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Journal

Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 

 

Filtering by Tag: Pilgrims

Going North: Day 5 Gernika - Portugalete

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Having slept in a place full of history, art and symbols as Gernika is, the persistent Northern rain was going to be my companion this new day until the hills of another remarkable city...

Starting my 5th Camino day with a new Camino friend, Camille (see day 4 of my Northern Camino), we went together for one typical morning ritual, we indulged ourselves to one great breakfast:

Cycling breakfast!

Champion's breakfast!

Still raining heavily, I took the opportunity to ask Camille to do one of my Camino photo interviews (an ongoing project of pilgrims and locals of the different St James routes) to which she happily agreed.

With yet another glorious breakfast filling up my belly and with no signs of the rain easing, with 10:30am on the clock, I covered up my bags as best as possible to retake the road to Santiago. Wishing a good and well deserved rest day to Camille, I ventured my dear Orbea to some difficult pathways, putting her to an extreme muddy and very wet test.

Misty roads

5th Camino Cycling tip: specially with the Northern Camino, be sure to bag some rain cover, very probably you will need it at some point during your journey.
— June 10th, 2015

Sometimes big changes in life lie on decisions which seem to be insignificant

We Galicians (North West region of Spain), are known for our tenacity and stubbornness, so I pushed my equally determined Basque origin bicycle to its limits; read here the beautiful and unique history of the Orbea cycling brand in words of ex-pro cyclist Pedro Horrillo for Rouleur.

Proudly with both Basque and Galician persistence, I managed a personal heroic ascension that took me and my 25kg bike+bags weight to the hills of one of the most known and biggest cities of the Basque Country: the city of Bilbao! The rain very timely stopped allowing me to calmly satisfy my wanderlust with this striking landscape:

Bilbao!!!

Bilbao, mostly known for having amidst its architectural range the stunning Guggenheim Museum, has much more to offer than just that. It is the 10th city of Spain and although deeply marked by its industrial origin, it developed into a prosperous cosmopolitan style city that unites both cultural Basque heritage with a modern urban redevelopment. If you feel tempted discover more via Bilbao tourism.

Definitively, this city is well worth a visit if you travel to the Basque Country or as me, pilgrim through it. Not being a fan of too big cities and even less of big capacity pilgrim hostels they usually have, I headed forward to the next nearest Camino town, Portugalete (no, no need to ask, it has nothing to do with Portugal ;) ). Even though the Guggenheim is not all what there is, going to Bilbao without at least passing by, is like visiting Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower... Therefore, out of the established Northern route, I followed the Nervion river to reach Frank Gehry's unique architectural achievement; find out more about this unique artist, you can hear it from the man himself in this TED talk.

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum

Quickly after a few shots of the iconic museum, a little off track from the original Northern Saint James Way, I continued by the river side with hopes of reaching a bridge... However, this didn't happen and I ended up in the middle of Bilbao's industrial area, one of the main pieces of Spain's industrial machinery:

Nevertheless, it got me up to speed and arrive to Portugalete, where, to my surprise wasn't any bridge available either, but I still made it to the other side... no no no, don't worry, I didn't test my and my bike's swimming skills nor did I ask the rowing guys for a ride. There was a rather uncommon way of bridging which I've never seen before and makes for Portugalete's most important construction, it is, the Vizcaya Bridge!

The Vizcaya Bridge!

What you see is a kind of ferry like cabin that transports cars, people, bikes and, like in my case, pilgrims over the Nervion River; it's also called the hanging bridge. Dating back to 1893, it was the idea of one of Gustave Eiffel's disciples, Alberto Palacio, who with the purpose of creating a way to cross the river, but allowing boats to pass easily and for a reasonable price, he came up with this very original idea. In fact, it's functionality and beauty make it Spain's only Industrial monument to be part of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Airport style urban transport

After this lovely river jump I went on to find the town's pilgrim hostel, only to discover that it was... closed! In addition, the nearest pension was fully booked just 10 minutes before I arrived. Nonetheless, they were very helpful to indicate me other possibilities and even called some pensions directly to ask if they had availability. They did have and this took me to my next urban surprise. They told me that I just had to go uphill and I could use the moving ramps... really? I was kinda doubtful and finally guessed they meant to say elevators... but surprise surprise, the moving ramps are real! Not bad to have one's bike being carried from time to time.

Although the place I ended up had no pilgrims around, after my shower I went to discover this charming city, search for my favourite Galician beer (see my love for it here on day 3 on my French Camino) and ending up with one the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen! I've literally spent an hour taking pictures :)

Colour explosion!

Even amid storms, rain, mud and other inconveniences, don't despair, the Saint James Way is a journey of sacrifice but with rewarding discoveries that will awaken the explorer in you!

Stay tuned to my next Going North posts on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or Pinterest for more adventures!

Going North: Day 4 Zumaia - Guernika

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

When a picture speaks a thousand words...

Zumaia's amazing Flysch

With this beautiful view Ingmar, Don, Robert and I ended our previous journey the best way possible, with some delicious Basque cuisine as its finishing touch (see day 3 here).

Cyclist's Coffee

However, what's probably the biggest constant on any Camino, is that it's an adventure that pushes you to go forward day by day. Waking up for once at a more decent hour, I took advantage of my earlier start and asked Robert to do one of my photo interviews together with an energizing breakfast. After this good treat we wished each other Buen Camino and since time was for once on my side, I went back to the nunnery albergue and did the photo interview with our lovely host Mari too. With all my things packed, I decided to check my brakes, one of them was not working properly... alas, my mechanic talents were lower than expected and fiddling with disk brakes is definitely not my thing. Therefore I had to resort to something anyone should do before starting any big cycling journey:

4th Camino Cycling tip: if like me, the oil you come in touch with is rather olive oil for your salads, then better check your bicycle with a mechanic for a safer ride!
— June 9th 2015

One of the beauty elements of the Northern Camino: the sea!

Luckily enough, there was a bike shop in town and I just had to push my brakeless bicycle a few meters. If you're curious, disc brakes have a braking pad like rim brakes, but they have a kind of pusher and hydraulic liquid, that, when it has too much air or some sand blocks it, you basically end up with an all time braking bicycle... not the most ideal type of bicycle for a 900km journey. Thanks to Jose, the bike was fixed and ready in no time giving me the best bike check ever, it was one good cycling decision.

Ready to go again, most of my daily route was going to be on the road, but not before hitting some pathways where I suddenly came along a wild living horse family, I stopped to take a few pictures, which got them suddenly curious and nervously started to surround me... but I guess they were more interested in my dear Orbeiña...

Cycling love!

Prize to the happiest smiling pilgrims ever!

These kind of moments are the reason I prefer to take the most treacherous Camino paths, sometimes to such extremes that even walking pilgrims don't take my same pathways... you'll see in future posts. But on this occasion, it proved as the best decision since I crossed Don and Ingmar again, the happiest pilgrims I've ever met, as can be seen on this beautiful picture:

With this very happy start and two of my most beautiful Camino pictures, I ended up in Debia around lunch time, where I made a quick Tortilla and beer stop, with such coincidence that in there were some of the most friendly and talkative people. Curious about my journey and cameras, Marisa and Jose Alberto were the first ones with whom I chatted and it ended up being a very interesting cinematic conversation. They had visited Santiago some years ago for the shooting of Flor de Santidad, a story set in Galicia and based on a novel of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, which is one of our most celebrated playwright writers, to make yourself an idea, he could be considered as our Spanish Shakespeare equivalent.

Lime Kiln

Urasandi's Lime Kiln (click on the photo for more information)

On this artistic turn around of my journey, soon after Marisa and Jose Alberto left, I made another great acquaintance with Juan Bosco who kindly described me the routes around Debia and which ones I should take. Without underestimating other places' friendliness, Debia became one of the friendliest ones of my entire Camino, to such an extent that even leaving it I made another great encounter, Josema. Stopping for a small snack and facing a very very very uphill side road... a car stopped and the driver started to talk with me. Josema used to cycle around Debia and he recommended me to follow the seaside, since the rest of the road would be too muddy and uphill. Chance made it, that I was in front of an historic construction which I wouldn't even have noticed if it wasn't for him. It was an ancient Lime Kiln or lime oven where actually his grand parent used to work with, even a sign was there explaining how it used to work and look like. The lesson to bring home from this is that there are friends and stories behind every corner, which makes travelling such a unique experience, as long as you're willing to keep your eyes open.

 

Open eyes is always a good thing, specially if you're in Northern Spain, because what I was spared on my first days finally came, the so common Northern rain surprised me in the heart of the Basque Country. Taking shelter at a nearby house from the now pouring rain, I took advantage of it to refuel a bit and hit the road as soon as the rain lingered.

Cloudy times on the Camino

Almost like anticipating my arrival to one very symbolic city in Spain's history and arts... this rainy finish could be seen as a form of mourning to the sad truth of this days' final destination: Guernika.

Guernika-Lumo

What today is known as Guernika-Lumo is only a mere reflection of what was brutally used by the Nazis and the Spanish Fascist group as a test bombing site during the II World War. It was one of the first air strikes on a defenceless population, the consequences were devastating, the outrage and shock of the international community were widespread. Artists as well were deeply touched by this atrocious attack, inspiring works as symbolic as Picasso's famous Guernica painting, exposed at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. A 3m by 7m canvas that expressed in the artist's words is: 

In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.
— Pablo Picasso

So it was that history, symbolism and weather we're receiving me in Guernika. My attempt to find a spare bed in the local albergue unfortunately didn't work out due to a big group of French students. Thanks to some helping pilgrims who had guides and numbers, another pilgrim and I managed to call a local pension which still had some spare beds. This was how I met Camille from France who had been walking since Irun. She was tired and almost went straight to bed, me I was quite hungry from my 70km ride of this day:

That's what I call filling up your belly!

I didn't go far to fill up my belly, just bellow the pension was a bar and what a glorious moment that was... one very tasty Codillo was on my menu with some good Basque white wine. I treated myself to one delicious oven cooked ham hock, or also known as pork knuckle, with potatoes and amazing Pimientos de Padron (=green peppers from Padron; a town in Northern Spain and typical product from my region).

Camino friends of all sorts and origins, good old Northern rain, history, symbols, art and a great dinner to top it all, that's one typical Camino de Santiago day, an experience that step by step never seizes to surprise and amaze.

If you want to see more of such moments, stay tuned to my next Going North posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Day 15: Arzúa - Santiago de Compostela

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Like in every good movie and story, the long expected moment, where all the bits and pieces come together for the final wrap of a unique journey, was going to be unfolded on my last Camino day. Day 15 was going to mark the end of another chapter in my life with the happiness of accomplishing my objectives and the friends I made on the Way. It wasn't without nostalgia of these amazing moments we lived, that Andrew and I were to face our last ride with some longing.

Arzúa mornings

We joined our recent Nebraska friends (see day 14) for our good old habit of a fresh breakfast. To our surprise, Father Nolte offered us our first supper of the day to which we were really grateful. Having the other "Ondiñas" members leading the troop from a further away village, we still had to catch up our slowed down pace caused by our latter "Pulpo" day (check back on day 14 to discover this tasty regional dish). Although it was going to be our last day, we were still about to meet much more friends than we could have expected. 

With our belly replenished, we pedalled away from the Galician cheese capital (Arzúa), to reach the capital of the Galician region itself, the pilgrim destination of thousands of people from all around the World: Santiago de Compostela, which is the centerpiece that united all of us in this journey. And even if it was the first reason for this adventure... the most meaning ones were soon to be discovered. 

2nd breakfast!

Going on with our path, even if the hills were not as hard as the ones we passed, every little hurdle seemed to be the biggest obstacle ever, and sometimes my legs didn't seem to respond. You might think that is probably due to the 14 days riding without rest, but the real reason behind my fatigue didn't seem to be physical, but rather mental. The amazing people and experiences I lived in these two weeks were so emotional to me that I knew my brain didn't want my body to finish... therefore, we simply stopped for our 2nd breakfast ;)

It seemed like the hotspot for pilgrims' breakfast, it was a small house with a garden which was filled with people from everywhere. We had a great Galician "empanada" (info here, in Spanish only), a typical regional dish that's similar to an English pie but much more thinner and bigger. My favourite ones are with "Pulpo" (=Octopus), cod fish, cockles and the really tasty "Zamburiñas" one, which are like small scallops. We added to this a good "cafe au lait" which was served with another typical Galician product: a Sargadelos like coffee cup. Sargadelos is a renowned pottery brand of Galicia (discover it here), which is distinguished by their typical blue-white colour pattern and high quality ceramics; it is often used for gifts and special occasions.

Steph the smiling Aussie

After this good treat, early morning cold made us go back to our path through the magnificent woods of Galicia. Among the many "Ring rings, we're coming!" and "Buen Camino!" (=have a safe pilgrimage), one pilgrim made us slow down to walking pace thanks to one of the simplest, most universal and sincere ways of human interaction, a smile! To what seems so obvious, but is often forgotten in our stressed urban lives, was the reason to make another friend on the Camino, Steph from Australia. She started her Camino in Sarria after a few months backpacking around Europe, visiting her motherly origins in Greece and simply discovering the Old Continent. It wasn't going to be the last time we'd meet and the next one was going to be sooner than expected.

Quique and Sonia and their amazing bar!

Having still to make up for the lost "Pulpo" time, we continued and at Salceda's municipal borders, we arrived to a quite unique place which can't be spotted at simple glance. First we only saw a terrace and a bar, after quickly dissolved doubts, we obviously went in for our 3rd coffee of the day. Once inside, it turned out to be a magical place full of history, where apart from wall messages and carvings, the most striking thing were... T-shirts! Yes yes, T-shirts hanging everywhere from the ceiling, there were at least 100 of them in all possible colours, left by pilgrims, visitors and friends from all around the World. In addition, the friendliness and energy of its owners, Sonia and Quique, made the experience even better. Obviously, under these circumstances, one of my photo interviews was mandatory; the recent story behind this unique place was both moving and interesting to hear. However, as all the other photo-interview stories, they will be published later within their own context.

After this surprising and positive moment, and going for my now very cold coffee, I joined again Andrew and... Steph! Yes, the happy Aussie we met before caught up with us and joined our coffee moment (and you're right, our longing was making us reeeally slow). Since we were near Santiago, we exchanged selfies and whatsapp to meet up again and celebrate together our Camino arrival!

A very comfortable horsegrino

With only a few kilometres to go for Santiago, Andrew and I pedalled away... but still with some nostalgia of the finishing adventure, hunger kicked in and Andrew stopped for some bacon and eggs, while I resorted to my beloved Galician beer, Estrella Galicia. There, we met two more Aussies, Sam and Jayne, and also some horsegrinos; horse pilgrims. If you're thinking if they qualify to be called pilgrims, yes they do. The requirements to be a Santiago de Compostela pilgrim state that it can be done walking, on a bicycle or riding a horse.

Once we were arriving to Pedrouzo (last hill before Santiago), the spectacular skyline of Santiago awaited us in all its beauty and with a completely blue lit sky, pierced only by the unique towers of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the famous Santiago Apostle rest. Which is precisely the reason that motivated this famous religious pilgrimage for many centuries.

Finally, in Santiago!

The feeling of accomplishment, happiness and satisfaction of entering my studies town, where I spent almost 10 years of my life, with just the strength of my legs on my dear 20kg heavy bicycle, was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. I was so happy to see my hometown again that I even jumped on its sign (check out the cover picture above)... going down the cobblestoned streets, passing by the "Museo do Pobo Galego" (Museum of the Galician people), then going up to the "Plaza Cervantes" (named for one of our greatest Spanish writers) and the last descent to the magnificent cathedral of Santiago made all my memories and feelings mingle into a big burst of joy. Best thing, I was received by my parents and one of my best friends, Jorge, to share together this unique achievement. We then went to another nostalgic place for me, the "Hostal de los Reyes Católicos", the 5 star hotel just next to the cathedral and where I did one of my summer internships some years ago. After the Cathedral itself, it's probably one of the most iconic and historic constructions of Santiago, which used to be a hospital for pilgrims (find out more about its history here). We were very well received by my former colleagues and we had great tapas at the "Enxebre" restaurant. 

Pilgrims' patience

While my parents had to leave, Jorge, Andrew and I had lunch together before we went for our "Compostela", the certificate issued by the Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which certifies the completion of the pilgrimage. In order to obtain it, you must do the journey with the Pilgrim's credential (see mine below), which you need to have stamped during your pilgrimage in any church or albergue you pass by. There are also distance requirements, at least 100 km walking or 200 km on your bike are needed to obtain it (find more information here). 

 

My Camino credential

 

"Ich bin dan mal weg" the film

So we went then to the last step of our pilgrimage and to one big...queue! The "Oficina del Peregrino" (=the Pilgrim's office, where you get your certificate), was full of people, but contrary to what you'd expect (specially for those who do it in August, month of greatest pilgrim arrivals), it wasn't due to too many pilgrims, but because of German "Hollywood"(which we first met on my Day 11). Therefore, patiently as a pilgrim, we waited for them to finish their few scenes and observed those immaculately clean "pilgrims" carrying featherlight backpacks... so after some "Action!" moments, we finally could write the last dot in our journey.

That's my Compostela!

Last dot...? Not quite yet, heading back to the "Obradoiro" square, where the Cathedral is, I reunited with 3 of my faculty friends, Pablo, David and Martin. They came to say hi before Andrew and I headed to our Albergue and joined our "Ondiñas" friends for dinner and pilgrimage celebration!

 
 

So what started as a "Let's pedal to Santiago" finished by being one of my greatest adventures and eye opening experiences. There's not one unique reason to do the Camino, there are as many as people and stories you can find while doing it, and as with most travels and adventures, what matters are who you encounter, the journey and what you will learn for your own life.

Therefore, I will finish my last day with my Sixteenth recommendation for the Camino:

Start the Camino with your own personal reason, forget it on the way to indulge the journey and get inspired by the people you will encounter.

"Buen camino" my dear friends!

 

PS: You wonder where it all started? See here Day -1 and Day 1.