Camino de Santiago – Portomarin to Palas de Rei

 

We woke early in Portomarin and checked our clothes, hung out to dry from the previous day.  They were still wet, but we had to get on the trail.  I swore I would find a pension in Palas de Rei that had both a washing machine and dryer.  This sun drying thing wasn’t cutting it.

Upstairs at the Cafe Gonzar, we had a large breakfast of bacon and eggs.  These types of breakfasts aren’t always readily available, so I wanted to get a good breakfast for our long walk that day.

Leaving, I had to get another shot of the beautiful river valley below Portomarin.

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The climb out of Portomarin is not as steep as the descent into Portomarin the previous day, but it is longer.  It is 15k uphill to the top of Sierra Ligonde.   For the first few miles we were only in woodland a short time before walking into open fields of grass and crops.  The open land had its own majestic beauty of varying shades of yellow and green with forest breaks here and there.

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Open fields between Portomarin and Palas de Rei

Open fields between Portomarin and Palas de Rei

I also encountered a type of tree I had never seen before with white pods covering it.  If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

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About 8 km’s in we hit the village of Gonzar, where we stopped for a short time before going back into the forests for a couple of kilometers.  Coming out, we were mainly walking beside the highway.  We stopped in a cafe in Ventas de Naron for lunch and had the standard bocadillos, which weren’t bad.

Cruciero Cafe in Ventas de Naron

Cruciero Cafe in Ventas de Naron

Here we started the steeper part of the ascent to the top of Sierra Ligonde.  There was a fertilizer processing plant that stunk to high heaven for a couple kilometers.  It was horrible.  We also got our first sightings of a massive number of Camino bikers.   We would see many more in the coming days.

I got a good shot of Dylan looking very much the pilgrim.

Pilgrim Dylan

Pilgrim Dylan

Near the top of Sierra Ligonde, we were exhausted with the uphills.  I saw trees ahead which looked like blue spruce, but getting closer we were baffled by what they were.  I had never seen anything like them.   Now I think they were part of a new growth eucalyptus planting.  In this area of Spain, they are replacing their old forests with eucalyptus for the pulp industry.

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At this point we had finally passed the 15 km mark and begun the descent towards Palas de Rei.  We saw this 17th Century cross which is noted in Brierley.

17th century cross

17th century cross

After that we passed some little village, and I saw these cool ant statues.   That’s the nice thing about the Camino.  You just never know what might be around the next corner.

Ant statue

Ant statue

We were in the woods again just before Palas de Rei and walking on a deeply rutted trail.  To me, it signified that this trail was probably ancient while the ground around it continued to collect over the centuries.  That’s the explanation I like.  Another explanation may be that someone ran through there with a plow.  Hard to tell for certain.

Trail is deeply rutted as if it has been here for a long time.

Trail is deeply rutted as if it has been here for a long time.

When we came out of these woods, we were close to Palas de Rei.  We checked into the Outiero Albergue at Palas de Rei for the sole reason that they had a washing machine and dryer.  Our clothes were still wet from our clothesline attempt of the previous day.  The owner was helpful and even took credit cards.  It’s a new albergue with modern facilities and a kitchen.  I recommend it to anyone who does the albergue thing, although I don’t like to myself.

We went out on the town at Palas de Rei and ate pizza, which was very good and made up for the pulpo from the previous evening.  Palas de Rei is set into a hill with a loop of shops and restaurants, perfectly and wonderfully touristy, which I appreciated.

Pizza in Palas de Rei

Pizza in Palas de Rei

Palas de Rei

Palas de Rei

 

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Peregrino or Tourist? Fear of the Tourist Bogeyman

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

In recent weeks, I’ve interacted with what I will just term the pilgrim online community.  These are people who have walked one or more of the paths of the Camino de Santiago, and now they are online discussing their respective journeys, planning and pinning their hopes on new journeys, and instructing the uninitiated in the gentile art of pilgrimage.  A common thread I’ve found in this community is an almost obsessive fear of being perceived as tourists instead of pilgrims or, the opposite, a derision directed against what they term “tourist pilgrims”.

Who falls into this category of being a tourist pilgrim?  The attitude among some seems to be that if you’ve watched the movie “The Way” and liked it, you are suspected of being a tourist.  If “The Way” was central in your decision to go to the Camino de Santiago then you’re even more suspect, and if, heaven forbid, you thought “The Way” was a factual representation of the Camino prior to starting out, you are certainly a tourist of the worst kind; a gullible, dreamy, souvenir shopper, someone to be watched with suspicion.

Furthermore, if you have decided to only walk the requisite 100 km of the Camino for your Compestela, then you are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors in regards to slacking a pilgrimage.  Disregard for a moment what the Church says about a walking pilgrimage, that it is anything 100 km or further.  A “real” pilgrim has to walk the whole route or at least a sufficient amount to suffer as they have suffered, bleed where they bled, forgo the luxuries they have forgone.  Disregard the fact that this has been a Catholic pilgrimage for nearly a thousand years, and as such the Catholic Church set the standards on what a walking pilgrimage is.  Nevermind Brierley too, the Guide turned God of Camino Pilgrimage, who says to put aside your judgment of fellow pilgrims who have joined you for that last 100 km; send them loving kindness and equanimity, drown them in your blissful pilgrim spirit.

If you complain about the food on the Camino, then you’re certainly a tourist, even if the food is very bland in many places.  This Camino is not for you.  If you complain about fellow pilgrims’ inconsiderate behavior, you might be a tourist.  If you wish for drink refills, you might be a tourist.  Sorry to go all Jeff Foxworthy on you, but this is the attitude.

Yet there is also a counter to this.  Nearly everyone says “It’s your Camino, just walk it and don’t listen to what others say.”  Everyone regurgitates this platitude, but how many really believe it?  How many secretly think that their own pilgrimage was the real one, while they saw fakers everywhere else?

All this smacks of elitism.  It is reminiscent of the old war veteran who has been in the trenches earning his stripes while the young ones were off in college doing unrealistic things, things that aren’t “real” life.  Now those youngsters have crossed the wide ocean with even wider eyes.  These upstarts are trying to claim what can’t be theirs.  The grizzled veterans think that they have been granted some type of ownership by the Camino gods, an ownership that lets them deem what is or isn’t touristy, who is or isn’t a pilgrim.  They send their dictates down from on high, and we are required to obey them.

It reminds me of the attitude I see in so many other areas of life.   When I first joined the Catholic Church, I saw a very similar behavior.  There were the real Catholics and then the pretenders.  The real ones were obeying the true faith while the others just gave it lip service.  This usually extended beyond the actual faith into areas of political activism, where the “true” Catholic had a pet political ideology that they wanted others to adopt.

I guess I’m disappointed because I thought that pilgrims were a different breed, that they could just accept other’s journey for what it is, whether it was a 100 km walk or a 1,000 km walk.

With all this discussion of what is a true pilgrim versus a tourist pilgrim, perhaps we should ask what is a true pilgrim?  Certainly the Church standard of 100 km seems fair for a walking pilgrimage.  We could say that if you walk 100 km, then you are a true pilgrim.  For some though, they protest that these folks are just doing it to get the Compostela and don’t care about the pilgrimage.  How they can tell who cares about the pilgrimage and who does not is a science I have yet to fathom.   They also use other judgments like whether the person had the backpack forwarded during the trip, whether they stayed in private accommodation or albergues, whether they enjoyed themselves or not!

Yet I submit to you that even the most slack lackadaisical pilgrim is not a tourist.   A pilgrim, simply put, is someone who travels or puts themselves to some trouble to go to a specific destination.   Traditionally, a pilgrim did this to honor a god or gods, depending on their particular faith, or to give reverence to some shrine or relic.  That is the traditional definition.  100 km is definitely a distance traveled, yet look beyond this and many have traveled additional thousands of miles to get to that 100 km mark, often at great personal expense.  Even the Spanish pilgrims may have jumped on a high-speed train or a plane to travel across country.  In this day and age when we can barely get people off the couch, do we need to say that someone who walks 100 km is not a pilgrim?

Consider for a moment the millions of pilgrims, not just on the Camino de Santiago, but on other pilgrimages such as the ancient Canterbury pilgrimage.   Many English pilgrims walked the Canterbury pilgrimage, which was typically only a little over a 100 km pilgrimage.  How many saints walked that route?  Did Sir Thomas More do it?  In Spain, did people like Saint John of the Cross do the pilgrimage?  What if he only walked 100 km?  Would we dare to say that he was not a pilgrim?

Consider also the others who have walked further than even 800 km.  There are those who have walked all the way from Russia.  Are they more of a pilgrim than those who walked 800 km?  Is there only one pilgrim, the man or woman who walked some ungodly distance, perhaps halfway across the world, and only this person takes the title of pilgrim?

Think of the ancient pilgrims who walked both directions.  They didn’t have a jet to jump on at the end of the trip.  They also started from their doorstep and likely walked a great distance to get to the Camino in the first place.  Often they died along the way, or were robbed and endured unimaginable hardships.  Are these, then, the only true pilgrims?

No, I think that we can only say one thing about the pilgrim.  A pilgrim is a person who intends to walk a certain distance for a certain goal, often religious or spiritual, or at least life changing.  A pilgrim might like some touristy stuff.  Maybe they pick up a souvenir.  Maybe they tarry too long in a museum, or wish there were more dryers or ATM’s.   They are still a pilgrim because they intend to walk a pilgrimage.  There are very limited number of insane tourists who are going to walk 100 km, endure albergues and other trials, just for the hell of it.  The moment a tourist decides that they must walk 100 km to an ancient church called Santiago de Compostela, they have transformed themselves into a pilgrim.   Their intention is to do something noteworthy and life changing.   They may take a lot of pictures along the way, but they are still a pilgrim.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – Sarria to Portomarin

After Pamplona we traveled by train to Monforte de Lemos and arrived late in the evening.  We grabbed a room in an empty hotel near the train station and jumped on the local train to Sarria early the next morning.  When we got out in Sarria we had no idea where the Camino was.  Not a problem in Spain!  We walked for about five minutes until we saw some people with backpacks.  Then we starting seeing unmistakable signs of the Camino everywhere such as these two mosaics of a seashell and a pilgrim.

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

 

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

If I haven’t done my duty before and explained that seashells are a sign of the Camino, then let me do so right now.  Nearly every pilgrim has a seashell attached to their backpack and they are often used either as way markers or as parts of markers along the way.

We started seeing a lot of pilgrims as soon as we were outside of town.  Since we were near the 100 km mark, the population increases dramatically to probably two or three times what we saw in Navarre.

Soon we were immersed in a heavy wood and later corn fields as we got our first taste of Galicia.  Galicia is different from Navarre.  It is more like rolling rounded green mountains with lots of farms, almost endless lines of little villages, and stone walls separating the paths and farms.  I even saw old stone sheep folds, probably not any different from what has been used for thousands of years across the world.

Dylan in front of an ancient oak tree.

Dylan in front of an ancient oak tree.

Corn fields aplenty, farms of all kinds.

Corn fields aplenty, farms of all kinds.

The buildings are different too.  Galicia has a lot more layered or piled stone walls with plaster on the outside, and sometimes the plaster has worn away with the ages.  Navarre was famous for the red roofs everywhere you looked.  Galicia had a lot of buildings in a state of disrepair, with roofs falling in and some with trees growing out of them.

Looking back on it now, I am reminded of the opening of the book, “The Alchemist”, when the shepherd boy sleeps overnight in an abandoned church with a sycamore growing out of the sacristy.   It was just the same here.  The buildings looked ancient and who knew how many generations of families had lived upon this same land.

Often we were walking through someone’s farm.  Many farmers were out with their tractors working the fields.  I even passed an old man on the Camino path hauling a huge pile of produce by wheelbarrow.

Soon we came to Casa Barbadelo, which is a popular albergue about 4 km outside of Sarria.  We stopped here to get our sellos, and I finally bought my very own seashell to put on my backpack.  This seashell and my memories were the only souvenirs I wanted to take home.  As we were leaving a farmer came by with cattle and two German shepherds who seemed completely bored with pilgrims.  In fact we started seeing a lot of German shepherds, all of whom took no interest in us.

Casa Barbadelo

Casa Barbadelo

A farmer with his cows and german shephards passes outside Casa Barbadelo.

A farmer with his cows and German shepherds passes outside Casa Barbadelo.

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I remembered that I had not taken a good shot of a way marker, so I took one.

 

Just outside of Barbadelo, we found the 12th Century Church of Santiago.   We stopped in for a short prayer.  I was amazed by the simple beauty of this church.

Santiago Church

Santiago Church

 

Altar in Santiago Church.

Altar in Santiago Church.

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Then, I stopped at the Camino Coke machine, which had the names of stops from the Camino all over it.  I probably got the best deal on a Coke there in all of Spain, 20 ounces of pure Coca Cola for only 1.50 euro.

A Camino Coke machine

A Camino Coke machine

After the Coke machine, we were back in the Galician countryside.  I took a lot of pictures of flowers along the way before arriving at Casa Morgade, where we had a very good lunch of eggs and bacon and a dog decided to hang out with us the entire time.  We also saw two markers for kilometer 100.  I believe the second one, the more decorated, was the correct one.  Anyway, we were happy to be at kilometer 100.

 

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Galicia, stone wall separate the landscape.

Galicia, stone wall separate the landscape.

 

The first 100 km marker.

The first 100 km marker.

 

What I believe is the actual 100 km marker.

What I believe is the actual 100 km marker.

 

He hung out with us at lunch.  Good company.

He hung out with us at lunch. Good company.

 

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Stared seeing lots of crosses with various memorials on them.

Stared seeing lots of crosses with various memorials on them.

A few kilometers after Casa Morgade we caught site of Portomarin far away.  We began a deep descent down to the river.  Once at the river, we crossed a bridge and entered the ancient archway into the city.   Portomarin was perhaps one of my favorite cities in Spain.  The city sits high above a reservoir which was filled in and drowned part of the original town.  They had to relocate the 12th century church of St Nicholas stone by stone to a high point above the reservoir.

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We checked into a nice pension, Cafe Gonzar, which overlooked the river.  The pension owner was extremely helpful.  I didn’t have cash, and she let me pay her later on, after I had a chance to clean up and go into town to the ATM.   We decided to swim at the local pool, which has a magnificent view of the river below.

We also decided to try pulpo for dinner.  Pulpo, which is octopus tentacle chopped into little round pieces, is considered a delicacy of Galicia.  We were unable to eat it.  The flavor was overpowering, and the texture was something we weren’t use to.  I know a lot of people swear by pulpo, but I didn’t like it.

I also attempted to go to mass at St. Nicholas, but I thought my clothes were too stinky from walking.  I sat in the back corner away from other human beings, but by the time mass started, the church was filling up.  I left mass early :).

The next day we had a great breakfast at Cafe Gonzar, and then we were on our way to Palas de Rei.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – A Rest Day in Pamplona Part II

After the Running of the Bulls, we went back to our hotel to regroup for a bit.  Then we went back into downtown to the Cafe Iruna on the Plaza de Castillo.  This is the famous cafe from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”.   I wanted to sit out on the terraza and have a beer like in the book.  I had my first taste of Estrella Galicia, the most popular Spanish beer, and we ordered raciones, which are like a large plate of appetizers.  We decided to try their calimari, which was excellent.  We also had a potato dish with a type of tomato sauce on it and grilled cheese (no bread) with ham in the middle.

All the food was very good.  The price was decent too.  I was afraid we were going to get the tourist prices here, but not really.  They’ve managed to keep the tapas and raciones at a reasonable price.  I also spoke Spanish to the waiter the entire time and managed to order everything.  He asked me if I was English, which I thought was a great compliment.  If they think you’re a numb skull, then they would ask if you’re an American :).   He was surprised and said I spoke very good Spanish.

Cafe Iruna, Pamplona

Cafe Iruna, Pamplona

Dylan at Cafe Iruna.

Dylan at Cafe Iruna.

Estrella Galicia, a very good beer Spanish beer which I ordered nearly everywhere I went after this.

Estrella Galicia, a very good beer Spanish beer which I ordered nearly everywhere I went after this.

Estrella Galicia.

Estrella Galicia.

Raciones!  Great calamari.

Raciones! Great calamari.

Inside the Cafe Iruna, probably mush as Hemingway saw it.

Inside the Cafe Iruna, probably mush as Hemingway saw it.

After lunch we went over to the bullring to see Hemingway’s statue.  Did I mention I am a Hemingway fan?

Paseo de Hemingway.  Hemingway is a big hero here.  He made tourism to Pamplona during San Fermin very popular.

Paseo de Hemingway. Hemingway is a big hero here. He made tourism to Pamplona during San Fermin very popular.

Me and Hemingway.  If only I could write like him.

Me and Hemingway. If only I could write like him.

The bull ring

The bull ring

We wandered the streets which were getting packed again.  There was some outside entertainment, including this freaky box act (what else do you call them?).

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The streets get busier.

The streets get busier.

Then I saw Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance and decided to go in.  I was enjoying my visit here, when they abruptly closed.  I suppose they wanted to go enjoy San Fermin as well.  I took a few pictures before getting out, but didn’t have time to really learn anything about the cathedral, which was kind of disappointing.  However, I did get to pray, which is always a good thing.

Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance.

Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance.

Santa Maria up close

Santa Maria up close

Inside Santa Maria

Inside Santa Maria

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Dylan wanted to see the procession of bands, so after we got kicked out of the church, we headed over there.  On the way, we snapped a few photos of the Encierro statue.

Vendors sell their wares in front of Encierro statue.

Vendors sell their wares in front of Encierro statue.

Encierro statue

Encierro statue

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Encierro statue

Encierro statue

Dylan and the Encierro statue

Dylan and the Encierro statue

Later we walked over to the procession of Big Heads, which are like huge dolls that tower above the crowd and dance and spin around.

One of the big heads passes by.

One of the big heads passes by.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wichita Mountains – Charon Garden Wilderness Trail

Two and half hours northwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex actual mountains exist.  They pass all the requisite tests for mountains.  Their granite heights rise far above the surrounding Oklahoma prairie.  They feel like mountains, not foot hills, and they have things that we love in mountains like huge chunks of granite outcroppings, mountain streams with trout, water falls, elusive elk, and even bison wandering around the base.   No longer do we have to drive four hours south to Austin to find some foothills, or trek way north to Talimena.   We don’t have to pretend the hills of Palo Pinto are mountains.   

Fly fisher on creek on the river, Medicine Park, OK.  @Copyright, Gerry White, 2014.

Fly fisher on river at Medicine Park, OK. @Copyright, Gerry White, 2014.

March 15th was a chilly overcast morning. My family and I had arrived in Lawton, Oklahoma the previous night and were looking forward to a vigorous hike through several trails. However, with the rain and a family not used to hiking in nasty weather, we decided instead to check out Medicine Park, Oklahoma for a few hours until the rain abated.

Medicine Park is a small community located just east of the Wichita Mountains, south of the dam on Lake Lawtonka.  The town is stunning!  It could easily be picked up and dropped in the Black Hills without seeming out of place.  On our drive in, we saw cool things like wild turkeys wandering near the road and the “Chaps My Ass” biker outfitting store.  Yep, mountain stuff, like we were expecting.  We also saw a dedication to folk art, with many people having unique statuary like this bad looking prey mantis.

The prey mantis.

The prey mantis.

The town is centered on the river downstream from Lake Lawtonka.  We spent a little time here watching a fly fisher work the trout on the last day of trout season.  The river itself has some nice waterfalls and cascades situated within the brownish red granite.  In addition we saw more statues, like the bison statue below.   Later we came back to the town to have lunch at the River Cafe, which was good river view dining.   My wife, being from the Black Hills felt like she was home again, and we started lightheartedly discussing retirement here.

Bison statue in Medicine Park.  Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Bison statue in Medicine Park. Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of the bridge in medicine park with Mount Scott in the background.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

View of the bridge in medicine park with Mount Scott in the background. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

Large waterfall (man made) just below the dam, Medine Park, OK.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

Large waterfall (man made) just below the dam, Medine Park, OK. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

After hanging around the town, we headed upriver to Lake Lawtonka and the Lawton dam.  Here we got our first unimpeded view of the Wichita Mountain range with Mount Scott, which sits just behind Lake Lawtonka.  Lake Lawtonka itself was a spectacle with its water fowl, ducks, geese, and especially pelicans.  We waited until we caught a pelican in flight and snapped some shots of it landing.  Meanwhile we monitored the activity on the dam, where the fishing was crowded and they steadily pulled in fish.  We made our way up to the dam to get a view of Medicine Park from above.

The dam of Lake Lawtonka.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

The dam of Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of Lake Lawtonka.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelicans on Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelicans on Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelican

Leaving Medicine Park, we headed straight to the Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.  Upon entering the park, we located the visitor center and mapped out what we wanted to cover.  We were planning on doing the Charon Garden Wilderness trail and perhaps Elk Mountain trail.  The rain at this point had only been light and had nearly died down completely.   The visitor center is well worth a stop.  It has all the history of the mountains, descriptions of the local plants and animals.

When we arrived at Charon Garden Wilderness Trail, we could not find it.  In the parking lot we noticed a sign for Elk Mountain, but no sign for Charon Garden.  We decided the unmarked trail at the end of the parking lot was probably Charon Garden.  Starting on this walk, we first crossed a bridge over Cache Creek.

Creek at beginning of Charon Garden trail.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Creek at beginning of Charon Garden trail. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Crossing over we continued down the trail for about an eighth of a mile before finding a sign for the official start of the trail.  The trail at this point is flat and goes through a wooded area following a creek.  The surface is mainly dirt with small rocks.  Off to the left Elk Mountain lies.  Eventually, we left the woods and worked ourselves into an open area dominated by many large boulders.

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Corey holds up a boulder that has fallen in our path.

Corey holds up a boulder that has fallen in our path.

Corey climbs a mountain.

Corey climbs a mountain.

As we went further in, the boulder fields got larger and the path less easy to follow.  Yet the beauty of the place was unsurpassable as well.  Far off we could see the apple and pear formation, which this path is famous for.  We walked about one and a half to two miles in before the boulder field was so dense that we felt uncomfortable walking it in the light rain.

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Apple and pear formation.  Wichita Mountains

Apple and pear formation. Wichita Mountains

Apple and pear formation close up.

Apple and pear formation close up.

Eventually the rain become too heavy and the boulders too slick, so we made our way back to the parking lot.  We were very satisfied with our trip to this point and decided to explore by car.  We drove over to the Mount Scott area, and took photos of a wild turkey and a lone buffalo.  The next morning we returned and drove up to the top of Mount Scott.  It was so windy that we didn’t stay on the mountain for long.  We also checked out Quanah Parker Lake and dam.

Picture taken by Jodie White in the Wichita Mountains, March 15, 2014.  Copyright Jodie White, 2014.

Picture taken by Jodie White in the Wichita Mountains, March 15, 2014. Copyright Jodie White, 2014.

Picture of a lone bison near Mount Scott.  All Right Reserved, 2014.

Picture of a lone bison near Mount Scott. All Right Reserved, 2014.

View from the top of Mount Scott, Wichita Mountains.

View from the top of Mount Scott, Wichita Mountains.

A shot of me at the dam on Quanah Parker lake.

A shot of me at the dam on Quanah Parker lake.

At the end of the weekend, we were very ecstatic to find a new place to explore.  We promised ourselves we would come back for many camping and hiking trips.  With fall coming up, we need to start planning.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – A Rest Day in Pamplona Part I

On the fourth day of our Camino we took a rest day in Pamplona.  I planned this day once I found out we would be in Pamplona during the San Fermin Festival.  San Fermin is a famous Spanish festival where they celebrate Saint Fermin, who was martyred around year 303.  He is the patron saint of the Navarre region of Spain, where Pamplona is located.  Legend is Saint Fermin was dragged through the streets by bulls.  While this legend may or may not be accurate, the festival has another event where bulls run the streets, the running of the bulls.

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I am a huge Hemingway fan, and in his book “The Sun Also Rises” he depicts a group of American expatriates and English going to the San Fermin Festival circa the 1920’s.  Hemingway’s book put this festival on the map, and ever since people from all around the world have been coming here, along with the mainly Spanish crowd dressed in their traditional white uniforms with red scarves.

We woke up early in order to get downtown in time for the running of the bulls.  I pre-booked balcony space so we could watch the event unfold from above.  It was expensive at $120 euro, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

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We arrived in downtown around 7:00 am and made our way to Plaza de Castillo, which is on the bull run route.  The streets were still alive with party goers from the previous night.  A few people were so drunk they were having trouble walking.  Young people walked by with huge cups of vino tinto and Estrella Galicia.  The bars were still blaring loud music in some sections of the square.  We were early, so we sought out our apartment and waited on a bench nearby.

While we waited, the police come through the square along with the medical teams and ambulances.  This gave us a degree of certainty that this was serious business.  Around 7:30 am our hosts arrived and took us upstairs.  We went out on the balcony for a look around.  There are hundreds of balconies lining the route at various levels of the buildings.  We were two levels up, so there was one level below us and two above.  The street below was clear, and the cops were walking through clearing the street, checking to ensure all doors were closed and locked.   They didn’t want to have a bull get in one of the shops on the ground level.

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Then the cops formed a line across the street and waited.  A little while later the pastores, or bull shepherds, walked through.  These are the trainers who try to keep the bulls from killing anyone and try to get the bulls to go in the correct direction.  They carry long sticks which they use to tap the bulls on the nose.  The crowd was building on the balconies and they started clapping in unison as the pastores passed by in their green uniforms.

The first runners jogged down the street to the police line and waited there.  These dudes looked ready to scrap as they stretched, hopped up and down, and ran in place in front of the cops.   A few minutes later, we heard rather than saw the main group of runners come through.  They were chanting the Seven Nations Army chant as they came.  The crowd had grown on the balconies, and our own balcony was stuffed full of newcomers.  You could feel the tension as the crowd built below us.  At this point, the cops let the crowd pass their line and go down towards the bull ring.

At 8:00 am the first rocket fired.  This signifies that the bulls have been released.  The runners started looking to our left for the first appearance of bulls.   When the bulls came, they came in such a flash that they split the crowd like the sea.  It was utter chaos.  A bull in the first group caught his horn under the arm of one of the runners and lifted him up.  The bull carried him about twenty feet before dumping him on the ground.  Three other bulls trampled him underfoot.  

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Soon we heard a disturbance to the left of us, and I leaned far out on the balcony to see what was happening.  I could just see a bull in the distance kicking and attempting to gore a man who was suspended in mid-air and hanging on for dear life.  This bull, we would later find out, had fallen and been separated from the others.  Since he was separated, he was pissed off.  Later video showed him goring a man from Australia, tearing off a chunk of his leg, and attempting to impale him in the stomach.  A cop managed to pull him through the slates in the fence just in time.

For now, the bull had a pocket of people around him.  The pastores attempted to get the bull to go in the direction of the ring, while the runners would approach him from the blind side sometimes swatting at him with a newspaper.  The bull turned mechanically in a circle, looking for someone to gore, as they processed slowly down the street.  Soon they were directly under us, and the bull took off after two young men.  I managed to snap a shot as he chased the crowd towards the ring.   Another crowd of bulls came through a bit later with no major incidents.

In a few minutes, the street cleared, and we went inside to watch the video with our hosts.  The coverage of the event is like any major sporting event, with announcers and slow motion replay.  The bull who had been separated from the others gored three people that day.  It is the craziest event I have ever attended in my life; a government sanctioned event where people are expected to be maimed or killed.  

After we left the apartment we caught the taxi back to the hotel.  We would come back later in the day, and I will cover that in the next installment.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – Zubiri to Pamplona

The night in Zubiri was great until about 5 am when a family of albergue mates decided to pack all their stuff while holding a conversation for at least a half hour.  I thought there was a standard of Camino etiquette that included taking your stuff outside to pack or having it packed the night before, but that was not the case.  After this experience, we stayed in less albergues and more pensions, or private accommodations.  For an extra 10 euro a night it was worth it.

This day we had a long walk ahead of us, due to having a shorter day the previous day.  We were going from Zubiri all the way through Pamplona to a hotel in Pamplona’s “industrial” district.  Hotels are difficult to get in Pamplona during the San Fermin Festival, and this was the only affordable hotel I could get.  I guessed that the walk would be roughly 26 kilometers.

After breakfast, we crossed back over the Puente de la Rabia and walked uphill towards Larrasoana.  Zubiri is an industrial town and we walked next to Magnesitas, a huge mining operation and factory, for what seemed like at least a kilometer, perhaps further.

Outside Zubiri.  Part of Magnesitas mining operation can be seen to the right.

Outside Zubiri. Part of Magnesitas mining operation can be seen to the right.

A couple of kilometers later we stopped in a small village for water.  It was a village nestled in hills overlooking the N-135, but I am not sure if it was Osteritz or Llarratz, as there were no signs.  They were growing grapes, some of which were right on the path, and had an orchard of various types of fruit.  We met a cat who kept us company the entire time we were resting.

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After leaving this village, we went into some dense woods, before finally arriving at the bridge at Larrasoana.  We decided not to go into town and instead just rested at the central part of the bridge, overlooking the Rio Arga.  As we were resting, some Americans we had met on the first day joined us, along with the Australian lady with the Red Sox cap.  We sat and talked for a while, and it was pleasant to talk to other English speakers along the way.

Bridge at Larrasoana.

Bridge at Larrasoana.

Leaving Larrosoana, we watched some shepherd dogs shepherding horses.  I got my camera out and tried to take a shot, but they were off in the woods with their owner before I could get the shot.   Further on, we saw a water fall, and after that we stopped for lunch at Zuriain.   This was a pleasantly situated restaurant right on the Rio Arga.   They had a cool pilgrim’s statue on the bridge.  We ate bocaddillos here and rested a long time on the shaded patio, just enjoying the calm of the river.

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After our stay in Zuriain, we went back on the trail.  This time, though, it was “senda”, a section of the Camino that is just concrete and runs beside a busy road.  In fact, for about a kilometer, we were walking directly on the N-135 with cars speeding by.  Not pleasant.

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We crossed and recrossed the Rio Arga, and then crossed the N-135 and began the arduous climb past Mount Nerval.  This was perhaps the hottest day we experienced on the Camino, and the climb took a lot out of us.  We started seeing graffiti declaring that the area we were walking through was not Spain, but was instead Euskal, which is the name for the Basque homeland.  We went through a tunnel and climbed Mount Miravalles and then we were on the outskirts of Pamplona.

The first thing you see when walking into Pamplona is the bridge leading to Trinidad de Arre.  Trinidad de Arre is an ancient pilgrim’s hospital from the 11th century that sits directly on the Rio Ulzama.  There are waterfalls under the bridge and a basilica directly across the bridge.  We spent a little time here getting our bearings.  I really wanted to stop at the basilica, but we were pressed for time.  We had at least 8 or 9 more kilometers to go, and we weren’t even certain how to get to our hotel.

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After Trinidad de Arre, we walked through a staunchly Basque neighborhood that had a lot of graffiti about the separatist movement.

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At some point we made a wrong turn and did not end up in the city center.  We were off the Camino too and did not see way markers.   The San Fermin Festival was in full swing and we were near an amusement park.  We walked for at least a couple of hours trying to figure out where our hotel was, or how to get to it.  The odd thing was that in this section of Pamplona there were no street signs.  I even asked a local if they knew the name of the street, and they didn’t know either.  We walked into the city center and found ourselves in the San Fermin Festival where there were hundreds of booths lined up.  I asked a couple of people in Spanish if they knew how to get to the university, where our hotel was.  No one seemed to know.  We found the Camino waymarkers again, but we were both frustrated and exhausted.

We finally decided to get a taxi, but we had no cash and none of the taxis would take debit or credit.   We found a cash machine that wouldn’t take our card, and then we had to find another machine a few kilometers away.  Finally, we were able to get cash and we managed to flag down a taxi that took us to the outskirts of town where our hotel, Hotel Zenit, was located.  We would have never found our hotel.  It was way outside the city center.  We were both exhausted and we stuck around the hotel the rest of the night.  Hotel Zenit is a very nice hotel, and we enjoyed our stay there, especially after three nights in albergues.  We would go into Pamplona in the morning to watch the running of the bulls.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.