The next stage of the Camino

When I wrote the last post about a month ago, it was on the eve of arriving in Santiago de Compostela. A couple days ago, I sat down and read through all my posts, with a map at my side to help remember the routes and villages I visited. I went through my photos to jog my memory of the people and chapels and albergues and other places I had come across. While reminiscing, I sometimes found myself deep in thought remembering an incident along the Camino or chuckling to myself as some forgotten event was unexpectedly recalled. It is sometimes difficult to believe that I actually undertook the pilgrimage and walked across the north of Spain. Did it really happen, or was it all a dream?

Paula can vouch that I did arrive in Santiago. At 10:30 am on October 11, as Lisa and I made our final approach into the Plaza del Obradoiro, the square in front of the Cathedral, we saw Paula and John waving us in. It was quite an emotional moment as you might expect. After many hugs and kisses all around, interrupted by compliments and congratulations, we found a spot in the square directly on front of the Cathedral to sit down on the cobblestones. John popped the cork on a bottle of Veuve Clicquot as Paula arranged four flutes in a row. We toasted ourselves and watched as pilgrims filled the square. After draining the bottle, we went down to the Pilgrim’s office which Paula and John had reconnoitered the day before and Lisa and I received our Compostela, or certificate of completion of the Camino. Then we headed back to the plaza for a second celebratory bottle of champagne.

We checked into the Parador de Santiago which is located on the north side of the Plaza del Obradoiro, next to the Cathedral. The Paradores de España are a collection of about 100 state-owned hotels, established in 1910 to promote tourism. Normally, “government run hotel” is a phrase which would send most tourists running in the opposite direction. However, the paradores are considered luxury hotels, often located in old castles, monasteries or other buildings with historical significance. The Parador of Santiago, built 100 years after Columbus’ voyages of discovery, began as a hospital and refuge for weary pilgrims. In 1953, it was renovated and joined the parador network. It certainly worked for us for the two nights we spent in Santiago. That afternoon, we reconvened at the hotel bar to plan the next steps of our adventure.

For whatever reasons, we did not make it to the pilgrim’s mass the day we arrived so we made sure to go the following day, October 12, which celebrates the Virgin of the Pillar, when Mary appeared to St James as he was preaching the gospel in Spain in 40 AD. The mass was a much more elaborate ceremony than those delivered in the churches of the small villages along the Way, but the message of the pilgrim’s blessing was the same: Lord, be my companion on this journey, give me strength when I am weary, shine light where there is darkness, console me when I am dejected and guide me at the intersections. Or words to that effect. And usually the priest will ask us to remember these supplications as we return to our normal lives, our Camino of Life. This final observation took on a special urgency with the realization that this was the last blessing of my journey. In a long moment of silence, I reflected on my pilgrimage, the many wonders revealed, and on the significance of the day. I am not a particularly religious or spiritual or meditative person. But I felt a confluence of these three pillars of the soul, and acknowledged that my pilgrimage had been a good one and now was a good time to move on. Ultreia et suseia , as they say on the Way. Onward and upward!

And thus ended my Camino. But of course, the Camino never ends. It simply enters a new stage. And for Lisa, John, Paula and me, the next stage was a drive through Spain ending with a week in Madrid. What follows is a quick glimpse of that trip, which always was a part of the pilgrimage.

After Santiago, Paula and I took a bus to Porto and had a great time just being together. We wandered the streets and the riverfront, tasted port, took the metro to a coastal fishing village for a sumptuous seafood meal with a bottle of waiter-recommended vinho verde for esophageal transit assistance, met with a pilgrim couple I knew for a chicken piri piri dinner, enjoyed those tasty little cream tarts, and pretty much stayed occupied even though we had no plans. John and Lisa rented a car and drove north to Finisterre and Muxia. A couple days later, we met up again and began our driving trip across the north of Spain, reversing the direction Lisa and I had travelled.

We drove with determination to escape the rainstorms that were to batter the northwest coast for the next several weeks. We ended up that evening in Gijon, where we found another parador (although this one without much of a parking lot!), wandered down the long promenade by the sea only to find out we had passed by all the eating establishments, and returned to select – by luck – a fine place for dinner.

The next day we drove though the Picos de Europa, three limestone massifs that thrust upward within the Cantabrian mountain range, offering stunning views of rugged peaks, alpine valleys and narrow gorges cut by rivers rushing about searching for lower ground. After a fine lunch of fabada asturiana and roasted goat, John expertly drove us along the winding mountain roads back to the coast where we stayed at yet another parador in Santillana del Mar, this one with ample parking. In the morning, we found a coffee bar frequented by peregrinos – Santillana del Mar is located along the Camino del Norte.

Our next jaunt would take us to Haro, a town in the middle of Rioja Alta country and home to many fine wineries, including that of Ramon Bilbao. This Rioja wine had become our go to red wine and it seemed only right that we visit it’s birthplace and take what turned out to be a most interesting and informative tour. Don and Erin will remember Haro and the “herradura”, the horseshoe shaped street through the old town lined with bars and restaurants.

After a relatively leisurely drive back to the coast, we came to San Sebastián, whose famous pintxos we had been looking forward to eating since leaving Santiago. John’s driving skills were put to the test again as our hotel was located in the “pedestrian only” section of town. Our quest was to find the best pintxo bar in town and after checking out a half dozen or so found that the number one spot was right across from our hotel!

The following day we drove south to Madrid, checked into our Airbnb and dropped off the rental car. Paula and I always start our Madrid stays with a visit to Bodega Santa Cecilia, to try out the latest wine recommendations, and soon we were there with John and Lisa. We were quickly joined by Paula and Juan Miguel. By day, we visited museums and stadiums and took a train to Segovia to eat cochinillo and cordero, joined in this last venture by Linda Belonje, a true friend from Bangkok rugby days. By night, the six of us went to a flamenco show and a zarzuela, or light-hearted Spanish opera. On our last day, we ate heartily at Sagardi, a restaurant serving Galician fare. Appropriately, we included a chuletón of rubia gallega. And, at some point near the end of the meal, we raised our glasses and toasted each other, thankful for a wonderful visit and hopeful of returning again.

Two peregrinos entering the Plaza del Obradoiro. They became famous along the Way as the couple who were not married to each other, but were going to meet their spouses in Santiago.
The reunion!
All great achievements should be celebrated with champagne!
Here, in a crypt inside the Catedral de Santiago, lie the earthly remains of St. James the Apostle. Pilgrims have walked from all over Europe to this place for over one thousand years. Today, there are basically two groupings of people along the trail. The first are the younger people, who are generally not married and certainly have no children or demanding jobs to preoccupy them. The other group are the older people whose children have grown up and who are very likely to be retired. There is not much in between, unless they are doing a very much shortened version of the Camino. The younger group are less spiritual in their reasons for doing the Camino, but many are looking for themselves or what to do with their lives. The older people are more likely to be spiritual or reflective on the trail, having already done something with their lives. The big difference is time. Young people have it in such abundance, they often spend it frivolously. Older people find it such a precious commodity that they do not want to waste a bit of it. We can learn from each other.
After Santiago, John and Lisa and Paula and I drove eastward along the north coast of Spain. In Gijon, we tried a couple of ciders. They are poured so as to aerate the drink and give it a fresh taste. The Navarese ciders are not sweet like many ciders in US market and is a bit of an acquired taste. Unfortunately we did not have the time to acquire it.
The Picos de Europa are magnificent and we had great weather and clear skies to appreciate their immense beauty. The Camino Vadiniense links the Norte and the Frances, traversing 200 km through the Picos, making it one of the toughest routes. Anybody?
At our friend’s house. Behind us are some French oak barrels and some American oak barrels used to demonstrate the difference in taste of wine depending on what wood they are exposed to. French oak is more tightly grained and less dense than American oak. Each one imparts different flavors, French being subtler with more tannins and American spicier and more aromatic. Ramon Bilbao rioja wines are aged only in American oak. Although there are many other factors involved in wine-making, Ramon Bilbao was our favorite crianza.
Turistas at the Alcazar in Segovia, a medieval castle built during the Moorish Almoravid dynasty in the 11th C on the ruins of an old Roman fort and later was a royal palace for Spanish monarchs. It also served as a prison, a military academy and today is a museum.
Time for orujo!

So there you have it: it was a dream after all! I want to thank all of you for the kind words of encouragement before, during and since I walked the Way of St James and I wish you Buen Camino on your journey.

8 thoughts on “The next stage of the Camino

  1. Jim, what a spectacular achievement that you waited to do for so long, and then had to wait some more because of COVID. I am so impressed by your determination and patience in completing this amazing life goal. Love to you and Paula and your friends, hope to see you again this summer.


  2. Nice one Jimmy!! Amazing trip that was, and good you met with Linda. Hope to catch you on your next Europe experience or when in Thailand. Cheers mate!


  3. It makes me happy to read your blog and relive some of the experiences we shared along the Camino. It does seem like a dream, especially when looking at a map! I did that??!!
    Great memories!!


  4. A perfect ending to the journey as well as a perfect close out to your El Peregrino journal. Great story and great storytelling supported by wonderful photos. Bravo Jaime Camino!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: