Finding peace

Much is made of the necessity of finding peace in this crazy world we call home. We all live in cultures where the give and take of everyday life seems to ensure that peace will never be found. Yet, once we are removed from the stressors that trigger our anxieties a simpler life can emerge. I guess that is what continues to draw Robin and I back to the Camino. For it is here, on the road to Santiago, that life finds a special peaceful quality that seems hard to replicate back home. So with rucksacks strapped on and a simple itinerary we find great joy and peace as we move along whatever Camino route we are walking. This realization is admittedly addictive, compelling, but also challenging for it seems we only find this rare combination of life enhancements in the empty space created by things we have left behind. Yes, it is at best a work in progress, but hour after hour this is the work we now willingly embrace and truthfully enjoy.

Arrived safely at Puente de Domingo Florez after a splendid walk in a thawing sun. Much to be thankful for.

On the road again

It is now Wednesday, 1/16, and Robin and I are carefully threading our way down the ice encrusted streets of Ponferrada towards the bridge that will take us out of town and down the Camino Invierno. It is early (8:30) and the temperature is 28 F. It is a new beginning and we are simply enjoying it. The city, at this hour, is quite still. The residents seem to be opting for a few more minutes of pillow time rather than rushing out into the cold morning air. Pilgrims, on the other hand, just figure out the kit of the day and off they go, notwithstanding rain or shine or whatever might fall in between. And so we too follow suit. We are in the habit of carrying the bare minimum, at least as far as we understand it, and enjoy not being overstuffed. Walking any Camino forces you to mange your time and your stuff, and we just happen to like that pared down approach. So down we went quietly and gingerly picking our way through the odd patches of ice towards the river Sil, which will be our companion for the next several days as we move along the Camino Invierno to Santiago.

The cold, dry morning air encouraged us to set a good pace as we moved out of the city and into the countryside. We went up through vineyards, and more vineyards (not complaining, as vineyards hold a very special place in my heart). We were alone in our frosted world counting the crunch of footfalls into the rime frozen trail. We moved along step by step, and then kilometer by kilometer as we gained elevation towards the high ground of the Castillo Cornatel, the literal and figurative high ground for today’s stage. As we moved along it was easy to notice the stark contrast to last January’s walk. A year ago it was all brilliant sunshine and views to the horizon. Today it was more sepulchral. There was no wind so the many wood fires burning offered up lazy columns of smoke that rose into the low hanging clouds commingling their identities so that all one could sense was a softened light, free of shadows and boundaries, with a smokey trace weaving through it, a sort of indeterminate space, a perfect pilgrim place.

Onward we went, steadily climbing upward, enjoying every chilled moment of every kilometer we walked. We passed through many villages that seemed to be hanging on by threads. The many abandoned homes we saw testified to an economic shift that has left many rural families without a viable path forward, so they simply have moved on, not unlike many communities back home.

We walked along until we rejoined the highway, which we crossed and then set off uphill to the summit and the castle. On the way up you pass through the hamlet of Viilavieja. This is a work in progress. We saw one man stacking firewood, and a few buildings in the midst of resurrection, but that was all. It looks like it would be a perfect off the grid community for those drawn to that lifestyle. Just to note, the only building in town that looks good to go is a recently opened albergue. Give it a try. It’s in a quiet neighborhood.

The castle summit was now close at hand so we picked up the pace a bit and shortly thereafter we were passing by its gate. This is can be a very scenic view if the weather is cooperating. Today it was cloudy but with fairly good visibility underneath the cloud deck. We were now closing in on our destination for today, the small village of Borrenes where we arrived 45 minutes later. We have some Facebook friends Saturno and Marisol, who own a small bar and hotel here, and we are staying with them. It was a great first stage. We had a few aches and pains but at the end of the day we arrived in good shape and in high spirits. Now it is time for food and some fine Bierzo wine. Hasta mañana.

Days in a haze

We are now in Ponferrada after some long days traveling. We didn’t have any connection problems just some long hours underway. But, all in all, everything went well. The usual jet lag that has consigned us to a slightly altered universe for the last couple of days is starting to slacken its grip. We are now sleeping much better and enjoying some normal meals. We had a fun overnight in Bilbao enjoying some fine pintxos, vino, and a late stroll along the river up to the Guggenheim and back. A splendid welcome back to Spain.

The next morning we walked to the train station and caught the daily train to Ponferrada where we arrived 6.5 hours later. To our great surprise we were met at the station by an old friend from Portland, Kathy Kennerly. Kathy has been living in Spain (Ponferrada) for a few years now. We had planned to get together, but she had a little surprise ready for us and met us at the station to spring it on us. We taxied to our nearby hotel and upon checking in we were told by Kathy that she had the staff put some food and wine in our room. We all went up and sure enough a large salad with goat cheese, a platter of cured meat, and two bottles of wine sat there awaiting us. What a thoughtful gift, especially when you understand something of restaurant hours in Spain. So we all tucked in and enjoyed all that was set before us. What a fine meal it was. But, the day was not yet done. A Facebook friend of Robin’s, Lee Tolman, was just finishing up two weeks as hospitalera, at the San Nicolás de Flüe albergue, so we all went over and joined her and her co-worker, Javier, for more food and wine. It was a great party and it was nice to finally get to meet Lee.

We eventually made our goodbyes and set off uphill back to our hotel, but a copa de cava seemed in order before we called it a night. We huddled in the warmth of the hotel bar and enjoyed catching up with Kathy’s life in Spain. Yes, we did finally call it a night. Robin went up and I walked Kathy back to her apartment which is located just behind the hotel only a few minutes walk. So that was yesterday. Today, Tuesday, we ran a couple of errands which included shipping a suitcase to Santiago, and picking up a couple of SIM cards from the Vodafone store. It was in the upper 20’s (F) as we set out. I had on everything I will be wearing tomorrow when we set off on the Camino Invierno. I was okay, but just. With a backpack on and a few climbs thrown in my winter kit will be just fine. We are now back at the hotel getting our thoughts together for tomorrow’s walk. We will be meeting Kathy for lunch in about an hour. The feasting continues. What fun. Spain honestly feels like home to us.

Up she rises

This blog has been dormant for a year. My last postings covered our walk along the Camino Invierno in January, 2018. Oddly enough, we are heading to the Portland airport in a few hours to head back to Spain and walk the Invierno once again. It is a beautiful walk and it is short enough (260 kms) to fit nicely into our current schedule. So with rekindled excitement, as another Camino approaches, I have shaken the dust off my blog and will, once again, offer up some commentary as our journey progresses.

For those who are contemplating doing this Camino, here is how we are getting to Ponferrada. We are taking Delta non stop from Portland (PDX) to Amsterdam. We arrive at 8:35 am, and connect to KLM non stop to Bilbao at 2:30 pm the same day. A six hour layover is a drag, but we opted to pay for the use of the KLM Crown Lounge to more comfortably pass the time. We will spend one night in Bilbao and leave the following morning at 9:40 from the Bilbao-Abando train station for a 6.5 hour journey to Ponferrada. We have some friends in Ponferrada so we will spend a couple of nights there and then set out on the Camino Invierno on January 16th. We are planning on arriving in Santiago in 11-12 days. So, that is the morning briefing for today. More to come later once we arrive in Spain.