Some days are diamonds, some days are coal

Over the years we have had a remarkable run of safe travel. There have been the odd “hairy” moments in traffic and the nights when we haven’t arrived at our accommodation. There was an occasion when our plane was just about to land, and when it was a few metres off the ground it suddenly lurched back into the air under full thrust. We learnt after the German and French explanations that there was another plane on the runway. And there have been times when being together for 24 hours a day was just a fewhours too many.
So having our car broken into and, we estimate, $3000 of camera equipment, presents and souvenirs stolen plus the car damaged, was quite a shock. It occurred in a village that even many of locals hadn’t heard of!
It is true that we are in one piece and the items are relatively unimportant. However I have watched my wife carefully search for things for members of the family and friends – something just right for them. She carefully and lovingly packs them so that they can withstand travel. My camera equipment is easy to replace although not the photos on the cards, but the items purchased in diverse places are impossible to re-collect. That hurts.
The police were great but we pressed this good will. Initially we thought it was a snatch and grab raid on the camera bag, however it was only later that we discovered two other backpacks missing and we had to return to the police station. Their English and our French did not make for an easy conversation. We needed their certificates for the car and our insurance because the receipts were in one of the bags stolen. So we had to persevere.
I have mentioned previously how at moments like that I have learned about myself and my wife. My wife is amazing. She was hurt and teary but straight away went into “this is what we have to next mode” as well as forbidding me to drive for a while because I was seething and anger and I do not mix well. It took me a sleepless and prayerful night to get over that. (I was allowed to drive us back to the campsite but I was watched and monitored like a high security prisoner.)
Each day we pray and each day we are made to realise that we have a God who does care for us – even down to the hairs on our head. And I have to remember that even if the worst does occur, He still cares more than I can ever imagine.  

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Seeing the truth

We have now spent about three weeks in Spain and Portugal and I have come to the conclusion that many people on the Iberian peninsula are deeply religious. It is a religion steeped in history and tradition. You can see glimpses of the gospel but on the whole it is overlaid with stories and myths and age old patterns.
The story of St James in Santiago is connected with Mary the mother of Jesus bringing a marble pillar to build a church Zaragoza, in order to encourage James. Icons and relics are treasured in many churches. The worship of Mary dominates. One wonders at the psychology of that. 
And yet, there are glimpses of the heart of the gospel:

* “God is honoured in this place” was written over the front door of a convent

* John 3:16 emblazoned in a Cathedral

* many of the windows and frescoes relate Bible stories
But a question remains: what is at the heart of the faith of the people that attend these churches? Is it a Romans 1:16 faith or is it laden with works and deeds and right behaviours to gain salvation?
In nearly every church we enter I spend some time praying that the gospel may be heard clearly.  



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Portugal to Spain

Over the last week we have had a leisurely jaunt from the end of our Camino walk at Logrono down through Portugal and into Spain. The national park at the north end of Portugal was our first stop and very attractive. By staying off the “freeway” system we have gone through many villages  … And saved money.

We loved driving along the Douro valley toward Porto.  The terraced grape vines on steep hills with the river below is spectacular. Lisbon too is a vibrant city. We attended the Story of Lisbon exhibition which gave us a good introduction to the city.  Lisbon celebrates its colonial past but is also a modern city looking to the future

We also explored the impression the Romans left in this part of the country. The ruins at Evora, Badajoz and Merida are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Roman influence. 

Next, we are going to look more closely at the impact of the Moors in this area.


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Days 6& 7 on the Camino

One of the discussions  we have while walking is, would we do it again. When the the joints are aching and the feet are sore we answer in the negative but when reflecting in calmer moments we realise the achievements we have made.

I would still love to walk the whole Camino from France but have come to the conclusion that I would do it without a 14 kg backpack. 

We went from Villamajor to Torres del Rio. The walk was uneventful. We passed many vines and olive groves. The albergue was fancy but not good for the independent pilgrim. No kitchen or communal facilities.  From Torres del Rio we went into Logrono. There were some steep climbs and steep descents. The descents are tougher on  the knees than the ascents. 

We ended our walk at Logrono and took the bus back to Pamplona. 120 kms of walking was undone in a two hour bus trip.

It was great to meet some fantastic people and to pray intently for certain  people and circumstances.

We are back in our tent and looking forward to more of Spain and Portugal.

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Day 4 & 5

Day 4 & 5 Camino Continued
Last night we went for a walk before dinner (which in Spain is about 8 pm). Earlier in the day I went to the John the Baptist church and encountered a priest teaching a group of about 30-40 children. Both he and they were enthusiastic. When we returned in the evening a youth choir was practising a series of songs with choreography. They stood in front of the altar and sounded sublime. I said to Hetty, “I want the album!” Seeing children and young people in cathedral like churches is encouraging because far too often all one finds in curious tourists.
Today we decided to have an easy walk of 9 kms to Villmayor de Monjardin.
We ended up at a Christian albergue run by a Dutch evangelical group. It was a nice change from some the big impersonal albergues. We had a meal together and a meditation before bed.


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Some more Camino reflections on day three and day four

1. Last night on the way from the supermarket we stopped in at a church as the choir was practising. It was amazingly professional and would be the envy of any church.

2. Later we were speaking with a young polish couple. We said that we were Christians and were spending a lot of the time praying for friends and family. The young lady’s eyes lit up and asked if we could pray for her brother too because he had some serious issues to deal with. Then she added that she would like prayer for them as a couple.

3. This morning as we leaving Puente la Riena at 6:30am a group of about 10 men were huddled around a doorway. Cynically I said that they were waiting for the tavern to open. As we got closer we realised that one of the men held a large crucifix. As we got close one man rang a bell and they walked solemnly up the street towards the bridge with us not far behind. At the bridge they rang the bell and started singing. It was amazingly beautiful. I have no idea what the words were but I hope that they were words of faith and prayers for the town

4. Then this morning as our feet were getting tired we looked for a coffee shop but found none open. There was a stone wall fence that we sat on. A lady over the road was sweeping her garage out. She motioned us over and gave us a chair to sit on. She was cooking some delicious meatballs in the garage – as you do. She came over and gave us each one. When we left she wished us a “Buen Camino”. Real hospitality!

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Prayers and Rainbows: Camino day 3

Day 3.We stayed at a very friendly albergue (which I have been spelling incorrectly)  in Zariquiegui. Breakfast consisted of a sweet roll, black coffee and orange juice. By 7am we were on the road to Puente La Riena via Alto del Perdon a peak which was quite a steep climb and an even steeper and rockier descent. At the top of the ridge is a line of wind turbines which would have excited Don Quixote.

We had committed ourselves to pray for friends and family on this walk (more than usual) and various issues that
have been exercising our minds. As we arrived at the top of the hill, wind and a rain squall hit us. However, in the midst of that we saw a magnificent rainbow. It was a reminder of a covenant God who keeps his promises. It was an incredibly uplifting moment and inspired our prayers.
We went through a number of small villages but sadly they all their churches are closed. I like to go in and pray for the people that attend – as well as have a sticky beak around. Now it is time to find an albergue and then find the pilgrims bridge I first encountered in 2006. 


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Day 1 and 2 of our Camino

Today we started our second Camino experience but it all happened a bit by accident. We had intended to park the car at Pamplona airport, take a bus to town and then catch another bus to our planned starting point – Larrasoana. Problem: there is no bus service, or any public transport apart from Taxis at Pamplona airport. So we decided to go the whole hog and take a taxi to Larrasoana. 
Now this is where the psychology comes in. Neither of us expected to be walking any distance today but here we were walking a quite hilly section towards Pamplona. We missed one place where there were hostels and at the next they were closed for the season. So by the end of the day we were on the outskirts of Pamplona at a hostel next to a church and a C13th bridge. All very rustic and normally the stuff we love but on this occasion we were both a bit narky.
We had a good night’s sleep in the Trinidad Albergue in Villava on the northern outskirts of Pamplona. A French couple came along at one stage to share our room.  Mrs French Couple must have smelled my boots and decided to walk a few more kilometres to the next alburgue. The caretaker was quaint and even came around at about 9:30 pm to say goodnight. He might even have wanted to tuck us in.

We left the alburgue at about 6:45 and headed through Pamplona as it was waking up. On the southern outskirts we started a long ascent towards Alto del Perdon – an image often associated with the Camino. When I get there I will take a photo. But we have stopped short at Zariquiegui only walking 16 or 17 kms today as the joints were telling us that they weren’t used to this. 

Some observations:

  •  A taxi driver alerting us that we heading in the wrong direction at one point. That was appreciated.
  •  A number of people of all ages saying “Buen Camino” as we trudged along.
  •  A bread stick, ham and cheese tastes amazing when you have had a good walk.
  • We encountered a couple begging their way around the Camino. I’m not sure what I think about that.
  • You can pick an Aussie accent for miles!

    The Familiar Mile Post


    Pamplona Waking Up


    The Magdalen Bridge

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Taking Opportunities

Being a church-visitor-aholic I have become very aware of the manner in which famous and historic churches treat visitors. For some it it is simply a money making exercise. Other churches see visitors as a chore and there are those who see visitors as their contribution to the local tourist economy.

Parallel to these observations is another. Thousands of bemused Japanese and Chinese tourists visit these places extensively – I was tempted to write “religiously”. Most of these visitors know little of what the stories in the windows mean, why there are altars and crosses, who the statues represent and what the other paraphernalia such as baptismal fonts, really mean.

So today in Lyon I was greatly encouraged. At the unusual Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, perched on a hill overlooking Lyon there were gospel pamphlets for Chinese tourists. Down the hill at Lyon Cathedral there was a large painting representing an open book quoting John 3:16. This could not be missed as you walked in. My schoolboy French served me well. I even heard a young couple quoting it aloud and being mesmerised by it.

I was encouraged because these two churches saw gospel opportunities and did not let them slip. 


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The Reformation Relics

Being a reader of church history it has been fascinating to observe all the references to the Reformation on our current trip. To name just a few:

  • In the centre of Prague is a huge monument to Jan Hus the early reformer
  • Then in Konstanz Germany there is a museum to Hus
  • In Zurich there are references to Zwingli and a statue
  • Luther is mentioned in many places in Germany and has street names and statues in his honour. There is a huge monument to him in Worms
  • And of course there is the Reformation Wall in Geneva
  • There was even a wall built in St Gallen to separate the abbey from the town because the town had become Protestant. 

Yet I have this uneasy sense that these, for most, are just bygone relics of history that sit alongside dead kings and local luminaries.

I raise this because the Reformation was a return to Biblical basics – it was a return to the primacy and inerrancy of Scripture. These are truths that are just as necessary today as they were 600 years ago. The message of these relics needs to be reenlivened (have I made up a word?). It would be a pity if these relics lost their meaning.


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