Displaying items by tag: Galicia

Tuesday, 03 March 2015 12:08

On Foot in Spain

"Aside from marrying my husband and having my son, this was the greatest thing I have ever done. Everything I hoped for, and more, happened. Please know to what a great extent you enhanced my life…"
Cynthia, Portland, Oregon, USA,
Camino de Santiago, 2003

I have done so much raving on to people about how wonderful On Foot in Spain & particularly Nancy & Jose were, that they should never need to advertise. It was all such a special experience as evidenced by our reaction as we walked into the Santiago Square – still gives me goosebumps….Nancy & Jose – you are absolute legends….”.
Bron & Michael, Vermont, VIC, Australia
May 2017, Camino de Santiago

Nancy and Jose

Sam, Jose and Nancy on Portugal tour by client B. Cameron


Receiving feedback like the above testimonials, written 14 years apart, fills us (Nancy & Jose) with a tremendous sense of fulfillment. Our primary goal on our trips is to help facilitate the engagement of our travelers with something meaningful within themselves or the rich landscapes and experiences within which they are immersed. Being a part of someone’s potentially transformative experience is a great honor and privilege. Jose and I both have a great passion for and knowledge of Spain, where we live (Galicia), the Camino de Santiago and it is a pleasure to share this with those who accompany us.


Both Nancy and Jose have always held both walking and learning close to their hearts. Their paths crossed while Nancy was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on the Camino de Santiago in the hamlet of Roncesvalles (Navarre) and Jose was just beginning a 450-mile/780KM walk across Spain. Their paths rejoined a month later in Santiago de Compostela and since then have not diverged.

Together they co-authored the chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantabrica (Picos de Europa) and the Camino de Santiago for Lonely Planet’s Walking in Spain (1999 and 2003 and Hiking in Spain, 2010) and co-authored Lonely Planet's 1st edition of Walking in Scotland (2001). Nancy and Jose started On Foot In Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures in 1999. They have three children, Jacob (2 Feb 1999) Marina (05 Dec 2003) and Sam (27 Nov 2006), and live on the Galician coast.


Nancy L. Frey, PhD

Nancy on top of Mt. Dana, Yosemite circa 1978

Nancy on top of Mt. Dana, Yosemite circa 1978Nancy’s love of hiking grew from annual summer trips to Yosemite led by a Dad who always knew the name of every tree and who reveled in leading his children to inspirational points. Thus it wasn’t too surprising that when she selected her subject material for her doctoral dissertation in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) one very attractive element of it was the prospect of traversing the north of Spain on foot.

Since her first walk in 1993, Nancy has walked the Camino de Santiago numerous times and cycled it as well. In her book on the modern day journey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998), Nancy brings to life the contemporary way by discussing pilgrims' motivations, mishaps and discoveries while walking as well as providing insights into why the route is so popular today.

In the late 1990s Nancy lectured for ElderHostel and the Smithsonian Institution on their educational tours in Spain, Portugal and France. She also taught a course on the Camino de Santiago at the University of Santiago. Nancy is currently researching the impact of the internet and mobile technologies on the pilgrimage experience and on being a pilgrim. Her website Walking to Presence is dedicated to sharing her research and insights on pilgrimage in the Internet Age and to helping travelers to reflectively engage more fully with their travel experiences.

One of Nancy’s favorite roles on tour is bringing to life the history and culture of the places we visit through a wide range of stories and consistently receives very positive feedback for how she conveys her knowledge. To learn more about this facet of the On Foot experience, read The Story Teller. In this photo, taken by client F. Fehr, Nancy has just told the group about the history of the special mountain village O Cebreiro and explained how and why the yellow arrows were invented.

In her free time she enjoys reading, swimming, kayaking, tending her flower garden and her hens as well as cooking savory pies and tarts.

Jose Daniel Placer
Jose Daniel PlacerA native of Santiago de Compostela, Jose received his law degree from the University of Santiago and then made a 180 degree turn away from being a lawyer and back to his real passion: children and the outdoors. He has taught outdoor education and coached soccer, basketball and volleyball.  He runs the children’s theater program for the local school where he writes and directs the plays.

With Europe as his backyard, Jose has hiked extensively both within and beyond Spain since he was a teenager. Despite having enjoyed the Italian Dolomites, and hiking in the Alps while studying law at the University of Passau in Germany, his favorite stomping ground continues to be Spain’s Picos de Europa.

Jose’s picnics have received tremendous praise over the years. When not on tour Jose lovingly tends his fruit orchard and garden and enjoys experimenting with new recipes from our own harvest.

Jose especially enjoys writing short stories, carpentry, restoring furniture, working his garden, kayaking and mountain biking.

Each time we set out on a trail we go with the idea that to walk is to learn. Slowing down to the rhythm of your feet inevitably brings more to your immediate attention and consequently allows for greater speculation and wonder. We abide and live by the slow travel, slow experience movement as an enriching way to experience a new culture.

On our journeys into northern Spain’s exceptionally beautiful back roads we want to give you the opportunity to challenge yourself physically (without overdoing) and at the same time pique your curiosity by pointing out the not so obvious as well as providing insights into the wonders of the everyday. In this photo, taken by traveler J. Laskall, she captured Jose demonstrating the usage of the Spanish botijo, glass wine holder, traditionally used by field workers.


Art, architecture, anthropology, folklore, history, Spanish fiestas, cuisine - we interlace them all into each day of your tour. Our carefully designed walks, combining charming accommodations in rural inns, monasteries, and hotels with the finest in local cuisine, will immerse you in the riches of northern Spain’s cultural life and landscapes.


After nearly 20 years of running On Foot in Spain, our family has grown up with the business. Nancy wrote a four-part series highlighting the challenges and joys of having their family grow up with On Foot in Spain as a constant presence. Over the years we have developed very special friendships with travelers from around the world who have joined us on 3, 4, 5 and even 6 trips! We feel very blessed indeed to have created a huge network of the On Foot Family around the world. Thank you to all of you who have made it possible. Please see our group photo gallery to enjoy the experiences of our some our 1500 clients on 160 tours in the last 18 seasons.

On Foot in Spain Family On Foot in Spain Family
2010                                                                                             2017

To read about the On Foot Family story, please read here.


Find out more about On Foot in us at

Published in Latest
Thursday, 19 February 2015 14:17

Galicia Gourmet: Food & Wine

Galicia: Food & Wine Journey

Galicia is Spain’s seafood mecca. This unique, gourmet tour brings you into close contact with the production and enjoyment of Galicia’s foods and wines.

Published in Itineraries
Friday, 03 January 2014 19:50

2013 On Foot in Spain “Year in Review”


June 2013 Walking Death Coast Near Cabo VilanIt’s been another great year thanks to all of you who make On Foot in Spain possible! Putting together our own 2013 On Foot “Year in Review” has brought back wonderful memories of amazing luck with rain seeming to be all around us except on top of us in both April and October, unbelievable wildflowers in June along the Camino, the richness of harvest time in Portugal and the stunning views in the Basque Country and Galicia that fill the heart and soul. One of the things I love about leading On Foot in Spain tours is that I am constantly taken back and reminded of what is most important in life: friendship and caring about one another, beauty found in nature, the thrill of knowing and challenging one’s body, the appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.

Memories flood into my mind of these simple pleasures from this last season – swimming in the cold, refreshing mountain waters of the Lor River in Galicia; eating one of Jose’s picnics after a long walk; leading people over a hill where I know a glorious view awaits them; getting to take my shoes off to walk down pristine Traba beach and watching the others ahead of me doing the same; foraging on blue berries, blackberries, grapes, apples and all the other gifts of the Camino; sharing some of these moments with Sam and watching him absorb it all like a sponge; hearing the storks from their weighty nests high upon the church towers; gorging on cherries in June in the Bierzo valley; milking sheep and tasting the fresh milk; listening to people’s stories and sharing my own…

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a collection of images from 2013 that we hope you will enjoy.

Nancy & Jose

View 2013 Year in Review Album

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:43

Galicia: Sea to Mountain Hiking


Join Jose and Nancy on this definitive insider’s tour of Galicia’s breathtaking coastal and mountainous back roads. Enjoy the isolated coastal walks, abundant and varied seafood, remote mountain villages, and pre-Roman remains!

Map of GaliciaWe meet and end in Galicia’s capital, Santiago de Compostela, the famed endpoint of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, as an entry point into this extraordinary green, hilly corner of Spain. On Days 2-4 we explore the breathtaking Costa da Morte (Death Coast) and spend 3 days walking the highlights of the spectacular coastal trail O Camiño dos Faros (The Lighthouse Way). This trail connects the villages and lighthouses from Malpica to Finisterre for roughly 200km.  The Galician coast is characterized by long stretches of white sand beach, pine forest, small fishing villages, high cliffs, off-shore islands, pounding waves and fascinating legends and history. On Days 5-8, we transition to the region’s extreme eastern mountains to the Sierras of Ancares and Courel. En route we stop and walk the Roman’s Empire’s finest wall still standing in the UNESCO awarded World Heritage city of Lugo.  In the mountains  we will  hike on high open ridges, through densely wooded river paths and visit and learn about villages (and their traditions) that have one foot in the pre-modern past and the other in the present.

On the tour also expect to savor the delicious seafood and shellfish prepared with simplicity and extraordinary good taste, a wide assortment of rich crusty breads and smoked, smooth and creamy cow´s milk cheeses as well as spring fed and mountain raised beef and pork stewed and roasted to perfection. On this tour accommodations are varied, well-situated and unique though not luxurious.

The region’s geography has historically imposed isolation upon Galicia leading to its singular character today: a well-conserved prehistoric past (petroglyphs, dolmens, and castros), a high dispersion of the population (of the 63,000 communities in Spain more than half are Galician but only account for 6% of Spanish territory), the development of an unique language - Gallego, an economy based primarily on the exploitation of the sea and soil, an original vernacular architecture (country mansions, roadside crosses, granaries, monasteries) and an endless number of legends, fiestas and traditions uniquely Galician.

Read the article Nancy wrote about Galicia for the travel magazine Roads & Kingdoms here.

Published in Itineraries
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:41


On Foot in Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures specializes in small group (6 to 14 people) walking tours in northern Spain since 1999. We emphasize Spain's rich cultural heritage (art, history, folklore), its stunning and varied landscapes, flora and fauna as well as provide the finest in lodgings and regional cuisine.

Join owner-guides cultural anthropologist Nancy Frey (PhD, UC Berkeley) and writer, mountaineer Jose Placer (co-author Walking in Spain, Lonely Planet, 1999 & 2003 and Walking in Scotland, LP, 2001) on an unforgettable walking or hiking tour to one the following:

GALICIA - isolated coastal walks, abundant and varied seafood, ancient mountain villages, Celtic remains
PICOS DE EUROPA - emerald-green pastures, dense forests, soaring peaks, delicious cheeses and hearty stews
CAMINO DE SANTIAGO - medieval pilgrimage route, unparalleled artistic treasures, northern Spain's grand tour
COMPOSTELA - walk last section from León through green Galicia, earn the Cathedral's Compostela certificate
BASQUE COUNTRY & PYRENEES - Europe's oldest people, Guggenheim Museum, French and Spanish coastal and Pyrenees walks
PORTUGAL - Enchanting borderlands mixing coast and mountain landscapes, selected highlights of the Camino Portugués from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

On Foot in Spain - Rosalia de Castro, 29, 15886 Teo, A Coruña, Spain.


Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:37


The Road to Santiago rarely fails to impress: the constantly changing landscapes, diverse flora and fauna; the encounters with unique and inspiring people; the varied legends of pilgrims past and present; the countless artistic and historical treasures found at every turn; the possibility of enjoying both silence or the animation and color of a Spanish fiesta; or the knowledge that your footsteps join those of millions before you across a thousand years of European history.
We walk in the shadows of this past and seek as well to understand those created in the present on our walking tour along this great medieval pilgrimage route.

See Itineraries

COMPOSTELA TOUR: León to Santiago
Join us for this special 7-day tour starting in León and continuing through the rural Galician countryside. You will be eligible to earn the Cathedral’s certificate of completion, the Compostela, as we walk the last 100km over 5 of the 7 days.
Enjoy bucolic country lanes, enchanted forests and countless hamlets as we wend our way over the rolling hills to the ancient city of stone, Santiago de Compostela.

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GALICIA, Celtic Spain: From Sea to Mountain
Wedged in between the roaring Atlantic and the gentle eastern sierras in Iberia’s northwest corner, Galicia is a magnificent combination of rolling, irregular countryside, 750 miles of breathtaking coastline, numerous deeply penetrating fjord-like estuaries as well as mixed forests and winding rivers.
On the tour we explore the wild coastline, the sea an ever-present right hand companion, as well as Galicia’s mountain, valley and river systems with delightful walks in forests rich in flora and fauna.
We'll pass small, rustic villages, archaeological ruins and witness traces of antique ways of living and working.

See Itineraries


On this 7 day/night walking tour we roughly follow the medieval pilgrim's way from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela taking in the area's beautiful green mountain and valley landscapes as well as spending two nights on Galicia's spectacular southern coast in Baiona. We stay in three UNESCO world heritage towns - Porto, Guimaraes and Santiago de Compostela.

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BASQUE COUNTRY & PYRENEES: Europe's Oldest Culture
Straddling the gentle western Pyrenees, this region is home to Europe´s oldest living language and civilization, breathtaking coastal and low mountain trails, prehistoric remains, sensational award-winning food prepared with charateristic Basque flare and charming seaside towns and high country villages.
Also included in our itinerary is a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Learn about Basque history, culture and folklore, enjoy lush coastal and hill trails, and treat your palate to a gastronomic odyssey.

See Itineraries


PICOS DE EUROPA: Heights of Emerald Spain
Lofty green and grey, the Picos de Europa play sentinel to the Cantabrian Sea only nine miles away. Surrounded by thick stands of beech and oak, sculpted by four strong river systems and modified by hundreds of years of shepherding, the ever changing limestone Picos offer a unique environment and a wide variety of walking opportunities through lunar-like high mountains, crystalline glacial lakes, lush woodlands, winding rivers, high open pastures and alpine meadows. We’ll explore the National Park’s most stunning trails and introduce you to the shepherding traditions that have made the Picos famous worldwide for their pungent blue cheeses.

See Itineraries

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:33

Who We Are

"You have led one of, if not the, most profound experience in my life - taking me on a physical journey and also assisting, in many ways, my soul searching quest."
Dick, Compostela April 2005

Nancy and Jose - You are a "dream team." Our sincere thanks and appreciation.
Bob and Marilyn, Camino May 2015

Nancy and Jose - On Foot in Spain

Both Nancy and Jose have always held both walking and learning close to their hearts.
Nancy FreyTheir paths crossed while Nancy was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on the Camino de Santiago in the hamlet of Roncesvalles (Navarre) and Jose was just beginning a 450 mile walk across Spain.
Their paths rejoined a month later in Santiago de Compostela and since then have not diverged.

Together they co-authored the chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantabrica (Picos de Europa) and the Camino de Santiago for Lonely Planet’s Walking in Spain (1999 and 2003) and co-authored Lonely Planet's 1st edition of Walking in Scotland (2001).

Nancy and Jose started On Foot In Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures in 1999. They have three children, Jacob (8), Marina (3)and Sam (born 11/27/06), and live on the Galician coast.

Nancy L. Frey, PhD

Nancy on top of Mt. Dana, Yosemite circa 1978Nancy’s love of hiking grew from annual summer trips to Yosemite led by a Dad who always knew the name of every tree and who reveled in leading his children to inspirational points. Thus it wasn’t too surprising that when she selected her subject material for her doctoral dissertation in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) one very attractive element of it was the prospect of traversing the north of Spain on foot.

Since her first walk in 1993, Nancy has walked the Camino de Santiago numerous times and cycled it as well. In her book on the modern day journey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998), Nancy brings to life the contemporary way by discussing pilgrims' motivations, mishaps and discoveries while walking as well as providing insights into why the route is so popular today.

Nancy has also lectured for ElderHostel and Smithsonian Institution on their educational tours in Spain, Portugal and France. She has also taught a course on the Camino de Santiago at the University of Santiago and is currently researching the relationship between landscape and experience.
In her free time she enjoys reading, swimming, SCUBA diving, kayaking, tending her flower garden and cooking savory pies and tarts.

Jose Daniel Placer
Jose Daniel PlacerA native of Santiago de Compostela, Jose received his law degree from the University of Santiago and then made a 180 degree turn away from lawyering and back to his real passion: children and the outdoors.
He has taught outdoor education and coaches soccer, basketball and volleyball.
With Europe as his backyard, Jose has hiked extensively both within and beyond Spain since he was a teenager.

Despite having enjoyed the Italian Dolomites, and hiking in the Alps while studying law at the University of Passau in Germany, his favorite stomping ground continues to be Spain’s Picos de Europa.

Jose especially enjoys writing short stories, carpentry, restoring furniture, working his garden, kayaking and mountain biking.

on Foot in SpainEach time we set out on a trail we go with the idea that to walk is to learn. Slowing down to the rhythm of your feet inevitably brings more to your immediate attention and consequently allows for greater speculation and wonder.
On our journeys into northern Spain’s exceptionally beautiful back roads we want to give you the opportunity to challenge yourself physically (without overdoing) and at the same time pique your curiosity by pointing out the not so obvious as well as providing insights into the wonders of the everyday.
Art, architecture, anthropology, folklore, history, Spanish fiestas, cuisine - we interlace them all into each day of your tour. Our carefully designed walks, combining charming accommodations in rural inns, monasteries, and hotels with the finest in local cuisine, will immerse you in the riches of northern Spain’s culture life and landscapes.

Find out more about On Foot in us at

Photo credit: Katherine Peake

 Nancy and Jose's children

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:31

Reading List


To make your journey more enjoyable you may wish to read about the areas we’ll be visiting and about Spain in general. If these are not available in your local library or bookstores most are available via the internet at, Adventure Travel Bookstore (1800 282 3963 in US and Canada) or Mountaineers Books (1800 553 4453 - ). Also look for the website: for information and interesting articles on outdoor Spain.


Walking in SpainWalking in SpainWalking in Spain (Lonely Planet, 1999, 2003). Miles Roddis, Nancy Frey, Jose Placer, Matt Fletcher and John Noble.

On Foot in Spain owners, Nancy Frey and Jose Placer, have chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantábrica (Picos de Europa), the Basque Country and the Camino de Santiago. The 2003 book covers all of Spain but not the Canary Islands.

Foster, Nelson and Linda S. Cordell, ed. 1996. Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World. University pf Arizona Press. Kerper, Barrie. 2003. Northern Spain. The Collected Traveller. NY: Three Rivers Press.

A good collection of articles covering parts of Spain hard to find information about in English including Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country and Cantabria

Measures, John. 1992. Wildlife Travelling Companion: Spain. Wiltshire: Crowood Press.

A general guide on flora and fauna of Spain good if your travelling across the country but not a specialist’s guide.

Hooper, John. The New Spaniards. Penguin. 1997.

Hooper manages to provide a well-balanced accounting of Spain as it is today and why.

Lalaguna, Juan. A Traveller’s History of Spain. 1996

Excellent, compact summary of Spain’s complex history.

Crow, John A. 1985. Spain. The Root and the Flower. Berkeley : UC Press.


Barlow, John. 2008. Everything But the Squeal: A Year of Pigging Out in Northern Spain.
Barlow, a native of England, has a great time exploring Galicia’s food traditions focusing on pork with his Galician vegetarian wife. A funny read. We won’t be eating nearly as much pork as he!

Borrow, George. 1842. The Bible in Spain.

19th century English Bible salesman George Borrow relates his experiences, in an often humorous fashion, in this excellent volume on mid-19th C Spain. There are accounts of areas we’ll pass through including Finisterre.

Casas, Penelope. 1997. Spain’s Green Corner. New York Times Travel. April 27, p. 12, 29.
Good general overview of Galicia’s coastal highlights.

Frey, Nancy. 2004. Galicia. Coastal Corner. Spanish Magazine. June (Issue 5), pp. 16-25.
Now find the article HERE!
An article describing Galicia and its highlights from Nancy’s perspective as someone who has lived in the region since 1997.

Frey, Nancy. 2003. Serra do Courel: Galicia’s Wild Frontier. Originally published on

Now find the article HERE!
Here I describe the beautiful range south of the O Cebreiro pass with an emphasis on the geology, flora and fauna.

Gemie, Sharif. 2006. Galicia. Histories of Europe Series.
A good general overview of the region with a strong focus on modern history.

Kerper, Barrie. 2003. Northern Spain. The Collected Traveler. An Inspired Anthology & Travel Resource.

The author presents a very comprehensive annotated bibliography of themes not just related to northern Spain but Spain in general in addition to good selected articles about each zone of the north including Galicia.

Michener, James. 1968. Iberia. Spanish Travels and Reflections.

While everything else in the book is terribly outdated, his chapter 13 – Santiago de Compostela offers a great read with solid historical information.

Jenny Chandler and Jean Cazals. 2005. The Food of Northern Spain: Recipes from the Gastronomic Heartland of Spain.

Beautiful photography and delightful prose in this lovely book on food in northern Spain.

Rivas, Manuel. 2003. Vermeer’s Milkmaid: And Other Stories

Rivas is a contemporary Galician author who writes about his region and this is just one suggestion to introduce you to his work.

Rosalía de Castro.
Considered to be Galicia’s finest 19th C poet, her work is full of nostalgia and strong sense of landscape and place. Follas Novas(New Leaves) is a good start.

Also check out the following website which has many resources about Galicia:


Ena Alvarez, Vicente. 1996. In the Picos de Europa (Translation from Spanish). Leon: Edilesa.

General book on the Picos.

Browning, Frank. 1998. The Apple of Spain’s Eye. San Francisco Examiner. Travel Section. Sept 13, pp. T-1, T-4, T-5. Travel article on Asturian sidra



Clissold, Stephen. 1974. Saint James in Spanish History. History Today 24 (10): 684-92.
Excellent general overview of the development of the pilgrimage and cult of St James.

Coelho, Paolo. 1995. The Pilgrimage. A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom.

One of the most popular and controversial contemporary Camino books. Brasilian best-selling author, Coelho takes us on his mystical journey along the Camino in search of wisdom. He provides spiritual exercises.

Egan, Kerry. 2004. Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago. Doubleday.

Personal account written by a Harvard graduate student of theology. After her father died of diabetes she walked the Camino.

Follet, Ken. Pillars of the Earth
Masterpiece novel set in 12th C Britain during the period of transition between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Follet develops a fascinating human and historical journey that even coincides w/ the Camino.

Pilgrim StoriesFrey, Nancy. 1998. Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago. Berkeley: UC Press.
Nancy’s anthropological study on the contemporary pilgrimage which brings to life the multitude of experiences of the modern traveler along the Camino based on her hundreds of interviews with pilgrims from 1992 to 1997.

Gitlitz, David and Linda Kay Davidson. 2000. The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago. The Complete Cultural Handbook. St. Martin's.

The title says it all. The guide covers art, architecture, history, folklore, flora and fauna.

Hitt, Jack. 1994. Off the Road. NY: Simon and Schuster.

Humorous and irreverent personal account of Hitt's 1993 walk to Santiago.

Hoinacki, Lee. 1996. El Camino. University Park: Penn State Press.
Deeply felt personal account with a strong spiritual emphasis by an older man who walked to Santiago.

Jacobs, Michael. 2003. The Road to Santiago. Pallas Guides.

Architectural guide for travelers along the Camino.

Lack, Katherine. 2003. The Cockleshell Pilgrim: A Medieval Journey to Compostela.

In the late 1990s, while an English cemetery was being moved, a 14th C pilgrim was discovered buried with his scallop shell. Lack, a historian, attempts to reconstruct his journey and 14th life on the road.

Laffi, Domenico. 1997 (1681). A Journey to the West. The Diary of a Seventeenth Century Pilgrim from Bologna to Santiago de Compostela. Trans. James Hall. Leiden (Netherlands): Primavera Pers and Santiago: Xunta de Galicia.
Delightful account and translation of Laffis 17th C journey. His eye for detail leaves us with a memorable legacy and Hall has added excellent illustrations to accompany the text.

Maclaine, Shirley. 2001. The Camino. Journey of the Spirit. Atria Press.
People either love or hate this book. Maclaine walked to Santiago in I994 and then wrote about her spiritual, physical, other-worldly and celebrity experiences along the way.

Melczer, William. 1993. The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela. NY: ltalica Press.

First English translation of the 12th C pilgrimage guide Codex Calixtinus that helped popularize th pilgrimage route. His translation and first-rate historical background and extensive notes, bring to life this fascinating and invaluable document.

Michener, James. 1968. Iberia. Spanish Travels and Reflections. NY: Random House.

While everything else in the book is terribly outdated, his chapter on the Camino (Chapter 13 - Santiago de Compostela) offers a great read with solid historical information.

A food lover's pilgrimage to Santiago de CompostelaMoore, Tim. 2005. Spanish Steps. Travels with My Donkey. London: Vintage Press.
Funny account of this Englishman’s trials and tribulations walking with his donkey to Compostela.

Mullen, Robert. 2010. Call of the Camino. Myths, Legends and Pilgrim Stories on the Way to Santiago de Compostela. Findhorn Press.
Mullen blends issues of mind, body and spirit in this engaging account of his walk along the Camino.

Newman, Sharon. 1997. Strong as Death (Catherine Levendeur Mysteries). Forge Books.

Murder stalks Catherine and her husband Edgar on their 12th C journey to Compostela. She must use her wit to figure out who among the assorted traveling companions did it!

Nolan, Dee. 2010. A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Penguin
A journalist and olive oil producer Dee fulfilled a dream walking the Camino with us and then wrote this exquisitely beautiful book in which she let her heart and palate be her guide.

Nootebaum, Cees. 1997. Roads to Santiago. Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain. NY: Harcourt.

This popular Dutch writer takes you with him on his long journey through Spain to Santiago covering many, many topics.

O’Marie, Sister Carol Anne. 1993. Murder Makes a Pilgrimage. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Modern day murder mystery set on the contemporary Camino with a septuagenarian nun Sister Mary Helen as the protagonist and unlikely crime solver.

Rudolph, Conrad. 2004. Pilgrimage to the End of the World.
Very good and thoughtful, compact travel essay by an art historian who walked to Santiago.

Rupp, Joyce. 2005. Walk in a Relaxed Manner. Life Lessons from the Camino. USA: Orbis Books.
Rather than the typical diary account Joyce, a 60+ walker, focuses on the basic messages she took from the pilgrimage: Live in the Now, Listen to Your Body, Don't Give Up, Trust in a Higher Power, Humility.



Camoes, Luis Vaz de.16th C. The Lusiads. Oxford University Press.
Considered to be the greatest epic writer of his time, Camoes writes nostalgically about the age of oceanic discovery just as Portugal’s golden age was dimming.

Gomes, Tania. 2006. Flavors of Portugal. Thunder Bay Press.

Provides interesting recipes including unusual family ones in this bilingual edition.

Hermano Saraiva, Jose. 1998. A Companion History of Portugal. Carcanet Press.
Good historical overview of Portugal’s fascinating history.

Kaplan, Marion. 1998. The Portuguese: The Land and its People. Viking Press
Kaplan is a photo journalist and her writing is strongest when discussing the art and architecture.

Russell, Peter. 2001. Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ : A Life. Yale University Press.

Deals with this key figure of Portuguese history toppling many of the legends surrounding his personage and giving excellent contextual material surrounding his life and age.

Saramago, Jose

He is a Portuguese Nobel Laureate who has published many works including the non-fictional: Journey to Portugal: In Search of Portugal’s History and Culture, and the wonderful, haunting work of fiction, Blindness (Harvest Press).



Barrenechea, Teresa and Mary Goodbody. 2005. The Basque Table: Passionate Home Cooking from One of Europe’s Great Regional Cuisines. Harvard Common Press. he Lusiads.
Wonderful introduction for foodies.

Gallop, Rodney. 1970. A Book of the Basques. University of Nevada Press.

Excellent collection and analysis of Basque folklore from song to dance to witchcraft.

Kerper, Barrie. 2003. Northern Spain. The Collected Traveler. An Inspired Anthology & Travel Resource. Three Rivers Press.
Great collection of articles by well-known writers on a variety of topics covering all of northern Spain.

Kurlansky, Mark. 1999. Basque History of the World.
A very readable but incredibly biased description of the Basque people from pre-history to the present day. It can’t be taken seriously as a historical account as many of his outrageous claims are not backed up. His take on the current situation with the Basque terrorist organization ETA is misinformed and one-sided and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Laxalt, Robert and Joyce. 1999. The Land of My Fathers: A son’s return to the Basque Country. University of Nevada Press.
Memoir written by the son of a Basque immigrant who returned to visit his father’s village in Spain. Laxalt is considered to be one of Nevada’s finest writers and has written several books set in the Basque country including the award winning A Cup of Tea in Pamplona.

Sevilla, María Jose. 1990. Life and Food in the Basque Country. New Amsterdam Books.
Discover the Basque Country and its people through its food culture. Good, leisurely read.

Woodworth, Paddy. 2007. The Basque Cultural History. Signal Books.

Irishman Paddy Woodworth has been writing about the Basques for thirty years and is most well known for his take on the Basque terrorists, ETA, in his Dirty War, Clean Hands. The book provides good background information on the Basque Country in general.

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:28

Stories & Legends

How the Costa da Morte (Death Coast) Got its Name
Costa da MorteAccording to legend, Roman explorers named this coastal area Finisterrae or land's end because it appeared to to be the Peninsula's most western point. This place, where the land ends and the open sea begins, was in Roman belief the symbolic transition point between life and death, beginning and end, light and darkness. It also appears that pre-Roman (Celtic and Greek) ancestors appreciated the spectacular sunsets and the dramatic coastline as the place is also home to an ancient Ara Solis (Altar of the Sun) or sun cult.

The less romantic version of the name's origin is based on the sad fact that more than 140 ships and 500 lives have been lost on this rocky coast in less than 100 years. A gruesome, now discounted, legend of this historical version suggests that the coastal inhabitants provoked many of the shipwrecks to hijack their cargo. To lure the boats upon the dangerous rocks lights were strung on cows' horns and then the unsuspecting accomplices would be led to pasture on the hills. From the water the lights would appear to be boats sailing closer to the shore. Belieiving it safe, the ill-fated ship would then approach the coast and crash into the rocks. Another legendary method of the earth-bound pirates was to set bonfires (in imitation of the pre-electric lighthouses) along unsafe parts of the shore to bring the hapless victims to their fate in the chilly waters.

The Celtic Mount Olympus

Monte Pindo, the destination of Day 2 of the tour Galicia: From Mountain to Sea (in bold), is a sacred, mysterious mountain that has for generations inspired a rich corpus of legends in coastal Galicia. Beginning with its name, it's suggested that the mount reminded a Greek colony of merchants, established in the same area, of their own Mount Pindus. The name stuck across the centuries becoming adapted to the local language.

The Roman chroniclers, who accompanied the Legions in their colonization of the Iberian Peninsula, commented on the heroics of those in the rebellious northwest. Refuging themselves in Monte Medulio, believed by many historians to be present day Monte Pindo, against the fierce Roman barrage, the native Celtic warriors decided to commit collective suicide rathan surrender their arms.

Glacial action left behind huge granite boulders and subsequent erosion produced curiuos rocky outcroppings and formations scattered along the mount's slopes and upper pastures. Over the centuries the human imagination has seen in these strange stones animal figures, human faces and monsters. Some are even named such as the easily to identify Nose and Warrior. One section of the ascent, where these rocks are particularly abundant, is known as the Celtic Olympus. According to legend, the rocks were scuplted by Celts paying homage to their deities. Other legends and place-names indicate that Celts used specific rocks for sun and star worship or as "fertility beds". The latter were specific bed-shaped rocks that were used by infertile couples in hopes of bearing a child.

Monte Pindo also harbors the ruins of a 10th century castle and watchtower against the Viking attacks of the same period. In the 15th century the castle was destroyed by peasant uprisings. Other ruins include numerous stone shepherds’ cabins and a poor and isolated mining hut that during WWII was used to supply wolfram for the Allied and Axis powers’ war operations. During this same period, refugees from the Spanish Civil War were also said to eke out an existence in the ancient mount.

La Torre de Hércules / The Tower of Hercules
Among the numerous lighthouses that stand watch over Galicia's rough coastal waters, the most famous is the Torre de Hercules located on a lonely, rocky outcropping north of La Coruña. It’s the oldest, continuously active lighthouse in the world.
Constructed by the Romans in 2nd Century AD, its top had a platform with a larger circular steel plate. Shined to brilliant perfection, during the day the plate reflected the sun’s rays and at night it reflected the flames from a fire.
To fuel the fire a cartload of wood was pulled up daily by a pair of oxen along the great circular ramp that wrapped around the lighthouse's exterior. At the end of the 18th century, to protect the Roman structure, walls were constructed around the lighthouse giving it the altered neo-classic appearance that it has today.

The tower's fanciful legend suggests that Hercules constructed it on top of the cranium and weapons of his arch-enemy, the giant Gerion, who Hercules defeated after three days and three nights of uninterrupted battle. Gerion had raped Hercules' sister and fled the Mediterranean and the sibling's wrath. He believed he had found safety in this deserted coast at the edge of the world. After his victory, Hercules ordered the construction of a city which he named "Crunya" in honor of its first inhabitant which later became "La Coruña".

The Tale of the White Deer
Once upon a time, in the heart of the Ancares mountains lived an ancient noble with his two children. The elder, a boy named Egas, loved to hunt while his sister, the lovely Aldara, found great pleasure in taking long walks in the dense forest near the castle where they lived. One day Aldara did not return at the normal hour and her father and brother, greatly alarmed, set out to find her. After long joyless days, they sadly abandoned the search fearing that she had been victim to some treacherous bear or wolf. Several years later, while returning to the castle from a day of hunting, young Egas came upon a startlingly beautiful white deer eating by the side of a brook.
It was unique for its color, as pure as snow. Without thinking Egas took out an arrow and shot the deer which fell dead to the ground. Unable to return with the deer, he decided to cut off a hoof as a trophy and return later for the rest. Wrapping the hoof in silk and placing it in his pouch he returned to the castle. When he unwrapped the unusual prize for his father, they were both horrified to discover that instead of a hoof a delicate, feminine hand was in its place. In addition, the hand bore a ring that once belonged to the beloved Aldara. With a great sense of impending doom, the pair raced to the brook only to find Aldara’s lifeless body, dressed in white, and an arrow piercing her heart.

How the Picos Got Their Name and Asturias' Most Infamous Pirate The Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) are so named due to their altitude and proximity to the coast making them an ideal European landmark for sailors returning from the Americas.

The Cantabrian Sea, which laps the coast at the foot of the Picos, supported intense maritime activity, most importantly, fishing and commerce. According to a famous legend both maritime trade and fishing were seriously threatened during the Middle Ages by North African pirates. The most famous of all was Cambaral, the dread captain of a swift ship that terrorized the fisherman and merchants of the area.

Fed up with his villainy, a noble knight, who lived in a castle on the edge of the sea near the fishing village of Luarca, decided to put an end to his shenanigans. On an apparently defensefless merchant ship, the knight and his contingent of armed men, embarked to do battle with the pirate. During the bloody fight Cambaral was gravely wounded and taken prisoner. The Asturian knight agreed to take him to his castle and cure him for the long-awaited public trial. Unwittingly foolish, he ordered his young, beautiful daughter to cure the pirate's wounds. When Cambaral recovered consciousness he fell instantly and profoundly in love with the young woman who, during her hours of passionate nursing, had also fallen in love with the dastardly pirate. When the pirate recovered sufficiently to walk, one night they fled to the port and took a boat. Finally safe, they paused for a long, passionate kiss. Unbeknownst to them, the knight had been warned by his guards and he raced to the port where he saw the ill-fated kiss occur. Blind with rage he unsheathed his sword and with one fell swoop cut off their heads. While their bodies remained eternally entwined, their heads slowly rolled to the sea.

In Luarca today this legend actively continues in the fisherman's quarter which is called El Pirata Cambaral. Also, the Luarcan bridge, El Beso (The Kiss), remembers the spot where the embracing lovers fell to the sea.

The Spanish John Muir
Pedro PidalPedro Pidal, the Marquise de Villaviciosa, (1870-1941) is the most important figure in the history of the Picos de Europa. Conservationist and dedicated supporter of the Picos, Pidal spent his life exploring, observing and defending its thousand faces.
Ahead of his time and imitating the US system of conservation, he managed to make the Picos Spain’s first national park June 22, 1918 as a state senator. He’s also known for having initiated the history of Spanish mountaineering by being the first person to reach the summit of the Naranjo de Bulnes (2519m) August 5, 1904 accompanied by the sheperd Gregorio Pérez.
One of his favorite places in the Picos de Europa was the Mirador de Ordiales (we ascend on Day 3) and in one of his writings he expressed his wish to be buried there: "…under these humid ferns that receive the dew of the Picos and close to this rock mildewed by the cold winters, I will leave my bones to turn to dust over the centuries." His last wish became a reality eight years after his death during an emotional fall day when his many friends carried his remains to his beloved lookout.

El Rebeco/The Chamois
Due to inaccessibility and relative isolation, the Picos are in a relatively good state of preservation with thick forests and a huge variety of plant and animal species. The most representative animal of the Picos is the agile chamois, master of the rocky peaks.
Perfectly adapted to its hostile environment, some 6500 chamois leap and bound about the highest and most impossible appearing slippery slopes in constant search of green pastures.
Brown in color, they look like small goats but with a more svelte figure. The fur on their heads tends to be lighter and they appear to be wearing a mask due to swath of dark fur that extends from the ears to the snout.
Their thin, narrow horns are hook shaped. The chamois dominate the steep slopes between 1800m and 2000m and the does group with their offspring while the bucks wander solo. Natural selection controls the population: reproduction is limited to one offspring a year, the winters tend to kill off the old and sick, and predatory wolves and eagles make sure that the population is young and fit.
It’s likely that we’ll observe chamois during at least one day of our walk.

Camino de SantiagoAlong the Camino, as well as back in their home countries, pilgrims of the medieval era told and retold up and down the Camino numerous fantastic stories of miraculous cures, of pilgrims’ trials and tribulations on the way to Compostela, of superhuman saints, of the Holy Grail, of Saint James’ (Santiago’s) interventions, etc. These stories and legends have been passed down through the Camino’s long history creating a rich body of folklore. On our On Glory Roads walking tours you’ll have the chance to visit some of the places where these events allegedly occurred and hear many, many more rich versions. Here are a few examples:

How the Apostle James Got to the Far Northwest Corner of the Iberian Peninsula
James was one of the original 12 apostles and was martyred (beheaded) in 44 AD in Jerusalem. The next news that we have of James comes from a 9th century religious hermit, Pelayo. Apparently, upon searching for the source of a strange, starry light, over what is present day Compostela, he discovered the apostle’s long forgotten tomb in the dense forest. But how did James get there after being beheaded in Jerusalem? The answer leads to one of the most remarkable translation stories of the medieval ages and is best understood in the context of medieval religious belief. After James was beheaded two of his disciples gathered up his remains and placed them in a stone boat. They set sail for Hispania, where James was said to have proselytized during his lifetime, and arrived on Galicia’s Costa da Morte before sailing upstream to present day Padrón (then a Roman colony). His body was then moved inland some 20 km, buried on Mt. Libredon and then neatly forgotten before Pelayo’s fateful discovery eight centuries later. Once the presence of his remains were confirmed faith drove millions of pilgrims to undertake the long, arduous journey to Compostela.

The Hanged Innocent
"Entering Santo Domingo de la Calzada cathedral’s south door, a curious pair of live white chickens (rotated weekly) are kept in an elevated niche on the western wall. This odd custom traces back to the famed miracle of Santo Domingo. A young pilgrim, traveling with his parents to Santiago, was accused of pilfering silver from a local tavern. In reality the barmaid, her amorous advances rejected, angrily slipped the silver into his knapsack and notified the authorities. To his parents’ horror, the pilgrim was strung upon the gallows.
Praying, they continued to Santiago and returned. Surprisingly, rather than encounter his rotting body, they found him well - yet still hanging, the saint supporting his feet. They ran to the judge who, having just sat down to roast chicken, refused to be bothered. When the pilgrims insisted, the judge exclaimed that if their son were innocent the chicken would rise from his plate and crow. And they did, giving the town its motto: ‘Donde la gallina cantó después de asar’ (Where the hen crowed after roasting). It is considered good luck to find a chicken feather or to hear them crowing." (Reprinted from Walking in Spain, p. 395, author Nancy Frey).

Dog Pilgrims
"In addition to the encounters with wild dogs that some pilgrims describe are the curious accounts of ‘dog pilgrims’…When I talked to pilgrims walking with dogs I was surprised to hear that their companions were often not pets brought from home but animals who had at some point joined them on the road and then never left their side for the rest of the journey. Sometimes traveling hundreds of miles, these dogs would leave their local areas to follow a pilgrim; often their paws suffered from the uneven, stony roads, and some came into the refuges wearing bandages. The pilgrim ‘owners’ remarked with awe that the dogs would continue despite the pain. These dogs, who had perhaps been abandoned, starving or lonely before joining the way, were always docile, usually older, and extremely loyal to their new companions.

A Portuguese man recounted that on his first journey to Santiago in 1995 he was joined on afternoon outside Logroño by a large, white, female dog whom he had given something to eat. He was convinced that the dog would not make it to Santiago, but each day she rose and set off with him and his companions. On the day they reached Santiago he said he sensed that she too knew the journey had ended; after having visited the cathedral they all went to a local park, and there she lay down and died.

This pilgrim, like several others whom I met, interpreted the unanticipated relationship with a canine companion as part of the mystery of the Camino and suggested that the dogs were pilgrims in their own right. Some even suggested that they bore the souls of pilgrims who had never been able to reach Santiago." (Reprinted from Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago, pp. 108-9, by Nancy Frey).

Pilgrim’s Blessing from Roncesvalles (12th Century)
At the daily pilgrim's mass (usually 8pm) in Roncesvalles the priest reads the following blessing.

Priest: Oh God.....Be a companion for them along the path, a guide at crossroads, strength in their weariness, defense before dangers, shelter on the way, shade against heat, light in the darkness, a comforter in their discouragements, and firmness in their intentions, in order that, through your guidance, they might arrive unscathed at the end of their journey and, enriched with graces and virtues, they might return safely to their homes, which now lament their absence, filled with salutary and lasting joy....

All: Amen

Priest: May the Lord direct your steps with his approval, and be your inseparable companion on the entire camino.

All: Amen

Priest: May the Virgin Mary grant you her maternal protection, defend you in all dangers of soul and body, and may you merit to arrive safely at the end of your pilgrimage under her mantle.

All: Amen

Priest: May the Archangel Rafael accompany you on the Camino as he accompanied Tobias, and protect you from every injury and obstacle.

All: Amen


Bilbao's Coat-of-Arms
Walking the streets of Bilbao you're bound to spot one of the many representations of Bilbao's coat-of-arms. Looking closely you'll see that a large tower (bell tower of the Church of San Antón) abuts a double-arched (usually) bridge (San Antón Bridge) over a rushing body of water and, to complete the picture, two black wolves float off in the sky. These three symbols - the River, the Bridge and the Wolves - reflect the genesis and subsequent evolution of Bilbao.

Bilbao owes its development to the importance of its port and its relationship to the Nervion River. This tidal river or estuary (ría in Spanish, not to be confused with río which is river) that runs the length of the city past the Guggenheim and out to the sea permitted Bilbao and its safe inland port to become a major commercial center linking products from Castile (wool, wheat and wine) and the Basque Country (iron) to the rest of Europe.

The 15th and 16th century Church of San Antón, located on the right-hand bank of the Nervion River and adjacent to the San Antón Bridge, sits atop what once was Bilbao's great fortified alzcázar or castle (destroyed in 1366 to make way for the church) and which protected the walled medieval city. As was typical of bell towers in Europe they served the double function of ringing the hours of the day and mass for the faithful as well as making excellent watchtowers to spot potential attacks. The current double-arched stone bridge dates to 1878 and since the 14th century it has been the major artery and entry point into the city.

The two wolves owe their presence to the town's founder Diego López de Haro (son of Lope Díaz de Haro) and his family's coat-of-arms also adorned with wolves. Lope comes from the Latin lupus which means wolf and López signifies son of Lope (all 'ez' endings in Spanish family names originally meant 'son of' - eg, Fernandez - son of Fernando).

Since the 14th century the coat-of-arms has been used as a seal on all official documents as well as to adorn important public buildings such as the town hall. Enjoy looking for the numerous examples found in the city today.

The Enchanted Basque Land

Look up at the dramatic Basque peaks and you'll unwittingly gaze upon the dwelling place of Mari, the Basque Country's most powerful pre-Christian deity. Known for her quick fury and strong sense of justice, Mari's high mountain caves are said to be luxuriously adorned with golden furnishings and precious gems. It's very bad luck to enter in her caves without being invited, to sit without being asked or to turn your back upon departure. Reports of balls of fire or a brilliant chariot crossing the mountains at night are attributed to Mari moving from one of her caves to. She helps those who repeat her name three times and accepts tributes from villagers (explaining the presence of money and objects left in her caves) who pray to her to save their crops from bad weather as well as the ill-will of other deities such as the mountain-dwelling giant Maruak or Aideko who brings all manner of ruin usually with wind upon villages and villagers.

We'll be approaching two of these dwelling places on our hikes : the Aketegi cave in the Aizkorri range Aketegi and Anboto in the Urkiola range. The Dama (Lady) de Aketegi and the Dama de Anboto are the names given to Mari who dominates these dramatic ranges. Apparently belief in her was so widespread that the monks of the Arantzazu sanctuary would given special mention to her each year to prevent storms from raining down upon the Guipuzcoan fields.

It is believed that devotion to Mari continued into the 19th century and that she was an extremely powerful pre-Christian goddess who was never incorporated into the Christian host of saints and holy figures. Clandestine devotion to Mari may have been at the heart of the alleged gatherings of witches which were prosecuted with great severity from 1500 to 1700. The billy-goat, commonly associated with the Christian devil, was also apparently linked to the Mari cult as a symbol of fertility. According to Basque popular belief, a black goat was always kept in the stable to protect the other livestock from illness.

Witchcraft in the Basque Country

WitchcraftOn the Basque Country tour we visit the village of Zugarramurdi (located on the border of France and Spain in the heart of the Labourd region of the Basque Country) and the immense caverns which were the alleged site of some of the most famous gatherings of witches or akelarres in the Basque Country. The word akelarre means field of the billy-goat and comes from the caves of Zugarramurdi (Akelarrenlezea). These three enormous limestone caves are cut through the center by a river known locally as the Rio del Infierno (Hell's River). Most likely the grain of truth in the outlandish stories is that clandestine meetings took place in which pre-Christian beliefs were perpetuated in violation of Christian rules and morality. Being a threat to the established order, the Catholic Church primarily, they were weeded out in the Inquisition as a dangerous form of heresy.

In 1609 at the height of the witch hunt craze the French prosecutor Pierre de Lancre executed 600 people (mostly marginalized, poor women) in Labourd. In 1610 33 people from Zugarramurdi were tried and executed as witches.

During the 14th to 17th centuries the Basque Country and Europe at large were plagued with accusations of witchcraft, witch hunts and subsequent trials and atrocious punishments in the name of purifying the countryside of evil practices and beliefs. The belief in witches was widespread and may have been based on remnants of pre-Christian religions present in the Basque Country (and Europe as a whole) as indicated above regarding the Basque mythological figures (Mari and others). Below we've included a story which captures a number of the elements which characterized Basque witches and witchery : primarily old, ugly women with terrible powers to fly, transform themselves into animals, do evil to people and crops, worship the devil (in the form of a billy-goat) dancing around fires and participating in illicit orgies and terrible crimes (sacrifice of children).

An excellent novel (unfortunately only in Spanish) set during this period in the Basque Country which treats the clash between remnants of pagan worship and the terror of the witch hunts is Toti Martínez de Lezea's La Herbolera (2000, Ttarttlo : San Sebastian).

"When Bidabe was a young man he arranged to get married. His betrothed had the reputation of being a witch, but witch or lamiña he was determined to marry her, for he loved her dearly. One evening he went to visit his betrothed and her parents. As a present for Kattalin he took a pair of sabots nicely cut and ready to put together. He took with him the leather uppers, the straps, the little nails of yellow brass, a hammer and an awl. He stayed some time with the family and it grew late. As it was a dark night he arranged with the people of the house that he should sleep on a wooden chest and leave at dawn. So he lay down and fell into a peaceful slumber. Just about midnight he was awakened by a slight noise. He did not move, but opened his eyes ever so little and saw Kattalin approach the fireplace. The girl lifted one of the hearth-stones and took out a bowl full of something that looked like oil. With this ointment she anointed her body and forthwith disappeared up the chimney. 'Now I know the truth about Kattalin,' said Bibade to himself.
He took the same bowl and, as Kattalin had done, he greased his body and made off in the same way. Without knowing where he was going he flew through the air and came to rest in a beautiful plain, where was gathered together as fine an assembly as ever you could see. Quite a number of Bidabe's friends were there. He saw Kattalin dressed in red silk, and stayed hidden, petrified with fear. He learnt a great deal about the Witches' Sabbath and found out, for instance, what virtue there is in alder-bark, what one can do with a stick of holly-wood, and what illness can be cured with mole's blood. He learnt furthermore how a man can pass through a key-hole and how one can discover the greatest of all secrets. Who knows what things he did not so unexpectedly learn ? But Bidabe had to keep these horrible things to himself under pain of being flayed alive. The hour had now come for rendering special honours to the Chief of the Sabbath. This was a big man, black of face, with great ears like two big cabbage leaves, long teeth and a narrow forehead. All the witches of the Sabbath were obliged to kiss his hind-quarters. When Bidabe saw what manner of salute this was, he began to scratch his head. However, he did not dare hang back. So he swore an oath as big as a mountain : 'A thousand million carts full of devils can carry you off yelling before you receive this honour from me !' When it was his turn he took the awl form his pocket and .... zist ! he plunged it into the King of the Sorcerers. The black brute gave a roar which would have shaken the desert. Of a sudden all the lights went out and the witches disappeared. Bidabe found himself in a thicket of prickly bushes, in the ravine of Kakueta, and it was eighty days before he could get out. The people of the house did not worry, for they thought that he had gone to the inn to get drunk with one-eyed Gilgorri. For two months Bidabe was ill with fright. As soon as he was better he started to look for another wife. And I promise you that Marie, she whom he married, was no witch." (An excerpt from Rodney Gallop's A Book of the Basques, pp. 255-57)

Basque Games
Basque GamesThe Basques are known for their deep love of games and outdoor activities. The most popular and widely played are the numerous types of handball or pelota (Spanish) or pelote (French). The small ball (around 105 grams) has a rubber or latex core and is wrapped round with wool and cotton string and then encased in goat leather. Sewn when wet it dries to a mean tightness. This very hard ball becomes incorporated into several types of games played one-on-one or in couples: mano (handball), pala (long and short paddles), cesta punta (using a long curved basket called a chistera). Clad in red shirts and white pants the players, or pelotaris, play on a court, called a frontón, which is enclosed on three sides.
A frontón is ubiquitous in Basque communities and in villages it normally takes center stage sometimes incorporating one of the church walls into its structure. The game is intense whether it be the hand version (which leaves the hands of players deformed and "swollen to double their normal thickness") or the spectacular and potentially dangerous cesta punta in which the ball moves exceptionally fast as it is rocketed from the chistera to the wall. Popular in both the Spanish and French Basque Country it also has spread to South America and some parts of the United States, especially Florida, where it's called jai alai (an Euskera word which means happy game).

Other popular games, more like contests which take place on special occasions such as village festivals, stem from traditional activities such as log-cutting (aizkolaris - log cutters), weight-lifting of 400-lb (200kg) stones by arrijasotzaile stones, soka-tira - tug-of-war, dragging of huge stones using carts and oxen and regattas which consists of 13 rowers and one captain or caller. The regattas apparently had their origin with fisherman who would race back from the fishing grounds hoping to reach the port quickly to get the first corner on the market. The most famous of the regattas takes place in San Sebastian the first and second Sunday of September.

Published in Latest
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 19:11

The Way: A Love Letter to Spain and Galicia

Nancy Frey with Martin Sheen

Emilio Estevez's film The Way set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and starring his father Martin Sheen premiered in Santiago de Compostela on 8 November 2010. Nancy was there and met them both.

By Nancy Frey:

The Premier of The WayWhen I heard that Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Way, set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain would be premiered in Santiago de Compostela on November 8th, I was eager to go. Starring his father Martin Sheen, Estevez wrote and directed the film as well as appears in it as Sheen’s on-screen son. I knew that in 2009 they had been filming along the route and I wondered what kind of Camino film two Hollywood notables would make. I invited my friend María Santos and off we went to the elegant 19th century Teatro Principal in Santiago´s historical quarter to find out. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to see Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez walk the mini-red carpet surrounded by a sea of umbrellas as the rain accompanied their entrance.

As we sat down to wait for the movie to begin, I realized how interesting it was to have María at my side. The Camino is something that I’ve lived and breathed for the last 18 years. María, born in the US and a daughter of Galician immigrants, knows about the Camino de Santiago but has no personal experience with it herself. How different, perhaps, our perspectives would be. When the movie began to roll I was filled with emotion as I could I identify nearly every scene, landscape, historical monument and bit of Camino.

Martin SheenEstevez and Sheen’s angle was clear early on: It’s a movie of the heart from start to finish. 2010 has been my own personal year of the heart and so this tack resonated strongly with me.
Countless times over the course of this year I’ve been reminded to listen to my heart: Let the heart be your compass.
(I’ve accompanied the article with several photos from the film and post-premiere event as well as images of heart stones that Jose and I have collected over the years along the Camino de Santiago that we have in our house.)

In The Way Sheen plays Tom Avery an ophthalmologist from California who becomes an accidental pilgrim when he receives the tragic news of his son’s death on the Camino.
Estevez and Sheen take us on a gripping, epic journey in equal parts hilarious, deep, heart-wrenching and moving as we share the struggle of a father gripped with confusion and remorse to understand the tragic loss of his only son Daniel, a person he realizes he never really understood. Tom suddenly finds himself in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small village in southwest France where many pilgrims start the Camino today. Impulsively, he decides to take his son’s pack and ashes and walk the 800km across Spain making the journey that his son could not.

The Premier of The Way

The opening scenes are very moving and set the stage for the profoundly human story of how we must each fumble along to find our own way. In the movie Tom says to Daniel before he heads to the Camino, ‘I live the life I chose. Why can’t you do the same?’ Daniel responds, ‘You don’t choose your life, Dad. You live it and that’s what I’m doing.’ The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and the pilgrim the lost soul who finds his way back home by following his heart. Estevez (and Sheen through his inspired performance) makes you care about this lost soul and wonder how he will ever make it. Unlike other Catholic centers of worship where pilgrims often look for a cure of the body through faith, modern pilgrims to Santiago (most of whom would not define themselves as religiously motivated) frequently seek some kind of answer for life’s inner woes. The focus is on the power of the journey rather than simply reaching the destination. Many people find themselves doing the pilgrimage to Santiago and are not sure exactly why but somehow know that it is the right place to be. The contemporary pilgrimage to Santiago is very popular precisely because of its openness: there’s a place for everyone irrelevant of age, background, faith (or lack thereof) and motivation and it has a way of hitting each individual in just the right spot (even though what that spot might be can be quite a mystery).

One of the common sayings among pilgrims along the Camino is that ‘You can start alone but you never end alone.’ The power of community and friendship is a theme reinforced throughout the film. Tom starts very much alone but soon acquires three unlikely companions who share his journey.

Nancy and Emilio EstevezAs Estevez shared with me at the after-party, The Way is a modern-day Oz story as three flawed characters help Tom (Dorothy) find his way back home to his son, his heart and, ultimately, himself and his faith.
The movie brings vividly to life the sights, sounds (both pleasant and annoying – in addition to a great soundtrack including Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and James Taylor), color and feel of the Camino as we see the group of pilgrim friends share meals, sleep together in the pilgrims’ refuges, walk through the varied landscapes as well as have both good and bad encounters with locals and, importantly, with each other.
Despite their conflicts, and also because of them, the pilgrims are able to have unexpected moments of liberation and insight.
The Way gives us a picture of the Camino, warts and all, to show how pilgrimage is a process of trial and error, forgiveness and insight, sorrow and laughter and how pilgrims’ motivations are as varied as a rainbow from the deeply religious to personal angst to physical challenge to the apparently trivial. The characters are credible and you care what happens to them keeping you riveted until the end.

Estevez and Sheen want to show how the Camino’s magic helps to work change in pilgrims – when people leave behind their normal lives and go to the pilgrimage stripped of most of their possessions, normal stress and obligations, they connect more easily with the world (ie, self, nature, God, others, body, history, etc). Unhindered by the labels, status and titles they may have back home, when the day’s obligations are reduced to the basics (walking, eating, and finding a bed), suddenly life seems much easier. As pilgrims lighten their loads mentally, they often describe how their inner worlds also free up giving way to the possibility of greater insight and self-awareness. On the Camino people describe connecting more intensely to everything around them and inside of themselves. Making the pilgrimage to Compostela helps many people discover their own way on the Way – it can be a type of mobile therapy.

Nancy and Martin SheenAfter the premiere I asked María her general impression of the film. Overall she was very positive but was surprised at how ‘religious’ it was. I hadn’t felt the same way. Reflecting on it more, the themes of re-finding one’s faith and connecting with something spiritual are definitely present but it seemed to me part of each person’s private story and not an imposition on the audience. Also, being a religious pilgrimage in its origin, it’s inevitable that elements of the Catholic church will be woven throughout. I think I also take for granted with my years along the Camino the incredible diversity of stories and how on the Camino it is possible to be steeped in religion yet not feel religious. Yes, religion is inevitably present throughout the film but its intention is not to prosthelytize.

The moving story behind the story also involves the heart. When Emilio Estevez introduced the film to the audience he started with a quote: ‘It’s a pleasure to return from whence I came.’ He said, ‘It is the same for Martin and me. Our film is a love letter to Spain. It’s a love letter to Galicia.’ Before Martin Sheen took his stage name he was Ramón Estevez son of a Galician immigrant from Salceda near the coastal town of Pontevedra. Spain remained close to Sheen’s heart and he continued to return to his father’s native land. Seven years ago Sheen invited his family to tour Spain with him. They ended up doing their own road trip of the Camino as they crossed the north of Spain to Galicia. This journey and Sheen’s own faith eventually led them to make their own film about the pilgrimage way and transform it into a tribute to the land of their ancestors. The film is dedicated to Martin Sheen’s father.

The WayAnyone who intimately knows the Camino will find a number of odd edits of landscapes. Emilio Estevez explained to me after the premiere that his original movie was 3.5 hours long and he was required to do some creative editing. This is inconsequential to the overall feeling of the film as the scenes selected are visually rich and conjure the depth of beauty of Spain in its many facets (and at its best). They did skip the sections where pilgrims must walk along roadways or wait in lines at refuges but one would expect that type of poetic license. Also, the pilgrims themselves remain remarkably immaculate during much of their pilgrimage, they don’t seem to have any physical problems and Tom tends to charge through the whole Camino with great determination and vitality. I would have softened his pace as his character softens and evolves over the course of the journey. The development and transformation of Sheen’s character is particularly good. We see how the others are deeply touched by the Camino but I did wonder how the experience would stay with them over time. Of course, this a major interest of my own (How does the journey impact people in the long-term, if at all?) as I explored in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.

These are minor complaints as The Way manages to touch on and give accurate and colorful insight into a wide ranging mix of Spanish (eg, regional differences and Gypsy stereotypes) and Camino culture. There are several scenes that poke fun at Americans and there is an especially funny moment when two characters debate about the proper word to use for Spanish finger foods – tapas or pinchos – in northern Spain that brought the house down in the predominantly Spanish-speaking audience in Santiago.

The film also wrestles with one of my favorite Camino topics: authenticity. One night around the fire the pilgrims debate about the nature of the ´true/authentic’ pilgrim. One side claims that real pilgrims only walk and must suffer as they did in the medieval past. Another pilgrim points out the hypocrisy in this idea of modern self-styled suffering pilgrims who travel with plenty of comforts (eg, cell phones, credit cards and waterproof shoes) unknown in the past. It’s not how you do the pilgrimage that’s important but how you carry it in your heart. Walking with your own pack is one way to do the Camino but it’s not the only way. Everyone must find their own Camino. That’s one of the central messages of the film: Nunca es demasiado tarde para encontrar el Camino. It’s never too late to find the Way/way. There’s no formula to be a ‘real/authentic’ pilgrim. It’s a real shame how many, many people today see the Camino as a competition of who is a better (ie,imagined ‘authentic’) pilgrim and get very snooty about where they started, where they stayed and didn’t stay, how far they’ve walked, how many times they’ve done it, etc as if that were the point of the Camino. What a sad outcome of a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Authenticity comes from within and isn’t found by following some unwritten code of oughts and shoulds and trying to impose it on others. Live your own life. Live your own pilgrimage. Follow your own heart. Walk your own Camino (and stay clear of anybody who tries to tell you there is a right way)!

Nancy Frey

***I’d like to thank my dear friend María Santos for accompanying me to the premiere and the post-premiere cocktail where we met the remarkably gracious Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.

***For more information on the film, see the official The Way-The Movie website:

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