Monthly Archives: August 2011

Walking with a Donkey: An Interview with Roland Garin


[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

I photographed a donkey in Santiago’s pilgrim office when I was there at the end of May. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Sarah De Martín (thanks, Sarah!), I discovered that the donkey was named Praline. She walked some 1,900 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago—from her home in France to Finisterre—with Roland Garin.

Roland was kind enough to answer my questions about walking with Praline. Thanks also to Aude Verbeke, a friend from my first Camino, for editing my translation from the French. (Ici est la version française.)

Anna-Marie: Was this your first time walking the Camino?

Roland: I walked previously on the Camino de Santiago from Lyon to Le Puy to train myself. The first time was with two donkeys. Praline was accompanied by her friend Amandin. The second time with Praline alone, and then we did the GR-70. It’s also called “The Stevenson” in memory of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer, the author of the adventure novel Treasure Island.

Where did you begin your walk?

We left from Saint-Pierre-la-Palud, a village of 2,500. It’s 25 kilometres from Lyon, in a region that we call here “les monts du Lyonnais.” We took the following route: Saint Pierre to Le Puy to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela to Muxia to Fisterra. It was around 1,900 kilometres in 77 days of walking.

Why did you decide to walk with Praline?

Why with Praline? That’s a good question! Some people go alone, with a friend, with their wife…. Me, I like donkeys. (There are four at my house.) Praline is my walking partner and since we’ve been walking together we’ve made a good couple. Between us there is a complicity and an affection that only donkey owners can understand.

[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

What was the best part of walking with a donkey?

As I told you already, when there’s complicity between the man and the animal, it’s a true pleasure. Praline regulates the walk: it’s not the man who guides the donkey! The man walks in the footsteps of the donkey. I must confess that I’m lucky to have an exceptional animal. I talk to her all day and even if some people are skeptical about this, I know she listens and understands every word … to the right … to the left … straight ahead. Sometimes she follows the marks on the way before I have the time to tell her! I am very lucky.

The worst part?

There’s no worst part with a donkey! It’s a question of education … the donkey is a very intelligent animal. Some say that it’s one of the most intelligent species of animal in the world. Unlike a horse, you don’t train a donkey: you educate him.

All is complicity, sweetness and patience … you don’t impose your will on a donkey! Some say that the donkey is stubborn. That’s not true; he thinks … he analyzes the road, the danger, the sounds. When a donkey doesn’t want to advance, it’s up to the man to understand why. And when the man becomes as intelligent as the donkey, all goes well!

Where did Praline sleep?

At night I slept in a tent and Praline slept beside it. Donkeys sleep very little and they use the night to eat. Praline felt secure to know that I was next to her. Sometimes I slept in gîtes d’étapes … she was very unhappy and that caused problems because she didn’t stop braying all night. The other pilgrims didn’t always appreciate that!

Did she need special food while walking?

Above all, don’t supplement a donkey’s diet. The donkey is a rustic animal; he is happy with grass and hay. And fresh water … and, as a reward for working all day, a fruit or a crust of stale bread. If you really want to make him happy, a handful of crushed barley…. But he himself needs to carry it … so….

Did you have any difficulties walking through cities?

Walking in a city isn’t always easy. The man with a steering wheel in his hands thinks he’s master of the world, so he often becomes the worst of the boors and cretins. I’ve never had a problem going through big cities (Pamplona, Burgos, Léon and Santiago). Praline is used to cars and they don’t bother her.

I was especially afraid of being stopped by the Guardia Civil, because some guides specified that donkeys and horses were forbidden to pass through cities. But I never had any problems. On the contrary, representatives of the police force made me feel very welcome. I even took some photos with them. The biggest difficulty was crossing certain metal bridges. Praline didn’t want to! So we had to avoid them … and all went well.

The most dangerous thing wasn’t the cities, it was when we had to walk along national roads with heavy traffic. The trucks were fast and made a lot of noise, so any animal could have been scared…. I had to stay close to Praline to give her confidence. The worst is when people honk their horns … but I can’t blame them: it comes from a good sentiment. They want to say hello to us.

How far did you walk each day?

That depended on the road, on the place: we walked better in the forests than in the cities. It also depended on the altitude of the stage. As I told you already, it’s not the master who commands; it’s the donkey who controls the speed on the path. It depends on whether the road is rugged or easy. We did some 20-kilometre stages, but also some stages of almost 40 kilometres. But our average walking was 25 kilometres per day.

Do you have a favourite story about Praline on the Camino?

[Praline]

Praline joins the pilgrim throngs outside the pilgrims' office in Santiago de Compostela.

There are hundreds of stories about Praline. In fact, she’s started to write her memoirs…. The book should be 600 pages! We work every day to write this work. Praline dictates her impressions to me and I transcribe them on the keyboard. It’s not fast, because she is very, very demanding and often the work from Monday goes in the garbage on Tuesday. But we have done the Camino together … so we also write together.

The most fantastic story is that not a single day went by in Spain without someone wanting to buy Praline from me. Someone even tried to steal her! Each time someone asked me “Se vende? se vende?” I answered no, obviously. But the people insisted, so I said: “Okay, 30,000 euros … 50,000 euros with the equipment.” The exorbitant price discouraged the buyers. But I confess I would have been very annoyed if someone had accepted, because I wouldn’t be separated from my Praline for all the gold in the world.

Where is Praline now? Does she live with you?

Praline is in her meadow, next to the house in the village of Saint-Pierre-la-Palud. She is with Cadine, Florentine and Kakao. She rests, waiting to go out on another journey … maybe at the end of the month of September we’ll go on a fifteen-day hike in the centre of France. Sometimes on Sundays, we go on walks through villages, and meet people who are interested in the Camino de Santiago. We speak of the association “Le Chemin Pour Tous” (The Camino for All) which takes some people with disabilities to Santiago every year.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Other things that I want to talk about…. I’m going to write about them mainly so that others may benefit from my experience on the Camino. I want to tell them about the beauty, the hazards, the fantastic events but also, because nothing should be concealed, about the hardships of the road.

It’s the road of stars … but you know, both roses and brambles have thorns.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:33 pm
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The Codex Calixtinus—Stolen


[Codex Calixtinus]

Part of a page from the Codex Calixtinus. Photo is in the public domain.

The Codex Calixtinus is a twelfth-century illuminated (illustrated) manuscript with a collection of works related to Saint James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It includes sermons, music, stories about miracles performed by Saint James, and the earliest guidebook to the pilgrimage routes from France.

The best-conserved version of the manuscript (not the only copy), was kept at the Santiago Cathedral.

It’s not there any more. Its absence was first noticed on July 5, 2011, but it may have been stolen any time in the previous week. The manuscript, described as “priceless,” was not insured, since the insurance cost had been estimated at six million euros.

You can read more about the robbery in the Guardian and The Olive Press. There’s also a more recent article from El Correo Gallego in Spanish, that describes how researchers generally used a photographic reproduction of the text, and only consulted the original when they couldn’t make out a subtle but historically and linguistically important detail.

To learn more about the manuscript itself, there’s a helpful Wikipedia article. You can also read the Pilgrim’s Guide section of the manuscript on-line.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:48 pm
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Way Marks on the Via de la Plata: A Spotter’s Guide


The Vía de la Plata, like many other Camino de Santiago routes, is inhabited by a number of different types of signs and arrows that aim wandering pilgrims in the direction of Santiago de Compostela.

Overall, both the main Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés variant are well way marked, although sometimes it may be necessary to pay serious attention, consult a map, or ask for help (it’s useful to speak Spanish in these cases).

Yellow Arrows

The majority of the way marks are painted yellow arrows. These are easy to identify by the fact that they are obviously painted, obviously yellow, and obviously arrows. They can be found throughout the route, from Andalucía to Galicia.

They are usually painted quite clearly,

[Arrow on rocks]

Between Los Santos de Maimona and Villafranca de los Barros.

but they may also be drippy

On the back of a sign in Camas.

or faded.

Between Torremegía and Mérida.

They’re usually just plain yellow, but in the area after Mérida, they tend to be outlined in red (and may be accompanied by a Saint James cross),

An arrow with a Saint James cross, between Aljucén and Alcuéscar.

and occasionally the yellow tends toward fluorescence.

Leaving Ourense.

Yellow arrows can be found on trees,

Between Almadén de la Plata and El Real de la Jara.

fences

Also between Almadén de la Plata and El Real de la Jara.

or fence posts,

Between Guillena and Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

rocks,

Between A Gudiña and Campobecerros on the Camino Sanabrés.

the front

Between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

or back of signs,

Also between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

little bridges over ditches,

Yet another photo taken between Fuente de Cantos and Puebla de Sancho Pérez.

pavement,

On the way into Alberguería on the Camino Sanabrés.

and occasionally even on fountains,

In Vilar de Barrio on the Camino Sanabrés.

stumps,

In the Parque Natural Sierra Norte between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

crosses,

Between Aljucén and Alcuéscar.

manhole covers,

In Bandeira on the Camino Sanabrés.

and random posts.

Between Guillena and Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

They usually indicate the Camino de Santiago route, but may also point to albergues.

On the way into Alcuéscar.

They may also show where a route divides. If you’re lucky, a sign will explain the division.

In Granja de Moruela, you can choose between continuing to Astorga, or taking the Camino Sanabrés through Ourense to Santiago.

If there’s no accompanying sign, a guidebook can come in handy.

Somewhat before Silleda on the Camino Sanabrés.

The most difficult part of using a yellow arrow can be to find it. Sometimes they’re everywhere, but other times they can be quite hard to locate. For one thing, they prefer highways and countryside to cities, where they can be more difficult to find or even disappear altogether.

On the way into Mérida.

Once you find a yellow arrow, the procedure is generally simple: you walk (or cycle) in the direction indicated. However, there can be difficulties. In the case of ambiguous arrows, which might point straight ahead but kind of sort of aim to the side, the safest thing to do is ask someone if they’re around, and otherwise to continue straight ahead.

Please note that some arrows appear to point straight up in the air. You should not take this literally.

Following an arrow on the way into Ourense.

Stone Markers

Stone markers come in many different shapes and sizes, but they’re easily recognized by their generally stony nature. Unlike the yellow arrows, stone markers stick to their own climactic zone. Different species are found in different places.

Some types include the Parque National Sierra Norte markers (after Castilblanco de los Arroyos),

Between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

Camino de Santiago rectangular markers (which I believe are native to Andalucía, although they may edge a bit into Extremadura),

Also between Castilblanco de los Arroyos and Almadén de la Plata.

cubes with a sketch of the Arch of Cáparra on their top (these inhabit Extremadura),

Between Aldea del Cano and Cáceres.

short white stones with a yellow shell and arrow (which seem to be found only in the province of Zamora),

Soon after El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino.

pillars with “Vía de la Plata” in English and Arabic with a metal pilgrim staff and gourd (which appear for a while beginning in Baños de Montemayor),

Between El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino and Zamora

pillars that say “Vía de la Plata” and have a yellow shell (found in the province of Zamora),

In Roales del Pan.

large stones with the name of the town and advice and well-wishes for pilgrims (I believe these are native to the province of Zamora as well),

Leaving Granja de Moruela at the beginning of the Camino Sanabrés.

artsy arrows and sometimes stylized pilgrims (found only in Galicia),

In Lubián.

and short posts with embedded shell tiles (also found in Galicia; they occasionally have plaques with the distance to Santiago, but these generally seem to have been stolen).

Just before Santiago de Compostela.

The stone way marks work in different ways. If they have arrows on them, you can follow them in the same manner you would follow painted yellow arrows. If there are no arrows, you can take them as a sign that you’re going the right way.

The main exception is the Extremaduran cube marker. These have a dashed yellow line running through a picture of the Arch of Cáparra on the top, which indicates the direction of the route. Be sure to follow the ones with the yellow squares (or green and yellow). I believe the green ones indicate the precise route of the old Roman road; in any case, they tend to take you off paths when not combined with yellow.

Another possible exception is any marker with a shell, although these can be tricky. Sometimes they point toward Santiago. In Galicia, on the official stone markers, I believe the “rays” of the shell always point to Santiago. However, you can’t rely on this for non-official markers, or with shells on other parts of the route.

Signs

Signs are found scattered across the Vía de la Plata. Apart from metal signs, they tend to be far more endangered than their stone counterparts. Different types are frequently found alone, or in very small clusters. They may be wooden, metal, cardboard, or made of some other material.

The two non-road signs that are found throughout the route (with minor variations) are a small blue one with a yellow shell and an arrow,

Shell sign

Between El Real de la Jara and Monesterio.

and a sign with a stylized pilgrim.

[Pilgrim sign]

Leaving Ourense on the Camino Sanabrés.

Some examples of non-road signs that come in small clusters include signs with a photograph of the famous Santiago statue at the Santa Marta de Tera (found in the neighbourhood of that town),

Just out of Santa Marta de Tera.

signs with “Camino de Santiago,” a shell, and occasionally other words (found on a small portion of the Camino Sanabrés),

Just out of Rionegro del Puente.

and occasional “Vía da Prata” (Galician for “Vía de la Plata) signs (in Galicia).

Between Castro Dozón and A Laxe.

There are also some signs that seem to be the sole remaining member of their species.

[Que Dios te acompane]

Just after Montamarta. The sign says "may God accompany you."

In Laza, on the Camino Sanabrés. "Camiño" is Galician for "Camino"

[Small sign]

Just outside of Zamora.

A common road sign warns drivers that pilgrims may be passing, but is also helpful for walkers, since it suggests they are headed in the right direction.

[Sign for drivers]

Leaving Salamanca.

Another popular sign warns pilgrims they’re about to share a route with a highway.

[Share the road]

Between Montamarta and Granja de Moruela.

Occasionally, there may be impostor signs, such as construction signs with yellow arrows.

Soon after Montamarta. I believe the larger arrows were related to construction, while the smaller one indicated the Camino detour route.

Detour signs can also create problems.

Soon after Mombuey on the Camino Sanabrés.

In this case, I tried following the more permanent way mark, which led me to a sign that warned of potential explosions ahead. I backtracked, decided that “desvio” meant “detour,” and successfully followed more temporary signs until I was back on the normal route.

Way Mark Habits

Way marks generally live alone. When pilgrims are lucky, they stay fairly close together. Sometimes, especially in cities and on straight roads, they’re few and far between.

But occasionally, they congregate in great numbers, leaving passing pilgrims with no doubt whatsoever of the route.

[Lots of way marks]

Just before Terroso on the Camino Sanabrés.

[Cluster of signs]

On the way into Ourense.

So in conclusion …

As they say at the Dead Dog Café, stay calm, be brave … wait for the signs.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 6:52 pm
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A Monument to Three Faiths on the Via de la Plata


Poetry on the Vía de la Plata, just before Zamorra.

Just before Zamora on the Vía de la Plata, there’s a circle made up of three modern monoliths, with a well at their centre.

When I walked past this tableau, I took some photographs but didn’t have the dictionary I needed to puzzle through their inscriptions. Recently, I came across my photos and decided to see what I could find out about the stones. A bit of Internet research proved helpful.

A closer look at the Via de la Dalmacia poem.

It turns out the stones were erected in summer 2009 by two Spanish organizations to mark the intersection of three paths: the Vía de la Plata, the Vía Mirandesa, and the Vía de la Dalmacia. The monument is dedicated to peace and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Each of the three four-metre granite monoliths has a poem dedicated to one of the routes. In the centre is the Brocal de las Promesas, or Well of Promises, into which pilgrims, from what I understand, are meant to drop a stone as a symbol of the promise referred to in one of the poems.

I’ve copied out the poems below. Since I can’t find an English translation of the poems on the Internet, I’ve attempted to do it myself. My Spanish is far from perfect, but this way those who don’t speak Spanish can at least get the gist of the meaning.

I really would welcome any suggestions—small or large—on the translations (especially the end of the first one, which I’m quite sure I’ve muddled).

(For more on the three faiths in Spain, see my posts about the Muslims in Spain.)

Vía de la Plata: Encuentro de Culturas en la Paz

Deja aquí peregrino la promesa
que quieras hacer guía de tus pasos
y llama viva de tu alma.
Su espíritu moverá el corazón
de la tierra y algún día
florencerá en las espigas
del pan de los hambrientos,
susurrara en todas las fuentes,
correrá como ríos,
saciando la sed de justicia,
volará a las nubes y sera
rayo de sol para los tristes.
Porque la verdad de las promesas
es siembra amorosa, destellos
del ser, que espera y necesita
el mundo nuevo, solidario y en paz.
Deja aquí peregrino la promesa
y sea cual sea tu andadura
habrás hecho camino antes de llegar.
– A. Ramos de Castro

Vía de la Plata: Peaceful Meeting Between Cultures

Leave here, pilgrim, the promise
that you want to guide your steps
and the living flame of your soul.
Its spirit moves the heart
of the earth, and one day
will flower in the wheat
of the bread of the hungry,
will whisper in all the fountains,
will run like rivers,
quenching the thirst for justice,
will fly to the clouds, and be
a ray of light for the sad.
Because the truth of the promises
is that love is sown, in flashes
of being, that it waits and needs
the new world, in solidarity and in peace.
Leave here, pilgrim, the promise,
and may your walking be that which your journey
has made a camino before you arrive.

Vía de la Dalmacia: Calzada y Camino de San Francisco al Islam

En este cruce de la senda que ahora andas
antiquísimo camino del alba de la historia
confluyen las calzadas:
Vía de la Plata, La Mirandesa y La Dalmacia.
Es entrada de creencias, culturas y comercio
vía de conquistas, reconquista y repoblación.
Camino Mozárabe que hizo a Santiago.
Paso de San Francisco al encuentro del Islam.
Salida de Judíos que echaba el desamor
y siempre encuentro de pueblos, ideas y de fe.
Añade caminante en tu andadura
la tolerancia y el valor al diferente,
que necesitamos, como parte del mismo amor
que todos somos, para juntos hacer
un mundo humano,
y el encuentro de creencias y culturas,
el camino florecido de la paz.

Vía de la Dalmacia: Road and Way of San Francisco al Islam

In this crossroads that you now walk,
ancient way of dawn of the history,
the roads join:
Vía de la Plata, the Mirandesa and the Dalmacia.
They are an entrance to beliefs, cultures and commerce,
route of conquests, reconquest and repopulation.
The Mozarab road that goes to Santiago.
The San Francisco path that encounters Islam.
The doorway of the Jews who left with heartbreak
and always found towns, ideas and faith.
Add, walker, to your walking,
the tolerance and the value of difference,
which we need as part of the same love
that we are, to together create
a humane world,
and add too the meeting of beliefs and cultures.
The road blossoms with peace.

Vía Mirandesa: Camino de la Amistad y Camino Judio a la Libertad

Que los caminos traigan paz
y los amanceres justicia
que hermane a todos los pueblos,
que socorra a todos los humanos
y quebrante al violento.
Que dure tanto como el sol,
como la luna, de edad en edad.
Que el amor de tus pasos,
como riego sobre el césped
como llovizna que empapa la tierra
haga florecer la vida, abrace
fraterno a todas las creencias,
y sea bálsamo para el necesitado.
Que tu corazón lo pregone,
de mar a mar, mas allá
de la senda que ahora andas,
hasta el fulgor de las estrellas.

Vía Mirandesa: Road of Friendship and Jewish Road of Freedom

May the roads bring peace
and the dawns, justice,
that brings together all cities as brothers,
that helps all humans,
that ends the violence.
May this last as long as the sun,
and as the moon, from age to age.
May the love in your steps,
as water on grass,
as drizzle that soaks the ground,
make life flower, embracing
as brothers all beliefs,
and may it be a balm for the needy.
May your heart cry it out
from sea to see, and farther still,
from the path that you walk now,
to the brilliance of the stars.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:23 pm
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Semana Santa


Semana Santa in Puebla de Sancho Pérez. The penitents' garb with the pointy hats unfortunately formed the basis for Ku Klux Klan uniforms in the United States.

Parades, costumes, marching bands, floats … Semana Santa has it all.

Men carry floats with large figures representing scenes from the events between Jesus’ arrest and his burial, or statues of the Madonna weeping for her son. The processions are often led by marching bands and involve people dressed in the garb of medieval penitents.

[Float]

A procession in Fuente de Cantos.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) starts on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) and continues until Easter. In Spain, it’s biggest in Sevilla, Málaga, Zamora and León, but at least in the south of Spain, even the smallest villages celebrate it.

Being on the Camino de Santiago (or at least, in my experience, the Vía de la Plata) during Semana Santa is a wonderful experience in a lot of ways. You have an opportunity to experience the processions in small towns as well as larger cities.

Churches are often open at all hours, as groups of people arrange the statues on floats and make other preparations for the processions. They tend not to be quiet places of prayer, though, as preparations can be quite noisy.

Some tourist attractions have extended hours or reduced prices during Semana Santa. When I was in Mérida, major sites were open during the siesta and at least one museum had free admission because of Semana Santa.

Cleaning up after Semana Santa, outside the Iglesia de Santiago in Cáceres.

The downside is that pilgrimage routes seem to get busier during Semana Santa, since many Spaniards and some Europeans get a holiday then. I’ve heard that accommodation in larger cities can be harder to find, and of course more pilgrims means pilgrim albergues are more crowded as well.

If you find yourself in a Spanish town during Semana Santa, keep an eye out for posters listing the parades. In bigger cities, tourist information offices may carry brochures.

There may be multiple processions each night in a city, while small towns may only have a couple of processions spread out over the week.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:02 am
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