Travel

Human Nature

Travelling the Camino can be very cheap. The accommodation is inexpensive, restaurants offer cheaper meals and there are no transport costs apart from a little shoe leather. All you need is a ‘credential’ – a camino passport and these benefits are available to the walkers

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But not everybody is a walker, some do it on bikes or with donkeys and horses. Perfectly ok. However there are others who do it by car. They get a credential, have it stamped regularly but use the Camino as, essentially, a means for a cheap holiday.

It is a sad reminder that even the simple pleasures and experiences of life can be spoiled by some. The albergue I am in has a policy that if it is ‘Completo’ – full and someone comes along who has been walking all day and also discover someone, who has driven to the albergue, has registered, then the driver will be asked to leave to make space for the walker.

On the Camino you are often impressed with human nature and endurance but then, occasionally, the opposite occurs.

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CULTURAL GLASSES

This morning around the breakfast table we had a lively discussion around cultures and how we perceive them. How come, in Spain, the fiestas are the same every year and children’s birthday parties always have the same cake and the same ritual?

What are the rituals we engage in that someone else from another culture would consider weird. I remember once at theological college a discussion about body odour occurred. One group of students had complained about the odour of another group. The other group replied that white people smelled “sour”. Even our olfactory function, it seems, has a cultural dimension!

Our world-views are shaped by so many different factors; culture, religion, experiences, family upbringing(was it ever ok to lick the bowls and plates in your family?) and numerous other factors. The first argument after my wife and I were married was who would put the rubbish out for collection. In my family my mother did it because dad’s business was very time consuming and my brother and I helped dad with it. In my wife’s family even though the mum did it, the myth was active that dad would have done it if he was still alive. And yes, I lost the argument.

So here we are in Spain with enough time to get a sense of how a small community ticks. If I transferred these people to Hamlyn Heights what would they say to each other in the privacy of their homes about these strange people in Geelong. Where is the bar? Where do they meet without a bar 100 metres from home? And no siesta! The climate is the same so why not? And, they eat so early!

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The Castle at Villamayor

The castle behind Villamayor has a long history. The Romans were here over 2000 years ago and it is believed the castle is built on Roman ruins. Then the Moors came, later the kings of Navarre and also Charles the Great (Charlemagne 742-814) spent time here. There is a story that Charles, unwilling for his men to die in battle asked Santiago (Saint James) which of his men were going to die in a forthcoming battle. Red crosses appeared on the shields of 150 men, so he left these men in the camp. He went into battle and lost no men in battle. When he returned to the camp the 150 men were dead, or so the story goes.

It is clear when you get to the top of the mountain why the castle is here. There are magnificent views in every direction. Anyone who held this point would have a magnificent advantage in battle.

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A Stroll Through Town

Villamayor de Monjardin

Villamayor de Monjardin

Villamayor is a town with very few people. However, in the summer people come back to their family homes so there are more people around at present than usual. It also seems that some people commute from this village to larger towns for work. The village is made up of very old houses, some empty and falling down and then there are others that are ultra modern with swimming pools and all the mod cons. The old houses still show signs of the barn or stable built up against the house. The building we are in has a 400 year old stable.

The Cemetery

I went for a stroll to the cemetery a few hundred metres out of town, Ermita del Calvario (Calvary Hermitage) on the Calle el Calvario (Calvary Street). I noted that the earliest gravestones were from the 1970s. This surprised me as the town has been settled for hundreds of years. Upon further inquiry I learned later that old graves are dug up, the bones collected and the graves reused. The cemetery never needs to get any bigger and has continued to function between the walls.

Apart from the two albergues, the only public facilities are a bar, and shop that is open for only a few hours a day, mainly to support pilgrims.

The Stable

The church that serves the town is cared for a by a non Spanish priest who has quite a few other parishes to support. Young Spanish men are not interested in the priesthood. During services the men sit on one side of the church and women on the other which is an indication of how traditional it is in this village. There were no children present when my wife went to a Sunday service.

Just as you enter the village there is a large winery, Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin, which I gather has a very good reputation so, clearly, a visit is required before I leave.

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A Day Off

Today was our day off, so here are some photos of our adventures which included 28000 steps according to my Fitbit.

The Puente La Reina – Queens Bridge, built in the 11thC for pilgrims to cross the Arga River

A left handed door knocker In puente La Reina

The Bimbo bread van in Puente La Reina

Santa Marie de Eunate an 8 sided Romanesque church built in the 12thC

A detail

Mason’s marks

The Portico

Asparagus growing and a church on the hill near Obanos

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Secundo, and the Church Bell: Two More Glimpses

Secundo

There are two albergues in our small village and ours requires a bit more walking and is not easily seen from the pilgrimage route. But we have a secret weapon – Secundo. Secundo was born in this village and is in his 70s. Moreover, he has taken a liking to the family that runs the albergue I am volunteering in. So he has made it his task to greet pilgrims as they come into Villamayor and direct them to, what he considers to be, the better albergue.

We have heard pilgrims say, as they enter our albergue, that an old man told them to come here. Secundo enjoys talking with the pilgrims, in fact, anyone at the albergue. I am learning the art of ‘Google Translate’ on the run when conversing with Secundo.

The Church Bell

The church bell in Villamayor sounds like small boys throwing rocks at a 44 gallon drum. It still strikes the number of bells for the hour and one every half hour – 24 hours a day. Being hot, the windows are open, so just when you have fallen asleep at night one is unceremoniously awakened by, what seems like, a gang of small boys throwing rocks at a drum. The locals must be used to it but I am still learning to adjust.

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A Servant Heart

“You mean, you can do the camino on a bike?”

Nobody would accuse me of having a servant heart. I am more likely to tell people to do something than do it. However, being in an albergue requires me to have a totally different mindset. I am here to serve, to care and to be supportive. No longer can I say, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”

Washing and hanging up sheets, sweeping, mopping, serving meals, being welcoming, ensuring that no one has introduced unwelcome guests (bed bugs – otherwise known as ‘bunnies’, so named so as not to scare anyone. Although being known as bunny killers is not good for the image either) is all in a day’s work.

It has also meant being ordered around by my wife who has been an expert in these duties for a long time. It is very humbling to think that people (primarily my wife) have been doing these things for me for a long time and I have, far too rarely, been appreciative of this.

So currently I am in the process of being humbled. Many who know me too well are probably saying under their breath, “About time!”

Stairs to mop

Preparing beds

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Art, Giants and Big Heads

I was going to write today about my lack of a servant heart and how it needs to be trained. However, today we went to the town of Los Arcos for the festival which centred on the Assumption of Mary – a national holiday in Spain. It included giants and big heads – Gigantes y Cabezudos .We missed out on the running of the bulls. Rather than write about it I have included some photos. I will leave the servant heart musings for another time.

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Too Much Information

Festival Patronales in Estella, Spain

Hetty and I went into Estella for our day off. Hetty had noticed a week earlier that men dressed like men on horseback were going around chasing and hitting children with white bags that looked like slightly elongated balloons. While in a craft/leather shop in Estella we noticed that they were for sale. We inquired what they were made of. Was it leather or plastic? The shop keeper nodded ‘no’ quite vigorously and grasped his groin area dramatically. Looking both aghast and puzzled we wondered what he was on about. Then he added the word ‘toro’. The realisation hit us that these white ‘bags’ were made from bull scrotums (what is the plural?). There was some nervous hilarity as we left the shop. The remnants of running with the bulls I suppose.

All this is part of the Patronales festival which involves, bulls, dancing, giants and big heads – go figure.

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A senorita, a Scot and a sheila

The day started early. I was wide awake at 3 am and listened to the church bells strike the quarter hours. By 6am I had had breakfast, packed my bags and was ready to roll. I then made my way through a crowd of young people recovering from the night before. Is there no school or work in Spain? School returns in 4 weeks my informant tells me.

The metro plan had been worked out: how to put money on the Metro card, which station ,which direction, where to change… I got to my first leg of the journey when to my dismay there was a sign over my first changeover indicating that the station was closed for a makeover.

A travel card

Then an attractive young lady came over and indicated (spoke no English but was a whizz with Google translate) that she wanted to assist. When we had worked out a solution she asked where I came from. When I replied, I got a very English response, via Google Translate, “What about all the dangerous animals and insects?”

I assured her that as an expert surfer, crocodile hunter and bushman, I had never had a dangerous encounter. Finally, she was agog that man so young could have six daughters – all older than her. At that point I left the train.

The landscape north of Madrid is so reminiscent of Oz with its wheat fields and dryness. Bailed hay lies waiting in the fields. In the bus everybody was glued to their devices and nobody sat next to the old bloke so I had to entertain myself. We went over the Moron river which gave me some lame ideas for puns.

Just south of Logrono the scenery is quite rugged. Hills, valleys and forests predominate and every now and then you spy a herd of cattle in a little clearing. Closer to Logrono the rock formations and towering cliffs are especially spectacular and the bus took particular care around the numerous hairpin bends.

In Logrono I caught another bus for Urbiola, the closest bus stop to my final destination – Villamayor de Monjardin. On this journey I met a Scot who lives in France and had just finished a portion of the Camino. We spoke about Brexit, Boris and faith and he said that he was optimistic about the last, especially with the end of “Christendom”.

The view from my bedroom

At the bus stop my beloved was there to greet me and once again all was right with, my world, at least.

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