Camino de Santiago: 2

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Who are these people who want to walk or bike hundreds of kilometers just to get to a particular city? Well, as I mentioned in an earlier blog Santiago de Compostela is a holy city and especially in the Middle Ages millions of people from all over Europe walked or rode their horse to Santiago for religious reasons. Nowadays many people still do so for religious reasons, although many others do it for a variety of reasons: it is an historic long distance path, it is easier than for instance the Continental Divide or Pacific Crest trail where you have to prearrange food drops because you are crossing so much wilderness. It is much easier than the Trans Canada trail which is still incomplete and is missing many sections. It is extremely well marked and you rarely wonder where the trail runs.
Nowadays about 55% of the pilgrims are male and (obviously) 45% is female. Many females are walking it by themselves and it is safe. Eighty seven percent of the people walk it, 12% do it on a bike and nowadays only 0.5% do it on a horse. Even 0.03% do it in a wheelchair (66 total in 2013).
How old are these pilgrims? Well, 28% are under 30, 56% are between 30 and 60 and still 15% are over 60. That last statistic surprises me, because the number of people I have seen of my age or older I can count on 2 hands.
Where do they come from? Well, not surprising, 50% of the pilgrims are from Spain, then Germany and Italy each ‘supply’ 14% of the pilgrims, Portugal 10%, the US 9%, France 7% and good old Canada does have 3% of the pilgrims on the trail.
There are many roads that lead to Rome, so there are also many routes that lead to Santiago. Of course in the Middle Ages people left from home and made their way to Santiago. My brother Rob in 1999 walked all the way from Amsterdam before I joined him in Pamplona to for the last 720 kms.
Nowadays 70% of the pilgrims follow the most common route, The Camino de Frances. However 14% are coming via the Camino de Portugal and the remainder are using one of the 9 or 10 other routes through Spain to Santiago.
In an earlier blog I stated that last year about 150,000 people made their way via de Camino to Santiago. Well, the latest figures from the Head Quarters in Santiago show that I was way too low: it states that in 2013 over 215,000 people did so and in the last holy year in 2010 272,000 people made their way to the holy city.
I am taking a rest day today in Burgos and spent a very interesting few hours visiting the cathedral in the old part of Burgos. Beautiful.
Tomorrow back on the trail, only about 20 km awaits me tomorrow, should not be a problem (famous last words)

Of Windmills and Lost Socks

I just sit down for a late lunch and before I notice it I have an open bottle of red wine plus a glass put in front of me. No questions asked about what I want. This is what you drink with your lunch. Fortunately I have already made my bed in the albergue next door and can sleep off my early drink after lunch.

Two days ago I left Burgos and the trail immediately starts rising out of town. I am going up onto the meseta over which I will walk almost the entire next week. It is a high plateau, ranging between 800 meters and 1100 meters. Walking across the top of the table mountain is fine, but hiking up it at a12% slope. Or coming down it at 18% is hard and tiring. However the views across the top seem to go on for ever. Fortunately there is a little wind on top and that makes it quite pleasant because otherwise it can be extremely hot in August on the meseta. Most villages on the meseta are located in a fold of the terrain and you always have to hike down into them and after a drink or lunch back up to the top of the meseta.

The Spaniards consider themselves great hunters and the result of it is that I have not seen a life animal expect cats and dogs anywhere. No birds in the sky except a few house wrens in the cities or swallows around a church. Not a dear, rabbit or anything else out in the field. Especially on weekends you constantly hear gun shots around you in the fields. What they are shooting at I have no idea because nothing has been left alive around here. Last February I was hiking in Andalusia in southern Spain and thought I noticed evidence of wild boars. However I was told the turned up soils were the result of farmers and their trained pigs looking for truffles. It is earily quiet everywhere you walk, no birds in the sky, no movement in the fields.

On weekends there also is a noticeable increase in cyclists on the trail. The Spaniards love to go out biking and you better watch out as a hiker, although I must say, 99% of them are very polite. Except that a bike bell does not seem to be part of a mountain bike’s equipment and they surprise you time and time again when they come up behind you.

In one of the last blogs I wrote about how pilgrims travel. On Monday I walked into Burgos and noticed a ‘pilgrim’ getting on a city bus to take her from the edge of town to downtown. It was not a pretty part of the hike, 1 1/2 hour of walking through traffic and an industrial area, but taking the bus is not part of hiking the Camino in my opinion.

One of the many changes I see now compared to 15 years ago are the forests of huge windmills. Just like in many other places in the world Spain has taken to building large windmill parks to generate electric power. Smart way to go, but it sure scars the viewscape of the countryside. The other change I may have mentioned, the Spaniards are spending billions on renovating older buildings and building new infrastructure. Everywhere, even over a small village, you see huge construction cranes swinging their loads through the air.

Three days ago I lost a sock, it took me days to find a sports store that sold the kind of socks I want. Finally this morning I managed to buy a new pair of socks. A few hours later I slide into my sleeping bag to sleep of  the too-much-wine-at-lunch and what do I feel in the bottom of the bag, sure, the lost sock. Now I have at least an extra pair.

The day I left Burgos I felt energetic and hiked 30 KM, I ended up in a quite village called Hontanas. This morning I did not feel as energetic and only did 20 km, so now I am in Itero de la Vega. (Population 190) so don’t look for it on the world map.

From Burgos to Leon

Boring, Boring, Boring
Ever since I left Burgos almost a week ago I have been walking on the meseta, straight roads mostly flat high country with few trees in sight and mile after mile after mile of grain fields and nothing much else.
That is nice for a day, but day after day the same in the hot sun does get tiring.
Much of the time I am walking along the road, just off the road on a specially designed path, but still along the road. Tomorrow does not offer much else, so until I get to Leon in 2 days it is boring.
In general the path is not bad, firm gravel, but also sharp rocks from time to time and since my left foot is acting up again it is rather painful at times. Today I saw a doctor about a huge blister but she just shrugged and sent me on my way.

Last night I was in Sahagun, a city I remember well visiting with Rob 15 years ago. Sat at the same outside bar on the same plaza where we sat 15 years ago. Just watching the people do their thing. Young boys playing soccer, old folks sitting on a bench where they probably sat for years, couples in love sauntering from one end to the other around the plaza.
Last night I stayed at an albergue in an old church, totally renovated, very nice and a fair amount of privacy which is something few albergues offer. In the middle of the night a terrific bang that seemed to shake the whole place, someone fell out of the top bunk in his sleep. I learned a few new Spanish curse words listening to the poor fellow.

Tonight was nice, I met another Canadian couple from Nova Scotia and they had made a stew of all kind of vegetables and sausages. They invite 8 other peregrinos and I brought a couple of bottles of wine. We had a great time conversing in English, Spanish and French as well as sign language. Unfortunately they had left the very hot peppers in the stew too long and the poor soul who had the stew from the bottom of the pan spit flames after a few bites. Even half a bottle of wine did not put him at ease.

I am sitting in a cafe because it is the only place in the village that has wifi. A soccer game is starting on TV. I don’t dare mention my Dutch background after the beating the Dutch gave Spain during the World Cup Soccer a few weeks ago.

wo more days to Leon, the biggest city between Pamplona and Santiago and I plan on taking a few days off there to take it easy, rest my feet and take in the sights. It has a wonderful cathedral, worth a visit. I might even take in a mass since it is a special place.
Boy, these Spaniard are getting into their soccer game, the noise around me in deafening.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Landed in Leon, that is half way between Pamplona and Santiago!
Time for a few days of rest so my feet can get back to normal if they still know what normal means. Found a cheap little hostel next to the cathedral and the first thing I did this morning was to visit the cathedral. It has the largest expense of stained glass of any medieval cathedral in Europe, absolutely beautiful with the sun shining though them from the outside.

Last night I attended a pilgrims’ mass in another church. Did not understand a word of it, but the atmosphere and singing was nice to just sit back and let come over you.

It has been rather boring the past week, and the next 1-2 days don’t promise anything different but based on my memory and judging by my guide the rest of ‘The Way’ should get more interesting again as well as harder. The elevation maps in my guide are showing some rather high hills in my near future.

Cathedral of Leon

My guide is good as far as info about albergues / hostels / refugios and for elevations, other than that it is useless to find your way. However the trail itself is so well marked that you can find it without too much of a problem the entire way. Lots of signs, small as well as large with the well known camino emblem are showing you the way. And if there is not a sign there are arrows on buildings, on corners, on the road itself, on curbs and anywhere you care to look.
It seems impossible to get lost unless you are not paying attention. It is starting to get busier because several other caminos are joining the main trail. Plus that numerous people are starting their walk somewhere along the trail such as at Burgos or Leon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014
I think that after 50 years I may have discovered that I can slow down! Ever since high school I was made as competitive as possible: first my Phys Ed teacher, then my speed skating instructor, then 2 years of sports college and 2 years teaching Phys Ed in the army. Always I had to be the first, the fastest, the quickest, the highest jumper.

Even when I trained for the Camino I walked fast, at least 5.7 km per hour. As a result when I walked the first half of the Camino over the last three weeks, I seemed to be marching instead of walking. That too may have resulted in the injury that caused me to have to sit down for several days in Leon.
Today I decided to take it SLOW, and what a difference it made. It took me a while longer to get where I wanted to go, but I noticed much more from the surrounding area. I did not pass every pilgrim in front of me as I had done for the first 350 km. As a matter of fact I was being passed and I did not mind it for once. My previous injury did not come back because I did not need to push off as hard as I used to with each step. It worked!!

Today I left Leon after 3 days of forced recovery. First 2 hours to get out of town and then back up onto the meseta. There seemed to be a little more variety this time. Maybe I noticed it because I was sick and tired of watching crowds of people the last 3 days. Because most people only spent 1 extra day in Leon, I moved with a new “community of people”. The ones I had seen several times in refugios or rest places before Leon were replaced with a new bunch. You could also see who started the Camino in Leon because their legs were still milk white while those who had been o
n the Camino for weeks were dark brown from the sun.

In spite of slowing down I did 22 km by noon and now I am sitting in a nice albergue in Villar de Mazarife, again, don’t even try to find it on the map, it barely makes a speck.

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