating capacity' (probably a telltale American notion) is not very large. There is actually a chapel off the northwest end of the nave that looks like it seats more than the actual nave. My guess is that's where regular worship takes place.

Apropos of a remark a few days ago about art adorning churches instead of museums.

thought I had sacristy envy. I didn't have nuthin'. NOW I have sacristy envy.

The apse chapel. A memorial to the important couple who paid for it.

I know how he feels. I also have to sleep on my side.

Why such a staircase in the north transept? To get to the street! The cathedral is built on a hillside, and there's a 24-foot grade differential between the south and north transepts. 

A view of the cathedral from the east. The structure on the left of the photo would be the apse chapel.

Friday, August 26
Day 14, Burgos to Hornillos del Camino. 12.6 miles, 5.25 hours. A shorter day than yesterday, but the last four or five miles involved a significant climb. Started out urban, went over or under several highways, then got very rural. Lots more hay and sunflowers. Several close encounters on narrow roads with heavy equipment made by John Deere. I step aside courteously. Walked a couple of miles with the first Brit I've met on the Camimo, a fellow named Andy. He's a Camino veteran. "If I ever ha a bi o time, there's no place I'd rather be." Andy is a font of knowledge about Spanish history, especially the Civil War. Very educational for me.

The Camino as it looked in front of my hotel in Burgos this morning.

I love how sunflowers demonstrate how they get their name, always facing toward the sun.

Saturday, August 27
Day 15, Hornillos del Camimo to Castrojeríz. 12.4 miles, 5.75 hours. All rural, with but one small town along the way. More hay bales being stacked. This was my view as I stepped out of my hybrid hotel/albergue at 8:15 this morning. It felt like cheating checking into a hotel at 2pm after only 5.75 hours walking, but this is where my luggage was waiting for me so this is where I am.

A cottonwood, if I'm not mistaken. A welcome sight to a midwesterner.

The Camino version of billboard advertising. They're not all over the place, by any means, but a couple like these can usually be seen within two or three of kilometers of a town.

My path literally came across this treasure a couple of miles east of Castrojeríz. I'm not an art photographer, nor do I have the equipment of one, but if I were, and did, this place would be a wonderful resource.

St John's Church, a couple of hundred meters from my hotel in Castrojeríz. It seems to feature a bunch of large tapestries. The organ is incredibly beautiful; I just wish I would have a chance to hear it, but the advertised 7pm vigil Mass is, I was told, in another church. The Sunday liturgy at St John's isn't until 1pm tomorrow.

In Spain I have discovered garlic soup (sopa de ajo). Those who either regularly or occasionally have stewardship of my diet, do kindly take notice.

There's a very loud karaoke party going on right outside my hotel. I was told it may last until 3am. They were kind enough to move me to a room on the opposite side of the building. But still ... it may be an interesting night.

Sunday, August 28
Day 16, Castrojeríz to Frómista. 15.5 miles, 7 hours. These steps were the first thing I had to tackle just to rejoin the Camino route this morning. There are more steps that you can't even see in this shot. It was a foretaste of a serious climb that began about a kilometer out of town--12% grade for about another kilometer. Two pass-through towns on today's route. More hay fields (who buys all this hay?), and more sunflowers, but also some alfalfa and corn. I found it slightly unsettling to hear gunfire in the distance throughout the day. This is a hunting area, and something must be in season. Just as long as it isn't peregrinos!

Evidently the musical theme from the 60s TV series Combat has been taking up space in my brain, which enabled it to serve admirably as today's dominant ear worm.

I wish I could have gotten a better picture, but my way was retarded this morning by a flock of sheep on the Camino route. They were preceded by a shepherd--yes, carrying a proper crook--assisted by two working dogs who were very assiduously on the job. Our paths eventually diverged, but ... what a sight. (You can imagine what the road is like behind that many sheep; I did have to watch my step!)

Today I left the Province of Burgos and entered the Province of Palencia, both in the Autonomous Community of Castille & León. So this sign marks something a little more momentous than a county line and a little less momentous than a state border.

Walked along this lovely canal (the view is eastward, to the rear) for the last mile or two into Frómista. Then there was a sudden change in grade, necessitating whatever this bit of infrastructure might be called. My path lay on a narrow bridge leading right across it.

Two historic churches a stone's throw from my hotel; this one in the plaza right in front, St Martin's. The bishop in the statue (St Martin) looks awfully young, don't you think? A brochure says the church dates from 1066. Note the rounded arches, not the pointed Gothic ones that came later. I find the interior moving in its simplicity.

About three blocks away from St Martin's is this one, St Paul's. For some reason, the axis of the nave seems to bend as it approaches the sanctuary, creating an odd effect as you look down it from the west end. Interestingly, the crucifix in the altarpiece features the descent from the cross. The crucifixion painting is, I think, striking. The art that adorns these old churches continues to astonish me.

Monday, August 29
Day 17, Frómista to Carrión de Los Condes. 11.6 miles in 4.5 hours. It was the shortest day yet of my Camimo, and the first that I would unequivocally describe as "easy." Peregrinos had a dedicated path (and some upscale signage), but, as you can see, it was just a few feet from the road between the two towns, which was pretty much flat and straight. Temps were in the mid-50s as I set out (pretty typical) but only warmed up to the low 70s. There was a constant brisk breeze, for which I ordinarily might be grateful, but this one provided a little *too* much "wind chill." I was joined for a mile or so by a young Spaniard who walked from one tiny village to a nearby larger one just to buy a pack of cigarettes (about which she was appropriately embarrassed). She and her mother summer in this part of the country to avoid the oppressive heat in the Madrid area. She's about to take an exam that will qualify her for what in the states would be an OSHA inspector. Closing in on the halfway mark now. So what was today's wonderful dominant ear worm? "Johnny Yuma was a rebel. He roamed through the west ...". Yes, the deep recesses of my brain are just that refined in their tastes. And apparently fond of TV shows from my childhood. Tried to counter it with the third movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian" symphony, but with marginal success.


The church of Santa Maria La Blanca in the village of Villalcázar de Sirga. The arrival of the Gothic style in 12th and 13th century Spain is abundantly evident here. The shot of the font and Paschal candle with an altar in the background evoked for me the aphorism, "Baptism is but Eucharist begun; Eucharist is but Baptism continued." (can't recall whom to cite for that)

Tempted to see if they know what they're doing, but ... nah, I'll probably be disappointed.

This is the bridge I will cross tomorrow morning on my way out of town.

I have enough Spanish to read this plaque, but I'll leave the translation work to those who are interested. Let's just say there is definitely no "repudiation of the doctrine of discovery" here.

The Royal Benedictine Monastery of St Zoilo. Signs say it dates from the 10th century. Closed presently for restoration. Wasn't there a ball player in the 60s named Zoilo Versailles? AL, not sure what team.

Several churches in this town, but the only one I could find open was St Mary's, just a stone's throw from my hotel. Again, clearly pre-Gothic; dates from 1130, we're told. Not to open any wounds with my liturgy geek friends, but I think they've handled sanctuary renovation in the wake of Vatican II really, really well. I particularly like the image of the BVM and child. Many of these old churches have gently "piped in" music to add ambience. In this case, it was Bach organ music, so ... a little out of place and time, but it's a nice idea. In one I visited yesterday, the music was authentically late medieval.

Tuesday, August 30
Day 18, Carrión de los Contes to Calzadilla de la Cueza. 10.9 miles in 4.25 hours. It's my shortest day yet, yet at times felt long because the scenery and trail were so relentlessly unvarying. Since Burgos I have been on a section of the Camino known as the Meseta, a high plain. Today's walk featured no villages to break up the monotony. It was just 10 miles of straight and level. Indeed, the crooked has been made straight and the rough places plain! I met a woman from Holland, the first pilgrim from the Low Countries whom I've encountered. Arriving when I did, I have the opportunity to be a Spaniard. I ate some lunch around 1:30, and now it's siesta time! The bartender downstairs told me a proper siesta is three hours, but I don't think I can live up to that standard.

Just outside of Carrión. Does anyone want to do the math on prices ... going from liters to gallons and euros to dollars?

Not quite sure what this monument refers to, but perhaps something about the antiquity of this precise section of the Way.

Spotted at a rest area. Entrepreneurs will always identify an opportunity.

This guy was picking up litter, of which there is some but not very much. Don't know whether he's a volunteer, or is paid by someone to do this.

You were probably wondering when the day's church pictures would show up. Wonder no longer. This is St Martin's, the parish church for this little hamlet of Calzadilla de la Cueva. The volunteer docent manning the door (many of these old churches have one, to encourage a financial contribution!) was a font of information, except for when the church was built. My knowledge of architectural history is limited, but I don't see any of the usual visual cues. But she did tell me that the pietá and the font are from the 13th century. I particularly like the large fonts I'm seeing. You could plausibly immerse a child in one. The tapestry, I was told, is of Purgatory, with the BVM being the apparent dispenser of succor and mercy.

It's amusing to overhear a conversation among several people in English when none of them would use English in his or her native context, but they're from an array of countries, and English as a second (or third) language is what they have in common.

Wednesday, August 31
Day 19, Calzadilla de la Cueva to Sahagún. 13.9 miles in 5.75 hours. This was the view of the way from my hotel room window this morning. The route was both longer and more varied than yesterday, with four villages to pass through. Walked a couple of miles with yet another German, a young woman of around 19 or 20 whose parents are not crazy about what she's doing, but she's already backpacked through Australia and studied yoga in Thailand, so she can probably handle herself. All German kids study English from the time they start school until they graduate, she tells me. So a great many Germans now can speak English, as I am finding. The advantage I have over them on the Camino is my ability to get by in Spanish. So I'm grateful for my study of Spanish in grades 6 through 11. But it should have started much earlier. When I arrived in Sahagún, I had a beer in the hotel bar and talked politics with the bartender--both US and Spanish. His opinion on the former: "Donald Trump is crazy. He'll bring World War III." But he also uses "crazy" to describe the Catalonian separatist MP who was haranguing Parliament on TV in the debate over whether the leader of the party with a plurality will be able to cobble together a majority coalition that can govern.

Part of this morning's breakfast array. I was grateful for the protein, which has been lacking at breakfast lately. The round slices are what passes for sausage (chorizo) in this country. It also comes in links, and chopped up. Heated up, it's not horrible ... a little too vinegary for my tastes, perhaps. But for the time being, I've had enough of it. It's ubiquitous at all meals.

Marly Camino, the company that made my arrangements, provided me with this backpack. (It's just a day pack, since they also arrange to move my suitcase from one place to the next.) I'd grown rather fond of it, since it's been with me from the beginning. So I was disappointed this morning to find the bottom threadbare, and about to give way. Fortunately, I brought another one with me, so I made the switch, and my yellow companion is now "basura."

This would be a massively discouraging sign (not to mention geographically impossible) were it not for the European practice, when dealing with numbers, to use commas the way Americans use decimal points, and vice versa. With that little bit of knowledge, it is indeed an *en*couraging sign (although ridiculously precise). When I started out, Santiago was around 820 kilometers away.

Sacred Heart Church in one of the villages I passed through today. The book is certainly a good one to have when you're a church on the Camino route. I found the confessional elegant in its simplicity. The image of a pilgrim being bitten by a dog seems to be a recurring theme. [NOTE: I subsequently learned that the dog is not biting the man, but therapeutically licking his wound. The man is St Rocco (San Roque).] I'm glad to say I have had no such encounters. I probably don't want to know what the array of electronics in the sanctuary is about.

Not sure what all a Christmas lottery entails, but this sign on a church door gives evidence of a "ministry cluster" or "area ministry" or, in Diocese of Springfield parlance, multiple Eucharistic Communities in one Parish, perhaps.

St Nicholas' Church in, if I remember correctly, the village of the same name. The guy with the shovel in his left hand is St Isodore the Laborer. Google him; that will explain the angels and the oxen. Gold on the reredos, but otherwise kind of homespun.

The toilet is free, but .... Sign at an albergue cafe along the way. It's a practice that Lady Brenda and I always observe when we're motoring around central and southern Illinois.

Just before coming into Sahagún the route took what seemed like an odd turn. Usually this means that the Camino doesn't want the pilgrim to miss something special. This was the something special--not a parish church, but a shrine dating from the 13th century. It also marks the geographical halfway point on the Camino between Roncesvalles and Santiago. Since I started in St Jean, my geographical halfway happened sometime yesterday, most likely. But today *is* the temporal halfway point for me--19 days down, 19 to go.

The Muzak in the hotel lobby is supplying tomorrow's ear worm: Rawhide! Today's winner was "If I were a rich man," triggered by musing that learning the subjunctive in Spanish would have been easier had our teacher reminded us that there *is* a subjective mood in English, of which the song is an exemplar. Runner up was "The sound of silence," triggered by crossing highway N-241, which has been an intermittent companion for more than a week, and my saying to myself, "Hello, highway, my old friend." If you know the song, you can connect the dots. There were also bits of two Mahler symphonies.

Thursday, September 1
Day 20, Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero. 11.1 miles (not the 6.1 my itinerary falsely led me to expect) in 5 hours. Pretty easy walking again, typical of the Meseta. Most of the route bore evidence of someone's thoughtfulness some decades ago--there was a long row of trees on one side of the path, providing welcome shade.

HotelEl Burgo Ranero, Spain

Crossed these tracks near the outset of my route, heading into the center of Sahagún before leaving it. All trains here--both passenger and freight--run on electricity, delivered by a trolley connection. Don't know what the relative costs and efficiency are compared to diesel, but it certainly makes them quieter.

Literally, of course, it just means"we can." But when I connect this to a blurb I saw on the TV news channel during breakfast, I'm pretty sure Podemos is a political party or faction. Spanish politics are pretty much in a mess at the moment.

Another shrine, this one from the 17th century.

No clue as to the identity or motivation of whoever put this up. But there it is, nonetheless. Such things attract graffiti in the easy-to-reach areas.

What's remarkable about this memorial to Herr Friederich is that it's the first one I've seen for a couple of hundred miles. Coming over the Pyrenees, there were probably a half-dozen. People do die doing this! But in most cases, I suspect they would have died anyway, and just happened to be on the Camino when the Grim Reaper appeared. I said a short prayer for him.

St Peter's, El Burgo Ranero. Not architecturally distinctive, perhaps reflecting the status of the village in the 16th century, when it was constructed. Looks like the reredos doesn't have any real gold. And I have no idea what the electronic home "organ" right up at the altar is about. I'd probably prefer not to speculate. The place is crude on the outside but well-maintained on the inside. Newish floor.

Friday, September 2
Day 21, El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas. ("Mulas" means "mules." Google translate has no opinion about "mansilla.") Fewer that 2000 inhabitants, plus assorted pilgrims.4.5 hours covering 11.5 miles. The path kept alongside a lightly traveled highway the whole way. More pilgrim traffic than usual; not sure how that algorithm works. Met a group of four men from Grand Rapids (making 8 Michiganders now), one of whom has a rare disease that is slowly taking both his eyesight and his hearing. I can't begin to imagine. So his three friends are extra eyes and ears on his pilgrimage. His name is Bill, if you are one who prays.

A farm equipment dealer, certainly not a rarity in central and southern Illinois.

The road we were following had a slight detour, so the Camino did as well. A few yards ahead I witnessed a near-collision between two behemoths that were part of this bridge project. Over-eager operators.

Lots more political graffiti today, of which this is but one example. Both sides of the abortion debate were well-represented. And separatism is just in the air and water around here. Somebody apparently wants León to be hived off from Castille and become its own "autonomous community." I guess my days of enjoying "sopa castellana" (Castilian garlic soup) are over. I'll have to check out sopa leonesa.

Well, this is a small town and the church is locked, so no church interior pics today. But this gives me an opportunity to say that, while I harbor no illusions about the reality of Christendom's demise, I am greatly enjoying poking around its embers in Spain. The echoes of a single (relatively) undivided Church are still reverberating in the villages where the parish church is the most important building in town, and there's only one "brand," which is the ancient church of this land. There's no going back to that. But it makes one wistful.

Saturday, September 3
Day 22, Mansilla de las Mulas to León. 11.3 miles, 5.25 hours by the time I found my hotel in pedestrian-congested central León. (The directions I'm working from are occasionally a little laconic.) Today's walk began rural and gradually became more urban as we got closer to the city. Less hay, more corn and alfalfa along the way. The route included a rather elaborate pedestrian bridge, from which I took an opportunity to snap a photo of the road into the city from a bit of altitude. My hotel is about 50 meters from a spectacular Gothic cathedral. Undoubtedly there will be pictures in due course.

Here I am now until Monday morning, in the big city of León. Scheduled day of rest tomorrow.

HotelLeón, Spain

One of the more recent improvements on the Camino is this footbridge over the Porna River just coming into the town of Villapuente. While in the middle, I took pictures both upstream and downstream.

Apparently branching out from carpentry into fresh and cured meats.

In the spirit of rest, I decided to take this Tren Turística on 40 minute route around parts of the city. It was the first time in fully three weeks that my body has gone somewhere that it's own two feet didn't take it. Most memorable takeaway line from the recorded tour narrative: "The Plaza de San Marcos is one of the round squares that was built when the city expanded during the 19th century." León is a city with about the same population as Springfield. Yet, it has the look, feel, and vibe, of a much larger city. There are probably multiple reasons for this, but I have to think that one of them is housing density. You don't see single-family homes on large lots in sprawling subdivisions. You do see lots of multistory apartment buildings.

Exterior shots of the cathedral. It was impossible for me get to a vantage point where I could take a picture without some part of the building being cut off. So ... from the southwest toward the main door, then along the southern side, then a closer-up of the main door, and finally a view from the southeast, showing some signature Gothic flying buttresses.

I attended the 11am Mass, having inquired yesterday as to which of the three liturgies is the *principal* celebration. It's hard to characterize. There were six (count 'em) bechasubled priests (matching, of course), but neither deacon nor any category of altar server. There was incense, but the thurible was placed on a stand near the altar beforehand. The main celebrant was also the preacher, with a thick Castilian accent. I would rather it had been the one who read the gospel and led the Prayers of the People, as he was much easier to understand. The songs at the entrance, offertory, communion, and at the end we're all responsorial (as was the Psalm, of course), and therefore theoretically able to be sung by anyone who can "hear" in Spanish, but the only one who seemed to be singing was the heavily-amplified cantor, who was also the organist, accompanying himself. The Kyrie (troped, as part of the penitential rite) was sung, as was the Sanctus, but the Gloria and Agnus Dei were said. The Apostles' Creed was used, rather than the Nicene. My long Eucharistic fast is, I must say, difficult, especially when I felt as "connected" to the liturgical action as I did today. Still, I made the best "spiritual communion" as I could, and offered as my intention all those for whom I have been praying daily during the Camino.

Interior shots, Part One. As with the the other two Spanish cathedrals I've visited, the use of the available floor space is curious by either American or British expectations. The first view is with my back practically against the west door, looking down the nave toward the choir screen. As far as "capacity" is concerned, all that space is "wasted." Moving downward, the next view is of the choir screen, closer up. Actually, the choir was originally in an "English" position, close to the altar, but was moved in the 17th century to accommodate a massive Baroque altarpiece that is no longer there. On the top right is a view from the other end of the choir. Along with Chartres, León Cathedral has the most square feet of stained glass of any European cathedral. It is stunning, and my iPad camera doesn't do it justice. The organ (located above the choir on both sides) is, as I have come to expect in this country, visually magnificent. For the first time, though, I got to hear one, both during the Mass, and right afterward when the organist broke out into a brilliant but all-too-brief postlude. Left me wanting more. From the placement of that old pulpit, it's pretty much good only for literally "preaching to the choir." For the benefit of tourists, there is Renaissance polyphony playing softly in the background. It kind of grates against the recorded tour narrative's exaltation of all things classically Gothic and subtle denigration of the Renaissance and Baroque.

For the benefit of my friends (you know who you are) for whom post-Vatican II furniture moving makes their souls hurt.

Interior shots, Part II, with no comment save to point out the statue of a pregnant Mary holding her belly. Can't recall ever seeing something like that.

And, lastly, closeups of the four sculpted panels on the choir screen: the Nativity of the BVM, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi. Overall, I think I like León Cathedral even better than the one in Burgos. The amount of stained glass just does it for me.

What was during Roman times known as the Praetorian Gate. Pretty sure the statue (backlit from the outside) is of later provenance, as are probably the actual stones, but there's been a gate in the wall on that spot for nearly two millennia.

This little piece of technology is to keep unpermitted traffic out of certain areas. Those who are allowed in (taxis and tour buses, for example) can punch in a code that makes it recede into the ground for a few seconds.

I could find no explanation as to what this is or why it is there.

Two options I'm considering for dinner. Both come with risks. Thoughts?

Sunday, September 4
Day 23. Resting in León. For a day of rest, when I just strolled around not feeling like I was doing much, I still racked up over 15,000 steps. In my real life, I would be elated with that.

Monday, September 5
Day 24, León to Villavante. 19+ miles, 8.5 hours on my feet, 45 minutes waiting, 10 minute cab ride. Still not exactly sure what happened, but all's well that ends well. I am what is apparently another albergue/hotel hybrid, and I'm the only "hotel" guest, so I literally have my own building, and very spacious digs. It's kind of a country house, not in town but off by itself. Dinner was communal, fixed by our hostess, and included spicy grilled chiles from her own garden. How I have craved spicy chiles! The grilled pork was also superb. A really luminous conclusion to a challenging day with my old buddy the N-120. I'm told that tomorrow is the last day of relatively flat terrain, after which it gets hilly all the way to Santiago.

This is the point where today's Camino route diverged from municipal sidewalks. Between León and its western suburbs, it took fully two hours to get there.

In my present environment, I don't like choices. Since I got a late start, and I knew the way would be long, I took the more conventional top option. Still managed to screw things up.

Hard to decode this. Evidently, it's the tower of a very old church that is no longer there, now attached to a newer church, built in 1986. And are those nests? What, storks?

Much of the way was a lesson in agricultural irrigation. There was this long canal, then there was a junction where most of the water rushed away from my view, but a smaller conduit continued to parallel the path. Further on, there were other such divergences. All this for the biggest stand of corn I've seen on this trip, hundreds and hundreds of acres. Almost felt like I was in Illinois, except there were no placards announcing what company holds a proprietary interest in the seeds.

Tuesday, September 6
Day 25, Villavante to Astorga. About 13 miles, 6.5 hours. This was the view as I left my bucolic accommodations this morning, rejoining the trail about 50 meters ahead. The route took me through three villages, which is always welcome since they offer a place to sit, rest, and hydrate. The terrain got hilly, and less agricultural, with lots of small oak trees similar to what one would see in the coastal valleys of central California. Here's a Spanish insect report: Gnats abound, and can often be intensely annoying. Flies make an occasional appearance. Bees hover when I'm eating outdoors, but are generally well-behaved. Mosquitoes? Haven't yet had one want to make my acquaintance. So Spain gets kudos for that.

This is the picturesque 18th century stone bridge into Hospital de Orbigo, which I crossed yesterday as part of the fiasco and crossed again today ... it's too hard to explain. But I am fairly sure that if I had not gotten myself misdirected yesterday, I would have still had a frustrating time finding my appointed lodging from the directions Marly Camino gave me. The cab driver knew right where it was. So maybe it was all for the best. Anyway, at the bridge today, I ran into a group of nine Americans and Canadians who were bussed to that location and then walked on to Astorga, but with their bus meeting them in every village with drinks and refreshments. They are walking 60 "selected" miles between León and Santiago over about nine days. At night they stay in five-star accommodations and have private gourmet dinners. I learned all this from a lovely 75-year old lady from California who doesn't think she could do it any of the more traditional ways. "Luxury walking," it's called. I'm happy for them, but glad I'm doing it exactly the way I am.

This was a very welcome sight when I espied it from afar. Sometimes this sort of thing is an entrepreneurial profit-making venture. Sometimes they ask for a voluntary donation. Today it was just out of the goodness of a couple of people's hearts, bless them. Self-service beverages, ice, snacks, and a shady place to rest. Met a young woman from Toronto and a couple from Holland.

Astorga is a cathedral city. As in León, I could not get a good comprehensive exterior shot. At first blush, lots of Romanesque features, with a baroque-looking central façade. The closeup is from near the door: I don't know that I've ever seen a *sculpted* rendition of the Cleansing of the Temple. Also, note the color difference from stone having been dug from two different quarries. It also shows up on the inside.

Once inside, however, Astorga Cathedral turns all gothic. There were no recorded narratives to explain the contrast, so I'm still in the dark. But a pattern emerges: generous floor space near the west door, bounded by the choir screen (this one entirely closed), modest seating capacity at the high altar, although transepts here were far enough to the east, and the altar far enough to the west, that the transepts could be used for seating and have a good view of the action at the altar. The cathedra is off to one side, but there is still some sort of presbytery seating in the apse (there is no ambulatory here). Lighting conditions were not conducive to good photography. There was some stained glass I would have loved to get some shots of.

No, this was not the Almy or Wippel or even Watts showroom.

So this is what a proper bishop's residence is supposed to look like. And with artwork in the garden. How did I not know this until now?

Wednesday, September 7
Day 26, Astorga to Rabanal del Camimo. 12.4 miles, 5.75 hours. Gained a modest net amount of altitude (a portent of things to come), but the slope was mercifully gentle. This is the Plaza Mayor (principle square) in Astorga as I set out on my way about 8:15 this morning. Pretty quiet. The last time I saw it, around 9pm last night, it was a beehive of activity, as is the case with all such plazas I have seen across northern Spain ... as long as the weather is warm, I suppose. People here do love their outdoor dining, and on that score, I am with them.

And we're back in Waffletown World. It's adorable, though.

HotelRabanal Del Camino, Spain

Somehow I missed this angle on Astorga Cathedral yesterday. It shows the two west towers in Romanesque, and the nave built out in Gothic. There's also a statue of a pilgrim atop a finial on the east end. So much that is on the Camino route has developed the way it has precisely *because* of the Camino.

Spain is a land of very old churches, but there are some newer ones as well. This one, St Peter's, not far from the center of Astorga, dates from 2000. All the literature suggests that they see themselves as having a particular ministry of hospitality to pilgrims. I'm glad to see the investment in works of art on the exterior.

Much less agriculture and more wild flora today. On the left are scrubby safe-like bushes that remind me of New Mexico. On the right are some pines. Further on, the pines got more numerous, and taller. There was also A good bit of what looked to me like wild lavender. Sorry, no pics of that. Taking a picture on the trail is an ordeal. It requires me taking my backpack off and retrieving my iPad, snapping the picture, and then putting everything back. If I had not lost my phone, there would be more pictures!

For a small voluntary donation, this Spanish knight will stamp your pilgrim passport, and then let you hold his bird of prey!

There is a small community of Benedictine monks (German, oddly enough) in Rabanal. Here is their house, and their church, right across the way. I went to what I thought was going to be Vespers (Evensong), but it turned out to be a Mass, felicitously celebrated (an "audible" called by the celebrant based on a quick poll of the attendees) mostly in English, with some Spanish, and a little bit of Latin (Sanctus, Agnus Dei). It was really quite luminous, with a capacity and very cosmopolitan congregation, including many young people. Later, at dinner, an American couple who were impressed with my singing during the liturgy (trust me, it was pretty sotto voce) noticed I was alone and invited me to join them. They're from Maine, and we had a lively discussion of our Camino experiences. Even introverts need some human contact occasionally, and I had been feeling pretty pathetic eating alone on my birthday! So that was an unexpected blessing. Later I attended Compline with the monks (and, again, a good-sized congregation) concluding with the blessing of the pilgrims with holy water. What a welcome turn of events.

Thursday, September 8
Day 27, Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca. 15.5 miles, 7.5 hours. Hard day, rocky path. Gained lots of altitude, continuing a trend from yesterday, as is illustrated by the ever-ascending main drag in Rabanal. The way topped out at around 4500 feet, which rivals the height of the pass over the Pyrenees, but the approach was nowhere near as sudden or severe. Maybe being 65 gave me a burst of energy, because I hit the road like a jackrabbit this morning, passing all manner of other pilgrims. More likely, it was because it was 55 degrees and windy, and I was dressed for temperatures about 20 degrees warmer, so I was trying to generate body heat. Or, perhaps I have developed some aerobic capacity from all the walking, which puts me at an advantage over the increasing number of pilgrims who parachuted in to begin their Camino closer to the end than I did. At any rate, one whom I passed more than once remarked, "I always know it's you because you have such good-looking legs." Alrighty then.

Looking back at the village of Foncebadón as a fog bank rolls in where I have already walked. Then, a vista in a different direction from the same spot, and a view of the road ahead. It was a welcome change to be out of the hay fields of the Meseta and into some mountain scenery.

This structure, a small cross mounted atop a 21-foot pole anchored in a rocky mound, is one of the landmarks of the Camino. The site itself, apparently, dates back to Roman times, but it has since been "adopted" and Christianized by the Camino. People attach all kinds of mementos and notes--petitionary prayers was the original idea, I suspect. After that point, it was all downhill, which can be challenging in itself, but the way was particularly rocky, which can be treacherous. Not my favorite thing.

If the sun had been shining, I would have tried to follow the instructions for this installation and discovered the time of day. But I post it as a bit of humor, because the English instructions were clearly written by somebody who does not actually speak English. The Spanish instructions make good sense, but it doesn't work to translate them literally.

Some more scenery. My camera doesn't really do justice to the colors of the vegetation that I could see with my own eyes.

If you've been looking at the pictures I've been posting along the way, tell me what is strikingly odd about this view of a nearby town.

I'm not staying in this place, but the ad for feng shui piqued my curiosity.

The locals refer to this as the "Roman bridge." It's probably not that old, but I don't doubt that the Romans built one on that spot. It's a popular swimming area for the locals. And this little diversion next to my hotel is used as a kiddie-pool. The parish church, St Nicholas', is not open.

If the Camino were a hockey game, I would be well into the third period.
If the Camino were owned and operated by a corporation--either public or private--and if the corporation retained American legal counsel, pilgrims would have to sign a stack of liability waivers before taking a step.
If that corporation were insured by an American firm, there are several tons of loose rocks that they would insist on having removed.

Chris from Maine, who with his wife Kate were my generous dinners hosts last night, observed, "You don't walk the Camino. The Camino walks you." I've been pondering that today, and finding a bit of resonance. I probably won't ever do this again, and have had trouble imagining why anyone would *want* to do it more than once. But now I'm beginning to understand why. Dimly. There's something deeply compelling about it, right in the most challenging moments. I have certainly tried to be as receptive and attentive as I can, but if I were to walk it again I would be "mindful" in different ways, the way you watch a movie for a second time with different eyes, looking for different things.

Friday, September 9
Day 28, Molinaseca to Cacabelos. 13.7 miles, 7 hours on the road. It was a physically easy day. Good walking surface (by my lights, anyway; I much prefer pavement to loose rocks). No serious ascents or descents. Between cities, suburbs, exurbs, and villages, the route never really got completely out into the countryside. There was always evidence of some human population center of one sort or another.

Noticed this on the way out of Molinaseca this morning. An apt name, perhaps, for a hostelry along the Camino, where the clientele speak many different languages.

The castle of the Knights Templar in Ponferrada, another iconic point along the Camino. No picture that I could have taken would do justice to its size. It encloses 24,000 square feet of space.

At one point, still in Ponferrada, the Camino route goes right through a building. (It looked to me to be abandoned; couldn't quite tell what is once was.)

Such bits of agriculture as were visible today included more vineyards. These looked different than the vines I walked through in La Rioja 150-200 miles back. Less healthy and well-tended. More expert eyes than mine might be able to be more specific.

The sentiments expressed in these two signs outside an outdoor mausoleum in Columbriano were "fightin' words" in the 16th century, inciting a good bit of Christian-on-Christian violence. Personally, I think the concerns expressed by these signs and the concerns of the Reformers can be reconciled.

A remarkable little church in Columbriano. I was told that it's from the 15th century, but the site has been considered somehow "holy" since Roman times, and that the object long since repurposed as a baptismal font dates from that period. I found the statuary to be quite lovely. Prayed my noonday Angelus there.

Later on in Fuentesnueavas, there was this gem of a parish church. St Sebastian and St Rocco (San Roque) are prominently featured. And that painting of the Last Supper is on the ceiling dome of a transept.

Another bit of small-scale agriculture, although there was nothing small about the size of the gourds!

I've seen groves of trees like this both yesterday and today. They're obviously cultivated, not wild. But I don't see any evidence that they're fruit-bearing. So, are they being raised for lumber? If so, certainly not ordinary construction lumber, I would think. Perhaps artisanal carpentry? Ideas, hive mind?

Some sort of euro-chic shower. Wasn't sure what to do, but I figured it out through trial and error ... and without any disasters.

Saturday, September 10
Day 29, Cacabelos to Ambasmestas. 14.3 miles in 6.5 hours. It was another scenic walk, along hillsides that were either wooded or planted in grapes. Saw some signs of grape harvest about to begin. Little villages seemed to appear on demand, just when the need for rest and refreshment was making itself known. Weather is still pretty ideal for walking, but a significant cooling trend, along with some rain, appear to await me on my final week of the Camino. Most of the day the roar of helicopter engines was audible not too far away, and pilgrims could see them, ferrying loads of water to the site of a forest fire and then returning for more. (A familiar sight to many Californians.) 

This Ford dealer on the outskirts of Cacabelo appears to be due for an inventory refreshment.

During much of the day, this is what the trail looked like: protected on one side from highway traffic and on the other from falling into a ravine with a river at the bottom. And do remember that the speed limit sign in the background is rendered in kilometers, not miles.

Signs of a local industry I haven't run across yet: lumber processing.

There is a lovely little parish church in this town, of course, but it's part of a cluster ministry and doesn't make the cut for having *any* Sunday (or eve thereof) liturgy. So it looks like I'll be reading ante-Communion privately in the morning.

Sunday, September 11
Day 30, Ambasmestas to O'Cebreiro. 13.4 miles on the itinerary but only 10.3 on the pedometer. This time, I'm going to favor the latter, since it was only 3.5 hours of walking. But it was hard, as you can see my soaked-through shirt here. Now in the Autonomous Community of Galicia for the duration. And, generally speaking, it's all downhill from here. Photo credit to my temporary Camino-friend Melissa from Seattle, who was interesting to talk to so I matched her aggressive pace.

I've included the explanation about this hilltop castle, but you'll have to read it in Spanish. Judging from its name, I suspect it's an artifact of the centuries during which Spain was under Islamic rule.

An example of an entrepreneur knowing his market. Don't think I wasn't sorely tempted!

The parish church here in O'Cebreiro. The grave holds the remains of Fr Elias Sanpedro, whom all pilgrims should revere. In the 1980s, he took it upon himself to paint the yellow arrows along the whole length of the Camino that are now the comforting sign that you're on the right path. May his memory be held blessed. The BVM and Child, again, look somewhat Walsingham-esque, I think. And I *love* baptistry and font. A font should present a credible drowning risk. This one qualifies. You can also see a display of bibles, each in a different language, emblematic of the Camino.

Views of the Galician countryside from this town's remarkable vantage point/

Monday, September 12
Day 31, O'Cebreiro to Triacastela. 13.9 miles, 6 hours. There was a bit of steep and difficult "subiendo" and a lot of "bajando," some of it steep and some of it gentle. But it was all, once again, spectacularly beautiful. Cattle were available to be viewed in abundance, both in pastures and in barns. The air was often ... aromatic and the path ... littered. Let the reader understand. Here's a shot of the way out of O'Cebreiro around 8:30am.

If this sign were in the U.S. it might read "St Rocco Summit--4166 feet." That's a statue of the saint across the way. There was once a St Rocco's Episcopal Church in Youngstown, OH. It closed several years ago.

Watching through the skylight in my hotel room as clouds begin to gather. Weather-wise, today (currently 80F) looks to be the last day of summer in Galicia and tomorrow the first day of fall. Daytime high predicted to fall by 20 degrees, with rain in the forecast. I have rain gear but would have preferred not to have to use it.

Pimientos de Padrón. My new favorite thing. I've had them with dinner four times in the last week. They take the edge off my craving for a Mexican meal. Not optimistic that I can find the right kind of chilies in the U.S. to make them at home.

Tuesday, September 13
Day 32, Triacastela to Sarría. About 12 miles, 4.75 hours. There was a longer and more "interesting" route available that I probably would have taken if the weather were nicer; it goes by an ancient Benedictine monastery that is still functioning as such. But, in a steady and hard rain, walking conditions were just miserable and I opted for the most direct and secure route. The best I can do by way of a photo is this view from my hotel window. To take any pictures along the way would have entailed not just taking off my backpack but first removing the rain jacket that I had on *over* my backpack, and exposing both myself and my iPad to the elements. Just not in the cards today.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. Or so the song says, at least. But not exclusively. A drenching day in Galicia, but good conversation with a group of Canadians with whom I've been connecting in bits and pieces over the last three days. One of them is the Roman Catholic bishop of Saskatoon, soon to become Archbishop of Regina. We have a lot of mutual friends and, yes, talked shop a lot. 

Wednesday, September 14
Day 33, Sarría to Portomarín. Around 12 miles, 6 hours on the road. The skies were threatening all day, and temps were in the 50sF, but rain never materialized until I was safely over this bridge and in my hotel, which is next to the church you can see at the top of the hill. I'm told that this whole town was relocated to where it is in the 1960s. It used to be where the water is now, but it was necessary to dam the river and create this reservoir in order to ensure a more reliable water supply. One of the infrastructure projects of the Franco regime. The way today was varied: cows, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, a little corn, lots of blackberries and wild apples along the side of the path, different sorts of walking surfaces, my favorite, FWIW, being small pebbles in packed sand. And, suddenly, the Camino is almost crowded. Sarría is the last place you can start and still walk at least 100 kilometers to Santiago, and a bunch of people avail themselves of that opportunity. I had a nice visit with a retired Presbyterian pastor and his wife doing just that.

Friends of the late Bishop Edward Salmon and his (very much not late) wife Louise will understand that there was no way I was going to miss this photo op.

I've been curious about just how the Galician dialect/language sits in the liminal territory between (Castilian) Spanish and Portuguese. This bilingual sign serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone. To my eyes, the bottom part looks like flat-out Portuguese. But those who are better at Portuguese than I am will no doubt spot some differences. I have heard a few instances of "good morning" and "goodbye" using Portuguese words for the same but pronounced as they would be in Spanish.

St James' Church, outside of a village, actually, though close to one. Like so many of these rural churches, this one was staffed by a volunteer, an elderly gentleman this time, who greets pilgrims and stamps their Camino passports. He told me this church dates from the 12th century, though the altarpiece (reredos) is Baroque, 17th century.

Thursday, September 15
Day 34, Portomarín to Palas de Rei. 15.4 miles in 6.75 hours. What began as just gloomy mist broke out into light but steady rain by mid-morning, then abated in the early afternoon and temps rose toward the 60-degree mark. Green was certainly the color of the day. Walking through the cool mist as the route traversed oak forests, and sheep and cattle out to pasture, it felt at times like I was in England rather than Spain. New Camino activity: puddle-dodging.

Animal wildlife sightings along the Camino have been pretty much limited to occasional groups of ducks as I go by rivers, and a couple of small lizards on the Meseta. I've heard tale of wild boar, but you don't find them unless you're hunting them. (This might explain the distant gunfire that I hear, even today.) And then I ran across these marvelous creatures ... FTW.

Hydrangeas, right? It was an impressive display.

It's pouring down rain now, thus precluding my usual late afternoon exploration of the town where I'm staying.

Friday, September 16
Day 34, Palas de Rei to Castañeda. 14.5 miles, 8 hours. The weather couldn't make up its mind today. I f I put on my rain jacket, the sun came out. If I took it off, it started to rain. The way was varied once again, but there were a lot of oak forests that somehow reminded me of the Guillermo del Toro film "Pan's Labyrinth" (the story of which is set in Spain). I encountered the first group of pilgrims on horseback that I have yet seen. They were rowdy and obnoxious, riding four abreast and forcing walking pilgrims literally off the road. I made a courteous suggestion about perhaps riding in single file when encountering others, but I'm not sanguine that my godly counsel was taken seriously. On a happier note, I ran across the first Mexicans I've yet seen here, a group of six from Monterrey. They were extremely friendly. Yes, we talked American politics, and they are as much in the dark as I am about how Mr Trump will make them pay for a wall.

A 12th century church in one of the villages along the way today. I couldn't get a straight shot of the altar because a window right behind it kept it backlit. But I thought the stone carving above the door was magnificent. And the mural.

Even though stopping to take a picture is a complicated procedure, how could I pass up this opportunity to endear myself to animal lovers?

Church #2 of 3 today. I don't recall ever seeing a crucifix quite like that. St Rocco makes another appearance. And I'm so enjoying Spanish baptismal fonts.

Church #3, on the western edge of Melide. Our Lady of the Rosary stands watch. How about that painted altar? I heard the docent on duty give his memorized summary narrative in French, German, and English. When I complimented him, he told me he could also do it in Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, and ... wait for it ... Korean. Then he showed me written versions of it in Japanese and Mandarin. Dude has it covered.

At this point on the Camino, when I tell people that I started from St Jean more than a month ago, I get immediate rock star status.

Saturday, September 17
Day 36, Castañeda to Salceda. 8.3 miles, 4.75 hours. My itinerary said it was supposed to be 14.9 miles, but Facebook's check-in mechanism and the time of day concur that it was much shorter. So ... pleasant surprise. The final two days are supposed to be 11.9 miles and 6 miles, respectively. We'll see what they actually turn out to be. Anyway, apparently one of my rock star colleagues felt the need to vent a little on this mile marker, and somebody else added an amen. This reflects the increased population of the road since Sarría. Ran into my Mexican friends from yesterday. One of them wanted her picture taken with me. Said I was her hero!

There ought to be a choice punishment for anyone who possesses the metal plate that's supposed to tell pilgrims how far it is to Santiago but no longer does so. Instead, it's part of someone's souvenir collection. How completely selfish. A majority of these stones are missing that vital information.

A huge eucalyptus grove. Wild or cultivated? I can't tell for sure, but I lean toward cultivated, based on another stand I saw further up the road. The trees were growing in clearly discernible rows.

From the magazine in my room, another illustration of how Galician sits right on the transitional link between Spanish and Portuguese. You have to know a little of both languages to see it, but if you do, it's really interesting.

I guess I should post this one too, because ... you know, baby animals. Seven pups. Mom looks tired. This is right on the grounds of my lodging.

It is plausibly arguable that I am, at age 65, in the best physical condition of my adult life. That will evaporate, of course, once my normal life prevents me from walking 10-15 miles per day, including up some hills. But, for the moment, it's a thing.

Sunday, September 18
Day 37, Salceda to Lavacolla. 11.2 miles, 4.5 hours. It was a pretty easy walk. Lots more eucalyptus groves. They may not be native to Spain, but they do make a majestic forest to walk through. My itinerary tells me I'm now only six miles from Santiago, so there should be no problem getting to the cathedral by noon tomorrow. After 37 days of having my life directed by signs like this one, it will be an adjustment to be back on my own, without such regular guidance. Am I ready for this trek to end? Yes. My normal life sounds very appealing to me at this moment. Will I miss it? Like you can't imagine. There is something utterly compelling--I almost want to say addictive--about the Camino. It will take me a while to sort out my thoughts and feelings, and it will all probably result in at least a blog post. But this is a very bittersweet moment for me. Just a metaphorical stone's throw from the End of the pilgrimage. Mañana.

No clue. Any backyard gardeners want to help me out?

Monday, September 19
Day 38, Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela. 6 miles. About 2.5 hours. Caught the church in Lavacolla at just the right moment this morning as I started the last leg of my pilgrimage. I would blush to tell you what the name of the town means. You'll have to look it up.

Here. Mass over. Botafumeiro swung. More soon.

Since I waited an hour and a half for these, I'm certainly going to post pictures of them. They take this quite seriously. Since neglected to get a stamp before Zubiri (where I arrived at the end of Day2), that's all they gave me credit for. But the Facebook world and I know I started in St Jean, so ...

Some odds and ends of Camino business before I can move on. This is the backpack I've carried since I bought it in León because the one Marly Camino gave me wore out. Throughout the last 39 days, my backpack has symbolized for me the various intercessions and petitions that I have "carried" in my prayers throughout each day. I can't see it without thinking of them; the association has worn a groove in my heart. In various orders at various times, these prayer concerns have included: the welfare in every dimension of my wife and children and their families; the Diocese of Springfield, that the wind of the Spirit will blow in the Bishop's absence such that he will have to play catch-up when he returns from sabbatical; the Presiding Bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Rome, and the Patriarch of Constantinople; those who are putting their lives back together after sustaining loss via flooding or earthquake, as well as those who live in constant fear of violence; the welfare on every level of Nashotah House, and especially its Dean; and the following individuals whom I will identify by first name--Bob, Tom, Marti, Bill, Mark, and Dave. That backpack "carries" a lot. And I also can't call it a night without giving thanks for the many marvelous people whose lives have intersected with mine in various wonderful ways, including Keith and Liz from Capetown, CiCi and her husband from Seattle, the Australians from Perth, Pia the German college student, Don and Judy and their companions from Saskatchewan, Chris and Kate from Maine who "made" my birthday by inviting me to have dinner with them, the Presbyterians from Ann Arbor, the English/Irish contingent whom I met just yesterday, and the wonderfully kind Mexicans from Monterrey. How blessed I am.