Olentzero – A Basque Christmas Tradition

Over the last number of years, I have let my understanding of the Spanish language subside, mainly due to not using it. So I decided I would give it one more shot and see where it took me. I recently attended a conversational Spanish class in a busy Dublin city centre. The profesora gave us the challenge of talking about how we usually celebrate Christmas and what traditions we have, and we would present this to the class. All well and good. 

Now I need to mention that the profesora has lived in the Basque region of Bilbao for quite some time before moving to Dublin so when it was her time to talk about how she and her family celebrate Christmas, my eyes lit up! There are so many differences to how the Irish celebrate the few days, however, everything is centred around the family. Which is the right way, I suppose.

One of the biggest surprises for me is the Basque tradition of Olentzero – 
the equivalent of Santa Claus in the Basque Country. Olentzero lives or lived (depending on what you believe) in the mountains, is a coal miner and descends to town to give presents to the children on Christmas Eve. He smokes a pipe, is normally dressed in traditional costumes and wears a Basque beret. If you are bad, it is believed that you receive a piece of coal from Olentzero. Better than a Playstation 4 so! 
In modern celebrations during the Christmas season, children dress in traditional peasant garb and parade through the streets with an adult-sized representation of Olentzero while singing humorous songs written in the mythical figure’s honor. It’s also a fairly common practice to hand out candy and treats to the costumed children, similar to the manner in which Halloween is celebrated. 

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Time stops for no one…

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The last few days have been tough. The death of a member of the family can put absolutely everything on hold and make you concentrate on the here and now. You put your life in perspective and answer a few questions that have been clicking around in the back of your head. Questions that I’d rather not answer. Well, until I go on Camino!

I mean the above in the least selfish way of course. When all the formalities were over, I arrived back in Dublin on Saturday after a pretty emotional mass and goodbye. I met family members I hadn’t seen in many years. We just had our own lives to live and did our own things. But what I am trying to say is we should live like today is our last. Forget the begrudgers, live your own life. If what you do doesn’t make you happy, find something else to work on! 

When I arrived home, I immediately jotted in dates for a 2nd Camino in 2019. I want to be in Spain as much as possible. Next September, I will start in Porto and walk along the coast. I probably will not reach Santiago but these things don’t bother me anymore. I have a feeling 2 Caminos each year will be the norm as long as I remain employable!! 

Buen and Healthy Camino!

Have you written about the Camino de Santiago?

Have you walked the Camino Frances or any other Camino? Have you written or created a video of it?

If so, please feel free to share.

You can either post your link in the comments below or email me at clearskiescamino@gmail.com.

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Buen Camino!

Camino Francés 2018 – So Where Did I Stay?

There is one final post I want to write about before I move on to something new, and it is the issue of accommodation.

There is a wealth of accommodation on the Camino Francés. Every couple of kilometres you will find a town with a number of albergues, hostals, and hotels. The greatest distance between two towns is 17 kilometres but most pilgrims plan for this days in advance. For me, I had no issues with accommodation.  I mostly stayed in albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin for the start and end of my Camino.

Puente la Reina – Hostal la Plaza
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as my flight would be arriving into Bilbao late. Hostal la Plaza is on the Camino and has a restaurant beside it. The price is reasonable and the staff are very friendly. A handy tip: if you think you are going to be late – call the hostal and let them know. You may not have a room to go to when you arrive.

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Estella – Agora Hostal 
The standard of albergues on the Camino Frances is getting better and better and those providing their time are giving something extra special back. The Agora Hostal is something special. The outside of the hostel looks less than remarkable but inside is clean, and welcoming. In the hands of Adrianna and Alphonso, I am told that this is my home for the night. Breakfast is included. The beds are comfortable. It isn’t far from the Camino. Recommended.

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Los Arcos – Albergue Casa de la Abuela
I got into Los Arcos quite early so I was before the throngs of pilgrims. I was quite lucky as there was no room in any of the albergues in this town later in the day. That is the Camino Frances for you. I was the first in the door, only to be greeted by a sprawling pile of mochilas left from Jacotrans. Again, this is the nature of the beast. Casa de la Abuela is a fine albergue and had all I needed. The hospitalera offered to wash my clothes for a tiny fee and I accepted. I could have walked on to the next town, Torres del Rio, a further 12km. But I was in no hurry. I met my friends for a meal and drinks in the plaza later that evening.

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Viana – Albergue Izar
A short day from Los Arcos I decided on stopping in Viana. Mainly because I had not stayed here before but I would see my friends for the last time before they embarked on their Camino. The first albergue you encounter once you reach Viana is brightly coloured Albergue Izar. While not opened until 12 midday, I decided to walk up the grueling hill into the town for a cafe and snack and see who else I would find. While the albergue is away from all the action (ie the church, the main plaza), the owners are friendly and the facilities are great. I met a bunch of new pilgrims here before I decided on walking a long day to Ventosa.

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Ventosa – Albergue San Saturnino
A long day. And I was glad to arrive here. Ventosa used to be on the Camino Frances but over time, the powers that be have moved the arrows so now it is kind of left out in the cold. But it is not too far away. Just 1 km away from the trail is Albergue San Saturnino. There are two cafes in this town also. Stay long enough in your bed and you will be woken by classical music. It has all the facilities and I was glad to meet more pilgrim friends here.

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Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Albergue de la Cofradía del Santo
Super organised, well run and a great place in general. My second time there. The only thing I didn’t like was the walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor on arrival! But, with over 200 beds and 3 floors, you can be sure to find a bed in Santo Domingo. And then you can visit the chickens in the Cathedral afterward. Shout out to the hospitaleros also for doing a super job!

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Belorado – Albergue Cuatro Cantones
Nothing but good things to say about the albergue here in Belorado. There are more than one albergue in this small town but this one stands out. I have stayed here more than once and enjoyed my stay. Jana and her family have been looking after pilgrims for 15 years now. There is a restaurant attached to the albergue and there is no harm trying the food. Also, if the sun is out, the pool in the back is perfect. There is a yoga session also for those interested. Recommended.

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Atapuerca – Albergue El Peregrino
Chosen purely for convenience rather than comfort. Having stayed in this albergue 3 times before, I know a fair bit about it, including its weaknesses. That said, it is handy to stay there as it is just a mere 18 km to Burgos. Top tip: try El Palomar for the Pilgrim Menu.

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Burgos – Albergue de peregrinos Casa del Cubo y de los Lerma (municipal) – night one / Hostal Manjon – night two.
My Camino ended with a stay in the municipal in Burgos, with its 180 beds. While I have always enjoyed my stays here, I didn’t this time. I had a bad case of a head cold going home to Ireland and had little sleep here.

I had an extra day to hand before I made my way to Bilbao and back to Ireland. I checked into Hostal Manjon, a budget hostal about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. It was just ok but I managed to claw back some of the sleep I was owed.

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Post-Camino Equipment Shakedown

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So how did my gear get on after my Camino? In this post, I will tell you how the kit I brought fared and if it needs any improvement.

Backpack – Lowe Alpine 35litre Trail – I loved this pack. It served me well. It didn’t cause me any problems. I suppose the only issue I had, was with the zip-tie to close the pack itself. The two ends of the tie had a habit of going missing inside the pack and I had to go looking for them which caused me angst.
Trail Shoes – Meindl Philadelphia GTX trail shoes – Fine but not cut out for more than one Camino. They were comfortable and I had just the one minor blister. But they were battered by the time I finished up. I left them in Burgos and have since bought a new pair of Salomon X-Ultras.
Something for the rain – Berghaus rain jacket and Columbia rain trousers – Not used. The weather was superb save for a freak shower in Belorado.
Contigo 720ml water bottle – I loved this bottle, a little pricey but will do me for many more Caminos.

Clothes:
Columbia zip off trousers – No issues until I left the bottom half of the trousers in Belorado. An error on my behalf. So they need replacing.
Socks – 2 pair of Quechua socks and 1 pair of Smartwool – Perfect. No need to make any changes.
Underwear – 3 pair of Under Armour – Under Armour is a top class brand. I won’t be changing from them. I may reduce the number of socks and briefs to 2 on my Celtic Camino.
Baseball cap – Jack Wolfskin – Great, I wore it all the time.
Buff – Random buff I bought in Santiago in May – Not used
Sandals  – A cheap pair useful for airing the feet in the evenings – Great for the evenings. As I have said, they don’t need to be expensive. Just as long as your feet are comfortable after your day’s walking.
Craghoppers long sleeve shirt – Great. I wore this in May and it is perfect. Quick dry and great protection against the sun.
Helly Hansen t-shirt & T-shirt purchased in Santiago in May – Same as above. I may drop one t-shirt next May.
North Face fleece – Great in the morning, but it got warm very early. I had the fleece off before noon most days. 
Towel – 1 quick dry Microfibre towel – Ideal and essential that it is quick dry. I have this particular one 2 years now. I won’t be changing any time soon.
Sea to Summit – Silk liner sleeping bag – Used every night bar my first and last. It fits in my hand and it takes less than a minute to pack away. It’s perfect.

First Aid & Blister Kit:
Blister kit with a selection of compeed and plasters. – I used this once, but I make sure I bring it every year. Essential
Gehwol 75ml Foot cream – Used every morning and evening. 
Deep heat – Not used
Earplugs, perfect for those noisy albergues! – Oh boy, these were used, I can’t imagine a Camino without earplugs!!
Hand cream – Very handy to have.
Wash kit including All purpose soap 100ml – I just love the Lifeventure 100ml all-purpose soap and use it for every Camino. I always have some left over when I return home. At less than a tenner, I will stock up on some more.
Safety pins for hanging up laundry – I might return to pegs next time. I had lost a lot of the pins by the time I reached Burgos.
Toothpaste & Toothbrush – Goes without saying

Electronics:
Phone, charging cable & adaptor- My mobile phone was very battery intensive and I used it to take photos and keep in touch with those at home. Naturally, the battery would die sooner than later. I brought a cable and adaptor which just didn’t do the job so I was left two days with no power and no photos. I did, however, buy a Spanish adaptor so I have that for future Caminos.
Fitbit & charging cable – No issues with the Fitbit, but the number of steps I had walked was just not important on these ten days! I may leave it behind next May.
Small over-the-shoulder bag – For all the essentials, it’s good to have one instead of taking off the bag everytime you need something.
Wise Pilgrim guidebook – Well worth a look! 
Passport
Pilgrim passport – Supplied by Camino Society Ireland

So what do you reckon? Is there anything you would add or take away from that list?

 

With a little Help from my Friends…

Hello friends and happy weekend.

It has been a busy time since I returned from Burgos. I see little daytime and I return home from the office with another day to look forward to. If only things were as simple as they are on the Camino. Every step made is one less to your destination, but it’s the journey that matters more.

I hope to travel to Spain more than once next year so I really want to push ahead and take that extra step with my writing. Some have said that I should write a book based on my many Caminos but the confidence (and the contacts) isn’t there yet. In the future, I may take up the offer. For the time being, however,  I want to increase my followers and viewers here. My viewing figures for my last number of posts have been so low that it is really discouraging. I do like to write but not for 20 people.

So, friends, if you do like my posts, please like and share them. I am in the process of publishing the quarterly newsletter for the Camino Society of Ireland, which should be ready to view shortly. I would ask you to read those stories too.  I will post that link when it is ready.

Buen Camino a todos / todas!

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A pilgrim friend walking through La Rioja

 

Camino Frances 2018 – A 2nd day in Burgos, Burgos Cathedral and Home

September 20th & 21st, 2018 – Day 9 & 10
Burgos

It was an early morning. Truth be told I should have stayed in a private room and got a few hours more sleep. The albergue wanted everyone to leave before 8am. Poor me! So I got up, packed and had breakfast in the cafe across from the albergue. I was delighted to be joined by Jim who decided to take a day’s rest. He was having some foot problems and wanted to rest before tackling the meseta. I also met 2 Argentinian pilgrims – Marcos and Santiago. They had pretty good English but I encouraged them to speak Spanish to me so I can improve on that front.

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Jim, Marcos and Santiago, on no walking days

After breakfast, we all agreed to visit the Cathedral. Bringing your credential gets you a pilgrim rate, so that’s handy. Even though I’ve been in the Cathedral twice before, I am blown away by the work. It is always full with tourists so early morning is a good time. You get an audio tour too. The following image was posted on Instagram and has been shared by the Spanish tourist board.

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The rear of Burgos Cathedral

And some photos of the interior of the Cathedral…

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Afterward, I checked in to a Hostal that I had booked before arriving in Burgos. I left my bag there and walked back to the cafe outside the albergue. Jim was there and there was already a healthy queue forming with pilgrims for the albergue. The beat goes on. It was good to see some people that I met along the Way and I lost touch. We shared stories over a drink and swapped contact details.

Later that evening, I visited a friend who lives in Burgos and afterward I went back to the hostal to pack for the bus to Bilbao. My Camino was closing to an end but the many people I had met had weeks to go yet, I hoped to follow them to Santiago.

Until next year.