Hanging out in Hondarribia

Robin and I finally arrived in Hondarribia last night at 8:30 pm. We were bone tired and desperately in need of a decent meal and sleep. On the positive side we made all of our connections, even our checked hiking pokes arrived. On the negative side the number of connections made for a very tiring day. But, we treated ourselves to a room at the Parador Hotel in Hondarribia and soon thereafter salvation was at hand. We dumped our camino gear in the room and shuffled across the plaza to a nearby bar that showed signs of life and in we went. A nice crowd was scattered about, but we managed to find a table. We ordered lamb chops, pimentos pardon, crepes, jamon Iberico, pulpo and a very nice Rioja reserva. All of that went down the hatch in record time as the bar owner (with a raised eyebrow) kept the food flowing to match our pace. It turned out to be a bit of an eclectic meal, but it definitely kept the wolf from the door. Settling up we made our way back across the plaza to the hotel, albeit at a slightly more stately pace, and were comatose a half hour later. 
We arose about 6:30 this morning and felt as though we just might make it. Food, a nice shower, and a great night’s sleep worked their combined magic and gave us a new lease on life. The day proved to be chilly, but clear, as we set out to pick up some SIM cards and do a bit of sightseeing. Today was meant to be a recovery day and that was how it played out. Everything happened at a leisurely pace as we ran our errands and strolled around the Casco Viejo. We are now heading off to mass to be followed by another healing dinner, and then bed. We start walking the Camino Vasco tomorrow, and we are anxious to get underway. The weather forecast looks promising and our camino spirit is high. Another trip through the Basque countryside is about to begin and that, for us, is great news.

Two days later

Robin and I are now two days into the Camino Vasco. We arrived this afternoon in the town of Tolosa and have checked into the Hotel Oria. But, let me back up to our first day from Irún to Astigarraga. We set out in cool and dry weather mustering a measured pace as our legs sought to reach an accommodation with the backpacks they were now having to carry. So off we went and made our first wrong turn about 100 feet later. As it turns out a sign had been damaged and we missed it, but as I also was running a GPS app on my phone we quickly caught the error and backtracked. We followed a mix of paved rural roads and dirt tracks over the many hills and valleys that added to our growing fatigue as we ambled along. We believe it is always wise to ease into any Camino by walking a bit more slowly and covering shorter distances for the first few days. The walking slowly part took care of itself as we just didn’t seem to any more throttle left. As for the distance we wound up walking about 22 kms. A little shorter distance might have been better for by the time we reached Astigarraga we were both running on little but fumes. The terrain was challenging, but quite scenic. All the twists and turns of the trail forced us to pay attention to our navigation and that helped to pass the time that otherwise would have been marked by increasing levels of knee pain. Arriving in any town in Spain on a Sunday is always challenging as shops and bars will often be closed. Our funky hotel, the Pension Astigarraga, is right on the Camino, but in an industrial area. The owner directed us to the one bar that was open, and we managed to stay awake long enough for the kitchen to open so we could have something more substantial than potato chips to eat, but it was close. So that was day one. It was a good challenging walk that got us back in the groove and refocused on the work required to move along this pilgrim road. We are coming around in spirit, now our bodies just have to catch up. 

This morning, after the usual toast and coffee Camino breakfast, we plunged Ito the half light of another cold and thankfully dry day. Looking at our guide we saw the elevation profile for today was pretty flat. As it turns out that was because we followed the main road from Astigarraga to Tolosa. A few times we were shunted off to dedicated pedestrian/bike paths, and that added a much appreciated additional layer of safety, but still the entire day was spent pounding the pavement. Upon arriving in Tolosa we looked back at our guide and saw there was an alternate route that went out through the the countryside, and at the cost of some extra distance and the lack of intermediate towns all the roadwork could be avoided. Some food for thought if we come this way again. But for now we are in the maintenance and recovery mode of daily pilgrim life. There is washing to be done, dinner to be sorted and aches and pains attended to. So we are two days into this journey and are bearing up, gaining strength in our knees, and settling into a daily routine that should carry us to Santo Domingo de la Calzada in another week’s time. But, in the short term, there is still quite a bit of hill scrambling ahead, particularly as we make our way up to the San Adrian tunnel in three day’s time. More on that later as the journey unfolds. Let’s call this a wrap for now, as I sign off tired, a bit achey, but so happy to be back on the pilgrim road. Good night to all from Tolosa.
Day one

The hermitage of San Juan
San Sebastián in the distance
Pension Astigarraga 
Starting day two

Andoain, San Martine de Tours

Aduna 

Anoeta 

Finally

Our stay at the Hotel Oria in Tolosa was restful and quite pleasant. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful and the cafeteria produced some exquisite meals. But, the pilgrim road was calling so it was out of the warmth of our room and into a 35 F morning. We knew we would have another day of mostly pounding the pavement, but due to the many nice pedestrian paths it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. We felt stronger today and stepped along, in the cold morning air, at what for us was a sprightly pace. We climbed gently but steadily overhauling one village after another as we made our way to Besain where would wave goodbye to the pavement and head off into the hills to tonight’s destination, the village of Olaberria. The weather warmed gradually until at mid afternoon my little backpack thermometer read 60 F. We found our way out of Besain and over the N1 on a nice pedestrian bridge. Immediately after stepping off the bridge we should have turned left but there were no arrows and the left turn looked like it was just heading into a car park, so we went right. Looking at my GPS map I could see that there was a road around to the left but by that time we were invested in our turn to the right and as both roads seemed to meet we just carried on. 

What became clear shortly thereafter was that the road we were following did meet up with the road we wanted, but it was all fenced in. We could not get from where we were to where we needed to be without performing some circus act to vault over the intervening barbed wire fence. Big problem, as we really did not want to retrace our steps back to the pedestrian bridge and start over. We found a section of fence that was down so we crossed over a field and walked towards the road we wanted to join. What we discovered after a little barnyard reconnoitering was that the owner had a more secure perimeter than Alcatraz. So with hat in hand we approached the farmhouse with a dozen dogs freaking out and straining at their chains and greeted the owner who stepped out to see what all the fuss was about. We explained our error and he graciously directed us around his house and out onto the road that we were so desperately seeking. We were underway again and finally heading in the right direction. We survived with no fang marks and minimal baggage from the dung pile we had to waltz around. All in all let’s call it a victory for the home team. The good news is that once on this upward gravel path we started to see the most spectacular landscape appearing. As we inched our way uphill every step gradually opened an incredible mountain vista. After a couple of days of comparing industrial estates this was mana from heaven. Just spectacular. So with this lift to our hearts we continued along truly energized and dropped into the very tidy village of Olaberria. We have booked into the Pension Zizilionea, and couldn’t be more pleased. We gave a nice warm room, and have just indulged ourselves in a delicious lunch. So, things have taken a turn for the better now that we are back in the countryside. Another beautiful day, and all our aches and pains are improving. Much to be thankful for. 

Morning in Tolosa
The path out of Tolosa

Pedestrian path

The right path to Olaberria 

Our pension just ahead to the left

The local church

El Monte awaits

Having spent a peaceful night in a warm cozy room at the Pension Zezilionea in Olaberria it took great fortitude to get going and out into the freezing morning air. All the cars were covered in frost when I first peeked out to check the weather. As today was only to be around a 16 km day to Zegama we decided to linger just a little longer over breakfast to let the sun climb a bit higher and hopefully thaw things out a bit. Eventually the front door of our pension quietly closed behind us and day four of our Camino Vasco was officially underway. A thin cold fog veiled the town and closed in on us from time to time as the temperature struggled to climb above freezing. But the clear sky (when the fog allowed it to) offered more gorgeous mountain scenery as we made our way along a very quiet rural paved road on our way to Zegama. We followed the folds of the landscape up and down enjoying the quietude of this section of the Camino. One mountain range, with its icy peaks, dominated the far horizon. It was always in front of us as we moved along throughout the morning. It finally dawned on us as we drew near to Zegama, and the mountains still stood front and center, that this was the range we would be crossing tomorrow as we ascend to the San Adrian tunnel and then drop down to the valley below en route to Agurain, Vitoria-Gasteiz and beyond, but first we must carefully negotiate some quite steep, icy trails. That thought has occupied my mind since we started this trip. But, the weather has been quite nice here for several days so I am hoping that the trails are passable. If not we will just turn around and try again some other time. Zegama is quiet town nestled into the foothills of the Basque mountains. There is not much activity, but In all fairness it is still pretty cold outside so today is not a perfect day for strolling around the town. It is only about 8 kms from Zegama to the top, and in that distance one gains about 850 meters in elevation. Not the toughest climb, but not a walk in the park either. The snow and ice will rule the day. We remain hopeful that all will go well. For now we are finishing up our laundry and then we will sample a local white wine, Txakoli, that the owner of the Pension Zezilionea gave to us as a parting gift. An interesting note, this is the third time this has happened to us in the Basque Country. Twice on the Camino Ignaciano and now again here this morning. The Basque are very hospitable people. More on the wine tasting and tomorrow’s climb from the other side of the mountains. Light’s out from here in frosty Zegama. 


Departing Olaberria 

Approaching Zegama

Zegama 

We made it

Our lodging in Zegama proved to be a good conditioning experience for today’s freezing mountain air. The señora initially fired up the heat in our room, as it was like a refrigerator. However, her generosity with the heat was short lived. Two hours later the radiators were cooling down never more to return. Our room held steady at 50 F. So Robin and I slept in everything we had not hiked in (including down jackets) and scored 3 extra blankets as well. Robin needed a total of four. I was okay with two. This morning, predictably, the radiators were stone cold and it was 21 F outside. Breakfast in the bar downstairs was also a bit tricky as a nice hot cafe con leche quickly became an ice coffee if you set it down for a second. Despite enduring the night at McMurdo Station we were very pleased with the clear weather we stepped out into. After a quick GPS calibration we set out uphill, on the road out of town, towards the mountains that beckoned us. 

We climbed easily up the gentle grade scanning our legs and feet for negative feedback. Happily it was all systems go as Robin and I followed the well marked trail up the road and then into the mountains. It was quiet as a church and we were traveling solo, and enjoying this peaceful start to a vigorous day’s climb. As we made our way up the grade predictably steepened, but it proved quite manageable. On the Zegama side (north side) of the mountains there was surprisingly little snow. There were some icy spots, but nothing that ever became problematic. Another pleasant surprise was the good condition of the trail. It is also worth noting that due to embankments on either side it could easily be followed even in deeper snow. It was also wide enough to make you feel safe. There were no precipitous drop offs. So we enjoyed great weather, gorgeous views down to Zegama below and to the mountains around us. The well marked trail led us right to the San Adrian tunnel, where we arrived at 11:30. We had left our pension at 9:00, and walked another 30 minutes to the base of the mountains where the climb really begins. After the tunnel it was another 30 minutes of climbing through snow to the summit at Portugaina. So basically, from our pension it took us 3 hours to walk the 8.5 kms and gain the 850 meters that brought us to the summit. 
The trip down brought us through forested, snow covered paths that gradually thawed as we continued our descent. Again well marked trails helped us navigate with only the occasional comfort peek at the GPS. We walked into the first village off the mountain, Zalduando. As we were rounding the local church a familiar voice hailed us from a car. It was a local friend, Zazpi Ruiz de Infante, who is a bit of a legend for his knowledge of the all the nearby mountain trails. He has walked them all. We met him up on a Basque mountain on January 17, 2015, along with his good friend, Jose Mari Lizarazu while we were walking the Camino Ignaciano. They took us under their wing and helped us navigate through the snow fields. We have become great friends over the intervening years. Zazpi knew we were heading his way, but his timing today was just perfect. He bundled us into his car and off we went to his hometown of Agurain where we would be spending the night. We have set up a dinner with Zazpi and his wife, Esther for tonight, but now it is off to the lavendería to finally get some clothes washed. It has been a brilliant day, and we thank God for a safe passage across the Basque Mountains. This could have been a very different kind of day if the weather had taken a turn for the worse. We are off to Vitoria-Gasteiz tomorrow for the next stage of this Camino. I mentioned Jose Mari a moment ago. He lives in Vitoria, and has invited us to spend tomorrow night with him and his wife, Isabel. We are so thankful for the opportunity to catch up with both of these very good friends. An added gift is that they both truly understand the Camino spirit. What a day!
9:00 am, departing Zegama

Zegama

The road out of Zegama

The climb begins
Up we go

Hermita Santi Spiritus 

San Adrian tunnel upper right. 700 meters from Santi Spiritus.

San Adrian Tunnel
Looking back from the tunnel

Almost to the top
Finally heading down

Looking back

Robin approaching Zalduando 

Zazpi and Robin in Agurain

Good friends

Our evening spent in Agurain with our amigos Zazpi and his wife Esther was a perfect cap to a great day’s walk from Zegama. Zazpi organized a special dinner the main course of which was chuleton, which is a piece of beef about the size of a spare tire. Being in the Basque Country for our wine selection we went with the ubiquitous Basque white wine called Txakoli. A platter of grilled prawns and a salad rounded out the menu. The curious part of the evening is that neither Robin nor I can hold a conversation in Spanish (let alone Basque), and neither Zazpi nor Esther speak a word of English. Yet, for two hours we ate, talked and somehow communicated. It was great fun. In the early morning hours of the following day, as I lay half awake, I could hear the wind sweeping the streets of Agurain, and rain pelting the cottage where we were encamped. Dawn thankfully broke with a brief respite from the worst of the weather. Last night we had arranged with Zazpi to get a ride out of Agurain to a place somewhere down the Camino to make the day’s walk a bit shorter. At 9:30 we were off in Zazpi’s car going right down the Camino. He dropped us off at a location that left us a 16 km walk to Vitoria-Gasteiz where we arrived at 2:00 pm. At 4:15 our other Basque amigo Jose Mari Lizarazu picked us up in the city center on his way back from a business trip to Pamplona. He brought us back to his nearby home where together with his wife Isabel we cooked and enjoyed a simple but very tasty Basque meal of potatoes and chorizo. But, this was also accompanied by a number of other treats and a great selection of wines. Fine dining indeed, and more importantly, a nice time to reconnect with good friends. 

The following morning as we gathered around the breakfast table Jose Mari offered to drop us off on the Camino outside of Vitoria. This sounded like top thinking so in due course we set out for Gometxa about 7 kms from Vitoria and resumed our walk from there. The weather was much improved over yesterday as we ambled along under sunny skies to La Puebla de Arganzón where we arrived at 2:00 pm. We are happily and warmly ensconced in the Hotel Arganzón Plaza where the heat is always on. Things are looking up indeed. Tomorrow our destination is Briñas and after that Santo Domingo de la Calzada, where this journey will end, and another will begin. Time is slipping by but we are making the most of it. 

Agurain to Vitoria
Eastern outskirts of Vitoria

The path into Vitoria

The next day in Gometxa

La Puebla de la Arganzón

Our hotel for the night

Change of plans

We interrupted our Camino Vasco in Puebla de Arganzón to return to Vitoria where Robin had an x-ray to determine if anything was fractured after a fall (landing hard on her tailbone) when we arrived in Vitoria from Agurain. Fortunately nothing was amiss. But Robin was cautioned to rest a few days before resuming our Camino. So we headed from Vitoria to Bilbao and spent the night there, and then continued on to Porto the following day. We arrived in Porto yesterday and have been resting up before we begin our walk to Santiago tomorrow. As always life on the Camino is filled with the unexpected. Sometimes those moments fall in the plus column and sometimes they fall somewhere else, but nonetheless life goes on and the journey continues (thank God). We have had a restful time, enjoyed some great meals, discovered a taste for fine port wine and and are keeping a wary eye on some heavy weather due to descend on us as we set out in the morning. The forecast actually said “tons of rain.” Yikes! Maybe the 20-30 mph winds and thunder will distract us from the rain. Should be an interesting day as we slog on to Vila do Conde. It appears this weather system will be with us through Sunday. So we shall rig for heavy weather and hope for the best. For now the streets outside our hotel are showing occasional umbrellas but typhoon conditions have not yet been set. We shall see what the morning brings. This is our first time in Porto and it has been a perfect place to recuperate. We went to the 11:00 am mass at the cathedral, walked quietly through its cloister, got our first sello, and headed down to the river for a nice seafood lunch. All very peaceful and good fun, especially our lunch at the restaurant Ora Viva, where the food was great, and the staff truly excelled. One interesting quirk was that the kitchen was one floor below the restaurant and all the meals came up from the kitchen via a hand cranked tiny dumb waiter. I kept seeing one of the waiters cranking something behind the bar and when I asked about it I was invited to look down and wave to the cook smiling up at me. Somehow this led to a port wine tasting and a bottle of 20 year old tawny port appeared, and we were hooked. As I said, a fun afternoon. But, duty calls and it will soon be time to set out once again. Praying for God’s grace we will complete this Camino and arrive Santiago safe and sound. More to follow from the pilgrim road.


Down by the river in Porto

View from our hotel

Tile work at the train station

The cathedral

In the cathedral cloister

Following Camino arrows from the cathedral