Sunday, 11 May 2014

Spain. Camino de Santiago. 2nd stop at Mañeru (Navarra)

The day had just broken and I was still half asleep, the night had been warm but the sleep not deep, as the snoring of the fellow travellers, coughing and creaking of the bunk beds had kept me awake most of the night. But  already there was movement, most of the travellers had already left the albergue, others were preparing to leave. There was no good morning, no smile on the faces of our fellow travellers. All were silent. So I murmured Vaya con Dios to the ones who still remained there as I knew that we will meet them again on the way to Santiago, many of them will be staying overnight at the same villages on the Camino.

We also got up and got ready. The travellers on the road can sleep only one night in an albergue as the place has to be made ready for the new arrivals. Every one must leave before eight 0'clock in the morning and new arrivals are not allowed to come until 2 or 3 0'clock in the afternoon. This is to ensure that the people on the road have indeed come by foot or bicycle and if some one turns up at eight or nine in the morning, it means that he has travelled by bus or motor cycle and can not be admitted as a legitimate pilgrim. Also the hospitalarios need time to clean up the place after the visitors have left.
 The morning was sunny and bright, we left after having a cup of coffee and after walking about 500 metres through the village streets, we reached the village centre and entered La Conrada, the popular restauran. We saw that many of our fellow travellers were also sitting in the restaurant and enjoying their breakfast. The place was cheerful and every body seemed to be talking at the same time.

We sat down at a free table and ordered our breakfast of toasted bread, olive oil and fresh tomatoes, fresh cheese and two large cups of cafe con leche(coffee with milk). After enjoying our breakfast, we picked up our backpacks and continued our journey north. Our road map showed that the next stop of the day was a small village called Mañeru, situated at an altitude of 451 metres above sea level, about 16 kms. from Uterga which we had just left behind and about 30 kms from Pamplona, with a population of less than 400 inhabitants. It is situated on the Camino and the rivers Arga and Salado, run through its boundaries.

During the 13th century, Villa de Mañeru belonged to the Military Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem. This Order was established by the Knight Templars in 1119 in Jerusalem, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099) in order to protect the increasing numbers of  pilgrims coming to the Holy Land from Europe, from the robbers and infidels who infested the mountain passes and defiles of the Holy City. The religious fervour of the faithful, on the liberation of Jerusalem had increased and whether they came by road or by sea, they were pillaged and murdered by marauding Bedouin tribes.

The Villa Mañeru and Puente de Reina became the cross roads for pilgrims coming from Roncesvalles and Somport (Camino Frances), which merge with the routes from Aragon and Navarre. As the legend say "all roads lead to Rome", similar legend also says "From here all the routes to Compostela will be one".

The river Arga which runs through its boundaries always posed an impediment for the pilgrims, so under the auspices of Queen Munia, the wife of King Sancho the III of Navarre & Arragon, in order to facilitate the passage of the pilgrims, a Roman bridge was built in XI century. With the construction of the bridge the town of  Puente de Reina, and surrounding villages saw a flourishing economy and higher influx of pilgrims and travellers from Europe and the regions of Spain, who passed through this route to Santiago de Compostela. The bridge is a beautiful Romanesque marvel, with six arches and from the hump in the middle of the bridge, the view of the village, its churches and other monuments is enchanting.  

The region of Navarra is famous for its gastronomy and wine. Traditional dishes like Piquillo peppers can be found on the menu of every restaurant in Navarre, usually as an appetiser or first course.
Piquillo peppers are roasted over coals, peeled and potted. They are served with thinly sliced garlic sauteed in olive oil until golden brown and then the peppers and their juice are added. They are left to simmer for a few minutes and  allowed to sit for another few minutes before serving.  You can also fill the peppers with boiled fish and shrimps, heat them in the oven for a few minutes and then serve.
    Bell Peppers fried in olive oil with garlic, oregano and topped with fresh coriander leaves.

Another regional dish is Pochas, a variety of white haricot or kidney beans, stewed and served with pickled green chillies (gindillas) or added to meat dishes. Chorizo, charcoal grilled T-bone or Sirloin steak,Chistorra the thin sausage which you will find in any butcher shop and which is added with vegetable stews are popular dishes.

 Lettuce hearts cut lengthwise, with anchovies or ham, sprinkled with thinly sliced fresh garlic and vinaigrette sauce is another popular dish.

 My favourite dish is Lamb al chilindrón, with chopped onion, fresh garlic & ginger and stewed on slow fire with white wine. I always add fresh ginger, red instead of white wine, saffron, a few cloves and one or two cardamom pods and stew it over low fire. 

Bacalao al ajo-arriero (Cod fish) is another popular Navarre dish which is prepared with olive oil,tomatoes, piquillo peppers, onions & fresh garlic, green peppers and one whole dry chili, little sugar, white wine. I add small peeled potatoes too, and when the fish is nearly dry, they come out poached with succulent fish. Green olives and green pickled onions and chillies sprinkled over the fish is delicious. The best way is to soak cod overnight in vinegar and water, changing the water once or twice. Pat dry it before stewing it in slightly fried onions and garlic and other ingredients.Slightly shred the fish as it stews and simmers in the juices of garlic and onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle it with fresh coriander leaves and eat it with fresh country bread (pan de payes) and dry white wine.

We stayed at Casa Rural Isabel in Mañeru, an old three storey house, which had four guest rooms on  the ground floor. The rate was 35 euros. The room we had was spacious, airy and full of light and we made ourselves comfortable, did some reading and took a short siesta.

  There were three restaurants in the village and we chose one which had a charcoal grill Asador and ample sitting places. It was nice and cool. My wife had a plate of alcachofas and a plate of lettuce hearts with anchovies and sprinkled withfresh garlic, country bread with extra virgin olive oil and grilled tomatoes. I had lamb al chilindrón and we shared a plate of asperagus with mayonnaise. And we had a bottle of Inurrieta Norte,a red wine, light in colour and fresh,fruity and aromatic taste.
It was Romans who first introduced the grape in Navarra region in the 2nd century BC and started wineries (bodegas) there. In the Middle Ages, when Navarra was an independent kingdom and had close relations with France, and being the pilgrims route on the Camino de Santiago, the culturaVini flourished, and even in the guide books of 12th centuray, wine from Navarra was recommended to the pilgrims.
 We had a pleasant day in Mañeru and in the evening we sat and watched TV, then to bed. We decided to start late the next morning and continue our journey. Our next stop was Estela-Lizarra,



Saturday, 10 May 2014

Spain. Camino de Santiago.- Utrega . Journey continues

Early the next morning, we left our hotel in Pamplona, walked down the street and in a bar near the town hall had a breakfast of toasted bread with olive oil and fresh sliced tomatoes sprinkled with oregano, semi cured cheese and two cups each of hot Spanish coffee. It was delicious. The rain had stopped and the air was fresh with a bite to it. We started walking out of the city, following the signs of Scallop shell, the emblem of Santiago de Compostela. After one km. or so, we came to the edge of the city and the road  became a street and then a track going uphill. And it started to rain again. Luckily there was a restaurant nearby and we ran to it and had one more coffee until the downpour became a drizzle. But dark rain clouds still hovered over the horizon, threatening  us with another shower if we did not immediately start our journey.

We started our trek uphill, it was humid and hot, the backpack although it was less than six kilos, weighed a ton. The rural track, strewn with stones, not pebbles but good sized rock stones, went up all the way. Holly smoke! I thought, we are not pilgrims, we are here for a morning walk, why this test of our faith laid bare on the rocks? My wife also was distressed and we thought of going back the way we had come, but our determination took hold of our wavering thoughts and we continued onward. To be honest, going back on that treacherous way down, would have been equally hard. We soon learned that on the Camino, there was no way of going back, one simply had to go on.

After going uphill for about 2500 meters, the track levelled out, and we came to a halt. A tree had fallen upon the ground, from one bank to the other of a rivulet swelled up by the recent rains. In order  to continue our journey, we had to climb a mound of mud bank, walk over the tree trunk to reach the other side of the rivulet, which was presuming to be a stream. Every thing was wet and slimy and I tried to grasp the tree trunk with my hands, but slipped and fell into the muddy water. My wife helped me climb back and I tried to help her walk over the tree trunk, but the tree was so slippery and our boots full of the mud that we both once again slipped down in the muddy water. Without another word, my wife picked herself up and waded the few metres to reach the other side and climbed up, holding some branches of the tree. I followed. My chance of picking her up in my arms like Tarzan and bringing her safely to the opposite side faded.

We cleaned our boots as best as we could, with the leaves of the tree and with the grass growing on both sides of the track and continued uphill and suddenly we were up on top of the mountain and could see the signs of civilisation in the form of a village, silhouetted against the sky. The sky had cleared too and we saw a group of pilgrims on the other side of the mountain track, also going down towards the village. Some were walking, with long staffs in their hands, others were sitting astride horses and donkeys, followed by dogs, with flags of their faith on long poles, waving in the wind. All were silent, the men as well as the animals. Perhaps they too had sighted the village in the distance and were, like us, anxious to reach it, find accommodation, feed their mounts, wash clothes and then sit down and have a glass or two of the local wine and break bread with olives and olive oil, cheese and chorizo. And in silence lay down upon bunk beds and slumber or sleep of the weary traveller, with aching limbs and be up early in the morning to continue on their journey north. We all were on the Camino del Perdon.

We said hola! bueno dias (hello, good morning) to our silent fellow travellers, but received no response, they all seemed to be absorbed in their own thoughts, so I murmured Vaya con Dios (go with God)  and continued our way down and were soon on the edge of the village. We calculated that we had barely done 10-12 kilometres, whereas it was our intention to do at least twenty kms. every day. It was late afternoon when we reached the village which was called Uterga (province of Navarra) and the Albergue, a private place run by a family of welcoming hosts.

We took off our dirty boots, slid  off our backpacks and sat down on the floor outside.  To our surprise there already were many other travellers inside the place, mostly females (young and middle aged) some were unpacking their things on the bunk beds, others washing clothes or hanging them on the lines outside in the patio.  There were 18 bunk beds and charge was 10 euros per person. We handed our Credenciales which were duly stamped, paid the money and settled down until there was a chance to do the same chores, shower and rest. The albergue also had a restaurant so later we went in and had some food. The day was turning into evening and in the dormitory all was quiet, so we also went in, changed our clothes and lay down on the bunk beds to sleep. It was our first day on the Camino de Santiago.


Friday, 9 May 2014

Spain. Camino de Santiago. An interrupted Journey.

In June 2008 we had visited the city of  Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia in the north of Spain, starting our pilgrimage from Barcelona. I had started writing about our journey but at that time not feeling upto it, I had postponed further writing and promised to do so at a later date. Now I am doing so.  Better late than never.

 Portrait of Apostle Santiago de Compostela  painted by Rubens.

Apostle Santiago is the patron saint of Spain. According to a medieval tradition, after Pentecost (about 33 d. C.), when the apostles were sent to preach the Gospel and convert the faithful to christianity, Santiago crossed the mediteranian sea and landed in Hispania (Spain & Portugal).. According to some accounts, his preaching would have begun in Galicia, There are many versions of his landing on various points in Spain. After converting some people, he returned to Jerusalem where after persecution by the king Herod Agrippa, he was beheaded on the orders of the king. His body was hidden by his desciples and secretly taken to Spain in a mythical stone boat. Thus the legend began.

Throughout history, kings and knights, saints and sinners, defenders of the faith, countless illustrious pilgrims from all over Europe have taken the journey. It is an ancient and spiritual pilgrimage, which comprises of a nearly 800 kilometer trek across fields, mountains and valleys, towns and cities. People do the Camino for many reasons and books have been written by those who have travelled the whole way, revealing the results of their quest. 

It was our plan to start our journey from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France, then Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León, Astorga  to Santiago. This is the Camino Francés, the original and most popular route. In the early times when the pilgrimage started, this route to Santiago de Compostela was safer because of the protection provided by the kings of France, where the majority of pilgrims started their journey and they did not have to traverse the country ruled by muslim kings in Spain. In the end we decided to start our journey from Barcelona to Pamplona and then continue on the same route (Camino Francés), as we were told, the route was mountainous and rough and without any practice of walking long distances, we may find it difficult to continue. 

We had obtained our Credencial del Peregrino from a church in Barcelona which entitled us to stay overnight at the albergues, hostels, hospices and churches.The Credencial is a booklet, which is stamped at each halt on the way, and on reaching Santiago de Compostela, it is finally stamped by the Cathedral authorities, as having completed the pilgrimage by the officially authorised route and the certificate Compostela, is given. To earn this certificate, a pilgrim must complete at least 100 kilometers on foot or 200 kms. on bicycle.

Pilgrimage may be made by foot, on bicycle, on horse back or donkey but those travelling on motor bikes or by buses are not considered authentic pilgrims and are not entitled to stay at alberges. The charges for staying the night at places run by the local municipalities (ayuntamentos) are about 6 euros, private places between 10-15 euros, and individual rooms which cost upto 40 euros. There are some places where you may be asked to leave a donation and only at León the accomodation was free and we paid 4 euros for breakfast. Albergues have bunk beds, capacity from 18 to 60 persons in one room or a hall.

 In ancient times, the pilgrimage took months, the ways were rough and many pilgrims old and infirm, and in order to tend to their injuries and sicknesses, hospitals were erected on the route to Santiago. Many pilgrims died on the way and it was considered a privilage to die on the pilgrimage of one of the most holy cities in christiandom.
The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings. In the ancient times wearing a scallop shell not only gave the pilgrims the privilage of free lodging and food, it also warded off thieves and bandits who infested the country, but who dared not attack the pilgrims, as they were under the protection of kings.So we also bought two scallop shells and wore them around our necks, as a sign to any one on the road that we too were pilgrims, although our purpose to walk the Camino de Santiago was not religious.

Although the Camino had been popular in early times, its importance had vained and it was not until Shirley MacLaine, the American actress who did the Camino and wrote about it in her best seller book "The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage" did the trend suddenly increased and now thousands of people from all parts of europe and other countries do the Camino.

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