Category Archives: Outdoors

History Is Happening All The Time

Pont Romá Mallorca

It would feel safe to say that the island of Mallorca was inhabited well before the Romans came to settle. In prehistoric times, in the Neolithic period, there was life on the island, mostly in caves, it is said. At around 2500 B. C. and up to about 1400 B. C., one speaks of the pre-Talaiotic period, coinciding with the bronze and iron ages, when people settled in caves and man-made Navetes. The Talaiotic period covers the time between 1400 B. C. and the arrival of the Romans, at around 123 B. C., when Talaiotic settlements were built with impressive towers and robust fortifications.

The Romans changed all that. It seems that they first arrived on the Northern shore of the island. Settlements were made in Bocchoris near what today is Port de Pollença, and Pollentia, near today’s Alcúdia. The Pont Roma (Roman bridge, shown here) in Pollença dates from approximately 400 A. D.

The North of the island must have had its attraction for the early settlers just as it has today, what with Port d’Alcúdia, Port de Pollença, Formentor, s’Albufera and the scenery between the Badia de Pollença and the Badia de Alcúdia, embracing the Peninsula de la Victoria. One might assume that the Romans did not play golf nor practiced kite surfing nor cycling, but they may have done some bird watching, mountaineering or rock climbing, just as you can do today in this popular part of Mallorca.

If you should be looking for accommodation in the rural area of Alcúdia, there is plenty of accommodation for rent, such as can be found at Alcúdia villas. Enjoy an encounter with the past when you savour your holiday.

Skiing in Spain


Skiing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Spain because of its southern latitude. When most people think about Spain, they think rather of lemons, bullfights, palmtrees, flamenco, sangria, beaches, sun and hot weather. But snow? Only people in the know think of snow when it comes to Spain.

In reality, Spain is a relatively mountainous country and “high” in elevation, only second in Europe to that of Switzerland. Let’s take that in for a moment. The average altitude of land in Spain is higher than that of France, Germany, Italy or even the Scandinavian countries. There are lots of mountains in those countries, but Spain? Yes, Spain has mountains to boot, and snow to go with the mountains, as a satellite photo, courtesy of NASA, illustrates quite clearly (the photo was taken in the Spring of 2006, I believe. And muchas gracias, NASA).


There are 14 regions in Spain that cater to the skiing enthusiasts with a total of 39 ski stations. And, in my opinion, some of those regions compete easily with the best of any European ski resorts.

In effect, the number of options in Spain to go skiing is quite profuse. The two main and favourite options are the Pyrenees and the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada. The Pyrenees are in the Northeast of Spain and help delineate the Spanish borders with France. The Sierra Nevada is in Southern Spain, above the city of Granada.

Some claim that the Sierra Nevada range provides the best snow and longest skiing season in the country (5 months). Apparently it is possible to ski there in the morning and then travel a short distance to sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, obviously depending on the season.

If you’re considering a skiing holiday in Spain, the main destinations to consider are probably the following:

In the Catalán Pyrenees: Baqueira Beret, Boí Taüll, Espot Esquí and La Molina.

In the Aragon Pyrenees: Astún, Candanchú, Cerler, Formigal, Javalambre and Panticosa.

In Andalucía: the Sierra Nevada, east of Granada.

You’ll also find some good skiing in the mountains to the north of Madrid in La Pinilla, Navacerrada, Valcotos and Valdesquí.

Further north there is skiing in La Rioja at Valdezcaray, at Alto Campo in Cantabria and at San Isidro in León though none of these stations are geared up to large scale tourism like one can find in the Pyrenees and, to a lesser extent, in the Sierra Nevada.

And there is Andorra, which of course is not Spain, but from abroad, you might consider the Andorran ski resorts just the same: Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Soldeu, El Tarter, Pal and La Massana.

All of the above resorts have had good skiing conditions during the six weeks since New Year, and most of them are ensured to have snow for good skiing until the end of March, under normal conditions. For up-to-date snow availability in Spain you might want to check on the internet, such as on j2ski.

And don’t forget to build your first Spanish snowman.

The Annual Sopelana Beach Race Near Bilbao


Every year in September, the Spanish go crazy, at least since 1999. No bulls this time, nor tomatoes. Nudity, yes, nude bodies, and a race along the beach. Okay, not all Spanish, but some.

Last Saturday marked the 9th annual “Sopelana Nudist Race/Patxi Ros Trophy”, a 5,000 m run on Barinatxe Beach (also called La Salvaje), located between the villages of Sopelana and Getxo (Vizcaya), near Bilbao in northern Spain. 136 men, women and children took part in this year’s race. 

The idea for a nudists’ race was started in 1999 by a certain Patxi Ros, who wanted to combine his two favourite pastimes into one public event. The Basque Country Naturist Club (ENE) took over the race in 2003 and renamed it the “Patxi Ros Trophy”. According to the group’s website, the purpose of the race is “to promote the Naturist way of life and to develop a healthy life style along with Naturism and sports”.

The group also added that the race helps to teach that “the concept of nudity is more than and goes beyond sunbathing, swimming and beach.” The race involved running down the beach and back, which also allowed the participants to admire fellow racers on the home stretch.

According to the group’s website, Rule No. 1 is: “Participants by all means are to run in full nudity, and are only allowed to wear a cap or hat on the head, sun glasses, socks and footwear. Any participant not conforming to this rule will immediately be disqualified and asked to leave the race by the organisation members”.

And the winner was … last year’s champion, Fernando Suances, with a time of 18 mins. 21 seconds. That’s not a bad time considering the track surface.

At least, you don’t have to worry about what to wear next year, should you want to come to Sopelana in September 2008.


Have You Heard of Gran Gimnesia?



The beauty of the Balearic Islands is that it is an archipelago. There are so many islands, and each one is so very different from the next one.


I haven’t counted them all yet, but there are at least a hundred islands and islets in all. There are the four principle ones that are of any considerable size and these are inhabited: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The islets surrounding the four big isles are protected and mainly uninhabited; one of them (Cabrera, the biggest of the little ones) is declared as a Spanish National Park. Cabrera itself is again surrounded by several other islets.


Of course, it was not always that way. Some 100,000 years ago, perhaps 200,000 years, one presumes that all these islands were connected into two large land masses, one, combining Menorca, Mallorca and Cabrera and spanning some 8,000 square kilometres, resulting in an island called Gran Balear, or Gran Gimnesia. The other island was Gran Pitiusa, combining Ibiza and Formentera. Both islands were separated by a marine canal of a span of 70 to 80 kilometres. We can’t go back in time, but we now have the means to travel across water.


Today, it is Cabrera where I suggest you go to one day, if you have not already been. The Parque Nacional del Archipiélago de Cabrera used to be under military rule for defense purposes for the last sixty years, but a few years ago, was returned  to the auspices of the Civil authorities. Cabrera is now uninhibited, save for a small contingent of keepers of no more than ten or twenty souls. Nature is amazingly well preserved on the islands that form the archipelago of Cabrera, for the simple reason that the long time tutelage of the Ministry of Defense has prevented tourism from coming and spoiling it.


Cabrera is now home to a great number of animals, ranging from eagles to falcons, cuckoos to owls, swans to seagulls. Over 120 species in all, just birds. Birds migrate from as far as Madagascar, India, the Red Sea, and Africa. Apart from birds, there are untold numbers of maritime animals from turtles to seals, dolfins to morrenas, whales to tuna. On land you find hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits and lizards. Of the podarcis lilfordi you will find 80 % of what is left in the whole world, here in Cabrera. That’s a large size lizard (see photo below).




You can go to Cabrera by private boat. Only 50 boats are allowed on any one day. You have to make reservations well in advance. Or else you can make a boat trip from Colònia de Sant Jordi, near Santanyi. Trips leave daily at 09h30 and return at 16h30. Fares are 35 € for adults, or 18 € for children up to 10 years old. You have to bring your own food, as there are no facilities on the island such as bars or chiringuitos, thank God. Or you can book your comida from the ferry boat people at 10 € per person, which is likely to be paella and a soft drink. The boat trip stops at the Blue Grotto, called Sa Cova Blava, on the way back. Don’t forget your camera. Telephone 971.649.034 for a reservation.


Have fun chasing those speedy lizards, but don’t touch them. No, they are not poisonous, but they are very fragile. To save their skin, they surrender their extreme body parts rather than being caught. And you would not want a lizard to have its tail amputated, do you?


And let me offer my thanks to the G. O. B. More about them, soon. And more about the other Nature Reserve close to Mallorcan shores, Sa Dragonera, also soon, in a blog near you.




I am showing you here a detail from a painting done by Fred Ward Tjungurrayi.

I love art. I have been collecting art ever since I was a young man. For the last ten years or so, however, I have become somewhat disillusioned by Contemporary art. Since then, I have begun collecting some Aboriginal art, mainly from the Western Desert area of Western Australia, and a place called Warburton in particular.

Fred Ward Tjungurrayi is an indigenous painter from the Western Desert in Western Australia. The painting is titled My Uncle’s Country and measures approximately 183 x 135 cms. It was painted in 1996 with acrylics on canvas, in Warburton, in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia.

Fred Ward Tjungurrayi, born ca. 1948, is one of the highly acclaimed Aboriginal painters. His work can be found in some of the more respected collections (i. e. Holmes à Court, UWA, Gabrielle Pizzi), and now mine, here in Mallorca, Spain.

Australian Aboriginal dot paintings often depict landscapes, as in a plan or a map or an atlas, giving some orientation for the nomadic foot walks and marches that Aboriginal people had to undertake from water hole to water hole. Water holes are sacred sites. In the painting, the artist connects water holes in his uncle’s country where he is now custodian, north-east of Kiwirrkurra, in the heart of Pintupi country, in the Western Desert.

Palunya. That’s how it is.

Greetings From the Rainforest



We have news from our daughter Kilina, who is spending a summer volunteering in Ecuador. After one month of working in Hacienda El Porvenir, at the foot of Cotopaxi volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and a number of hikes and horse riding expeditions, she has now gone off on a four day excursion to the Amazon rainforest, still in Ecuador.


She had to go back down to the capital, Quito, from where a small group of about 15 IASTE students from all over the world set off to Reserva Cuyabeno, close to Ecuador’s borders with Colombia.


Upon being met by their guide they were transported by motorized canoe to the camp, the Cuyabeno River Lodge, in Amazon National Park.

During their explorations they will be able to observe the exotic flora and faunæ (monkeys, river dolphins, etc.) peculiar to this unique environment. Apparently there are 15 species of monkey and well over 500 types of birds in this area. With luck they might even spot a giant anaconda on the Hormiga River, a tributary river of the Laguna Grande.


On a hike through the primary rainforest, guides will introduce them to various medicinal plants. They will also have the opportunity to observe monkeys and parrots, among others, and they might even possibly spot a jaguar. They will also run across various animal tracks (tapir, armadillo, paca, puma, etc.).


The group is expected back in Quito on Monday morning. From there, it will be back to Cotopaxi for Kilina for another month of slave work (sorry, volunteer work).


What fun.


We sometimes forget what a lovely planet this still is, despite it all.

The Moroccan Hollywood



The UNESCO World Heritage Committee met again, at the end of June, in New Zealand.

I looked into this whole business of UNESCO World Heritage sites and was surprised to find that in Spain alone, there is this very impressive list of World Heritage locations:

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

Burgos Cathedral

Doñana National Park

Historic Centre of Cordoba

Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid

Works of Antoni Gaudí

Altamira Cave

Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias

Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches

Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct

Santiago de Compostela (Old Town)

Garajonay National Park

Historic City of Toledo

Mudejar Architecture of Aragon

Old Town of Cáceres

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville

Old City of Salamanca

Poblet Monastery

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida

Route of Santiago de Compostela

Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Historic Walled Town of Cuenca

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia

Las Médulas

Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona

Pyrénées – Mont Perdu

San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries

Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula

University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares

Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco

Archaeological Site of Atapuerca

Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

Palmeral of Elche

Roman Walls of Lugo

Aranjuez Cultural Landscape

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

Vizcaya Bridge

Teide National Park

On this blog, I have looked into topics like the Alhambra, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and the Route of Santiago de Compostela already, and I am planning to cover other sites from the impressive UNESCO list in due course. Provided that you want to know about these things, that is.

UNESCO say that Heritage is our legacy from the past, that we live with today, and that we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America, make up the world’s heritage.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.


That’s why today, I want to tell you about a UNESCO site not in Spain, but in Morocco. Spain’s neighboring country which at times seems so far away from us, and the site of Ksar Aït Ben-Haddou, have deserved a little attention.

Ksar of Aït Ben-Haddou (see photo above), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh, is situated in southern Morocco in the Ouarzazate province. The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Aït Ben-Haddou is a striking example of this type of architecture of southern Morocco.

Aït Ben-Haddou and the Ouarzazate part of Morocco are famous for being the film locations in a number of Hollywood epics, and non-Hollywood as well.

Mohamed Belghimi, in 1983, opened Morocco’s first film studios at the edge of Ouarzazate. And ever since, business has been booming. Michael Douglas’ “The Jewel of the Nile”, Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun”, Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” – were all filmed here, at the Atlas Film Studios. As were Gerard Depardieu in “Asterix and Cleopatra” and Brad Pitt in “Babel”, all filmed in the south of Morocco.

What makes Ouarzazate particularly funny is that this Moroccan Hollywood does not have a single cinema. Apparently. But you would not come to Aït Ben-Haddou and go to the movies, would you?

A Word About Spain (or Two)



What a beautiful country Spain is.

I travelled a bit in northern Spain just recently, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, mainly. And the Basque country. I did the ‘Camino de Santiago’, as you might already have discovered yourself, given my recent musings.

The Atlantic coast in the North and in the West of Spain are so markedly different from the Mediterranean shores where I normally live. The Atlantic side of Spain feels as if in a different country. It seems appropriate that one speaks a different language there as well, in some parts anyway, or so it would appear.

The food is different too. No Sobrassada, no Frito, no Butifarron. No Ensaïmada, either. Suckling Pig, yes, sometimes, and the omnipresent Paella. And the good quality Vino Tinto is also ever present. At 60 cent a copa, sometimes even at 40 cent.

What you will find along this Camino, or – in my opinion – on any walk and any journey really, is the amazing beauty and diversity of this vast country. This is a country contrary to the image that Spain has from the outside in.

Spain is often seen as a hot, blistering country. Go to the North of Spain, however, such as the Atlantic coast, and you will find the opposite: rain, quite a bit of snow, much more so than in Britain which is much further to the North, and a soothing lushness of green, wherever you look. Or in the South, in the Sierra Nevada, in Andalucía: snow on mountain tops, virtually all year round.

Go to the Picos de Europa, and you might feel as if in Norwegian mountain ranges, or in the Alps, rather than the heartland of Spain.

The variety of people is as unexpected as the multifaceted diversity of Spain’s landscape. You may have come across the difference between Madrileños and Barcelonian Cataláns already, noticing the elegant and businesslike attitude in the nation’s capital versus the sparkling creativity in Barcelona, but go to places like Extramadura, Cantabria, Galicia, Santander or Bilbao, and you will understand that there are different people living here with different backgrounds, different historical events and different tribal characteristics.

Yes, now it appears easier to see why in some parts of Spain different languages are spoken. Autonomous idioms, not variations of dialects.

The friendliness of some of the people in the regions, of which I had first hand experience, can be touching, even overwhelming. It may have to do with the fact that, deep down, Spain is a conservative country where close family ties have not been lost and where social patterns and peer influence appear in place, that other European nations seem to have phased out some 20 or 30 years ago.


It comes as no surprise to me then, that so many Mallorcans seem so adamant that they have little in common with the rest of Spain.

On the outside, the country seems united and unified, probably thanks to the iron hand of El Caudillo, but deep down there are differences and peculiarities that to me seem greater than perhaps in France or Britain or Germany. It may well be that the integration of Spain into the European Union has done more to Spanish unity and national appeasement than has the force and often brutality that ruled the country for forty years under the dictatorship, now history since thirty years.

If ever you have a chance to travel in mainland Spain, may I suggest that you grab the opportunity. It will be worth your while, believe me.

Let’s Visit the Canary Islands


Spain is big, and Spain is beautiful. It is too big in extension for me to know it all, yet, being more than twice the size of Great Britain, for instance. Perhaps you may have taken one or the other opportunity already to explore some parts of Spain: Barcelona, Madrid, parts of Catalunya and the Pyrenees, Andalucía perhaps with Toledo, Cordoba and Sevilla, as well as Marbella and Malaga.

Perhaps you might even have visited the Duero region on a wine tasting expedition, or the Rioja area, and, maybe on a culinary outing, Donostia (San Sebastián to non-Basques) and Bilbao as well. There are so many places of such great appeal.

And you may have explored some of the Balearic islands. Well done if you have. Sad really if you have not.

Some of you may be fortunate enough to also have explored some of the Canary islands. Surely you will be happy to confirm that Spain is also beautiful and full of surprises outside of its European mainland territory. If you haven’t visited yet, I urge you to do so any time soon.

In the meantime, I invite you today to join me on a virtual outing, visiting some of the ‘Happy Islands’ as the Canary islands are often called.

This paradisiacal group of islands, with an ideal climate and a constant temperature throughout the year, consists of seven larger main islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, El Hierro) and a few smaller ones (Alegranza, Graciosa, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste, and Lobos).

Surprisingly, the landscape of each island is quite radically different from one another.

Greeks and Romans reported on this archipelago of volcanic origins, and called it the Garden of the Hesperides, as well as Atlantida. Some historians suppose that the legendary continent of Atlantis was located here.

The islands’ original population was called Guanches, a people related to the Imazighen (Berbers) of North Africa. The principal activities of the Guanches were shepherding, agriculture, gathering fruits and fishing.

People from Mallorca established a mission on the islands with a bishop, that lasted from 1350 to 1400 A. D., and from which various paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary remain that are venerated today, just as they were in the past by the converted Guanches.

In 1492 the ships of Christopher Columbus’ fleet stopped in Tenerifa on their travels to discover the New World, stocking up on food and water supplies. A few years later, 1496, the islands were claimed permanently for the Spanish crown. The Islas Canarias have been Spanish ever since.

The islands are the remaining cones of long-extinct volcanoes, some of them very steep. The highest point (the highest in all of Spain’s territories) is the Pico de Teide mountain, located on Tenerifa. It stands at 3,718 m.

If you have not been before, the Pico de Teide, now a UNESCO world heritage site, may be a good starting point for a first visit to the Canaries, as would be the Anaga mountain range in the north of the island. Tenerifa has two airports, one in the south where you find most of the tourist areas, and one in the north, connecting with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the island capital. In fact, it is also one of two capitals of the Canary archipelago, the other one being Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tenerifa is lush in the north with ample banana plantations and rampant palm tree groves. Puerto de la Cruz in the north hosts a major international festival, El Carnaval. If ever you fancy some Rio style carnival at a third of the distance, make your way to Tenerifa in February. You will not be disappointed.

A great bonus for a visit to Tenerifa, apart from its brand new, modern style concert hall, is also its ferry boat connection, from the south, to the unspoilt island of La Gomera. This island is so beautiful that words fail me (see photo above). The upper reaches of this densely wooded island are almost permanently shrouded in clouds and swirling mist, a fact which has created lush and diverse vegetation. This is the Garajonay National Park which enjoys UNESCO recognition and environmental protection. La Gomera is the second smallest of the main islands of the Canaries and for that reason has only the smallest airport.

El Hierro is the smallest and furthest south and west of the Canary Islands, with a tinsy airport only, plus a boat harbour connecting with Tenerifa. El Hierro is an absolute gem.

Lanzarote prides itself of a live volcano. Due to the recent eruptions during the 18th and 19th centuries, many parts of Lanzarote appear as if from another world, often described as lunar. It is for this reason that a number of big budget film locations are to be found on this island.

The summer Trade Winds and winter swells of the Atlantic make Fuerteventura a year-round surfers’ paradise. Much of the interior, with its large plains, lava scapes and volcanic mountains, consists of protected areas which can be best explored in a four wheel drive.

La Palma is probably the least visited of the Canary islands, and for its natural beauty one would wish that this would remain so. But if you must visit, you better go now.

Gran Canaria is the most touristy of all of the Canary islands and for this reason, it is not my favourite. I would recommend a visit there only after you have been to all the others.

Outside of the Comfort Zone



My ‘Camino’ experience was quite extraordinary in case you wanted to know.


I suppose that journey was rather the most exotic journey of any that I had ever taken in my lifetime. I have been to some faraway places, like Taiwan and Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Ayers Rock and Kyoto, but nothing can compare with my experience of walking for 850 kms in the north of Spain, carrying a heavy backpack and an even heavier burden of a lifetime of woes.


I have lived in Spain for 20 years now, and I suppose you could say that I speak the language pretty well. I did not need a visa for my Camino and I did not even leave the country that I had made my home so long ago, but what a strange place I encountered on the way. Ok, I have to admit that I have not done a pilgrimage ever before, but then I had not really thought of making this a pilgrim’s journey.


But nothing really prepares you for what you meet on the way and whom. I had chosen to walk on my own, in my own time, at my own pace. I think the Camino can not be taken any other way. Whether you are a pilgrim with a religious or spiritual purpose or whether you just want to test your own stamina and resolve, this is a task that is about one thing, and one thing only. It is about you and your life and your past and your purpose. That is what makes it so exotic and strange.


I suppose we go through life on an arrangement with ourselves to be comfortable. We live in a comfortable house, sleep in a comfy bed, eat food that becomes us, are surrounded by people that we feel close to and often even love dearly. We create a shelter that surrounds us. We create, and live in, a comfort zone. Fine. But on the Camino you leave all that behind. You say good-bye to the Comfort Zone.


You make yourself sleep in a different bed every single night. Not even a bed, but a bunk bed. You share your nights with people, sometimes people who you have never met in your life before. Some of them have habits and attitudes that you would not normally tolerate. You do not have the hot showers that you might be accustomed to. Some of the hostels afford no hot water. Some hostels are filthy. Some mattresses are plain right dirty. Surprisingly, this occurs often in shelters that monasteries might provide you with. Sometimes there is no hostel and thus, no bed, where your guide book led you to believe that there would be one.


Even the language can be a problem. Your entire Camino, if you do it the way I did, is along the Spanish coastline in the north, but people peak some strange idioms there. There is the Basque language, Euskera, which is not Spanish at all, not even Indo-European, which is spoken in the Pais Vasco. Then you get to Cantabria, which is o. k. Over into Asturias, where Spanish is spoken, unless you pass through a village or town where one speaks Bable, or another area where one speaks Eonavian. And then Galicia. The official language in Galicia is Gallego. If you end your journey in Santiago de Compostela at St. James’s cathedral, that’s it with all the confusingly different languages. But if you fancy to happen a bit further south, the Galician people start speaking Portuguese. You don’t need to show your passport along the Camino but you might as well have travelled through four or five distinct countries. And I started out from Mallorca, where one speaks a form of Catalán. Weird, really. Not comfortable at all, like you might think of your slippers as being comfortable, or the presence of your wife.


The secret of the Camino, to my mind, is really that you step outside of the Comfort Zone. You open yourself up to hardship, to uncomfortable nights, to quite a bit of bad sleep, interrupted by noise of which the snoring of your fellow pilgrims is only one. You ache. You hurt. You have blisters. You have reached the limits of your physical abilities. You sometimes go hungry and at times you run out of water. You get home sick, you miss your partner and your kids. You really don’t have a good time at all. You are wet most of the time because it is wet up there in the North. Either it rains, or you walk through the mist from the sea or from the low hanging clouds. Your clothes never dry. There might be a washing machine every ten days or so, and sometimes a tumble dryer. But do they work? No. You won’t get your clothes dry because it is humid everywhere and wet. And you walk. And walk. And walk some more, and lots. You don’t take the car, you don’t ride the bus, you ignore the train.


At home you might not walk the half a mile to go for a drink at your local pub or your morning Café Solo. But here you just walk and walk and walk. Sometimes you get lost, walking. Even though the Camino is marked you lose your way. Even though you follow a guide book you get waylaid and walk one or two or three kilometres more than you needed to. Some young person might have taken the signpost away or have broken it willfully, some other funny person might have painted the yellow arrow that accompanies you for four or five or six weeks and leads your way, in the opposite direction, just to spite you.


Then you meet this strange person, yourself. You begin to realize how weird you are. How strange your undertaking is, walking all these endless miles so far away from home. How peculiar this task is of walking to Santiago, and why? How very exotic the circumstances are that you find yourself in at this moment, and in fact, most moments of your comfortable life.


But the surprising bit is that you do not mind. You suffer the discomforts. And you get used to it all. You start thinking that everybody is quite silly to go by car everywhere when in fact it is so perfectly exciting to walk for a bit. You start realizing that you do not need a hot shower everyday of your life, and if you skip brushing your teeth, so what, once in a while. You begin to see people and companions as human beings that might have to offer you something despite their strange attitude or their weird behaviour. You begin to like this strangest person of them all, yourself. You make friends with yourself and your role in life, and your destiny. You start enjoying some discomfort and hardship and exhaustion because you begin to realize that you feel alive and perhaps more alive than you have felt for a very long time. Or ever. And that makes you feel at ease. That numbs the aches and the pain, the blisters and the exhaustion, the tiredness and the loneliness, the hunger and the thirst.


If you are lucky, as I was, you get to Miraz. After Vilalba you get to Santiago de Baamonde. In Baamonde you will be told that there wouldn’t be a shop or food or a bar or anything for a very long time. You had better buy some provisions. You are reluctant to buy too much because it will add to the burden of the weight of your backpack. By this time you really hate your backpack. But you have to buy some provisions, and then you set off.


Eventually, after a long, long walk, you get to Miraz. You enter the refuge. Something feels different. The hospitaleros do not seem Spanish. They hardly speak Spanish. Then you get it. These folks are English. British. You are being offered a cuppa tea. Then you are being pampered. You meet the nicest people you have met all along this Camino, and they speak your language. They think the way you do, and they make you feel at home. And because there is no shop around nor has there been for umpteen miles and miles, these kindly folks have set up a small shelf full of provisions. There are chocolate and biscuits, there are KitKats, there are pasta, rice, tunafish and other tinned food, tomato sauce and whatever. You can buy some food and drinks and cook your meal and have some more tea. And you can machine wash your clothes.


And the hot water works and the beds are clean. Blissful. All the suffering of the last three weeks or four is forgotten in an instance. This is one of the highlights of the Camino. At least it was for me.


The secret is that this refuge was taken over a year or so ago by The Confraternity of Saint James, in Good Old England. They have one more hostel, Gaucelmo, at Rabanal de Camino, on the Camino Francés, and they might open a third one soon on a different route if they can find one, and if they can raise the money. And these people show us how such a pilgrims’ hostel can be run and should be done. With love and care, and a cuppa.


Of course there is a drawback. They lie to you in Miraz. When I left the next morning David told me that the next bar or coffee house or shop would be a long walk of 15 kilometres. Well, that’s far from the truth. It was six hours and 20 kilometres, the longest and wettest 20 kilometres of my life. But thank you anyway, Caroline and David, for the best tea in ages and for the yummiest tunafish lasagna I have ever had. God bless.


And thank you, Ramón, for the photo above.