Less then 100km to go

Today was a beautiful day for walking, a little hot by the end of day but beautiful nonetheless. 21ish miles of rolling hills and small hamlets (the villages not the Dane or very small pigs 🙄).

Today also marks the 100km mark to Santiago. About 80% of pilgrims only do the last 100km. This changes the character of the walk completely. Where you could walk for hours on some days without seeing another soul the way has become quite crowded, particularly with groups. The energy level has increased as has the noice level. It not a bad thing it just takes some getting used to.

At this point as I come to the end of this walk I know you’re expect some great reflection – well you are just going to have to wait. As of now I am enjoying myself but I am tired.

So here are some picks from the last few days

Peace.

When traveling try something new every day

Yesterday and today I have been walking through the wine region of Bierzo. They have a local dish call botillo here that I have wanted to try. Tonight I got my chance at a little local restaurant known for its wine selection and regional dishes.

Dinner started with a plate of green beans and ham cooked in olive oil followed by the botillo. It is a section of a pigs large intestine stuffed with snout, tail and rib bones with the meat still on them. Heavily spiced (too much salt) with lots of pepper, garlic and tons of paprika smoked and boiled much like haggis. They serve it with great, very spicy chorizo, boiled potatoes and (over cooker) cabbage. A nice local wine, good bread and water makes it perfect.

This is not beginner’s food – serious food for this serious food lover.

Flying Solo

Ponferrada to Villafranca: Today’s walk was very different then yesterday’s, I’ll explain why in a bit but first I want to discuss something else.

Last night (my time) someone asked me on my Facebook feed how many where in my group. I responded that I am walking solo and that I though groups walking together insulate you from the experience. After thinking about this while walking today I want to rescind that response and explain my thoughts on the subject. That’s what you get for reading my blog – “my thoughts,” sorry. The first time I walked the Camino 5 years ago I came to Spain by myself and quickly met folks to walk with. Over the course of the 35 days that I was on the trail I walked with a number of different folks and groups of folks. The last part of my time was spent in the very good company of a group that I became very fond of. Many of my memories and feelings about that Camino were formed by the people I met along the way.

This time again I quickly fell into the company of fellow pilgrims and enjoyed their company for some time. However in the last week or so I have made the conscious decision to walk by myself (fly solo as it were). As a pretty extreme extrovert this is a real act of discipline. I have found that the older I get the less extroverted I am becoming. Still, alone time is not easy for me.

All that said I am really enjoying my time alone. Technology has made it mush easier as I text or talk with Priscilla daily and text, Facebook and this silly blog have made me feel connected to friends at home – I did not come to Spain to make friends, I am blessed with many at home. I am however enjoying most of the people I meet on the Way.

What has been so different doing this solo is how much more I am experiencing my surroundings. Like yesterday- It was my favorite walk yet and I don’t even remember doing that stretch last time. All my memories of my first Camino that are related to a place are also related to people. I am also able to spend way more time with my own thoughts and prayers and this has been for the most part time I am really grateful for. As you can imagine it does have its downside.

So is one way better than the other – I would say no, just different. It has made be grateful for all those I get to walk though this life with in my “real” life.

Ok, let me tell you a little bit about my day. Unlike yesterday which was spent in the mountains, today’s walk was spent walking through urban sprawl and then rolling hills of cherry trees and vineyards. A pleasent rest for my legs as the next 3 to 4 days are made up on some serious ups and downs as I enter the mountains of Galicia. I also saw the first rainbow I have seen in a really long time and yes that means I walked through some rain but nothing much, that also looks like its about to change.

As I mentioned earlier walking alone can have its downsides. About 2 hours in I took a wrong turn and having a strong commitment to not turning around (drives my wife crazy on car trips) I stuck with it and relied on my well honed sense of direction (oh well). Two hours later, google maps and the assistance of a little girl and her father “I” found my way back onto the trail. As it turns out I had only lost about half an hour.

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what Bob Hooper walking solo looks like, the better question is “what does it sound like?” I spend a lot of time talking to myself – and yes out loud. It’s kinda funny.

Here are a few pictures of my day – enjoy

Peace

From Maine to Spain (and back)

Foncebadon to Ponferrada (34km/21mile/42,405steps) – the day started off with a quick 20 minute climb to the Cruz Ferro or Iron Cross which is the highest point on the Camino and where pilgrims for decades have placed a stone at the foot of the cross, symbolically relieving themselves of their sins and burdens. Tradition dictates that the stone is to brought from home and carried all this way. Hence I brought a small stone. The stone that I placed at the cross was one I had taken off the beach on Peaks Island, Maine, nowhere creates perfectly round stones like the Maine coast. Don’t worry though I picked a small granite stone up off the trail a few days ago to put on the beach on Peaks at the end of the summer. Seemed like a fair trade. And yes I am obsessed with the weight of my pack but I am carrying stone with me – oh tradition.

The day continued with what I believe may be the prettiest day of walking I have ever had. While the trail was quite challenging and we did get a few sprinkles the last few miles Mother Nature was really showing off her stuff today. I walked for 6ish hours through the mountains dropping into small valley hamlets and back up again. It was not only beautiful it was really fun.

One sad point was that I did obverse many folks walking in sandals because of hurting feet and I came across a young women who had tripped, fallen and cut her head open on the rock – she seemed in amazingly good spirits despite all the blood but her companions were taking good care of her and an ambulance was called.

As you walk the Camino not a day goes by that you do not see at least one memorial to either a person who died walking the Camino or a person for whom this trail meant a lot. Today I saw one with a saying I have never heard before but really like. I’ll end with the quote and some picks from what was a really good walk today.

Peace

The boat is safer anchored in the port; but that is not the point of boats

Actual Knights Templar Castle

Two Thirds of the way to Santiago

As of today I have walked 351 miles across Spain since April 22. It turned out to be the hottest day yet and the steepest since the Pyrenees now that I am in the mountains entering Galicia, but man it is beautiful. I love walking in the mountains.

The scenery and the food, both for the better, are not the only things changing – the people are. The Camino seems to have one of two effects ,sometimes both, on people physically. You either get stronger and more confident or the trail begins to beat you down. As I walked today I passed many folks with bad and painful limps, usually caused by blisters – in some cases really bad one. I have already spoken with a few folks should due to injury were not able to continue. A fear that I believe passed through all pilgrims minds and prayers. I find it was at its worst in the mornings, when I would wake up and think “can I really do this today?” Within an hour or so it would pass and the next thought would be “I’ve got this” and by the end of the days walk I sometimes found myself thinking “I can go further.” Luckily I have only done it once as that is a great way to end up hurting yourself. Knee, back and blister trouble is caused by the trauma of constantly beating your feel against the earth as you walk so sometimes stopping is just what your body needs for the day, there is always tomorrow. (quick funny: I mistyped trauma and it auto corrected to Trump 🙄).

The other possible result of doing this day in and day out is that you become stronger and more confident. So far I have been blessed to fall into this category. Literally every day I feel better then the day before and hills and distances that slowed me down a couple of weeks ago no longer do. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts sometimes or my wind can be hard to find.

I have always taken my physical strength for granted but it is the psychological and spiritual strength that one must muster that shocks me at times

Lets be very clear here, I am doing this to myself. In the real world people deal with real hardship and trauma perpetrated on them my others, society and the world simply because of who they are and they still find the real strength to move forward and put one foot in front of the other. These folks truly amaze me.

Tomorrow at sunrise I will (God willing) reach the “Cruz de Ferro” or the “Iron Cross,” traditionally this marks the highest point on the Camino. It actually doesn’t that happens about 10 minute down (or up) the trail. For me this point metaphorically marks the point where it is “down hill from here.” While this is not literally at all the case it works in my little mind.

Two thirds of the way in and I am very grad to be here and understand the real privilege it is to have a family, a parish and a job that allows for this. I can also say that I very much look forward to returning home in two weeks and spending the rest of my sabbatical with my very patient and generous wife.

Here are some pics from the last couple of days – enjoy

Peace

Found me some good Asian food in Leon 😁

I am thinking we could get it cheep

This fence with all the crosses went on for well over a km.

Happy Mother’s Day

And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14a). To pull this off Jesus needed to have a mom just like you and me.

For me the most important theological concept is the incarnation. The fact that Jesus was born into this world, again just like you and me, is incredible telling about the God I worship and how I am to live (on my best days I do try).

Over the last few weeks I have spent a great deal of time wondering through churches and cathedrals across northern Spain. Today I spent the morning in the cathedral in Leon. This is one of my top 3 favorite sacred spaces along the Camino. It is one of the finest examples of the use of light and glass in all of Europe. Unlike so many churches and cathedrals in Spain Leon cathedral in simple and unmolested by baroque art and architecture. The windows are simply magnificent. But non of this is the point of this posting.

As I wondered through the cathedral today it became very clear that the most common theme in the windows and other pieces of art is the relationship between Jesus and his mom – from the beginning of his life until the end. They even have a rather uncommon statue of Mary pregnant. Throughout Spain a common theme in sacred art is La Virgin De La Leche or The Virgin of the Milk. There are statues, reliefs and panting everywhere (especially in Burgos) of the young mother Mary nursing her first born. Unlike so much Spanish art the expressions of the people in these works is almost always very sweet and tended, with Mary and the baby Jesus looking directly into each other’s eyes. They can be quite moving.

There is just something about these works of art that speak of real love to me.

Moms can be amazing. I have been blessed with two of the best, my mother Jan and the mother of my children Priscilla. So on this Mother’s Day I would like to express my love, appreciation and gratitude to all the mothers in my life and all the women and men who have played that roll. Being as mom is about as hard a job as any one person could every take on (I know being my mom was no cake walk) – so thanks.

Happy Mother’s Day and Peace.

Sometimes the “road less traveled” is just that for good reason

The last two days have been quite “interesting.” Let’s start with today. The forecast was for rain, as opposed to yesterday’s forecast – but lets put a pin in that for a moment. As I began my walk today the weather was lovely -partly cloudy, mild and wind free. I expected the walk to be simple and relaxing as it was to be flattish and only 15 miles.

The first thing you need to know is that everyone – I mean everyone – carries a Camino guidebook, you would be crazy not to. In English there are one of three that most people use. Of the three the most popular is by John Brierley, he spends a lot of ink on opportunities for daily meditation, like walking alone for hours on end needs outside spiritual structure/directions. One of the others is the Rother Walking Guide, other than I hear it has good maps I know nothing about it. The guidebook I like and have used on both of my Caminos is by the husband and wife team of Anna Dintaman and David Landis. I did carry the Brierley book for about a week last time before I got rid of it to shed weight in my pack.

The thing I like about the Dintaman/Landis book is that it gives good clear directions, some local history which is expanded on by there website and good concise maps. The other this I like about it is that the sages are a bit longer then Brierley’s so you are not stopping at all the same places as the hordes and it gets you to Santiago in a couple of less days. One of the few issues I have with the book is the they offer “alternative routes” from time to time. Today was the first time I have ever taken them up on it. The reason behind today change of plan was to avoid walking along the highway for many kilometers. Instead what happened was this. After leaving the albergue where I had spent the night at 7:30 (late start, short day) I did not speak to another English speaker until I spoke with Priscilla by cell at 12:30 – that is a lot of silence and time in my head (ponder that if you will.) For the last two hours of today’s walk, I walked on a dirt road through fields and scrub forest without seeing a single soul and only one old barn. Every time I thought I was lost I would come upon an old trail marker and would feel a slight bit of relief. It was the first time this trip I felt really uneasy at times and I have been lost before. For some reason this just felt different. As you can probably tell I did survive the day and in fact after walking the last hour in a light drizzle I ended up at a really lovely albergue with a quite adequate kitchen. Sometimes the road less traveled is just that and for good reason.

As for yesterday, the forecast was for a good breeze and rain in the afternoon. Guess what – wrong. I I walked the entire 6 hours in some of the strongest winds I have ever experienced. The wind was non stop and so strong I found myself from time to time using my trekking pole to keep from being blows off the trail. On top of the wind a soaking rain came early and hard. It was a constant cycle of rinse, dry, repeat. The upside of the wind was that when the rain did stop the wind dried you out. Then the cycle began again – rinse, dry, repeat. The strangest part of it all was that I did not seen to mind any of it. I had a fawn run right across my path and watched it run through the field. I watched an eagle fly over my head for quite awhile fighting the wind, a mole scurrying away as I approached. I watched a stork gather nesting materials from a pile of grass clippings in a school playground. The best wildlife sighting of the day was a quail that just stood in the middle of the path as I approached and did not seen disturbed until I was only feet away and the then walked calmly into the brush. As I walked on past the quail the first thought I had was “that was beautiful” the second was “boy, I am hungry”and the third and most important was how lucky and blessed I am and what a generous and patient wife I have.

The lesson of the last two days is a simple but hard one for me – sometimes life is at its best when you just let it happen to you.

Peace

Walked two hours without seeing a single person

The midway point if you start in Spain, I started 28 km sooner in France

Woke up and took a picture of the sunrise – went back to bed

Somewhere in the middle of Spain

Carrión de Los Conde – One of the realities of the Camino is that you are frequently surrounded by other pilgrims and deeply immersed in the Camino culture and can easily miss the “real” Spain. Don’t get me wrong I genuinely do enjoy most of my fellow pilgrims and the time we spend together. This time together can be sitting at a large communal meal, chatting along the way or very frequently walking silently along side one another deep in ones own thoughts.

Today started like most days. It was cool and sunny and a few of us set off not much after sunrise. We walked for about two hours enjoying each other’s company and conversation. As is typical in the rhythm of the day we stopped for coffee and either a tortilla (Spanish version of quiche but better) or an egg and ham sandwich. The Spanish do love their ham, and for good reason – it’s really good. When we went to settle up with our server one of my walking companions, Tom – a lovely guy from Kent, England, realized he had left his wallet and passport at the albergue where a number of us had stent the night before. He tried to contact the albergue but was unable to get through and after a complete search of his pack a couple of us gave him the money to take a taxi and hopefully collect his stuff. I don’t know if I will ever see Tom again, as is the way of the Camino, but do hope so,. He is a great conversationalist.

The rest of the day involved walking once agin through endless wheat fields and a steady breeze.

Yesterday was a much more interesting walk as the path lead us through a number of really intriguing old towns and past many fascinating old churches.

I started off by saying that we so often miss the “real” Spain on the Camino, but not tonight. As I am waiting for dinner I am sitting in a local bar enjoying a nice glass of Rioja watching (sort of) a bull fight with a bunch of old guys. I must admit, I am glad I am here right now for the experience but I am not really a fan – I mean I like old guys and good red wine but not bull fighting. This is however the “real” rural Spain and I am glad I am here. I took a few pictures of the tv to share but I have decided spare you. In stead I’ll share a very short video I shot today.

As a side not for you who have better things to do than follow my facebook feed – I consulted my watch and in the last 15 days (including 1 rest day) I have walked 262.9 miles which translates into 557,378 steps.

Just before I posted this I continued with my very Spanish evening and I sat down to a dinner of Castilian garlic soup and a pot of rabbit stew. They even used the heart and livers – this is serious eating and it was really good and cheap.

Peace,

You’re welcome

Wheat and more wheat – can be kinda prayerfull

The Meseta – Today was the beginning of 6 days walking through the Meseta (plateau). The Meseta is one long rolling path through endless wheat fields. It was a 32km (5 ½ hour) walk on a windy, sunny day in the high 40’s – perfect walking weather. Helped by the fact that for the first time the wind was at our backs – I’ll take any help I can get. The whole day was kinda boring in a pleasant kind of way. I will confess that I did catch myself talking to myself the last hour – out loud.

The day ended with a rather good communal meal of salad and paella. Not a lot to add past that – it was that kind of day.

Here are some pictures from the day, see if you can pick up on the theme. Peace

Burgos, a day of rest and lots of walking

Burgos – Spent the last two days in Burgos. It was a planned rest day although I am not sure that I needed it. It however was really nice and time well spent. Burgos is a beautiful city and home to the Burgos Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Castillo de Burgos and the Museum of Human Evolution which is one of the finest archeological and anthropological museums in the world. The reason the museum is located here is that the Atapuerca excavation which is the site of the oldest hominids found in Europe is only a couple of miles away. I had the chance to visit all three places and many more, mostly very old churches.

The other thing Burgos is know for is good food – lets just say I visited many of those sites as well.

Tomorrow begins the Meseta, 10 days of very long walks through flat(ish), dry, hot, massive flocks of sheep and sun soaked wheat fields – as a friend of mine says, “Kansas with lots of old churches and roads built by the Romans.” Pray for me – it is mind numbingly boring.

Here are some pictures from Burgos – Peace