Thursday, June 30, 2016

Annnnd, We're Off...

My dad liked to comment about things. His comments were often tied to observations. For example, when one would begin a trip, or journey, or race, he was know to remark: "and they're a herd of turtles." Well as I began my actual "walking" the Camino, that's how I felt. After an over-night in Astorga we started our day with a warm-up through a quaint village called Castrillo de los Polvazares. (The lady who is strutting her  stuff in the pic on the left is my roomie, Jessica. She is from San Antonio and although we just met on this trip, I must say that I was very lucky to share a room and this journey with her).
The village is OLD! You're probably picking up on a common theme here. In the U.S., when we talk about things being old, we're usually referring the 17th or 18th century. This village predates the 16th century. The only thing that you might here from that time are arrowheads... ANYWAY, as lovely as the village was, I was ready to get going!
We travelled to Foncebadon. Here we found our first real hint of a connection to what is so classically thought of as Irish. The round hut with the thatched roof is a left-over from the Celtic invasion of Spain. Now, remember when I mentioned that things in Spain, (OK, all over Europe) are OLD, well the Celts invaded Spain in the BC numbered years...see, ANCIENT! What you can't see in that picture is that I'm standing on "THE CAMINO"!  

Tracey, our Canadian group member, and I decided to start walking. The others were grabbing coffees and waters and taking advantage of the last indoor plumbing for several miles, but we couldn't wait to, we were off...As soon as we started walking, the Camino immediately begins to climb. Now, its important to tell you two things. I trained for the Camino by walking, and walking and walking. The other thing is that I walked in South Central Texas. If you've spent any time in S.C.Texas, you know that the topography is flat. There are no hills. Well, after only about 5-7 minutes, I had to apologize to Tracey for stealing all of the available oxygen. I mean I was GASPING!!! It was ridiculous. I kept walking though. As we finally neared the top, I got my breathing back under control and was fine the rest of the trip. I think my mind was playing games with my body.

We came to this spot on the Camino that I had been looking forward to for months. I think its iconic and I love the legend involved. Tradition has it that one should bring a stone from home. The stone symbolizes something that weighs you down. It could be something that affects you personally or it could be something you carry for others. Then, you take the stone to the base of the cross and leave it behind with a prayer that your "weight" be removed with the tossing-away of the stone. If you've been reading this blog for the past few posts, you might have seen one where I decided to dedicate my Camino to a dear friend and a family member who both suffer from depression. So my prayer, as I tossed my stone is that their depression cease.

There were many signs, symbols and remembrances along the Camino. We learned that some are there to honor the memory of some Peregrinos who lost their lives on the journey. Others are to honor those who walk.

The countryside was breathtakingly beautiful. While the road was not flat, the hills were not bad. At one point, there was a forest, (something else that we don't have in S.C. Texas), and the wind through the trees sounded like a river flowing over rocks. MAGNIFICENT! We walked on several different surfaces, paved roads, hard-pack dirt, loose shale,  

After a few more kilometers, we encountered the digs of Templar Tomas who claims to be the last descendant of the Knights Templar. Unfortunately Tomas was not available for us, he had a substitute there, but we still bought our scallop shells with the cross of St. James painted thereon. After just a few hours of walking, we made our way to our lunch spot in El Acebo, approximately 11 km after we started. We actually had all of our lunches together. It was great to have this time to rejuvenate and compare tales and experiences and to discuss the differences between British English and American English. 

For the Spanish, lunch is the largest meal of the day. We always enjoyed three courses, including a choice of protein, usually fish or chicken, (sometimes lamb or pork), and a dessert. Also, there was always wine! Also interesting to me was that the side dish served
with the protein was always potatoes. Sometimes they were French fries, sometimes mashed, boiled, roasted or baked, but they were always there.

 El Acebo was another charming little village and, yep, it is OLD! The images on the bottom left of a rooftop demonstrate the shale that is used in some of the older buildings. Another thing that we could count on was that every village has a church. I actually found the little old ones more impressive, in some ways than the cathedrals and basilicas that we visited. By that, I mean they were obviously loved and cared for and were a personal space for the faithful. They seemed more genuine on some level.
After lunch we hit the road again with our destination being the village of Molinaseca. You're going to get tired of me saying this but, the scenery was incredible! I'm a bit of a gardener and it was so cool to see some species of plants that I recognized immediately but so many more that I had never seen before. There was one tree in particular, whose bark looked familiar but I couldn't place it. I asked one of our group what it was and they laughed and said that it looked familiar because we had been pulling the finished product of the bark out of bottles for several days now...a cork tree!

Then we found this out in a pasture...aren't the Spanish considerate of their livestock...a swimming pool...

As we got closer to Molinaseca, the road got sketchy again. And we were definitely ready to be done for the day. But what a MAGNIFICENT day it was!
We literally came out of some scrubby plants and down a little hill and were on the road to Molinaseca. I imagine that hikers who have lost their way and who after wandering for hours, finally see some semblance of civilization, feel the same joy and euphoria that we felt. Oh wait, we were those hikers who wandered for hours and finally found a semblance of civilization...never mind.

On the way into town, we found the village church. As with all of the churches that we open, we went inside to say a prayer and, in my case, to light a candle. The church was incredibly beautiful and by far the most ornate of the small village churches that we had encountered thus far.

Our day ended as we walked through town to our hotel. We were tired and dirty and hungry but we all felt tremendous pride at our first day on the Camino...stay tuned.



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