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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Confidently Wrong – It is Time for a U-Turn

There is a scene in the Martin Sheen film “The Way” in which he starts his pilgrimage to honour his dead son. He leaves the Alburgue (hostel) turns left and commences his walk. The camera remains focussed on the door. A few seconds later we see a group of pilgrims walking past the door going in the opposite direction. A few seconds later again, a humbled Sheen, follows behind.

My wife and I laughed out loud when we first saw this scene because we had made exactly the same mistake on the first morning of our pilgrimage. In the dark, early in the morning we confidently set off only to meet pilgrims walking in the opposite direction. Sheepishly, we too had to turn around. We felt smug 20 minutes later when we met a group in the morning gloom heading towards us and we had the opportunity to correct their mistake. Naturally we didn’t tell them about our own error.

This little tale is crammed with our humanity: wrong decisions, damaged pride, needing to correct ourselves and so on.

What if we hadn’t turned around? Obviously we wouldn’t have reached our destination or reached our goals. It made perfect common sense to turn around and learn from our error. As the aphorism declares, “The problem with common sense is that it is not common.” As a society we don’t learn from the past or the mistakes of others. An area that is of great concern is the flippant attitude toward sexuality and marriage that is rampant today. Rather than being treated like hugely precious gifts that need to be nurtured and protected, we treat them as cheap trinkets that can tossed aside without thought. We can add to that, the recent notion of children as designer accessories rather than human beings born into  eternity – either of heaven or hell. ( A topic for another day).

We complain about the fragmentation of society, increased levels or violence, drug addiction, depression, family breakdown, delinquency and etc. but we refuse to reflect on the basic building block of society – the family. The family  is where socialisation is developed, security is found, values built and character shaped. When the family crumbles society falls too. We try to compensate with more laws and police but this is only a stop gap answer at best.

What is needed is a Biblical view of the family or at a minimum, the recognition that the family needs to be protected and nurtured. It is time for us to realise that the moment has come to turn around, as daily, we are striding away from where we should be going.

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The Father Sacrificing Dignity

Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. 2 Sam 6:14&15

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. John 19:23

Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son. Courtesy: Google Images

On Sunday evening I heard a young man preach his first sermon. It was on the prodigal son. There was much to commend but one phrase leapt at me. When the father ran towards his returning son the young preacher stated that “he sacrificed his dignity.” It was one of those phrases that invites immediate reflection and meditation. The further I thought about it the greater the realisation that more God has dealt with a rebellious and sinful humanity the more our heavenly father sacrificed his dignity – set apart the honour and glory that is His due and came into our chaos to free us from our self inflicted mess.

What we see a glimpse of in David, and the dad of the prodigal son, we see perfectly in Christ. The son, whose rightful place was and is beside the father, came to earth as a human being and died at our hands so that our condemnation would dealt with. That is sacrificing dignity – sacrificing all that is rightfully his for the our sake.

But, I thought, do I really comprehend this sacrifice? Do we as the church understand this? I am thinking particularly of the middle class church in which appearance, reputation, success and honour are so important. If Jesus sacrificed, not just his dignity, but his life for us, how I do I/we reflect that reality in the way I/we “live” our Christian lives and “live” church?

Inspired by Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, the respected Catholic theologian, Henri Nouwen left his University post and began caring for, and cleaning up after, mentally ill patients. Nouwen glimpsed what my young friend alerted me to on Sunday night – to be Christlike requires us to sacrifice our dignity. To be like Jesus means to sacrifice all for the kingdom – even what people think of us!

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A Pilgrim Was I …

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles … 1 Peter 2:11

A pilgrim was I, and a wandering,
In the cold night of sin I did roam,
When Jesus the kind Shepherd found me,
And now I am on my way home.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,
And I shall feast at the table spread for me;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.
Verse 2:
He restoreth my soul when I’m weary,
He giveth me strength day by day;
He leads me beside the still waters,
He guards me each step of the way.
Verse 3:
When I walk through the dark lonesome valley,
My savior will walk with me there;
And safely His great hand will lead me
To the mansions He’s gone to prepare.

John W. Peterson & Alfred B. Smith

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Some Favourite Photos of the last Two Weeks

Here are some of the photos that encapsulate the last two weeks. For some reason, WordPress on iPad has jumbled them up. But I hope you get the drift.












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Easter Sunday in Santiago

Today was Easter Sunday and we were in Santiago witnessing how the Catholic Church firing on all cylinders does it. Many words can describe it: spectacular, rich, all involving. The ritual was dramatic and beautifully presented. The robes were rich, the processional figures spectacular and the story well told. People of all ages were involved. The Bible story was told in detail.

With my very limited knowledge of Spanish, it was obvious that the gospel was proclaimed. But something was missing. I’ll write more about that later.

Then we started for the south via Portugal. We camped north of Lisbon.

Today, Monday, we marched on south as we want to see the southern cities of Seville, Cordoba, Cadiz and Granada. We went via a town in Portugal called ” Elvas” with a most amazing viaduct. We have arrived in Seville after finding a camping ground. The gps worked well but the camping grounds didn’t exist with our first two tries. Tomorrow we will visit Seville.


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Thursday 5th April Camino Day 4

Another Camino Flashback:
At 5:30am we gathered our things, crept downstairs and readied ourselves for another day’s tramping. It was going to be a very easy, very short stint, or twice the distance. Our usual 20 something kilometers wasn’t going to work today because of a lack of albergues at that point. It seemed especially dark, and the path treacherous and unclear. But we were enjoying the solitude. Until we reached a main road and there was no indication of the pilgrim route (yellow arrows and signs). We asked at a petrol station however the attendant just ignored us when we said we couldn’t understand Spanish. On and on he went, gabbling and pointing. We turned away none the wiser and decided to retrace our steps. A few hundred meters along we reached a fork in the road and there was the yellow arrow painted on a tree. Once again we were on the right track.
We arrived in Ribadiso at 9am and Arzua at 10am. We made the decision to keep going. Which meant another 15 kilometers and a total of 30kms for the day! Could we do it? At Al Calzada we stopped for lunch (leftovers from last night), and then we pushed on. Knowing there were limited places in the albergues at Santa Irene spurred us on. Just before 3pm we got here. We have more aching bits than we thought possible!

The following day I added:
Last night we had to add 3kms to our days tally to find somewhere to eat. We wound up in a proper little restaurant and had a three course meal, ordered with help from a young woman from Minnesota. Then we hobbled back to the albergue. During yesterday both my knees started to ache terribly, especially on a downwards slope.


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Day 4 Portos to Melide

Now things are working again here are some more thoughts and experiences.

Hetty’s thoughts:
The day began late by recent standards – tumbled out of that double bed with its polar fleece sheets at 7:20 am. Left Portos soon after, which required a lot of self talk aimed at the aching joints, calf muscles, and blistered tootsies. Tramped through forests, beside main roads, along tracks warn down meters deep. There seemed to be a lot of stone today – rocky paths and paved roads. It was very hard on my feet. Not surprisingly my blister count went up. I now have three toes with blisters surrounding the entire toe, even under the nail! Ouch! Mister Veane’s advice and my Chemist shop in-a-bag is coming in handy. We passed through the town of Palas de Rei and took a wrong turn so we had to back track a bit. Then we did a bit of filming around the town San Xulian. Breakfast was a “muesly” bar, and some chocolate sustained us until we arrived weary and footsore in Melide. The Alburgue will be home for the night. Lunch was olives, Brie, bananas, grapes and yoghurt. And a chocolate croissant. There is a service at the nearby church tonight which we will check out. Buon Camino.

Pieter’s additions:
We also went to Mass last night in preparation for Maundy Thursday. The church was packed. I was the only only one in shorts! On either side of the door, inscribed in the windows was “Word of God” in Latin. During the church service that evening I prayed for the people and the priests. “That this Word might be a living reality in Melide.” There had been a funeral, that afternoon and it impressed on me the need for a living relationship with God.

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Back in Santiago

Back in Santiago. Due to 3G problems I’ll write some catch up blogs later. But for the moment there is free wifi in the bus station. We have walked up hill and down rocky dale for over 120 kms with our heavy backpacks. Finally we are here and have earned our Compostellas. But I have much to say about that in the future.

We went to the Cathedral which was having a service but it was inundated with tourists. As we were leaving there was a medieval procession coming down the street. White and black hooded people in bare feet dragging chains were in front of a Pieta like statue. It was somber and bleak.

Last night we stayed in a seminary. Hetty said it was like being an orphan at St. Augustine’s. It was a large dorm with rows of beds and vey noisy plumbing.

There is much I want to reflect on. The good, the bad and some of it down right ugly. However in the meantime, I want clean clothes and my own tent with my own bride next to me.


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Camino day 2

I have come to the conclusion that Spaniards, although lovely and friendly people, have a national sleep apnea problem. Sleeping in the same room as 30 of them is proof enough. After a sleepless night Hetty and I crept out of the Alburgue at 6:00 waking up all the dogs as we went along. Quickly we were in a forest. The sun wasn’t going to rise for anther 21/2 hours. Slowly we saw the sun rise in the west. Hey, are we going in the wrong direction? No, the km posts were winding down. It didn’t help when we saw two pilgrims heading towards us.

Soon the strange phenomena was revealed. A genuine Spanish bush fire across our path. We couldn’t travel any further. So we sat freezing in a bus shelter with growing band of pilgrims. Cars, trucks and a couple of buses had to stop as well. When the fire was reduced, we piled on the local buses to the friendly welcome of the passengers and we escorted by the police through the remnants of the fire.

We continued to Portos, a small two house town. Hetty asked in the cafe if any one had rooms for hire. Which they did. So we stayed in and old Spanish farmhouse. It also gave us an opportunity to go on a side trip (5kms) to Vilar deDonas. A place where the headstones of the local,kings were preserved in an old romanesque church. Well worth the trip.

That night we have relief from snoring Spaniards

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