I have never been a fan of ocean cruising. So for the first time, excepting ferry crossings and my five week trip to Australia, we are taking a 12 day cruise. It is not , however, what one of my fellow passengers called “Heidi-land.” I didn’t ask for a definition but I got his drift. He was describing the modern cruise ship.
Our boat was built in 1965 but there is no flashy aluminium or gold. There are no pools, evening entertainment, bingo, pokies and the rest. There is plenty of wood and brass. It is a working vessel that loads and unloads by crane. None of this fancy “roll on roll off.” There are no stabilisers so it gets quite a roll on the open ocean. Although you aren’t allowed in the wheel house you can stand next to it and get a captain’s eye view.
The MS Lofoten is the last ship of an era and everybody on board knows it and is enjoying this nod to the past. The added benefit is the passing parade of spectacular Norwegian scenery and the regular stops at towns and cities.
Written a few days ago.
You may be wondering to yourself, is walking the Camino and staying in Albergues something for me? Let me relate two in incidents.
Last night as I was lying in bed, awake, but with my eyes closed, Hetty witnessed the young woman in the bed next to me getting changed. Her back was facing me but I was oblivious. She then changed for bed, undressing to her g-string briefs. Hetty said the next morning that if my eyes had been open she would have leapt across me to protect my eyes.
The next day, as pilgrims were coming in from their day’s walk, a group of middle aged, portly Frenchmen came into our dorm. They insisted in walking around in their jocks with bellies spilling over. Or as one brother-in-law oft repeated, “there was a large veranda over the tool shed.” The two young women in the beds across from mine didn’t know where to look. Hetty was ready to throw up. One man didn’t get back into pants for ages. The young women fled well before that to save their eyesight.
The accomodation is cheap and there are great moments when you meet people and chat with them but there are also times when one’s sensitivities are pushed to the limit. For me, I would do it again even if my wife has to hurl herself over me to protect me.
Seminario Menor in Santiago but without the g-strings and bellies.
This is the first time we have ever gone travelling as grandparents. In the past I have had to cool my heels outside postcard and souvenir shops. But a new dimension has entered our travels. Simply put it is, “Wouldn’t that be nice for T or B?”
Toys, clothes, games as well as postcards are now part of the roving eagle eye of my beloved. I will give you one example that will make you sob in your breakfast cereal. My wife sent T a postcard. This was duly posted in a Correos post box. “Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a toy Correos van for T?”
The local post offices didn’t have them. I thought if any place would have them it would be the main Correos in Madrid. So off we trekked this morning across the city to find the toy. Surprisingly it was there in a display cabinet. I don’t think they had ever sold one before because it took 4 people to work out where one was and how to sell it to us. But we have our toy van.
My feet are not thanking me for such adept thinking and insight. However, travelling with grandchildren adds a dimension to our travels that we have not had before.
I remarked in my last blog how uncomfortable I felt watching the Semana Santa processions in Sevilla. A few years ago I watched similar processions in Santiago de Compostela and it struck me at the time that, although not to my taste or sensibilities, there was a strong presence of the gospel. The death and resurrection of Christ were clearly presented and the message in the Santiago Cathedral square on Easter Sunday was gospel straight from Scripture.
On this occasion I met a couple from the south of Holland in the Cathedral square in Sevilla and I related the contrast between my two experiences. They expressed a similar sentiment, however their alternate experience had been Córdoba. This couple were Catholic and thought the Sevilla processions were more about other things than the Christian faith in contrast to Córdoba.
That was a helpful reflection for me.
The other thing I did today was go into the Sevilla Cathedral and also walk up the Giralda tower, one I am told in which two horses abreast can be ridden to the top. It is a continuous ramp but hopefully the horses lose a bit of weight near the top as the ramp narrows a little. While I was waiting for the ticket office to open I encountered a retired couple from Denmark. He was also a Teacher – a history teacher at that. We were at the head of the queue. History is too important to be pushed to the back of the line by the great unwashed! We also chatted about history and my favourite Danish films and TV programs.
The tower started off as a minaret but was as with other buildings in Spain it was repurposed by the Christians after the Moors were conquered. It is now the bell tower of the Cathedral. The Cathedral itself is large but not as ostentatious as some. It has some famous art works – especially Murillo.
This evening we tried tapas and paella. Hetty did remove any pieces that had suction cups attached.
We are in Sevilla during Semana Santa or Holy Week. This entails incredible processions every day of the week. Some even starting at one in the morning. The locals are dressed to the nines and the tourists look like underdressed slobs – a description that is, in my case, accurate.
Holy Week processions are a sight to behold. Every church has a procession that includes a band, people dressed in robes reminiscent of the KKK and large statues carried by a number of men. Children carry crosses and we haven’t even got to the chains, bare feet and steel poles of the Friday procession. They process from their own church, go to the Cathedral and return to their home church. This is a logistical work of art that includes police, fence arrangers and chair ‘setter uppers’. It dominates the whole of the old city. Many of the well dressed people around town wear lapel pins that identify them with a particular church or society. There is an underlying sense of passionate competition between the groups.
What do I make of all this? It is a fabulous tourist attraction. National and international visitors flock to Sevilla. Bars make more now than at any other time of the year. However, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, are for me, at the heart of the Christian message. It is about Christ’s sacrifice for our total brokenness and his power over sin and death – again, for us. It is about reconciliation with God through His ‘agape’ self giving love.
I see glimpses of that in the theatre of the processions but I wonder if like so may religious traditions we make it more about us and what we want than God and what He has done. The festivities (I can’t think of a more appropriate word) has that secular and self obsessed air of Christmas.
I find myself in that uncomfortable position where I am intrigued and drawn in by the drama but deeply unsettled by its implied message.
The Yo Yo day:
From two Spanish ladies wrecking my sleep to a beautiful meal with my birthday wife.
The day started very early. Two Spanish ladies addicted to their cell phones were communicating with others and each other in the early hours of the morning as I was trying to sleep in a bunk only half a metre away. Then at 5 am with headlights attached they started packing up and leaving the Albergue. It was like trying to sleep in a disco as their lights strobed around the room. That was a downward plunge of the yo yo. Then at 7 am when all the civilised pilgrims decided to rise and shine I told them it was Hetty’s birthday when Hetty was out of the dorm. When she returned they all sang happy birthday to her. The yo yo was on the way up.
We started walking at 8 am and entered the next village a few kms away and there was a beautifully kept bar with a friendly host who served croissants, coffee and fresh orange juice. We reconnected with some of our fellow pilgrims. The yo yo was still going up. However we needed to catch the bus as Hetty’s knee was hurting badly. We walked 4 kms to the bus stop only to find out the timetable was out of date and the next one wasn’t coming for hours. Yo yo going down again. After a frustrating time trying to work out what to do a lady stopped at the bus stop and insisted we get in her car and she drove us to Burgos. All she asked was that we pray for her. Monty was her name. Yo yo flying up.
My head was still pounding from spending a night in an airless disco dorm and when we got to the Pensión I wasn’t in a mood for making decisions but we had to and a domestic situation ensued. Yo yo plunging.
After a big deep breath Hetty went to the doctor who said she had to rest the leg. Good to know. Contacts in Madrid said they would be happy to see us next week. Yo yo up.
After a nice rest we entered the bustling crowds of Burgos at 8:30 and went to a pizza restaurant for a birthday dinner. Yo yo very up.
To mix the metaphors “Some days are diamonds and some are coal”. Today we had them both but the diamonds shone more brightly. My wife tells me she is the diamond.
Sadly there was no Palm Sunday church service in Villafranca Montes de Oca today. Many villages in Spain are without priests and the church is mainly frequented by the elderly. So we started walking. Today’s experience was walking through falling snow but the wind had, thankfully, died down.
Our destination was San Juan de Ortega. Due to knee issues we are walking shorter distances. Today was only 12kms. All up we have covered 98 kms but we have cheated for 15-20 of these. This morning the early sections were quite hilly winding through pine plantations and the road was muddy due to frequent use by log trucks.
In San Juan we found a warm bar and had a coffee and tea with a piece of cake and then another coffee.
Now all we have to do is wait for the Albergue to open and hope that the backpack is there. Yesterday I slipped on a drain grate and my backpack took me for a ride. 20 kilos is hard to stop in mid flight! All that was hurt was my sprained wrist and my pride.
We took a short walk today. Only 11 kms. We have some aches and niggles in our legs so we thought we would be nice to them. We have stopped in Redecilla del Camino. It is a small town made up of a street of vey old stone buildings and C12th church. Over the busy road are some more modern buildings. But like many small Spanish towns it seems in decline. There are deserted Spanish villages for sale if you are so inclined.
Our devotion this morning was on Eph 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Physically, at present, the handiwork is feeling a little run down and worn. Yet the idea that our eyes and hearts always need to be open and ready for service is very heartening and life enhancing.
Strange observation: as we were walking along the other day there was a cross. Now many Spanish towns and roads have Christian crosses. But this seemed rather simple and not ornate. I asked Hetty if it was a cross or a power pole. She opted for cross. We got closer and there were three of them. On closer inspection they turned to to be redundant power poles. There is a sermon illustration in there somewhere.
We are currently staying in the town (Santo Domingo de la Calzada) that permanently keeps chickens in the Cathedral because of ‘miracles’ that occurred in the Middle Ages. These involved the returning to life of a German pilgrim and the returning to life of two chickens on the bishop’s plate when he refused to believe the original miracle. Added to this I found a in a local church a sign proudly selling plenary indulgences. If I am right last year was the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses against indulgences, by Martin Luther.
The returning thought that comes to me is that for most people the Camino to Santiago is a secular trek. The hostels are handy and cheap for accommodation … and it is handy for meeting the opposite sex.
There are however opportunities to explore one’s spirituality. Some hostels take the Christian discipleship dimension seriously. One such Albergue is in Villamayor de Monjardin where the volunteers at the Albergue Hogar Monjardín see hospitality as a crucial part of their discipleship role. They are planning bigger and better ideas for the future.
I need to see these bright lights as otherwise I would become despondent because the Camino would be just another expression of our slide into secularity. It is wonderful to see Christians take opportunities, like the Camino, and step up to the opportunities.
We crossed the Pyrenees yesterday but not as true pilgrims. We cheated. We took a bus across and passed all these freezing pilgrims trudging through the snow. I felt guilty but not that guilty that I wanted to stop the bus. Our driver told us that he had to pick up a Korean lady who had collapsed on the road from hyperthermia, on the previous day.
We arrived in Villamayor and met the people from a Christian albergue/hostel who make it their business to create a welcoming environment for pilgrims. They are a positive presence in the local villages giving the potential of new life in villages that seem to be dying by degrees.
Now the weather is icy outside. Tomorrow we begin walking the next stage of the Camino. Inside the fire is burning and it is cosy and warm. We are steeling ourselves for the reality to come.