Thursday, September 20, 2018

Travel News: The Camino Walk: The Portuguese Coastal Route

I completed the last leg of the Portuguese Seaside Route. This first post outlines a bit of the history of the Portuguese Camino routes. The next post will describe highlights of my experiences of walking for a total of six days covering 126km.

Historical Background of the Camino to Santiago Routes in Portugal

Such was the popularity of the Camino to Santiago in medieval times that a complex network of pilgrim routes through Portugal developed. Not all have survived the passage of time, although there is talk of reviving one or two of them as the Camino grows in increasing popularity. Nowadays there are a number of waymarked routes from Portugal to Santiago and often there is confusion as to which is which. The historic medieval pilgrim routes are well documented and researched. The main routes are:

The Central Route (Caminho Central): This follows much of the path of the Camino Real—the Royal Road. In medieval times it was, as it is today, the path most travelled by pilgrims and, as such, has the most developed infrastructure.

The Braga Way (Caminho de Braga): This old routes from Oporto passes through Braga, one of the most important cities in the history of the legend of Saint James, on the Iberian Peninsula. The route joins the Central Route in Ponte de Lima.

The Coastal Route (Caminho da Costa): This route came to the fore in the 1700s and was used by pilgrims living the coastal communities and those who arrived by boat at the many ports and fishing villages. It is an historic route not to be confused with the Senda Litoral – the Coastal Path, although the two routes cross at points.

The Seaside Route (Senda Litoral): In modern times, as holiday resorts have developed along the coastline of Portugal and Spain, so too have seaside paths. The Senda Litoral is not one of the Caminos to Santiago although many pilgrims do use this way. At points it crosses with the Coastal Route.

The Interior Way (Caminho Interior): This route starts at the Cathedral of Viseu in central Portugal and travels through Vila Real to Chaves, joining across the border in Spain with Verin and the Camino Sanabres from the south.

Credit to Johnnie Walker from the Confraternity of Saint James in the UK. This information was included in our Holiday Pack sent by the tour company, Camino Ways.

Day 1: Saturday, September 8, 2018 – Baiona, Spain
Day of Orientation and overnight stay at Hotel Bahia, located outside the centre of Baiona. We had a briefing session with our Tour Leader.

At this point of the Portuguese Coastal Camino route, we had a choice of walking along the coastal or seaside route. Our group chose the seaside route. The next day we began walking from this town of Baiona.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Travel News: Days 2 - 7 of the Camino Walk

Day 2 – September 9, 2018: Baiona to Vigo, Spain

On this first day, our group walked along the Camino Way for 26km heading towards Vigo. It was a misty day. We followed the promenade right until we came to Playa Santa Maria. We walked along the waterfront boardwalk and crossed over some bridges.

We stopped to visit our first chapel for a stamp on our Camino Passports. Each day we had to have a minimum of two stamps on our Camino Passports.

During the remainder of the day, we interacted with each other on many topics such as how did Iberia split to become Portugal and Spain.

We stopped and took pictures, had our Camino Passports stamped, dated. and signed at other sites. Some of the time I drifted away and reflected on my own.

After lunch, we continued walking towards our next stop, Vigo. We stayed close to the waterfront until we came into the centre of Vigo as we noticed the Cathedral nearby.

We arrived at Hotel Compostela Vigo. At dinner we were given a bit of a history of the Camino by our knowledgeable Tour Leader as we raised a glass or two on our first day of accomplishment.

Notes: Baiona is the most touristic sea side town in the south of Galicia with a well preserved Old Town, golden sandy beaches and a wide variety of important monuments.

Day 3: September 10, 2018: From Vigo to Redondela, Spain 

We walked through the town of Vigo admiring the beautiful architectural buildings.

Then we came to the dirt trails signposting the Camino Way.  The first part was an enjoyable walk through the nature trails where there was much peace and more reflective time alone.

By the afternoon and before lunch we meandered our way down a very steep decline. This was very challenging.  But with a deep chagrin we did it despite the hot, hot sun bearing down on us.
We found a restaurant for a much needed late lunch break as we “inhaled” the Spanish beer with a sandwich. Our hotel was located about 5.6km after Redondela on the Camino. 

We arrived at our accommodation, Hotel Santo Apostolo for cleansing, dinner and a good night's sleep.  The next day we walked to Pontevedra, a 20km walk.
Notes: Vigo is the largest city in Galicia--population 200,000 more than double that of Santiago de Compostela. The city faces a large estuary and still is an active port.

Day 4: September 11, 2018 - From Redondela to Pontevedra

 On September 11, 2018, we left Redondela for Pontevedra. After walking along the highway for about 500 metres we arrived at the nature trail. We walked on the Roman road that were mainly remnants of rock boulders with not so challenging up and down terrain.

We passed quite a few vineyards. It was a peaceful yet memorable walk on the trails.

21km later we arrived in Pontevedra in the early afternoon.

We visited the Church of Our Lady of the Pilgrims where our Camino Passports were stamped. We arrived at our Hotel Rias Bajas for a night’s stopover. We had time to explore the city of Pontevedra.
Notes: Redondela - a town of 30,000 inhabitants is most famous for its viaducts built in the 19th century and is known as the "Village of the viaducts."

Day 5: September 12, 2018 – From Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

We left Pontevedra early on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. We noticed many more pilgrims on this day. From now onwards the pilgrims converge on the same path to Santiago de Compostela. The crowds dwindled down by the afternoon.

The sun was blazing down on us creating temperatures of 30 degrees C. It was unbearably hot. But with water/ice cream breaks we gradually reached our hotel, O Cruceiro Centre, in Caldas de Reis.
Notes: Pontevedra is a town of 80,000 inhabitants, with major transport links, shops, restaurants, and banks. The churches, architecture and Museum contain many depictions of St. James.

Day 6: September 13, 2018 – From Caldas de Reis to Padron

Today, September 13, 2018 we left Caldas de Reis for Padron—our last stop before walking into Santiago de Compostela. The walk to Padron was enjoyable with warm breezes making it an easy walk through the nature trails.
We stopped at the Church of Saint James of Padron.
This is the place where the apostolic boat brought the body of Saint James from ”Haffa” in Palestine. The stone inscription at the bottom of the altar commemorates this event. We made our way to our hotel for our overnight stop. We covered 21km. 
Notes: Caldas de Reis is a small town famous for its thermal waters. The town also boasts the church of St. Thomas a Becket, the only church in Galicia dedicated to the English Martyr.

Day 7: September 14, 2018 - From Padron to Santiago de Compostela

It was in the mid-afternoon of September 14, 2018 when our group walked into the Cathedral grounds of Santiago de Compostela. In the evening we attended the pilgrim‘s mass. At the end we witnessed the incense ceremony. WOW! That was a phenomenal experience. 

We felt blessed with a sense of accomplishment. We did it! We covered 126km in six days.

It was a memorable journey. I had a very good walking buddy, who in the heat of the moment would spot butterflies or stroke laurel leaves or I would smell the jasmine flowers along the way. There was sun and more sun throughout the journey. I suppose it was our penance. 

I received the Certificate/Seal of Approval inscribed in Latin upon completion of 126km.

My Nordic pole boot tips along with my peace stone are ”firmly” ensconced in Alameda Park just before the entrance to the Cathedral grounds. 
Notes: Padron is rich in the tradition of St. James. It is here that he is said to have begun his ministry and it is also here that it is said the boat carrying the body of St. James back to Spain was tied up.  Legend has it that the boat carrying the Saint's body was tied to the stone called the Pedron, which is displayed under the altar of Padron's church of Santiago.

Personal Reflections:

It was an amazing accomplishment of walking each day for a total of six days. Each time we entered the nature or dirt trails, I was at peace and assumed the reflective mode. The trek along the highways and streets were a bit disturbing that interrupted the peace of walking on the Camino.

When we walked into the Cathedral grounds, I felt nothing; it appeared to be a tourist trap. I felt disappointed and somewhat overwhelmed that there weren’t voices singing in my head or a sense of euphoria. There was something missing. There was definitely a sense of peace in the air. The various performers, hawkers, and shops selling a variety of souvenirs were clearly evident.

In conversation with some nuns, I was reminded that the Camino is a secular walk and that St. James didn’t walk this trek. Instead his followers or pilgrims walked the trek to Santiago de Compostela to embrace the statute of St. James and to receive the blessings from attending the Mass and sometimes be treated to the incense ceremony—this latter event was done occasionally and was meant to surprise the audience in attendance on that particular day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe, takes the reader on a discovery journey depicting the way our ancestors lived as hunters and gatherers. Each tribe cooperated and shared, thus enabling strong cohesion among the people in the tribe. There was no evidence of poverty and no accumulation of wealth. They were nomadic and hence it didn’t make sense to accumulate possessions or property. It was an era of a classless, egalitarian society.

Junger relates this kind of living to the lifestyle of the aboriginal people of America where there is solid evidence of community living within the group. The reader is exposed to the merits and despite the cruelty of this kind of lifestyle it is a cohesive group who care for each other as a group. As Western society descends into an agrarian and industrialized society it becomes more and more individualistic and less and less of a community that gives rise to loneliness, depression and serious health issues.

Surprisingly, Junger writes that during the wartime, the soldiers act as a community and look out for each other even in the most dangerous of times on the battlefield. There is comradeship on the battlefield that is not evident on their return home from a tour of duty. These soldiers feel alienated once they return home that results in the rise of post-traumatic stress disorders and other health issues. They do not feel they belong and feel alienated as they try to adjust to being home. They do not feel they belong to the country that they were willing to die for.

Throughout, Junger illustrates, with specific examples, how and why there is a sense of belonging within a group. In addition, he explores the downfall of modern western society that drifts its people away from a community lifestyle; instead the focus is on accumulation of wealth in an individualistic manner. Yet the modern conveniences are a source of more comfort and ease of living than our ancestors experienced during the hunter/gatherer era of the past.

Tribe is an excellent rendition of what it means to belong to a group and country.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book Review: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie - Fiction

It is a story about a particular immigrant family, Nero Golden and his three adult children, moving to America in the hope of leaving their past behind them and starting anew in America. They live in Manhattan, New York City. Initially they keep to themselves and do not socialize thus causing neighbours to wonder about this family of a father and three grown children. They are wealthy as Nero continues to amass his wealth through real estate. Once the narrator, Rene, infiltrates this family he views their lives from the lens of a film camera. What he uncovers becomes the story that in some ways depicts mayhem and emotional turmoil in a comfortable, prosperous home.

The author alludes to the Mumbai bombing that was the cause of the wife/mother being killed while socializing in one of the hotels that was attacked by the terrorists. This appears to be the reason that Nero brings his family to America—to start anew. The Golden family is thriving in America. Rushdie weaves the political threads of the more recent political era of new realities that Rushdie deftly portrays throughout the story. America has changed and the Golden family is evolving that encapsulates transformations within the family as they adapt to life in America. There is intrigue, suspense and oddities as the story unravels to its end.

Ultimately, Rushdie illustrates that starting anew in America is absolutely easy for the wealthy no matter where they come from. They become Americanized; perhaps at a cost of their former lifestyle and culture. The Golden House is an interesting immigrant story set in Manhattan, New York City.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Essays: Short Essay: Thimbles of Life

The photograph on the left is a collector’s set of thimbles. Each thimble is designed and finely crafted to represent a country in Europe. I collected these thimbles in fond memory of my father, C. P. Joanes, who creatively designed and sewed women’s clothing and men’s classic suits in Nairobi, Kenya.

These thimbles are symbols of life. In reality, each thimble serves to protect the outer skin of the finger from the pricks and pokes of the needle. And in our daily interactions with people we find ways to protect ourselves from harsh and, sometimes, unwanted criticism; we create an unseen inner protective layer to withstand this kind of reproach. When we are not successful we appear bruised and that takes time to heal to get to that place of mutual humanitarianism.

The thimble is also a conduit for pushing the needle through different strengths and thicknesses of the varying kinds of fabric. In this instance, the symbolic premise lends itself to negotiating with each other to achieve the best outcome for the good of all involved in any given situation. There is discussion, agreement followed by disagreement and the active engagement in the process of problem solving. Ultimately, it culminates to a compromised decision. Some are pleased while others accept the outcome.

In life there is a need for safeguards and support mechanisms. How we construct these determines the success or failure of being in harmony with each other.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Trailer: There There by Tommy Orange: Fiction

Meet Tommy Orange, author of the year's most galvanizing debut novel


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: A Bird on Every Tree by Carol Bruneau - Short Stories

Review by Robert J. Wiersema
Source: Quill & Quire, September 1, 2017.

A Bird on Every Tree, the third collection of stories from Carol Bruneau, is even more impressive. While rooted significantly in Halifax, where Bruneau lives and teaches, the stories in A Bird on Every Tree are expansive, both geographically and chronologically. “The Race,” the first story in the collection, puts the reader inside the mind of distance swimmer Marion Lester as she competes in the “world’s longest-ever mixed saltwater race,” driving herself not only against her opponents but her own past.

The past is also the subject of “The Vagabond Lover,” perhaps the collection’s strongest story. Focused on the last days of Dolly Cutler, dying in a bed with a view of the Newfoundland ferry, the story spans decades, teasing out details of a doomed love and the power of literature, before climaxing with an emotionally devastating final scene. To Bruneau’s credit, the story, which could have felt maudlin or sentimental, instead feels simply true.

That sense of fictional truth is key to the success of many stories in the collection. “Burning Times,” which chronicles a middle-aged couple’s whistle stop in Florence, focuses on Keith, for whom a small incident has life-altering overtones, while “If My Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” draws together family dynamics, the music business, and the legacy of the Second World War in contemporary Berlin. Bruneau treats her characters with a compassionate clarity, often understanding them more than they do themselves. “Crotch Rockets,” for example, seems to focus on the reunion of former lovers Roz and Rannie after 26 years, but reveals itself to have been about something – and someone – else entirely.

Bruneau’s writing rarely calls attention to itself, but this is a bravura performance: there is nothing simple about the prose, nothing rudimentary. Rather, a close examination reveals every sentence to be carefully crafted, with an attention not only to sense and sound but character and place. As a result, every story feels unique and spontaneous, genuinely surprising. The style of “Crotch Rockets,” for example, would be calamitous if applied to “If My Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” – and vice versa. This is no mere exercise in voice: this is a reflection of a writer utterly in touch with her stories – not only what they are, but how they are, overlooking nothing in her craft. Bruneau is a master. We should know this by now, but A Bird on Every Tree is a powerful reminder.

Comments from Maria Lynch: As I read the twelve stories I was taken on a journey through Halifax in Nova Scotia where I became familiar with the culture and language of that part of the East Coast of Canada. Poignantly, Bruneau describes the nuances of a variety of lifestyles of the people that are engaged in their day-to-day living. Each story has a unique appeal of beauty, heartbreak and joy.