Thursday, September 30, 2010

Acebo to Cacabelos

Hey everyone,

We played it smart today and decided not to have another 40km day.  We did end up walking about 30km, though, which really should be our limit in order not to overdo it.

Leaving Acebo was pretty cool.  We awoke to a mountain mist blanketing the town--like maybe 1/10 mile visibility.  We started with Matt from the States and began the trip through the cloud.  We were in it for a good hour or two before it really cleared up and we could see the cars coming up the road and vice versa.  

Although we had to take the road for the first 9km into Ponferrada, it was very pretty.  Very much kind of a Spanish Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was very quiet and conducive to prayer, which was a nice way to start the morning.  Then we got into Ponferrada. . .

Not my favorite city.  It took a long time to get in and out of, and our enthusiasm levels were not as high as yesterday.  Anywho, we made it out of there with a little bit of lunch and then walked through the suburbs to a little town called Cacabelos.

The walk into Cacabelos was probably my favorite part of the whole day.  The views back over the mountains that we came down were b-e-a-utiful.  That, and I met a little trail angel today named Antonio.

I was a couple km outside of the town and beginning to hit some natural trails when I came across a little old man sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree.  He called to me in Spanish "Ven aqui para un descanso"--come over here for a little rest.  I said sure, and was very glad I did.  I sat and talked to him for a good 10 minutes or so and found out a little bit about him.  He was born and raised in Cacabelos and had a grandson who was in seminary, studying for the Archdiocese of Miami.  He left, to his grandfather´s chagrin, after meeting a girl in the States and still lives over there.  We continued to talk and he kept the conversation pretty basic, so I was able to converse pretty well with him.  He was very much a grandfatherly old man who, when we parted, thanked me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.  I told him I have a grandfather named Tony in the States and asked him to pray for him.  He said he would, so, grandpa, if you are reading this, know there is a Spanish Tony praying for you.

We are at a pretty cool hostal right now that is in a horseshoe shape around an old church--outside of course--and has two bed room layouts, so a little change from the barracks set up.  

We need some prayers for tomorrow.  The way we are taking is the Dragonte way over the mountains into Ocebeiro and it is not going to be easy.  We will be praying for you all while we do it, please pray for us!  Until next post, much love.

Paul

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Astorga to Acebo

Hey folks,


Today was another beautiful day--blue skies, cool temps--couldn´t ask for better.  But, we had a streak of crazy and we turned a 27km day into a 41km day.


Astorga was nice, a little bit bigger than most of the towns where we have been staying, but still small enough to be under the definition of quaint.  We are continuing to entertain the idea of going to Fatima, so that was one of the reasons behind our decision to push past our originally intended place of rest.  The town we made it to is Acebo, not too far from Ponferrada, our next "big" city.  This is where we are hoping to pick up Jason's guidebook that he left a couple weeks ago in an albergue in Grañon.  


I am not sure where the energy and strength came from that allowed us to walk 41km, but we are very thankful that it came.  We hooked back up with Matt, the guy I mentioned a couple posts ago from the States, and he is actually staying at the same albergue as we are.  We also saw Ben from Australia last night at our albergue in Astorga.  He got an email from me yesterday saying that we were staying in Astorga and so he ran over to the place we were staying and talked to us for a while.  Great guy and a lot of fun.  He is playing in an ultimate frisbee tournament this weekend in Barcelona, so watch for him on ESPN 4 or something.


The walk today was probably one of the most beautiful and I will put some pics of it below.  Hopefully we didn't overdo it.  I would hate to have another knee flare up. . .but we won't talk about that.  Today is our 20th day of walking and we have covered almost 550km.  We have seen a lot and are excited about what is to come.  Prayers are continuing to be lifted up for you guys.  Thanks for the ones you lift up for us.  Much love.


Paul


this pc won´t let me upload pics. . .sorry :(

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All roads lead to or from Rome. . .

Hey everyone,


I want to start off by giving a little shout-out to the 5th grade class at Sacred Heart Catholic School and thank them for the very nice email and prayers that I have received from them!


We finally made it to Astorga today, after many Km's on the Old Roman Road.  It is a beautiful city that I will post some pictures of as soon as I get to a computer with an SD port.


It was a long but good walk, with a total of about 30km(18.5miles) in some of the most beautiful weather I have seen in a long time.  We really can't ask for much better.   We started the day from Mazariffe at about 7:15am with the German girl and her mother, Catarina and Elizabeth, who I mentioned in some previous posts.  They have been some great company and actually some of few people we have met who are actually on the Camino for spiritual purposes.  We also met a couple from St. Louis, MO this morning and were very happy to get to speak to some Americans since there are so few on the pilgrimage.  

We got a nice cafe and had a couple of nature´s valley granola bars about mid-morning and trekked onward towards Astorga.  The walk was very pleasant, even though it was pretty chilly.  Fortunately, my newly purchased reversible fleece/windbreaker kept me warm. We stopped in a small city to pick up some lunch in a supermercado--which is the best way to go for poor pilgrims like ourselves--and stopped out of the city for a much--and then made it the last 16km or so  through the country and into Astorga.

We are bunking in an old, and if I am not mistaken, renovated palace that is now an albergue, not far from the Cathedral in Astorga.  It is relatively cheap and has some nice amenities.  The most awesome of which is the centrifuge for drying one's clothes.  Hand-washing clothes really can take it out of you, especially wringing out the water, but that is where the centrifuge comes in.  You wash the clothes, throw them in this little cylinder shaped device that looks like one of those diaper-genie things back in the States, press a button, watch it shake and come to life, and water starts pouring out of the side of it.  It comes in handy because sometimes the clothes don't always dry after a night's worth of hanging on the laundry line. Then you have to march around the countryside drying your underwear by hooking them to a caribiner on your backpack.


Anywho, I hope all is well back home.  I saw that the Panthers lost. . .but there is still plenty of season left.  God bless you all.  Much love.


Paul

Monday, September 27, 2010

Leaving Léon

Hey everyone,

We are now in a small town a little bit outside of Léon called Villar de Mazarife.

We started today a little differently than normal.  We slept in.  The hostal, which was very much like a hotel, was very accommodating for the weary, and so we took advantage of it.  Having almost the whole day off turned out to be a great blessing for our legs and I think will bear great fruit over the next few days.


However, I will say that sleeping in was not just because of laziness or weariness, but, rather, we also had to wait until the post-office opened to check to see if a package had come in for Jason.  But, unfortunately, the package, after a week in the Spanish Correo system, did not arrive.  So, for the next week or so, we are going to be checking the post-offices in the towns that we are travelling through to see if the package has made it there.  

So, we left Léon, but also in another modern-pilgrim kind of way--autobus.  Three reasons: continued knee concerns for Jason, not wanting to get behind because of the late start, and the guidebook--yes I know it isn't Scripture and we don't have to follow everything it says--suggested that we avoid this section of Léon because of it's industrial nature, which would have been worse on the knee as well.

It took us a while to find out what bus we needed to take to get us to the outskirts, but, after some broken attempts at conversing in Spanish, we finally found that the Linéa Azul(blue line) would get us to our desired destination.  

Everything really has been working out for the best, even with the hiccup at the post-office.  Yesterday, as I mentioned in the previous post, was a great blessing.  We got into town early, made it to Mass, got a great place to stay, picked up some warm jackets, and were able to spend a good amount of time in the prettiest city we have been to so far.  Today we needed to find some gloves because of the cold temps we are starting to encounter in the morning, especially when we are utilizing our walking poles.  We got a great sleep, found some relatively cheap but good gloves, got some breakfast, and then began the search for the bus.  The bus got us exactly where we needed to go and, after a relatively short walk, we are at today's desired destination ready for tomorrow's walk.


We are making good time while having an even better one.  It is not about how fast you get to Santiago, but we are noticing that since we are going to finish a couple days earlier than planned, we may have the opportunity to make it to Fatima, Portugal for a quick side trip.  Please say a prayer that we can make it there if God wills it.  


Alrighty, again, thanks for the prayers. Much love.


Paul

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Leon pics

Hey guys, here are a couple pics from the past few days, including today´s visit in Leon.






















Little blessings

Hey folks.


This is probably the earliest post that I have made since we began our journey here in Spain, but there is a cool explanation for it.


We are now in the beautiful city of Léon and have been since about 8am.  We left Mansanilla at about 7am to embark on the 20km journey.  Sound quick? Yes, but not for a "taxi".  I put taxi in quotations because it wasn´t really a taxi per se, but a friendly couple that we met in the bus station in Mansanilla.  Jason's knee had started bothering him yesterday and he felt it wouldn't have been able to make the trek into Léon, especially since the majority of it was going to be on the side of the road on a mostly paved path.  So, we went to the bus station this morning, anticipating the 7:50 bus to Léon, only to find that there was only one bus to Léon on Sundays and it leaves at 4pm--that wasn´t going to work.  We left and then went back inside to inquire about a taxi, and this is when it got interesting. 


The man whom we questioned, whom we also woke up from his 24hr watch at the bus station, then asked a man named Javí, who was standing next to a lady who looked to be his mother, who was watching him throw away money at one of the ever-present slot machines of Spain, how much a taxi would run to Léon.  He then said something about heading to work in that direction and that he and his mom could take us.  My normal instincts were saying "paul...Really? If this were the US, you would be saying 'I need an adult, I need an adult!' and running out of the bus station looking for a place to hide"  Instincts aside, we soon found ourselves clutching our bags on our laps inside a very tiny eurocar that smelled like a mix of b.o. and other various and sundrie odors.  But, God be praised.  They took us to Léon, saving Jason's knee, putting us very close to a 24hr farmacia where we purchased an ace-bandage, not too far from a value priced hostal, right down the street from the Cathedral, where we made it just in time for the 9am Sunday Mass. . . .Pretty sweet, huh?


After Mass we then made it across the street to a gift shop that just so happened to sell fleece/windbreakers, a warm item that we didn´t plan on bringing even though Spain is the same latitude as NY and our trip takes us a few weeks into an already close-to-freezing Autumn.  We purchased one and then got a great coffee and sweet-bread thing--no, not the sweet-bread-nasty-cow-meat-dish--and checked into the hostal and started walking around town. 


The Cathedral is amazing and the city of Léon is very nice as well.  We don´t feel too bad for taking a cab because it is saving Jason´s knee, but one of the suggested ways to get into the city due to the rough road conditions is to take a bus.  I know it is a Camino, but one can´t caminar if their rodilla is busted, so, there you have it.


I wish that the computer I am typing on had a port for memory cards so I could show you some pics of the Cathedral, but those will have to wait.  Thanks for your prayers. You all will continue to be in mine.  Next entry should be from just outside of Léon.  Much love.


Paul

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Approaching Leon

Howdy folks.

We are currently just a little bit outside of León in a little town called Mansilla de las Mulas.  We are already feeling the big city-ness as we quickly approach León--kind of Huntersville to Charlotte relationship--not quite in the big city, but close enough.

The road today was nice, but pretty desolate.  We walked about 25km, not too long compared to other days, but it was 25km in the country.  There were no water spots, farms, or small towns along the whole 25km.  This made for good meditation and conversation as well.  We met a British girl last night at our albergue named Ruth, who told us that over the past few years she has become "obsessed" with the Catholic Church.  Growing up Catholic, she and her family were pretty involved, but sounds as if they pulled away when they got older.  Having the Catholic roots, she has recently begun to explore and research about the Church and had a lot of good questions for us.  We talked for a good part of the walk and shared stories about our Camino experience.  Another person for all y'all to to pray for :-)

We are staying at the municipal albergue here in town, and it seems to be pretty nice.  So far, since the experience in Belorado, we have not seen any more blue-ridge quilt ticklers (bedbugs), but we have been extra vigilant, especially at the places that look a little shady.  Last night´s sleep and albergue will be hard to beat.  The hospitalero, or volunteer who works the albergue, was awesome and the rest of the house was great.  We cooked our own dinner for 9 euro--this fed 3 people and included pasta, sauce, peppers, onion, wine, and bread.  9euros at a restaurant would have fed one, so we are going to try to do this more often.

Matt walked with us for a little bit today.  He is walking a slower pace, but he caught up with us for lunch in Mansilla.  He is moving ahead to the next town, but we will probably see him again.  Great guy who is really trying to get back into his faith.  Had been away from it since first communion, but felt, after a series of events, that he needed to come back--another one to pray for :-)

Well, tomorrow we will be in León and we will probably take one of our rest days there in order to take in the city.  I have heard that the Cathedral is amazing and worth spending some time in.

Alrighty, next entry should be from León.  Thanks again for the prayers.  Much love.

Paul

Friday, September 24, 2010

The road less travelled

Good day everyone.


Today's travels have us now in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, a small town outside of Sahagún, just on the other side of the half-way point to Santiago.


The reason I titled this entry "the road less travelled" is because we chose the option, at a part where the Camino briefly splits into two separate routes, to take what seems to be the less popular of the two. We chose the northern branch of the Camino which, at this point, follows the old Roman road that used to connect Rome to Astorga, Spain--pretty cool, ¿huh?  Being the old Roman road, it is still pretty rocky and therefor a little more taxing on the feet.  But, it's all part of the Camino :-)


The past few days we hung out with the two girls from the USA because we were at the same albergues.  We left their company this morning when making the decision not to stay in Sahagún and push ahead in order to keep on schedule.  Their company will be missed mostly because they were some of the funniest people I have met in a long time! Great senses of humor.


We got into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos around 2:30 or so this afternoon after about a 28km walk and settled into the municipal albergue that can house about 22 pilgrims.  We met another American at the Albergue named Matt, who is from upstate NY.  I don't know much about him, but something tells me conversation is going to be interesting.  When talking about how he heard about the Camino, he said that he a priest on the radio a couple years ago who was writing a book on his experience on the Camino--Jason and I bought this same book before beginning the Camino.  Jason talked to him a little while I was getting settled in, and he said that when he mentioned our times in seminary his eyes lit up.  That, coupled with a feeling I got when passing him on the road, told me something good was going to come from our meeting him.  We'll have to wait and see :-)


I keep meeting other cool people as well.  I met some people from the mother-land last night--The Emerald Isle, that is--who are from Dublin, and I had a very pleasant conversation with them.  We also met some more people from Holland, Germany, and a guy our age from France who has been on the Camino for two months already.


It is continuing to be a great experience.  Thank you all for your prayers.  Be assured of mine.  peace.


--Paul

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The halfway point

Believe it or not folks, we have made it to the halfway point of our journey. 

We arrived in Terradillos de los Templarios just a few minutes ago after a pretty long day.  Today´s stretch was the one about which we were warned not to forget to fill up our water bottles and have lunch prepared since the first 17 of the total 27km was pretty desolate.  We are very glad that we followed the warning, because there were no signs of civilization aside from a highway that was miles away. 


We were a little slow out of the gates this morning--I only use racing terms here since you basically have to be the first ones out in order to be sure you will get a bed in your final destination.  That is one of the problems that come with walking such a popular route...during a holy year :-)
We made it to Terradillos a little while ago and went first to the albergue about which we had heard some pretty nice things.  After sitting down at reception and seeing our Spanish friends from yesterday, the lady told us there was only one more bed left and, unlike some of the other albergues we stayed in, didn´t offer a mat on the ground or spot in the hallway.  It´s all good, though.  We went back up the road to the Albergue del Templarios which is carrying out the tradition started by the Knights Templar to house pilgrims on their journey.  It is a nice place and has a working computer, so I can contact you all without losing an entire blog entry. . .not that that has happened. . .


The desolation part of today´s walk was actually kind of nice.  I mentioned in an earlier entry that there are a lot of parallels between the Camino and the spiritual life and today provided another great insight.  The plainness of the scenery struck me, especially in the comparison to the other beautiful areas where the mountains rise high and the crops of sunflowers stop one in one´s tracks, insisting that passers-by stop and take in the beauty.  Such beauty can almost give pilgrims a high which drives them onward, ignoring the pains and aches brought to life by the hike.  These beautiful sights are very much like the consolations that one receives in the spiritual life, driving one onward, towards the goal of union with God.  The desolate areas along the camino, especially like the ones from yesterday and today, are very much like the times where one must depend solely on God to get them through the day.  The times of desolation in the spiritual life, which although may seem to be the times when God is farthest from us, and we can´t look to the beauties around us to keep us going, are the times when God is calling us closer to Him while being right there to hold us up.

I have been going through a little bit of spiritual desolation out here, but found myself experiencing a weird kind of joy today during the 17km stretch of nothing, knowing that God is allowing me to go through the dry times in order to grow closer to Him and trust Him even more in my life--especially when the road seems long and unending :-)

Alrighty, well y´all are still in my prayers and will continue to be.  Please pray for me.

much love.

Paul

Here are some pics from the past few days.

The Poor-Clare´s Monastery 


Their chapel.

Getting dry :-)





Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Through desolation. . .

Howdy folks.

We are now in Carrion and are speedily approaching our next big city, Leon.  But, in order to get there, we have to go through some pretty desolate areas.  We were actually advised that for tomorrow´s trip we should bring enough food and water for 40km!  We have Nature´s Valley bars still and enough water bottles to help us get there, but still makes one a little anxious. . .

Anywho, the stay in Boadilla last night was nice.  We met two American girls from the west coast and hung out with them and Ben the Australian for most of the afternoon and night.  We had some good laughs last night, which really helped us get over the semi-miserable stretch of road into town.

We made some new friends as well from Spain who were a lot of fun to try to talk to in Spanish--very outgoing jokesters.  We caught up with them on the end of our walk today and I talked to one of the guys for the last 8km or so.  Another fallen away Catholic who had some "beef" with the Church.  We had a good convo, and I hope I was able to bring to clarify some of the things about which he was concerned.  Pray for him.

Getting to Carrion was rough.  The road into Carrion has been called the "soul-less" pilgrim autopista--basically a long, straight road that doesn´t have a lot to offer.  I´ll upload a pic tomorrow to demonstrate.  The walk was worth the wait, though, because we are staying now at a convent where, as tradition has it, Saint Francis stayed on his journey to Santiago.  The convent belongs to a group of Poor Clares who we had the privelege of praying with this afternoon and evening.

We went to the pilgrim Mass tonight after a 4.80euro dinner picked up at the local supermercado.  Supermarkets are the way to go!  A loaf of awesome bread, 12 slices of meat, two tomatoes, and a jug of peach nectar--can´t beat it.

Alrighty, well I am off to bed.  Gotta rest up for tomorrow´s journey.  God Bless you all.  Again, be assured of my prayers.

peace,

Paul

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Burgos to Hontanas to Boadilla

Hey everyone,

I hope all is well back home.  Things are going well here.  We made it to a small town outside of Fromistia named Boadilla del Camino a little after 2pm today after a pretty tough walk.

Since I last posted we have walked about 55km and have gone through busy cities and some desolation--not spiritual though.  We stayed in Burgos a couple nights ago at a nice parish albergue and then headed towards Hontanas, a small valley town about 35km away.  The journey towards Hontanas was pretty interesting even though it was long.  Getting out of Burgos was a pain because of the size of the city and the difficulty locating the waymarks for the Camino--usually a spraypainted yellow arrow or yellow shell, the sign for the Camino.  

After a couple hours we were finally outside of the Burgos metro and into the country.  When I say country, I mean out there.  There was really nothing at some points aside from a far away moo, bleat, or donkey hee-haw scream/yell/noise.  The gnats along the way were particularly annoying.  Even the concentrated deet stuff from the camping store didn´t work.  The way was pretty long and straight and at times seemed unending.  But, we finally made it to Hontanas and settled down in a nice albergue, where I got the best night of sleep since starting the Camino.  We ate a ton of food, especially bread--I think we were one of the only tables to get refilled, and it was just the two of us at the table :-) --and then headed to bed. 

The hike today was, again, very desolate at times.  There was one big climb that I enjoyed, but aside from that it was pretty flat and plain.  It seemed at times it was not going to end, especially the last 8km.  We did about 28km today and walked the first 20 with a guy named Ben from Adelaide, Australia, who is in Europe for an ultimate-frisbee tournament.  He is good company and is a pretty laid back bloke.  

He is staying at the same albergue as we are in Boadilla.  There are a number of people from our last albergue that are here, including a German girl and her mom, a couple from New Zealand, and some other folks we have seen along the way.

Every day brings blessings and struggles, but they have all been worth it.  There is plenty of time for prayer on the walks and all of you have been in the prayers as I go along.  Please continue to pray for us.  much love.

Paul

Here are some pics from the past few days:


Me, Amy the Brit, Jason, and Magdelun.


                                   Heading towards Burgos.




                                           Burgos lies, teasing us from afar.

                                    The Burgos Cathedral

When one has size 14 feet in Europe--bright white sandals with the Brazilian flag!! HAHA

                                                     Another waymarker post Burgos.


                                          Still a good ways from Hontanas.


                       Hontanas welcoming us after a long day.

                        Jason and Ben on the way to Baodilla.


The memorial for where a pilgrim passed away on the Camino a couple years ago.




                                     Making it up the hill.



Until later, peace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

El Camino es la vida

Good afternoon, evening, and night everyone,

No internet yesterday as well, but we are now in Burgos and since it is a pretty big city there is no problem finding a cafe. 

The walks yesterday and today went pretty well.  Yesterday´s didn´t start off as desired, with rain and wind for most of the walk, but it ended beautifully.  After a wet and windy hike up a mountain and then a long walk through a pretty dense forest, we emerged on the other side of the mountain, greeted by the sun and beautiful views of the countryside.  We stayed last night in a tiny town named Atapuerca, in a small but nice albergue.  The church in Atapuerca was beautiful, but unfortunately there were no masses offered there during the day and, if I understood the little old lady´s Spanish who was outside the church, not even on Sunday.  The Crucifix in there was probably the most beautiful I have ever seen, and the Church was very conducive to prayer. 

Amy from the UK has continued to walk with us and has been a lot of fun.  I still think she is a British spy or something, but she swears she isn´t--just like a spy would do. . . Her friend is joining her on the Camino in a few days, so she will soon be leaving our company.  But, we are seeing that the situation with Amy is pretty much par for the Camino--you meet people, befriend them, walk and talk with them, and then you part ways.  It´s kind of been sad leaving the people we have walked with, but at the same time necessary so as not to build up any expectations of needing to catch up with someone or go at a pace that is undesirable.

Staying in Atapuerca last night left us with about 20km to Burgos today.  Burgos is the biggest city we have hit since Pamplona and the hustle and bustle has been kind of shocking since we arrived this afternoon.  Shocking only in the sense that we have been in the country for the past 5 days or so.  Our total km´s since we started 10 days ago is 289.4 with 507.1 left between us and Santiago.  Today´s walk, although relatively short compared to a couple recent 30km days, felt longer than it was.  We saw Burgos at about 20km out and had to watch it for basically the whole trip, feeling as if we were never going to get there.  We had to navigate some city streets and avoid cars, but finally made it to our hostel and dropped off our stuff.

We ate some lunch and went to visit the Cathedral, which is probably one of the more stunning churches I have had the privelege to visit.  It is an 11th century cathedral that has been very well maintained and preserved.  You have to pay 2.50 to get in, but after seeing all that they do to make it look so nice inside, it was worth it.  We then went on a hunt for the bus station to check some times for Amy and then went to look for some new flip-flops for me since my old ones broke in a brief soccer match between me and some little Spanish kids. It was worth the break though since I scored a goal at the same time :-) 

I am now in an internet cafe and I just finished a nice cold "jugo de coco, con pulpa"--basically a can of coconut juice with pulp--blegh.  Burgos is nice but I am already ready for the countryside that awaits us.  From what I have heard it is pretty much just you and some fields from here to Leon, about 100km from here.  The quiet has been one of the best parts about the Camino so far.

Now I know this one has gone on long enough, but I want to share the meaning behind the title of this post.


There is something that I have been noticing and that I have talked to other pilgrims about since someone brought it up in conversation, and that is the feeling that I and other pilgrims get before leaving the albergue.  It is almost a feeling of dread but excitement at the same time.  This feeling is one that, when I meditated on it a little bit, I realized was one comparable to those experienced in the spiritual life.  The dread comes from knowing that another long slog awaits with possible blisters, stubbed toes, twisted ankles, etc., but the excitement comes from knowing that we are one day closer to our final goal and that great blessings will come during the day.  When one makes the decision to change the way one lives one´s life and to follow Christ, there is an excitement knowing that this life that they are living is one that will find them united to God in heaven. But, the dread comes from knowing that it is not going to be easy, knowing that the life of complacency and spiritual laziness that they are leaving behind is "easier" than taking that step and moving towards our Lord.  The blisters and other ailments are things that, while they may seem to slow us down, are what actually help unite us to our Lord in the journey.
      I need to do some more meditation on the Camino-Real life parallels--There are much more than I realize right now.

Well, until next time, know that you are all still in my prayers.  God Bless you.

Paul

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sleeping in a Church--Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado.

Hello all,

Sorry I didn´t post yesterday for all those who might have thought I was dead or lying in a ditch or something (mom, mara. . . :-)).  The place we stayed yesterday didn´t have internet access nearby, so I had to wait until today for an update.  

The past two days were pretty uneventful on the Camino.  Yesterday we had the good company of two girls, one from England and one from France, who were a lot of fun.  Amy is from England and is a foreign diplomat with a pretty neat background.  Magdelun, no misspell there, is from France and is a midwife.  She was all about singing and I found that very helpful in passing time.  We sang everything from Sound of Music to old Disney songs which when sung in France were very entertaining.

We made it yesterday to Groñon and stayed at a Parroquial Albergue, another one run by the community church.  This was the most interesting place that we have stayed so far--we actually stayed in the Church.  No, not like in the parish hall, offices, etc., but actually inside the church.  Like almost every other church we have visited, this one was very beautiful.  We slept at the foot of one of the side altars and I actually slept at the foot of a 12th century baptismal font.  I know it sounds weird, but it was kind of nice.  Everyone else was very respectful and always kept their voices down and did very little conversing inside the church.

We had a community dinner with about 50 other pilgrims in the parish kitchen and met some pilgrims from Poland, Switzerland, and Canada.  Most of the pilgrims then gathered in the Church after dinner for night prayer and headed to bed.  

We woke up this morning about 6:30 and were on the road by 7:30--it has been taking me much longer than I expected to get ready in the morning, needing to make sure that all my stuff is there and ready to be re-packed.  It was a relatively short day, only 16km, but it was nice to spend a little more time at the hostel off of our feet.  It rained today as well, so our energy was pretty much sapped by the time we reached Belorado.  We grabbed some lunch off of the pilgrim menu and checked into the hostel.  

For the most part, the hostel is pretty nice.  Washers and dryers for clothes are nice, but we saw the first evidence of bed bugs--blegh!  We brought them to the attention of the hospitalero and he changed the sheets and allowed us to change rooms.  A refund sounds better, but we haven´t seen any after doing a rather thourough inspection.

We have a little bit of a longer day tomorrow so the extra rest today is going to help.  Again, know that you all are in my prayers.   Please pray for us.
peace,

Paul

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Logroño to Najera--blisters, party of three?

Hey folks,

We had another good weather day, thanking God for the dry and mostly clear skies.  Today was probably the toughest hike in the past week aside from the first day. 

We left a little after 7am this morning and made great time to Najera, about 30km or so from Logroño where we stayed last night at the parish albergue.  Staying there was a very neat experience and we met alot of nice people from probably 15+ countries.  In particular at dinner there were people from Belgium, North Korea, England, and Mexico.  The folks from Mexico actually live not far from where I studied Spanish in 2006, so that was a nice ice-breaker and conversation sustainer.  The meal was simple: hearty vegetable soup, salad, bread, and some watermelon--again, all through donations, so one shouldn´t expect prime rib or anything :)

We slept on mats on the floor and all shared one bathroom--segregated of course.  Mass was before dinner and then they had a pilgrims blessing, dinner, and multilingual evening prayer, which was very nice and a good way to end the day. 

Today, Will, from the Inguun and Will mentioned in the previous posts, joined Jason and I for the hike to Najera.  He is a pretty cool guy who has been all over the world and lead and interesting life.  I got to talk to him one-on-one for a couple hours this morning while we were hiking and he shared a lot about his past, his relationships with family members, and his experience of faith.   God has brought a lot of people into our lives over the past week, and I believe that we have met Will in order to ask for prayer and to pray for him.  He´s been through a lot and needs a great deal of prayer.  Please keep him in yours especially over the next month.

Well, as promised, here are some of the latest pictures from the past couple days.


This is me taking a sip of wine from my pilgrim shell poured from an actual wine fountain.

The road to Los Arcos.






Attending a Low-Mass with some Benedictine monks from New Mexico who stayed at the same hostel as we did in Los Arcos.



Brace yourselves. . .



Los idiotas y los toros. . .


And, thinking I made a wrong turn. . .(the NY airport. . .)

Alright guys, until next time, God Bless you.  Pray for us. 

Paul

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Los Arcos to Logroño

Another beautiful day in the Spanish countryside.  The weather continues to be in our favor and we haven´t had any rain since the first day.  We are still in a pretty mountainous area, so, if what I have heard is correct, I don´t expect much rain until we get to the plains of Spain, since that is where it mainly falls. . .I really do crack myself up.  Please folks, I´m hear til next month. Try to Chorizo. And don´t tip your waiters because they don´t do that here.

Anywho, we went through a small town called Viana today and it today just happened to be their big feast day.  Everyone was out on the town, particularly on this one street where we saw a bunch of people dressed in white with red hankerchiefs.  That´s when I first started getting suspicious.  The only other time I remember seeing such a thing was on TV or in pictures of the running of the bulls.  Well, guess what we got to see?! That´s right, bulls chasing people, and unfortunately sending one person to the hospital, in the streets of Spain.  I have some great video and will try to put it on here later.  I didn´t see what happened exactly to the person who got attacked, but it looked pretty vicious, just like the "world´s biggest idiots" videos have shown.

We hung out there for a while, had lunch, met some other Americans, and then headed out to Logroño.  It was a good day for prayer.  Jason and I walked separately and took to day for ourselves for clearer minds for prayer.  We got to Logroño a couple hours ago and have settled down at an "Albergue Parroquial" or a Parish Hostel.  This is run by one of the churches in Logroño and only asks for a donation when you leave, nothing too expensive.  We are on mats on the floor rather than in bunks like the past few nights, but it is pretty nice.  Will and Inguun, from the previous post, are staying there, so it is nice to see some familiar faces.  Only one bathroom though for 40 people or so, so, that may prove as troublesome in the morning.  Other than that, I look forward to staying there.  It is right next to the church and mass is going to be held there tonight followed by dinner and a pilgrim´s blessing.  I am getting better at washing my clothes by hand, but I am finding that some of the clothes that I purchased that were advertised as "quick dry", end up tied to my bag the next day for further drying.  But, after a couple of day of roughing it, I´m not proud, so, whatever :-)

thanks for tuning in for another update.  love and prayers for all of you.

Paul

Monday, September 13, 2010

Villatuerta to Los Arcos

Good afternoon, evening, and goodnight everyone,


After a wonderful stay at the "casa magica" last night, we got a late start on the next stage of our journey towards Santiago.  The albergue, or hostel, that we stayed at was dubbed the "casa magica" because of the great experiences that pilgrims have had there.  It lived up to its nickname for sure.


We stayed in Villatuerta because we didn´t want to have to deal with the bigger cities where bigger hostels tend to be, and we lucked out because there only ended up being 7 total pilgrims.  This allowed for a great intimate dinner with everyone where we all prepared the meal and sat together sharing stories about our journey so far and learning about where everyone was from and why they were on the Camino.  There was one American named Mike that I mentioned in the last post, a South African named Michelle, a Belgian named Belinda, a Hungarian named Judith, and a Spaniard named Julio.  The hostel owners were very welcoming and were just great hosts.  Mike and Michelle ended up staying at the same place where we are now, so we are going to have dinner with them again tonight.  We saw Belinda on the road today and will probably see her and the other folks since we are all heading in the same direction.


We slept in a little bit and got a late start, leaving just after 8am.  This got us into Los Arcos around 3pm with a final distance travelled at about 26-27km.  The road was pretty good, though the downhills were kind of rough.  Again, I think I would rather have a steep incline for the whole day than to have to deal with another downhill.  The pressure put on the knees is one that I don´t have to normally deal with back home, at least in consecutive kilometers.  Just another thing to offer up.  Again, I don´t think that the pilgrims who first trekked the route had nice albergues, showers, pain meds, or cushiony soled shoes to get them across Spain, so unless I break/twist/or sprain something, this will be my last complaint :-)


We also met another American this morning during a lunch/coffee stop.  His name is Will and he is from Oklahoma.  He was walking with a girl from Norway named Inguun and they have actually been following a similar pace as us.  They, along with Mike and Michelle, are staying at the same hostel as us tonight and are good company to have.  


We saw some great countryside today, walking at times through vineyards and sampling some of the future produce.  Grapes right off the vine are very sweet and delicious.  This stage was also pretty quiet.  There was a good stretch where we walked for a couple of hours without seeing any cars or country-folk.  There were a good number of pilgrims though.  


The walk so far has allowed for a lot of prayer and quiet time with God.  Jason and I agreed that we are going to split up for some of the days in order to just be alone with God.  We will plan the night before and say "ok, this is where we are going to meet.  If one of us isn´t there at this time, then we will call or search for the other".  We have an emergency cell-phone so we will use that if necessary.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures from the last post.  I will try to throw a couple more online in the next few days.  

peace,


Paul

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Puenta la Reina to Villatuerta

Good afternoon everyone,

After about 2 hours of sleep last night--yes only 2--, we embarked this morning on a shorter route towards our next stage.  The albergue, or hostel, that we stayed in last night was pretty loud.  Puenta la Reina is where two of the different Camino routes merge together, so you tend to have a lot of people there.  Well, there were.  The first hotel/hostel that we stopped at was full, and the second one was getting that way quickly.  We got in washed our clothes and went and got something to eat.  I got into bed relatively early, but was unable to get any solid sleep because of how warm it was in the room.  Laying on top of my sleeping bag became cool only at about 4 oclock in the morning because until then I was sweating a lot. 

Because of the lack of sleep, we got off to a later than normal start, but it turned out to be a blessing.  Being Sunday, we needed to find a church in order to get to Mass.  We started walking towards the church in town with the idea that if we couldn´t get to Mass here then we would get on the road and go when we reached the next town.  We checked the horarium at the church and, lo and behold, Mass was starting in about 15 minutes.  I also wanted to get to confession but was not sure if they we being heard before Mass.  I walked into the sacristy and, in broken Spanish, asked the priest if he would mind hearing a confession.  He then responded ¨do you speak English?¨, I replied "yes", and he said "fantastic!".  He was probably in his late seventies and was just wonderful in the Sacrament.  I found out afterwards that he was a Jesuit who had just retired from a mission in India after being there for over 50 years.

We left after mass and began the walk to Villatuerta, a town just outside of Estella--where the next stage is supposed to end--but since we are a day ahead and since we have found that the towns at the end of stages tend to be fuller in regards to other noisy pilgrims, we decided to stop a couple of kilometers short.  It was a pretty demanding day, even though it was not that long compared to the past three.  I have also found that I would rather climb the mountains that we have already climbed than to do any more steep descents.  These have been killer on the knees, and there were a couple trying ones today.  We did stop for lunch in a little town outside of Villatuerta where we spent only 3.5euros for almost a whole loaf of bread, eight slices of cheese,a big bottle of peach nectar, and 12 slices of delicious lunchmeat.  There also was some sort of crazy race going on in the town with things that looked like armored go-carts that were just going off of gravity to get them through the very hilly city. So, that was pretty cool to see.

We made it to Villatuerta not long ago and are staying at an albergue from Heaven.  There is barely anyone else here--so the "avoid the stage city" thing is working so far--and there is an actual washing machine, so all my failed attempts to handwash my clothes are being washed away by the good òl Maytag commercial machine.  I know that doesn´t sound too penetential, but being the Day of Rest. . . .I won´t try to justify anything anymore :-)

It turns out also that there is a guy here from Raleigh who is a Knight of Columbus, and he used to work and live in Charlotte. Small world!  The owners here have also been great since our arrival.  We also met along the way a couple of brothers and a priest from a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.  Up until today, they, along with the Raleigh fellow, are the only Americans I have met so far.  Everyone else has been from countries all over the world.  

Well, while it is a very demanding journey, I have already received some nice blessings.  Many have been the views of the countryside along the route, some of which I have posted with this post.  I continue to pray for you all and ask for your prayers as well.

Love,
Paul



 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trinidad de Arre thru Pamplona to Puenta la Reina

Hey everyone,

We made it through our third day of walking.  It was the second toughest so far between distance and elevation change.  We did have a nice stay last night in Trinidad de Arre, a suburb town just outside of Pamplona.  We became friends with a man from Great Britain named Roger, who is trying to do the Camino in 22 days. . .ridiculous.  To give you an idea as to how crazy, we have about 30 days left and we are having to make sure not to get behind because of our flight home.  Thirty days get us there with about 15 miles of walking a day. I am not sure how many he has to do in a day, but it is a little crazy.  He was great company though.  I am pretty sure that he is going to write a book about his experience when he is through.

We got to walk through Pamplona today which was a great experience.  We didn´t get to go to the Coliseum where the bullfighting is done, but we did make it into the Cathedral, which was very beautiful.  We went in just for a couple minutes to pray, but were very surprised to find that Mass was starting and were able to attend.  It was very nice, starting with a Latin introit as the priests processed in and did a Mass and Morning prayer combo.  After mass we were gathering our belongings when some people walked up to us saying "fellow Americans?" and asked us where we were from.  They live now in College Park, MD, but actually have a house in Greensboro, which was pretty cool to hear.  They are also Cursillistas and, like most Cursillistas, are very active in their parish.  They invited us to have breakfast with them and, being kind of malnourished over the past few days, we did not refuse their offer.  We had a rockin ham, cheese, and fried egg sandwich--that's right, a fried egg!!--and a couple pastries and coffee, and shared some nice conversation.  They were very supportive of us and promised their prayers as we continue our journey.  They too are on the pilgrimage, but are doing a "priveleged pilgrim" program as they call it, in which they are taken a certain place by bus, walk a distance and then hop back on the bus.  It was a wonderful experience and blessing getting to meet them.

Jason and I then walked the rest of the way through Pamplona, a pretty big city, and then continued on, having originally planned on staying just outside of the city at the end of one of the stages.  We decided, however, that we should keep going--not knowing if we were biting off more than we could chew--and get a day ahead of the schedule in order to give ourselves some breathing room.  The extra walking took us to the top of a mountain and then down a very steep decline--kicked our butts bigtime.  We had originally planned to only walk about 8km today, but tacked on another 20 in  order to get ahead of schedule.  We are thoroughly exhausted now and ready for some dinner.

We made it to the next day´s stage, Puenta la Reina, just a little while ago and have showered and washed our clothes.  The hostel we are staying in is ok.  Pretty full and kind of stinky--I guess that´s what happens when you get a hundred folks in the same building after a whole day´s hike.  Washing clothes by hand has been an interesting experience.  Doesn´t exactly get all the stink out. . . but hey, it´s just me, God, and the outdoors right now--and a friend who stinks just as bad.  Well my internet time is about to run out on the hostel computer.  I love you guys and pray for you everyday.

love,

Paul

Friday, September 10, 2010

What goes up must come down. . .Roncevalles to Larrasoaña and beyond

I first off want to apologize for a kind of negative post from last night.  It was a very tough first day with the rain and the climb and I was pretty exhausted and licking my wounds.

Today was a very nice day.  We travelled from Roncevalles to Larrasoaña, completing another stage, but since everything in Larrasoaña was closed for a feast day, still not sure who´s, we decided to keep going.  Almost the entire journey from Roncevalles was downhill and, while having it´s own challenges, was better than the 4000ft climb.  We made pretty good time and had very much a on-the-frontier kind of attitude, not seeing much in our way.  But, by the end of our stage into Larrasoáña, we were not feeling that we were going to be able to make it another 12km to the next recommended stop after completing the stage.  Well, we lucked out.  A man in Larrasoaña asked if we needed a ride closer to Pamplona and, although I kind of feel bad about it now since many other pilgrims made it here on foot, we accepted his offer.  It turned out well, though, because he is without work right now and we did offer to give him retribution for his help.

We made most of the journey with a friend that we met yesterday on the latter part of the trip into Roncevalles.  His name is Yost and is from Holland (isnt that vierd?).  He is a great guy and was very interesting to talk to.  By the end of the journey to Larrasoaña, he had a blister that was bigger than any I have ever seen.  He decided to forego the rest of the trip towards Pamplona and tend to the blister.  It kind of stinks to lose him because he was great company and fun to hang out with.  I think that God had him come with us for a reason and I ask all who might be reading this to pray for him.  He is a fallen away Catholic who has experienced a ton of turmoil in his life, from a brother committing suicide, an alcoholic mother, and other things.  I talked to him a lot today about some of the things he "had against" the Church, and he is where a lot of Catholics are today--"ok, this is what the church teaches, but somebody tell me why!"  Please pray for him.

Well, I am about to head out to dinner with some of the guys.  Pray that we can continue on the way and not succomb to too much pain :-) All part of the Camino, right? If millions have done it before us in hair-shirts with maybe no shoes, I think we can make it.  Know that you are all in my prayers.


Paul

Not our spirits of course, but the elevation.  We made it last night to Roncevalles as mentioned in the previous post

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arrival and first day of walking

Good morning or evening everyone!

We arrived safely yesterday morning in Paris and took a train in the afternoon down to St. Jean Pied de Port, where we began our journey today.  The train was pretty cool because it was a French ¨"bullet train" that can make it up to about 300km/hr.  We stayed at a hostel in St. Jean yesterday and that was pretty nice.  Apparently, when I have a head cold--which I am trying to get over now--my body runs on diesel when I sleep.  I only say that because after a few minutes of a very enjoyable sleep--the first about 30 hours previous--I was awoken by my friend Jason saying that the snoring had been pretty bad :-) oops.

We started our first stage from St. Jean to Roncevalles this morning at about a little after 7 and began the hike.  The first little bit wasn´t too bad and I was feeling pretty good.  We got about a quarter of the way and then the rain came...and came...and came.  There were a couple of nice views, but for the most part we were walking in the clouds.  We began our journey at about 550feet and ended up fifteen miles later at an elevation of 4550ft.  Needless to say we were up there with the rain. It was nice at times, but when waterproof barriers became non-waterproof it became pretty tough.  Even with my pack-cover it my sleeping bag somehow got wet, so I am looking forward to sleeping tonight. . .

I am writing this from Roncevalles at the Hostel there where I will be sleeping in the same room with about 120 pilgrims.  I washed my clothes already and am hoping they dry by tomorrow morning.  I am still looking forward to the rest of the Camino, but I am praying that the weather will be a little better.  You all are still in my prayers.  Hope all is well back home.

Love,
Paul

Monday, September 6, 2010

Final preparations

Hello all,


Thanks for following me as I begin this exciting journey!


First off, a little info about the Camino:


The Camino, or "The Way", de Santiago is a pilgrim trail first traveled by Christians in the eighth and ninth centuries.  It has many starting points ranging anywhere from Galway, Ireland to Rome, Italy, and many points in between.  All of these routes end in Santiago, Spain, in the region of Galicia where Saint James the Apostle is believed to be buried.   Tradition has it that after Saint James was beheaded by King Herod, he was transported back to what is now modern day Spain, where he had been spreading the Gospel after our Lord's Resurrection.


It takes about 30-35 days to walk the Camino, depending on whether or not you take a day or two to rest and tend to any blisters.  I am going with a friend I was in seminary with at Mount Saint Mary's, Jason Burchell.  We will be staying at hostels along the way along with other pilgrims who are on the route.  The Camino sees around 70,000 pilgrims every year and up to 140,000 on Holy Years, and 2010 just so happens to be one.  Since we are traveling towards the end of the popular time for the pilgrimage I don't expect a lot of people, but then again that is not based on anything but pure speculation, so who knows :-)


I leave Charlotte tomorrow morning and connect in Newark.  We leave for Paris tomorrow evening and arrive early in the morning on the 8th.  We will then take a train from Paris to Bayonne and then from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied de Port, where we will begin our journey.  It is from there that I hope to make my next post. 


I am not too sure about the availability of internet cafes along the way, but most of the little towns have grown due to the popularity of the route, so I suspect that there will be a number in between St. Jean and Santiago. 


Please pray for Jason and I that we will have a blessed and safe trip.  Know that you all will be in my prayers.  God Bless you all.  See you in a little over a month!