A Traveler's Highway to Heaven: Exploring the History and Culture of Northern Spain on El Camino de Santiago

A Traveler's Highway to Heaven: Exploring the History and Culture of Northern Spain on El Camino de Santiago

by William J. Bonville



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A Traveler's Highway to Heaven: Exploring the History and Culture of Northern Spain on El Camino de Santiago by William J. Bonville

"A Traveler's Highway to Heaven" adds historical and cultural meat to the bones of the hiker's happily convivial El Camino experience. Of even more import, the book enables that experience for the traveler who yearns to course El Camino de Santiago but is physically incapable of handling the rigors of walking the eight hundred kilometers of the Way. For others, it turns a touristy lark between the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and encountering St. James at Master Mateo's Portico de la Gloria, into a sharing of the "after El Camino experience" that the hiker cum pilgrim generally claims all for himself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780744320824
Publisher: SynergEbooks
Publication date: 08/02/2013
Pages: 392
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Bill Bonville has written a host of books, most of them technical, produced during his years in the aerospace industry. His publications for the "trade" include works of fiction, philosophical analysis and, since retirement to his farm in Oregon, a series of travel books which he chooses to think of as "history on the hoof." They spring from his fascination with things historical and his experience as a traveler with an eye for history.

Bill began his writing career in the U. S. Navy at the end of World War II after his bombing squadron was decommissioned. Serving as a correspondent with Naval Air Transport Service Squadron VR-4, his first by-line was on a feature story in the NATS Packet magazine in 1946. Fifty years later, one of his more recent bylines came on an article in Conservative Consensus, sharing the masthead list of contributors with Pat Buchanan and others.

During the intervening half century, he received a BA in journalism from Bethany College, Bethany, WV, an MA in philosophy from Columbia University in New York City, was a reporter or the Worcester (MA) Telegram, and later worked as a "stringer" for the Denver Post while attending Colorado University engaged in further graduate study. In 1954, Bill left the university to become editor of the former Gallup, NM, Times. A year later he went to Los Angeles to become a technical editor for an aerospace company. In 1956, Bill moved to Aerojet General Corporation, Azusa, CA, where he worked for twenty five years, advancing to Manager of Technical Documentation and Training.

During his years with Aerojet, he authored many technical books, research reports, and training manuals.

Bill is married, with grown children, and active in community affairs, serving nine years on the county Board of Education.

Read an Excerpt


This book is intended for travelers with a taste for history and an interest in how the things they see got to be the way they are.

What it is about is an exploration of what some call the Highway to Heaven.

These pages describe a motor-walking junket that courses that highway through Northern Spain, end to end.

I call it history on the hoof.

The itinerary is designed for the time-limited working person taking a three-week vacation using a rental car and shank's mare. It is intended to make the most of a unique vacation opportunity, and treats time, historical import and see-worthiness as the principal factors for making decisions on where to go and what to see.

The author went there, did that and came home, just as described, verifying it could be done as advertised. Moreover, he had a wife with him who made sure it was done enjoyably without hectic dashing around and sacrifice of creature comforts.

A detailed itinerary, to be used as a model for your personal planning purposes, is presented at the back of the book. That itinerary follows the travel sequence covered in the pages which follow.

Would a longer trip be worthwhile? Are there other things to see?

You bet.

Can you modify that itinerary to suit your own taste?

Be my guest. It also adapts to the needs and whims of free spenders or folks on a budget. Back pack it or make it a grand tour.

Can it be adapted for someone only able to allow two weeks for the trip? Certainly, better just two weeks than nothing at all. Simply review the book, decide what you think is appropriate to skip or cut short, and plan accordingly. Suggestions are given atthe end of the listed itinerary.

Been there and done that?

Read on and find out what you missed seeing or knowing about what you saw.

Finally, since this history deals with a cultural milieu unfamiliar for many travelers, a glossary is also appended to the book to clarify repetitive uses of terminology peculiar to the region and its history. The glossary provides brief summaries of more detailed descriptions provided but once in the text where applicable, and not repeated where the terms are used elsewhere.

* * * *
A Traveler's Highway to Heaven

Our destination is set in Northern Spain. There we travel a very special route: the historic pilgrimage road, El Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James.

For the faithful it is a Highway to Heaven. For anyone else it is a fascinating junket through a region awesome not only in its extremes of topography and climate, but also for its people. Their history and its physical record is the mirror of their land. Awesome.

Yes, the land and its people.

Northern Spain is turned sparkling green by moist Atlantic air currents that leave its mountains awash in violent storms. Down between the stolid, gray peaks are a host of narrow, intimate valleys made lush and fertile from the runoff. The tallest mounts rise above 3000 meters. Their verdant timbered flanks and towering crags sustain a wild remoteness, replete with packs of wolves and companion wild things that most of Europe has not seen since the Middle Ages.

This rugged, unforgiving land has been home since pre-history for clans of tough, independent-minded Celts, Iberians and Vascons (Basques). These feisty peoples and their mountains made Northern Spain the last frontier for every alien civilization that came to invade and dominate the Iberian Peninsula, whether Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Vandal, Goth or Arab. Only the Romans were able to conquer and marginally pacify these mountain folk.

Although the Romans ruled Spain for half a millennium, the region never was more than superficially Romanized. Even today the region retains its frontier flavor and in the hinterlands its people maintain traditions and ways of life that predate the coming of the Caesars. Nor have their sentiments for independent thinking been dulled. Northern Spain remains a perennial thorn in the side of the central government in Madrid.

The history of these people is even more interesting than their mountains. After more than a thousand years fending off invasions from Southern Spain, these northern peoples burst down from their mountain strongholds and turned history upside down. They conquered the south during a centuries-long duel with the armies of Islam. More than achieving mere victory, they created a nation, Spain, where none had been before. They carried down from their mountains the core of a new culture and the seeds for a new language, plus a brooding, fatalistic, aggressive spirit that became forever imprinted upon the Spanish national character.

That psychic gift to generations of Spaniards is what Jung called a collective unconscious, though here it assumes a narrower, almost tribal character. History buffs will remember that for a while during later centuries, that dour, doggedly aggressive psychic heritage made the Spanish nation the Western superpower, dominating Europe and the world. What else could explain the victories of Cortez in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, and Alfonso in Italy?

These are the Spanish roots. They spring from a psychic character born of endless battle against the adversities of a harsh environment and centuries of life or death defense of their beleaguered mountain retreats, fending off a succession of foreign invaders. For these mountain folk it was a millennium-long experience of "enslave or be enslaved, kill or be killed, destroy or be destroyed." Cruelty was as natural as loving kindness and all was fair in war against stubborn adversaries who possessed every advantage given by superior numbers, wealth and armaments.

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