Monday, December 3, 2012


Per usual, I am way late in posting what I promised, but finally, here are pictures from our adventures.

Camino Ignaciano 2012 - pictures!!!

As you saw in our blogging, we had an incredible experience on this trip, and we would highly recommend it to anyone up for an adventure!  Planning for the full camino is wonderful, but even doing bits and pieces of it is fulfilling and would be manageable to orchestrate.

As they say, Buen Camino!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The End of the Journey: Montserrat and Manresa

This last post is certainly delayed (actually that's an understatement), but we still wanted to offer some conclusion to our experience on the camino.  When we stopped walking, we spent a few days taking the train to visit some of the cities we were planning to pass through on the walking route. We first spent two days in Zaragoza where we saw an incredible was absolutely huge with a tower at each corner of the building and a beautiful, colorful tiled roof.  Inside, it continued to feel enormormous with a long expanse on either side and partitioned areas throughout the middle; it was almost like a small village contained inside this building.

From Zaragoza, we moved on to Lerida, which was easy to navigate and is home to an old castle and cathedral that are set up on a hill in a fortress of sorts.  On our second day in Lerida, we spent the morning going to Verdu, which we reached via a short train ride and then 3 kilometers or so by car.  Verdu is the birthplace of St. Peter Claver, who was one of the original Jesuits and spent much of his life living and working in South America (we saw his home and place where he died in Cartagena, Colombia last year).  In Verdu we saw Claver's birthplace and a church, and we were quickly ready to move on.  Since there was very limited transportation back to the bigger town and the train station, we were lucky to catch a ride with a local farmer who was heading in that direction.  Back in Lerida, we grabbed some lunch, picked up our things at the hotel, and returned to the train station to leave for our next destination.

At this point, we spent a couple of weeks deviating from the camino route because it took much less time to reach places via train than it would have on foot.  Following visits to Seville, Madrid, and Lisbon (Portugal), we arrived in Barcelona on a Friday and reconnected with Greg's parents.  It was during this week that we planned to visit the last two cities on the camino route: Montserrat and Manresa.

On Sunday, we took the train to Montserrat.  When we got off the train, we boarded a cable car in order to reach the mountaintop where a beautiful Benedictine Abbey is located.  We wound our way past a few shops and further up the hill where the main church is located.  The primary attraction in Montserrat is a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, which is a beautiful Black Madonna and has special significance for the people who live in this region of Spain.  Because there was an incredibly long line to reach the statue, we opted instead to view her from the inside of the church.  The statue is located behind the altar in a raised area where people can file through individually and offer a prayer, but this area is also easily visible from the sanctuary and still gave us a great opportunity to experience this statue.  Following mass, we had a lovely lunch of paella and planned the rest of the afternoon.  In addition to the abbey itself, there are a number of hermitages in the surrounding mountains, many of which visitors can hike to.  And, if you look carefully, there are crosses located on several of the mountain peaks.  Ready for a walk, but also practicing some restraint, we decided to walk out to the nearest cross, which proved to be a location with incredible views of both the abbey and the surrounding valleys.  Just a short distance up the mountain from this cross, we found one of the hermitages, so we took a look around and a number of pictures before heading back to the cable car to return to Barcelona.

On Monday, we were lucky to be able to meet Jose Louis, who is one of the Jesuits that is spearheading the effort to develop the Camino Ignaciano.  He was an incredibly nice and insightful man, and we had a wonderful conversation about the camino experience.  In fact, Jose Louis walked the entire camino this summer and had much to reflect on after his time on the road.

Finally, Tuesday, July 31, was Ignatius Day! So, we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to make our visit to Manresa.  We took an easy train ride from Barcelona to Manresa and then navigated our way through Manresa in order to reach the Jesuit church.  Once inside, we made our way toward the back, which is where the cave is located.  When Ignatius arrived in Manresa, he wasn't originally planning to spend any significant time here, but he ended up staying for 10 months, and it was in this cave that he spent extensive time developing and articulating the Spiritual Exercises, which is a format of prayer that is widely used in Ignatian Spirituality to this day. Because this cave was such an important place for Ignatius and ultimately the formation of the Jesuit order, a church was built around it.  Today, the cave is a small chapel of sorts with a well-decorated entrance and a few seats for individual prayer. We were also able to present our credentials from the camino (which we had gotten stamped in each town we stayed in while hiking) and receive certificates that acknowledge the walking that we did.  Though we didn't complete the entire route walking, it's quite nice that anyone who walks 100 kilometers or more of the route can receive this certificate as a memento.

Though it's easier to explain the physical parts of this experience, our camino was also an incredibly faith-filled time.  With the whole plan for the trip being rooted in faith, perhaps that seems obvious.  We had good intentions of using the website's guide to the Spiritual Exercises, but we were not particularly consistent about starting our days with those readings and framework.  In fact, for Ruth, the camino prayer was much more a wandering thought and reflection process.  Looking back, it's hard to complain about that, as the notion of letting your thoughts wander and guide your prayer is quite Jesuit in itself.

Back in the States now and some months removed from our hiking experience, we are deeply appreciative for this time that we had to consider our lives and priorities and to build our marriage in a unique way.  It's a tricky thing to come back and hope to put those camino reflections into practice, but if nothing else, we continue our conversations and are perhaps more conscientious about reflection in everyday life.

For those of you who have been waiting (or have been thinking that we completely forgot), pictures from the adventure will be posted tonight.

As we say among pilgrims, Buen Camino!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Change in Plans...

After much consideration, we have decided to stop walking. The problem with Greg's leg seems to be the tendon, and it clearly needs rest, so in an effort to prevent a worse problem or greater damage, we're calling day 12 our last. However, there are still important components of Ignatius' journey and Jesuit history that we very much want to see and experience, so we plan to reach each of them by train. From Tudela we have taken the train to Zaragoza, which is a large city; we will then visit another large city, Lerida. On our way to Barcelona we will also stop in Verdu, which is the birthplace of early Jesuit Peter Claver (we saw his home and the place where he died in Cartagena, Colombia last year, so we particularly want to make this stop in Verdu). We will also still make day visits to Montserrat (where there is an incredible Benedictine monastery) and Manresa (where Ignatius spent a number of months articulating the Spiritual Exercises). Due to this significant change in our plans, we will no longer blog each individual day, but we will post some commentary about our visits to Verdu, Montserrat, and Manresa.

Though we are disappointed at not being able to hike as far as originally planned, we are still very committed to raising what money we can for the Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador where we have both served as short term volunteers - we've discussed this objective on the page "Donations for our Miles" as well. We have found a donor who will match the donations we raise, up to $2,500. At this point, $1,100 has been raised for the WBC, so we are hoping to raise an additional $1,400. Any contribution, no matter how big or small, truly makes a difference for this incredible organization. For example: $25 feeds one person at the WBC for a little more than 3 months - the center serves 2,000 people and provides each member with 3 meals per day, 6 days per week, 52 weeks per year. In addition to the meal program, donations provide educational materials to the grammar schools and daycare, medical supplies to the health clinics, supplies to the vocational education programs, and resources to the center libraries. We and the WBC would be incredibly grateful for any contribution you might be able to make. Please make all donations here.

A few more posts on our visits to the last few camino sights will be forthcoming, and we will still post pictures to the picasa account when we have access to upload them (likely not until we return to the States). Thank you for following our journey!

Day 12: Alfaro to Tudela (July 13)

We rose early again this morning and Greg felt his leg was much improved from yesterday, so we departed, moving at a great pace, mainly along a highway, for the first hour or so. At that point we passed through a small town called Castejon and beyond town found a gravel road along the railroad tracks that we would follow for some distance. We've reported some of our challenges with flies in past posts, and there have been occasional attacks by gnats, but today both of those obstacles seemed minor in comparison to the mosquitoes that descended upon us while we walked this gravel road. At some point while we were navigating this uneven terrain and frantically swatting the bugs, Greg's leg really started to act up again. About halfway to our destination we ascended a bridge and crossed the railroad tracks...this gave us a nice opportunity to rest, and we were delighted to find that the road on the other side of the bridge was paved. This last portion of the walk was quite difficult for Greg, and we started to realize that we really needed to evaluate our gameplan for the coming days. Our total distance again today was about 25 km.

Arriving in Tudela, we found our hotel and had to wait a bit for our room, so we had coffee and bocadillos in the hotel cafe while we waited. Later that afternoon, after we were all settled in and rested, we walked to a nearby plaza to meet Jaime at a bar called Gilligan's. Jaime is one of the Jesuits who has been working to develop the Camino Ignaciano. Over drinks we talked about our camino experience and the recent challenges with Greg's leg, and we heard about the extensive work the Jaime has done to develop the route that Camino Ignaciano takes. From the bar, Jaime brought us to the high school where he is director and gave us a tour of their extensive facility.

Later that evening, we met up with Jaime again in order to attend the mass he was saying at the local Jesuit parish. Then, we scooted back to the school so he could stamp our credentials, and we enjoyed dinner at the Jesuit residence. Back at the hotel, we planned to take the train instead of walking the next day so that Greg's leg could rest and we considered our options for the remainder of the camino. More details to follow in a subsequent post.

Day 11: Calahorra to Alfaro (July 12)

Bright and early we headed out, winding our way through town and back to the cathedral that we had found yesterday. From there we quickly found the road that would lead us out of town, and in short time we were on a paved (!) farm road that led us east. We followed this road for some time, weaving through fields and walking beside a segment of river. About 8 km into our day, Greg quite suddenly developed a pain in his right quad, just above the knee. It seemed a little odd, but we continued on, reaching the town of Rincon de Soto, which was our halfway point so we stopped in a park to refill water and eat a granola bar. Beyond this town we followed a gravel farm road alongside the railroad tracks for another 10 km or so. During this time Greg's leg continued to get worse, and though he hadn't heard any sort of pop or felt a particular cause for the pain, it was increasingly difficult for him to walk. Finally we reached Alfaro and were glad to find our hotel on the near edge if town. Our total distance today was 25 km.

Once we completed our usual settling in routine, we walked into town to find lunch. Fortunately, With the backpack off and the short distance we had to walk, Greg's leg felt a little better. We found a little restaurant close to one of the churches and enjoyed the menu of the day, and then we explored the city a little more, snapping a few pictures, before going back to the hotel for a rest.

Later in the evening, we headed out again in search of a pharmacy, which we found without a problem. When Greg described his leg problem to the woman there, she quickly understood that the cause was excessive exercise and gave him an ointment that would help the stressed area of his leg. From there we found the office of tourism to get our credential stamped and returned to our hotel, as we hoped to be in good enough shape to head out early in the morning.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Day 10: Alcanadre to Calahorra (July 11)

Short and sweet! This day really flew by! After we departed the train station and returned the keys at the bar, we scooted out of Alcanadre along the first of many gravel and dirt roads. We made our way up and over a hill and found our way down such that we were walking on a side road along a main highway. The highlight of this section of the way was the many, many bunnies that we saw...they darted across the road, through fields, and in and out of holes...there were seriously tons of them! And, they were almost as cute as the ones who routinely play leap-bunny with one another in our yard at home. Eventually, we crossed to the other side of the highway, walked along the train tracks for a while and down a very long gravel/dirt road before returning to pavement. From there we quite suddenly saw our destination city of Calahorra before us. Upon entering the city, we turned down several streets, navigating through the usual collection of apartment buildings, and a short time later we reached our hotel, which was located quite close to the city center. Our walk today totaled about 20 km.

As we waited for our room to be ready, we enjoyed a cafe
con leche at the hotel bar. Settled in our room and cleaned up, we enjoyed a delicious menu of he day at a nearby restaurant. Interestingly, the Spanish seem to have a certain affinity for pre-packaged ice cream cones, pops, and sandwiches of all varieties (ice cream novelties in American grocery stores). I've certainly enjoyed this extensive availability of ice cream products, but a truly funny moment came when we ordered ice cream for dessert at lunch today and our waiter walked to a nearby shop, purchased the pre-packaged cones, and then presented them to us on plates :).

After lunch we took a walk around, looking for someone to stamp our credential (all the offices seemed to be closed), taking pictures of the churches (strangely, the cathedral is located on the outskirts of town and down the hill, so that was a tiny hike), and gearing up for a nap. A lovely nap later, we stepped out again and again failed to find anyone to stamp the credential (fortunately our hotel would be able to do it). We picked up some fruit and granola bars at the grocery store for a walking snack tomorrow and quickly decided it was bedtime.