Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

Friday, October 12, 2018

Final Thoughts for Fall 2018

At the breakfast table this morning I shared, with Roseanne and another pilgrim, a story from the very first day of the very first Camino on which Ruth and I walked:

Just a few kilometers west of the city of Astorga, Spain is the lovely village of Santa Catalina. Arriving there about 2 hours into the morning, it was time for a bathroom break, so we bought "dos cáfes con leche" and I found a table in the shade. Ruth introduced herself to another pilgrim, and I happened to snap a photo of the street scene, including them, just as they shook hands. Andreas would cross our path 3 or 4 more times in the next week or so.

One day we were walking with him as we passed hundreds of acres of pine trees planted in rows. This was such a strange sight for a kid who grew up in the wild woods of western Montana, and I must have commented so. Our new friend told us that this practice had recently ended in his home country of Germany. After centuries of using this efficient way to commoditize the forest, it had been found to be so harmful, it was banned. An ecosystem needs diversity of life forms to be healthy. The pruned branches drown out almost all other plants. The normal fauna has nothing to eat, and no place to hide. A large amount of lumber can be generated, but the result is a sterile, mostly lifeless environment.

A few days later, late in the evening, the three of us shared a large bowl of Caldo Gallego, the traditional peasant soup of rural Spain. We told him a bit about ourselves and our family. He opened his life to us in an amazing way. I'm nearly certain he spoke words he had never spoken before. I cannot tell his story in detail, it is too personal. I'll just say that he shattered many of my previously held views of Christianity, morality, and right/wrong.

I don't mean that my beliefs were transformed that evening. In fact, it was a few weeks later, after we returned to Denver, when the significance of meeting Andreas hit me. It was the closest thing to a "revelation" that I have ever experienced. The vision I saw was of a life lived like "trees planted in rows", my life up to that moment. There was no nourishment for ideas that were outside of the carefully cultivated religion of my youth. I now believe this is why, at that point in my life, I had lost my faith. You see, I had experienced the wrecks that the world can create (or that I brought on myself), where simple answers wilt under the pain of loss. I had also seen that joys can be found in a full spectrum of paths, not just the squeaky clean image presented on KLUV radio. My reality and my religion were in conflict.

Andreas's words sank into my soul. They changed my future.

I'm not claiming that the Camino has given me all the answers to the great questions of life. I'm still human. I still have a high propensity to screw things up. All I'm saying is, every morning on Camino I look forward to the next Andreas, and the next conversation over a bowl of Caldo Gallego. And they happen all the time.

From this journey, I will forever treasure Ramiro, Esther,  Kevin, The Two Barbaras, Darrick, Marco, Julie, Achille, Franz, Peter, Christoph, Ushka, Magdalena, another Andreas and his wife Francesca, Matt the ultra-marathoner, Jose Louis from Cordoba, Boaz the lawyer from Isreal, the 9 ladies walking together who somehow all knew my name (two of whom had been sprayed with liquid manure), Corneleo (who's name I learned on the last day I saw him), Ken, Pat, Mary, and Becky (the only 4 folks I recognized in the Cathedral square the morning I got to Santiago), Tony (who stood next to his wife Lucy's bed one evening for 20 minutes giving her a foot rub), Muoro from Italy (who told me the family name Piselli is very rare in Italy), Fatima from Brazil who hoped to walk to Fatima, Portugal, and Jose from Mexico who might have been the only person I walked with for an entire day.
I said a prayer for all of them in the little chapel above the sea in Muxia.
Today, for right now, that is what the Camino means to me.

A special thanks to all the hosts who cleaned up after me, the cooks who helped feed me, and my fellow pilgrims for once again changing me - in ways yet to be seen.
On the return trip the plane flew over the southern tip of Greenland. You can see icebergs in the deep blue water.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

One Day of Rain

To Granja de Moreruela and Zamora (A 25 km walk and two buses for 50 km).
It was a complicated, but fun-filled day. First, it rained most of the day. I felt the first drops at 8:04, and it gradually built from a light mist to a hard horizontal rain for the last hour. Just before arriving in Granja the rain let up. It had been an unbelievable 27 days with no precipitation, so I can't complain about one day. Portions of this stage are really nice, on a primitive trail next to a lake, and most of it is on pleasant dirt/gravel farm roads.

The bus was complicated. In fact, it seemed that half the village had to be consulted when I inquired about how to get to Zamora. There is no afternoon bus (going south) from Granja to Zamora. But if you get the 2:30 bus to Santovenia (going north for 10 km), then there is a 3:15 bus from there to Zamora (going south, right through Granja, but doesn't stop there)! A 30 minute walk from my final stop was the Zamora albergue, and our friends Gene and Roseanne, who I knew had volunteered to be hosts there for the first half of October.

A communal meal was already planned, so I contributed bread and wine (symbolic??), which I had purchased on the route from the bus station.

It was a thrilling end to my Camino. Several folks from the USA were there for the night, and a good mix of Europeans were also among the 18 around the table. Pasta, of course.
 About 15 young people were working on an archeological site on a high ridge above the lake. They think it was a 9th century church.
 View from near the previous site.
 From the bridge in the previous picture. This section of trail requires just a bit of rock scrambling. The highway is another option if someone has an extreme fear of heights, but it would be a shame to miss this most beautiful stage.
 Back in Granja (similar picture of this sign in an April 2016 post).
 "The bus stops right there, by the yellow trash bin."
John's pasta fed 18 people with this much leftover. There's a reason the "feeding of the multitude" story is told 6 times in the 4 Gospels. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

To Tábara

It feels like these last two days are going to be difficult. Today felt much harder than the 22 or 23 km should have, and tomorrow is about 5 more than that. Every Camino we've done has ended at Santiago or the Atlantic Ocean, with an unmistakable and exciting goal and end point. This time I just tacked on 5 days to the end, with no purpose other than to experience them. I feel like the kid in the back seat that wants to ask "How much further?"

As you can see by the pictures, it was cloudy this morning, but it gradually cleared. Cool again, but no frost before dawn.

I am staying at El Roble, a small hotel in a small town, with very small rooms. The municipal refuge here is legendary, but it has bedbugs right now. For future pilgrims, I will say that I stayed there last year and loved it. But at this moment, there is no doubt in my mind that it is not worth risking. I have pictures of the arm, shoulder, and back of a man who stayed there 4 days ago, with 32 bites. I walked out there this afternoon and showed the pictures to the man who runs it, he told me they just "disinfected" for bedbugs in September - which tells me they knew they had a problem then, and didn't get them all. Enough bedbug talk.

El Roble only charges 20 E for a room, or 25 E for a room AND a meal. Dinner will be at 8:30 pm. The young lady told me, "we serve it early for the pilgrims". (Locals will eat about 9:30 !!!).
 Crepuscular rays. I wrote about these on the blog near the end of March 2017. One of my personal favorite posts, and favorite sights.
 The "imaginary" railroad I wrote about that same week is nearly completed.
 Two pilgrims stopped in Tábara with their burros for a early afternoon snack.
Watch your head Michael. Room 303.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

To Santa Marta de Tera

Today's theme was water. See the pictures. It was a long walk, but I started well before daylight, so I still arrived by mid afternoon.

One of the reasons I am walking these stages on the Sanabres Camino is that I missed them in 2017. I didn't "skip" them, I just took an alternate route, which required very long days, but saved me 2 or 3 days getting to Santiago. I'm pleased to get to see them now.

The refuge in Santa Marta is very nice, but only 13 mattresses. We have 14 pilgrims here tonight. (One young couple is sharing a twin bed!). This stage is quite a problem since the larger refuge in nearby Santa Croya closed. There were several folks who were turned away late in the afternoon. They either have to walk another 10 km or get a cab. Spanish regulations prevent refuges from taking more people than they are licensed to sleep. The couple on the one mattress is technically a violation. LATER: Three more folks were sleeping on the kitchen floor this morning, I think they just stayed at the bar until everyone else was in bed.

Another supper of pasta and tuna. It was tasty and filling, with chocolate cookies and milk for a late evening snack. But it will be so good to get home to more traditional Hoffman fare. Elk. Trout. Honey Nut Cheerios. Popcorn and Netflix with my Honey.
 A Bronco Sunrise.
 A paved path follows the lake shore for about 4 km.
 Then a dirt/gravel path snakes alongside an irrigation canal.
 Midday bridge crossing of the river, the source of the canal.
 And finally a rare site in Spain. A sprinkler system .

And below is what is claimed to be the oldest carving in existence of "Santiago Peregrino", St. James the Pilgrim. It is smaller than I had guessed, about 3 feet tall.

Monday, October 8, 2018

To RioNegro del Puente

I felt like I was elk hunting today, or actually Red Deer hunting. A single doe crossed my path on three separate occasions, and I found a small oak that had been torn up by a buck (we call them antler rubs in the states). I also heard several bucks grunting throughout the morning. It is similar to an elk bugle, but more lower pitched. You might even mistake it for a cow "moo", but it has a distinctive pattern. In fact, one of the bucks seemed to answer the elk bugle I have on my phone, which has a similar pattern. I was so tempted to stalk him. The problem was that I was 6 miles into a 16 mile trek. I just didn't have the time or energy for any detours.

The walk was pleasant, but not spectacular. I stayed in the albergue here in 2017, and wrote about the "Me Gusta Comer" restaurant in a post in late March of that year. I heard from folks last night it is still supurb.
 A Spanish "antler rub".
 A doe near the road I was on at dawn.
 The railroad is nearing completion.
 The wolf tracks were surprisingly large!
A beautiful hawk circled me for a few minutes.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Walking Backwards

Well, not exactly walking backwards. Starting today, I'm walking east along a portion of the Camino Sanabres. Most pilgrims these days walk toward Santiago, I am walking away from there, toward Zamora. (In previous centuries pilgrims HAD to walk both ways, there were no planes, trains, or automobiles for the trip home.)

Yesterday was a travel day for me, which turned out to be more complicated than I had hoped. The bus from Muxia to Santiago was simple enough, although it was delayed 40 minutes because there were more passengers than seats. (I never figured out why the delay helped the situation!). Once in Santiago, I found out the train I had planned on taking had no seats available. So I walked to the bus station and took a bus. It was an express bus, but it took a long detour, through Vigo. So it didn't arrive in Puebla de Sanabria until after 9 pm. A small hotel room near the bus stop was my home for the night, thanks to

I've met folks who follow the Caminos "backwards", but I have no idea how they do it without a GPS. The required markings are placed only when needed for folks walking the correct direction. Even with the GPS I missed a couple corners today.

The albergue in Asturianos is very basic. Three bunks, two toilets, and one shower. That's it. There is a small store in town and a restaurant on the highway nearby.

Fall is in the air. Today was by far the coldest day so far. Heavy frost on the grass and oak leaves indicated a low that was well below freezing. Even the afternoon breezes were chilly. The sun provided energy for drying the laundry.
I wonder how the Broncos are doing, but don't really want to know.
 Another pilgrim had a backpack a bit bigger than mine (his on the right).
 The bus drove by the fancy bridge in Ourense.
 No "fake dirt" on the Sanabres Camino.
 Blackberries and plums intertwined along the trail. The fall harvest is one reason I love this season for Camino.

Friday, October 5, 2018

To The Sea - 2018

It's been almost 4 years since Ruth and I walked along the high ridge between Logoso and Finisterre, before dropping down to the harbor town of Cee. Arriving to Muxia was very different today.

Yesterday I said goodbye to Jose. I truly hope we can meet again someday. It was great to share a few days together.

Last night I stayed at the Xunta Albergue (operated by the local government) near the small town of Dumbria. There were 7 pilgrims in a huge building. One of the women said it felt "weird".

Today I walked alone, the entire 22 km to the sea. I did see Reinart down at the shore this evening. I'm at Bela Muxia albergue, one of several nice choices here.

The plan for tomorrow is to catch a bus/train to Puebla de Sanabria and walk backwards toward Zamora. I'll see how far I can get in 5 days. I hope to do a little business in Santiago between the bus and train rides. It's been 23 days and a little over 500 km since I've been on wheels. Should be fun.
A few pictures: