It’s a bit dusty in here. Is blogging still a thing?

So here I am again. Back in the blogging hut. Well, it sounds better than “I’m sitting on my bed writing this with my laptop on my lap.” You can make it what you like actually. It could be a cave in a cliff overlooking the sea, or a mountain cabin with a stream picking its way round some choice boulders (mind how you go as you cross over!). I like sea better ‘cos this is where I live. And I’ve just walked down to the beach and taken this picture today.

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For those of you who know, you’ll understand the significance of “just walking down to the beach”. It took me 10 minutes to get there. It was a leisurely pace. That’s how close it is.

I’ve just had open-heart surgery. Five days ago. I’m alive. And I’m walking. That calls for dusting the blogging hut. I can easily do that. Virtually I can do anything I like. That’s a good thing. Practically I can’t carry more than a kettle half filled with water, to make sure the wired sternum stays together. That’s the official advice.

Ok, what’s this little session going to lead to? I might not feel inspired by tomorrow to even write a single word more. It won’t really matter that much. Or will it? To me at least, it will.

Great! I’ve got at least 8 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation. That’s a journey, a Camino of sorts. I’ve got very distinct goals, set out for me by the physio on a neatly typed document. And walking is the backbone of this journey to recovery. Excellent!

I’m not really interested to write about the detail of my condition (mitral valve regurgitation), it’s probably boring in this context, and I’ve got to drag my own eyes away from the technicalities. So just this once, as I don’t really handle cliffhangers, what happened was this: A bit like a ship I went into dry dock and had a refit. Actually when the surgeon got there he was able to repair the valve and just to be proper belt and braces (since we’ve gone to the trouble of cracking open the chest) he did a single coronary bypass graft, pretty standard stuff. To the surgical team that is.

To me it’s a minor miracle.

My heart stopped. For quite some time. Ok, a heart-lung machine was involved, but all the same. They got on with fixing it, sewed it up, pressed the starter button, and.

My heart started again.

Think of it like this. In the regular soundtrack of my life there will forever be a long silence.

(Ref The long silence of Mario Salviati by Etienne Van Heerden)

So from day 2 when I got wheeled up from ICU, I GOT UP and took the first shaky steps to the bed. That was the beginning of my next Camino.

I’ve made remarkable progress. Perhaps walking fitness prior to the operation can explain this, or relative youth. Or a brilliant surgical and perioperative care team, doing their job with such skill, precision and compassion.  But I would add another significant factor, since this blog is about pilgrimage after all, at its deepest a spiritual journey. I believe the prayers, best wishes, crossed fingers, cards with nice words, expressions of love, friends who visited, did the major lifting work here. But especially my God. Did this. My faith is a thin wire woven through in the fabric of my story, sometimes surfacing and glinting briefly in the sun. Such is my faith. That gave me hope. That sustained me.

Bottom line, to all of you who cheered from the pavilion, a heartfelt thanks. Boom boom. (reference Basil Brush). Yes I’ve acquired a new string to my bow, the dad joke. It’s only a good one if you get a loud groan from the audience. But I’m honing my craft – be afraid!

So here we are, trying to make sense of it all.

I can’t even begin to do that (make sense of it all). I think we can (at least) agree about the dust – goodness, I haven’t used WordPress in anger for more than 2 years! I hope this little spring clean will suffice.

But is blogging still a thing? I don’t know. I’ve always written for a very small audience, mainly me. It sort-of helps to blow out the cobwebs. You can’t really instagram this unprocessed, or pour it unfiltered into Facebook. But I feel, more than any other of the social networks, that this is my space. I can mess up here all I like.

I know, too many mangled metaphors, how very amateurish. Who’s going to read it anyway?

There is a story to tell, bones to unpick. It probably will fall back to the old pattern of occasional mad inspiration at midnight, with a smattering of random thoughts. Insomnia is my frequent companion.

And don’t worry, I’ve given up the morphine on day 1. We had a major disagreement. (Opioid induced nausea and severe itching). Tramadol left me zombified for 12 hours at a time. (Some would say that’s an improvement.)

So I’m writing here stone cold sober, with my laptop on my lap, running on pure paracetamol. Taking blame and credit where it’s due.

Will you come with me? There’ll be pictures! (At the moment just taken on my phone). But eventually I’ll be able to carry a camera again. Hold that thought! (reference Hugh Brownstone).

Ps. Full disclosure: OK I wasn’t entirely truthful when I said I didn’t like cliffhangers.

 

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3 May 2016 – Grañón to Burgos.

At Grañón the walking ended for the time being. We caught the bus to Burgos and found to my delight that the bus followed the Camino route for a while. It wasn’t without a slight twinge of guilt and quite a bit of envy that I watched other pilgrims walking from my comfy coach seat.

We managed to find beds in the Municipal Albergue and settled in. We both had separate errands to run, Francois went exploring Burgos and I had to find a dentist to sort out a broken filling.

During the afternoon I heard people speaking Afrikaans and naturally went to investigate. What a delight to meet two South African pilgrims who happened to come from my part of the world and even knew some of my relatives! We got together and enjoyed dinner that evening. A new restaurant had recently opened and the owner begged us to come in and try it out. We were the only customers there, and they served the most delicious food.

And so off to bed, conscious that a very long bus journey to Barcelona awaited us the next day.

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Above – bus stop near Grañón

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View from bus window

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Burgos Cathedral

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Burgos Municipal Albergue

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South African pilgrims

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The sun setting on Burgos Cathedral

2 May 2016 – Azofra to Grañón

Azofra with its twin rooms afforded us the luxury of getting up early and packing our bags without disturbing others. It also has a café which serves breakfast at 6 am. It was quite cold, with a crisp frost on the ground. We kept going at a leisurely but steady pace, going straight through Cirueña, and finally stopping in Santa Domingo de Calcada.

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The sign behind the bar says “Good coffee is a pleasure, good friends… A treasure. ”

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We pushed on and soon rolled into Grañón. This is where we wanted to spend the night.

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The village is quite small, but the paroquial albergue is quite a special place. It is in the back of the church and the hospitality is very welcoming. Pilgrims are included in the preparation of a communal meal, and afterwards invited to a time of reflection in the choir gallery.

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1 May 2016 – Logroño to Azofra

This blog post has taken several attempts over 2 days to upload. I’m already in Burgos at the time of posting the finished story.

We decided to skip the first section through the streets of Logroño and the park, and took the local bus to Navarrete. After breakfast we set off. Francois spent the rest of the morning walking with a German pilgrim we met the previous evening and I walked ahead to stretch my legs. Ventosa provided a quick pit stop, and we reached Nájera by early lunch time.
The next few photos show some of the beautiful landscape of La Rioja.

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In Nájera we happened upon a local festival. First there was a reenactment of some historic event. It appeared that some neighbouring regions were united through clever diplomacy, some sword fighting and a mysterious figure in white who revived fallen soldiers. A king was crowned, the crowd cheered and all was as it should be. Anyway, that’s as much as I could figure out.

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Afterwards the Camino route took us through a medieval street market, with pony rides, sword fighting, beautiful local produce and a falconry display.

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Azofra is only a few kilometres past Nájera. It has a unique municipal albergue which offers a large courtyard, kitchen and dining area, with only twin rooms, not a bunk bed in sight. We spent a leisurely afternoon doing the usual chores and had a great night’s sleep.

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30 April 2016 – Los Arcos to Logroño

We managed to find a small cubicle with only 2 bunk beds in Los Arcos, and agreed with the two other peregrinos that we’d make an early start the next morning. We needed to get to Logroño.
Before first light we hit the road and stopped for breakfast in Torres del Río.

Next stop was early lunch in Viana. This has been the longest distance so far, also hard going as quite chilly and windy. We had to scramble into our weatherproof gear when a quick shower swept through, only to peel it off soon after when it got warmer again.

Viana has a beautiful church.

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We pushed on to Logroño, only stopping to collect a sello from Felisa’s daughter where you enter La Rioja.

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We had been listening for cuckoos and today we finally heard our first one. To me it is an essential part of the soundtrack to a spring Camino.

I have enjoyed the storks too, but haven’t managed to capture a good photo, so this weather vane will have to do.

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In Logroño we found a bed for the night, then took a local bus to Decathlon, for Francois to get rain trousers.

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We stayed in the Albergue Parroquial de Santiago, associated with the church of Iglesia de Santiago el Real. We attended mass, then enjoyed a communal meal, followed by evening prayers in the church. You can access the church from inside the albergue via a “secret passage”. We were encouraged to stay close together as the story goes that three Italian pilgrims got left behind in the dark when they wandered off to explore the clock tower. The evening devotions were simple but a very meaningful experience. And so off to bed we drifted.

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29 April 2016 – Estella to Los Arcos

The walk from Estella to Los Arcos will be remembered for beauty. It started quite chilly after a clear night. We refuelled at the petrol station just before leaving town (the convenience store inside serves breakfast). It isn’t far from there to the Irachi winery where you can top up your water bottle with wine from the fountain if you want to. I took a little sip for the photo but we had 20 km ahead so that was the limit.

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We took the left fork that takes you uphill through beautiful woodland, and stopped for lunch at Lorquin. From there it was an easy walk on gravelled roads to Los Arcos.

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28 April 2016 – Puente la Reina to Estella

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We had a really comfortable night’s sleep and left Padres Reparadores Albergue around 07.30. Just a few metres away a café served breakfast from 6 am, great for those early risers.

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I love those mornings when the sun gives a golden glow to Spanish villages.

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The section between Puente La Reina and Estella is one of my favourite walks, only about 20 km, a few steep uphills at the start but quite gentle after that.

Today was perfect, with very few clouds, just a cooling breeze, and some of the gems of the Camino to walk through.

Cirauqui is one such village.

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And then there is Lorca. There are 2 albergues. The one on the right is the place to stop. Meet José Ramón, a man of good taste. He gets the café con leche going when you walk in the door, the food is fresh and the music lifts your soul. He plays only opera and choir music. We were just about to leave when the paella came out. So we stayed of course. An hour later we left and the pace to Estella was decidedly more leisurely.

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It was great to see that the world map just outside Lorca is well tended.

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Not much to say about the rest of the day. We booked into Estella municipal albergue and went through the usual routine of a shower, doing the laundry, walking around town and having the peregrino meal in the evening.

Buenos noches.