Camino de Santiago – Sarria to Portomarin

After Pamplona we traveled by train to Monforte de Lemos and arrived late in the evening.  We grabbed a room in an empty hotel near the train station and jumped on the local train to Sarria early the next morning.  When we got out in Sarria we had no idea where the Camino was.  Not a problem in Spain!  We walked for about five minutes until we saw some people with backpacks.  Then we starting seeing unmistakable signs of the Camino everywhere such as these two mosaics of a seashell and a pilgrim.

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

 

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

Mosaic in Sarria sidewalk

If I haven’t done my duty before and explained that seashells are a sign of the Camino, then let me do so right now.  Nearly every pilgrim has a seashell attached to their backpack and they are often used either as way markers or as parts of markers along the way.

We started seeing a lot of pilgrims as soon as we were outside of town.  Since we were near the 100 km mark, the population increases dramatically to probably two or three times what we saw in Navarre.

Soon we were immersed in a heavy wood and later corn fields as we got our first taste of Galicia.  Galicia is different from Navarre.  It is more like rolling rounded green mountains with lots of farms, almost endless lines of little villages, and stone walls separating the paths and farms.  I even saw old stone sheep folds, probably not any different from what has been used for thousands of years across the world.

Dylan in front of an ancient oak tree.

Dylan in front of an ancient oak tree.

Corn fields aplenty, farms of all kinds.

Corn fields aplenty, farms of all kinds.

The buildings are different too.  Galicia has a lot more layered or piled stone walls with plaster on the outside, and sometimes the plaster has worn away with the ages.  Navarre was famous for the red roofs everywhere you looked.  Galicia had a lot of buildings in a state of disrepair, with roofs falling in and some with trees growing out of them.

Looking back on it now, I am reminded of the opening of the book, “The Alchemist”, when the shepherd boy sleeps overnight in an abandoned church with a sycamore growing out of the sacristy.   It was just the same here.  The buildings looked ancient and who knew how many generations of families had lived upon this same land.

Often we were walking through someone’s farm.  Many farmers were out with their tractors working the fields.  I even passed an old man on the Camino path hauling a huge pile of produce by wheelbarrow.

Soon we came to Casa Barbadelo, which is a popular albergue about 4 km outside of Sarria.  We stopped here to get our sellos, and I finally bought my very own seashell to put on my backpack.  This seashell and my memories were the only souvenirs I wanted to take home.  As we were leaving a farmer came by with cattle and two German shepherds who seemed completely bored with pilgrims.  In fact we started seeing a lot of German shepherds, all of whom took no interest in us.

Casa Barbadelo

Casa Barbadelo

A farmer with his cows and german shephards passes outside Casa Barbadelo.

A farmer with his cows and German shepherds passes outside Casa Barbadelo.

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I remembered that I had not taken a good shot of a way marker, so I took one.

 

Just outside of Barbadelo, we found the 12th Century Church of Santiago.   We stopped in for a short prayer.  I was amazed by the simple beauty of this church.

Santiago Church

Santiago Church

 

Altar in Santiago Church.

Altar in Santiago Church.

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Then, I stopped at the Camino Coke machine, which had the names of stops from the Camino all over it.  I probably got the best deal on a Coke there in all of Spain, 20 ounces of pure Coca Cola for only 1.50 euro.

A Camino Coke machine

A Camino Coke machine

After the Coke machine, we were back in the Galician countryside.  I took a lot of pictures of flowers along the way before arriving at Casa Morgade, where we had a very good lunch of eggs and bacon and a dog decided to hang out with us the entire time.  We also saw two markers for kilometer 100.  I believe the second one, the more decorated, was the correct one.  Anyway, we were happy to be at kilometer 100.

 

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Galicia, stone wall separate the landscape.

Galicia, stone wall separate the landscape.

 

The first 100 km marker.

The first 100 km marker.

 

What I believe is the actual 100 km marker.

What I believe is the actual 100 km marker.

 

He hung out with us at lunch.  Good company.

He hung out with us at lunch. Good company.

 

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Stared seeing lots of crosses with various memorials on them.

Stared seeing lots of crosses with various memorials on them.

A few kilometers after Casa Morgade we caught site of Portomarin far away.  We began a deep descent down to the river.  Once at the river, we crossed a bridge and entered the ancient archway into the city.   Portomarin was perhaps one of my favorite cities in Spain.  The city sits high above a reservoir which was filled in and drowned part of the original town.  They had to relocate the 12th century church of St Nicholas stone by stone to a high point above the reservoir.

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We checked into a nice pension, Cafe Gonzar, which overlooked the river.  The pension owner was extremely helpful.  I didn’t have cash, and she let me pay her later on, after I had a chance to clean up and go into town to the ATM.   We decided to swim at the local pool, which has a magnificent view of the river below.

We also decided to try pulpo for dinner.  Pulpo, which is octopus tentacle chopped into little round pieces, is considered a delicacy of Galicia.  We were unable to eat it.  The flavor was overpowering, and the texture was something we weren’t use to.  I know a lot of people swear by pulpo, but I didn’t like it.

I also attempted to go to mass at St. Nicholas, but I thought my clothes were too stinky from walking.  I sat in the back corner away from other human beings, but by the time mass started, the church was filling up.  I left mass early :).

The next day we had a great breakfast at Cafe Gonzar, and then we were on our way to Palas de Rei.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – A Rest Day in Pamplona Part II

After the Running of the Bulls, we went back to our hotel to regroup for a bit.  Then we went back into downtown to the Cafe Iruna on the Plaza de Castillo.  This is the famous cafe from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”.   I wanted to sit out on the terraza and have a beer like in the book.  I had my first taste of Estrella Galicia, the most popular Spanish beer, and we ordered raciones, which are like a large plate of appetizers.  We decided to try their calimari, which was excellent.  We also had a potato dish with a type of tomato sauce on it and grilled cheese (no bread) with ham in the middle.

All the food was very good.  The price was decent too.  I was afraid we were going to get the tourist prices here, but not really.  They’ve managed to keep the tapas and raciones at a reasonable price.  I also spoke Spanish to the waiter the entire time and managed to order everything.  He asked me if I was English, which I thought was a great compliment.  If they think you’re a numb skull, then they would ask if you’re an American :).   He was surprised and said I spoke very good Spanish.

Cafe Iruna, Pamplona

Cafe Iruna, Pamplona

Dylan at Cafe Iruna.

Dylan at Cafe Iruna.

Estrella Galicia, a very good beer Spanish beer which I ordered nearly everywhere I went after this.

Estrella Galicia, a very good beer Spanish beer which I ordered nearly everywhere I went after this.

Estrella Galicia.

Estrella Galicia.

Raciones!  Great calamari.

Raciones! Great calamari.

Inside the Cafe Iruna, probably mush as Hemingway saw it.

Inside the Cafe Iruna, probably mush as Hemingway saw it.

After lunch we went over to the bullring to see Hemingway’s statue.  Did I mention I am a Hemingway fan?

Paseo de Hemingway.  Hemingway is a big hero here.  He made tourism to Pamplona during San Fermin very popular.

Paseo de Hemingway. Hemingway is a big hero here. He made tourism to Pamplona during San Fermin very popular.

Me and Hemingway.  If only I could write like him.

Me and Hemingway. If only I could write like him.

The bull ring

The bull ring

We wandered the streets which were getting packed again.  There was some outside entertainment, including this freaky box act (what else do you call them?).

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The streets get busier.

The streets get busier.

Then I saw Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance and decided to go in.  I was enjoying my visit here, when they abruptly closed.  I suppose they wanted to go enjoy San Fermin as well.  I took a few pictures before getting out, but didn’t have time to really learn anything about the cathedral, which was kind of disappointing.  However, I did get to pray, which is always a good thing.

Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance.

Santa Maria Cathedral in the distance.

Santa Maria up close

Santa Maria up close

Inside Santa Maria

Inside Santa Maria

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Dylan wanted to see the procession of bands, so after we got kicked out of the church, we headed over there.  On the way, we snapped a few photos of the Encierro statue.

Vendors sell their wares in front of Encierro statue.

Vendors sell their wares in front of Encierro statue.

Encierro statue

Encierro statue

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Encierro statue

Encierro statue

Dylan and the Encierro statue

Dylan and the Encierro statue

Later we walked over to the procession of Big Heads, which are like huge dolls that tower above the crowd and dance and spin around.

One of the big heads passes by.

One of the big heads passes by.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wichita Mountains – Charon Garden Wilderness Trail

Two and half hours northwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex actual mountains exist.  They pass all the requisite tests for mountains.  Their granite heights rise far above the surrounding Oklahoma prairie.  They feel like mountains, not foot hills, and they have things that we love in mountains like huge chunks of granite outcroppings, mountain streams with trout, water falls, elusive elk, and even bison wandering around the base.   No longer do we have to drive four hours south to Austin to find some foothills, or trek way north to Talimena.   We don’t have to pretend the hills of Palo Pinto are mountains.   

Fly fisher on creek on the river, Medicine Park, OK.  @Copyright, Gerry White, 2014.

Fly fisher on river at Medicine Park, OK. @Copyright, Gerry White, 2014.

March 15th was a chilly overcast morning. My family and I had arrived in Lawton, Oklahoma the previous night and were looking forward to a vigorous hike through several trails. However, with the rain and a family not used to hiking in nasty weather, we decided instead to check out Medicine Park, Oklahoma for a few hours until the rain abated.

Medicine Park is a small community located just east of the Wichita Mountains, south of the dam on Lake Lawtonka.  The town is stunning!  It could easily be picked up and dropped in the Black Hills without seeming out of place.  On our drive in, we saw cool things like wild turkeys wandering near the road and the “Chaps My Ass” biker outfitting store.  Yep, mountain stuff, like we were expecting.  We also saw a dedication to folk art, with many people having unique statuary like this bad looking prey mantis.

The prey mantis.

The prey mantis.

The town is centered on the river downstream from Lake Lawtonka.  We spent a little time here watching a fly fisher work the trout on the last day of trout season.  The river itself has some nice waterfalls and cascades situated within the brownish red granite.  In addition we saw more statues, like the bison statue below.   Later we came back to the town to have lunch at the River Cafe, which was good river view dining.   My wife, being from the Black Hills felt like she was home again, and we started lightheartedly discussing retirement here.

Bison statue in Medicine Park.  Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Bison statue in Medicine Park. Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of the bridge in medicine park with Mount Scott in the background.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

View of the bridge in medicine park with Mount Scott in the background. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

Large waterfall (man made) just below the dam, Medine Park, OK.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

Large waterfall (man made) just below the dam, Medine Park, OK. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014

After hanging around the town, we headed upriver to Lake Lawtonka and the Lawton dam.  Here we got our first unimpeded view of the Wichita Mountain range with Mount Scott, which sits just behind Lake Lawtonka.  Lake Lawtonka itself was a spectacle with its water fowl, ducks, geese, and especially pelicans.  We waited until we caught a pelican in flight and snapped some shots of it landing.  Meanwhile we monitored the activity on the dam, where the fishing was crowded and they steadily pulled in fish.  We made our way up to the dam to get a view of Medicine Park from above.

The dam of Lake Lawtonka.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

The dam of Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of Lake Lawtonka.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

View of Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelicans on Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelicans on Lake Lawtonka. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Pelican

Leaving Medicine Park, we headed straight to the Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.  Upon entering the park, we located the visitor center and mapped out what we wanted to cover.  We were planning on doing the Charon Garden Wilderness trail and perhaps Elk Mountain trail.  The rain at this point had only been light and had nearly died down completely.   The visitor center is well worth a stop.  It has all the history of the mountains, descriptions of the local plants and animals.

When we arrived at Charon Garden Wilderness Trail, we could not find it.  In the parking lot we noticed a sign for Elk Mountain, but no sign for Charon Garden.  We decided the unmarked trail at the end of the parking lot was probably Charon Garden.  Starting on this walk, we first crossed a bridge over Cache Creek.

Creek at beginning of Charon Garden trail.  @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Creek at beginning of Charon Garden trail. @Copyright Gerry White, 2014.

Crossing over we continued down the trail for about an eighth of a mile before finding a sign for the official start of the trail.  The trail at this point is flat and goes through a wooded area following a creek.  The surface is mainly dirt with small rocks.  Off to the left Elk Mountain lies.  Eventually, we left the woods and worked ourselves into an open area dominated by many large boulders.

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Corey holds up a boulder that has fallen in our path.

Corey holds up a boulder that has fallen in our path.

Corey climbs a mountain.

Corey climbs a mountain.

As we went further in, the boulder fields got larger and the path less easy to follow.  Yet the beauty of the place was unsurpassable as well.  Far off we could see the apple and pear formation, which this path is famous for.  We walked about one and a half to two miles in before the boulder field was so dense that we felt uncomfortable walking it in the light rain.

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Apple and pear formation.  Wichita Mountains

Apple and pear formation. Wichita Mountains

Apple and pear formation close up.

Apple and pear formation close up.

Eventually the rain become too heavy and the boulders too slick, so we made our way back to the parking lot.  We were very satisfied with our trip to this point and decided to explore by car.  We drove over to the Mount Scott area, and took photos of a wild turkey and a lone buffalo.  The next morning we returned and drove up to the top of Mount Scott.  It was so windy that we didn’t stay on the mountain for long.  We also checked out Quanah Parker Lake and dam.

Picture taken by Jodie White in the Wichita Mountains, March 15, 2014.  Copyright Jodie White, 2014.

Picture taken by Jodie White in the Wichita Mountains, March 15, 2014. Copyright Jodie White, 2014.

Picture of a lone bison near Mount Scott.  All Right Reserved, 2014.

Picture of a lone bison near Mount Scott. All Right Reserved, 2014.

View from the top of Mount Scott, Wichita Mountains.

View from the top of Mount Scott, Wichita Mountains.

A shot of me at the dam on Quanah Parker lake.

A shot of me at the dam on Quanah Parker lake.

At the end of the weekend, we were very ecstatic to find a new place to explore.  We promised ourselves we would come back for many camping and hiking trips.  With fall coming up, we need to start planning.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – A Rest Day in Pamplona Part I

On the fourth day of our Camino we took a rest day in Pamplona.  I planned this day once I found out we would be in Pamplona during the San Fermin Festival.  San Fermin is a famous Spanish festival where they celebrate Saint Fermin, who was martyred around year 303.  He is the patron saint of the Navarre region of Spain, where Pamplona is located.  Legend is Saint Fermin was dragged through the streets by bulls.  While this legend may or may not be accurate, the festival has another event where bulls run the streets, the running of the bulls.

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I am a huge Hemingway fan, and in his book “The Sun Also Rises” he depicts a group of American expatriates and English going to the San Fermin Festival circa the 1920’s.  Hemingway’s book put this festival on the map, and ever since people from all around the world have been coming here, along with the mainly Spanish crowd dressed in their traditional white uniforms with red scarves.

We woke up early in order to get downtown in time for the running of the bulls.  I pre-booked balcony space so we could watch the event unfold from above.  It was expensive at $120 euro, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

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We arrived in downtown around 7:00 am and made our way to Plaza de Castillo, which is on the bull run route.  The streets were still alive with party goers from the previous night.  A few people were so drunk they were having trouble walking.  Young people walked by with huge cups of vino tinto and Estrella Galicia.  The bars were still blaring loud music in some sections of the square.  We were early, so we sought out our apartment and waited on a bench nearby.

While we waited, the police come through the square along with the medical teams and ambulances.  This gave us a degree of certainty that this was serious business.  Around 7:30 am our hosts arrived and took us upstairs.  We went out on the balcony for a look around.  There are hundreds of balconies lining the route at various levels of the buildings.  We were two levels up, so there was one level below us and two above.  The street below was clear, and the cops were walking through clearing the street, checking to ensure all doors were closed and locked.   They didn’t want to have a bull get in one of the shops on the ground level.

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Then the cops formed a line across the street and waited.  A little while later the pastores, or bull shepherds, walked through.  These are the trainers who try to keep the bulls from killing anyone and try to get the bulls to go in the correct direction.  They carry long sticks which they use to tap the bulls on the nose.  The crowd was building on the balconies and they started clapping in unison as the pastores passed by in their green uniforms.

The first runners jogged down the street to the police line and waited there.  These dudes looked ready to scrap as they stretched, hopped up and down, and ran in place in front of the cops.   A few minutes later, we heard rather than saw the main group of runners come through.  They were chanting the Seven Nations Army chant as they came.  The crowd had grown on the balconies, and our own balcony was stuffed full of newcomers.  You could feel the tension as the crowd built below us.  At this point, the cops let the crowd pass their line and go down towards the bull ring.

At 8:00 am the first rocket fired.  This signifies that the bulls have been released.  The runners started looking to our left for the first appearance of bulls.   When the bulls came, they came in such a flash that they split the crowd like the sea.  It was utter chaos.  A bull in the first group caught his horn under the arm of one of the runners and lifted him up.  The bull carried him about twenty feet before dumping him on the ground.  Three other bulls trampled him underfoot.  

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Soon we heard a disturbance to the left of us, and I leaned far out on the balcony to see what was happening.  I could just see a bull in the distance kicking and attempting to gore a man who was suspended in mid-air and hanging on for dear life.  This bull, we would later find out, had fallen and been separated from the others.  Since he was separated, he was pissed off.  Later video showed him goring a man from Australia, tearing off a chunk of his leg, and attempting to impale him in the stomach.  A cop managed to pull him through the slates in the fence just in time.

For now, the bull had a pocket of people around him.  The pastores attempted to get the bull to go in the direction of the ring, while the runners would approach him from the blind side sometimes swatting at him with a newspaper.  The bull turned mechanically in a circle, looking for someone to gore, as they processed slowly down the street.  Soon they were directly under us, and the bull took off after two young men.  I managed to snap a shot as he chased the crowd towards the ring.   Another crowd of bulls came through a bit later with no major incidents.

In a few minutes, the street cleared, and we went inside to watch the video with our hosts.  The coverage of the event is like any major sporting event, with announcers and slow motion replay.  The bull who had been separated from the others gored three people that day.  It is the craziest event I have ever attended in my life; a government sanctioned event where people are expected to be maimed or killed.  

After we left the apartment we caught the taxi back to the hotel.  We would come back later in the day, and I will cover that in the next installment.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – Zubiri to Pamplona

The night in Zubiri was great until about 5 am when a family of albergue mates decided to pack all their stuff while holding a conversation for at least a half hour.  I thought there was a standard of Camino etiquette that included taking your stuff outside to pack or having it packed the night before, but that was not the case.  After this experience, we stayed in less albergues and more pensions, or private accommodations.  For an extra 10 euro a night it was worth it.

This day we had a long walk ahead of us, due to having a shorter day the previous day.  We were going from Zubiri all the way through Pamplona to a hotel in Pamplona’s “industrial” district.  Hotels are difficult to get in Pamplona during the San Fermin Festival, and this was the only affordable hotel I could get.  I guessed that the walk would be roughly 26 kilometers.

After breakfast, we crossed back over the Puente de la Rabia and walked uphill towards Larrasoana.  Zubiri is an industrial town and we walked next to Magnesitas, a huge mining operation and factory, for what seemed like at least a kilometer, perhaps further.

Outside Zubiri.  Part of Magnesitas mining operation can be seen to the right.

Outside Zubiri. Part of Magnesitas mining operation can be seen to the right.

A couple of kilometers later we stopped in a small village for water.  It was a village nestled in hills overlooking the N-135, but I am not sure if it was Osteritz or Llarratz, as there were no signs.  They were growing grapes, some of which were right on the path, and had an orchard of various types of fruit.  We met a cat who kept us company the entire time we were resting.

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After leaving this village, we went into some dense woods, before finally arriving at the bridge at Larrasoana.  We decided not to go into town and instead just rested at the central part of the bridge, overlooking the Rio Arga.  As we were resting, some Americans we had met on the first day joined us, along with the Australian lady with the Red Sox cap.  We sat and talked for a while, and it was pleasant to talk to other English speakers along the way.

Bridge at Larrasoana.

Bridge at Larrasoana.

Leaving Larrosoana, we watched some shepherd dogs shepherding horses.  I got my camera out and tried to take a shot, but they were off in the woods with their owner before I could get the shot.   Further on, we saw a water fall, and after that we stopped for lunch at Zuriain.   This was a pleasantly situated restaurant right on the Rio Arga.   They had a cool pilgrim’s statue on the bridge.  We ate bocaddillos here and rested a long time on the shaded patio, just enjoying the calm of the river.

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After our stay in Zuriain, we went back on the trail.  This time, though, it was “senda”, a section of the Camino that is just concrete and runs beside a busy road.  In fact, for about a kilometer, we were walking directly on the N-135 with cars speeding by.  Not pleasant.

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We crossed and recrossed the Rio Arga, and then crossed the N-135 and began the arduous climb past Mount Nerval.  This was perhaps the hottest day we experienced on the Camino, and the climb took a lot out of us.  We started seeing graffiti declaring that the area we were walking through was not Spain, but was instead Euskal, which is the name for the Basque homeland.  We went through a tunnel and climbed Mount Miravalles and then we were on the outskirts of Pamplona.

The first thing you see when walking into Pamplona is the bridge leading to Trinidad de Arre.  Trinidad de Arre is an ancient pilgrim’s hospital from the 11th century that sits directly on the Rio Ulzama.  There are waterfalls under the bridge and a basilica directly across the bridge.  We spent a little time here getting our bearings.  I really wanted to stop at the basilica, but we were pressed for time.  We had at least 8 or 9 more kilometers to go, and we weren’t even certain how to get to our hotel.

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After Trinidad de Arre, we walked through a staunchly Basque neighborhood that had a lot of graffiti about the separatist movement.

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At some point we made a wrong turn and did not end up in the city center.  We were off the Camino too and did not see way markers.   The San Fermin Festival was in full swing and we were near an amusement park.  We walked for at least a couple of hours trying to figure out where our hotel was, or how to get to it.  The odd thing was that in this section of Pamplona there were no street signs.  I even asked a local if they knew the name of the street, and they didn’t know either.  We walked into the city center and found ourselves in the San Fermin Festival where there were hundreds of booths lined up.  I asked a couple of people in Spanish if they knew how to get to the university, where our hotel was.  No one seemed to know.  We found the Camino waymarkers again, but we were both frustrated and exhausted.

We finally decided to get a taxi, but we had no cash and none of the taxis would take debit or credit.   We found a cash machine that wouldn’t take our card, and then we had to find another machine a few kilometers away.  Finally, we were able to get cash and we managed to flag down a taxi that took us to the outskirts of town where our hotel, Hotel Zenit, was located.  We would have never found our hotel.  It was way outside the city center.  We were both exhausted and we stuck around the hotel the rest of the night.  Hotel Zenit is a very nice hotel, and we enjoyed our stay there, especially after three nights in albergues.  We would go into Pamplona in the morning to watch the running of the bulls.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – Roncesvalles to Zubiri

On our second day of our camino, we woke when the lights came on at Roncesvalles at 6 am.  We had no cash and no clear way to get breakfast, but we had a plan.  We needed to walk to a nearby town, Burgeute, and get cash.  Then, we would have a huge breakfast.  We were both starving.  We also discussed our route and decided we would do a shorter walk, stopping in Zubiri instead of Larrasoana, which was 6 km further.  We were both feeling the impact of the previous day’s journey on our feet and knees.

Outside Roncesvalles, we crossed the N-135 and jump on the path immediately. The trail was deeply wooded, and despite the rain we didn’t get very wet. The first thing we saw was a sign for Santiago de Compostela with a distance of 790 kilometers, a reminder of the extreme length of the pilgrimage.  As someone just walking part of the camino, I felt a pang of guilt at not being able to do it all at once.  I also felt relief since I know the huge effort it takes to complete such a pilgrimage. 

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Walking further down the trail we saw the Cruz de Roldan, or Roland’s Cross, which commemorates the spot where Roland is said to have fallen in the Battle of Roncesvalles Pass.  The battle took place when King Charlemagne attempted to cross back into France after fighting the Moor forces in Saragossa.  Legend is that he promised the Basques that he would not attack Pamplona, but his forces destroyed the city walls.  In response, the Basques attacked Charlemagne’s rear guard, which was under the command of Roland.  Roland was killed in the ensuing battle.   This is all told in the famous poem, “The Song of Roland”, which commemorates the event.

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After the cross, we continued past warehouses and crossed the N-135 where there was a grocery store.  We decided not to stop at the grocery store, but to continue on to Burguete and get breakfast there.  We arrived in Burguete along the N-135 and located the cash machine.  The cash machine was broken!  

We asked at a couple of restaurants, and they all refused credit or debit cards.  Finally, we spotted a hotel, and I was able to get cash from the hotel using my credit card.   We then backtracked the N-135 and found a restaurant where we ate our first tortilla de patatas of the trip.  I found these to be one of the better fare of all the Spanish food we had along the way.  It was a pie like mixture of egg and potatoes, kind of like a quiche, but creamier without so much egg.

While we were eating, the television in the restaurant was broadcasting the running of the bulls.  They have much more detailed coverage than we had ever seen in the states, and we were shocked to see a bull running over people, digging his horn into some poor fellow’s back.  We planned to be in Pamplona for the final day of the running of the bulls and had already purchased balcony spots to watch this first hand, so we were excited to see the coverage.

After breakfast, we followed the camino back the way we had come, and I saw the Hotel Burguete.  This is where Hemingway stayed when he visited Burguete.  It is also the setting for a part of the book “The Sun Also Rises”.  I read the book prior to coming over, and then read it again on the plane, train and bus getting here, so I was really excited to see this bit of history while the story was fresh in my mind.

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After the Hotel Burguete, the trail leads out of town and we crossed pastures and the Rio Urrobi.  I imagined this is likely where Hemingway fished for the region’s huge trout.   Then, we walked in a dense beech wood and crossed the Rio Urrobi again before catching site of the church at Espinal in the distance. This church was different from most of the other mainly stone churches we would see in other parts of Spain.

Church at Espinal

Church at Espinal

At Espinal we again joined the N-135 and walked through town without stopping.  Along the way we met an Australian lady who had a Boston Red Sox cap on, which really confused us.  At the end of town we took a left and climbed a long hill to some woods and a point called Alto de Mezquiriz, where there’s a statue of the Virgin and Child.  I actually never saw the statue because I was so beaten down by the hill.  We had to stop multiple times here for me to breath.  In this environment, I really felt my heart conditions.  My heart was not doing a good job of keeping up, and I was gasping for breath.  Dylan waited patiently without complaint.  I couldn’t ask for a better walking companion and was very thankful for him.

After the Alto de Mezquiriz, we again skirted a beech wood and had a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside.

Dylan, after Espinal at the hill after Alto de Mezquiriz.

Dylan, after Espinal at the hill after Alto de Mezquiriz.

We walked along a muddy path that went back downhill.  We saw a lot of ancient looking trees with moss on them and stopped alongside the N-135 at some picnic benches.

Massive trees here were covered in moss.  Close to the N-135 after Espinal.

Massive trees here were covered in moss. Close to the N-135 after Espinal.

After the break, we crossed the N-135 and headed towards Viskarret.  We were again in the beech woods and the surface changed to a man-made surface with paving stones.  It was really tough to walk on, especially on the down hill portions where it just beat up our feet.   Three kilometers of this and we were on the outskirts of Viskarret.  We cross the Rio Erro and started seeing signs for a place called Bar Juan that promised food.  We were both starving, and we bypassed the first few bars in search of Bar Juan.  We walked through the entire town without seeing Bar Juan.  Then, we backtracked and looked for Bar Juan near the church.  Bar Juan was supposed to be on the square, but we couldn’t find what we considered to be a square.  We passed a bar with no sign on it, and I asked in Spanish if it was Bar Juan.  The guy said he didn’t know the name, but it was good food.   We walked back up to the church and snapped some shots of it, and then I found a fellow pilgrim lady who was walking with her young child with a stroller.  She told me we were on the town square, so I assumed the bar was Bar Juan.  This became a common theme in Spain.  We would see signs for stuff, and it would lead you to almost where you needed to be, and then there would be no more signs.  We laughed about it quite often whenever we started seeing signs.

I don’t know if we ate at Bar Juan or not, but they offered the typical Spanish fare, which is bocadillos at lunch time.  A bocadillo is not an exciting food.  It’s basically just french style bread with some kind of meat (ham or bacon), usually with no condiments or lettuce and tomato.   Here, the owner told us he had omelettes, so we decided to try it.  It was actually what we would call a scrambled egg sandwich.  I liked it, but I don’t thing Dylan enjoyed all the eggs.  He’s not an egg kind of kid.  We were finding that the food was just not much of an adventure, at least in these small pueblos.

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After Viskarret, we walked to Linzoain.  At Linzoain we stopped at a park and watched a guy play ball with his dog, and the Spanish pilgrim with her child in stroller caught up to us.  I was amazed she was walking the baby over such a great distance.  After Linzoain, we walked a hill out of town and then plunged back into deep woods again.  Zubiri was about 4.5 kilometers away.

We walked without stopping until we reached the Puente de la Rabia (Rabies Bridge).   This is a famous medieval bridge.  The rumor, according to my Brierley guidebook, is that they thought you could walk a rabid dog three times around the central arch and cure a dog of rabies.  The river Arga flows under this bridge.  It is a big fast flowing mountain river with chilly water.  

We walked across the bridge into Zubiri, which means “village of the bridge” in Euskera, the language of the Basque people.  We checked into Albergue Zaldiko just past the bridge.  Then we went over to Basseri Resaurant and ate from the pilgrim’s menu.  The waiter at this place was perhaps one of the nicest and most helpful of the entire camino and tried to answer our questions about tapas and raciones, which are like appetizers.  Afterwards, we went back to the river to soak our feet.  At the river, I watched the swallows fly under the bridge and dive for insects on the water.  

Afterwards we settled in at the albergue and went to bed early.  The next day would be a tough walk all the way through Pamplona to our hotel where we would stay for the running of the bulls.

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Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camino de Santiago – Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

The morning of July 11th my son and I stepped out of our albergue (hostel) in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France (SJPDP) and began our journey down the Camino de Santiago.   The Camino de Santiago, or “Way of Saint James” as it is known in English, is a collection of ancient pilgrim paths throughout Europe which ultimately lead to Santiago, Spain.  Our chosen path, the Camino Frances, is a path which starts in France and goes all the way to Santiago, a distance of some 800 kilometers or 500 miles.  We planned our path carefully and were going to walk about 110 miles of this path.

The first leg of the journey was to walk from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France into Pamplona, Spain.  This was roughly three daily walks of 15 miles, totaling about 45 miles.  Stage 1, the walk from SJPDP to Roncesvalles, Spain,  is what I will cover in this article.  Stage 1 is widely considered to be the most difficult day of all the 33 stages of the Camino Frances.  It is a long uphill walk with steep descents on the Spanish side.

After 16 hours travel, we arrived at SJPDP, a small French village at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains and prepared for our journey the next day.  The first thing we had to do was visit the Pilgrim’s Office.  The Pilgrim’s Office is where you get the pilgrim’s passport, which is essential for tracking your progress along the way.  At each stop along the way, the pilgrim collects a “sello” or stamp on the pilgrim’s passport to record that they have walked to that location.  In Santiago, the pilgrim presents the passport to the Pilgrim’s Office, and is given a certificate called a Compestela, which verifies that the pilgrim has indeed completed the pilgrimage.

The Pilgrim’s Office also has weather updates and can help a pilgrim find accommodations.   They told us the weather was all clear for the next day and helped us book a private room in the albergue next door.   We had dinner at a crepe restaurant beside the bridge and across from Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, and then settled in for the walk the next morning.

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The next morning we were on our way.  First, we had to get out of town.  After a short walk of perhaps a kilometer, we were at the Porte de Espagna, the city gate leading to Spain.  We followed the other pilgrims out and soon found ourselves in the French countryside, on a small paved road that climbed continuously.   The landscape was a lush green and the weather was a bit damp and cool.  A mist settled on the higher hills as we made our way up, and occasionally a light rain fell as we stopped and secured our backpacks from the moisture.  Pilgrims were plentiful here, and we talked with a couple, who eventually passed us and went on.   We could see the mountains we would be climbing in the distance, but they still seemed far away.

About 5 kilometers in, we stopped at a country albergue, known as Hunto, to get water.  They had candy bars and sports drinks laid out for the pilgrims.  The pilgrims could just leave the money and take what they needed.  We didn’t need anything but water at Hunto, so we kept on.   About 2.5 kilometers and a good hill climb later, we were at Orisson.  Orisson is a very well-known stop along the Camino.  Many pilgrims spend the night here so that they don’t have to walk such a long distance on the first day.  We stopped here to get more water, sports drinks, and a couple of sandwiches.  Orisson has picnic tables, so we spent a good deal of time here resting and eating.  It was only about 10:00 am at this point, but it felt like we had been walking all day.  The massive uphill climbs with backpacks really do take their toll.  We still had 18 kilometers left, most of it uphill.

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As we sat at Orisson, I noticed a huge cloud bank rolling in quickly.  I pointed it out to Dylan, and we decided we better get back on the road.   As we walked, we started seeing livestock.  The cows here had bells around their necks due to the fog.  It helps others locate them and know they are around.   We saw sheep far below us and even saw horses running around in the fog.   There were some beautiful purple flowers here, known as foxglove, and a type of thistle I had never seen.

Eventually the trail goes off-road, and we were walking through thick mud for much of the way.  The rain was non stop at this point and we were just wanting to get on with it.  We reached the frontera or border about 9 kilometers after Orisson.  The wind was kicking up strongly and we were both exhausted as we crossed into Spain.

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A short time after the border we came to a small shack which some pilgrims were coming out of as we arrived.  We went inside and found that it was just a plain shack with a place for a wood fire and some makeshift seating.  It was a way to get out of the wind and rain.  Some other pilgrims joined us, and we sat around talking for about 15 minutes before getting back on the trail.  We were pretty sure we were nearing the point where we would begin the descent, but we were wrong.  We still ascended for probably another 4 kilometers until we were at the highest point in the trail, about 4,400 feet up.

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The landscape also transformed into a beech forest with dense fog.  About this time, we reached the downhill portion where a Frenchman warned us about the danger of a particular section of it, which we decided to bypass.  We were already apprehensive because we had heard the downhill was tougher than the uphill portion.  For me, the uphill portion was tougher, due to my heart issues.  I had been fighting for breath all the way up, often having to stop to catch my breath.  The downhill portion was tough on our knees and toes.  Dylan had a hard time with it because of the stress on his feet from the boots he was wearing.

The downhill portion was only about 5 kilometers, but it seemed to last forever.   We began to think we were lost, when we finally caught sight of the roofs of Roncesvalles.  Roncesvalles is an ancient monastery that has been serving the pilgrim community since the 11th century.  It is also a famous historical site where Charlemagne’s rear guard was attacked and Roland, one of his main generals, died.

At the end of the day, I felt a deep satisfaction at having walked such a difficult path.  I also found that I would have to get used to the weight of the backpack.  I had trained for months beforehand with a lighter pack, and I definitely felt the impact of that first day.  I was wondering how I was going to be able to make it the following day.  We already opted to take a shorter walk the second day.

We ate our first pilgrim’s meal at La Posada restaurant near the monastery that night.  The pilgrim’s meals are group meals where any pilgrim can sit in and get a two course meal, usually for less than 10 euro.  I had the trout which was delicious.  We met a few fellow pilgrims, most Spanish, and a couple Norwegian ladies.  It was interesting to try my Spanish on someone.  They love their vino tinto, or red wine, there and we had a few bottles before retiring back at the monastery.

The monastery was a huge building which could accommodate up to three hundred pilgrims.  By the time we got there, the bottom two levels were full, and Dylan and I were the first pilgrims on the third dormitory, which was a huge hall full of cubical like beds and lockers.  This was actually one of the best stays we had out of the albergues we stayed at in Spain.  They had a firm lights out policy, and also the pilgrims mostly observed the rule about not making noise before 6 am.  We would find in later stays that these rules were not followed strictly, but at Roncesvalles, everyone was playing fair and being reasonable.

We arrived too late to enjoy the church that night.  The following morning I tried to get in so I could say a prayer for our journey, but it was still closed.  The next article will cover our walk from Roncesvalles to Zubiri, Spain.

Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.