Category Archives: History

El Real de la Jara to Monesterio

The albergue in Monestario is closed, so we left a note in hideous Spanglish for the Senora asking to reserve a room for us at the Bar/Hostal Extremadura. There are many pilgrims competing for a few rooms, so off we went with a hope and a prayer under the pre-dawn violet skies. A crescent moon hung over the Castle as the quiet, stone lined lanes meandered across the hills. The hills were again filled with sheep tended by fierce dogs. We have left the province of Andalucia and entered Badjoz. The landscape is again changing to a more open and bare environment. The mountains are to the west now, and there is little shade.

Just as my feet were beginning to really hurt, a man roared up in a car motioning to us  and began speaking excitedly in German / Spanish. The senora did, indeed, make our reservations and we were meeting the owner of the hostel, Eduardo. He offered to take our mochillas, or backpacks, ahead for us. I was out of my pack before you could say, “It’s another Camino Miracle!” Ask and the Camino provides. The temperature was in the upper 90*’s F, so it was a relief to feel the breeze on our backs without the extra weight of our packs. I felt as light as the lambs cavorting in the nearby pastures.

It was a day of contrasts in walking. We had to navigate some ugly areas and busy freeway interchanges. Walking along the side some busy secondary roads and next to freeways was hair raising. The pavement is hard on the feet as well as intensifying the heat. It is not all pretty on the Camino, but such is life. In general, the friends of the Camino have done a fantastic job keeping us in the countryside and along quiet lanes.

At Monestario we took a rest day, or “Lay day”, as Judy would say. This is definitely the center of pig  country. The main industry  is raising pigs and turning them into the famous Iberian Hams, or Jamon Iberico. One of the merchants had a good sense of humor, combining the name of the town (Monesterio) with  ham (Jamon) on the front doors of his export business.

Judy is such a kick and I am so glad we have teamed up. We were sitting outside of the hostel, having just discovered that the bar and restaurant by the same name were all seperate, yet shave a building and a sign. Judy looked up with a puzzled look on her face and said, “Ayah, how’re ya supposed ta know? That sign up there has a different name yet. It says C L I M A T I C A CI O N ….” I said, “Um, that means air conditioned, or climate controlled.” We all laughed until our sides ached. I had to admit that the only reason I know the word Climatication is because when my son, Justin, and I were here when it was 120 degrees. W e would look for those signs and not stay anyplace with out it. The irony is that the air conditioners are fiendishly effiecient. It is so arctic inside that you have to sleep with all the blankets, towels, your coat, and anything else you can find in order to not freeze to death!

Distance from El Real De la Jara to Monesterio = 12.6 Miles

Actual Distance Walked=16.22 Miles

Accommodations= Bar / Hostel Extremadura, 12 Euro per person, double room over the bar with a private bathroom, and clotheslines on the roof.

There is a small Albergue in town, but it was closed in April 2011.


The Virgin of Granada

A lovely church dedicated to the Virgin of Granada dominates the town square of Guillena. It was built at the beginning of the 1400’s  in the Mudejar style, which blends Islamic and Christian design elements. I was attracted to the tile imagery set into the white wall of the church.  The virgin portrayed is known as “Our lady of Sorrows“. The late afternoon sun warmed my back as I sat drawing her, wondering of her significance to the town. She holds the crown of thorns and a piece of cloth in her hands, as a halo of thorns circles her head. Tears appear on her face as she walks away from the scene of the crucifixion in her royal purple robes. Although this is a sad scene, the portrait somehow touched me deeply.

Why did the people of this small Spanish town choose her to be their patron saint? What are their deeply held beliefs? She seemed to be saying to me that no matter how terrible things seem, you must still walk on with dignity. We are capable of bearing the unimaginable. Things have to get better from here on out.  She reminded me of the deeper and more significant meaning of things that happen to us,     setting us on our personal Pilgrimages through life.   She seemed to be looking to the  light on the wall to her left, and traveling toward it. Symbolically, it cast a lovely multi-colored shadow. Do we walk to the light or to the darkness, or do we always encounter both on our journey?

This drawing was rendered in Faber Castel colored pencil and highlighted with a Micron ink pen. I used a Bee Paper Company Professional Series, 93 Lb.  Heavyweight drawing paper, 9 X 9 inches. It stood up well to the pressure applied by the color pencils, and had a nice tooth (texture) for layering the color.   This is the first drawing that I have done in colored pencil. I liked the waxy textures achieved by the layering of colors, and the variety that can be achieved with only a few basic colors.

Seville’s Real Alcazar

We had a full day here in Seville, covering prehistory through today!

We began by exploring the Real Alcazar, which was originally a Moorish Palace complete with an outrageously large harem. It was later converted to a citadel serving as part of the fortified wall of Seville. During the 500 years of Islamic rule in Sevilla, meaning “Letters of Light”, this palace thrived. When the Christians conquered the Moors and King Ferdinand rode into town victorious, he was handed the key to the palace. Much of the palace was replaced, or “remodeled”later. It is an excellent example of blending the styles of art and architecture,  and it is a visually stunning treat. The Palace is a series of courtyards and open air rooms heavily decorated in the white on white, geometric designs, interspersed with Arabic writing.This complex yet restful work is set off by a blaze of colorful tiles with an infinite variety of patterns. The double arches lead from one room to another, and into open courtyard spaces flawlessly. There are fountains and little channels of water every where. It is much like the Alhambra in Granada.

The gardens are an amazing combination of geometric patterned hedges in fragrant plants, a riot of jasmine and wisteria, orange and lemon trees, tall slender palms, and a canopy of shade from lacy deciduous trees. There are secret  little corners with fountains,  ducks splashing in the ponds. Doves coo and magnificent peacocks stroll nonchalantly around the grounds. It is a quiet oasis in the middle of bustling, noisy Seville.

Gothic Cathedrals and Moorish Mosques

The tomb of Christopher Columbus (Seville cath...

Image via Wikipedia

We spent most of the day in the gigantic Cathedral. It is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, and its designers recognized the fact that future generations would possibly think them mad. It is, counting Christian Cathedrals of all periods, the third largest in the world surpassed only by St. Peter´s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. It is a collection of magnificent rib vaults, stained glass, inlaid marble floors and priceless paintings and sculpture. There is enough gold and silver in there to sink several ships, and the wood carvings on the choir and pipe organs defies belief in its beauty. It was intended to be gilded, but is so much more beautiful and understated in its natural finish. It is here that Christopher Columbus is entombed, carried by figures representing  the four original provinces of Old Spain.

The most fascinating part of the Cathedral to me was the bell tower, which actually was part of a 12th Century Mosque. The beautiful Mosque was demolished in a fit of “We won, you lost” attitude after the reconquista when the Moors were driven out of Spain. This is a beautiful Cathedral, but the question haunts me, “Wouldn´t it have been just as beautiful if it was built next door and the Mosque was allowed to remain?” this attitude of crush the looser is wrong today as the radical Muslims wage jihad, and it was wrong when the Christians did it in the Crusades and the Inquisition. I wish we could learn not to do that. Spain shows us how, in many ways, the blend of societies and art forms can be more beautiful than any of them standing alone. Yet here is a victory Cathedral over the remains of something that was once holy to another group. It was really a thought provoking day, and as we stood at the top of the bell tower looking out over this city that has seen so much it seemed very powerful.

We toured around the city for about an hour on an open air bus, then hit the tapas bars for snacks magnifique! The wine in the grocery store, a really nice Templarinillo red, was only 1.15 Euro per botella! And the wine at the sidewalk cafe where we had tapas was 2 Euro per glass, also a very smooth Rioja.

So that was our day……I cannot believe it all happened today. We will crash and do something equally great tomorrow, then our stay in lovely, light filled Seville will come to an end.

Trail Markings: Finding your Way

The trails on all branches of the Camino are well-marked by volunteers with either a yellow arrow or by a scallop shell, which is the symbol of the Way. Scallops are plentiful on the coast of Galicia near Santiago de Compostela, and are associated with a miracle tied to St. James. Interestingly enough, the scallop shell is also linked to the pagan Goddess Venus who represents rebirth and regeneration. Both of these meanings are certainly relevant, as it is a place of great spiritual renewal and well as a pathway of every day miracles.

You really cannot get lost on the Camino. Some of the markings are a bit more obscure (Notice that Tannis is standing directly on top of the yellow arrow), while others are more obvious. However, there is always a sign if you look hard enough. Just in case you do get lost, there are always fellow Pilgrims and friendly local people who will help you find your way.

A Proverb to live by

Travel lightly,
You are not traveling for people to see you.
Travel expectantly,
Every place you visit is like a surprise package to be opened;
Untie the strings with an expectation of high adventure.
Travel humbly,
Visit people and places with reverence and respect for their traditions and way of life.
Travel with an open mind,
Leave your prejudices at home.
Travel with curiosity,
It is not how far you go,
But how deeply you go that mines the gold of experience.

~Old Spanish Proverb

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What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago originated as one of the 3 major Christian Pilgrimages in Medieval times. The pilgrimages were to Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain where St. James is buried. People famous and humble have walked to Santiago for nearly 1,200 years. Today it thrives with a life of its own as people from around the globe walk  the road for an infinite number of reasons. Before it was a Christian Pilgrimage, the Romans built a road to the end of the earth at Finisterre along the same path. Earlier still, Celtic people congregated there and viewed it as an area of great spiritual significance. Even further back into antiquity, 14,000 years ago, the first two-dimensional artists painted stunning murals in caves throughout the region. Continue reading

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