Watching the weather

We left Barcelos on Saturday morning after deciding that the dire weather forecast for the day would still allow us to walk. The previous night had been stormy indeed with heavy downpours and gale force winds, but come morning things seemed to have eased off a bit. The updated forecast for Saturday was for moderate weather during the day and heavy winds and rain to return mid-afternoon. We felt sure we would be safely ensconced in Casa Fernanda before the weather turned, so off we went. It was the right choice. Strong winds racked through the tree tops but we felt little impact close to the ground. We had a few rain showers but nothing our umbrellas couldn’t handle. So we plunged in enjoying the day’s walk until we reached the “old bridge” about 6kms from Fernanda’s. Here the path, and all the surrounding fields were under water. Opting not to take our boots off we just waded in. The water came to about mid calf and then we were out of it. Surprisingly My boots didn’t fill up. Not sure why but we walked another 6 kms to Fernanda’s with wet feet without incident. We walked into Fernanda’s yard at close to 1:30 pm. She was outside with her husband Jacinto. Before we knew it she had us in a private room and was gathering laundry together and planning for lunch. She is truly a force of nature, but a very caring force of nature. By 2:00 pm we were all in her kitchen, the laundry was in the machine (thank you Jacinto) and a pot of lentil soup was simmering away. She asked us what we would like to drink and so lunch began. The interesting thing is that lunch just sort of ran into dinner. A German lady trailed in after us just catching the change of the weather. It was now really howling. Fernanda got us all settled in with food and drink and then more food and more drink, and then great conversation, and then more food and more drink. At 10:00 pm (after 8 splendid hours of eating, drinking, and talking) we all agreed to call it a night (but not after one last shot of aguardiente) and headed off to our beds. 

Sunday morning dawned with clear skies that lifted our spirits. The previous night’s sleep had been interrupted by rolling thunder and tropical downpours. But that was then and the new day was nothing but peace and tranquility. Jacinto was in the kitchen cooking up eggs and ham, ands anything else that was within reach. I never thought I would eat again after yesterday, but there we were tucking it away. Amazing. In short Fernanda and her husband, Jacinto, are simply two of the finest happiest people we have had the privilege to meet. They showered us with kindness and hospitality and made it all seem normal and natural. We felt so very much at home. What an amazing experience. As sad as we were to leave, the pilgrim road was calling so off we went for a short walk to Ponte do Lima. The path we followed was beautiful, calm, and the weather was perfect. We walked into our hotel in Ponte do Lima close to 1:30 pm. We had a quick shower and then headed across the old bridge to a nice restaurant just opposite the albergue. A bottle of wine, a nice seafood stew, a couple glasses of port and we were ready for a siesta. We are off to Rubiaes tomorrow. 
On the way to Casa Fernanda’s

From the left: Carmen (Berlin), Fernanda, and Robin
Warming up some chorizo
Fernanda and Jacinto
Underway for Ponte do Lima

Entering Ponte do Lima

Back in Spain

We spent a restful night at Casa Capela, and happily awoke to clear skies. Marguerite, our host had breakfast in hand, and our laundry was folded in a basket. We thanked Marguerite for all her many kindnesses and stepped out onto the cobbles, made a left turn and set out for Tui. Nothing much to report as the day was close to being perfect. The weather was dry with temperatures topping out near 60 F. Robin and I simply enjoyed the time on the trail and before we knew it we were moving down the narrow streets of Valença enjoying the old town around the fort. After a few twists and turns and navigating through some shadowy portals we emerged back into the sunlight and headed across the Minho River bridge into the town of Tui and Spain. We stopped at a convenient bar for a cold beer, and to change our SIM cards back to the Spanish ones we had previously purchased. As we were sipping our Estrella Galicia we asked the lady at the bar where our hotel was. She confirmed it was about 5 kms outside of Tui but she felt sure they would come and collect us if we had a reservation, which we did. About 20 minutes later the hotel van arrived and we were off. We are now doing what we always do post walk. Showers, laundry, and lunch. We are staying in the Hotel Alfonso I and although it is outside of town, it has all that we need. As a side note the food in the restaurant was terrific. So we are in the decompression stage and simply relaxing. It was a very fine day and tomorrow promises to be more of the same. What luck.

Leaving Our lodging this morning

Serious horns

Valencã in the distance

Albergue we passed by
The forteleza in Valencã

Tui across the river
The bridge to Tui

Crossing into Spain

And so it began

Robin and I have been walking pilgrim roads for nearly seven years now. As I look back I can see more than just the length and breadth of these experiences. It has been a period of discovery that has often been confounding as well as awakening. When the pilgrim road first called I felt I was responding to a call to find more about my spiritual life. The pilgrim road with its long solitary days seemed perfectly suited to exploring my inner journey towards God. Back then I honestly thought that my relationship with God was sort of like sharing a seat with someone on a bus or train. You are in the same place at the same time, perhaps conversing, perhaps not. When the urge wells up to reach out in response to some inner motivation, then we speak trying to tease out some interesting thread that might be at best instructive (gaining wisdom) or more likely just trying to be present and pleasant. So there the stage is set. It is a belief system that places God somewhere where through prayer you can reach out for comfort, solace, and mercy. You are somewhere in your life and God is out there somewhere waiting for your call.

Today I feel quite differently. Perhaps the many long hours shuffling along the paths, hills and valleys of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy have created in me a new space where I now believe God simply is. What of this then? How did I arrive here? In my experience, we all set out in life with some goals in mind. I suppose mine were typical. A happy marriage, a good job, able to pay the bills, and perhaps, even then, a sense that a spiritual relationship needed nurturing. So off we go into life following our hearts and most likely our best self interests. We move along discovering that some roads are better for us then others. Let’s say we give the good roads, the ones that affirm our beliefs and reinforce our goals, a bright yellow arrow. These are the paths always to be taken. At other moments we find ourselves on a diversion and quickly realize that we have made a mistake. We sense that we must turn around and recapture the way that we lost. These paths we will award a nice big black X. Do not go there, do not continue, turn back. So it was over the years that I unknowingly created a locus of experiences that shaped many aspects of my life, including my relationship with God. So to the point. It now strikes me that we do not coexist with God side by side, but that God is us. For most of my adult life, being raised Catholic, I had this tortuous belief system that put us as failed sinners in pursuit of a loving forgiving God who would heal us with his mercy. A kind of us and Him relationship. We are here begging for mercy and He is there wondering what we are up to. Over time this belief of an existing separation between God and us changed to a more profound belief in singularity. Meaning that God is us, not just within us like some pleasant passenger sharing a seat, but truly is us as we are Him.

Yes, all this faith stuff is by its very nature mystical. Some people can never get there. It is just too much of a leap, but whether we acknowledge it or not (I believe) God, is there, is us. It also makes sense that this mystical singularity then supports the outpouring of God’s love that is there to lead us beyond all the physical distractions and challenges of daily life. He would never just leave us adrift. He doesn’t have his hands on the wheel. We are still doing the driving and making decisions, but a map is there for us to follow, or not. We decide whether to choose the bright yellow arrow or continue beyond the danger mark of the black X. Just a bit more about God’s love. Remember this excerpt from scripture, “my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.” How true it is that we are so different from God, and thus our understanding of His love is limited to the emotional or physical aspect That we as humans know it. But, God’s love is something totally different. Words are difficult to find to explain it. Again this is us, as humans, trying to figure out the nature of God’s unlimited love. I guess we have to allow ourselves some room for error here, but let’s just imagine a love that has no limits that starts from a place absent of self interest or self gratification. It starts from an totally empty space, pure humbleness, that then fills to overflowing with a boundless goodness that is offered to us if we are patient, still, searching, and receptive. We were created in God’s image and likeness as christian teaching tells us, and so therefore as He is, we are also. We just have to try and live a life that reflects His grace. Yes, admittedly that is the tricky bit. But, I believe it is our nature to try to be Christ like. Heady stuff. Keep in mind these are my thoughts on my journey and where it has led me to date in my understanding of my Catholic faith. Your journey may take you someplace totally different, and your peace might be found following some other path. All I know is what I have encountered and related in this post. So, the pilgrim road still beckons. The search for wisdom continues. Admittedly, my faith occasionally runs more on the cooler side than the warmer. But, I now sense a joy, previously unfelt, for this life journey, although difficult at times, is leading me to a place free of darkness, and for that I feel forever blessed.

In closing, I heard Robin practicing this song she will be singing at mass this evening, Two were Bound for Emmaus. This excerpt from that song always touches me as it speaks to the road we all travel, our weariness, and our humanness.

“When the road makes us weary, when our labor seems but loss, when the fire of faith weakens and too high seems the cost, let the Church turn to its risen Lord who for us bore the cross, and we’ll find our hearts burning at the sound of His voice.” The complete song is below. Enjoy.

Nada te turbe

I seem to be on a spiritual roll here so I will offer this powerful prayer from St. Theresa of Avila. I was listening to this at the Chrism mass as it was being sung by the choir from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland. I always find this beautiful prayer reassuring. The text follows.

Nada te turbe;
nada te espante.
Todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda.
La pacienca
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

Let nothing trouble you;
nothing afright you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
overcomes all things.
The one who has God
wants for nothing.
God alone is enough.

Below is the recording from the 2016 Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s in Portland. Robin, front row second from right, is singing as well. Beautiful prayer. Beautiful arrangement. Beautiful voices.

Another winter’s walk

Camino Ignaciano: Zumarraga to Arantzazu, Basque mountains

The Advent and Christmas seasons have come and gone and Robin and I have enjoyed them immensely. It is our favorite time of the year. During this period we have looked both inward and outward, and have decided it is now time to get underway once again. We have been home since this past February and are now more than ready to stretch our camino legs once again. We have settled on walking the first week of the Camino Ignaciano, Loiola to Logroño, and then continuing with the Camino Invierno, Ponferrada to Santiago. We will be leaving in early January. The Invierno is a new route for us, and we are anxious to set our feet upon it. But, in truth, the most important thing for us is just to be walking, and enjoying the solitude. We are never lonely during our off season walks. We actually are quite content to embrace the winter weather, the stillness and to marvel at the simple joys that each day provides. I must admit it is all a bit of a mystery. We simply go forward in faith armed with a belief that a journey has been set out before us and we just try to see it through as best we can.

We do share a sense of hope that regardless of what we encounter we will always be able to continue to move along the road to Santiago. It is that hope that brings us peace and joy as we lean into whatever challenges the road presents. God willing it all ends well, and it usually does.

Peace be with you during this wonderful season and may many blessings follow you into the new year.


Over the top to Rubiães

Today was another day where the weather was forecasted to turn wet in the afternoon. As we made our way out into the streets of Ponte do Lima a grand market had been installed overnight. We quickly forgot about the weather as we took in the number of tents. There wasn’t a square inch of river front  that did not have a vendors tent on it.  We were told that this occurs every 15 days. All morning people were streaming into the town as we made our way out. We were off to a good start feeling rested, nourished and ready for the day ahead. We followed the Camino arrows out of town and down a rural lane until we rounded a bend and found the trail flooded. This part of the Camino immediately outside of Ponte do Lima is low and very flat. Recent rains had gotten the best of it and there was simply no where for the water to go. We opted to retreat and found a quick diversion onto the N306 that had us paralleling the Camino but on dry land. We carried on up the road, about 2.5 kms until we crossed under the A27. Shortly thereafter we took the next left turn into the the village of Barrosas where we found the Camino arrows once again. From this point onward we never had any serious high water. We did encounter a few spots that required some long steps to cross, but all in all it went smoothly. 

Today’s walk was more of a climb than anything else. We just seemed to be always heading upward. Many moments of the day we were on rock strewn trails that steepened up a bit from time to time, but still were quite manageable. We just took our time and chugged along. Thankfully the rain held off. We did come across some fallen trees that crossed the trail, victims of recent very high winds. We managed to scoot over or around them. However a thought came to mind that if we just happened to be on that part of the trail when one of those large trees crashed down, I might not be writing this post. As pilgrims we tend to set out at times when we probably shouldn’t. High winds create any number of hazards and should be carefully considered before committing to the day’s walk. It was quite a pleasant walk through quiet countryside as we enjoyed the sounds rushing streams. Water was clearly on the move today. The feel of this area is very reminiscent of Galicia. So at last we topped our hill and headed down towards Rubiães. Nothing much to report other than footing was a bit tricky with wet rocks and all but onward and downward we went until we were on the flat. We had booked a room a few kilometers outside of Rubiães at the Casa Capela. Upon reaching Rubiães we stopped at the first bar we came to and placed a call to where we were spending the night. As luck would have it the lady who answered our call agreed to come to the bar and pick us up. So after a cold beer our driver appeared and we were off to wash up and dry off. After our showers the lady at Casa Capela drove us back to the Restaurante Retiro (where she had previously picked us up). She arranged with the restaurant owner to drive us back home after our meal. All was very nicely and thoughtfully choreographed. We are now alone in the house as we are the only guests. A bottle of no label red wine is on the table with two glasses, a fire is in the hearth and our boots are drying nicely. The rain finally did settle in but only after we had arrived. Perfect timing once again. Tui tomorrow. Time to stoke the fire.
Ponte do Lima

The market setting up

Market sprawl
Looking good
Looking not so good

A peaceful day to Redondela

This morning we picked up a ride from our hotel to Porriño, and set out from there for today’s walk to Redondela. The day was much colder than yesterday with frost visible on the cars in front of the hotel as we set out. Other than that it was a beautiful morning that promised to stay that way through the day. Having cut about half of today’s walk we had an easy day of it and thoroughly enjoyed just loafing along enjoying the scenery. The terrain started out with a gentle climb that steepened as the morning progressed. Once the top was reached it was a precipitous drop back down to something close to sea level. From that point it was just ambling along the flat until we swung into Redondela. No problems at all. We have an apartment at the Alvear Suites (right on the Camino), and have found its to be quite comfortable. We will set out for Pontevedra in the morning. We might actually walk the whole way.  Maybe.

Veggie garden
We passed a church along the way

Some fortified coffee

Redondela ahead

Junta albergue in Redondela 
A nice lunch break in Redondela

Pontevedra and then onwards to Caldas de Reis

We had a fine and uneventful walk to Pontevedra. The weather started out chilly but quickly warmed up and layers of clothing were peeled off. There were some hills to climb, and more stream bed rocks to hop, but with abundant sunshine, the day just seemed brilliant. We were feeling strong and walked at a good pace all day. Once we walked into Pontevedra we stopped at the first bar we could see and ordered our usual two cañas. Once our thirst was quenched we caught a cab to the Parador where we would spend the night. The price was quite reasonable with breakfast included. No complaints, we had a great room and the hotel was just steps from the Camino. 

Friday brought a few morning rain showers along for the ride. So, as we stepped out of our hotel we reached for our umbrellas as we set out for the bridge that would takes us across the river and set us on our way to Caldas de Reis. I would say within 45 minutes the umbrellas were back cinched alongside our packs. There was a little uphill work to do to climb out of Pontevedra, but after a couple of hours things really flattened out. We were walking in a shallow valley from that point on to Caldas, and it was pretty much dead flat. I wasn’t watching the clock that closely but it seemed we left the Parador at 9:00, and walked into the palm lined church plaza in the center of Caldas at 1:15. We had kept up a good steady pace but our tongues were not hanging out as walked into town. Again, much like yesterday Robin and I both felt healthy and strong and the kilometers slipped by accordingly. Two great days walking that we thoroughly enjoyed. An added treat for us was the lodging I booked just outside of Caldas, the Torre do Rio. Very nice indeed. Beautiful building set on gorgeous grounds. It’s worth trying I can assure you. Two more days to Santiago. We are off to Padrón tomorrow and will arrive in Santiago, in the rain, on Sunday. That’s all for today. Time to start relaxing in our new digs. 
View from our apartment in Redondela 
Redondela awakens

Chapel just outside Pontevedra 

Pilgrim church in  Pontevedra 

Basilica of Santa Maria in Pontevedra 

House on the road to Caldas do Reis
It wasn’t all road walking today

Church plaza in Caldas do Reis

Our backyard at Torre de Rio

The pool fed by a stream

New hotel to the left, ruins of old mill to their right

Covered patio
Robin and new friend

Padrón, but no peppers

We awoke a bit early at Torre de Rio, and started in on the breakfast that had been set out the night before. We had told the lady in the dining room the previous night that we would like to get underway before their preferred breakfast service at 9:00. So she had everything laid out for us. As we were enjoying our meal the day staff arrived and immediately asked us if we wanted something else such as eggs, bacon, ham, etc. So we signed up for the full meal deal and felt more than adequately nourished for the day’s walk ahead. A taxi took us back into Caldas de Reis and dropped us off at the church. Five minutes later we were crossing the Roman bridge out of town and heading off to Padrón our destination for tonight. We caught yet another break with the weather and set out under clear, cool conditions. As the sun climbed over a ridge whose shadow had kept us fairly cool it’s radiant heat now forced a halt and our jackets were peeled away. We proceeded uphill (mostly) and then downhill (somewhat) following a mix of paved roads and forest trails. In all it was a very good day’s walk. We arrived in Padrón at 1:30, had nice cold Estrella Galicia and headed off to our hotel, the Chef Rivera. After some lunch and a shower we walked over to the Church of Santiago. The sacristan invited us up to the alter where the stone pilar to which, according to legend, the boat that brought St. James’ remains to Spain was moored, now resides. We enjoyed our visit to the church, that is until a Spanish tour group laid siege, after which we quietly retreated. We strolled around a bit just enjoying the evening air, and eventually called it a night. We are Santiago bound in the morning. It is always a time of mixed emotions when our time on the pilgrim road draws to its end and life back home beckons us to return. But, God willing, we will find another road to walk when, once again, we are ready. For now let’s just get to Santiago. More on that tomorrow. 

The Roman bridge out of Caldas de Reis
Leaving Caldas
Looking pretty good.

The countryside.

Eat your greens.

In Padrón.
The pilar. 

The pilar is just behind and below the altar slightly to the right of center.

Pilgrim statue in Padrón. 

Home again.

We left Padrón on Sunday morning at 7:40 and walked into the Pilgrim Office in Santiago at 1:15 pm. We had a great final day. We outpaced the weather until just at the very end when a few showers hosed us off. But, it was arrival day and nothing was going to stand in the way of the special joy a pilgrim feels on that day. As always there are reflections on this or that or some other thing regarding the Camino just walked. I’ll leave those for another day. For now, our joy is palpable. Robin and I have experienced the gift of yet another Camino, two if you throw in our days on the Camino Vasco. Santiago continues to seem like another home to us. It isn’t perfect, but for those on the pilgrim road there is no sweeter place to walk into. Now we just need to exhale and relax. Actually we are pretty good at that as well. Prayers and blessings to all from Santiago. We will be shapeshifting into our other selves as of this coming Thursday when we once again return to our home state of Washington in the magnificent Pacific Northwest. Thanks to all who in some way shared this journey. Peace be with you.

John and Robin

Leaving Padrón. 
Arrival Santiago.
Prayers offered at the chapel at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago. 
View from our room.

Changeable weather earlier today.