Day 17 – To Villafranca Montes de Oca

Belorado to Villafranca Montes de Oca – 14 Kms 18,427 steps

This post is coming to you a day late because the awful WordPress app I use deleted the post just as I was about to publish it, and I was too disgusted to re-do it yesterday.

The Belorado town administrators have gone to great lengths to make their town a pilgrim-friendly place. Which makes it sad that there are so few open restaurants and bars to feed the pilgrims.

Many Belorado houses have family crests on display
Whole buildings have become works of art

I left town right at dawn, with a group of pilgrims, and headed for my next stop.

Another beautiful Spanish dawn

The ever-popular thistle and wild blackberries

A new crop: plums

As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m passing huge numbers of sunflowers. Another pilgrim told me that the reason there are so many is the war in Ukraine. Spanish farmers usually “rest” some of their sunflower fields every tenth year, but due to the war and the subsequent crop damage in Ukraine, all Spanish fields have been planted, to meet demand.

Filling a Ukrainian shortage

The day passed with beautiful vistas and some difficult ascents and descents. On one particularly long and steep descent, I thought, “boy, I wouldn’t want to be coming up this path”. Later at my albergue, I met two women who were doing the Camino backwards and asked me about the path I’d walked today (which they would walk, in reverse, tomorrow). I sugar-coated it a little for them but, man, they were in for a hard day.

Rolling hills under beautiful skies

I’ve been lucky to walk and hang out with two nice women, Wendy and Grace, from Wollongong, Australia for the last week or so. Our stopping points and even lodgings have been the same; a Camino coincidence.

Grace models her leather Camino hat

Tomorrow I have a longer walk to Atapuerca, a place where ancient cave paintings indicate human activity as long ago as 1.5 million years. Sadly, the caves are not near the town and so I won’t be visiting them.

Day 16 – To Belorado

Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado – 22 Kms, 31,208 steps

Just follow the yellow paver road

Leaving town this morning was easy, just follow the nice pavement markers and yellow paving stones. Rumors of a rainy start proved to be wrong; it was cool and breezy, very nice walking weather. The path surface today was finer gravel and crushed bluestone, a terrific improvement over yesterday’s bruising rocks.

An hour and half after leaving Santo Domingo, I crossed the border from the La Rioja region into Castilla and Leon, which is the largest autonomous region in Spain. A lot of the rest of my walk will be spent in the provinces of this region.

Nice Camino waymarking in this region

I remembered several of the small towns I passed through this morning from my 2019 Camino. I wondered what my friend “Claude from Canada”, who walked this area with me then, is doing these days.

The landscape is dominated by wheat and oat fields

I had one of those fun “Camino Magic” moments this morning. I was walking past acres and acres of sunflowers and decided I should take a picture. Just as I got my iPhone out, I pulled abreast of the perfect happy sunflower:

It was just there, I didn’t do it

There’s a big new roadway going into the area I was walking through and, at one point, there was a monster construction equipment traffic jam, on the Camino, that I had to wend my way through.

As you know by now, we pilgrims follow the “yellow arrow” waymarking closely. Official Camino signage now incorporates the arrow, as we’ve seen. However, some businesses have “hijacked” the arrow to solicit customers and I’ve seen pilgrims go astray as a result. For example:

You’ll notice that there’s also a small official sign next to the Bar-Restaurant sign, but it’s easy to overlook.

The second half of my walk today, about 11 Kms, was into a 20-30 mph wind. Boy, that is fatiguing. God help you if your hiking hat doesn’t have a chin strap. I was really pleased to get into the Belorado suburbs at last and out of the wind.

I remember Belorado from 2019: the “siesta” effect is really bad here, to the extent that all you can get to eat up until mid-afternoon is whatever tapas (made early that morning) are left and nothing at all from 3:00 or 4:00 until 7:00. And, there are not that many bars, cafes, or grocery stores to begin with. Long and short of it, I’ve had nothing to eat since 11:00 and I’m hungry.

Tomorrow, I have a shorter walk of about 12 Kms to Villafranca Montes de Oca, where I’m staying in a nice hotel with a good restaurant and a great breakfast buffet. Yum.

Day 15 – To Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada – 21 Kms, 30,707 steps

Today’s walk was thankfully without any rain. In fact, it was cloudy and cool with a nice breeze, which would have made the 21 Kms easy. However, most of the the walk was spent on very rocky farm roads that were hard on the feet.

Najera made it easy to get out of town
A new crop joined the hay, grapes, and olives along the way

Do you remember the picture I posted of the “Santiago 790” roadsign in Roncesvalles on Day 2? Today I passed this helpful marker; only 581 Kms to go!

As the extended line of pilgrims stretched out across the fields today, I thought of those visible backpacks as sails on the sea, or Conestoga wagons in the American Great Plains. You can see them bobbing along, marking the path, even at great distances.

Zoom in to see the pilgrims in the distance
The clouds occasionally produced some nice effects

Did you ever wonder about someone’s behavior and hope that’s never YOU? Several times now I’ve seen older men (50+) walking with younger women (20s), clearly not related, and the old guy is pontificating about whatever. Non-stop blab, blab, blab, and she says nada. I wonder, what is this? Why is she walking with this guy? Is it better than walking alone? Safer? It could be nothing, except the guy is sort of taking a flirtatious Daddy role – kind of icky. Today, I followed one of these pairs and when we got to town, the girl separated herself, just to get away from him, making a fake turn down a side street. After a few minutes she came back and continued along in front of me, and I thought “well done”.

The Santo Domingo Cathedral

Santo Domingo de la Calzado means “Saint Dominic of the Roads” and isn’t a very ecclesiastic-sounding name. However, St. Dom was a local kid who was refused entry to the monastery because he was illiterate. He became very successful anyway and spent a lot of money building roads and bridges for the pilgrims, and religious buildings, back in the 11th century. Eventually, he got his religious recognition.

My lunch: Patatas a la Riojana

Outside my hostel here, there are a couple of vending machines built into the wall. Not an uncommon sight. However, one of them includes a selection of sex toys, vibrators, handcuffs, etc. Not something you often see in a vending machine along with CocaCola, potato chips, and cookies. Perhaps bridging the food-sex gap was this product, which I’ve never seen before:

Truly bizarre!

On that weird note, I think siesta is over and it might be Sangria time. Tomorrow is a 22 Km walk to Belorado, with possible rain. Cheers.

Day 14 – To Najera

Navarrete to Najera – 16 Kms, 23,811 steps

I bid Navarrete farewell this morning and headed out around 7:45 AM. It was cool, about 53-degrees F, but that was comfortable for me. It was Sunday and nothing was open. My pension didn’t even offer breakfast, so I was operating on no coffee.

There were other pilgrims already on the street, though, and together we made our way on The Way out of town.

A full moon showed me the way

Several times now, I’ve seen pilgrims go the “wrong” way, and I saw one do so this morning. He or she was way too far ahead to call to or whistle at. Did they miss seeing the yellow arrows and stele indicating a left turn? Or, did they know what they were doing and deliberately go “off” the Camino path?

Sometimes the Camino authorities send us on a longer route, just to keep us off the highway shoulder. It’s a safety issue when there are a lot of pilgrims. But, if you know this and have a good map or app, you can save yourself some steps by creating your own shortcut. Perhaps the pilgrim I saw miss the turn this morning was doing just that.

In fact, later this morning I had a chance to do the same thing but, because I wanted some coffee, I chose to take an optional path to the town of Ventosa, adding 1 Km to my walk.

Ventosa’s “1 Km of Art” sign post

Interestingly, the Ventosa folks decided to reward pilgrims who walked that extra distance with a one kilometer roadside art display. The road featured periodic large-scale pictures, paintings, and sculptures. Pretty cool! There’s also a nice website supporting it.

Ventosa roadside art

And there was a really nice cafe, open and fully-operating on Sunday at 9:30 AM, in town where I satisfied my coffee jones. Worth every extra step!

Even highway overpasses are into the Camino

The day was sunny and getting warmer as morning wore on. The lack of shade compared to previous days was offset by a nice cooling breeze.

I was definitely passing through Rioja wine country, surrounded by hundreds of acres of vines.

A view across the vineyards
Vines bursting with grapes…
… ready for harvesting

It wasn’t long before I came across pickers harvesting the grapes. It’s done by hand and looks like hot, difficult work. All the pickers looked like immigrants. Seeing this takes away a little of the romance of the finished product.

A basket of grapes goes into the truck

Nonetheless, seeing those grapes made my mouth water a bit. I knew what I was going to drink with lunch!

Outside of town, I came across a chozo, an ancient grape pickers’ shelter:

Chozo anyone?

The process of walking on the Camino can be complicated. On level, paved streets, it’s like walking anywhere. But on rocky hill paths and farm roads, it’s much more demanding. You have to be aware of where your boots are coming down, where large or loose rocks are, you may be taking shorter steps going up- or downhill, and you may be using your hiking poles. In addition, you may be passing or being passed by other pilgrims or bicyclists. And, oh yes, don’t forget to take in the view and maybe snap a few pictures!

Sadly, the Camino is already derailing the plans of some pilgrims. I’ve seen a sprouting of knee and ankle braces this week and, at lunch, overheard a discussion about taking a bus to the next big town due to foot injuries.

So far, so good for me. We may get some rain in the coming week and I’m not eager to see how that red Rioja clay sticks to boots as mud. Tomorrow starts my third week on the Camino, as I head for Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 21 Kms away.

Day 13 – To Navarrete

Logroño to Navarrete – 13 Kms, 18,968 steps

I got a nice early start out of Logroño today, which was really quiet for a Saturday morning. Despite some nonsense in the Brierley guidebook about difficulty finding one’s way out of town, I found regular, clear waymarking all the way and had no problems.

Just one of many custom Logroño waymarkers

I noticed this structure as I went along, and I wasn’t sure if it was a chimney, a carillion, or a celebration of Spanish malehood:

Whatever is was, it was big

Speaking of celebrations, here’s a statue I walked by at the edge of Logroño, featuring familiar characters:

Fellow pilgrims, going my way

The first part of my walk today, once I cleared town, was in a really nice park. The Camino path became part of a wider path network, busy this morning with joggers, bicyclists, and families. The weather was perfect: sunny, cool, and with a slight breeze, and I made great time.

This friendly onlooker showed no fear in his quest for a treat

The Parque de la Grajera includes a large reservoir lake, which I walked beside for a while. I saw a lot of ducks, swans, moorhens, and other wild fowl in the shallows. Then the path went back to meandering through farm fields and vineyards, where the soil changed to the rich, red clay of the La Rioja region, eventually climbing into the hills.

A view back toward Logroño and the reservoir

Today’s path highpoint was only 540 meters, which was good because the temperature started rising after 10 AM, headed for 90 F. I was soon on the outskirts of Navarrete and happily walking beside wineries.

Navarrete is a historic town of 2,900 that’s been well-maintained, with original period houses sporting handsomely-carved family crests and armoral shields. I arrived in the main plaza and shed my pack for a long wait until my hostal accommodation opened. I was happy to see fresh water, lots of shade, and plenty of seating there.

A maiden getting water for her household, perhaps

There’s an imposing 16th century Church of the Assumption opposite the plaza. Someone was having their baby christened shortly after I arrived, so I was treated to a view of many of the townsfolk in their finery entering the church. Really high heels are apparently a fashion thing in Spain for young women.

The church tower looming over the plaza

Eventually my hostal opened and I got settled in there. I followed this up with a nice lunch of tapas and wine at the adjacent bar.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Najera, a somewhat larger, grittier city of (now) 8,900 that was the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre in the 6th and 7th centuries. My walk will be 16 Kms, including a climb to an adjacent pass (+100 meters) and the weather is supposed to be just like today was, i.e. cool then hot.

Day 12 – To Logroño

Viana to Logroño – 10 Kms, 16,889 steps

I enjoyed my stay at the three-star Palacio de Pujadas last night. As you may be aware, European floor numbering differs from the US. The European “first” floor is #0, and the next floor is #1, and so on. This hotel tossed in a new twist: my room, #102, was on floor #2! The elevator controls were weird, too, looking like a keypad:

It was only a three-story building…

The reception staff explained all this very smoothly at check-in, probably having had to do it a jillion times.

Here’s a photo of the duffel bag I’m having transported each day and of the huge suitcases a couple, also on the Camino, is sending. These folks wear only a light day pack with water while hiking during the day but wear quite a wardrobe in the bar at night. Ah well, as they say, everyone’s Camino is their own and no one else’s.

The Camino in Viana’s early morning light

I had a short, 10-Km walk planned, slept in late, had the hotel breakfast, and left Viana at a thoroughly decadent 9:00 AM.

Plenty of encouragement to be found

I’m either getting stronger/faster or kilometers are getting smaller but I was in Logroño just two hours later. In a way, it was a mini-rest day.

A solar-powered pilgrim

Along the way, I met up with an Italian pilgrim with a strip of solar panels on his backpack! He used them to charge his devices as he walked. Pretty cool. He was carrying a tent, so maybe he wasn’t staying in places where he could access power easily at night.

Logroño embraces the Camino. From specially-designed local stelae to unique pavement markers, they’ve gone all in.

This kind of marking is easy to follow and appreciated

I arrived a few hours before my accommodation opened, so I had to cool my heels in the plaza over coffee and maps. Not a bad way to pass a morning.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth. I shed a tear when I heard the news and I’m so glad that I spent this summer in Canterbury and enjoyed the Queen’s Jubilee festivities, celebrating her 70 years on the throne. She will be missed.

I noted a quote in the Washington Post that brought her passing into perspective: “And for the first time since 1952, the UK national anthem will now be sung with the words ‘God Save the King.’”

Day 11 – To Viana

Los Arcos to Viana – 18 Kms, 26,682 steps

My afternoon and evening in Los Arcos was very pleasant. The bar on the central plaza serves a perfect Sangria and, my accommodation, the Pension Los Arcos, was just right. After my previous lousy night, it was a joy to sleep in a comfortable bed beneath a ceiling fan.

During Happy Hour in the plaza, I met three Irish pilgrims who told wonderful stories, in a thick brogue. We got on famously and found we shared our feelings about the former U.S. president. Apparently, the Irish have no love for his golf course nor his assault on democracy. When I told them I knew the song “Fields of Athenry” (a traditional rugby anthem) they stood and we all sang it together, to the amusement at those at nearby tables. We may or may not have gotten all the words and/or notes right, but it was a great bonding moment. My Irish ancestors from my mother’s side were smiling down, I’m sure.

Dawn breaks just outside the Los Arcos walls

As sunrise becomes later and later, the crowd of pilgrims waiting to leave then gets larger. I departed Los Arcos in the cool morning air with a lot of company and set my sights on Viana.

I seem to be meeting a lot of Australians this week. The Pilgrim Office says 451 Americans completed their Camino last year and 103 Aussies. It’s not surprising that 68% of the pilgrims are Spanish. In all, pilgrims from 168 countries completed their walk last year. Those numbers should be larger this year due this being a Holy Year and pent-up demand,

Lovely weather over the farm fields

I was able this morning to help another pilgrim. A woman emerged from the bushes ahead of me (where perhaps she had answered Nature’s call) and proceeded to continue straight down the farm road. I realized the Camino turned right just there and crossed the highway, a turn she had missed. I called out, got her attention, and pointed out the change of route. She might of walked on some distance the wrong way if I’d not been there (or, possibly, my presence kept her from noting the signage). But, whatever, it was nice to do a good deed.

Someone has too much time on their hands

The rock sculptures I come across now and then, piles of rocks carefully arranged, are interesting but sometimes seem a little obsessive.

Nuestra Senora de Poyo

At the highest point of my walk today, I passed a hermitage featuring the mosaic shown above. It says “Bless the town of Bargata and protect the pilgrims”.

A traditonal stone “vineyard observation” hut

Today I entered the great wine-producing region of La Rioja. Along with vineyards, there appeared the ancient stone “beehive” vineyard observation huts. These were apparently where guards slept, to protect the vineyards during harvest from pirates. Yes, grape pirates.

It was so beautiful today and I enjoyed fantastic vistas across fields and valleys. It wasn’t hard to remember to be “in the moment”, instead of just “on the way”. Sadly, a photo doesn’t provide the awesome scale of the view.

Inspiring views
An olive grove looks down on a vineyard

I arrived in Viana just after midday and remembered that it was the town, on my last Camino, where they had their own “running of the bulls” going on at the time. I also remembered how abused and pathetic the bulls looked and how cruel the whole event seemed. No bulls today, thankfully.

The Camino, right through the middle of Viana

I’m staying in a 3-star hotel and it’s nice but in some ways not as nice as my 1-star hotel last night. For example, today’s hotel has no laundry facilities and small, shallow bathroom sinks. It’s a hotel right on the Camino but it doesn’t seem to understand that pilgrims have to do their laundry daily. Oh well, at least my room has an antique-looking desk. And to be fair, there is a fine-looking breakfast buffet on tap for tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow will be a short Camino day for me, just 10 Kms, to Logroño, a larger city of 155,000. It appears I’ll just be missing their wine harvest festival (and the hangover that comes with it), which is okay with me. Onward!

Day 10 – To Los Arcos

Villamayor de Monjardin to Los Arcos – 12 Kms, 18,314 steps

After a poor night, but without banging my head again, I left Oasis Trails at dawn. The path headed downhill gently, for a change.

Always a beautiful time to start a walk

Dawn is a fine time to begin a day’s walk, but some pilgrims like to get out sooner if their day will be long and/or hot weather is promised. They strap on a headlamp to let them see the path and Camino way markers and head out in the dark. In October, I’ll probably do the same, as dawn is coming later and later.

Today’s Camino segment wound through farm fields, mostly flat or downhill, with temps in the 60s and a nice cloud cover. Really ideal hiking conditions, and we were treated to a pretty dawn display on the clouds.

About an hour along, a small police jeep cruised by me on the farm road I was walking on. The officers waved hello and continued on. That’s the first time I’ve seen anything that looks like cops patrolling the Camino, and I’m glad they are. I occasionally read online about solo female pilgrims being flashed by local nutjobs, and a police presence of any kind must be reassuring to those pilgrims.

Today’s route was 12 Kms, without any towns along the way. The Brierley guidebook indicates a spot where a cafe movil (food truck) can usually be found along the Camino but it’s not something you can depend on. It’s smarter to bring along some food, just in case. Which is what I did this morning and, sure enough, no food truck. However, some magic of the downhill terrain or my deep desired to get away from Oasis Trails or something, got me to Los Arcos in very quick time – about three hours.

Someone’s lovely home in Los Arcos

This put me in Los Arcos way too early to check into my next accomodation, a pension (1-star hotel), even with its earlier-than-most noon check-in time. So I cooled my heels over a cafe con leche and a pastry in the main square and caught up on email and blog posts.

One of the arches that gives the town its name

In what was a weird Camino moment, I finished writing my blog posts about last night’s horrible albergue, put my backpack on, and left the square to go to my lodging. I rounded a corner and came face-to-face with two of the people who run last night’s horrible lodging. Yes, hours away in Los Arcos. They recognized me and said hello as we passed. Cue Rod Serling…

Love today’s room: a high ceiling and a fan!

I’ve now completed the Pilgrim Ritual: shower, lunch, and laundry, and am heading back to the square in a bit for some Sangria and chat. Tomorrow is a longer walk of 18 Kms to Viana.

Day 9 – To Villamayor de Monjardin

Lorca to Villamayor de Monjardin, 14 Kms, 27,379 steps

I spent last night in really fantastic casa rural in Lorca. This is a class of self-catering tourist accommodation, usually belonging to an association and meeting specific (high) standards.

Casa Nahia in Lorca is stunning, as you can see here: , and I slept very soundly. Not your typical Camino accommodation.

Walk tall and cast a long shadow?

The next morning I was off to Villamayor de Monjardin, a hill town, where I balanced my Casa Nahia stop with an entirely different experience.

Villatuerta’s local Camino route markers

Today’s walk took me through more farm fields and along shaded riverside paths. Temps climbed during the morning and it was beautiful but in the low 80s when I got to the town of Estella.

Several well-reviewed places to eat, cited in the Brierly guide, were gone or closed, so I had a snack at a local gas station, a sort of Spanish Sheetz. Not too healthy but no one said anything about me being in there with my backpack and hiking poles.

Red peppers hung out to dry

I passed by the Irache Monastery’s Fuente de Vino: a couple of spigots in the wall of their winery offering free wine to passing pilgrims. A gaggle of young folks was excitedly helping themselves, but it was 10:30 am and a little early for me.

I finally made it to Villamayor de Monjardin, with its 12th century church and tower. This is a small town. One bar (no food), one tiny convenience store, and no restaurants. There’s one normal albergue and one, run by a Danish religious order, called Oasis Trails, where I had booked a room. I had read a few online complaints about overzealous proselytizing but, to be fair, I encountered none of that. The three-person staff was welcoming and friendly, if somewhat disorganized.

Old and new in Villamayor de Monjardin

However… my stay was a nightmare. The building is 400-years old and its facilities are just not sufficient for the number of pilgrims they take in. I had a private room on the top floor and banged my head into the ceiling beams three times, cutting my scalp. The top of the door frames came to my shoulder! I spent half my time bent over at the waist. Twelve people shared a single small bathroom and small sink, and a separate phone booth-sized shower. The shower had no temperature controls and you pressed a button repeatedly to get 20-second bursts of water. The room furniture was minimal and the mattress weak. No WiFi inside, unsecured (really?) WiFi in one corner of the courtyard. And, the church bell rang the hours throughout the night. My advice to anyone thinking of staying in this town: plan to keep on walking!

And you thought the Camino was nothing but glamour.

So, I scrounged up lunch and skipped dinner (the albergue offered dinner but I wasn’t inclined) and I didn’t get much sleep. And I banged my head again. Whoopee.

Unsecured WiFi is not uncommon, by the way. Seems ridiculous in these times that such a basic service isn’t offered correctly. I use several strategies to secure my comms and avoid unsecured networks altogether. This post, for example, was delayed a day due to the lack of secure WiFi at last night’s Albergue Horribilus.

Geezer bicycle brigade on parade

Tomorrow, I have a shortish walk to Los Arcos, almost all of it downhill, and I look forward to staying in a decent pension tomorrow night.

Day 8 – To Lorca

Puente de la Reina to Lorca – 14 Kms, 22,03 steps

The town of Puente de la Reina (literally “bridge of the Queen”) is named after the bridge shown above, built in 1036 by the Spanish Queen Muniadona to help pilgrims cross the river on their way to Santiago. I walked across the bridge this morning on my way out of town and stopped to take the picture.

The tractor parking at Happy Hour at the bar last night was a fun surprise

My walk today, under cloudy and then sunny skies, with temps up to 85 F, crossed farm fields and rivers. I went up to and through three mountain towns. Camino Rule of Thumb: when you go downhill, you know you’re in for an uphill. And there’s usually an uphill at the end of the day.

Lots of grapevines, heavy with fruit waiting to be picked

I’ve begun to run into people I met last week and haven’t seen for days. This is part of the Camino fun: you make an acquaintaince, don’t see them for days, and are then reunited at Happy Hour somewhere down the path. I never feel alone out here as a result.

Hill towns have rich histories, often of resistance to central authority. This is reflected in their buildings. I guess the locals must get used to having to contend with steep streets every day. For me, it’s a workout getting into and out of town,

The famous Olive Garden hippie rest stop

It’s amazing that anything grows out here, as the soil is incredibly rocky. Obviously, olives and grapes grow well, but plowing fields for hay and other crops must be hard on the farm equipment.

Some Camino markers are well-hidden

I passed a guy today going the other way, against the flow of pilgrims, who looked familiar. I was sure I had seen him last night; he had a distinctive, square-jawed, boxer’s face. No backpack or hiking pole. Then a few hours later I saw him again, going the other way. But I was sure he hadn’t passed me headed in my direction. What the heck was going on? The third time I saw him, I stopped him and asked. Was this Camino magic? No, he was a bus driver who leap-frogged ahead of his tour group clients and walked back a bit to rendezvous with them, before driving the bus to the next stop and repeating the process. “Tu no es loco” he said, letting me know I wasn’t losing my marbles in the heat.

Irrigation aqueduct

The Spaniards generally do a great job of highway flyovers (as you’ll see later in my trek) and also immense irrigation aqueducts. The one above reminds me of the Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct I saw in southern France last Fall.

On the way to Lorca

The Camino is extremely important to these small towns and they go out of their way to welcome pilgrims, to provide clear signage, and to offer services. I’m enoying my walks immensely and am getting used to the physical demands. I’ve had no foot or leg issues (other than some fatigue) and my recovery time after a steep incline is improving. I am very happy to be here.