Friday 31 July 2009

Day 15 - Hornillos to Castrojeriz - 22km

I woke early and was up and on my way before 7 in the morning. It was very cold and I had all my layers on again. These consisted of a short-sleeved top, a long-sleeved one and a light fleece. Apart from that all I had in reserve was my poncho. I think I was lucky to get away with not having brought a jacket with me because of the weight, although I felt chilly sometimes I was never really uncomfortably cold.

Up on the meseta the mist cleared, the sun shone and there was a strong cold wind as an incentive to keep going. I was really looking forward to a nice hot coffee in Hontanas, the first village which I thought was about 5km away. Unfortunately I hadn´t looked at my map properly. When the path just went on and on I checked again and found Hontanas was more than 10km away, a real letdown. I hadn´t had breakfast yet so decided to stop for some water and a snack, but the wind was too cold and there was nowhere comfortable to sit, so I ate on the move. I could have really done with a break, too, as my back was getting quite painful. If I´d realised how far it was to the first stop I´d have waited in Hornillos for the bar to open and at least had a hot drink and something to eat to fortify me for the long cold walk. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I finally reached Hontanas, a lovely medieval pilgrim village, where I enjoyed a coffee and a rest. I mentioned my back pain to a young Canadian I was chatting to and he had a look at The Beast and suggested I wore the hip belt higher, which did seem to make a difference, it didn´t cure the problem but the pain was less most of the time.

After the village the path dropped down from the high meseta and was out of the wind so it was pleasanter walking and I even took a layer off. The route passes by the ruins of the convent of San Anton, a very atmospheric place that has a basic albergue. After that it joins a long straight tree-lined Roman road where I could see my destination in the far distance. Walking along a tarmac road never bothered me as it does some people who find it hard on the feet, and I made good time.

Castrojeriz is a Roman town built in layers round a hill and it stands out from the surrounding landscape. This was the first and only time I didn´t get a bed in an albergue, all the bunks were taken and I was given a mattress on the floor. This was surprisingly comfortable and much nicer than having someone in the bunk overhead tossing and turning all night and clambering up and down to go to the toilet. The albergue didn´t have a set charge, you were expected to make a donation. I always gave 5 euros in this situation but I believe some pilgrims gave less or even nothing at all, which I think is shameful. These places are run by volunteers and the donations go towards the upkeep.

I went to a bar for a sandwich and beer, hoping to meet the Brazilian owner as there was a Brazilian flag hanging outside, but the owner was Spanish, he just liked Brazil! After going back and doing the usual chores I tried to have a rest on my mattress as I was tired after my early morning start. There were too many flies though , that kept landing on me and tickling me just as I was nodding off, so I gave it up as a bad job. The quiet French couple were there, strange how I only ever saw them in dormitories or kitchens, never walking.

The sun was extremely hot now and I went and sat on a bench in the shade waiting for the local village shop to open at five. There was a German chap sitting there, Marcel, and we got chatting. He must have been in his mid-thirties and was doing the Camino in order to decide about a serious career change in his life. Many people I met were at some sort of turning point in their lives and walking in order to seek insight or to reach an important decision. Poor Marcel was having a great deal of trouble with his feet, due I think to wearing unsuitable boots.

There was a ruined 13th century castle on the hill which I would have liked to visit, but the steep streets and flights of steps were enough to put me off after all the walking I´d already done that day. This was often the case, unfortunately, and I saw very little of the places I stayed in or walked through. I have the feeling others saw much more than I did, I can only say they must have had much more energy than I did, too.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Day 14 - Photos

The beginning of the meseta

More meseta

Hornillos del Camino

Church in main square of Hornillos

Day 14 - Burgos to Hornillos del Camino - 19km

In the morning I stopped for some breakfast before leaving Burgos, and bumped into Lisa in the bar. She was a German pilgrim I had met on my fourth day and who had suggested we walk together. We´d managed to lose each other in a village within the first half hour and I had not seen her since so it was nice to bump into her again, especially since I seemed to have lost touch with all the other people I had met. We never did walk together (she was too fast for me) but from then on our paths crossed most days until Santiago.

It was very cold leaving Burgos, 5C, and I was wearing all my layers which were proving to be just about adequate enough to cope with it. I was really pleased to note that I was feeling no ill effects from the long haul the previous day, no aches or pains or stiffness. The way out of the city was somewhat complicated but I managed not to get lost by using a judicious mixture of following the signs and any pilgrims I could catch sight of.

After a coffee and sandwich in Tarjados, where I bumped into Lisa again, I was finally on my way to the meseta. This is a relatively wild isolated area, where you walk long distances on stony earth tracks between crop fields. It is pretty flat after you have climbed up to the plateau, with no water or shade and there are long distances between villages. It can be extremely hot in summer but also bitterly cold at other times especially when there is a strong wind blowing. The path stretches before you all the way to the horizon and it is easy to get lost in your thoughts.

I enjoyed walking there and didn´t find the way up too steep. With the sun out it became much warmer and as usual there was a constant chorus from birds all along the way. They don´t seem to do a dawn chorus , in Spain it is an all-day event lasting well into the evening. Since my back started playing up badly (ironic on a shorter day) I decided to stop in Hornillos instead of carrying on to Hontana, the next village which is supposed to be very special.

Hornillos itself was very nice, an unspoiled medieval pilgrim village. Although the albergue was full I managed to get a bottom bunk in the annexe, a smallish dorm with only about 20 bunks. I bought some food and ate in the kitchen, where I saw the quiet French couple I was always meeting, and shared my wine with a Dutch pilgrim.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

In Burgos

Having written of my trials and tribulations getting to Burgos I was amused to note that it was the 13th day of walking. Just a coincidence of course...

After staking a claim to my bunk and dumping The Beast I went out for a quick look around. I didn´t wander further than the famous cathedral, it was very cold in the shade and I wanted to just sit and relax after my strenuous day, preferably in the sun. I found a bar where I could sit outside, and enjoyed a large beer there before having an early pilgrim dinner and heading back to complete the usual chores. I missed out completely on any sightseeing, which was a shame as I´m sure there was lots to see, but it was too late and I was too tired.

The albergue is new, purpose-built and very large. I was on the sixth floor, which gives an idea of the size. It even had lifts. Most people speak very highly of it but I was not impressed with the facilities. Maybe the lower floors were better equipped, but my dorm, which must have had over forty bunks, had no showers and only two toilets, one for disabled men and one for disabled women. They were very large and could easily have been divided into at least 4 cubicles each. The bunks were also paired and so close together that your mattress was touching your neighbour´s. This meant you were sleeping in closer proximity to a complete stranger than most married couples. I was unfortunate enough to have a middle-aged gentleman snorer next to me. As well as snoring he did something I have only previously seen in cartoons. When he exhaled his lips flapped rapidly and noisily. Oh my, what a night!

I later heard there had been a tragedy on the morning of the day I arrived in Burgos, a pilgrim had actually died in the albergue. I heard slight variations of the same story from several different people over the next couple of weeks. The pilgrim was an Italian in his early sixties , walking with a group of friends. They were staying at the albergue and made themselves a meal in the kitchen where they had a good time laughing and joking. Later they all went to bed but this particular man didn´t get up in the morning and was found to have died in his sleep. I can imagine the despair of his friends. But, maybe it wasn´t such a bad way to go, being on a pilgrimage and dying quietly in your sleep after having had an enjoyable evening with your companions, and having a pilgrim mass said for your soul in one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe.

Monday 27 July 2009

Day 13 - Photos

Monumento a los Caidos

Abandoned boots by the Camino

Church of San Nicolás and monastery in San Juan de Ortega

Only 518km to go...

Part of Burgos Cathedral - you can´t get back far enough to get it all in

With my pilgrim friend in Burgos

Day 13 - Villafranca to Burgos - 32km (+8)

It was raining and cold when I left the albergue just before 8 in the morning, but I wasn´t cold for long. The way led initially up a very steep muddy track out of Villafranca. When this improved underfoot it still remained a long steep climb up the first hill and I was overheating under my poncho. Thankfully the rain stopped after a while and I was able to take it off. The path led through a nature reserve, a lovely walk through oak and pine forest, although the mud was still a nuisance in places. Unlike when I was coming down from Roncesvalles I now had my trusty staff to keep me upright.

Along the way I passed a monument to a group of local people who were executed in the civil war called Monumento a los Caidos (Monument to the fallen) where people were still evidently leaving flowers after all these years. I found once again that the hills, apart from the first one, weren´t as bad as my guidebook had led me to expect and once the weather had improved it was very pleasant walking along surrounded by trees, masses and masses of wildflowers and with constant birdsong to keep me company. I think I saw only one or two other people for the whole 12km to the next village. Incidentally, I also passed a pair of boots abandoned on the path, with some flowers in them. They must have either caused their owner too much suffering or been too heavy to carry any further!

I stopped for a coffee in that village, San Juan de Ortega (St John of the Nettle) - I wonder where that name came from - a small remote place but on the tourist map as two coachloads arrived while I was there (and once again I was an object of curiosity). The path went downhill after that and then levelled off, eventually joined a road and passed through two more small villages. Although there was an albergue nearby I decided to keep going after a break for something to eat since I´d only done 19km so far, still felt pretty good and my back wasn´t troubling me too much. According to my map there was another albergue about 6km further on which I felt I could get to by mid-afternoon.

I went in to a bar in Atapuerca to have a slice of potato tortilla, which I really struggled to eat. I was finding it increasingly difficult to eat during the day when I was walking as I just didn´t feel hungry. I had to keep reminding myself that I was "running on empty" and force a few mouth fulls of something down. Eventually I found that some fruit and biscuits were usually enough to keep me going and at night my appetite always returned. I was getting used to braving the small village bars, very smoky and with only male customers who tended to stare. It was either do that or go without a coffee or soft drink and an essential visit.

My way now led over the fourth hill of the day which was larger than I had expected. The signs weren´t very clear and since there was no-one in sight for several kilometers it wasn´t until I got down the other side that I was sure I was still going the right way. While I was coming down I startled a bird in the field beside the path. It must have been a skylark because as I paused it rose higher and higher singing its little heart out. Standing there in the sun in the midst of green fields, listening to that song slowly fade away was one of those moments that stay with you and keep coming back from time to time.

In Cardeñuela I could not find the albergue and being mid-afternoon there was not a soul in sight to ask. I wandered around for a while and finally spotted a woman who told me there was no albergue there but that I would find one in the next village 4km down the road. This despite my map and my guidebook telling me otherwise.

In the next village I was again told there was no albergue, only a "casa rural", a guest house which would have cost me four times as much. My options were to stay in the guest house, walk to the next village and stay in a hotel there, or instead of the hotel I could get a bus the last 8 km into Burgos. I already knew the last stretch into Burgos was through an industrial site along a main road, so the bus option won hands down. I was so cheesed-off by now that I set off at a cracking pace, too irritated to feel tired or any pain. By the time I reached the bus stop it was after five in the afternoon, I had been on the go for nine hours and walked thirty-two kilometers and I´d had enough. Luckily there was someone to tell me where the stop was as it wasn´t marked and although the bus was hourly I only waited a few minutes for it.

My luck still held in Burgos as I hadn´t a clue where I was in relation to the albergue I wanted when I arrived. While I was trying to locate myself a couple came up (fellow pilgrims out for a stroll) and asked me if I was looking for the albergue. When I said yes they took me on the fifteen minute walk to it as they didn´t think (and rightly so) that I´d find it on my own. Not only was there a bunk available that late in the day, but I got a bottom one again. So although my day had gone rather pear-shaped towards the end, it had all worked out all right.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Day 12 - Photos

A typical wayside water fountain. This one is in Villafranca

The "empty" albergue in Villafranca Montes de Oca

Day 12 - Belorado to Villafranca Montes de Oca - 12km

Mick and the others left very early to get their bus and once again it was a sad to see them go, they had been such good company. The albergue served breakfast so I decided to have some before setting off as I wasn´t in a hurry. I had planned a very short day since it was only 12km to Villafranca where I intended to stop. After Villafranca there was a long stretch which looked very strenuous as it crossed three high hills one after the other in a remote area with nowhere to stay. I preferred to tackle this sort of terrain first thing in the morning rather than halfway through the day when I might be tired and really have to struggle to reach shelter.

After leaving Belorado it started to rain again, quite heavily, and my trainers, still wet from the previous day, became even wetter. I´d started off with dry socks but they became damp pretty quickly in the wet trainers even before the rain started and soon there was an audible squelch at each step I took. These couple of days were the only time I really had wet feet on the whole Camino. What rain I had at other times did no more than make my feet damp even though my trainers are not waterproof.

After a coffee break I kept going until I reached the albergue, which thankfully was open although it was only about mid-day. There was no-one there to book in with, in fact the whole place looked deserted until I went up some stairs and found my friend Annegrits using a computer to check her e-mails. According to her you just turned up, chose a bunk and signed in later with the hospitaleira when she arrived. A much better system than being made to queue up outside, sometimes in the cold and wet. I picked my bunk, left my rucksack and then went shopping for some food and soap while the shops were still open. Most days I arrived too late for this as they closed at two.

I managed to hang my washing out under cover as it was still raining on and off, and I also ate there although it was rather cold. After I sat and had some wine with Annegrits while we tried to chat. She was from East Germany and her English was self-taught, but we managed to communicate after a fashion. Our paths had kept crossing ever since I first saw her in Trinidad de Arre at the beginning of my Camino. Apart from the dinner that night we hadn´t spent much time together as her English was limited and she naturally gravitated towards the many German pilgrims she could speak to.

It is strange how people link up on this pilgrimage. I met Annegrits the day after I first lost touch with Mick, yet he later sent me a photo of his first communal pilgrim dinner before setting off from St Jean to cross the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles, and she is sitting at the same table. This kind of coincidence happened time and again with different people, as if we were all interconnected in some way.

Day 11 - Photos

Surprised in my bunk

View of Belorado from the hill

Storks nesting on the church belltower

The ruined castle on the hill overlooking Belorado

Day 11 - Santo Domingo to Belorado - 24km

This was a longish day, but not too strenuous. The hills were fairly gentle and there were several villages on the way where I stopped for short breaks. Leaving the first, Grañon, I was caught on a high exposed path in a thunderstorm. There was constant lightning overhead and I was the tallest object for miles around, so I was actually quite scared. They say you are supposed to lie down until the danger passes in a situation like this, but as it was raining very heavily and also hailing I didn´t fancy lying in the mud, especially as there was no sign of the storm passing any time soon. I kept going and hoping for the best and trying to console myself with the thought that if I did get struck by lightning it wasn´t such a bad way to go, especially in the middle of a pilgrimage. I also consoled myself with the thought that my walking stick was wooden, not one of the high-tec metal ones which could have acting like a lightning conductor!

I eventually squelched into the next village just as the storm was passing. My poncho had kept me beautifully dry except for the bottom of my trousers and my feet. My trainers and socks were absolutely drenched, but since the socks were not rubbing I decided not to change them, although this is recommended practice. By the end of the day when I did take them off my feet were very wrinkled but there was no harm done. One advantage, by the way, of having trousers with zip-off legs is that when they get wet and muddy you can unzip and just wash the lower part instead of the whole garment.

In the village of Villamayor del Rio there is an albergue run by a Brazilian couple. I called in there hoping to say hello, but although it was open and you could help yourself to coffee etc for a donation, there was no-one around. There were assorted baskets of gifts and goodies you could buy and an honesty box to pay for them. It looked very nice and welcoming and I was tempted to stay, but it was a bit too early to stop for the day.

Most of the way from then on to Belorado was beside a busy road. Easy walking but not very interesting. At one point I passed a large group of Canadian tourists going for a stroll, presumably a coach party. It was strange to be considered part of the local colour "Oh look, there´s a pilgrim"! Further on a car came driving slowly down the path and the driver gave me a business card for an albergue in Belorado. I decided to stay there as it said they also had single rooms. Of course, by the time I got there there weren´t any left but the dorm wasn´t too large and it had started to rain again so I decided to stay anyway. The private albergues are usually more expensive than the municipal ones but also usually that little bit better.

It was still raining after I had showered, so I decided to relax in my bunk (a top one this time, but at least there was a ladder). Imagine my surprise and pleasure shortly after to see Mick, Yvonne and Robin come strolling in. We caught up with each other´s news and when it stopped raining went for a look around. There was a ruined castle up on a hill that we went to see, and from there there was a good view of the church belltower with its stork nests. Later we went for our third farewell dinner, definitely the last one as they were catching the bus to Burgos in the morning and from there going to Barcelona.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Day 10 - Photos

Vineyards as far as the eye can see

Santo Domingo in the distance

Cock and hen in their cage

Santo Domingo´s shrine in the cathedral

Day 10 - Azofra to Santo Domingo de Calzada - 16km

It was spotting with rain in the morning when I left after a final goodbye to Mick, Yvonne and Robin. I didn´t leave until about 8 as I was hoping the rain would stop and also had planned only a shortish day. The track was nice and wide, but rather hilly, and passed through vineyards and farmland most of the way. Unfortunately the rain became heavier and I had to stop and put on my poncho.

I paused for a break and a snack after a long long climb up to the only village on the whole way, then set off again grateful it had stopped raining. As I left Cirueña I could hear hymn singing, and thought it was coming from one of the houses there, but then realised there was quite a large procession ahead of me going along the Camino to Santo Domingo. I virtually followed them the 5km into town although I never managed to catch them up. The farmers had switched sprinklers on amongst the vines, despite the earlier rain, and in some places the shields on the sprinklers which were supposed to protect passersby were ineffective. This meant that you had to pause, study the track ahead and try and time your dash through the moving showers in order not to get soaked. Not easy to dash with a rucksack on your back! I don´t know how the procession managed in their best clothes...

I felt tired by the time I arrived and my back was troubling me as usual. I booked in (bottom bunk again, lucky me), dumped my stuff then went to visit the cathedral. This is the cathedral famous for having a live hen and a cock in a cage inside to celebrate an old legend. The story goes that a young German pilgrim travelling to Santiago with his parents, spurned the attentions of the innkeeper´s daughter. She repaid him by hiding a valuable item in his luggage then accusing him of theft. He was caught, condemned and strung up on the gallows. His parents continued their pilgrimage unaware of what had happened to their son, thinking he had changed his mind about going with them. On their return many weeks later they were horrified to find their son hanging on the gallows, still apparently alive. They rushed to the priest and begged him to save their son. The priest was just sitting down to dinner with a roasted cock and hen on the platter before him. He insisted their son was no more alive than the fowl he was about to eat, at which point the birds came to life before his eyes. So the son was saved, proved innocent and it all ended happily. I can vouch that the cock is real as it crowed several times while I was in the cathedral.

After lunch I decided to have a snooze but was constantly disturbed by cocks crowing in the albergue garden. They keep spare birds for the cathedral there in a large hen house. I went into the garden to see them and bumped into the chap who´d been at dinner with us the previous night. After a brief chat I went out for a wander round then into a café for a drink. He was in there and insisted on buying my drink. I then went shopping and back to the albergue to make something to eat, where he turned up in the kitchen too. After eating I escaped into the garden but was joined there as well. At that point I decided I felt like a really early night and went off to bed. The poor bloke was probably just lonely but I was beginning to feel haunted by then.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Chatting in the courtyard at Azofra

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Day 9 - Photos

A long hot track

Armchairs by the wayside - for tired pilgrims?

Pool in albergue courtyard

Day 9 - Navarette to Azofra - 22km

The way out of Navarette was quite easy to follow and the track was fairly level initially. My back unfortunately started troubling me early on and bothered me more than usual all day. I stopped in a village for a coffee and later on had a lunch break in Nájera. The first bar I went into looked so grubby I just had a coffee, but then I found another one, a slightly more upmarket café/bar than usual where I was delighted to find they had real sandwiches made of sliced bread with a very tasty moist filling of chicken and mayonnaise with tomato. Yum, I can still taste it!

The way out of Nájera was quite a steep climb up past some sandstone cliffs on a shadeless track in the now roasting sun. It was a long hot walk to Azofra and my legs were tired and my feet hurting by the time I got there at about 2 in the afternoon. The albergue had beds in double rooms, small but adequate, and I was pleased to find I´d been allocated a room with my tall German friend Ursula. Kari and Sandi also turned up and later I found Mick, Yvonne and Robin were there too.

It was nice to see them as we had not expected to meet again after our dinner the previous evening. Mick and Robin had walked from Burgos to Santiago another year, so this time they were planning to only go as far as Burgos, a few days away and their daily schedule was different to mine. After the usual chores a group of us went out for a drink and then I sat around chatting to various people in the albergue courtyard, where there was a tiny pool. One of them was a Brazilian, Luis, who had sprained his ankle very badly a couple days previously and been unable to continue. Normally you are allowed to stay for only one night in most albergues and have to leave at eight in the morning, but if a pilgrim is ill or injured they usually make an exception to this rule.

Later I went for a another farewell dinner with Mick, Yvonne and Robin. We were joined by a chap I had some trouble shaking off the following day, but more of that anon... Strangely I found it difficult to get to sleep that night, with just myself and one other person in the room. Ursula wasn´t snoring or restless, maybe I had become so accustomed to the noise of a full dorm with 30 or more occupants that the quiet bothered me.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Day 8 - Photos

Ready to go after having my free breakfast - I did give a donation!

April taking a picture of Estella at the pilgrim statue

First-aiders in Logroño

Restored remains of a pilgrim hospital near Navarette

Hospitaleiro making pancakes

With Yvonne and Robin. In the background are three Norwegians, a wife, husband and his brother. The brother walked with crutches after a stroke and they were usually just ahead of me every day - this taught me a lesson in humility.

Day 8 - Viana to Navarette - 22km

I was woken by early risers and decided rather than lie in my sleeping bag for a while I might as well get up, pack and leave, so I was on my way before 7. On the way to Logroño I met April and Estella, and we stopped for breakfast. This was offered by a lady in what appeared to be her front room, where there was a large table and benches. You could help yourself to coffee or tea, and there was toast, jam and biscuits. All this was free although you were expected to leave a donation.

It wasn´t far to Logroño after that, where we passed into the famous wine-producing La Rioja region. In the city there was a statue of modern-day pilgrims, the only one I saw on the whole Camino, and in the square by the statue was a group of Cruz Roja (Red Cross) first aiders offering succour to any pilgrim in need, a welcome sight for some.

The way so far had been fairly level, good underfoot and even tarmac in places, and since my back was nothing like as bad as I had expected I decided to carry on. Despite my pessimism the previous night I was feeling pretty good and enjoying my walk. I suppose if you expect the worst, anything better than that is a plus! My back still hurt and I still had to take breaks, but it was bearable, which was a relief. The weather as usual was sunny with blue skies and getting hotter but it was not unpleasant. The way out of Logroño led through a linear park, past a lake where I sat on a bench and ate a bag of cherries, then up through some woods. I really enjoyed the cherries, they were in season, very cheap and delicious. In Brazil they are so expensive I never buy them. Altogether I must have eaten several kilos while I was in Spain.

I reached the albergue in Navarette an hour before it opened at 2, so I put my rucksack in the queue and waited for opening time. The hospitaleiro for some reason started selecting only people who were in two´s or three´s regardless of their place in line, so I paired up quickly with the girl behind me and we got in together and I even got the last bottom bunk again. I dumped my stuff and went for a beer with my new pal where we had a nice long chat. She told me quite a bit about herself, including her problems, and I sometimes wonder how things turned out for her as I never saw her again after the next morning. This happens quite often on the Camino, you meet people, exchange stories and can become quite close in a very short space of time, then you lose each other along the way and a lot of half finished stories are left hanging in the air.

Back at the albergue it turned out the hospitaleiro was in the kitchen making free pancakes for everyone, which was very nice. He had also left a number of scallop shells on a table for people to help themselves to. The albergue was small, clean and very well looked after, a contrast to some others I stayed in.

After the usual chores I went for a wander around and was very happy to see Mick, Yvonne and Robin, the friends I had made on my first day of walking and not seen since. We had a drink and caught up on each other´s news, then went for a pilgrim dinner with Ursula, a German woman I had seen and spoken to from time to time. She was very tall and the first time I saw her, in Estella, she had the bunk over mine and I admired the ease with which she climbed into it. The meal in the restaurant was served at a long table and there must have been about a dozen pilgrims there. The wine and conversation flowed freely and a pleasant evening was had by all.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Day 7 - Photos

Piles of stones left by pilgrims

On the way to Viana

Albergue with three-tier bunks

Day 7 - Los Arcos to Viana - 19km

I was up and off before any of my friends in the morning. It was very good going at first, although there were fairly steep climbs into the villages/towns that I passed through. I suppose originally they were built on high ground for defense purposes. I was pleased to note that I was managing the hills much better and was usually able to get up at a steady pace without stopping so often. I think my preparation was paying off, so all those boring exercises at home were worth doing after all. My recovery time was very quick too, just a pause for a couple of minutes standing still enabled me to keep going.

Unfortunately my back was really giving me trouble, becoming more and more painful as I went on. I had to keep taking breaks at shorter and shorter intervals and was getting cramp when I took my rucksack off. When I stopped for a picnic lunch I decided to take a couple of paracetamol in order to get me through the next stretch. I think the rest and the tablets helped a little, but instead of trying to get to Logroño at 25km I decided to stop at Viana after 19km. I was getting rather concerned about this pain as nothing seemed to make a difference and each day it was a bit worse. I began to wonder how it was going to affect my Camino. Rather than give up there was an option of using the rucksack transportation service offered in some places, but for me that would have been the very last option. To me this walk without carrying my own pack would feel like cheating. I know people do use this service, and they have their own reasons, I´m not condemning them, merely saying what felt right for me personally.

The albergue in Viana was in a converted monastic building with three-tier bunks! I reckoned I was lucky to get a middle one. The dorm was small, only nine bunks in all, and appeared to be full of elderly Frenchmen when I arrived. I claimed my bunk then went out to relax in a courtyard with shady trees and lovely views into the distance. I hadn´t seen anyone I knew all day, so it was nice to bump into a few familiar faces when I went to wander round the town later. Apparently this was the town where Cesare Borgia died.

I decided to eat in that night and after some shopping went back to the albergue. It had completely filled up while I was out, and there was a mattress on the floor in my dorm, where half the elderly men appeared to have been replaced by women, and another in the refectory. At least these people had been given somewhere to sleep, not told to walk on to the next town. I was pleased to find I wasn´t the only female, I was still getting used to the mixed dorm, mixed shower and mixed toilet aspect of the whole business. Some places had separate showers and toilets for men and women, but nearly everywhere the dorms were mixed, even in a parochial albergue.

My back and legs were painful during the night, so I decided to walk only as far as was comfortable the next day, even if it was for just a few kilometers. The possibility of worsening my problem and causing some sort of damage just wasn´t worth the risk.

Monday 13 July 2009

Day 6 - Photos

April at the wine fountain

A long hot hill to climb

Medieval pilgrim shelter with pool inside

Day 6 - Estella to Los Arcos - 22km

I was up early in the morning after a night disturbed by aching legs which woke me up every time I turned over. When I got up they felt fine though and after a communal breakfast supplied by the albergue I was on my way before 7:30 despite nearly setting off without my glasses. They had slipped under my bunk and I was in the street before realising they were missing. Because I was basically wearing and carrying the same things every day I had developed a routine to make sure I didn´t leave anything behind, and I´m sure this helped me as I never lost anything. Whenever I set off I would run through a mental checklist - camera in bumbag, bag round waist, map in pocket, glasses tucked in neckline, stick in hand and rucksack on back. After patting myself in sequence I was ready to go. Observers of this ritual may have thought I had some sort of problem...

A few kilometers from Estella the path passes the Fuente del Vino (the wine fountain) installed by the local bodega for pilgrims. It is an actual fountain with free red wine flowing, albeit slowly, and traditionally pilgrims stop there for a drink. I didn´t really fancy it at about 8 in the morning, so I took a token sip but kept some in a water bottle for later consumption!

The first part of the path was through lovely oak and pine woods and it was very pleasant walking in the shade, but then there followed a long hot climb to Villamayor de Monjardim. There I made sure to stock up with water as the next stretch was a solitary 12km with very little shade and no water fountains. I kept meeting up with Kari and Sandi, and also the young group with April. Since there was so little shade along the way from the now very hot sun, we tended to share what there was, squatting on any convenient log or stone. I had a picnic lunch with Kari and Sandi where I arrived just missing the excitement of their being overrun with goats and sheep.

On the way I passed a very interesting old building which apparently had been a shelter for pilgrims in medieval times. It was built of stone, and when you entered there were steps inside which you could go down to a pool of water. I could well imagine the pilgrims in those times sitting there resting with their tired feet in the water. It was lovely and cool in there out of the sun and would also have been an excellent shelter from rain or snow.

The path was fairly level after this, and good underfoot, but seemed to stretch forever in the heat. It ran mostly between vineyards or fields full of crops, with wildflowers along the verges. I was getting pretty tired by now, and my back starting aching for the first time. It was a strange ache, quite sharp and just under my right shoulder blade. I tried adjusting my rucksack every way I could think of, but the pain only eased when I took it off, so I was having to stop more frequently. Unfortunately this problem continued in varying degrees right up to the end of my Camino, so The Beast really lived up to its name. At least I never had any trouble with blisters and although my legs got tired they didn´t hurt during the day.

I was pretty worn out by the time I reached the albergue mid-afternoon, where I was lucky enough to get a bottom bunk again. When I wrote up my notes I found I´d broken the 100km milestone, which cheered me no end, I began to believe I was going to make it after all. I decided to eat in that evening, and had a nice potato tortilla with some beer. You can buy ready-made tortillas in the supermarkets, and they are quite tasty as well as filling.

One advantage of the hot weather was that my washing dried very quickly. Every day I´d wash my top, underwear and socks and by evening they were all dry so that I had fresh clothes to put on after my shower next day. Most pilgrims do their washing every day as soon as they arrive, so you have to be fairly quick off the mark to make sure you get some space on the washing line. My safety pins worked really well as pegs, but six weren´t quite enough, eight would have been better.

I had a pretty good night, except once about 4am when a snorer woke me, but I didn´t mind because when I looked out of the window there was the most incredible night sky full of stars and I lay watching them for a while before dropping off again. When I woke at 7 I was surprised to find the dorm still full of people, all sound asleep. Breakfast was again a communal one provided by the albergue, and during the meal there was some classical church music playing which was a nice touch. I believe the albergue is run by an Austrian church.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Day 5 - Photos

Heading for the next village in the distance

Typical dormitory

My shadow!

Day 5 - Puente la Reina to Estella - 21km

Since the albergue I was staying in actually had a bar, I was able to have a coffee before leaving in the morning, which made a nice change. Usually I had to walk between 5 and 10 km before finding somewhere open. I didn´t want the extra weight of carrying coffee makings with me, so usually after walking for about an hour I would have a breakfast stop of chocolate biscuits and water.

The route led through gently rolling countryside, vineyards and farmyards, good underfoot but with some fairly steep ups and downs, and passed through several villages. The fields and hedgerows were full of spring flowers and I was accompanied almost continuously by birdsong. Each village seemed to be built on a hill, so that you could see it in the distance as you approached, and part of the way was on a 2000-year-old Roman road. I took fairly frequent breaks because the sun became very hot early on.

Walking from east to west every day meant that the morning sun was always behind you, so the backs of necks, arms and legs were the bits that caught it most. In the evening you could always spot a pilgrim by their brown legs and white feet where their socks had been. Your shadow was always cast ahead of you when you set off and I think everyone takes a photo of this, I know I did. It was actually useful at times when in doubt which route to take to know the sun had to be behind you. It helped me on more than one occasion.

During the walk I met up several times with Kari and Sandy, and also a group I had first met at Cizur Menor. This group showed how truly international the Camino is. They were all in their twenties, April from England, Anna from Ireland, Estella from America, Santiago (think that was a nickname!) from Columbia and later also Alex from Germany. They were a very lively and friendly bunch and I saw quite a lot of them as we sometimes stayed in the same albergues. They always prepared their own evening meal and would gather up and feed any stray pilgrims they found.

I stopped for a bocadillo for lunch on the way, an awful one that consisted of slices of smoked sausage slapped in a french stick with no butter or anything. It was very dry and the sausage still had its tough skin on. In fact I went off bocadillos fairly early on as I found most of them dry and tasteless. At a pinch cheese and tomato would do, but some places would make you a "sandwich mixto" a toasted ham and cheese sandwich which was very much nicer. Anyway, stopping to eat meant I didn´t arrive in Estella until after 3 in the afternoon, by which time it was blazing hot.

Despite my late arrival I managed to get a bottom bunk, the last one. I don´t like sleeping on a top bunk as I´m always afraid I´ll fall out and I was lucky enough to nearly always get a bottom bunk, often one of the last ones. The dorm filled up very fast and after the usual chores I went for a walk around, where I bumped into Kari and Sandi who were staying at the same place. We went shopping for supplies as the following day there was a long stretch without any villages. Later I went out to dinner with Kari and we had a nice long chat and got to know each other better.

Friday 10 July 2009

Day 4 - Photos

Heading for the hills

Pilgrim sculpture

Alto de Perdón

Welcome break in the shade after the descent

Puente la Reina

Day 4 - Cizur Menor to Puente la Reina - 20km

I managed to sleep in until about 7 in the morning, a real treat, and was up and off before 8. I found setting off every morning a really uplifting experience, the whole new day and trail before me, feeling fresh and full of energy and looking forward to whatever fate had in store. It was exciting feeling part of an ancient tradition together with so many people. For the first part of the morning the Camino was usually busy with so many pilgrims setting off at about the same time. I used to call it The March of the Pilgrims, and try and hang back so that they surged ahead and past me and I at least had the impression I was walking alone. I might try and keep a few backs with rucksacks in sight if the way led out of town as sometimes the way wasn´t clearly marked and it was reassuring to have someone to follow.

Leaving Cizur Menor I could see the trail winding through fields towards the horizon and the range of hills we would cross that day. All along the skyline were the wind turbines which became a familiar sight. The going was good underfoot but the trail went up and up, turning into a hard slog. I stopped for a break and a picnic breakfast under some trees with a lovely view before me, then carried on climbing.

Near the top I stopped for another breather and chatted to a Canadian, Kari, who was doing the Camino with her niece Sandy. I´d lost touch with the friends I´d made at the beginning because of my short walk the previous day and it was nice to chat to someone. The weather had now settled into a pattern which was to continue for many days. First thing cool if not chilly, and misty. Then the sun would burn off the mist and the day would get hotter and hotter, until by about 11:30 it was scorching. This made walking in the early afternoon nearly impossible, so to get the day´s kms in people were setting off earlier and earlier. Being used to the heat I managed better than most, but even I tried to stop by lunchtime.

It was relief to reach the top of the mountain ridge, by that time the sun was shining strongly and I was very hot from the climb. The ridge is called Alto de Perdón and has stunning views back towards Pamplona. Along the ridge itself are some metal sculptures, silhouettes of pilgrims. I did not stop for too long as it was windy and I was concerned about the descent. Both my guide book and my map book warned that the descent was steep, rough and with loose boulders. I had decided I would probably have to stop at the first village after the descent that had an albergue as my legs would probably be quite wobbly by then. In fact this was not the case at all, the descent was steepish in places but soon over and the trail was good, no boulders.

More than once I was worried by the warnings in my books of various degrees of severity and they never turned out to be so fearful after all. Eventually I realised that medieval pilgrims, wishing to get from A to B, were unlikely to trek up and down the mountains by the hardest route. Being sensible folk they would have chosen the easiest path to reach their goal. I was confusing things somewhat with my trekking trips when you deliberately set out on a challenging walk. After the penny dropped I no longer viewed distant mountains with dismay, I knew I would cross them by the easiest route.

Since my legs were holding out I decided to carry on to Puente la Reina. My book of maps was divided into daily stages, one page at a time, which was very helpful in planning how far to walk. I didn´t intend to stick to it strictly, but it was useful to have an idea of how much ground you could cover. The albergues were marked on the maps so if you didn´t stay in a certain town or village you knew how far it was to the next bed.

The albergue Santiago Apostol in Puente la Reina was through town, over the famous bridge and up a very steep hill. I arrived mid-afternoon and the hospitaleiro greeted me with two large glasses of water one after the other before he even let me speak! The building was new, unfinished in parts and I actually got a one-bed cubicle to myself, which was lovely. It also served a pilgrim meal, ideal as I didn´t want to traipse downhill and back again. The food was excellent and plentiful, and the wine which accompanies every pilgrim meal came in pint pots, full ones!

The town is named after the medieval pilgrim bridge over the Rio Arga, (Queen´s Bridge), built by royal command in the 11th century. It is a lovely bridge and much photographed. I only saw it properly the next morning as I went past it on the next leg of my journey. I found quite often that I didn´t have the energy or the inclination to do much sightseeing. If it wasn´t under my nose I didn´t bother. This is most unlike me as usually I am an avid visitor, especially to all things ancient.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Day 3 - Photos

Statue of bull runners in Pamplona

Shady spot for waiting outside albergue

Turtle pool

Albergue garden

Day 3 - Trinidad to Cizur Menor - 10km

I started off in the morning just before eight after a pretty good night - no snorers (or I didn´t hear them) and I am now getting used to my sleeping bag. A small fly in the ointment is that for safety´s sake I always put my bumbag in the sleeping bag, pushed down to the bottom right near my feet. It has my passport, bank cards and cash in it as well as camera, so it never leaves my waist except in the shower (where it goes in with me in a ziplock bag) or at night. Since my sleeping bag is the mummy variety, narrower at the bottom, there isn´t much room for my feet and the bumbag. Eventually I got used to this but in the beginning it was a nuisance.

Everyone else had left well before me, but I wasn´t in a hurry as I had decided to have a short day. Most people were planning to stay in Pamplona and go sightseeing, but since I had already done that I intended to go straight through the city and stay in a town five kilometers further on. The following day would involve a steep climb up and down and I wanted to get as close to this as possible.

It was a misty morning and very cold, 7C when I set off. The way led through suburbs towards Pamplona and was well marked by yellow arrows except near some roadworks where I temporarily lost my way. I reached the city by 9 and fortunately found a souvenir shop where I was at last able to buy a stick and the traditional pilgrim scallop shell to hang from my rucksack. Since most shops don´t open until 10 and I didn´t know where this one was it was only by a fluke I found it.

I went into a bar for breakfast, but only stopped for a quick coffee. The bar was full of young tourists, very noisy and drunk, and still drinking at that time in the morning. The floor was so sticky I couldn´t put my rucksack down and there was nowhere to sit. A Spanish chap on a stool next to me started a long rambling conversation about the tourists but since he was also drunk I couldn´t understand most of what he said. I hadn´t found anywhere else open and I needed my caffeine fix so I stuck it out while I had a coffee then cleared off.

After buying some supplies for the next day (Sunday) and eating some breakfast on a park bench, I headed out of Pamplona, again on a well-marked trail. After another long walk through suburbs and past university grounds I eventually reached the albergue in Cizur Menor after a bit of a climb. It was closed when I arrived at 12 but there was somewhere nice to sit in the shade as it was pretty hot by now. When I did book in about an hour later I found the albergue had a lovely garden to sit in and even a pool with turtles. Being the first arrival I had first choice in the dorm and actually got a bed instead of the usual bunk.

The hospitaleira was a very nice lady who later on cared for the feet of the pilgrims who came hobbling and limping in suffering from blisters. For most people this was the third or fourth day of walking and quite a few were having a bad time with blisters and sore muscles.

After a snack I did my chores, following the same routine as most pilgrims and this became a daily established habit. First you shower, then wash clothes, prepare your rucksack for the next day, check your e-mails if there is internet available, write up your notes, go shopping and eat. Some of the early starters used to sleep for a couple of hours after arriving, but I only did this rarely as bedtime was usually around 9 and I wouldn´t have been able to get to sleep. I had a pilgrim meal that night, on my own because I had inadvertently picked a restaurent no-one else had. I had a very good night´s sleep in my bed and was not disturbed by any snorers. I think I´m usually so tired I just don´t hear them anymore. I´m not using earplugs, unlike most, because I find them uncomfortable. In fact I eventually threw mine away.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Day 2 - Photos

Swiss-style houses

San Tiago in a garden - makes a change from gnomes

Bridge over Rio Ulzama

Convent garden