Camino Santiago – April 2013

Pyrenees Horses, April 26
Last photo taken in the French Pyrenees on April 26, 2013. After snapping these horses I put my camera away. We were soaking wet.

Our Camino Santiago began on April 25, 2013 in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, French Pyrenees. The weather April 25 was beautiful. Perfect for hiking, meditating and snapping photos. We spent the  night of April 25 in the “honeymoon suite,” a tiny but private room at the Refugio Orisson, eight kilometres from, and about 800 meters higher than, our starting place in St.-Jean. Note: we did not ask for, or even have a clue about, the “suite,” the boss at reception just gave it to us.

April 26 was a mystical, but scary, experience. We set off very early and were careful to follow the well-marked trail with its yellow arrows. A mistake could have caused a sad mishap. Anita had sent her pack ahead to Roncesvalles’ public refugio; a wise decision that turned out to be…

Camino marker - French Pyrenees
Camino marker West of Orisson

Photos 3 and 4 in the set below show just the start of our walk from the Refugio Orisson across the mountains into Spain, where we had a night booked at the Hotel Roncesvalles. It was cold and very wet – a fine, persistent rain that did not let up. I put my Sony NEX-5N DSLR camera away after shooting the beautiful horses. It was already damp just from condensation when I removed it to shoot. Terrible visibility caused us to miss the Statue of the Virgin, a landmark that overlooks the valley no more than 30 metres from the trail, even though I knew when we were passing it! Continue reading “Camino Santiago – April 2013”

We Need to Nurture Hope

The Golden Age of Arab Spain:

I love reading the opinions of others. It is through this that I get motivated to think and write about ideas that are new to me.

I read a piece recently claiming that Spain’s Catholics somehow lied about, or wildly exaggerated, the “Moslem Invasion” of 711. The author called it a “myth.” The purpose of the myth, according to the writer, was for the Church to blame an embarrassingly dark period in its history on something foreign that “She” could not have stopped. An interesting point of view that I cannot, at this point, share.

In my opinion there is overwhelming evidence (linguistic, artistic and architectural) that much of Spain south of Toledo and possibly north as far as Zaragoza was occupied by a liberal Arabic dynasty centred in Cordoba for close to three centuries.

Yes, Liberal Arabs:

I used the adjective, liberal, because openness to new ideas and tolerance of Christians and Jews was emblematic of the threatened  Umayyad dynasty that entered Spain in 711 after fleeing Damascus, the Umayyad capital based in Syria. Umayyads had put together the fifth largest empire in history. Continue reading “We Need to Nurture Hope”

Jerez, Sanlúcar and Zahara – April, 2011

Morning ride at the mouth of the Wadi Kabir
Morning ride at the mouth of the Wadi Kabir

Early one morning we left Córdova, the richly complex and cultured capital of Moorish Spain from the seventh to the eleventh centuries (see my post on Córdova). We drove our little Eurocar rental about 2.5 hours to Jerez in the southern province of Cádiz, visited Jerez then went on to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in one, hectic day in April, 2011.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda is a city on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Wadi Kabir, as the Moors called it – the Great River – which the Spanish spell Guadalquivir. It is one corner of the “sherry triangle” and here a pale, dry sherry with a faint salty taste is made. It is called Manzanilla wine.

But first, Jerez:

We arrived in Jerez from Córdoba just in time for the 10:30 AM Sandeman Bodega tour. We were told about Sanlúcar’s unique drink by Velia, a semi-retired Melbourne, Australia teacher whom we met with her husband Ron while tasting several of the famous Sandeman sherries. She and her husband travel (backpack only) from Feb ’til July every year. We then attended, with our Aussies-well-met,  the incredible Royal Andalusian School of Horsemanship show in Jerez.

The world-renowned Horse Show put on by La Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Equestre featured Andalusian horses doing what seemed like dozens of dance steps in time with Spanish music. The costumes, braided manes and tails and ornate halters and saddlery were varied and beautiful. this is not the best show of horsemanship in the world it certainly must be as good as it gets: absolutely stunning – visually, musically and emotionally. Continue reading “Jerez, Sanlúcar and Zahara – April, 2011”

A Recipe for Sanity?

Granada's Catedral de la Anunciación, in which are buried Fernando and Isabella, seen from the Alhambra
Granada’s Catedral de la Anunciación, in which are buried Fernando and Isabella, photographed from the Alhambra. Known as “Los Católicos” this royal duo finally drove the last Moslems and unconverted Jews out of Spain in 1492.

 Keep refreshing your perspectives and beliefs – and realize that they will continue (as long as humans continue…) to be changed and refreshed via dialogue long after you’re gone. Don’t subscribe to the isolating slogan:

God said it.

I believe it.

That settles it.

A quote from James Corse, in a great podcast conversation on the wrong-headed divisiveness of fundamendalists. Corse was talking with David Cayley of CBC Radio, our precious Canadian public broadcaster. Thoughtful CBC podcasts, ridiculed by the Canadian right as “elitist,” question our thinking and make us wiser – and gentler…

True believers are often more of a threat to a religion than non-believers. Dogmatic belief puts an end to what ought to be an unending conversation.

Corse recommends that we get rid of or minimize the top-down “civitas” (rule of dogma) and realize that any value there is iwill be in  “communitas”: the ongoing community of those who, despite widely differing viewpoints, participate in never-ending seeking.

And a piece of amazing flamenco music to accompany the photo.

 
 
 
 
 

Perspective

Anita on our scary Day 2 crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, complete with fog, rain, ice pellets, wind and snow. Luckily, not all at the same time.
Anita on our Camino Frances’  scary Day Two crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, complete with fog, rain, ice pellets, wind and snow. Luckily, not all at the same time.

I liked this photo right away and, after thinking about why, a few reasons come to mind. The way the shapes work, for one: the mountainside divides the image into two almost equal triangles, which simplifies things so that one’s eye is drawn to the end of the road that continues on to the left. The fog creates a feeling of mystery and uncertainty of what the figure in red will encounter along the way. (As it turned out – more fog.) The small,  red figure stands out almost like an apparition against the green and grey.

Size is important symbolically here: I can’t help feeling a humility when I compare the size of the human form with the vastness of the Pyrenees. We felt isolated walking here, though the faint sound of an invisible cow-bell hinted that this lonely place was occupied by other humans who were making a simple living by farming nearby.  I was moved by the evidence that humans here were living in a great deal more harmony with the land than humans like us who live on what was once prime Ontario farms and now is mostly asphalt, brick and concrete.

The cow-bell, it turned out, was a horse-bell. Three horses eventually appeared around the bend, almost invisible to the right of our path in the mist. The photo works better when I show only two.

The last photo I took on our hike from Orisson to Roncesvalles. Too wet to use my camera safely.
The last photo I took on our hike from Orisson to Roncesvalles. Too wet to use my camera safely.

The crossing from France into Spain occurred simply without kiosks, toll-booths and guards. It was marked by a sign that said Navarre.

Our Own Camino Santiago

Anita on our scary Day 2 crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, complete with fog, rain, ice pellets, wind and snow. Luckily, not all at the same time.
Anita on our scary day 2 crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, complete with fog, rain, ice pellets, wind and snow. Luckily, not all at the same time.

I’ve been largely out of WordPress touch since the last week of April, when Anita and I flew to France to begin our first Camino Santiago. We chose the Camino Frances, which is the most popular. We also chose not to walk all of the 780 kilometers (485 miles) from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela near the NW coast of Spain.

We walked some of the most difficult stages, such as the first stage from France through the Cize Passes to Roncesvalles, following the route taken by Charlemagne in the 8th C and Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th. Not counting sightseeing we walked almost 200 km in about 15 different bits.

Staying in the Hotel Roncesvalles (on the left) next to the collegiate church, was a good move. Three heaters in our suite and a huge tiled shower area made cleaning our mud-soaked gear a lot easier. After the 10 hour ordeal from Orisson this was a merciful place to stay.
Staying in the Hotel Roncesvalles (on the left) next to the collegiate church, was a good move. Three heaters in our suite and a huge tiled shower area made cleaning our mud-soaked gear a lot easier. After the 10 hour ordeal from Orisson this was a merciful place to stay. Yes, that’s snow…
We chose to do it this way because, as a couple, we have physical limitations that would have put our long-term fitness at risk if we had walked the whole way and because we wanted to have the energy to sight-see primarily in Pamplona, Estella, Burgos and León along the way. I joke that there were three in our party: Anita, my camera and I. A total love for Spain and its incomparably rich and crazy history was a major inspiration for me.
I will admit right away that this is not the “purest” way of doing the Camino Frances. Some will argue that one must do Le Chemin de Saint-Jacques in its totality, walking every inch and carrying all one’s necessities all the way. Some take no photos. Some take one photo at the beginning and one at the end. A few whip their backs in penance carrying a cross as they trudge the Way of Saint James (we didn’t see any of this particularly tiny subgroup). I respect each individual’s camino. There are as many camino choices as there are pilgrims. If you choose to judge ours… so be it.
We happen to think that ours was everything we hoped for and more.  A thorough itinerary of our trip, including our chosen refugios, pensións, casa rurales, hotels, public buses taken, walk lengths will follow soon. We were on the camino from April 25 until May 16, when we arrived at the pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela to be congratulated and get our Compostelas, the documents that certify that one has completed the pilgrimage on foot. We traveled the last 113 kilometers across Galícia from Sarria to Santiago completely on foot and, by so doing,  qualified for our Compostelas. We added 4 nights in Santiago and three nights in Bilbao to the trip, flying home from the latter on May 23.
I share this stuff with you in the hope that  you will find something useful or inspiring here. Continue reading “Our Own Camino Santiago”