Tag Archives: Christian Pilgrimage

Banos de Montemayor to Calzada de Bejar

It was raining as I wound my way out of this steep little town on narrow cobbled streets. At the top of the village the original paving stones of the original Roman road are still perfectly in place, and they lead you over the mountain top. It is quite a feeling to walk over the mountain pass on a 2000 year old road. The views of the green valley, shrouded in mists, were breathtaking. The land is terraced with stone walls to gain extra farm land.
Once at the summit, the road wound quietly down to the river on stone-walled paths. The landscape is very green and damp, with a profusion of ferns, moss, and purple wisteria.  There were sections of rocky peaks above, with huge boulders scattered among the cows. The valley is lined by beautiful trees and dotted with stone cottages. Rainbows danced across the hills when the sun emerged. it was quiet except for the rushing of the river and the singing of the birds.
The river is named the Rio Cuerpo de Hombre, or the “River of the Body of Man”. I wonder if the tributaries are named “The head of Man”, “The arm of Man”, “The leg of Man”, etc. to make up the whole “Body of Man”!
Just as I was pushing up a steep hill, I was feeling lonely. I wished I had someone to share this experience with, and I thought of the prayer:
I said to the angel,who stood at the portal of the new year,’Give me a light so I can safely walk to the uncertainty.” He looked at me and replied, “Just go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God! This is better than a thousand lights, and safer than a known way.”
Just then a Camino moment of magic occurred. I looked up, and walking toward me was my Spanish friend Taqui! We hugged and laughed. I was so happy to see a friendly face. He had received my email just this morning telling him approximately where I would be walking for the next few days. He immediately drove to Calzada de Bejar and started walking toward me.  It was perfect timing because we met just 10 minutes from the village.
At the Albergue I paid for my spot because I had reserved it. I told them to let someone else have my place who needed a bed, as I was going with Taqui. There was an excited conversation in French, Spanish, and English as we explained to the Hospitalero and the other Pilgrims who I was and how Taqui and I met.  On my first Camino, Taqui was a Hospitalero (volunteer host) at the St. Francis of Assissi Pilgrims Hostal in Tosantos. Taqui and Jose Luis created a warm and loving environment, and as a result, it was a spiritual turning point for me. I always regretted not being able to tell Taqui and Jose Luis what important work they were doing, and how it changed lives. Two years later, through a series of emails resulting from my book, I found that Taqui’s lady lives only a few hours from me in the Seattle, Washington. Taqui and Robbie came to my house in January, only a few months ago, and we began a new kind of  friendship.  Once we are Pilgrims, we become part of a global community who share a very powerful common experience. The world seems like a much smaller and better place, full of friends with good intentions. This seems more like a miracle than a coincidence to me!

Distance from Banos de Montemayor to Calzada de Bejar= 7.5  Miles /12 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.68 Miles / 20.5  Kilometers

Accommodations= Private Albergue Alba Soraya, 28 places, 8 Euro. This is a friendly, nice Albergue, located just where you need it after finishing the climb out of the valley. They serve very good food upon request.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Into the Mountains Near Aljucen

Approaching Aljucen I could see the rise of the mountains. They formed a  hazy blue-gray backdrop to the whitewashed village spilling down the hillside. Pastures bordered by oak trees formed a patchwork of greens as they undulated over the land. Where will this shaded pathway lead? What is in store for me in this tiny village perched at the gateway to another mountain pass?

“Into the Mountains Near Aljucen” is a 12″ X 16″ original oil painting on canvas.

I completed a tiny thumbnail sketch in my journal while walking along the way. Next I found the photo that corresponded to this place the most closely. However, it is clear that artistic license was involved. The photo bears little resemblance to the scene I had sketched and written about.  I later executed a fast under painting in sepia tones of the image to provide a guide for values and shapes. Finally, the full color painting emerged as you see it here.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Please help others find this blog by Liking me on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ArtistsJourney Tell your friends!

The Fortress of Zafra

The massive stone walls and turrets are golden in the evening light, silhouetted boldly against the clear blue sky. It dominates the skyline with its strength and sheer size. I think of all the history that has marched across this very spot, so many civilizations built and destroyed. Each unique and varied culture has left it’s mark on the psyche of the people now inhabiting this pretty little town. It reminds me never to take things for granted, never to say “Some day I will do this or see that.” We can never be sure what the future will bring. Life is too short for anger and conflict of our own making. We  should walk joyfully, loving our friends and family with a passion like there is no tomorrow.

“The Fortress of Zafra”, 12 X 16 oil on canvas.

Zafra is and interesting little city boasting pre-historic settlements and a large Bronze Age community. Straddling the Via Pecuria, it was an important Roman stopping point between Sevilla and Merida. It was “La Safra”, or Muslim “Cafra”, until King Ferdinand III conquered it in 1241. The city is centered on The Alcazar, or castle, built in 1437 which was formerly a Moorish fortress.  The interior was destroyed by Napoleon in 1822. It was exquisitely restored and today it serves as the Parador of Zafra, the town’s most distinguished hotel.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at www.theartistsjourney.com to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Dancing Oaks

As I walk along the quiet lanes bordered by stone walls I hear the gentle sounds of morning. Cow bells chime lightly, birds stir in the trees, and small streams find their way along the contours of the earth under my boots. The air is crisp and cool on my skin, and my breath forms small clouds. I walk contentedly through the dawn with my recent cafe con leche still warming me, its scent mingling with the dew filled grass in the meadows. I think that the world can not get any more beautiful. A moment later the sun peeks over the horizon, filling the sky with warm pink, apricot and golden colors. The oak trees appear to dance with joy at the dawning of another serene Spanish day along the Camino.

If you would like to see more of my art work or purchase my book, “The Artist’s Journey”, please visit my website at http://www.theartistsjourney.com


The past  few days the landscape has changed to a much less cultivated way. We have been walking through 2 national parks where there are miles of cork oak and Holm oak trees spreading their twisted branches to silhouette against the blue skies. Below the trees there is a carpet of bright green grass with white daisies, pink, lavender, yellow and blue wildflowers. The trees throw deep shadows in interesting patterns over this beautiful land. In the higher mountains there is tall pink heather and yellow scotch broom surrounding rocky outcroppings. It is hard climbing in some places and our feet are beginning to tell the miles.

The skies are an incredible color. In the early morning as the sun rises it is a deep violet-blue that lightens to an intense cobalt as far as the eye can see. It has been in the high 80ś every day, which is perfect. We have started earlier each day because the early morning light is so incredibly beautiful and the temperatures are cool. It gets very warm for walking with a backpack by mid day.

We have been following the Via Pecuaria, an ancient Roman road stretching to the north. Militarios, or monolithic type stones about 5 feet tall, are scattered along the way. The Romans placed them at regular intervals to accurately marked the distances of the Via Pecuaria. Today some remain upright in their original positions,  while others lie in the fields. It is amazing to think of this timeless landscape having been walked this very way for so long.

It is entertaining to walk through the unfenced landscape filled with animals milling around us. There are  flocks of sheep and lambs,  cows, and pigs roaming the forests. The herds of goats have tiny new kids, which can not have been over 12 inches tall. Two friendly horses came up to me for a scratch and nuzzled me behind the ears. The pigs root around to find the acorns that have fallen from the trees for their dinner. This gives them their distinctive black color, and gives a unique flavor when they become jamon! (ham) As we walked past a serene pond, I tried to talk to them. I started a pig stampede! You can not believe how fast they can move. It was hilarious how fast they ran, jumping, snorting,  and wringing their tails, and bucking. I laughed until I had tears running down my face and my stomach hurt. Who knew they would be so frisky in the wild?

Distance from  Almaden de la Plata to El Real de la Jara= 10.2 Miles

Actual Distance Walked 12.24 Miles

Accommodations= We stayed in a private home, the Alajameinto Molina, for 10 Euro per person. It is a quiet, lovely home with a shaded patio, a fluffy gray cat, and bedrooms for 2 persons. They have been welcoming guests for many years.

There is an Albergue at the beginning of town, but it was very small, damp feeling and not very clean.


Oak forests and whitewashed villages

This morning we decided it was insane to walk 16 kilometers along the main highway, up hill, with no shoulder to travel on. We asked about a taxi, and a young woman said her husband would drive us to the entrance of the Parque Forrestal de El Berrocal. Santa Mila and Santo Alejandro had arrived in our lives! He did not want to take any money, but we gave him kisses on both cheeks and some Euro to cover the expensive gas and his time. I am sure this act of kindness saved us, because the day was hot (over 85*F on March 30) and the full distance was nearly 20 miles through the mountains.

The walk through the park was 12 miles of sheer beauty. The gnarled oak trees tumbled down meadows carpeted in tiny white daisies and other wildflowers. Hawks and vultures glided on  the air currents above us across cobalt skies. Streams cut through the rocks like they had been perfectly landscaped.

One little stream was so inviting that we took off our boots and cooled our feet as we had a picnic. Frogs serenaded us and skittered into the water’s grassy edges.We made sure that our feet dried completely in the sunshine before we put our boots back on to avoid blistering.

The last mile was straight up in the mid day sun. It was very difficult, but the view from the Mirador at the top was stunning. We looked down upon the whitewashed village of Almaden de la Plata nestled in the valley far below.  the town was founded by the Romans to service the marble quarries near here. It was later home to the Knights of Santiago and today is a sleepy, pretty little town. The town square is graced by orange trees and lovely wrought iron benches. At the head of the square stands a tall terra cotta colored bell tower topped with bright tiles and storks nests. In the lovely little church, trimmed in bright yellow ochre paint, the local people were preparing for Santa Semana, or the Holy Week proceeding Easter.  Life sized sculptures of biblical figures, accompanied by huge silver candlesticks and other ornate treasures were being brought from storage and polished. These will form the decorations for large floats that are carried through the town in religious processions by the town’s people to celebrate Santa Semana.

Distance from Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almaden de la Plata= 18.9 Miles

Actual Distance Walked11.8 Miles

Accommodations= 75 Bed Municipal Albergue 5 Euro per person


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.


Sevilla to the Roman city of Italica

We walked through the lovely pedestrian streets of the Santa Cruz district for the last time as we left beautiful Sevilla, pausing at the Cathedral to ask for safe passage. A ray of sunlight illuminated the statue of Santiago Peregrino, or St. James the Pilgrim, on the facade. Just then a man asked us if we were Pilgrims. He then spoke to us very sincerely in quiet, gentle Spanish for close to 5 minutes. He said a lot that I did not understand, but that was not important. It was the touching of hearts that counted.  I did understand that he felt deeply in his heart, bringing tears to his eyes, that our commitment to walk such a long way to Santiago was very important. He seemed to be saying he was a Pilgrim himself, and gave us a blessing for a good journey.

Modern day Santiponce is the site of the ruins of the Roman town of Italica.  They were not very well-preserved and they were, well, ruins! After Pompeii and Herculaneum they seemed like little wall footprints. However, there  was a coliseum, a well-preserved theater, extensive baths, and some beautiful mosaics still in place.  It is lovely to  imagine the past glory of what once stood in this very spot.  The sculptures, extensive mosaics and other artifacts that we saw yesterday in the archaeological museum paint a more clear picture of the former opulence.  The site itself sits in a beautiful open field with rolling hills where you can  see the layers of history. Sevilla shimmered  in the distance and the modern town of Santiponce began right at the edge of the ruins. Today there was a delightful wedding fiesta in progress amid the pagan temples and the coliseum where gladiators once fought!

Italica was founded in 206 BC and thrived for about 400 years before it went into decline. As the first Roman settlement in the south of the Iberian peninsula, it quickly became an important city. It was founded as a home for soldiers injured in the Roman-Carthagenian Wars,  and the Emperor Hadrian lived here. The Emperor Trajan was born in Italica,  and he was the very first Roman Emperor to come from the colonies. He was one of the greatest rulers of the Roman empire.

Distance from Seville to Santiponce/Italica = 6 miles.

Actual distance walked= 9.31 miles.

Accommodations= Hotel Anfiteatro Romano across from the Roman ruins, a very nice hotel priced at 45 Euro for a double room.


Drawings as Etchings

The Camino de Santiago has been walked for 1200 years as a Christian Pilgrimage route. It is alive and well today, pulsing with energy as over 100,000 people from around the globe walked it in 2010, considered a holy year. As I made this journey, I often felt as if I were walking through history in the footsteps of those who had traveled this route for centuries. Many places along the way have changed. But there are often places that seem to be much as they might have been hundreds of years ago.

I decided to use pen and ink drawings to illustrate selected places along the way, mainly because that would be more practical on a two month-long trek. I drew everyday, and even if I was unable to finish the drawing, I executed several thumbnail sketches. Often many hours were required to complete the detailed images. Creating art was an integral and very compelling part of my journey. I drew in meadows at the top of mountains, in cafes, sitting on my bunk bed while storms raged outside, standing in the middle of the road, and perched on city benches.

As my series of drawings began to take shape, I found them reminiscent of etchings from an earlier period. The Camino de Santiago thrived during the Middle Ages when etching was an art form used to document and portray imagery in an era before photography existed. Thoughtful design, a sensitive touch with line and texture to create beautiful half tones, and an attention to detail were necessary to create these extraordinary works of art. When my drawings emerged in a more complete form, I saw that they could readily bring past and present together using a classic style with a contemporary flavor. My intent was to communicate to the viewer my deeply felt-sense of mystery and mood, within the context of a realistic image. Drawing by hand bridges the past to the present with these humble materials of pen, ink and paper.

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