Back in Time – 85-91/100 Camino Photos


You have walked through the verdant fields, following the ever-winding path. The day stretches long, and you must find a place to stay the night. Here, in Tosantos, you come upon a humble albergue.


Inside, you are greeted by volunteers who speak only Spanish. They welcome you, nonetheless. A fellow pilgrim translates as the volunteers explain the house rules. Everyone prepares meals together, and eats together. No rising before 7 am. The house is old – 18th century – and the floors creak so much that early risers wake everyone. At 5:30, a woman comes to show you the church in the rock on the other side of the highway. You may go with her or not, as you see fit.

This is a donativo. You pay what you can, and your donation buys food and keeps the electricity on for tomorrow’s pilgrims.

You acquaint yourself with the other pilgrims, many of them young. The young seek out the donativos because they lack funds and embrace adventure. They are from Estonia, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Spain, Korea, and the US. With them, you ascend uneven stairs.


Later, you interrupt a young couple kissing on these same stairs. They turn away in embarrassment, and so do you.

Above, beams are set in the walls and ceilings with care, but not machine-like precision.


Right on time, the woman comes to lead you through town and up the hill.


You may take photos of the outside, but not of the inside, the domain of the Virgin.


It is cool inside, hewn from the rock itself. A crack splits the ceiling, and plaster clings to it. The Virgin is a humble likeness with a beatific smile, and painted jewels in her crown. She is carried through town in a procession in the fall, then returned to her home. Local wildflowers adorn her altar, a simple offering.


As in the Monastery of Suso hermits dwelled in caves in the hillside. The church was added on later, a natural sanctuary hallowed by the prayers of long-ago saints.


The caretaker urges you to look back when you travel the pilgrim road again tomorrow, and see the beauty of the church in the rock. You thank her for her care, and donate coins to the Virgin.

It is time, now, to return to the albergue. Outside, in the gathering twilight, you realize that you have gone back in time. It is quieter, here, and now. The rhythms of the earth and the sky are easier to hear, that way. Faith is real; mystery is its hallmark. The Virgin of the Rock watches you, and demands your devotion. You give it willingly, and though you lay down on thin mattresses on the floor, you sleep well as reward.


If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

Details of the Fantastic – 79-84/100 Camino Photos




On the way to Belorado, I stopped at a roadside bar to use their restroom. As decoration, I saw this ancient piece. “Viejo,” I commented. Old. “Si,” confirmed the proprietor. Who can say how old? It has a Roman look to it, in my eyes. Perhaps it has been harvested from some ancient temple. It is entirely possible, here in Spain.


Storks form common decorations, as well. They appreciate church towers most of all.


And together with dwellings carved from rocks, they provide a beautiful detail in a panorama.

churchand hill


Color abounds in Belorado, a knightly history.




The town of Belorado seemed lonely, and when I declined to stay in the albergue where I ate lunch, the proprietor looked disappointed. Economically, the place is struggling. Perhaps that is why their art hearkens back to the glories of the past.


If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

On the Trail – 76-78/100 Camino Photos


I left Santo Domingo de la Calzada early the next morning, and was treated to a beautiful dawn.


Fellow pilgrims, many in twos or threes, passed me as I walked alone. I did not want their company, though, because dawn passed into a beautiful morning. Fields stretched out all around me, like these.


Water gurgles in springs and hidden streams in the ditches beside these fields. And something else, once. An old man, scooping unseen items from the ditch to a plastic bag. Others passed him without a word, but I stopped.

“Hola,” I greeted him.

He answered back in native Spanish, and said more that I did not get. He gestured at my scallop shell and I made out the word “peregrina” (female pilgrim). Then, he opened his bag and I saw what he was gathering. Snails. Large and fresh. Probably for dinner.

He said more to me, then he leaned over and kissed both cheeks. I bid him farewell, warmed by his words, though I did not know what they were.

Off I went, into the distance.


If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

Sacred Chickens – 72-75/100 Camino Photos


Santo Domingo de las Calzada is an ancient pilgrim town that, on the surface, looks much the same as other Camino de Santiago towns. By Stage 9 of the Brierley guidebook you have undoubtedly seen your fair share of them. But surprises await the pilgrim here. Mainly, the poultry:


How so? Well, it seems that a miracle is involved. The story is located at the town’s official website:

Legend tells of a German Pilgrim called Hugonell who was walking to Santiago with his parents, when they decided to rest at an inn in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The owner of the inn´s daughter immediately fell in love with him; however her feelings were not reciprocated, so the girl, angered, placed a silver cup into his luggage and accused the boy of theft. Thieves at that time were punished by hanging, and this was the fate of Hugonell. His parents, saddened by his death continued the pilgrimage, and upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela, began their return journey to visit the grave of their dead son. When they arrived in Santo Domingo however, they found their son still hanging in the gallows but, miraculously alive. Hugonell, excited, said to them: “Santo Domingo brought back me to life, please go to the Mayor´s house and ask him to take me down”.

Quickly, the parents arrived at the Mayor´s house and told him of the miracle. The incredulous Mayor, who was preparing to have dinner with friends, responded: “That boy is as alive as these two roast chickens we are about to eat,” and suddenly, the chickens came to life, sprouted feathers and beaks and began to crow, and so, to this day there is a saying about the town which goes: “Santo Domingo of the Way, where the roosters crow after being roasted”.

And so it is that a cock and several hens are kept to remind the town of the miracle. There is a place for them in the cathedral (which, sadly, I did not photograph) and the rest of the time they live in the above cage at the Spanish Confraternity’s albergue called Casa del Santo. The birds are shuttled back and forth from place to place, with all due recognition and care, I am certain.

The other thing of note here is the bell tower, which stands across the street from the cathedral for some mysterious but unknown reason. You can see a lovely view of the city from up there.




Back at the albergue, I found myself washing my trail clothes next to an exasperated Italian man. “How does one do this?” he asked, flinging water and soap everywhere. I directed him toward the wash brush, and together we cleaned our clothing as it began to sprinkle.

All in all, a memorable day on the Camino!

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.



Monastery of Yuso – 62-71/100 Camino Photos


It sits in this beautiful valley, a perfect counterpoint to the natural majesty all around it. The Monastery of Yuso, built between the 16th and 17th centuries as an adjunct to the small Monastery of Suso, which dates back to the 7th-11th centuries. The Augustinians have lived here since 1878. In 1997 it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.


It is both beautiful and stately, as such things should be.



And it also depicts the slaying of those who threaten Christianity (see the panel above the portal) …


It includes a beautiful reliquary containing the remains of San Millán de la Cogolla, who founded the Monastery of Suso, and who the town is named after.



The monastery is well known for its Gregorian chants. Here is the shelf where the chant books are kept.


And one of the books themselves. HUGE letters!


More info on these books.

gregorian chant into

One of the rooms, lavishly decorated.


And the altar – truly inspiring!


A worthy side trip from Stage 9 of the Camino, if you have the time and interest.

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.


And a couple of promotional announcements. My Camino story has been featured by the excellent new website ¿Por Qué Peregrino? And there is a new Camino blog with great information and planning materials from travel writer Laurie A. Ferris over at The Camino Provides.


Picture of the Day: Portraits in Antarctica

Picture of the Day: Portraits in Antarctica

Xina Marie Uhl:

My latest writing project involves Antarctica. I really should be working on it now instead of Internetting …

Originally posted on TwistedSifter:


Photograph by Lars Focke

In this portrait by Lars Focke we get a sense of the stark white landscape of Antarctica. Can anyone find the horizon line in this image?

The photo was taken at Neumayer-Station II, a former permanent German Antarctic research base on Atka Bay. It opened in 1992, replacing the old Georg-von-Neumayer-Station. On February 20, 2009, it was replaced by the new permanent research base Neumayer-Station III.

The photo was part of a series on Behance, Neumayer Station II, you can see more picture from it here.


View original

Red, Red Wine – 59-61/100 Camino Photos


La Rioja is the name of a Spanish region famous for its red earth, vineyards, and delicious wines. What a tranquil, beautiful walk it is through this area!



I must confess that I have forgotten the purpose of the building below. I want to say that it is an oven, or drying hut for meat, but I am not entirely sure. Please comment if I am wrong.


If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

Next post? The Monastery of Yuso. Not to be confused with the Monastery of Suso.

Monastery of Suso – 42-58/100 Camino Photos


Stage 9 in the Brierley Guide to the Camino de Santiago has you pass the lovely tourist town of Najera. Before you do so, though, take a side trip back in history to the monasteries of Suso and Yuso. They can be accessed by public bus for a few Euros, or more expensively (50 Euro) via cab from Azorfa.

Sometime back in the mid-6th century, when the Visigoths ruled Spain, San Millán came to live on the side of a hill here (looking out),


Camino 600

It was here that he dwelled in a humble cave with his followers:



During the saint’s lifetime, a small monastery was built in front of the cave. And then, in the 7th century, a porch was built to serve the pilgrims who visited. In 929, the church was rebuilt. This model shows the appearance of the church. Note that it has been built in front of the original hillside cave:


Inside, some of the old church remains, built in the Mozarabic style (refers to the Christian inhabitants of Spain during the Moslem occupation). Here there are ancient arches


A column with painted tiles that protects a holy relic (ancient wood associated with the saint).




And old, old graves




But also artwork, like paintings and carvings



And intricate flooring


And grafitti from pilgrims. It seems that the impulse to add your mark is universal.



Later, another monastery community was built nearby, which I will feature in the next post.





Travel Throwback Thursday – Minnesota for the Dumb



It’s a fairly innocuous travel snapshot, the above. My daughter, dog, and I, kneeling on a walkway somewhere in northern Minnesota. Right after this photo, my husband took the dog back to the truck, since the walkway was slippery and he didn’t want to risk falling. My daughter Brandy and I are of a more adventurous mindset, though, so we followed the walkway down to a quiet little lake.

And, oh, look! There’s a boat!

We hurried down to the edge of the lake to where a forest service sign read – “Use the boat and return.”

What a nice offer!

We proceeded to push the solid metal rowboat sort of like this one:

But heavier. MUCH heavier, we discovered.

Shove, grunt, shove, grunt

We moved it three inches.

Cue some more shoving and grunting.

We got it several feet past the mud and reed-covered bank. Well, good. We were getting somewhere.

“Get in!” I told Brandy.

She clambered aboard and tried to row.

“It’s heavy!” she complained.

I got in and tried to row.

There was more shoving and grunting.

Now the boat was ten feet into the lake. But it weighed 800 pounds and we couldn’t get it to go anywhere.

“Let’s take it back to shore,” I said, gasping for breath.

Brandy jumped out of the boat and assisted me. We dragged the dang thing back three feet. Sweat dripped from our limbs and obscured our vision. No musclebound lumberjack offered to help us. In fact, there was no one anywhere nearby except for the mama wolf and her cubs watching us from the woods. An owl hooted in the distance.

“I can’t do it anymore, mommy,” Brandy cried, plaintive.

She collapsed on the shore, overcome with fatigue. I sagged down next to her.

Horrific visions clouded my mind. The mama wolf and her cubs would pounce upon us at the earliest opportunity, shredding our flesh and cracking our bones. The fluffy youngsters would lick out the marrow with their plump pink tongues. Brandy and I would be able to do nothing to save ourselves, since we had both torn muscles and exhausted ourselves to the point of no return. Need a visual? Watch what happens to this guy and you’ll have a good idea:

A while later, my husband and the dog came down and found us, and dragged us to the nearest emergency room. There, nurses pumped fluids and electrolytes into our depleted forms. We eventually recovered, but not without much woe.

Well, all right. I may be exaggerating slightly. Because that sounds a lot better than what really happened.

We attempted to push the boat back to shore, and failed. The boat sank. Oh no! We tugged energetically. More sinking. Mud, flies. Ick and physical depletion. Then:

Aw, to hell with it.

“Sorry, rangers!” we called as we scampered back to the car, leaving the boat drowned near the shore.

“Time to go!” we urged Dave, who threw the truck into gear and squealed the tires as we left in a spray of pebbles.

Brandy and I shared a nervous giggle. I tried not to think about the curses that would echo around the pleasant lake when some poor federal employee had to dig out the boat.

Sorry, Minnesota. You meant well, you really did. You just didn’t gamble on two weaklings trying to use your solid metal boat …

If you had an accident working out, would anyone know?


Xina Marie Uhl:

I love to take my dogs out hiking on quiet and desolate trails. This app will help my husband feel safer about my whereabouts, for sure!

Thanks to Bob for writing this up.

Originally posted on Write on the River:

IMG_2301This morning I did a long bike ride at Oak Ridge, along a gravel road that had once been part of the classified facility. It’s been set aside as a rec area and it’s very pretty and quiet.

So quiet, that it occurred to me that if I had an accident, I might not get help for a while; today I passed two people, which is actually a lot, but’s it’s also the weekend. On weekdays, the place is pretty much deserted. I also run every other day in Concord Park here in Knoxville. There are more dirt trails packed into this space than any park I’ve seen. I usually take Cool Gus. Again, though, rarely do I meet another runner or biker. I’ve often thought: what would happen if I fell and got badly hurt on this trail? I’ve actually tripped several times and am grateful that the first…

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