To the ends of the earth…and back!

The Camino-continued

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always look for the scallop shell or yellow arrow to follow the way

We have just finished day 16 of our Camino journey. (As a reminder, if you would like to read about the journey day by day, visit Karen’s blog here.)

During the 175+ miles (we are nearly 100 miles from Santiago!) we have logged since beginning our journey on May 20, we have walked, limped and trudged through and over various terrains. I did not know it was possible to have more blistered toes than blister-less ones–ah, defying odds wherever we go! As you may imagine, we have been wonderful patrons of farmacias throughout northern Spain!

We began walking from Burgos and have since traversed through small towns and big cities alike, mostly averaging 18-30km per day. Admittedly, the distance we have covered did not quite settle in until looking at a map of Spain several nights ago!

Though I love big cities, my favorite moments have been those spent walking across the scenic Spanish countryside.

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Sunrising upon León’s city streets

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Country road. This is actually part of the Roman Road, built more than 2,000 years ago!

Left with nothing but one’s thoughts for most of the day, personal reflection is the norm. Mornings are especially serene as the songs of birds (and sometime frogs and crickets!) fill our ears along with the wind’s gentle breeze. For the most part, it is very quiet, save the occasional hum of car and truck engines if near a main road or in a city. Thankfully more mornings have begun along quiet, country roads with little but wheat fields, windmills and wildflowers.

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Endless fields

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Wildflowers

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Iron Cross above Foncebadon.

As a group, we have agreed there is something so comforting about catching the first glimpse of each town’s steeple–visual proof that we will soon be reaching sanctuary, whether it be a café con leche, a tortilla, a non-bush toilet, a farmacia, or actual church for some quiet moments.

Sadly most of the small churches have been closed, but from time to time, we can at least peer through the windows to be met by beautiful frescos and mosaics.

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Stealing glimpses through a window

Sometimes there is even a dim glow from the candles. At the very least, we stand in awe of the architecture and great care dedicated to building a strong foundation for those seeking sanctuary. Likewise, we try to imagine the many pilgrims who have walked before us.

Most of the churches date back to the 10th or 11th centuries, if not earlier, so the history alone halts us in our tracks for several minutes of silence. As we passed through Rabanal del Camino, we stopped in a church built in the 12th century. Rick brought out his flute and as he played AMAZING GRACE, it was as though the acoustics allowed the very notes to reach heaven.

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Beautiful sanctuary

Also, whilst in León, we had the privilege of attending a Mass in one of the larger cathedrals. The pipe organ’s notes resounded throughout the cathedral as our voices echoed. This same cathedral has over 1,800 metres of stained-glass windows and flying buttresses which apparently inspired the architect of Paris’ Notre Dame.
20140604-204804.jpgCathedral

As in León, there have been several other small towns where we have attended Mass. Earlier this week in Ponferrada, in fact, we were privileged to attend a service which ended with a blessing for the pilgrims. Our group of 5, and 2 Canadians, were invited to the front to receive a blessing from the priests. Such moments have reminded us of the amazing relationship between Pilgrims and the communities through which the Camino travels.

In addition to the services, we have learned more about the rich history, such as knights being enlisted to protect pilgrims. Likewise, we have stayed in and traveled through small towns undergoing slow revivals on account of the Camino–more business opportunities as more travelers pass through. On Sunday actually, we passed through a town with a population of 1. ONE! We stopped in to have a café con leche and greet the man of the town.

20140604-185747.jpgSigns outside our café com leche break

Other encouraging and inspiring moments have popped up along our journey–like:

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This falcon and its owner have visited many sick children (cancer) and other ailing patients. The bird’s flights remind his owner of freedom. Donations were accepted here too and went to childhood cancer research

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Refreshments set out for passing pilgrims–donations accepted. This was just one of a handful of such places

Saturday and Sunday brought the most diversity in our terrain and surroundings: within minutes, we changed from walking along pavement to sand, then gravel, then cobblestones, before finally making or way up the mountainside upon steep rocks. Important note: what goes up, must come down!

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Sunday brought steep downhill fun–my calves had just recovered this AM, though now are singing, er screaming, compliments of our 7.4km uphill hike today from Villafranca and subsequent 4.3km downhill hike to Trabadelo.

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Looking back at Villafranca from the top

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A much enjoyed, though short-lived straightaway!

Certainly every moment was breathtaking (in more ways than one!). We have some more uphill joy for this week, so I’m sure the farmacias are getting excited already!

Needless to say, as we passed up and over mountains, and wound our way through valleys, I have not fought the urge to sing the opening song from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (“Little town, it’s a quiet village…”) or “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” It’s only appropriate after all!

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As a brief update from my last post, I am happy to report that thankfully we have had little rain since the downpour on day 2! The tarp has firmly remained in Rick’s pack, though my blue Quasimodo poncho has made several appearances. The sun has shone brightly, casting our shadows before us as we begin each morning then slowly moving to bear down upon our faces in the afternoons.

We are set to reach Santiago next week so stay tuned for additional updates!

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