Sunday, October 8, 2017

El Camino de Santiago - 2017


At the end of our flight from Spain, as we were walking from the plane to retrieve our luggage, I checked my phone for messages sent while the device was in airplane mode.  There was an email informing me of the passing of Wanda Rogers.  What a bitter-sweet ending to our adventure on El Camino de Santiago.  Wanda and her husband, Carl, were very tightly linked.  Carl passed away this spring.  As we were flying home to Atlanta, Wanda was flying home to Carl.  

It's partly Carls' fault that we have been hiking El Camino now.  Several years ago, I visited Israel and brought back an olive branch and a bottle of olive oil for Carl.  He had them framed in a shadow box and placed on the wall.  He always wanted to visit the Holy Land, and as soon as his health improved, he and Wanda would go.  Time went by and his health did not improve.  I wondered if he really would make it to Jerusalem.  Then I began to go through health issues myself: appendicitis, a bulging disk in the lower back, etc.  For years, I had been interested in hiking El Camino de Santiago and I kept putting it off for one reason or another.  As I became aware that Carl's declining health would probably prevent him from ever visiting the Holy Land, I realized that I could easily be in the same kind of situation with my own health, and that I should go sooner than later.

I have spent many hours with the Rogers over the years.  Ostensibly I was a 'minister' to them, a "Home Teacher" in Mormon terminology.  But the blessing was mine to learn from them and their long history.  Besides being a father, Carl filled two very important roles in his life: first as a defender of freedom in the Korean war and the second as a teacher.  His philosophy seemed aligned with Mark Twain who is quoted as saying: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness".  Carl and Wanda loved to travel. I feel like the final lesson I learned from them was to not put off a learning opportunity such as hiking El Camino de Santiago.

So, about two years ago I started planning my trip.  Generally Michelle does not accompany me when I go hiking.  But as the plan began to take form, she realized there would be no sleeping on the ground.  There would be no cooking over a campfire.  Warm showers would be available every day and a bed every night, and there would be good Spanish food.  Well, "Why should Curtis go to Spain alone?"  She made up her mind to come with me.

In September of 2016 we hiked from St. Jean Pied du Port in France, over the Pyrenees and through Navarra, Spain to Logroño, on the edge inside the province of La Rioja.  We covered 100 miles in 10 days.

Entrance to Logroño: the Puente de Piedra (Bridge of Stone) over the Rio Ebro
After hiking 100 miles, oh what a joyful site it was to see this bridge, the end of the 2016 section.
The adventures of that hike are described elsewhere.  This narrative is about El Camino in 2017.

Logroño to Ponferrada

Going there and Going Back Again

On September 5th we left Atlanta and flew overnight to Madrid, arriving in the morning.  We each carried a back pack on the plane and we checked in a suitcase with clothes that we would use at the end of the trip and gifts for our hosts in Logroño and A Coruña.  The suitcase also contained our collapsible hiking poles and other things that cause problems with security in some airports.  Once in Madrid, we moved things out of the suitcase that we would need during the hike and then sent it to our friends, Fuco and Idoia, in A Coruña via the mail: Correos.

From Michelles' perspective:
05 Sept.   Tuesday
My friend Nora drove Curtis and I to the airport.  We checked the yellow suitcase that had gifts and our boots and poles.  While we were waiting at our gate we ran into Marta Tellez and her son Michael Turner!  We met Marta shortly after we moved to Suwanee and watched her two boys (Christian and Michael) grow up into fine young men.  They were also going to Madrid and will drive all around Spain with some friends they are meeting in Madrid.  It was great to start the trip in such a fun way!  Our Delta (KLM) flight left at 5:55 pm and was an uneventful direct flight to Madrid.  We both got a little bit of sleep on the plane.  As usual, I can’t sleep on a plane.
If you've spent much time in the Barajas Airport, in
Madrid, you've probably come across this gentleman.

To get to Logroño we had the option of taking the train or the bus.  Both leave right from the airport.  The train left shortly after the flight arrived.  The bus left 4 or 5 hours later. We did not know how long it would take to get through customs, so from the U.S. we had bought bus tickets on the ALSA bus line.  The fortunate thing about that decision is that Correos, the Spanish Postal service had a system-wide crash and they could not process our suitcase when we first tried.  If we were going on the train, we would have had to take the suitcase with us to Logroño, and delayed hiking the next day until after Correos opened.  As it was, several hours later after we had a nice relaxing lunch in one of the nicer (read expensive) airport restaurants, Correos was able to process the suitcase and we were able to stick to the plan.

For future reference, HERE is the web site of the lounge in the Madrid airport where we could have taken a refreshing shower and a nap before traveling on to Logroño.

Our seats on the bus were the front two, which was great for taking pictures of the countryside between Madrid and Logroño.  This image shows the approach to Sierra de Cebollera that forms the border between the regions of Castilla y Leon (Madrid) and La Rioja (Logroño).

Approaching Almarza and the foothills of Sierra de Cebollera
(This text in orange is intended to be a link to Google Maps where the picture was taken.)
Later on in this trip we will again transition from the 
plains of Castilla y Leon to the mountains but not near as fast.
In the Sierra de Cebollera
As we got to the top of these mountains it was interesting to see there are poles along the road to guide snowplows.  I don't associate central Spain with snow.  I learned something new.

At one point I started taking video and promptly learned something else new from the bus driver:  Pictures OK, Video NO.  Well, alright, but it would have been fun to show the manuevers of the big bus on the narrow mountain roads.

The splotches on the wind shield are not a problem in the Google Maps image of the approach to
Torrecilla en Cameros
Michelle writes:
06 Sept.    Wednesday
We arrived in Madrid at 8:15 am.  We found the correos (post office) in the airport and tried to mail the yellow suitcase to Fuco in A Coruña, but their system was down.  They told us to come back later.  We then found an electronics store in the airport where Curtis was able to buy a SIM card and get his phone set up to work in Spain.  That was a huge a relief.  (We felt handicapped last year when we had to wait until we got to Pamplona to get his phone working.)  We ate lunch at a nice quiet restaurant, then went back to the correos and were finally successful in mailing the suitcase.  Another relief because we did not want to be dragging that suitcase along with our packs to Logroño!
We found where we were to wait for our bus to Logroño and then sat and read or slept until it came at 3:15 pm.  The transportation system in Spain is very organized and on time.  You only have 5 – 10 minutes to get on or you will miss your bus!
We took the Alsa Premium bus to Logroño.  What a nice bus!  It was much more comfortable than the airplane.  Wider seats, more leg room.  They even gave us a snack!  We sat in the front 2 seats and had a great view out the big front window.  It was a 4 hour reide and it went through some beautiful contry – especially going over the mountains.  The highways we drove on were the E90/A2 to Soria and the N111 into Logroño.

We arrived right on time at 7:15 pm.  Mailu and her son Jorge met us at the bus station.  
Bus station in Logroño
(picture taken by Mailu while waiting for us to arrive)
I must interrupt Michelle here and explain a little about Mailu.  We fell in love with Logroño last year, mostly because of new friends Mailu and Javier, and Asun.  We worshiped with them on Sunday at the end of our trek last year.  Then we were invited to stay the night with Javier and Mailu - and the next, and enjoy the festival being celebrated in Logroño that week.
Kevin Pack, another new friend that we would meet later on the Camino wrote about these kinds of friendships this way: 
"I met a man named Curtis Whetten from Georgia who was walking the Camino De Santiago with his wife. As we spoke, we discovered that we had many friends in common back in Georgia. It made me think about one of the great blessings of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Because of my membership in the Church, I have friends literally throughout the world, wherever I go. Paul's words to the Ephesians indeed rang true to me that day...."Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Ephesians 2:19-20)
I am grateful to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ, built upon a foundation of apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone."

As I ponder his words and think about worshipping in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia I must agree.  I made instant friends in all of those places.

Michelle continues:
They took us to our hotel and then we walked downtown until we could eat dinner – the restaurant Mailu recommended didn't serve dinner until 9 pm.  We ate food that is typical of the La Rioja region.  I had a thin steak and Curtis had halibut.  Then they drove us by their new church building and dropped us off at our hotel, the NH Hotel.  That was a very nice hotel and we slept really well – we were so tired.

Well, it's a good thing Michelle kept a journal because I totally forgot to mention the sim card for the phone.  That was crucial for making arrangements for places to stay, for arranging transportation, for keeping track of where we were, for emergencies (none occurred), etc.  Last year we used Vodafone.  This year we used Orange.  There were other lesser-known plans being sold at the airport.  I'm glad we passed on the first opportunities because they were way over-priced.  As it was, had we gone into Madrid, we could have found a less expensive plan but I did not want the trouble.

Michelle writes:
07 Sept.  Thursday
On the road again...
First of 23 morning shots
(Hotel NH in the background)
We slept until 8:00 am, ate breakfast at 9:00 am and started walking at 9:45 am.  We walked trough a beautiful park (Deportivo) that is big and very popular with walkers and bikers.  We stopped for a short rest at a park by a little lake.  There were lots of other pilgrims with us.  We took a break and had a snack in Navarrete.  Navarrete is a nice town with a cathedral that looks pretty normal on the outside, but was very beautiful and ornate on the inside – lots of bright shiny gold.
The Camino took us through more vineyards and olive groves.  There were very few hills.  We stopped for the day in Ventosa at the Albergue San Saturnino.  It is a very nice place and most of our fellow pilgrims are from Germany or Italy.  There were only 4 of us here that spoke English: an Irish woman, an American woman and Curtis and I.

My bunkmate was a woman from Italy, Laura.  There was only one other woman in our room.  The rest were men, 4 or 5 of them.  One of them was an amazing snorer.  He could snore in any position he slept in, and loudly!  Curtis was in a different room and had his own set of really good snorers!  I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night!  We ate dinner and then walked around this nice little town.  We walked up to the cathedral and got some nice pictures.  (It seems that the churches are almost always at the top of a hill.)

"This is like a walk in the park..." literally

Water is readily available in every village along the trail.

Michelle tells the story much faster than I can keep up with the pictures, so here is what she was writing about:
Just outside of Logroño we meet Cathy for the first time.
As the Camino leaves town, it passes through beautiful vineyards - and the grapes are ripe.

We meet lots of people every day.  Most we never see again - because most people hike faster than we do.  On this first day, we met Cathy from Oregon.  She walks slower than we do because of knee problems.  We slow down to walk with her for awhile because we have things in common that we enjoy talking about.  Eventually she says something to the effect of "go on ahead, I'll catch you later" which could be a sweet way of saying: "you're walking too fast for me; don't let me slow you down."  I know because I've said that to other faster walkers.  I did not expect to see Cathy again.

Location on Google Maps
This is one last look back at Logroño before going over the hill
Over the hill from Logroño is Navarrete, a charming little town built on a hill.
Navarrete in the distance
These hikers are passing us.  They started earlier in the morning than we did, from a town on the other side of Logroño.
Narrow lanes are normal in the old part of town.
Modern development has left this side of Navarrete relatively untouched, perhaps because the big city is so close. Consequently we get to see the stone buildings and cobbled streets as they've been for many years.  At the plaza across from the church we found a pub and stopped to rest and for 2nd breakfast... or maybe it was Elevensies.

On a hot day, fountains like this were very refreshing

This is the little plaza adjacent the church where we ate.  It's interesting how prolific the stonework is in these old villages.  I am used to asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks or brick pavers and grass.

Naturally, I like the look of green grass... but where that's not feasible, this kind of stonework keeps it interesting.
Some towns are nicer to pilgrims than others.  Navarrete is particularly nice as is evidenced by these markers placed in the roadway close enough to each other for the pilgrem to easily find his way through town.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

I'm cleaning up my desktop (the real physical one) and came across this printed article that resonates with me relative to too much news.  For me, too much news makes me depressed.  I recommend the article to you:
New is bad, by Rolf Dobelli

Monday, May 9, 2016

Felicity Rae has arrived!

9 May at 9:55 am, born at 9.0 lbs (4 kg) and 21 inches (53.3 cm) long, here is Felicity Rae.

Her Mom is doing fine.  Her Dad is enthralled.  Her older brother treats her delicately.  All 4 grandparents are thrilled that she is here and grateful for her safe arrival.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Last week we hiked in Little Mulberry Park as part of our preparation for El Camino de Santiago in the fall.  The park is really nice.  Here's the link if you care to learn more about it yourself:
Gwinnett County: LittleMulberryPark

What is it that makes for a "really nice" park?

  • Being CLEAN is important.  I saw 3 pieces of trash during our walk, and I brought 2 of those out with me.
  • Being user-friendly is important.  There are miles of walking paths through the park and most of them are paved with asphalt or concrete like the one in this picture.  Some are not paved - which also has benefits - but even the dirt paths are well maintained.  You're not walking through  weeds.
  • Being scenic gives this park special attraction.  There are paths through the woods, through meadows and around the lakes and ponds.
Parks like this are one of the great benefits of living in Gwinnett County.  A few blocks from our home is Collins Hill park.  It's much smaller than Little Mulberry, but still beautiful and well used.  Nearby is Rock Springs park which is set right on the watershed divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  If you spit to the north, it will eventually make its way to the Chattahoochee river and then down through the pan-handle of Florida into the Gulf.  Spit to the south and it will go to the creek that feeds the lakes in the Richland subdivision (where we live) or the spit will go to the creek that goes through Collins Hill park.  These creeks come together by the tennis courts in Richland and as Little Suwanee Creek, they join the Yellow River.  Just for the record, I need to go on to say that the Yellow River joins with the Alcovy to form the Ocmulgee River.  This eventually joins with the Oconee River to form the Altamaha River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Darien, Georgia.

The summit of this hill is the highest point in the area.  The meadow is a big contrast to the thick woods throughout most of the rest of the park.
We hiked 12.37 km on that day.  This is about equivalent to what I expect we will hike on our third day on El Camino.

  • I think our first day we will go from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson (still in France).  
  • The second day we will cross the border and spend the night in Roncesvalles.  
  • And on the third day we will hike 11.8 km to Viskarreta.  If you know the difference between kilometers and miles, you can tell we will be taking it easy at the beginning.  By the time we get passed Burgos, near the end of this trip to Spain, I expect we will be hiking 20 km a day. 

Honor Motherhood

I came across a quote from Donald Winnicot that caught my attention.  In her blog, BrainPickings, Maria Popova writes: 
Winnicott calls for a recognition of “the immense contribution to the individual and to society” that “the ordinary good mother” makes simply by virtue of her devotion to the child, particularly in the early stages of infancy. He urges:
Is not this contribution of the devoted mother unrecognized precisely because it is immense? If this contribution is accepted, it follows that every man or woman who is sane, every man or woman who has the feeling of being a person in the world, and for whom the world means something, every happy person, is in infinite debt to a woman.

I wholeheartedly agree.  As a man, I cannot appreciate the full meaning of what it takes to be a Mother.  As the husband to a wife who has gone through labor 3 times, and as the father of a daughter who will deliver a baby tomorrow at 9:30 am, I stand in amazement of what they are willing to go through physically, mentally and emotionally to bring this new life into being.  My own mother went through this 10 times.  So, beyond these words of awe, of gratitude, and of respect and admiration... beyond these, there needs to be attitude and actions that match the words.  My actions are a true measure of how I feel.  I hope to be open to the subtle guidance (usually sub-conscious guidance) from my daughters, my wife and my mother on how to honor their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Truth - Science - Religion

As is evidenced in my career as a Mechanical Engineer, I am enthralled with science and technology.
I treat engineering problems as a search for truth: the best solution to a problem.
In recent browsing, I came across a thought that captivated my attention because of how it resonates with my own ideas.  This comes from the astronomer, Vera Rubin (a modern day pioneer).  She writes:

"We’re still groping for the truth. So I don’t really worry too much about details that don’t fit in, because I put them in the domain of things we still have to learn about. I really see no reason why we should have been lucky enough to live at the point where the universe was understood in its totality… As telescopes get bigger, and astronomers get cleverer, I think all kinds of things are going to be discovered that are going to require alterations in our theories… Science consists of continually making better and better what has been usable in the past."
Women in Science, Dark Matter, and Our Never-Ending Quest to Know the Universe. By Maria Popova

What fascinates me about this is her ability to put things "that don't fit in" somewhere in the category of things we still have to learn about.  And why don't we know about these things?  Because the required foundation has not been established.

For me, science and religion are not in opposition.  There are, among all the scientific truths we know, some concepts that could be interpreted as being contrary to the truth I understand, based on my religion.   I counter that we don't know everything about science.  And regarding religion, there is a lot that is "yet to be revealed".

When we stop being curious, we stop progressing.  In both science and religion, there are things I am curious about.  I cannot discard science because all theories are not proven.  Likewise, I cannot discard religion simply because all questions are not answered.  In each case, I have to put some questions "in the domain of things we still have to learn about."  In the meantime, I proceed to expand the foundation that will allow for more understanding - in both science and religion.  How?  By trial and error: experimentation.

As a way to find the truth, experimentation works in both religion and science.  I suppose the people who find the most conflict between religion and science do not understand that concept.  Or perhaps they believe that the way they live their life has no effect on their experiments.  While this may be true in the lab, it is not true in the religious lab of life.

As I continue to reflect on why so many people can only see conflict between science and religion, I realize that few people understand that God DOES communicate with us.  This I know: God loves me.  Everyone can find that out for themselves, and like me, build on that foundation of truth line upon line.  Hooray for TRUTH!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

I value this thought:

"Conversations that clarify, improve, and expand or extend our thinking are respectful and uphold trust; attacks that just trash a work break the trust in which the work is shared. We want free speech, differences of opinion, and a field that doesn't have to be overly cautious. But trust abused silences people, and that is not free speech either!!!" 

I want to refer to this in the future, so I thought it best to document the link here for easy access later.