Why Don’t “Our” Catholics Have Explosives?

Day Nineteen: Luarca to La Caridad — Over pizza last night, when I wasn’t talking to Gail back home by phone, I made myself useful by updating Martin on new developments in the English language. Since most English speakers are in the USA it’s high time that Brits like Martin caught on to current usage of our common tongue. Truthfully, it was good fun to share conversation with an articulate Englishman like Martin. Occasionally he did have to stop for a moment and define some exotic English word. We both knew, of course, that his use of the King’s English is far superior to my West Coasty slang and he can get me giggling by saying something completely silly in his tweedy lilt.

Since Martin wanted one more day to rest his knee he decided to stay in Luarca another night and meet me midday tomorrow in Tapia de Casariego, or “Tapioca” as we’ve come to call it. That will give him another day of rest followed by only a couple hours walking on his first day back. So I awoke at 7:15 and bid adieu to Martin just before 8:00.

Outside it seemed just perfect for a 30 km (19 mile) day — clear, blue sky and moderate temperature. I found a panaderia (one of the few Spanish stores open on Sunday) and bought a pastry to help me get moving. The tasty little treat was finished well before I reached the top of the hill above town.

The camino was very clearly marked out of town and I had no problem making it up to the N634, which the camino would more or less follow again all day. Occasional crossings of this highway were interspersed with quiet strolls through dairy farms and fields of newly sprouted corn.

In a couple of hours I was in Pinera, where a kind barkeeper offered to make me a racion (snack sandwich) of pollo a la parrilla (grilled chicken). It was delicious, and I washed it down with a small glass of beer.

About 100 meters past the bar I heard the sound of church bells from the ancient little church just down the road. I’d been hoping to have the opportunity to go to church today, and the sound of church bells calling from the distance has always evoked in me thoughts of what medieval life must have been like.

Two men standing by the church noted that I’d turned into the church yard rather than onto the camino and they pointed me back to the trail. But I asked them if Mass was soon, which they said it was, and they waved me into the church.

I was about 30 minutes early for the service, so I had time to study the little, stone building. It was much wider than it was long and had a central dome over the worshipers. The main altar was in front of an elaborate, gilded reredo and the side altar had a more modest reredo of carved wood. Opposite the side altar was a Santiago Matamoros scene — my beloved St. James slaying a Muslim.

Although the scene is 1000% politically incorrect, I always feel a little embarrassed affection for Santiago Matamoros. He was seen on a white horse, slaying Moors in a dramatic battle of the Reconquista 1000 years after his death, but today we shake our heads at the inevitable remaining statues that depict the scene. Still, he’s a part of Spanish history, a part it would be dishonest to deny.

A nice altar boy noted my presence and kindly offered to stamp my pilgrim credential. A few minutes later the little church began filling with people. At precisely noon the 100 or so present fell silent, a woman coughed, and the priest appeared from a back room. The worship began and I realized immediately I’d set myself in the middle of the choir. All the women around me erupted into exuberant singing.

Rural Spanish churches seem to share a common concept of “choir.” About a dozen women of all ages sit at the front of the church and sing the worship songs in loud, unison voices. Their husbands sit quietly and respectfully in the back pews. The priest and the women seem sometimes to be in musical dialogue as the service progresses.

The Mass proceeded as normal, with the exception of the sweaty pilgrim sitting in the choir pew. I’m sad to say, though, that my quick sandwich and beer made it hard for me to stay awake during the sermon. I was awake enough to notice that the sermon text very oddly was from Holy Week and was about the Last Supper.

But the oddest part of the service came when the priest announced the Hocus Corpus (“This is my body”) which as always was followed by the ringing of a small bell. Today, however, the bell was followed by something like this:

Riiiiiiiiiiiiip BOOM!

A baby started crying, and then the priest said, “This is my blood shed for you.” Ring, ring. And then:

Riiiiiiiiiiiiip BOOM!

I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded like there was a small cache of explosives just outside the door and they were being set off precisely at the most dramatic moments of the Mass.

After everyone received their wafer (no wine today) the remaining host (the blessed bread) was put by the priest into the clear center of a sun-shaped silver and gold vessel. Six men came forward and picked up poles that support a silken canopy and another picked up a pole with a red flag. The rear doors of the church were opened, bathing the priest and altar in sunlight, and then he, the men, the host, and everyone else got up and walked out of the building.

As they walked out there was the sound of:

Riiiiiiiiiip BOOM! ….

…. a sound which rang out at least another dozen times, to the accompaniment of bells ringing and babies all crying anew at each explosion as priest, congregation and host paraded once around the building. It turned out that a dark-haired man was setting off fireworks from his car as part of the religious festival. He’d light the fuse, it’d rocket into the air (Riiiiiiiip) and then explode in a BOOM! that echoed through the whole valley.

When it was over the priest and host were escorted safely back into the church. The first question that came to my mind was, “did everyone count their fingers and toes so we can be certain no one was injured?”

The second question was, “why don’t our Catholics back home have cool fireworks like this?”

Party over, it was time to get back to walking. After another 7 km I made it to the riverside town of Navia, where I had a salad for lunch. Then I headed on to Jarrio, where I met a nice Hungarian man named Carman, and where, unfortunately, it started to rain.

By the time I got to La Caridad I was dripping wet. I found the lux rural hotel, Casa Xustes, and am comfortably ensconced in a room full of antiques, my clothes drip drying onto towels in the bathroom floor. Apparently there’s an Italian restaurant 150 meters away, so between rainstorms I’ll head there for pasta.

Just 10 days left of this camino — I can’t quite believe it. Today, though solitary, was a good day of reflection and meditation. I’m adjusting to the balance here between solitude and fellowship. I’m also missing home, family, pets, and church friends. But I’m thankful for this adventure and am enjoying how each day contains a surprising, new delight.

20120617-182808.jpgMartin on the pier after pizza. Note church and lighthouse above.

20120617-182924.jpgLuarca sleeping in on Sunday morning.

20120617-183710.jpgLandscape near Otur.

20120617-183748.jpgPersonal park for pilgrims. Thank you!

20120617-183844.jpgSweet yellow dog walked 1 km with me.

20120617-183936.jpgPinero church bells called me to mass.

20120617-184054.jpgChurch’s Santiago, slaying the demon Moor.

20120617-184148.jpgProcession pauses outside church for explosives.

20120617-184232.jpgPriest and posse make it safely back inside.

20120617-184324.jpgWatch your step, pilgrim.

20120617-184412.jpgNavia bridge.

20120617-184452.jpgHungarian Carman at a Santiago fuente.

20120617-190948.jpgNot sure you can make out the heavy rain coming down outside my comfy hotel room.

Playing Chicken

Day Eighteen: Cadavedo to Luarca — The morning started with a pleasant coffee and conversation with Julian of Honolulu who was staying at the same hotel. At one point in our talk he mentioned that he would stay at Cadavedo in order to wait out the rain.

“Rain?” I said.

“Yes, it rained torrents beginning at about 2 am this morning and it’s still raining. Didn’t you notice?”

I jumped up from my coffee to look out the hotel front window.

“My room looks out to the pasture and it just looked a little foggy,” I said. And then I saw what he meant. We were in the midst of a deluge, a gully washer as we call them back home.

I told Julian I was still planning to walk the 18 km to Luarca today, but I admit that as I returned to my room to pack my things I felt a little envious of his decision to remain in the dry comfort of the hotel.

Since I’d decided to walk anyway it was now time to make a rain plan. First, I needed to choose what to wear. I settled on long pants, long sleeved technical T-shirt, wide-brimmed hat to keep the rain from running down my neck, GoreTex jacket. My pack would have its rain cover on to keep it dry. I wanted to keep the insides of my boots dry, so I decided to try wearing my red recovery shoes (aka, ruby red slippers) and sock liners on my feet. My boots could then stay dry in my pack, but be available if needed. I also would put my iPhone into the waterproof plastic envelope I’d brought just for this purpose so that it could stay handy in an outside jacket pocket for photos and GPS consultation.

Second, I would need to decide which way to walk. Yesterday’s ups and downs through muck and rivulets sounded like trouble waiting to happen. I determined instead that I would take the chicken way out and walk along the road. It would be a dreary, boring four hour walk, but at least I wouldn’t be slipping and sliding through mud and thorns.

With those issues settled I set out from the hotel into the driving rain. The outside of my jacket was instantly soaked, but my arms and core were warm and dry. My pants were quickly wet, too, but I was very pleased that they still kept my legs warm and my ankles quite dry. I realized I would be able to change to my boots when needed and not worry about water running down my bare legs and filling my boots, as it had on last year’s camino when I was caught in a rainstorm wearing shorts.

I headed out of Cadavedo toward Villademoros, noting the road sign for cars that measured the remaining distance to Luarca at 15 km (9.5 miles) — a short distance, but a long walk.

Queruas was a rainy blur as I passed it. Before Canero I switched from the N632 to the N634 highway as directed and immediately noted that it was narrower and had many more tight curves.

At a bar/cafe in Canero I was pleased to see Michael and Stefan from yesterday. Michael’s ankle is fine and we talked briefly before they headed out. I kept my wet gear on and stood dripping at the coffee counter as I had my second cafe con leche of the morning.

I headed out, about 100 meters behind my two friends, and noticed a police car slowing down to talk with them. Soon the Guardia Civil officer drove by me and instructed me, like he had with my friends, to walk on the left side of the road for safety.

With all due respect to the Spanish national policeman, we pilgrims are rather sophisticated when it comes to playing chicken with cars. On a curvy, narrow road like the N634 the most dangerous place to be in a tight turn is on the left side. Speeding oncoming drivers are hugging the outside of their lane (our walking strip) in order to avoid oncoming cars. A pedestrian in their lane is in a precarious spot if he/she is in the oncoming lane when two cars are passing in the curve.

An experienced pilgrim approaches a tight turn in the outside lane where he/she can see what’s coming, then at the middle of the curve, if there are no cars, the pilgrim crosses onto the left side — after the curve. To be honest it’s all very dicey however it’s done. Almost enough to make a pilgrim take the pilgrim pathway.

As the rainy walk wore on I noticed that most drivers carefully gave a wide berth to me as a pedestrian. They usually put on their turn signal and moved slightly into the other lane so I wouldn’t have to stand in the weeds as they passed. In fact, the only truly scary driver was the one who came up from behind me and startled me with a loud honk and cheerful wave.

As the kilometers dripped away I could tell by the increasing density of homes that I was getting closer to the comforts of Luarca. At the outskirts of town the rain started to diminish and I moved off the road to the now-paved camino path. At a church bench I changed to the heavenly comfort of dry socks and boots, then was rewarded for my perseverance after a couple of km with a brilliant view from above the Luarca harbor.

I picked my way down the slippery, wet streets, texted Martin, and met him for chocolate churros and then lunch in the beautiful harbor. He’s feeling somewhat better, but will probably need another day at least of rest. His smiling face was a welcome sight to behold.

Martin had chosen a delightful room in a handy pension and after lunch I snuggled into bed for a warm and dry nap with promises of pizza tonight for dinner.

20120616-182737.jpgThe goal: Luarca.

20120616-183000.jpgLandscape, through rain and plastic camera protector.

20120616-183051.jpgTrain bridge through rain, etc.

20120616-183133.jpgStefan and Michael in rain gear at Canero.

20120616-183228.jpgWoulda jumped in on any other day. Cueva Beach.

20120616-183344.jpgFirst sight of lovely Luarca.

20120616-183443.jpgLuarca’s inner harbor.