Camino de Santiago, 2011 (part 4)

•August 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment
cruz de ferro

Cruz de Ferro, where pilgrims deposit a stone as a symbol of a burden relieved




Molinaseca, a picturesque town on the Camino




Galician landscape



church and cemetary

Church and cemetary along the way



Galician house

Galician house



cat on tractor

Cat on tractor, near the town of Samos



sarria at dawn

The town of Sarria at dawn



camino morning

Easrly morning on the Camino


Camino de Santiago, 2011 (part 3)

•August 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Burgos city gate

Gate to Burgos's old town



burgos cathedral at night

Burgos's cathedral by night



burgos cathedral by morning

Burgos's cathedral in the early morning (view from the city's pilgrim refuge)



sky and field

The Spanish meseta in all its open glory



country road

Country road on the Camino de Santiago



san anton

We slept in the ruins of San Antón, a medieval church used to quarantine and treat a particularly aggressive form of leprecy known as "San Antón's Fire"



fuerte subida

Castilian landscape on the Camino de Santiago



tractor, wheat and trees

Typical scene along the middle stretches of the Camino



calzada romana

Roman footpath along the Camino



sunrise foncebadon

Sunrise at Foncébadon

Camino de Santiago, 2011 (part 2)

•August 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment
pacas de paja

Delapidated monument of hay



four trees

Four trees in a wheatfield



logroño street

View of a street in Logroño, capital of La Rioja



walking stick and trees

My trusty walking stick, bought for 4 euros in Jaca on the second day of the walk



mark and noelia

Two walking companions on the Camino de Santiago



tree in wheatfield

Solitary tree in a field



sunflower and wheat

Sunflower and wheat



3 pilgrim shadows

Three pilgrims

Camino de Santiago, 2011 (part 1)

•August 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

And four years later, I went back. I suppose something so epic — walking over mountains, through valleys, across Roman bridges, and passing under the shadows of the granite spires of Gothic cathedrals on an 875km pilgrimage from the Spanish-French border to the tomb of the Apostle St. James in Santiago de Compostela — when completed feels like such a monumental accomplishment that the idea of repeating the journey seems ridiculous and unnecessary. First of all, you have nothing left to prove. When you can claim to have trekked across an entire country (and I don’t care if Spain is smaller than several American states, it’s still wildly impressive to “walk across a country”), there is little need to subject yourself to the downright disgusting mid-summer Spanish sun for such a deathly period of time ever again in your life. A pilgrim friend quipped over a beer at a bar in León: “If I have the choice to avoid suffering, I chose to do so.” (Aitor, stricken with tendonitis, would not take another step on the Camino after stopping in León.) Finishing the walk is an act of determination and perseverance so great that doing it just once makes a definitive statement about your character.

The exhaustion and stress that your body is subjected to on the Camino is extreme, and I cannot imagine many doctors recommending a 500-mile blister, cramp and bedbug route for any reason. The first time I walked it, my right thigh went numb, and four years later the feeling hasn’t fully returned (in fact, I believe I aggravated the situation this year). Needless to say, nobody gets out unscathed, and those who do are surely “weekend pilgrims” who walk no more than five days, or “posh pilgrims” who have their backpacks taxied from one destination to the next so that they can walk with light shoulders and an extra bounce in their step — but we can hardly consider these walkers to be pilgrims at all. The fact of the matter, though, is that those of us who walk the entire way, who push the limits of our physical  frame and emotional strength, who, in short, endure the most pain, often walk the Camino multiple times. Beyond the architectural wonders and magnificent landscapes, the Camino de Santiago provides the pilgrim with the opportunity to reconnect with a primitive survival mindset in which food, water, and shelter are paramount, and anything more is an unexpected pleasure. Perhaps for this reason I walked again; when you reach the point where checking your email and updating your fantasy soccer team are your most pressing matters for the day, it´s time to take a step back. Or, in this case, a couple million forward.

Here is the first batch of my selection of photos from the pilgrimage, with several more entries to follow. Enjoy!


Somport mountain pass on the Spanish-French border, and the Aragonese starting point of the Camino

camino de santiago rockpiles

Cairns along the Camino de Santiago in Aragón

town on camino

A hilltop town on the Camino de Santiago

olive tree shade

A lone olive tree provides much-needed shade from the blistering Spanish sun

santa maria de eunate

Santa María de Euante, a Romanesque gem

town on camino

Pilgrims, vineyards, and a town on the Camino de Santiago

shadow and town

Entering a town along the Camino

Andalucía Day: A Trip to Málaga

•February 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Happy Andalucía Day! Today marks the date in 1980 when Andalucía achieved status as an Autonomous Community — roughly the Spanish equivalent of a a state in the U.S., though, as the title suggests, with more regional independence. Folks down here celebrate by eating the traditional breakfast of toast with olive oil and ham and singing the Andalusian Hymn. Most important, of course, is the corresponding puente (bridge), meaning long weekend. Most Andalusians take advantage of the fact that a regional holiday does not amount to skyrocketing airfares  to move about Europe or the further reaches of Spain. Being that it´s still too early to have a beach vacation in earnest, many of the southern coastal cities remain fairly calm during the Andalucía Day weekend, and can provide an ideal alternative to more popular destinations like Paris or London. As Esmeralda´s aunt works in Málaga, and rents a small loft in the city center, and readily offered to leave us the keys,  we decided to celebrate Andalucía in the most unconventional way: staying in Andalucía.

Surprisingly, neither of us had ever visited Málaga, a mid-sized Mediterranean city that, incidentally, rubs most sevillanos the wrong way because of its insistence that it deserves to be (exactly why is unclear) the capital of Andalucía. With a free place to crash and with temperatures forecast for the mid-70s, there was little to discuss.

Today, in honor of Andalucía day, I post a selection of my photos from the trip. All the photos are from either the Gibralfaro Castle or the Alcazaba, two millennial Arab constructions overlooking the the entire city, port and sea below.

(Remember, click on the photos for the high resolution version)

View from the Gibralfaro Castle of the Málga, bull ring and Mediterranean Sea

Gibralfaro Castle

View of Málaga´s cathedral from the Alcazaba fortress

Running water takes center stage at the Alcazaba, much like at Granada´s Alhambra

Looking out over Málaga from a palace in the Alcazaba fortress

Málaga skyline seen from the Alcazaba

Courtyard in the Alcazaba

El Parque de María Luisa

•February 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As beautiful as they may be, most Spanish cities don´t actually enjoy a considerable amount of green space. While architectural ingenuity dazzles, natural escapes within urban areas have never truly become necessary public places. Even the most emblematic public parks in Spain’s two most important hubs — El Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid and Park Güell in Barcelona — were created for private use only (El Retiro essentially served as the Spanish royalty’s country playground between the 15th and 19th centuries before it was passed onto the city’s hands, and Park Güell was originally designed as what would have surely been the most psychedelic gated community in the world).

Such is the case of El Parque de María Luisa, most likely Sevilla´s most attractive and most popular public park. Originally belonging to royal heiress María Luisa Fernanda de Borbón at the end of the 19th century, the carefully manicured gardens still today feel like a special privilege for any visitor. Now, in a city where trees are noticeably scarce, a little jungle beckons — and your last name doesn´t have to be Bourbon or Hapsburg to take advantage of its offerings. Last Sunday, a regular guy like me was lucky enough to spend a 68-degree February afternoon in el María Luisa. I hope these photos express just how integral a public parks can be for the spirit of a city.

(Make sure to click on the photos for the detailed version of the image, for some reason the front page versions are pretty low resolution. This hadn’t happened with any of the photos I’d uploaded previously; if you know how to fix this, let me know…)

The park´s paths attract casual cyclists

Palm trees abound in the park

View of one of María Luisa´s many gardens

A dirt path in the park

Gazebo on the pond in el María Luisa

Horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs cruise the park´s main avenue


maria luisa jungle

It´s like a jungle in here

maria luisa glorieta

One of María Luisa´s ¨glorietas¨ (circular plaza)

Typical scene in El Parque de María Luisa

Forget Flamenco: Outsider Music About Andalucía (pt. 3)

•February 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Here in Spain, it’s easy to be considered an outsider. Local cultures — regional, provincial and even municipal — are so strongly rooted that often a resident of the next town over is seen as somehow alien. The general consensus is that anyone from the other side of any border is most likely, usually in all senses of the word, queer. There exist fierce rivalries between the soccer teams of little villages with only a country road and fields of sunflowers separating them: Arcos de la Frontera vs. Espera has a dubious reputation of rioting and vitriol, that is whenever the two clubs coincide in what is the equivalent of the 5th or 6th tier of the regional league. The FC Barcelona-Real Madrid of the Sierra de Cádiz this is not, but it is astounding nevertheless that two bordering, seemingly innocuous, idyllic hilltop pueblos are capable of even finding cause for such animosity. You’re an outsider, even if I can see your town through my kitchen window.

One therefore finds no issue in considering  a Spanish-Italian (Panamanian-born) man and a Basque woman to be complete outsiders if they sing an ode to the Andalusian capital of Sevilla. Miguel Bosé and Amaia Montero represent two of the most important figures in contemporary Spanish pop; the former has been among the most prolific, eccentric and respected  artists over the past 30 years in Spain (the poor Spaniard´s David Byrne?), the latter being the former frontwoman of La Oreja de Van Gogh, one of the most popular Spanish rock groups of the 90s and 2000s. The song ¨Sevilla¨ is Bosé´s, origianlly from his 1991 album Papito, and this collaboration arose for the 2007 re-release of the disc, each track being reworked with the inclusion of a special guest. ¨Sevilla¨ stands out as the easily most impressionistic song of the bunch, weaving together hushed tones, a mesmerizing melody, vaguely Arabic interludes and an outro of Holy Week horns to invoke a sense of the romantic´s Andalucía.

Much like the first song we heard in this series, Pink Martini´s ¨Andalucia,¨ ¨Sevilla¨ seems to be more a self-conscious admiration from a safe distance than an actual attempt to emulate the local sounds and rhythms (even the Easter marching band finale is merely a snappy approximation, meant to remind, not to mimic). Bosé is aware that while sevillanos can effortlessly tap into the essence of their city´s rich musical heritage, for an outsider to do so would most likely come off as pompous, absurd, and perhaps even quixotic. Lyrically, he recognizes his status as outsider, while at the same time suggesting that showing a true compassion for the city can erase that inconvenient label, a message I firmly believe in. The chorus speaks of how one of the city´s most emblematic neighborhoods can steal any visitor´s heart:

El corazón que a Triana va

Nunca volverá


(The heart that goes to Triana / Will never return / Sevilla)