The Camino-Part 2 – Some Observations

October 23, 2018

Walking over 70 miles along The Way one has an opportunity to observe and reflect on the beauty of the landscape and some of the differences between life back home and in northern Spain. I’d like to share with you some of those observations and perhaps some lessons that we here in the states could benefit from.

Trees – Spain has gone on a tree planting program that can be found everywhere. Spain has increased its forests dramatically in the last 20 years, some for the lumber industry but also much of the growth as an environmental benefit. Everywhere we walked it was possible to see neatly aligned rows of tress that beautified the landscape and made one a bit jealous that we in the States seem averse  to plant these sources of oxygen and shade. Too often we cut down tress at construction sites with little effort to replace the trees that are destroyed. We can learn a lot from the Spanish program to create a green countryside.

Telephone polls- In most of Spain electric and other wires are placed on concrete polls that are narrow and elongated triangle-like structures. While not overly attractive these concrete polls are far better than the out of shape tree trunks that our companies use to hang their wires. In the last few years these wooden monstrosities have too often crumbled during storms, only to be replaced with the same ugly tree stumps. Although I am no electric company executive, I can assume with some certainty that the choice of a large tree is far cheaper than a concrete structure. It is highly unlikely that we will follow the Spanish and move to a more attractive concrete poll and ditch the trees, but it would be nice to know that there are alternatives.

Clean streets – It is instantly recognizable when walking through northern Spain, whether in a small town or a mid-size city that the Spanish pay close attention to keeping their streets  clean. The urban and rural cleanliness is not just a result of government policy as clean up crews take brooms and shovels to pick up waste, but also a cultural pattern of taking pride in their town or city. Unlike our country, which is rooted in a throwaway mindset, the Spanish value public cleanliness. Let’s face it – many of our towns and cities are a public mess with only infrequent attempts to wipe away the clutter on our streets and sidewalks. We have become accustomed to the junk around us. This is not an insurmountable problem; it just requires a public policy decision and a little bit or personal pride.

Religious demographics -Since The Way is first and foremost a religious pilgrimage, the site of our destination, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, was personally moving. To see the thousands of pilgrims praying in the cathedral and standing in line to touch the statue of St. James will always remain in my consciousness. But our trip to the cathedral also reminded us that there is a huge demographic divide in how various age groups view The Way of St. James and the cathedral. After leaving the Pilgrim’s Mass we ventured outside and saw hundreds of young people resting, talking and taking photos of the cathedral. These young people could not be found in the cathedral and certainly not standing in line to touch St. James. It was a stark reminder that in the 21st  century religion and religious belief resides among those in the 50-80 age range. For many of the walkers in the 20-50 range, the Way of St. James is a physical challenge, not a religious pilgrimage.

American pop culture – When we arrived at one of the small cities along the Way, Azura, we took a walk about the town just to get our bearings and stop for a cold beer. As we passed a restaurant I looked inside and to my amazement there on the television screen was the Spanish version of Wheel of Fortune. Yes, it is not possible to shut out American culture even in an out of the way town in northern Spain. I am sure the Spanish have many other programs that don’t rely on American television programs, but to see Wheel of Fortune is a reminder that our popular culture remains dominant and strangely attractive. Although I was disappointed to see Wheel of Fortune, it was nice to see Vanna White touch the letter screen.

As you can see walking The Way was not only a spiritual adventure but a chance to compare people, lifestyles and public policies. Certainly northern Spain is not at the epicenter of international commerce and politics but it afforded me a chance to gain an insight into a different way of thinking and living.











The Camino – Part 1

October 18, 2018

For those unfamiliar with hiking opportunities available around the world, perhaps one of the most famous is the Camino de Santiago, often called The Way of St. James. Starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the hike moves though most of northern Spain covering over 500 miles ending in the religious city of Santiago de Compostela,where legend has it that the Apostle James is buried. Santiago has become the third most visited religious destination after the Vatican and Jerusalem. Thousands of pilgrims, as they are called, trek The Way for a journey that can take upwards of 30 days.

My wife and I and another couple decided that we would follow The Way. But because we are of the “senior set” the four of us decided on starting our journey in the city of Sarria, which is approximately 73 miles from Santiago. Sarria is a popular starting point because it allows pilgrims to qualify for a certificate that verifies they traveled at least 118 kilometers. I am happy to say that we finished the journey, made it to Santiago with only a few blisters and some aching knees, but an inner pride that we still had the human capacity to qualify as legitimate pilgrims.

Now before I leave the impression that our little group of senior pilgrims accomplished an extraordinary feat, let me bring a level of honesty to our hike through Spain. First of all we broke up the trip into nine days of walking 8 miles; we took our time enjoying the beautiful out of the way places of rural Spain. Each night we stayed in the Spanish equivalent of a bed and breakfast where delicious dinners were served with plenty of wine. Rather than lug thirty pounds of stuff on our backs, we traveled light and had our luggage carted off to the next bed and breakfast. Granted we did all of the walk but never did over 10 miles a day, finishing around 3 in the afternoon and then enjoying R and R with a bottle or bottles of the third R, Rioja, the staple red wine of Spain.

Of the many highlights of The Way was meeting so many wonderful pilgrims from around the world, from England to Germany to Mexico to Korea to Australia to Ireland. Wonderful conversations were had as we compared notes, learned about each others country and never talked politics. It is impossible not to be relaxed and live for the moment along The Way. When we ended our journey at Santiago de Composetela we arrived in time at the enormous cathedral for the Pilgrim’s mass, thousands of like-minded walkers worshiping together and venerating the statue of St. James. Even if you are not a believer, the site of fellow pilgrims giving thanks is uplifting.

We qualified for your certificate of The Way, rested for a few nights in a hotel built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela in 1509 as a hospital for those pilgrims in need of medical attention, and then began our long journey home. Walking The Way will always be a vacation to remember, an adventure, a religious experience, a time to enjoy the simple beauty of the Spanish countryside. If your knees are in good shape I highly recommend The Way.