My wife Martha Wiebe and I were in Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in September and October of 2014. We chose to start in Pamplona but our destination was the pilgrim city of Santiago de Compostela about 700 kilometres away through five autonomous regions and most of the distance across the north of Spain. We spent a month walking the trail and most days I posted to Facebook about what we were seeing, hearing and experiencing. I have revised and fact checked that material and added more content. I will post 31 pieces to this blog in the coming days and weeks. This is a pilgrims’ travelogue and is not meant to be a practical guide to preparing for and walking the Camino. There are, however, many hints embedded in the writing that will make it useful for those planning to make the pilgrimage. I hope that you enjoy what you read here. If you are so inclined, please send me a note via the Comments section found at the end of the piece. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 1: In Pamplona
We rise early and in the dark to take the breakfast provided by our hotel. We will each be carrying backpacks, mine a 44-litre Osprey which weighs about 10 kilos (just over 20 pounds) when packed, while Martha’s is a 30-litre pack and will weigh about seven kilos. We took considerable care in buying our equipment and in packing but we wonder what it will be like carrying those packs when temperatures reach the mid-30s as they have in the afternoons since we arrived in Spain.
We are moderately fit and we did undertake some training in Ottawa where we live. We walked more than usual during July and August, often 10 to 20 kilometres per outing while carrying full packs and water. Our favourite trails were one around Dow’s Lake near our home in the city, as well as others in the heavily wooded Gatineau Park near Ottawa. We walked about 350 kilometres in those two months to build up endurance and to break in our new hiking shoes. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 2: Alto de Perdón
We are on the road in the dark prior to 7:00 a.m. to avoid the heat of the day – and to get a spot in an albergue in Estella, a larger town of 14,000 which is 22 kilometres down the road. We begin by walking down the main street in Puente de Reina and cross an impressive 12th century Roman bridge over the Rio Arga. We are hiking the Camino Frances, the most popular of the pilgrim routes, but just beyond the bridge here another trail from France joins ours. We have been cautioned not to take the wrong fork, which would lead us back along a trail toward another destination in France. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 3: Blessing the pilgrims
As we leave Estella early this (Sunday) morning, we encounter various groups of young Spaniards who are staggering home, likely after partying through the night. They are really drunk but also friendly. Most of today’s 22 kilometre walk is through lovely vineyard country. Just west of Estella, we come upon a fountain, not of water but of free red wine provided by the company Bodegas Irache. It is a little early for that but we sample it anyway, although there is only a thin dribble of wine remaining. Perhaps those young people were there before us.
We walk among vineyards throughout much of the day with the conical peak of Mount Monjardin always present nearby and a dark line of higher mountains off in the distance. It is misty in the morning and we fear that it may rain but the day is mainly sunny. The temperature again reaches the mid-30s by early afternoon and we are dragging when we finally arrive in Los Arcos, population 1,200 and declining. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 4: Los Arcos and the martyrs
This is another day that begins with walking before dawn. We have a fast coffee and some wholesome brown bread at the albergue in Los Arcos and head off into the open farm country. It is quiet at this time of day and the light over the fields and hills becomes wonderfully soft prior to sunrise. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 5: Blisters underfoot
The Camino de Santiago is a centuries old pilgrimage in the tradition of the Catholic Church. Today people walk it for a variety of reasons and in many, if not most, cases those reasons may not be religious. Through repeated encounters on the trail and in the streets, restaurants and bars in towns, one achieves a quick acquaintance with a variety of people. Who are they and why are they here?
I should mention that in these observations I am piggy backing on the skills and curiosity of my wife Martha, who frequently asks personal questions with a disarming frankness. She asks people why they are walking. I just hang around and listen. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 6: Who walks the Way?
Tonight we are comfortably housed in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a charming town of 6,600. It has its share of accommodation for pilgrims, some of it dating back to the 11th century. The Cistercian nuns run a crowded albergue with a shaded terrace and garden but we noticed in our guide book that just around the corner they also operate a modern hostel and that is where we booked into a private room.
In these past days we have walked through vineyards and then into more open farm country where we have seen brown stubble fields and stacks of hay bales reminiscent of rural Western Canada. The skies, too, remind one of the Canadian prairies, with long vistas and grey cumulus clouds floating in the dazzling blue. Yesterday, we came across a shepherd and his dog herding perhaps 100 sheep through a stubble field and across the gravel trail just in front of us. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 7: Marian devotion and Sister Adoración
Tonight we are in a tiny village called Ages located four days of walking and about 100 kilometres beyond Logrono. Yesterday we passed from Spain’s smallest autonomous region, La Rioja, into its largest Castilla y Leon and we stayed in Belorado, population 2000.
Belorado sits at less than 800 metres but today we ascend to 1100 metres within about 15 kilometres of leaving the town. The path here has the feel of being in deep isolation although in reality one is never far from the N-120 highway. In our 28 kilometres of walking today we come upon few villages and none containing more than 200 people. The mountains are covered by scrubby oak and pine trees and the road, which appears to be in the process of being widened here is a bed of dry reddish soil and the dust covers our shoes and legs. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 9: Franco’s shadow