Symbols on the Camino: the Cross

A living symbol can reveal to an individual hidden levels of meaning and transcendent or religious realities. The symbol points beyond itself to something that is unquantifiable, mysterious and complex, and its meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves, mirroring a transcendent reality.

In contemporary Christianity, the cross is a symbol of the atonement and reminds Christians of God’s love in sacrificing his own son for humanity. It represents Jesus’ victory over sin and death, since it is believed that through his death and resurrection he conquered death itself.  Colossians 2:15, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

During the first two centuries of Christianity, the cross was rare in Christian iconography, as it depicts a purposely painful and gruesome method of public execution and Christians were reluctant to use it.  The crucifix, a cross upon which the corpus, an image of Christ, is present, is not known to have been used until the 6th century AD.

The Monogrammatic Cross or Tau-Rho symbol, is composed of a tau (Τ) superimposed on a rho (Ρ).  The Monogrammatic Cross was first used to abbreviate the Greek word for cross in very early New Testament manuscripts.  Ephrem the Syrian in the 4th-century explained that the tau refers to the cross, and the rho refers to the Greek word “help” which has the numeric value of 100 as the letter rho has. In such a way the symbol expresses the idea that the Cross saves. The two letters tau and rho can also be found separately as symbols on early Christian ossuaries.

The reluctance of early Christians to accept the cross as a symbol is understandable.  However, over time as Christianity evolved, the symbol of the cross or crucifix came to represent victory over death, eternal life and the fullness of the Good News.  I asked one pilgrim on the Camino what the cross meant to him.  He answered:  “I imagine any number of people at that time in history may have been “hanged” on a cross.  When I look at a cross, I don’t see those people; they are unknown to me.  Jesus is known to me and his “acceptance” of this cross brought us hope, life and eternal salvation.  So when I see a cross, I think of Jesus; when I think of Jesus, I think of this hope, a new life, and eternal salvation.  As a Christian, if the symbol didn’t bring me directly to Jesus Christ, then the symbol would be empty or even idolatrous.

Perhaps Jesus died on a tree and not on a cross.  1 Peter 2:23-24 states, Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness”.  And in Acts 13:28-29 is found the following “And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.  And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulcher.”  Did the Tau-Rho then evolve into the cross?  If so, the most commonly identifiable symbol in Christianity, the cross, might not be a symbol of torture and death at all, but a symbol of hope and salvation.

So for me, rather than an instrument of death and torture, the cross as a symbol transcends the morbidity of the object.  The crosses along the Way of St. James were silent reminders for me of the faith and hopes of 1,200 years or more of countless pilgrims seeking and believing in the promise of something better – not necessarily in this life, but in the life to follow.

Iron Cross cr r s

Iron Cross cr r s Jim

Iron Cross Alone

Cross with Objects

Cross wall r s fixed sky

Cross Overlook

Cross Jim Leaning

Cross in Mist


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Destinations on the Camino: Ponferrada

In pre-Roman times times the region was populated by the Astures, a Hispano-Celtic Gallaecian people. Conquered by Emperor Augustus between 29-19 BC, the area quickly became the largest mining center of the Empire during the Roman period, where gold and other metals and minerals were extracted. Numerous Roman mining sites are still visible in the area, one of the most spectacular Roman mining sites still visible is Las Médulas a few kilometers from Ponferrada center.  Romans imported grapevines and wine production thrived in the region.

The modern name of the city, Ponferrada, derives from the iron reinforcements added to the ancient bridge over the river Sil (Latin pons for “bridge” and ferrata for “iron”), commissioned by Bishop Osmundo of Astorga to facilitate the crossing of the Sil River by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.  Ponferrada is completely surrounded by mountains, and it is the last major town along the French route of the Way of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before it reaches its destination of Santiago de Compostela.

Ponferrada is also noted for its Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters.  In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through the province of El Bierzo, Castile and León.

The castle hosted the Knights Templar’s Grand Master of Castille.  Eventually the Catholic Monarchs incorporated Ponferrada and its castle into the Crown in 1486.

The Knights Templar trace their origin back to shortly after the First Crusade around 1119.  A French nobleman and eight of his knight relatives began the Order with their stated mission to protect pilgrims on their journey to visit the Holy Places. They approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed them to set up headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, at the center of the Mount, known as the Holy of Holies by Christians, became a Christian church, the Templum Domini, the Temple of the Lord. The Templars were lodged in El Aqsa Mosque, which was assumed to stand on the site of Solomon’s Temple.  Because El Aqsa Mosque was known as the Templum Solomonis, the knights encompassed the association in their name, and they became known as the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici – ‘the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon’, which was shortened to “Knights Templars“.  The Order was also required to swear vows of obedience, chastity, piety and poverty, and hand over all of their goods to the monastic brotherhood.

St. Bernard legitimized the Templars, who became the first “warrior monks” of the Western world, and he wrote:

“[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men.

Over two centuries the Knights Templar Order grew in power and wealth yet always remained true to their mission to protect pilgrims on their way to visiting Holy Sites.  Stories of the Knights, their wealth and their status grew to mythological proportions eventually fueling false accusations of heresy and unlawful acts.  King Philip IV of France, financially indebted to the Knights and jealous of their influence and power, initiated the Order’s demise upon these false accusations.  At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307 (thereafter the superstition attached to ‘Friday the 13th’), scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested by agents of King Philip, later to be tortured into admitting heresy and other sacrilegious offenses in the Order.  They were then put to death.  Following, Pope Clement issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.  Most monarchs simply didn’t believe the charges but started proceedings in any event.

(In September 2001, Barbara Frale discovered a copy of the Chinon Parchment dated 17–20 August 1308 in the Vatican Secret Archives, a document that indicated that Pope Clement V absolved the leaders of the Order in 1308. Frale published her findings in the Journal of Medieval History in 2004.  In 2007, The Vatican published the Chinon Parchment as part of a limited edition of 799 copies of Processus Contra Templarios.  Another Chinon parchment dated 20 August 1308 addressed to Philip IV of France, and well-known to historians, stated that absolution had been granted to all those Templars that had confessed to heresy “and restored them to the Sacraments and to the unity of the Church“.)

The arrests caused some shifts in the European economy, from a system of military fiat back to European money, removing this power from Church orders. Seeing the fate of the Templars, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem and of Rhodes were also convinced to give up banking at this time.

In the end, the only three accused of heresy directly by the papal commission were Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and his two immediate subordinates.  They were to renounce their heresy publicly. When de Molay regained his courage and proclaimed the order’s and his innocence along with Geoffrey de Charney, the two were arrested by French authorities as relapsed heretics and burned at the stake in 1314. Their ashes were then ground up and dumped into the Seine, so as to leave no relics behind.

The 12th Century Templar Castle in Ponferrada:

(When I entered the Castle I immediately had a moment of déjà vu – I had been here before at another moment in time.  While walking the ramparts, I visualized a stone with a carved Templar ‘T’ in its upper right location.  I then turned a corner and found myself walking towards the wall.  As I approached I could see the same stone I visualized; I ran my finger along the ‘T’.  I took two photos with my phone, immediately reviewed the photos to my satisfaction and continued to tour the castle.  In later reviewing my photos at the Albergue, I searched for the two I had taken of the stone.  The photos can not be found).

Templar Castle r s

Templar Castle Door

Templar Castle Arch r

Castle Arches

Templar Castle Tower 2 r s

Templar Castle Side Wall r s

Templar Castle Tower r s

Templar Castle Wall

Iglesia de San Andrés:

Iglesia de San Andrés

View of Torre del Reloj(Clock Tower) and Ronferrada Reloj Street:

Torre del Reloj and Ponferrada Reloj Street

Ponferrada Reloj Street and Square

Building in Ponferrada:

Building in Ponferrada

Statue on Square:

Statue in Square

Ponferrada is 223 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela.   From Ponferrada, it took me 8 more days of walking to reach the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

In 1075 AD ground was broken for the Cathedral that was eventually completed in 1211 AD.  The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the burial place of St. James the Greater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and therefore it was the destination of the Way of St. James.

The structure is Romanesque with later Gothic and Baroque additions.  A University was added in 1495 AD.

Exterior of the Cathedral:




Interior and various altars:






The crypt of Saint James holds the relics of the Saint and is located in a substructure of the 9th Century church which was the final destination of pilgrims in medieval times.  The relics of Saint James rest in a silver reliquary with two of his disciples, St. Theodorus and St. Athanasius.


The Botafumerio, the famous Thurible and the largest in the world operated on a pulley mechanism, dispenses clouds of incense throughout the Cathedral.  Eight red-robed tiraboleira pull the ropes and bring it into motion.


In the middles ages, the Botafumerio assisted in masking the stench emanating from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.





After kneeling at the relics of St. James, the custom is to ascend the stairs behind the giant statue of St. James, and hug it while whispering to him the purpose of your Camino.


Once completed, your Camino has ended.

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I´M HERE October 26, 2013 Santiago de Compostela!!!

The Way of St. James, or the Camino de Santiago, extends from all corners of Europe, and even North Africa on its way to Santiago de Compostela.  Today on October 26, 2013 I completed the Camino Frances, or the French route of the Camino de Santiago, which I began in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and ended in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  I walked a total of 783 kilometers (487 miles) in unpredictable weather, from hot to cold, from dry to wet, up and down hills and mountains, on rocks, stones, asphalt, dirt, mud, with corns and blisters on my feet and toes; sleeping in rooms smelling of sweat occupied with at times up to 40 people on bunk beds sharing two or three toilets (gender neutral) and one or two showers (warm to cold water), and at least 3 or 4 sleeping beauties snoring so loudly that the beds shook.  Sounds like a nightmare.  Actually, it was the greatest experience of my life, and a dream come true.

I arrived in the rain, checked into a luxury hotel (luxury meaning a bed without a sleeping bag, my own toilet, and a HOT shower), changed out of wet clothes to attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. James, pay my respects at St. James´s tomb, hug the giant statue of St. James above and behind the main altar, and then searched for friends I had met along the way.

My arrival at the Cathedral de Santiago in the rain:


After a shower and wearing dry clothes, after Mass:


I went to the Pilgrims Office to present my Credencial with my 43 stamps, and receive my final stamp of Santiago,




and my Compostela in Latin, with my name written in Latin – Iacobum Angelim Simone – a thrilling and awesome moment in my life that I will never forget.


More posts and photos tomorrow of the glorious day and festive evening of October 26th.

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Gaudi in Astorga

On of my favorite cities on the Camino is the beautiful city of Astorga.  Surrounded by medieval walls, Astorga was a powerful Asturian community, and it became an equally important Roman city.  This is where the Camino Frances, part of the Via Trajana linking this area with Bordeaux, and the Roman Road Calzada Romana (Via Aquitana) joined the Roman Silver route Via de La Plata from Sevilla and the south.  This convergence of routes gave rise to over 20 pilgrim hospitals in medieval times.

One of my favorite buildings in Astorga is the Episcopal Palace (Bishop´s Residence).  It is a building by Catalan architect  Antoni Gaudi.  It was built between 1889 and 1913 and designed in the Catalan Modernisme  style; it is one of only three buildings by Gaudi outside Catalonia.

When the original Episcopal Palace was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century, Bishop Grau decided to assign the design of the new building to his friend Antoni Gaudí.  The two had become friends when Grau was general vicar in the Archdiocese of Tarragona and had inaugurated a church for which the architect had designed the high altar.

The first stone was placed in June 1890.

The edifice, built in gray granite from El Bierzo is in a neo-medieval style complementary with its location next to the cathedral.  It also features some of the elements typical of the later Gaudí, such as the arches of the entrance with buttresses and the chimneys integrated in the side façades.



The façade has four cylindrical towers and is surrounded by a ditch.



During the Spanish Civil War the building served as the local headquarters of the Falange.  In 1956 Julià Castelltort, a Catalan, began restoration works to adapt the building as a bishop’s residence. Later bishop Marcelo González Martín promoted the conversion of the palace to a museum of religious art called Museo de los Caminos, dedicated to the Way of Santiago.

Interior of the Museo with exhibit pieces:






A favorite of mine – St. Michael the Archangel:





Statues in the Museo garden:



Astorga also acted as a crossroads for the royal drive roads Canadas Reales that herded livestock up and down the Iberian peninsula.  This European wide system of nomadic grazing is known as transhumance, and it can still be witnessed on various caminos.  It is celebrated in Astorga in the festival Fiesta de Transhumancia when sheep are driven through the town.

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Lodging on the Camino

Along the Camino, Pilgrims who have a Credencial, the official Pilgrim Passport, may stay in Albergues.  Albergues fit into one of six categories:  Municipal, a basic hostel with limited facilities owned and operated by the local authority with an average cost of 6 Euros; Parish hostel, albergue parroquia, owned by the local diocese and run by the parish priest and costing about 5 Euros or a donation (donativo) and offering a regular pilgrim Mass and a communal meal; Convent or Monastery, owned by monks or sisters with an average cost of 5 Euros or donativo, with some going back to the 15th Century; Association hostels owned by the local Spanish or other national confraternities, usually well equiped and staffed by former pilgrim volunteers; Network hostels which are private and have formed themselves into a loose association providing additional facilities such as washing/drying machines, internet access and a cost of 8 to 10 Euros; Private hostels with all facilities but with no code or regulations for a cost of 8 to 12 Euros.

In general, albergues are clean, providing bunk beds and mattresses, and some with kitchen facilities for preparing communal meals.  When arriving at the day´s destination, I would often go to the market for food, and prepare a meal for up to 8 companions – each sharing the total cost.  Also, I would wash my clothes at the albergue, and hang them out to dry for the next day.  Most albergues opened at 1 or 2 o´clock in the afternoon; lights out usually at 10pm (with the doors locked), and you had to leave the next morning by 8am.

Here are some photos of albergues that I have stayed in:






Sleeping Quarters (first photo is Juna from Korea and Chu from Taiwan, companions I traveled with):



My bunk at one of the albergues with my green jacket hanging on the post:



Outdoor patios where we would hang our laundry:



Some of the albergue kitchens:




And an albergue in Zubiria with a poster of Shirley MacLane´s memoir of her Camino walk in 1999, translated in Spanish.


No matter the size, facilities offered, or the number of bunk beds, albergues were heaven at the end of a long day of walking.

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Update October 16th

It is said that there are three parts to walking the French Camino. The first part is the physical challenge; the second is mental/psychological, and the third is spiritual.

Truly the first part was physically demanding. I had muscles hurt that I didn’t even know I had, in addition to my thighs, my calves,and my butt. After three or four hours of walking my feet would begin to burn, and there were times when I couldn’t feel my feet. My shoulders and back ached from carrying my rucksack. Walking never became automatic, but after 7 or 8 days the aches and pains diminished greatly.

After about 10 days the mental part kicked in. I started to think about commitments and responsibilities back home. I got cranky, followed by anxiety and then sadness, like I was alone in the world. A heavyness engulfed me, and I became very self-conscious – a dark night of the soul – abandoned and hopeless. And then it lifted slowly as I focused only on the present and where my feet would lead me. I was aware of the shadows, but I kept them behind me.

I have yet to experence the spiritual, and I anticipate that as I get closer to Santiago.

Tomorrow, Thursday Oct 17, I climb to the highest point on the Camino at 1505 meters at Cruz de Ferro where I will place the stones I carried from home for those I love – at the foot of the Iron Cross.

Tonight I am staying at an Albergue sponsored by the English Confraturnity of Saint James. This stone building is connected to a Benedictine monestary.  And tonight I will attend Vespers in a 13th century chapel.

The Albergue adjacent to the monestary.



The church:




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Rioja Wine Country

The vineyards in Rioja produce grapes that are legendary in wine making, and they are plentiful in this region. Small and sweet, they often provided me a quick energy lift on hot days on the Camino.

Every pilgrim meal offered in cafés and in restaurants usually costing 8 to 10 Euros included a first course of vegetables, stew or soup, a second course of meat or fish,

a third course of fruit or dessert, and always fresh baked bread and a bottle of local red wine.


How often I thought of Grandpa Simone making wine: the crates of grapes piled high, the tall oak barrels, the wooden wine press, the quarter kegs for the finished wine, the countless empty bottles in the wine cellar waiting to be filed and carried to the dinner table during late Autumn through Winter and into Spring. This seasonal ritual always began upon returning home from our summers on Cayuga Lake.

. . . e vino fa contare!


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Dogs on the Camino

Missing Olyve as I do, I am thrilled when I meet a dog along the way. Spain loves their dogs; they are part of the family and a respected as part of the workforce running along side of a tractor, or dutifully guarding a field, a flock of sheep, or a home.  They may be on leash, off leash, or simply resting in the cool shade of a quiet street at siesta time.


There are even pilgrim dogs waking the Camino.  Meet Figi from Italy.


Figi’s papa tells me SHE wanted to walk the Camino.  So here she is taking it slowly, one day at a time.  Her papa tells me she wanted to take take 60 days because she likes a long siesta in the afternoon.  Figi is 6 years old only speaks Italian.  She is constantly protecting her papa with her loud barks.  Even so, all the pilgrims at the Aubergue loved her.   When she gets tired on the way, her papa carries her in a special napsack.  Although she has no camera, Figi had a keen sense of smell and will remember all the scents and odors on the Camino for ages to come.  Ciao bella!!

Another younger dog, Nash, is traveling with his papa.  Nash is 4 years old and is from France.  Hearty and strong, Nash enjoys the climbs and running after sheep.  Unlike Figi, Nash loves pilgrims to scratch her ears, kiss her nose, and bring her water.  Once in a while she likes a piece of bread.  She carries her own supplies – kibbles and treats, a small blanket to rest on, and a tooth brush (ooos, she lost that in Burgos.  Nash loves the Camino and is looking forward to the treats of Santiago.


Pilgrims come in all sizes, genders, nationalities and colors.  Some are on two legs, some are on four. No matter who or what they are, all are part of the family on the Camino de Santiago.

Ruff ruff!!

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Stage 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10: Zubiri to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

I am collapsing these stages because I am so behind in my daily blog entries.  I will note events in subsequent blog posts, and I will add photos sporadically.

Stage 3 from Zubiri to Pamplona:  September 30th.  Last night at the Aubergue in Zubiri I met Chou from Tawain, Rapoo from India and Vincent de la Roses, a Spanish artist from Spain.  Rapoo is a vegatarian and he made rice with spices for me; Maria, the host at the Albergue, picked some fresh cukecumbers and cherry tomatoes from her garden and made a dish of sliced cukes and tomatoes sprinkled with salt and homemade olive oil.  It was delicious.

Vincent’s sketch of me:

We left the Albergue and started off to Pamplona, the city noted for the ¨running with the bulls¨.  The weather was cool and rainy, but as we walked into the day, the rain ended and the skies cleared.  A typical outfit as I began each morning would be my convertible pants, my silk undershirt with a t-shirt over it, my rain jacket and my Buff and scarf.  Usually I needed the rain jacket at the beginning of the day to protect myself from the rain and to keep warm.  By midday, the temperature increased, and I zipped off the bottom part of my pants, shed my jacket and tied it around my waist.  I little further on in the day, I would wrap my scarf around my waist, take off my Buff and remove my silk undershirt.  So now I´d be walking with shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt, and of course my baseball cap to protect me from the sun.  The walk was not steep.  We passed small villages, walking through Larrasoana via Puente de los Banditos where Medieval bandits attached pilgrims. We arrived in Pomplona about 4:30pm; the weather was hot and humid. Pamplona is a very beautiful city with some buildings dating back to the 12th century.

2013-10-07 15.42.38

The city is surrounded by a wall;


we entered through an old drawbridge gate.


Tonight Ellie from England made dinner for 12 people – gratefully I was one of them.


The walk today was 21.5 kilometers.

Stage 4:  Pamplona to Puente la Reina: October 1st.  We left the Albergue at 8:00am and the weather was clear.  Today´s walk would be 23. 5 kilometers.  We climbed a very steep mountain from 450 meters to 760 meters to Alto de Perdon.  As we walked the trail, we passed many stone sculptures of rocks piled upon other rocks and stones to form what looked small totems.  When we reached the top lined with modern shiny silver windmills, I couldn´t help but think of Don Quiote – what he would have thought about these windmills.  Soon after we began a steep descent on slippery loose stones of various sizes into the village of Uterga, then through Obano to Puente la Reina.  We walked a total of 23.5 kilometers and arrived at our albergue at 4:15pm.


Stage 5:  Puente la Reina to Estella.  October 2nd.   I left at 7:30am; it was raining lightly.  The route was very slippery and muddy.  I climbed to Maneru and then walked through the best preserved stretch of Roman road on the Camino between Ciraugui and Lorce, and I passed a beautifully restored medieval bridge.


I passed through Villatuerta and arrived in Estrella 4 kilometers later.  The total walk today was 23 kilometers.  It was on this stretch that I had walked over 100 kilometers.

Stage 6:  Estrella to Los Arcos. October 3rd.       I started again before 8am and walked to Irache about 7 kilometers from Estrella.  There I reached the famous Bodegas de Irache where I drank wine from the fountain in my Camino shell.  The wine is made from the grapes in the region (Rioja).


I climbed from 425 meters to 675 meters to Villamayor de Monjardin and passed the Fuente de Moros, a cistern thought to date back to Islamic Spain.  From there I walked the long stretch of 12 kilometers with no villages along the way.


At 4:55pm I reached Los Arcos and the Ermita de San Sebastiano.  Today´s walk totaled 21 kilometers.


Stage 7:  Los Arcos to Viana.  October 4th.  Today took me through Sansol, and past the beautiful Templar Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro, built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century for pilgrims on the Camino.  The Knights Templar were the protectors of pilgrims to Santiago.


I passed through Torres del Rio and Ermita de la Virgen del Poyo.  The views of Logrono and the Sierra de la Demanda were breathtaking.


I reached Viana at 3:00pm


Today´s walked totaled 19.5 kilometers.

Stage 8:  Viana to Navarrete.  October 5th.  Before I left the aubergue, I met Kim and his wife.  Kim is 77 years old and a retired distributor who lived in New City, New York and owned his own business.  He arrive in the USA in the 1970´s.  He and his wife now live in North Carolina, after 30 years in business in NYC.  I instantly fell in love with them.  Here they are with another couple from North Caroline.  Kim and his wife are in the middle.


They started in St. Jean in France and are taking 60 days to walk to Santiago. Today´s walk was relatively flat with a few climbs and one descent.  I passed through Ventosa where piles of stones line the route to Alto de San Anton.



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