Yellow arrows and the Father Elías Valiña

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If you have ever made the pilgrimage to Santiago, or are currently doing it, you shall know by now how well marked the route is, and you will be quite familiar with the infallible and ubiquitous symbol of the yellow arrow, the standard indicator in every Jacobean route, and the most safe sign that we are in the right path and heading to Santiago.

The symbol of the yellow arrow is relatively recent, and contemporary with the Jacobean pilgrimage revival at mid eighties. Its presence is not incidental or spontaneous, but the result of a huge effort by the man who made the transformation of an almost forgotten old tradition into the mass phenomenon that we know today possible: the Father Elías Valiña (1929-1989), who since 1957, when he was made the parish priest of Santa María do Cebreiro, became the greatest champion of the recovery of the ancient route that passed in front of his church.

It was in 1984, as part of his tireless work for the restoration and promotion of the pilgrimage to Santiago, that the need of an adequate signaling of the route arose.

Elías Valiña was receiving many complaints from the scarce pilgrims who then walked the route that they were constantly missing the path. The Father acquired a batch of spare yellow paint of the type used in Spain to make surface markings on stretches of roads as a roadwork sign, and he went to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the French starting point of the French Way, in his Citroën 2CV, and from there right down to Santiago, signaling with a hand painted yellow arrow every one of the hundreds of points where the route could be missed by the pilgrims. That is the Jacobean route restored and signaled by Elías Valiña himself, and it is considered the most reliable restoration of the original medieval route. During these long efforts Elías Valiña became a great scholar in everything related to the Jacobean pilgrimage, with an ample knowledge about history, art and cultural heritage, and countless published works and papers.

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In his will, he left his family in charge of maintaining the proper signaling of the pilgrim’s way, a work that they are still carrying; but of course this is a work too demanding for so few people, and this heritage has been actually passed on to the many voluntary associations of the Camino and to the public administrations.

If today the Camino to Santiago is not just a beautiful memory of a splendorous medieval past, we owe it mostly to the selfless work of the Father Elías Valiña. The yellow arrow is a symbol not only of a collective selfless effort for guiding the pilgrim on a safe path, but it’s also a symbol of the great effort of transforming what was little more than a romantic memory of ancient medieval times in a mass phenomenon more alive than ever.

Exhibition “Master Mateo” in the Museo del Prado

Since last November, Museo del Prado in Madrid is hosting an exhibition of great appeal for all those interested in the history of the Santiago cathedral. The exhibition, named “Master Mateo”, hosts several works created by the medieval artisan for the lost west façade of the cathedral.

As we know, the current façade of Santiago’s cathedral (facing plaza de Obradoiro) comes from the XVIII century, and it replaces a former one, which is the one designed by Master Mateo himself. When the old façade was destroyed, some of its sculptures were reinstalled in other locations of the cathedral, while others were abandoned or became parts of museums and private collections. This exhibition reunites many of them, including the statue that was found last October in the cathedral during remodeling work.

Without a doubt, this is a very interesting visit for all those passionate about the cathedral and all things Santiago-related, and for those pilgrims who arrive to Spain via Madrid, it might be a worthwhile visit before traveling to their Camino starting points.

The exhibition will be open until April 24th.

Pamplona to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port: how to arrive

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Foto via https://flic.kr/p/5kc234

One of the most common starting points for pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago is Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in France. As we explain in our section “How to get there”, the main transport medium to reach this small village from Spain is the seasonal bus operated by CONDA (an ALSA subsidiary), covering the Pamplona to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port route.

The question for many pilgrims, as they plan their Camino every year, is when does the CONDA / ALSA bus service start. For 2017, according to ALSA, the starting dates are already out:

  • March 1st: one daily bus, departing from Pamplona at 14:30.
  • April 12th: two daily buses, at 14:30 anad 17:30.
  • June 1st: three daily buses, at 10:00, 14:30 and 17:30.

All of them depart from the Pamplona bus station.

Alternatively, if these bus dates are not convenient for you, we at Caminofacil also provide a taxi service that covers the same route. You can contact us for further details.

 

Christmas 2016: some Camino-related gift ideas

We are now in Christmas season, and we at Caminofacil have decided to talk here about a couple of Camino-related books that were published during this year, and that might be good gift ideas for children (coincidentally, both of the books that we are going to review here are targeted towards them).

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The first of them, “Huellas secretas en el Camino”, belong to the “Los sin miedo” series, authored by José María Plaza. It’s a series of children books, telling the adventures of a group of four friends, in the tradition of series like Enid Blyton’s “The fabulous five”. In this occasion, our four protagonists walk the Camino de Santiago during their summer holidays, and (as usual in the genre) find themselves involved in all kinds of adventures related to secret keys, templar legends and even a possible treasure.

The author uses the characters’ route through the most famous places of the Camino (Roncesvalles, Pamplona, San Juan de Ortega…) to introduce them to us, as well as to recount some of their associated legends. The familiarity is no wonder: as the author explains in the Appendix, he walked the entire Camino twice looking for information before he started writing.

“Huellas secretas en el Camino” is published in spanish by Edebé, and is oriented towards 10-year and older readers.

Buy “LOS SIN MIEDO 11. Huellas secretas en el Camino”

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The other book we want to recommend here is “Peregrinar a Compostela en la Edad Media”, an illustrated album published by the Fundación Santa María la Real, written by the historian Jaime Nuño and illustrated by Chema Román. As the title says, the book explains the pilgrimage phenomenom during the Middle Ages in all its aspects: who the pilgrims were, how did they travel, the dangers of the roead, daily life in the albergues… The author also puts the Santiago pilgrimages in an historical context, devoting chapters to the role of religion in medieval society, the pilgrimages to Rome and even the Mecca ones in the islamic world. All of this, accompanied with excellent full-page illustrations.

It’s a very interesting, very throughfully put together book, and not only for children; in fact, even adult readers might learn something new about the Camino in it. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best divulgation works about the Camino that we have seen.

Buy “Peregrinar a Compostela en la Edad Media”

Sarria in 360º

(Wait a few seconds, then drag with your mouse over the picture).

RTVE’s “El Camino de Santiago por León”, in its entirety

Spanish public TV broadcaster TVE has been showing for the last two months, in its show “La aventura del saber”, a 8-part documentary series about “El Camino de Santiago through León”. For those who could not catch it, we have compiled in this post the 8 episodes:

Episode 1 (Sahagún to Calzada del Coto) (min. 44:49):

Episode 2 (Bercianos del Real Camino to Reliegos) (min. 10:30):

Episode 3 (Villasabaariego to León) (min. 14:12)

Episode 4 (Chozas de Abajo to Villar de Matarife) (min.: 14:08)

Episode 5 (Santa Marina del Rey to Villavante) (min. 13:34)

Episode 6 (Villadangos del Páramo to Astorga) (min. 15:18)

Episode 7 (Santa Colomba de Somoza to Ponferrada) (min. 11:55)

Episode 8 (Camponaraya to Villafranca del Bierzo) (min. 13:53)

We now have a Youtube channel!

We are glad to announce a new social media channel through which to share news, views and information about the Camino and about our service. It’s our new Youtube channel.

From now on, we will be publishing videos in our channel on a regular basis. For the moment, here is the first of them, a mini-visit to Villafranca Montes de Oca:

For a healthier Camino

High temperatures, solar radiation, mosquitoes, overload… easily avoidable inconvenient companions that could mess your pilgrimage up.

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Blisters

Foot blisters are caused by excessive friction with socks/footwear and excessive moisture on your feet.

The four key points to avoid foot blisters are:

  • Worn-in footwear
  • Footwear made for walking, of the proper size
  • Feet always as dry as possible
  • Natural fiber socks with no or smooth seams

 

New footwear should never be used for prolonged hiking. They are the most straight way to serious blisters that could keep you unable to walk for several days.

The footwear should be made for walking and be of the right size, keeping your feet firmly snug, but not too tight. Some people can suffer substantial swelling when walking for hours, possibly needing footwear of a bigger size than usual.

Footwear must keep your feet reasonably dry when walking under the rain or along some of the muddy or puddly paths that you will most probably come across. Many people suffer from sweaty feet; they must by all means keep them dry when walking. Foot powder and even open walking footwear should be considered.

Natural fiber keeps your feet dry and is smoother than synthetic. Socks should be made for walking, with very smooth seams or even no seams at all.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis is the single most diagnosed chronic connective tissue disease in Western medicine.

Symptoms of tendinitis typically include:

  • Pain, often described as a dull ache, especially when moving the affected joint
  • Tenderness
  • Mild swelling

 

Tendinitis is a condition of a substantial seriousness that requires immediate attention to avoid further complications. If you suspect this condition, it is essential and unavoidable to proceed to immediate care, that will include rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers. Unfortunately, it will likely mark the end of your pilgrimage.

Causes of tendinitis, in the context of the pilgrimage, are:

  • Overloaded joints due to excessively heavy backpack
  • Lame walking due to blisters or other minor previous injuries
  • Lack of physical training
  • Excessive daily mileage
  • Dehydration is bad for connective tissues

 

Bug bites

There’s no risk of serious infections being transmitted via bug bites in Spain, but mosquitoes and other flying biters are an irritating concern that can be avoided with the use of insect repellents that can be found in every supermarket.

Sunburn

In northern Spain, UV radiation index can reach red-zone values (“very high”) during every day of the summer.

A UV Index reading 8 to 10 means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly.

Minimize sun exposure between 12:00 and 18:00 (Spain’s timezone in summer is shifted more than 2 hours from its natural meridian. In the westernmost parts, like Santiago, around summer solstice sun sets at around 22:15). It’s recommended to seek shade and wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after sweating or swimming. Watch out for bright surfaces, like sand and water, which reflect UV and increase exposure.

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Dehydration

Even when not engaging in intense physical activities, low-grade dehydration is a common, widespread problem that can have major impacts over your health.

Early signs of dehydration are thirst, general discomfort, dark-colored urine, and a less obvious symptomheadache; it’s usually resolved by simply drinking.

People not accustomed to prolonged outdoor exercise must be aware of these symptoms. If ignored, dehydration can lead to loss of strength, and even heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

In the context of pilgrimage, dehydration occurs when body water loss exceeds water intake due to exercise and/or high environmental temperature.

Dehydration is easily prevented by drinking regularly. Don’t wait for your thirst signal to kick in. Our body needs a steady supply of water. There isn’t a magic figure of liters per hour; just make a point of drinking a little more water, rather than a little less.

Caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks should be avoided for a proper hydration.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two potentially serious conditions that can occur if your body gets too hot. They can occur during strenuous physical exercise in a hot environment. In northern Spain summer diurnal temperatures rarely rise above 40ºC/ 104ºF, but it’s still hot enough.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body becomes depleted of water and salts. When you are affected by a heatstroke, your body is no longer able to cool itself.

Heat exhaustion or heatstroke can develop quickly over a few minutes, or gradually over several hours or days.

Symptoms typically include:

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • General discomfort
  • Heavy sweating
  • Intense thirst
  • Fast pulse
  • Urinating less often, and much darker urine than usual

 

If left untreated, more severe symptoms ensue.

Persons under these conditions need immediate help, and must lie down in a cool place. Their body must be cooled by any means possible: remove clothes, wet and fan their skin. And they need urgent hydration.

They mustn’t be left alone until they feel better, which shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes. If the condition persists or the person looses conscience, medical help is needed. Call 112 (the emergency services number in Spain).