Dec 30 2012 Taxi ride – Pamplona to St Jean

I haven’t started walking yet but even a taxi ride from Pampolna to St Jean Pied de Port causes me to zone in (or, zone out).

We arrived in Pamplona yesterday evening after taking multiple modes of transportations; Portland to Amsterdam, to Madrid, to Pamplona via train, taxi to our hotel, Hotel Europa. We went to mass at 8 pm (there was noon mass today but the gentleman at the desk tells us that we need to check out by 11 am due to holidays. Well, everyone needs holidays so we don’t complain), grabbed some vino and pintxos (pronounced as Pinchos) at Gaucho, put earplugs in (lots of people in plaza were celebrating something….maybe the upcoming New Years Holiday) and went to sleep which wasn’t hard to do after being awake for 28 or so hours. I woke up a couple of times and I could hear people still having a good time down there (they started singing around 4 am!). Nonetheless, we slept well and woke up at 8 am, started to break down our duffle bag for we knew we couldn’t possibly carry this grand sausage through the narrow streets of SJPP comfortably, had breakfast and left the hotel. The taxi ride to SJPP was beautiful. Magnificent Pyrenees never disappoint you with there beauty; its snow capped peaks, jaw dropping valleys and cliffs, and occasional rolling hills are dotted with leisurely grazing sheep. I was getting happier by the minute! The road however was very steep and windy.

Many years ago when I was still new to America, my new found friends were kind enough to take me to the beach, at Corpus Christi, TX, for some wave ridIng during one Spring Break. I can’t swim (I am afraid of water) so when I was in the water, waiting for waves to arrive, I must say that I was not too far away from the beach, just in case. Then there it was, a huge wave. swelling slowly but enormously and approaching where we were. Horrified, I started to scream, “Oh, no, oh, no…..oh, yes!”. In the taxi, I was thinking this Camino thing is absolutely crazy. Why am I doing this? Why did I leave comfort of my home, spent a great deal of money to come here to just walk? Actually, not just walk but put my physical being at risk by torturing it through strenuous hikes of 15 to 20 miles a day and then crash in some less-than-basic lodging called albergues at night. How about this taxi ride? Why are we spending 120 Euros for this when the city of Pamplona is on the pilgrimage route so we will be back here by foot, 5 days later? Why don’t we just start walking from here? No, it just doesn’t feel right. We need to start from SJPP! Yes, I know, it sounds crazy but then, how can I possibly explain the feeling I am now having? Sitting in the taxi, I have this wide grin from one side of my face to the other. I am now imagining that giant wave approaching me, and as horrifying as it is I know it will also gracefully and gently lift me with joy and wonder that is hard to describe with my limited vocabulary. In short, I am just incredibly happy! Maybe, this is what C.K. Chesterton meant by saying (I am paraphrasing), “perhaps when all things are completely upside down we will be able to see clearly”. Yes, this pilgrimage is absolutely crazy and does not make any sense to my reasonable-thinking mind. But the result of this crazy decision is that I get to be happy! Incredibly happy!

Well, you might say that things are going well so far….



Jan 1, 2013: Roncesvalles at last

We started out from Valcarlos in light rain showers that gradually transitioned to steady rain and then back to showers. Suffice it to say today was wet, very wet. The climbing went well for the first couple of hours and then as the path steepened we downshifted and just plodded along grabbing a rest break as needed (they were needed). I think I see value in scoring the quality of the day’s hike by the number of Advil I take. Today was a two pill day. My right knee wouldn’t cooperate without them. Once we arrived at the summit (Ibaneta) my knee was a happy camper again and allowed a more sprightly decent into Roncesvalles. We have picked up two more Korean guys and a Belgian. We all arrived soaked either from rain or sweat. The showers and sinks are doing great business getting us warm, clean and ready for tomorrow. We have been told that all the bars and restaurants are closed today (hmmmm). The staff was kind enough to provide a plate of bread, cheese and meat to stave off our hunger. We will be looking for a more filling solution once the great clean up is finished. Mass at 1800 with a pilgrim blessing, then the foraging will begin in earnest. All is well. Happy to leave the Pyrenees behind us as we start our decent into Zubiri tomorrow. I believe drier conditions are in the offing. Let’s hope.




Jan 1, 2013 Roncesvalles Camino Angels

Did someone mention Camino Angels? Well, just in case no one has, I think I have one….

I slept very well the first night in Pamplona but after that, I haven’t had much luck after that. I think I managed to sleep less than an hour on the second night in SJPP and again in Valcarlos last night. I don’t know what is that is causing this restlessness. And this is probably why I left the albergue in SJPP, leaving my eye glasses on the floor. I was disheartened when I realized it yesterday about 3 miles outside of SJPP. I wasn’t going to hike back to SJPP just to retrieve Them. I won’t be able to read or see well without it (it is bifocal) but I have J with me. I’ll get by.

I was tired but I got up cheerfully this morning, made breakfast for us and headed out into the rain. It was 50 degrees this morning so the rain made me feel somewhat refreshed in spite of my lack of sleep. I was ready for the day’s hike. So I thought….

I remember our first Camino in the same location 2 years ago – we were flying! Well, we didn’t exactly feel like flying today but our spirits were high and our mindset was to accept whatever would come our way. About half way into the day’s walk I found myself running out of breath and had to stop frequently, simply because I didn’t have enough energy! I have to mention here that today’s hike is probably one of the most challenging segments of the Camino. The total distance from Valcarlos from Roncesvalles is only about 13.5K but you have to climb up the last 8K with a 650 meter height gain. Needless to say, I didn’t have the optimal condition to do this with less than a couple of hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. We came to a spot where the trail briefly meets the N135 highway, after a series of vigorous climb and before receding into the now very wet forest, and decided to take another short break when a car pulled over. The passenger opened his door and I instantly realized it was Antoine, the French gentleman who registered us as pilgrims at the SJPP Pilgrims Office, this time and two years ago. I shouted my greetings to him for I was pleasantly surprised to see him again! Then he said, “you left your eye glasses at the albergue!”

I mean, what is the likelihood of meeting him, two days later, in some out-of-no-where place, and exactly at the moment when we decided to take a break and peep out of the forest! Also, precisely at the moment his car was passing by and he recognizes me, as the one who left her eye glasses! Okay, you might think I am making a big deal out of an ordinary matter but I choose to think otherwise. I think it is lovely! I think it is a very important reminder for me that people are good and kind. Sure, I can always get a new pair of eye glasses (while in Spain, if I want to) but that’s not the point. In that brief moment I reaffirmed my belief that this is a holy moment, when a person simply re-members (with) the other. That is all it takes! Lovely!

I gave Antoine the name and address of our hotel in Santiago so he can mail them to me – he didn’t have the glasses with him. I know, I still have to do the Camino without them, but that is fine! And, despite of my tiredness we made it to Roncesvalles, safely. And, as they say, tomorrow is another day!


I thought the story ends here but, no!

To make a long story short, no bar or restaurant was open last night. This means that our now growing number of pilgrims (total 10) might not get a chance to eat tonight (after a day of vigorous climb!). I decided that I won’t starve to death by missing one meal so I assumed my usual daily routine; shower, washing clothes, clean boots and gators, etc. in the meantime, J was outside in the hallway and seemed to be engaged in conversation with someone. He came in a few minutes later and announced to all of us that the albergue personnel will bring bocadillos (sandwich) for everyone around 6 pm. And the two strangers he was talking to (turned out that they were passing looking for a restaurant for dinner for themselves and their twin boys – the boys wanted something else other than what their mom had prepared for the road trip) offered to drive J to the nearest town so that we can buy some beer, wine and water. Everyone shouted for joy! It turned out to be a great night amongst strangers, including this nice couple with the cutest 3 1/2 year old twin boys! I should mention that the husband, Juan, had walked the Camino a few years ago so he understood our situation. And the wife, Carmen had taught Spanish in the LA area a few years so they spoke perfect English. All of us pilgrims offered them our gratitude with hugs and kisses when they drove off to their destination after the party. They were definitely Camino Angels.


Jan 2, 2013 Roncesvalles: Tales of the crypt

Many amazing things have happened during our stay at Roncesvalles. Robin’s post captured most but not all of them. As we were finishing our sandwiches, and the beer and wine Juan was kind enough to search out in the neighboring town of Burguete, in comes a priest, Fr. Juan Carlos, with a bottle of homemade pacharan (a local aperitif best described as ouzo in a shirt and tie) and plastic cups. After sampling he asked if any of us would like to tour the crypt. The church at Roncesvalles is steeped in history and the crypt holds many seldom seen treasures. So we all gathered in the dark and rain and set off to see the crypt. I must add that Fr. Juan Carlos was a man of unbounded energy and enthusiasm for the hidden delights of his church. He literally took us everywhere all over the church property. We went down into the depths, up into the rafters and seemingly everywhere in between. Fr. Juan Carlos’ guided tour was translated by Bruno, a Belgian pilgrim, whose multi lingual talents were well appreciated. It was truly a fascinating and informative night. I have included a photo of the Chains of Navarre (Google for the story) which was one of the highlights of the tour.

One final note regarding our stay in Roncesvalles was the wonderful Real Collegiata de Santa Maria church, the joy of the evening mass and the beauty of the pilgrim blessing. The presiding priest called all the pilgrims to the foot of the alter for the closing prayer and blessing. His sincerity and concern for our safety and the challenges of our journey were truly heartfelt and much appreciated.



Chains of Navarre
Rental Collegiata de Santa Maria
Whose got my bocadillos


Juan, Carmen and kids




Jan 3, 2013 Pamplona: Slowly feeling stronger

We stayed at the Pension Usoa last night along with Harry, our Korean friend, and an explosives engineer who was going to oversee a big shoot tomorrow at a magnesium carbonite mine 15 kms from Zubiri. He explained the mine is very special and is one of the few in he world that yields this mineral. It gets crushed at a plant adjacent to Zubiri. He added that 90 percent of its production goes to China. Our trip off he mountain went quite well with the usual huffing and puffing during the climb out of Linzoain. The weather improved from cold rain, to rain showers, to partly cloudy and dry at the end. Temperatures ranged from 30F to the high 40’s. We walked in a kit consisting of capilene 2 t shirts, capilene 3 mid weight base layers, and an Altus poncho to start. Robin added a light down jacket to begin with. We both wore Mountain Hardwear mountain light waterproof pants, gaiters and boots.

Coming down from Roncesvalles

Gear is not the problem, energy level is. It seems as though we are running just a bit below normal (and perhaps even more) in the energy level department. Robin has been nursing a cold, and I am simply two years older. We are getting the job done but it feels as though we are just a bit off our game. It always takes some time to adjust to the demands of the Camino, so we shall monitor how we feel and adjust accordingly. We were tired upon arrival in Pamplona, but were walking strongly along the final kilometers. A quick weather note on todays’s walk, clear skies, 30F to start, 63F as we walked into Pamplona. Tomorrow will be a 24 km day to Puente la Reina. The weather looks favorable and with each passing day we get stronger. So we shall just see how it goes. We ran into some of our Camino mates as entered the city, and have arranged to gather for wine and pintxos at a bar near our hotel (yes, we opted to stay at the hotel Europa where we spent a night on our way to St. Jean.) There will be albergues aplenty for us as we make our way west (just not tonight). Robin is happily soaking in a very hot tub as I pen this missive. Two glasses of wine from the hotel bar are easing our aches from today’s efforts. Robin and I are blessed in so many ways. The Camino, rigors of the road notwithstanding, remains one of the greatest.

Shedding ponchos en route to Zubiri
The Way
Passing etiquette on the Camino
“Poopers! I should remember not to follow you the next time….not that I have a choice ….
Robin and I on the bridge at Zubiri
Robin leaving Zubiri
En route to Pamplona
Trinadad de Arre
Suburbs of Pamplona


Jan 4, 2013 Puente La Reina: Camino angel with pitchfork

We enjoyed another night in Pamplona, marveling at the energy of the nighttime crowds that keep the city pulsing well into the early morning hours. But, we were good pilgrims and managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Today, we set off under clear skies, and temperatures right around 30F. We made our way through the now quiet streets as the city was just cracking an eye open to a new day. Robin and I made good time to Cizur Menor where we stopped for coffee before continuing on to Alto Del Perdon, our steepest climb of the day. As we made our way up the flank of the Alto we ran into a cyclist who said there was a less muddy path to the top that joined up with the Camino path at the summit. We took the bait and wound up staring at a plowed field with ankle deep mud. We should have turned back, but didn’t. The Camino path was just visible about 150 yards away. We decided to cross the field to get to it. Big mistake, the death march had just begun. It did not take very long for our boots to pick up about ten pounds of mud. We were trying to scrape it off, but it was pointless for as soon as a foot hit the ground it was packed with mud once again. Yes, we were frustrated, yes we were angry at our own stupidity, and yes all we could do was carry on. But, once back on dry land, and up to the summit the beauty of the the day, and the spectacular panoramic view, carried the day and there was peace in the valley once again.

The balance of the day was spent walking in afternoon temperatures that rose to 65-70 F. This is supposed to be winter, but no one was complaining. We were walking better today and easily made our up and down, in and out of the villages linked by the Camino. Lengthening shadows, and tired legs were our companions as we walked into Puente La Reina, and checked into the albergue run by the Padres Reparadores. The entire crew from Roncesvalles is here along with a new pilgrim from Korea, bringing our total to ten. Today, absent the Death March, was as picture perfect a Camino day as anyone could wish for.

At Puente La Reina


Jan 5, 2013 Puente La Reina to Estella: Another beautiful day

We left the albergue at 7:45 this morning ready for our walk to Estella. Our stay at Puente La Reina was uneventful save for our challenge to find dinner. In Spain people tend to eat later than pilgrims want to. There is not much hope of finding a meal before 8:00 pm unless you find a compassionate bar owner that is willing to rustle something up for you. We found such a bar but the dinner was more of a dog’s breakfast. In the end we gave thanks for the caloric intake and creaked on back to the albergue. An interesting note is that one sees (as we did) occasional non pilgrim folks spending the night at Camino albergues. A lady, obviously down on her luck, spent the night with us. She said had been on the road for three years. She was pushing a cart with all her goods aboard. She was quite pleasant and prepared some small sandwiches for us. She slept on a table while we all had beds. It struck me how willing she was to give out of her own poverty to people who obviously could fend for themselves. It was a great lesson, as we sadly tend to be suspicious of strangers in need. In this case her needs were enormous but her charity was even greater. Why was I fearful? What might I lose? Would it be missed?

With this life lesson tucked under our belt Robin and I left the albergue, wandered down the empty streets of Puente La Reina, guided by street lights casting pools of yellowish light that led us to its namesake bridge and onto the Camino. Surprisingly, the temperature was a very mild 45 F, the skies were clear, and we were brimming with optimism. There is a steep climb that gets the blood flowing shortly after leaving town. We crested that and set out for Cirauqui where we planned to stop for coffee. The day was beautiful and the temperatures quickly nudged 60F. The high for the day was 68 F.

We passed all sorts of people enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, washing cars, gardening, etc. We continued with the usual Camino pastime of going up and then down and the up again. We walked into Estella about 2:00 and set a course for the parochial albergue, St. Miguel. It was closed but a Guardia officer we encountered suggested a small hotel, Chapitel, just behind the church. We made our way there and settled into very comfortable surroundings. We attended mass as it was the Feast of the Epiphany. There were 30 people at mass and thousands enjoying the holiday festivities in the streets. Not much to add there.

So, after enjoying a brief break here in Estella we will be off in the morning for either Los Arcos or Torres del Rio. The weather is forecasted to cool slightly but remain dry. No. Complaints. The Camino has both challenged and delighted us. It is uncanny how many essential life lessons seem to play out as we walk and interact with those we meet. All is well. Two very tired pilgrims are now going to sleep. Cheers for now.


Jan 6, 2013 Estella to Los Arcos: Conflict and commerce

Today was an exquisite Camino day. We left Estella around 9:15, after stopping to pick up a couple of sandwiches. We would normally try to be on our way by 8:00, but we lingered over breakfast at our hotel and wound up leaving later than usual. No problem as today’s walk was only 21 Kms to Los Arcos. It was in the mid 40’s as we crossed the river back onto the Camino. I wore my usual attire of Capilene 2 t shirt, Capilene 3 base layer, and light gloves. Robin wore her hard shell jacket as well. Leaving Estella we started climbing immediately. Nothing severe, just a long continuous climb for about 4 Kms. Both body and ambient temperatures were rising quickly as we started our climb to Monjardin. I am at a loss for words to describe the perfectness of the day. It was a combination of clear skies, cool (at least early on) walking temperatures, and stunning scenery. The terrain beyond Monjardin was also very easy to negotiate. So we walked with our heads swinging from one side to the other as stunning vistas competed for our attention.

As to the title of this post, I couldn’t help but wonder, as I gazed out across a wide valley bordered on the northern side with a steep escarpment, as to what armies had used these same geographical features to gain access to Spain’s interior. I could almost hear the commotion of an invading army in the field slowly closing on its prey. This area is rife with the ruins of castles, churches and watch towers. All of these speaking to a need for vigilance especially in times of uncertain peace. But then, I also thought how the periods of stability following those conflicts fostered economic growth. In truth, the cycle of conquering, exploiting, and economic expansion has not changed much down through the ages. But, I digress.

Back on topic, the weather has everyone baffled. When we walked into Los Arcos this afternoon (2:10) it was 70 F. All the locals are saying this is January and it is supposed to be cold ( they are not complaining, just curious). We noticed how all the fields were showing new growth giving the area a gorgeous, lush carpet of green. These fields coming up against a cerulean blue sky made for a pleasant backdrop as we clomped along to Los Arcos. We knew that one private albergue was open, but we thought we should see what other options might be found. This, in turn, led us to the Hostal Suetxe, in search of a room. What we found was a closed hostal and a bar jammed with people enjoying the holiday weekend. I met the owner who also operates (probably owns) the Hotel Monaco. He whisked us down there (2 blocks away) and checked us in (39 euros). It is very clean and modern, and Robin and I are the only guests. We are now showered, refreshed, and doing the laundry (typical Camino routine). We are off tomorrow to Logrono, a 29 K walk, and the longest so far on this Camino. All is well. Muscles are aching, but our feet are in good shape (no blisters). Tomorrow will be a good test of our improving stamina. We shall see. More from Logrono.