It takes a long time to walk 500 miles.  Last stage: Pedrouzo to Santiago 22 km. 

Arrival Santiago!


Forty days and forty nights, that’s how long it takes to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. If you wander around a bit on side trips, see the towns and museums along the way, then it accumulates over 800 km, or 500 miles for the metrically challenged. It’s definitely not a walk in the park, but with a reasonable pace of 20 km (12 miles) per day, and the nightly rooms and meals, a nice walker’s rhythm develops.

Sunrise is always behind us on the Way

These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they did.


Kathleen’s Latin Compostela, i.e. Pilgrim’s diploma


Attempting a difficult challenge together, like navigating across an ocean or walking across a country, reminds me how fortunate I am to be Kathleen’s partner. She is perseverant, patient, and seemingly impervious to pain. I love her.

Kathleen leading the Way


The Camino was her creative idea for us after Steven finished it in 2014. And while we may have underestimated its difficulty, we started and finished together smiling. As the philosopher said, “Solvitur ambulando”. 

Plaza de Obradoiro, notice the other pilgrims flopped in the center


Now we rest in Santiago a couple days before traveling the region another week via faster means. It has been a meaningful experience for us and we have enjoyed writing our thoughts. Thanks for listening. Hope to see you soon. 

John 

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Just a Couple of Old, Dusty Pilgrims. Arzua to Pedrouzo 19.6 km. 

My Mom, who is one of our avid blog readers, remarked that our pictures never have any other pilgrims in them, “are they on the Camino alone?” Well, I have never been very adept at getting things past my Mom and as she noted, our photos have been carefully curated to give the impression of the lonely pilgrim, struggling in solitude to a distant destination. The reality has always been that we walk with others, although up to now it has been fairly easy to maintain my bubble along a quiet pathway. However, the last 100 km of the Camino has become very crowded. Any pilgrim who “walks” the last 100 km receives a Compostela, an official certificate of completion. Since Sarria, we have noticed many new faces sporting brand new, clean tennis shoes and tiny, new day packs (their real bags are sent ahead each morning by Jacotrans bus). Pilgrim groups have sprung up like mushrooms, marching by us chattering like magpies to the click, click sound of their walking sticks with not even a “buen Camino” as they hurry past two old, dusty pilgrims.

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But John and I still get our quiet moments and over a mid-morning cafe con leche we run into Gerhardt, our old Austrian friend from weeks past, and we commiserate together “how it used to be, back on the meseta”. 
Tomorrow we reach Santiago, the end of our journey; I wonder how I will feel entering the Praza do Obradoiro? 

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A king, a prime minister, and a president.  And the Celtics. Bolboreta to Azura 26 km. 

Albergue Bolboreta, our country manor for the night

Spain’s king, Felipe VI, is a worldly young man (49), and perhaps a calming influence on the escalating tensions between the prime minister of Spain and the president of Catalonia. The two latter elected officials are duking it out here for their political lives, when the ultra cool and very tall ex-Olympian king strides onto the scene and tells Catalonia: shut up and sit down. This kind of parenting is frowned upon these days but maybe it will work.

Buying bread on the Way from the roving Panaderia truck


Anyway, that’s the news from Galicia, which is an astoundingly beautiful, green region of Spain. Originally settled by Celtic tribes around 500 BC, and the last region of Hispania conquered by Rome, it retains a separate dialect and sometimes looks like the other Celtic landscapes in Ireland. There’s even some pagan and animistic cultural history persisting here. You have got to love the Irish. 

Galicia, the Celts were here.


Stone bridge; Oh so danger!


Lunch on the Way.


Kathleen’s requisite cow picture.


John’s requisite jamon picture


We walked a big day and arrived at our usual 4 pm. The Hostal has a restaurant renowned among the pilgrims, which can mean either quantity or quality, so hopefully both. All good. 

​​​Habla Espanol?

Blogger to Bloggee tip: click on last photo for video. Bonus points to Bloggees who find three previous videos. 

Still having fun,

John 

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Walking the Camino is the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done, Except for Crossing the Pacific in a Boat and Having Three Babies. Ventas de Naron to Remonde 20.4 km. 

A horreo, a Galician grain storage.


After a month plus walking, John and I have a real rhythm that is not dominated by talk of how much “—–or —-” hurts. I know my backpack and it’s thin contents intimately; every piece of equipment has its place and I never have to search. Cafe con leche is my go to morning drink, lunch is best when we can picnic with chorizo, queso, olives and bread, and dinner is usually a lively affair with fellow pilgrims from afar. Our walk starts when it is light at 8:30, and by 3:30, I have put in my 20+ km and I want to stop.I know when I get to my albuergue a shower, short siesta, hand washing of the days outfit and a cerveza are the proper order of things. This is the rhythm I have learned after 37 days of walking. 

Cereveza, 1.20 Euro!


The daily rituals are not just habits,  but survival mechanisms in the face of constantly changing environments, situations, and people. The Camino has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But as with the other hard things in my life, a little perseverance and good humor gets me through and I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences. Three days to Santiago. -k

Horreos come in all sizes!


Giant ants! More aggressive than the local farm dogs.


The farm dogs are ultimate chill.

My requisite daily cow picture.

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Did Caesar walk here? Morgada to Ventas de Naron, 23km (100 km to Santiago!)

The 100 km marker, 690 down and 100 to go


It is said that when Caesar was in Spain and saw the statue of Alexander the Great he wept. Supposedly this was because Alexander had accomplished so much before his death at 33, and Caesar was only a Roman official in Spain at the same age. He then left for Rome and greater things, e.g. becoming Emperor. Gazing upon history can be very inspirational.

As has happened before on the Camino, we came across an archeological surprise or two today. First was the abandoned underwater town of Portomarin, where they flooded a medieval village to make a lake in 1963. Fortunately, the drought has lowered the water level to see the old foundations. (The knightly fortress church was moved to higher ground brick by brick.)

Portomarin 1, Medieval


Portomarin 2, transplanted


Picnic lunch at church square, my favorite

Castromaior, Roman city from 200 BC-100AD


Secondly, Castromaior, one of the important excavations of Roman towns in Spain, was along the Way today in an unassuming little dairy cow village. I deviated from the path to see this remnant from 200 BC to 100 AD, and wondered, did Caesar walk here?

“Et tu?”  

Reviewing days pictures at the albergue bar


 Hasta la vista,

John 

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We Love Galicia!Pintin to Morgade 22 km. 


We are approaching the last 100 km…amazing! Tonight we are at a country albuergue and had a lovely dinner with a fellow from Spain. As it turns out, he is a kayak tour guide on the river Rio Mino. Two plus or minus bottles of wine later, I am only posting some pictures. That’s the way it goes. Ciao! -k

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Translation lost. Fonfria to Pintin 22km

Misty morning

Clear afternoon. Kathleen loves Galicia


What’s a person who can speak 3 languages? Trilingual. What’s a person who can speak 2 languages? Bilingual. What’s a person who can speak 1 language? American. Haha. 

The challenge and excitement of traveling is always enhanced by the translation experience. Unless the second language approaches fluency and our thoughts occur spontaneously in that context, we’re always just translating. This may not provide the information needed, or produce the expected results. Even with Google translate on my phone I am puzzled. 

Google not getting it

Yesterday we had to interpret Spanish tv advice on the wildfires. Inflammatory (pun) and not particularly helpful. Today I called a Hostal and requested un cuarto para dos personas, and arrived with their expectation that I had reserved four rooms for eight people. Lo siento mucho. 
Hiking down the mountains of Galicia, Kathleen remarked that this was her favorite path of the trip. Needless to say, rain all night means no fires, no smoke, and beautiful views. 

Amazing Galicia


Aloha to all our friends and family.
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Hasta pronto 

John

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Translation lost. Fonfria to Pintin 22km

Misty morning

Clear afternoon. Kathleen loves Galicia


What’s a person who can speak 3 languages? Trilingual. What’s a person who can speak 2 languages? Bilingual. What’s a person who can speak 1 language? American. Haha. 

The challenge and excitement of traveling is always enhanced by the translation experience. Unless the second language approaches fluency and our thoughts occur spontaneously in that context, we’re always just translating. This may not provide the information needed, or produce the expected results. Even with Google translate on my phone I am puzzled. 

Google not getting it

Yesterday we had to interpret Spanish tv advice on the wildfires. Inflammatory (pun) and not particularly helpful. Today I called a Hostal and requested un cuarto para dos personas, and arrived with their expectation that I had reserved four rooms for eight people. Lo siento mucho. 
Hiking down the mountains of Galicia, Kathleen remarked that this was her favorite path of the trip. Needless to say, rain all night means no fires, no smoke, and beautiful views. 

Amazing Galicia


Aloha to all our friends and family.
​​​​
Hasta pronto 

John

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Fire! Hurricane! Revolution! …. No Pestilence!Las Herrerias to Fonfria 20.1 km

When we woke this morning in the tiny hamlet of Las Herrerias, we could smell smoke and the early morning sky was hazy. At breakfast, the bar tv was showing constant news of the fires in Vigo that had killed 4 people, about 80 miles away. Ok, another Camino day, we do what we do, we headed out on one of the biggest climbs of our walk, about a 2,000′ climb in 8 km. 
As we climbed, we saw one lone pilgrim and then a group of three; that was it, very quiet. Eerie. The sun never rose, instead the sky was a sickly yellow/grey and the smoke completely obscured the mountains. After a two hour climb, we arrived in the rustic pilgrim village of O’Cebreiro. It was a weird scene. Pilgrims were everywhere, getting out of taxis, getting into taxis, talking on the phone, huddling in small groups. We saw several pilgrims we knew; Jesse from Minnesota, Gerhardt from Austria, and Miss Sweden and her German boyfriend, everyone was talking about the fires and wondering what they should do. Apparently, fires were directly below us around Triacastela, 12 miles away, and the winds were blowing our direction, fanned in part by the unusual hurricane passing the Iberian peninsula on its way towards Ireland. John and I ducked into a little bar to partake of the amazing caldo gallego, Galcian soup, and to discuss our emergency response plan. We also had a cerveza, because nothing says crisis like a cold beer at lunch. Continuing to check the internet and watch the news, we decided to push on. This plan came to a screeching halt when we mentioned to our bartender, in his hip outfit, that we were walking to Fonfria; he freaked out and insisted, we think, that it was not safe. To allay our worries, we called ahead to our albuergue in Fonfria to check on the fires…the hosteleria, said it was fine, we think. So, we headed out in the smoke and the gloom, alone on the trail. The trail was really quite nice, exciting, a bit mysterious and mostly empty of pilgrims. We arrived safely in Fonforia and settled into our private double with bath; oh so danger. Tonight at a huge pilgrims’ diner we exchanged tales and plans for tomorrow, we think. 

PS. And yes, there is an almost revolution here in Spain, ever since Catalan is keeping everyone on the edge of their seats as to whether they have declared independence from Spain, the big news in these parts until the fires captured the news. -k

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Spain is the New France; Villafranca de Berzios to las Herrerias, 22km

Cool morning departure

Off track through the chestnut orchards

Spain’s population of 47 million may be decreasing back to 90’s levels of 40 million due to emigration and low birth rates after the long financial crisis. This is compared to 60+ million each in France and Italy, thus making Spain the least densely populated western European country. 

Armorial crest, flowered balconies; check check

Couple that with centuries old architecture, friendly people, great wines, good food in tapas portions and affordable prices , I consider Spain to be the New France, so to speak. (And did I mention the jamon?)

Long way down


Hard climb today but it took us into the country and away from the road for the first half day. Then back down into the valley for the village of las Herrerias with a 5 E bottle of hyper local wine and dinner. Another mountain tomorrow. 

Buenas noches 

John 

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Hiking with a Camino Professional. Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo. 21.5km

Sadly, we departed Ponferrada this morning after a lovely three day visit with Steven and Bruno. However, the day held a pleasant surprise, Steven planned to join us in Cacabelos to hike about 10 km into Villafranca del Bierzo. 
After three days of living with the locals, sleeping late, siestas, and 10 pm dinners, John and I were feeling a little rusty back out on the Camino but the morning went quickly and we banged out about 12 km before cafe con leche time. Steven joined us and as we walked, he regaled us with stories about when he was a pilgrim…back in the day. We stopped for our traditional lunch of bread, cheese, ham, and olives in a quiet, secluded grove of trees. While we napped, golden leaves rained down on us, a sure sign of fall. Tomorrow, we tackle some mountains and stay at a casa rural high up in the hills. By our back of the envelope calculations, we have about 9 days left to Santiago. I am keeping my fingers crossed that all of our body parts keep working! -k

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Penalba de Santiago, another zero day (sort of)

On the road up to Penalba

The driver and the navigator

Kathleen near the top


Waking late and multiple coffees is an unusual Camino morning , but that’s the rule in Ponferrada. Bruno picked up the picnic empanadas and Steven drove us into the mountains for, you guessed it, more walking. Even on our zero day we walked 7km up the valleys among the craggy peaks reminiscent of Switzerland.

Penalba is way in the background


Penalba


Fortunately, a village made entirely of stone provided cold beer for the end of our hike to go with the empanadas. The weather, the terrain, the food, the people of Spain have all been great. And tomorrow, we walk again. 
John 

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Zero Day…Excellent! Ponferrada. 

So, you have to love a zero day! Sleep until a civilized 8:30 am, have more than one coffee, and no furious jamming of gear into a dusty backpack to beat the dawn pilgrim parade. No, we have fried churros for breakfast, followed by a drive to the mountains to visit Las Medulas, an ancient Roman gold mining site that is now a UNESCO world heritage site. After stopping at the chestnut roasting stand, we tour the ridge and visit the mines complete with hard hats in case of …. hitting our heads on the narrow tunnel passages or in the event of a mine collapse … not sure which! In any event, great fun. So pushing the one activity a day envelope, we next stop in at Castillo de Cornatel; an amazing 12th century castle ruin atop a precipice with absolutely no people! We have lunch of jamon and queso bocadillos perched like Knights of Templar above the heights…excellent. 

And to push the boundaries of a zero day, we go into the old historic Ponferrada for a pincho pub crawl. Muchas gracias to Bruno and Steven for a fantastic day. -k

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Iron Cross at the Punta, Rabanal to Ponferrada, 13 km (uphill only)

Leaving the Meseta, entering the Montes de Leon

Leaving Rabanal, passing through Foncebadon


Today we climbed from the small village of Rabanal, known for the red- haired Maragato culture with a curious custom of leaving their keys in the door to let people know that they were not at home, and their numerous dry-stacked rock walls. They are a genetically isolated group of Moorish ancestry with red hair, sure enough. 

Iron cross at the Punta


A pagan offering for the ancestors


After climbing to the highest point of the Camino at 1515 meters, we came to the Iron Cross where everyone leaves an item they brought from home, in our case two shells identical to the Camino symbol that we found on a beach in the Philippines. And then, magically, Steven appears in a Fiat waving and yelling “Hola!”

Bruno, Steven, and Kathleen


The Fiat, a pilgrims dream


We meet Bruno, all hug, and then drive in the glorious Fiat all the way down the mountain to Ponferrada. (no shin splints that way). To top it off, we tour a fantastic medieval castle from the Knights of Templar, have a few pinchos, and call it a night. All good, anticipate a nice zero day tomorrow. 

The Knights of Templar knew how to build a fortress in the 1200’s


Easily defended for centuries, until gunpowder that is, in the 16th century

Buenas noches 

John 

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Just Another Day on the Camino.Astorga to Rabinal del Camino 20.6 km. 

8:15 am departure, this was not an albuergue!


Ok, not much happened today. We recovered nicely from any residual guilt feelings about hopping over Leon by bus and looked forward expectantly to a walking day. The morning desayuno was the typical cafe con leche, zumo de naranja, and tostadas con manzanilla, today was slightly pricier at 5 euro, but the juice was fresh squeezed…delicious. We hit the cobblestones by 8:15, before the sun was up; it’s starting to be shorter days…winters coming! 

Iglesia S. Bartolome

Lunch shopping at a carneceria.


The meseta is now behind us and the walk has entered rolling hills with scrubby oak trees, a little like central Texas. The villages are significantly different than the meseta which reminded us of Mexico with its dry, flat expanses and adobe houses. Here, red rock is in abundance and these folks know how to make some excellent stacked walls. 

Santa Catalina de Somoza

Today was a 20+ km day which we banged out pretty good in the morning. However, John’s shin splints flared up again in the afternoon and we slowed down and enjoyed the passing scenery. So all goes well.

Resting some hot feet!


Tomorrow we climb to the highest point of the journey; 1,515 meters or 4,970′. Of course, what goes up must come down, and John’s shin splints may protest! -k

The best time of the day, cerveza time!

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Astorga, via el autobus rapido. Zero km

The Bus Barn!

The world going by too swiftly for a pilgrim


Well, here we are 60km down the trail thanks to our guilty pleasure of a bus jump. After over 450 km of ceaseless walking, I found the elusive bus barn and we were magically transported to Astorga. 

Baroque cathedral magnifica


Originally this was the main Roman city of northern Spain, at the junction of four important military and economic roads. Founded in 14 BC after the Galicians had been subdued and conscripted into service, the Romans built a fortified city with hot and cold thermal baths, and a sewer system still used today. 

Roman home from 1st century


The home as it once stood


After a few hundred years of various sackings by the Visigoth and Moors, the walls were rebuilt by the Catholics around 1200, and are still standing now. The Baroque cathedral is of course extravagant, and even the famous Gaudi has a neogothic unfinished building in Astorga.

Astorga city walls

Neogothic Gaudi, 19th century


Spanish flags everywhere amidst the angst of tomorrow’s possible announcement of independence by Catalonia

And did I mention that chocolate production was introduced to Europe by the returning conquistidor Cortez here in the 1500’s? Lots to see and learn here , but unfortunately it’s Monday and all the museums are closed. Oh well, the Camino calls again tomorrow and we must repent, i.e. walk till we drop. 


Adios, Astorga. 

John

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Pilgrims on Wheels. Calzadilla de los Hermanillos 24 km. 

Albergue Via Trajana


We opted not to take the train out of Sahagun and continued walking. As John says, “that’s what we know how to do.” For the past two days, we have continued to discuss our priorities coupled with the time we have left. When we started this little sojourn, we thought we had all the time in the world and I was determined to take every step of the 790 km. As it turns out, time is not on our side. 

GPS navigation.


The wide open spaces of the meseta have been amazing, beautiful in the morning, a bit hellish in the afternoon, golden in the evenings. But now we have walked the meseta, a Camino portion many pilgrims “skip” over, and are on the fringes of Leon, a large city with miles of suburbs and sidewalks and traffic.

Roadside foot care.


In order to give ourselves the time to enjoy the remainder of the walk, visit my brother in Ponferrada, and maybe even squeeze in a continuation to Finisterre and the ocean, we are catching a bus tomorrow to go through Leon and continue to Astorga. Curiously, 60 minutes on the bus will save us about 3 1/2 days walking. 

A second meeting with Jesus from Cuba.

From Astorga, we continue the Camino. Taking the bus is a bit of a defeat, but following the long held advice, “always make decisions in light of new information”, we swallow our pride and become bus pilgrims for a morning. I hope the guru is not reading this. -k

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Jamon y Libertad. Sahagun to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, 16 km. 

Palencia: Dust and straw are poor building materials

I wanted to write about jamon iberico vs serano, and the concept of liberty in Spain, where they have just announced a referendum for independence by Catalonia by a 90% majority. This disturbs me on two levels: first because the jamon is excellent either way, and, the rest of Spain needs Catalonia like Alabama needs California. Comprende? It’s a country, right?

Morning departure from our Hostal

We have had some interesting conversations with the locals and learned a lot, but what we don’t know about Spanish politics would fill the Iberian peninsula. Suffice it to say that everyone here is concerned about the recent referendum. Old men are talking excitedly at the bars and the bakers will let loose on you in the morning. Now I just say, “viva Espania!”. (And also “not my president “, if they find out we’re American).

Morning provisioning at la Tienda

Did I mention the jamon? High quality Iberia wild pigs eat only acorns and have black hooves, while serano pigs have white hooves and live further north, where we happen to be walking every day. Enter the hunters. When jamon sells for 20 up to 100 Euro per kilo, a wild pig becomes golden.

Today we met the hunters and they were a serious and well armed bunch. Friendly enough, with high powered scopes and long barreled rifles, they reassured us of our safety “seguro”, as we walked along the edge of the kill zone. Kathleen noted the comm devices in their ears and asked “are you in contact with the other hunters?” “Si”, he said. We scurried along the way out of the acorn rich pig territory, and the other hunters at the end of the jamon zone waved at us over their rifles. At lunch we heard the boom boom of future jamon serano. Fortunately I felt safe because I had my red shirt on. 

It was a great day of walking, followed by a pilgrims menu at the albergue. Food, wine, and fun people; what’s not to like?

Mi llamo John. 

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What Would My Walking Guru Say? Calzadilla de la Cueza to Puerta de Sahagun 21.7 km. 

A decision must be made. We have been hiking for 23 days (including 2 zero days) and have reached the half way point; about 408.7 km/253 miles. The problem; we only have 22 days left before we have to set up for our Madrid flight home. So, we can walk faster; not a likely option even though John and I are more able to bang out a 20+km day with less pain and complaining than in our first weeks. 


We can walk two more days and then take a bus through the major industrial town of Leon, thereby avoiding a traffic, noise, industry intensive walk of almost two days. 


Or by good fortune, we are in a town that has a train direct to Leon, cutting off two days of walking in a swift 41 minutes or, we can even take a train, skip Leon, and go to Astorga, thereby gaining 4 to 5 days. Extra days to spend on leisurely days; days in Ponferrada hanging out with my brother and his friend, Bruno; days spent walking from Santiago to the “end of the world” Finisterre. These are the decisions modern day pilgrim can make.  


I have a hiking guru, who gives me amazing advice on the beauty of walking. Coincidentally, I received some of that advice just yesterday…really lovely and insightful. 

“Don’t get demoralized by the trash-strewn outskirts of towns, by the strip malls and poorly executed housing developments, or by the endless walks along roaring highways. Walking across a country isn’t about going for a stroll in a lovely park, or making a trip to a pristine alpine area- you are in the process of learning a landscape. Landscapes are not there for you to render judgement. As a walker, you need not decide how pleasant or unpleasant your surroundings are. You are on the move, these are just places you move through. Forested lane, busy street, rocky underpass, trashy creek, and quiet bluff- the long distance walker is given the blessing of connectivity. Only you will know what holds the country together. An understanding of connectivity is denied to those chums in cars with their paltry destinations and attractions. You the walker hold the knowledge of knowing what land is- it is something that you, you in your very own body, can move through. 

Maybe you are tired of hearing about blessings and sacredness. But to me, walking is sacred. It will give you everything you need. The thoughts that matter only come when I am walking. 

There is no point in complaining. No one is listening to you. Just keep going.”

So, at this crucial juncture, this difficult pilgrim decision, what would my walking guru say? -k

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Knights on a Roman Road. Villalcazar de Sirga to Calzadilla de la Cueza 24 km

Formidable Knights of Templar fortress

Knights and pilgrims passed through these doors

Breakfast with the Knights

Here we saw a command post of the Knights of Templar, a catholic military order established for the protection of pilgrims in the 11th century. They were the pope’s marines, the first wave in battle. After the original Knights of Templar demonstrated their value in the crusades as an armored phalanx on their warhorses, the pope granted them immunity from taxes and free passage through the world at that time. This gave them an economic opportunity to build an amazing network of fortresses acting as banks for the region and the pilgrims to secure their valuables while traveling to Jerusalem. They were the first multinational company, the first checking institution, and potentially a state within a state. Unfortunately, a couple hundred years later, 1307, fortunes changed along with the popes, and the Knights of Templar were falsely accused by the King Phillip of France (who owed them money), and they were summarily executed in Paris. Amazingly the church exonerated them all after the fact in 1600. A bit late, I think.
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Looking down the Via Aquitana

Way mark for the Roman Road


We did a long 24 km walk today on the Roman road, Via Aquitana, whose substrate was laid two thousand years ago. I think little has changed along the way except the boots on the path and the trees along side. Now we have completed 387 km out of 777 km to Santiago, (that’s 240/482 miles), so that makes it about half way. Whew, that wasn’t easy.

Camino air conditioning

Time for a beer.
John

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