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Peregrinating In Italy

We decided not to walk the second week of the European Peace Walk and took a bus to Trieste, Italy. Our hostel is along the coast headed out of the city.

We visited this Slovenian park yesterday, walking the four mile round trip from our hostel in Bled.

We had already walked the 4 mile circumference of Lake Bled and climbed up to this castle. So we aren’t slackers. We found this fabulous church on our way back to Bled. The steeple is a stunning dark red, but it was difficult to get a photo. The painting over the altar is John baptizing Jesus. We met two guys who caught this huge carp in the lake. It must weigh between 50-100 pounds. With the gear they had, this was what they were fishing for. The weather was rainy all of our time in Slovenia and we are moving to the better forecast for Italy. Tomorrow we start a walk across northern Italy called Via Postumia, a recently revived Camino trail. We were excited to find a Camino marker! This shell actually marks Via Flavia, which connects with our trail. This Camino is in its infancy and it requires more planning as we go. We have found the next two nights lodging at €20 each per night.

We are aiming for Venice.

Slack packing in Slovenia

Walked 12 miles in the rain. We are still in Croatia but will be in Slovenia tomorrow and I liked the title. Our packs went by hired car with two not-walking Peace Walkers. My left foot plantar fasciitis went away but it started on my right. When I got up Sunday I knew I couldn’t walk. I asked for a ride to the next place and the owners son Nevin was tagged with the job. They all insisted on coffee first and it turned out that Nevin earns a PhD in physical therapy in the fall. He explained the treatment, the stretches, the use of a therapy ball, all in great detail. The next morning I was far better. Today we walked from 7:00 am to 1:30 pm to reach the bail-out point at the Holy Mary Pub, 20 km down the trail. We had walked up and down roads and through waist-high grass up and down hills in steady rain. We ended up drinking beer with a bunch of local guys while we waited for a ride. Pan is a local lager I really like. Communication is difficult but beer is a universal language. Now we are staying in a 450 year old house with a grand piano in the sleeping room. Dinner was fabulous! We ate it all.

This country is quite beautiful and rural. The language is incomprehensible to us but the people are great.

Napping in Croatia.

We took a nap this afternoon on the trail. Very nice! We stopped at a grocery store which sells beer, the village people were drinking beer on the steps and tractors parked nearby and so on. They bought us round two! I’m on mineral water at present instead of beer. And working hard at staying hydrated. It would have been a great photo but I didn’t get it. These farmers were planting celery.

A lot of the walking was on this road. And, a lot was like this. Tonight we are in this nice space: €15 plus €10 for dinner. I was sick last night and don’t have much of an appetite, so I just sampled. It was great! Tomorrow is Krapina, a hard day’s walk. Only three days down and I have already had many amazing experiences. My traveling companions are fabulous. Two weeks to Trieste!

Lost in Slovenia

I started the European Peace Walk this morning from Lenti, Hungary. Within a couple of hours we were lost. The trail guide can be difficult and doesn’t always match up with the red arrows, when there are arrows. A sit-down packs-off confab with the guide,, and a compass resolved it and we got back on track. (Note: we also got lost in Hungary and Croatia.)

The night before we bathed in the thermal baths and had a fabulous dinner. Then breakfast at the classy, small, friendly Hotel Denis in Lintl got us off to a good start.

My companions are Tyler (Eugene Oregon) and Michelle (Calgary Alberta). We all met on the Le Puy Camino in France last fall.

We had this traditional Slovenian fry bread for lunch with a glass of local Chardonnay. The bread is topped with garlic &butter and pumpkin oil & cheese. I got a history lesson from the cookWe walked right along the Hungarian/Slovenian border. The scenery was continuously beautiful.

Go Big or Go Home

I’ve started training for my next walk – here’s the plan: Fly to Vienna on May 18, then start the European Peace Walk at Lindl, Hungary (south of Budapest) on the 22nd. It is about 2 weeks, 330 kilometers, and ends in Trieste on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Then walk to Venice, about another week. I’m doing this part with trail friends I met in Portugal and France last year. And I’ll make new trail friends.

Then, fly to the port city of A Coruna in northwestern Spain, and walk the Camino Ingles, the traditional route for English pilgrims to get to Santiago de Compostella.  That walk is only 3-5 days (depending on the route I take).  Then meet up with Kay and walk the Santiago -Muxia – Finisterre camino triangle, another week or more. Kay will have just completed the Camino Francais, solo (800 kilometers).

My friend Patricia leaves tomorrow for St Jean Pied de Port in southern France to start her Camino Francais walk, 800 kilometers to Santiago. I have helped her understand the process, make the plans, and provided encouragement; the motivation is all hers.

Patricia is 81 years old and plenty capable of the walk. My only real concern was in her actually getting to St Jean; once there, she will be in the “Camino pipeline.” I’ve convinced her that sometimes she might take a bus or a taxi and that she will always be willing to ask for help when needed. My old navigator from 40 years ago, Tom (California), is starting today from St Jean. One of my friends from Air Force pilot training 45 years ago will be walking it with his wife in a few months.

From the excellent story, “Ego Trip, 40 Days and 40 Nights on the Camino de Santiago” by Paul Granaghan:

I had no doubt when I decided to leave my job: time really is short when compared to death, and once gone it will not come back. You can spend money, waste it, you can give it away; yet there is always the possibility of getting it back again, by fair means or foul. But time is a one way system; it radiates from you like body heat, taking with it your youth, your ambition, your stamina, your courage, and for some it will take with it your mind, your memories, and your dignity as it goes. The time of your life is all you have, and it is not paused when you are at work, or stuck in a queue, or sitting in front of the TV, or hungover, or listless, or at a loose end. Without speeding up or slowing down, it goes, goes, goes. So, if not now, when? I’ve saved enough and have no debts, not even a credit card.  What’s the alternative?

Irish writers! Sigh. I’m not wealthy or high income or rich, and neither is Pat or Tom or most of the people I’ve met on the trail. I’m not in the best of shape, just good enough. My friends think this is something big, and maybe it is.  But is also something most of my friends could do.


Pat and I at a coffee shop talking about her pending Camino. Pat is Going Big.




F-e-e-e-e-e-l-ing It: on the Trail to Civil Rights

My friend Robert Schwarz has written about his experience as a draftee in combat in Vietnam during 1968-69. When we talk about writing, he says, “You’ve got to make them f-e-e-e-e-e-l it!” And he does, in a very visceral way. I thought I knew about the Civil Rights Movement – I knew some of the story, I had an idea what life had been like for formerly enslaved black people in the South.  I knew the story in a big-picture, intellectual way.  Last week I experienced the story in a much more visceral way.

Edmund Pettis Bridge Selma

Edmuind Pettus Bridge Selma

I went to Selma, Alabama, to the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a museum tells and shows the story of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, a group of 600 unarmed people committed to non-violent protest started on a march of just over 50 miles to the Governor’s Office in Montgomery, intending to ask Governor Wallace to let blacks to register to vote.  They were met by about 120 state police and sheriff deputies, some on horseback, who beat them with clubs and attacked them with tear gas. March organizer Amelia Boynton Robinson, 54 years old, was beaten unconscious by the law enforcement officers.  Fifty-six required treatment and 20 were admitted to the one hospital which would treat blacks.. They went back, prepared for another beating. The march eventually happened, but not until the Federal Government intervened. The cover photo is moments before the beatings began. The power of the press was the catalyst to making this an international issue that had to be reckoned with.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Southern Poverty Law Center

I went to Montgomery, where I visited the Southern Poverty Law Center. I learned the stories of 40 people who were murdered, often with tacit approval of or by law enforcement officers, because they were pursuing the right for black people in the south to vote. Some of those murdered were children, and many others were killed for being black. Each murder victim in this place has a picture and a story.

A short distance away was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Peace and Justice Center

National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama

This story was also hard to take: I learned about lynching of black men, women, and children around the country. They have documented 4,500 cases of lynching, generally conducted with little provocation, often preceded with torture and beatings, and many times with the knowledge or assistance of law enforcement officers. Few cases were investigated by the law or the courts. The Elaine (Arkansas) massacre of 229 men, women, and children was just 100 years ago and is highlighted on this column in the exhibit, one of hundreds of columns resembling a person hanging.

Peace and Justice Center

National Memorial for Peace and Justice, where hanging columns represents lynching victims.

To say this is sobering is an understatement.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

In 1965, two days in a row, thousands of children marched from the Kelly Ingram Park through the business district in non-violent  protest. They were met by policemen with attack dogs and firefighters with powerful high pressure water.  2500 were arrested and taken to jail, some as young as 6 years old.


Suffragettes pictured in Nashville, Kentucky

Suffragettes pictured in Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee

In 1920, a handful of women led a movement that convinced a nation that women should have the right to vote. The final ratification of the 19th Amendment came after Tennessee’s approval in Nashville. One of these women spent five nights in jail in Washington DC for protesting in front of the White House.

Many people have suffered and died to secure the right to vote.

Civil Rights organizers and protesters exhibited great courage, knowing that there was a likelihood of savage beatings at the least. Many were killed.

Civil Rights organizers operated out of churches, and many of the movement’s leaders were pastors. Rev King asked white pastors to support the movement. They remained silent. The Texas Legislature recently enacted voter suppression legislation – they say its about preventing voter fraud, which is almost non-existent. It is voter suppression, and the Supreme Court rejected much of it. I have not yet heard a word of protest from the Christian church.

Alabama has changed, but you don’t have to listen to the news long to know that white supremacy is just below the surface in this country. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis at the age of 39. His non-violent approach to civil rights was so effective that he couldn’t be allowed to continue.

Americans still suffer the aftereffects of slavery.  About 12,000,000 Africans (2,000,000 did not survive the voyage) were kidnapped to be enslaved in the western hemisphere. The sole reason for this was the pursuit of wealth at the expense of others. The Civil War came about because wealthy plantation owners stood to lose money over the coming emancipation. We are not over that yet, especially the southern states. Texas seceded to maintain slavery; if you are not sure about that, read the document.

The battle at Shiloh started here.

I visited Vicksburg, Stones River, and Shiloh, places where unbelievable slaughter of American men took place. The battle at Shiloh (Tennessee) began at this spot, when a Federal scouting party ran across Confederate pickets before sunrise. There were over 23,000 casualties in two days, 500,000 total during the war. All this because of a political disagreement.

Ida B Wells

Ida B Wells, Peace and Justice Center.

If you don’t understand why some black football players refuse to stand or take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, you aren’t paying attention. It has nothing whatever to do with veterans or service in the military, that is absolute BS. The killings and mass incarceration of black men haven’t stopped. The Germans may have the Holocaust, but we have slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, and systematic denial of human and civil rights. America has a problem with terrorism, and its not coming from Muslims, its coming from us.  White supremacy isn’t a silly idea from the rural south, it is pure evil. If you aren’t sure about this, go to Selma. Go to Montgomery. Go to Birmingham. Go to Little Rock. See the places, hear the story. It is real. They’ll make you f-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-l it.

Lorraine Hotel, Memphis

Lorraine Hotel, Memphis, now the National Civil Rights Museum

Listen to the short speech Martin Luther King gave shortly before he was assassinated on that balcony.


The Desert Rats

Chihuahua Desert View

I just returned from a four-day trip into the Chihuahuan Desert just across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park. This is my fourth such Christmas trip, taking gifts and a fiesta to the people of the village of San Vicente, Mexico. The program is facilitated by Mision de Candelilla, and gifts are from the families of the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church to the families of San Vicente, all 36 of them, personalized, many from the same families for the 10 year history of this program.  The fiesta is simple: baked beans and fruit and bread and hot chocolate and cookies. Here are some pictorial observations.

Unmarked Grave in La Union, Mexico

Unmarked Grave in La Union, Mexico

These people are descended from both Hispanic and Indian ancestors. Life here is hard. The person buried in this grave appears to be forgotten. The grave is shallow because the rocky ground is very hard to dig.

Indian Woman in San Vicente

Indian Woman in San Vicente

This woman has a prayer shawl knitted by Methodist women in Fredericksburg.

Lilly, and 11 year old from Texas

Lilly, an 11 year old from Texas

Indian Girl

Indian Girl

These two girls, one born on the south side of the nearby river and the other on the north, have very different lives; Lilly was fun to get to know; while I never spoke to the Indian girl, I wish I could communicate in her langage (Spanish) so I could find out more about her life.

Prayer Circle

Prayer Circle or Family Reunion?

A local pastor, Bucho, opens the fiesta with a group prayer. This is more than a Christian tradition, it is a family reunion of the 36 families in the village, who are only all gathered once a year for this event. Most of the people in this village share the Brito name.

Mision de Candelilla team members gather at the river

Mision de Candelilla team members gather at the river

Exploring is part of the fun this group of veteran MDC volunteers has on their trips to Mexico. The other side of the river is Big Bend National Park. These are the fun people!

Volunteers make this mission happen

Volunteers Make This Mission Happen

Hutch is a long time participant in this mission. The drive is 13 hours, there are only outhouses and a single water spigot for plumbing, there is no electricity, and less heat. You can see from his smile what he thinks about it all.

Exploring the Desert

Exploring the Desert

Katherine and Cathy are long time MDC volunteers and love exploring the desert. These two kids had a blast, learning about plants and picking up rocks. Yes, it is very cold and windy.

Fredericksburg Students

Fredericksburg students and their adult “supervisors”

While we were at San Vicente, this group was at a number of other villages with a similar program, headquartered in the village of La Union. Listening to their evening “sharing time” by lantern light was an emotional experience for all, adults and kids alike. As they say, the mission is Changing lives on both sides of the border.  This trip isn’t about the stuff being gifted, its about a relationship between people from Texas and Mexico.

The core work of MDC since 1986 has been providing medical care by volunteer medical professionals and able assistants for 9 villages along the Rio Grande, twice  per village each year. Medical trips are much different than these Christmas trips and are in the spring and fall. Volunteers pay a fee to participate, but most expenses are borne by the mission. If you are looking for adventure, check out their trip schedule. I wrote about this trip for Texas Hill a couple of years ago. The Desert Rats always need volunteers




Nose to the Grindstone

I returned from France just in time to get very busy. All I have left from Via Podiensis are the usual momentos: a credential with stamps, a well worn guidebook, and this beret.

And friends. Lots of friends. Some of those friends will be forming another family in Austria on May 22, when we start down the trail on the European Peace Walk. The EPW ends in Trieste, Italy, but I’m planning to walk at least to Venice. I hear you can kayak the canals.

Le Gite

I’ve stayed in about two dozen different gites now on this walk in France, and those experiences have defined the journey. In this photo, Patrick is dishing up soup to guests at his dining room table.

This gite is Ferm de la Basssyad, between Lauzerte and Moissac. Patrick and his wife are farmers, producing pork, grapes, milk from cows and sheep, and apples. The place is authentic country: a ramshackle collection of buildings and barns without any decoration and barely functional plumbing.

These French and German pilgrims and I shared the table with Patrick, Claudette, her mother, and their daughter. Everything served with very few exceptions was from their farm. Dinner is at 8 (every other was at 7) because the work on the farm isn’t done until then.

They served homemade pumpkin & vegetable soup, pork in gravy over noodles, and apple crumble. All home made, all fabulous.

Nothing fancy, Claudette hosts about 400 pilgrims a year and treats all as family. Another extraordinary experience! And the soup- amazing.

Problems, Solutions, and Things I’m Trying Not To Worry About

Bruce wrote me to say it was time for me to come home. So now I’m trying to focus on making a 7 am flight next Tuesday. Solution: I booked a bed near the airport via AirBnb and my host says not to worry about, they will get me there.

This morning I looked at the soles of my boots and discovered I’ve worn through the sole at the heels. Will they make another 60 kilometers? Solution: my Chaco sandals will be a suitable backup.

I have little food with me. Will I be able to get lunch? Open grocery stores and restaurants are rare out here. Solution: this place showed up at noon, and I had a fizzy water and the best sandwich I’ve had in France. The owner was a hoot.

Am I going to drag ass this afternoon? It’s a 24 kilometer day! Solution: I met Bernardo at the store and talked with him for all 9 kilometers remaining. He is a German internal medicine doctor and we had a great conversation. He has gone on another 10 kilometers.

Am I going to find a bed? The first gite I checked in this village was full. Solution: I asked the lady I got a Perrier water from, and she referred me to this sweet place. And they serve dinner!

When worries pop up, I think of this sign, and stop worrying.