Thursday, February 10, 2011

Search and Rescue Helicopter Lifts Lost Pilgrims to Safety

Catherine, thankful for a rescue from the swollen
Rio Valdearas, decides to end her pilgrimage
on a high note.
By the time we realized Catherine and Connie were gone it was late into the evening. We sent a delegation to the Viana police to report them missing, but had little hope they'd turn up that night. As we heard other pilgrims describe the cloudburst we realized the downpour had been bigger than we'd thought. Apparently several pilgrims had been swept away in the rivers of rain and hail that filled the streets of Viana.

The next morning we packed up to head toward Logroño and, at the banks of the Rio Valdearas we watched as Connie, then Catherine were airlifted from an island in the swollen river. They both appeared happy, serene even. We shouted and waved to get their attention, but the noise of the helicopter was too loud and soon they were whisked off, over the horizon, to a local hospital.

We learned later that the fast waters coming off the hill in Viana had caught them, forcing them downhill and ultimately into the river. They'd spent the night on the island along with three French pilgrims who knew little English, but they shared French PowerBars for sustenance and, when they were spotted in the morning, a British pilgrim named Covey called for Search and Rescue. Later that night we had an e-mail from Connie, apologizing for a change of plans for the two, who had decided at the hospital that the walking, blisters, bunk beds, and occasional helicopter rescue didn't fit their idea of a vacation. Bye, Connie! Bye-bye, Catherine!
Lovely Logroño, capital of Spanish wine country
and our overnight after the heroic rescue.

We remaining pilgrims decided to walk a short day, with plans to challenge ourselves only with the 8 kms to Logroño, one of the great pilgrim towns of the Camino. As we crossed the Rio Valdearas we entered the autonomous region of La Rioja, Spain's internationally-famous wine country. We'd seen vineyards for many miles, but we realized now we had entered the heart of it all. We walked past the ruins of prehistoric city of Cantabria, then walked on asphalt path and back alleys to a beloved pilgrim rest stop -- the home of Feliza. For many years Feliza's aunt, also called Feliza, has welcomed pilgrims into her home and offered the hospitality of toast, jam, cafe, and fruit for an offering of a few coins each. We shared in her hospitality, had our credentiales stamped, then headed across the new bridge into the vibrant city of Logroño.

The original Feliza, shown here in 2008. Thanks, Cariña,
for your care of 1000s of pilgrims over the years.
This city of 130,000 is like a classy, Spanish version of Bellingham, Washington. The university brings a youthful vibe, the historic architecture brings a medieval feeling, and the Iglesia de Santiago marks it as a portion of Camino history. We noticed the statue of Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-slayer) at Iglesia Santiago, reminding us of the story of Santiago's heroic and miraculous rout of the Moors in a nearby battle some 1,000 years after his death. 

We caught dinner at the Plaza Mercado and then retired for the night at the municipal albergue -- after prayers of thanksgiving for the rescue of our friends, of course.

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