The further we walk on this pilgrimage, the more I see reasons to pause and treasure an awareness of the moment.
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
“Feistiness might be a heck of a lot more use than beauty.”
—Ali, the Mindful Gardener
“Beauty ain’t always little, cute colored flower. Beauty is anything where people be like, ‘Damn.’ ”
Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation, cutting loose, and being full of awe and wonder at this magnificent universe.
Each day we walk.
Each day brings…
Our side trip to the ruined castle of Belorado brought an awareness of the ephemeral character of human buildings and the timeless essence of nature.
From sweeping vistas of verdure to the intense focus of a bumblebee harvesting pollen, opportunities for a pause in our walk abound!
One hot day we climbed a ridge, to be surprised with an Oasis del Peregrino. Trees cast needed shade across dusty ground, and many peregrinos (pilgrims) had used their rest time in creative ways!
Those hot, dusty ridges separated major watersheds. The Ebro River with its tributaries brought water to the Mediterranean Sea. The Tagus and Douro river systems flowed into the Atlantic Ocean. A few meters of land provided welcome shade and laughter to me while quietly directing the course of trillions of water droplets! With silliness on one hand and awesome forces on another, who can resist the invitation to enjoy life?
I end this post with ten seconds of wind in the grass and a mosaic of blooms.
Every town along the Camino de Santiago, no matter how tiny, has a church with a spire thrusting into the sky and at least one bell dangling in its framework.
Each time we’ve tramped past a tapering belfry, I’ve looked up, wishing I could be in the steeple with the bell, ready to send music across the countryside.
‘Ah,’ I’ve mused. ‘If only I could perch beside the bell, or climb a spiral staircase, or even tug a bell rope, and feel the bronze weight swing, the clapper sending reverberations through the air!’
Larger towns tend to have elaborate belfries, collecting even more daydreams around their spires.
Imagine my delight when we walked into the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and I saw the Torre Exenta (free standing tower) with eight bells!
Two euros bought a ticket giving permission to climb the tower, and I set off with irrepressible glee.
The first few steps were wide and straight, leading to a lower portion of the tower, filled with sunshine from windows. Soon the steps narrowed, curving invitingly. ‘Now I’m in the tower!’ I thought.
I noticed an occasional sconce attached to the wall, waiting with ageless patience to be filled with a burning torch. My imagination blossomed, feet treading the same stone stairs as generations of shadowy bell ringers, charged with marking the important events of the day, using eight bells!
I noticed an ancient round hole drilled through a stone step, covered with a modern plastic disk. What could it be? As I ascended, I saw more of these holes, and I pondered. Could it be for letting light from the torches filter upwards?
A tourist passed me, heading down, and I saw the red flash of his jacket on the turn below me, through yet another hole. Could the holes have been put there to keep people from sneaking up or down the tower steps? My imagination took fire yet again, nefarious assassins being foiled by heroic bell ringers, with the help of spy holes through the stairs!
Later I read in a pamphlet that the holes had been used to let ropes through, so the bells could be rung from below. Of course!
Fifty steps into my climb, I came upon the ticking mechanism of the tower clock.
This clock, installed in 1780, made by blacksmith Martín Pasco, is unique, in that it runs using the original mechanisms created by Pasco over 200 years ago!
A sign informed me that, inscribed upon the center of the clock, were the words, “Tempus fugit.” (Time flies.)
I continued upwards, pausing at an occasional arrow slit window to enjoy a view of miniaturized landscape.
Just as my leg muscles were contemplating open rebellion, I looked up to see the top of the stairs, with a bell hanging above!
I emerged into sunshine with a gentle breeze quickly drying the sweat patches on my shirt. Bells surrounded me, large, small, each hanging silently from its framework.
Reverently I circumnavigated the top of the tower, peering closely at these bronze harbingers of happiness!
In front of each bell was a sign, telling its name and sometimes telling its size and/or the donor’s name. Names of bells ranged from fanciful (Aguijón – Sting) to functional (Campana Grande del Reloj – Big Clock Bell).
One sign declared its bell, named Prima, had an inscription reading:
Una y otra mui del Caso
La Campana Fiel advierte
Sí la Ora de la Muerte
Que tan en olvido paso.
My feeble Spanish overwhelmed, I asked Google to translate.
Over and over again
The Faithful Bell warns
Yes, the Prayer of Death
So in oblivion step.
I can make no claims as to the correctness of the translation, but I did like the idea that these bells transmitted customs and beliefs of everyday life, whether they rang for joy, passing time, or the passing of a life.
It was with regret that I finally descended. I wanted to stay in the top of the tower for a whole day, watching the bells mark the hours. But I knew Jay was below, and I did want to share my discoveries.
From the Torre Exenta we progressed to the Iglesia Catedral de Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Again paying a small entrance fee, we toured this cathedral, an excellent museum giving homage to its founder, Domingo García, who built the first church in 1106. We saw many statues and works of art, and learned of the many miracles attributed to Santo Domingo. A large diorama left the biggest impression upon both Jay and me, showing daily life in the time of Santo Domingo. The details of the miniatures were amazing, bringing my imagination to life once again!
After filling my imagination with the lives of 12th century people, it was a bit of a shock to prosaically continue walking towards the next town. The hours passed, and my energy flagged. Jay pulled ahead, promising to wait for me in town.
The small village of Grañon held the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. As I slowly approached, a stream of people exited the church. I stopped, wondering what I had missed. At the end of the crowd, Jay appeared, face alight with wonder and delight.
“Did you hear them?” He demanded eagerly.
“Umm, hear who? What happened?” I was lost.
“A singing group called Voces del Camino just practiced here. They’re good!” Jay’s voice was full of awe. “I’m glad I got to hear them! It’s too bad you missed it.”
(Jay took a short video of part of their practice, which is posted at the end of this blog. Their singing voices are truly beautiful!)
Fifteen minutes after leaving the town of Grañon, singers from Voces del Camino began to pass us, giving us an excellent opportunity to make new friends and learn more of this talented group.
We walked for an hour, to our final town of the day, Redecilla del Camino, enjoying the company of this group.
A woman stopped to pick a poppy and make a doll. “My grandmother used to make these for me and my sister.”
“How cool!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of corn husk dolls made in the southern USA, where I grew up!”
Regretfully Jay and I said goodbye to our new friends, but gratefully I collapsed onto my bed at the hostel. What an incredibly full day!
P.S. Here is Jay’s short video of Voces del Camino.
“Hola!” I called cheerfully to a woman on her balcony. Jay and I were crossing a plaza in the town of Nájera, ready to begin another day of walking the Camino de Santiago.
The woman leaned over her railing and gestured urgently. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”
‘What did she say?’ I stared blankly upwards.
The woman repeated, slightly louder. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”
The only word I had caught was “piedra”. Thanks to teaching a fourth grade unit on rocks and minerals two decades ago, I knew “piedra” meant stone. But which stone? What did the woman on the balcony want me to know?
As Jay and I looked, the woman’s arms waved, her face full of earnest purpose. She repeated her phrase again and again, the volume of her voice rising, as if understanding were linked in direct proportion to the amount of sound being issued.
I looked around desperately. What was she trying so assiduously to communicate?
Suddenly, my eye alighted upon a boulder behind us. A large yellow arrow, painted across its side, pointed left. Understanding dawned.
“Follow the yellow arrow on the stone!” The lady above was showing the way out of town!
Laughing, I waved and nodded, pointing to the arrow.
“Gracias!” Jay called, as we turned.
The lady on the balcony smiled, “Buen Camino!” Once again, she had put wandering pilgrims upon the straight and narrow.
So, how does one follow a 1,000 year old trail? The Camino de Santiago is well marked.
Not content to rely solely upon shells and arrows, we bought the guidebook by John Brierley, which has excellent maps and tells a little of the places we pass.
Because we’ve hiked (and been lost) often in our lives, we also bought the Guthook app for the Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances SJPP (St Jean Pied-du-Port). This app, on my phone, showed the Camino route with a blue dot signifying our location. It worked even in airplane mode with no wifi. Jay and I found it most helpful in the large cities, where old, winding streets sometimes made me wonder if my feet were headed the same direction as my face.
Finding our way has been only part of the pilgrimage. “Buen Camino,” the standard greeting between pilgrims, would become an empty phrase without a slight understanding of the sights we see. Jay has carried the following ebook.
Oftentimes, the sights which attract my notice and imagination aren’t listed in any guidebook or map. And so I close this post with a few of the unique and beautiful sights we’ve encountered these two days.
“Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”
-Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
Dawn opened one eye, a crack of light barely visible across the horizon, while everyone in our bunkroom, except me, stirred industriously. Yesterday we had checked into a large hostel. Ten euros apiece had bought each of us a bed in a bunkroom with six other pilgrims.
I heard Jay’s voice, asking others if he could turn on the light, but all our roommates spoke only French. He received no answer.
“What’s ‘light’ in French?” Jay’s head appeared at the edge of my top bunk.
I actually knew that, thanks to Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast‘! “Lumíere,” I whispered.
“Great!” Jay smiled. “How do you say turn on?”
I blinked sleep-fogged eyes. “I have no idea!”
“Well, how do you say okay?” I could tell Jay’s problem-solving brain was wide awake.
“D’accord,” my answer materialized from the mists of long ago French lessons.
Jay’s head disappeared from sight, and I heard his voice below me. “Lumíere, d’accord?”
“Ah, oui, oui!” Immediately came the enthusiastic response.
Suddenly, light flared above, shining into my eyes with undiminished cheerfulness. I knew it was time to get up.
Breakfast, in the large shared dining room, was a social affair. We met a lovely family from New Mexico – father, mother, two girls ages ten and eleven. The family, now living in Devon, England, chose to hike part of the Camino during their two week spring vacation.
Later that morning, we met the family again as we left the town of Viana behind.
I had the fun of chatting with the girls while walking along a tree shaded path.
They had spent a few of their young years in France, and entertained me with amazing French idioms, such as “Je donne ma langue au chat.” (“I give my tongue to the cat.”) Giggling, the girls told me that meant, “I give up” in a guessing game! Who would have guessed I’d be learning French idioms about cats, in Spain, from two engaging, intelligent young pilgrims?
As Jay and I hiked with this charming family, we saw a white stork on a nest. Jay informed us that most white storks migrate between Africa and Europe. They are monogamous, and often return to the same nest each year. We’ve seen many far above on church towers, but this pair had built upon a slightly closer electric pylon. Enthralled, I stopped to take a picture.
Further along, our hiking pace slowed, and we said a cheerful good-bye to our morning’s companions.
The Camino led us around the Embalse de la Grajera. Swans slid smoothly across a sheltered nook of this reservoir.
An audacious squirrel ran down his tree, sure that I would have a snack for him. He stopped short of my feet, posed, then flicked his tail in disgust when no food was forthcoming.
In late afternoon, we entered the town of Navarrete, passing the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Noticing the church door standing ajar, we stopped, answering the implicit invitation.
Of the cathedrals and churches we have visited, many felt like museums – holding places for ages of treasures. Often sightseeing tourists filled the sanctuaries, loud talk creating the atmosphere of appreciating a show.
The strains of Bach and Gounod’s “Ave Maria” on discreet speakers greeted us as we paused on this door step. Encouraged, we entered quietly, slowly walking the perimeter inside, amazed at the 17th century Baroque altar piece.
For me, the soft music stirred a response deep in my soul. I slipped into a pew, closing my eyes, entering deeply into the meditation this music offered.
Over the last year, I’ve wrestled with questions about my life, seeking direction, wondering what, exactly, I should be doing. As I sat on the bench, tired body gratefully melting into the boards, brain sinking into the melodic line of notes, I was suddenly swept with an awareness of the many gifts I’ve received, and the conviction that I needed to use those gifts. I opened my eyes, turned to smile at Jay, and together we slipped outside.
On our way to our hostel, Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne’s quotation popped into my head. I reflected upon all the times today that I was in a place poetry or hums could find me, beginning with a whispered morning conversation, through the enchantment of talking with two fun-loving and knowledgeable girls, being greeted with nature and animals, and finally opening to the messages of music, quietness, and reflection. Truly, life is amazing!
Places and situations along the Camino de Santiago are so very different from my regular life, I often wonder if perhaps I’ve stumbled onto a Hollywood movie set.
The Iglesia San Miguel presides over a weekly market in the town of Estrella. This morning, we deviated from the marked route of the Camino de Santiago, hoping to encounter a tradition carried from the 12th century when the church first began to be built. Amazingly, Jay found it!
I wandered between canvas covered stalls, admiring piles of produce. It staggered my brain, thinking of the centuries of people shopping in this plaza!
An hour later, we came around a corner of the Camino, to find ourselves presented with another sample of centuries of tradition.
With a sense of dislocation, I immediately recognized this wine fountain from Camino movies, books, and blogs. To actually be here seemed impossible!
Jay bravely shouldered his way through the crowd of laughing, talking pilgrims and returned with a small sample from the fountain.
Nearing Villamayor de Monjardín, we spied the ruined Castillo de Monjardín on a hilltop. Originally built by the Romans, the commanding position was employed in battles between Moors and Christians in the 900s and used by King Sancho Garces of Navarre in the 12th century. Looking up, I felt transported into the pages of a novel, with looming castle above!
That evening, we walked into the small town of Los Arcos. The Iglesia de Santa María beckoned with an open door. We entered, only to once again be stunned speechless.
Another door beckoned us into a courtyard filled with roses.
The next morning, from the edge of the village of Sansol, we looked across the Río Linares to an almost identical village, Torres del Río. I marveled at the need for defense which caused these two towns to be separated by a moat-like river and stoutly fortified walls.
Later that day, walking through the town of Viana, Jay suddenly remarked, “We’re on the old wall of this town!” I looked down, to see ancient stones under my feet, continuing several stories below us. Ahead, slides and seesaws invited children to play. Now, here was something not even Hollywood could have dreamed! A playground in place of battlements and ramparts!
I laughed, cheered to see something to which I could relate. I thought of the many sights from the last two days. Though I had often felt out of place, each day had also brought miles of natural beauty – plants and animals proclaiming glory. And so, once again, I leave you with pictures of nature – the earth in which we all live.
Walking dry shod over a river or stream is not something to be taken for granted. I’ve waded many a water course in our hikes on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Each time we come to a bridge on the Camino, and I have the pleasure of walking high above the flowing water, I feel a wave of thankfulness. Some of these bridges were created by those master engineers, the Romans. I think of pilgrims walking across 1000 years ago on stones set hundreds of years before them!
Here are bridges we encountered these two days.
As I crossed these bridges, a bit of philosophy hit me. After all, bridges are more than a way to keep feet dry. They connect people, communities, ecological areas. Walking across a bridge is akin to walking through a door. Whether crossing above a river or through a wall, one can feel the excitement of entering a new place.
Bridges can be made from things besides stone and iron. Jay and I often paused, while hiking, to let our eyes cross an open space, follow a line of flowers or trees, and appreciate soul lifting beauty.
Late Wednesday afternoon, as we entered the town of Estrella, I found myself a bit dazed with the hubbub of busy streets and bustling people. Spanish language battered at my uncomprehending ears. Narrow, curving streets and tall thin buildings impeded my horizon. Though we had only hiked about six miles, I was exhausted.
‘How can I keep going?’ I wondered. ‘If six miles saps my stamina this much, what am I doing, thinking I can hike for weeks and complete even part of the Camino?’
As I dodged people and fought doubts, a small white haired woman stopped me with a sweet smile. She spoke several sentences of Spanish, in a beautiful voice. I stared, wishing I knew what she was saying.
She looked at my uncomprehending face, laughed, and said pityingly, “No entiendes!” (“You don’t understand!”) Then she took my face in her hands and kissed me twice on each cheek. “Buen Camino!” She squeezed my hands, then disappeared into the crowd.
As we continued to our hostel, I mused on the nature of bridges. Sometimes, a bridge could be simply a hand and a smile from a stranger, encouraging one upon the way.
Bird melodies, sung loudly and enthusiastically, issued from nearly every bush and tree throughout the day. It was Spring, and time to mark territory! Perhaps the sunshine also influenced the celebrations of our feathered companions.
Since I did not recognize any of the numerous songs today, I reckoned the birds were making merry with Spanish birdsong!
I had expected Pamplona, as a big city, to be full of pavement and cars. Instead, Jay and I followed the Camino de Santiago markings through charming green vistas, kilometers of parks!
The tourist map helped clarify the enchanting scenery as we skirted one park, the Citadel. It explained that the 16th century fortifications, moats, and bastions had become a ‘green lung’ for the city, used for sports and cultural events. I wished each city of the world would provide itself with a massive ‘green lung’!
A couple of hours walking brought us to the Iglesia San Andrés in Zariquiegui. We stopped to see this beautiful place.
Back on the Camino, we climbed steadily until suddenly coming upon a fountain, with stone benches and a beautiful design of sunshine rays painstakingly made from small river rocks. Jay read the Legend of Fuente Reniega from his guidebook. According to legend, a pilgrim, after resisting the temptations of the devil, was rewarded with a vision of Santiago himself, who led the pilgrim to this fountain and gave him water using his own scallop shell!
More walking (and climbing!) brought us to the top of a ridge, identified with a sign as part of the El Perdón mountain range. In 1996, after many windmills were installed along the ridge top, a pilgrim sculpture was created, showing 14 life-sized figures crossing the ridge.
This place is known as “where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars”. Such an imaginative name! A great many beautiful places could be described with this phrase.
After pausing to read signs, take pictures, and enjoy the view, we headed down the other side of the ridge. We walked through the small town of Uterga, then along gravel roads past fields of wheat. Pausing to look back, I could see the windmills on top of the ridge, bringing light and warmth to nearby Pamplona.
Our day ended at a beautiful hostel, El Jardine de Muruzábal.
However, I can’t leave you without sharing some of the beautiful flowers and trees we saw today.