Day 2 – SJPDP to La Virge de Orisson (Baikorri)

Walked today: 7.9 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 15.2 miles

When we left SJPDP at 7:20 this morning it was cloudy and a cool 60 degrees.

Porte d’Espagne

We began the Camino Frances by passing through the Porte d’Espagne followed by an immediate test up a very steep road through a residential area even before we left the village!

The small, paved road became a more gradual ascent for the next mile or so as picturesque farmland surrounded us and we began a steep climb up into the Pyrennes Mountains.

We’ll chronicle our walk mostly with photos in an attempt to demonstrate what we experienced this morning.

The road begins a steep ascent

From Steep road to steeper pasture
A selfie pause along the steep path
From steep path, back onto steep road
Linda’s favorite rock, 2012, 2017 and again 2019
Beautiful day to enjoy the scenery
Basque horses somehow grazing on the “hillside”
Refuge Orisson, finally, 2.5 hr climb, 3000 ft climb
Bar and dining area at Orisson Refuge/Alberge
Leaving Orisson in fog at 11:30
Fog lifted on way to Virge
Scenery gets better, higher & higher
Fog and drizzle for the 2+ mile walk to Virge
Healthy looking cows and calves on top of the world
walk from Orisson to Virge much easier
Sheep seem much at home at over 3000 feet and extreme pastureland
Relief from steep inclines were short-lived
Coming up on the Virge de Baikorri
Scenery surrounding the Virge when fog lifts
Virge de Orisson or Baikorri

We arrived at the Virge de Baikorri at 1:00 and soon after our taxi arrived and took us back to SJPDP to recoup and spend the night.

An incredible “hike” part-way up the Pyrennes.

Pamplona to Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP)

It was 50 degrees when we checked out of our hotel at 8:00. On our walk to the bus station we stopped for a leasurely breakfast at a nice cafe,

then continued to the bus station a little after 9:00 and departed the Pamplona “Estacion Bus” at 10:05.

As our bus driver navigated through the maze of clean, tree-lined streets and high-rise neighborhoods and corporate office and commercial areas of the city, we were left with a very positive impression of Pamplona. Our previous Camino stays in 2013, 2014, 2017 revealed a vibrant city, where, like other communities along the Camino, young and young at heart citizens are enjoying a quality & affordable life together. Pamplona’s undergirding of a historical tradition of local governance and self-sufficiency and an aversion to excessive state intervention for nearly 2 millennia have served it well. Our previous observations of economic stability have been reinforced by even stronger signs of economic growth and freedom as we concluded our 2019 visit. Pamplona is one of our favorite places on the planet and probably a very nice place to live, work and enjoy good quality of life.

A two lane winding state highway carried us from the city limits for about 30 minutes, covering the first 20 miles of our 45 mile journey.

Then without warning, we began our ascent up, then over, then steeply down the Pyrennes mountain range, taking 1 hr 15 minutes to cover the remaining 25 miles. The road consisted solely of switchbacks, some a full 180 degrees.

Even averaging less than 20 mph, the drive was a magnificent test for one’s ability to avoid motion sickness. We just barely passed the test.

It was 82 degrees when we exited the bus in St Jean Pied de Port at 11:45. A welcomed 10 minute walk, on solid ground, took us to our Hotel Itzalpea (86€/nt) and a nice comfortable room immediately ready for occupancy!

After dropping our packs in the room and a brief break, we moseyed around SJPDP making arrangements for a rendezvous with a taxi at the Virge de Baikorri tomorrow afternoon to bring us back to our hotel in SJPDP (there currently is only one taxi service based in this small medieval village).

A visit to the pilgrim (pélerin in French, peregrino in Spanish) office to get our credentials stamped, verifying our official start tomorrow of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela ( Frances) was delayed when a note on the closed door announced the re-opening of the office after a lunch break at 1:30, so when in SJPDP do as the SJPDPians do, so we paused for salads at a nearby restaurant, which were simply, delicious.

We crashed until venturing out once again, this time to a creperie (obviously, French) and had another simply delicious meal.

Alarm is set for 6:30 a.m. tomorrow (first light at 7:00) to finally get Camino 2019 underway.

Day 1- Pamplona to Zariguegui

Walked today: 7.3 miles Camino2019: 7.3 miles

It was a cool 54F with a light drizzle, when we left our hotel in Pamplona at 7:20 this morning.

We’re starting Camino 2019 unconventionally, by walking this segment out of the normal sequence. We haven’t been walking for several days now and are a bit “rusty”. Normally we’d begin in St Jean Pied de Port, France (SJPDP) and walk up the Pyrennes Mountains the first day. Many consider that the most difficult part of the Camino Frances, and we tend to agree. When we decided to stay an extra day in Pamplona to get over jet lag, we also decided it would be good to use part of the time to give our bodies a moderate test as preparation for the ultimate test up the Pyrennes. In about a week from now, having walked west from SJPDP, we’ll spend the night in a northeast suburb of Pamplona and the next morning will take a taxi skipping the section we walked today and rejoining the Camino from where we finished today.

We walked through Pamplona, the old city, then the modern city then through the edge of Universidad de Navarre and the suburb of Cizur Menor before leaving paved sidewalks.

The Camino entered into the countryside over a variety of walking surfaces ascending upward to the village of Zariguegui (pop. 179). It was, indeed, a good workout to retune our bodies and prepare for the walk up the Pyrennes ( Linda’s fitbit today indicated we walked up 69 floors… the first 4 miles of the Pyrennes from SJPDP registered 229 floors in 2017!)

We walked the 7.3 miles in just over 3 hours and stopped for a late breakfast at an albergue bar/restaurant and afterward, briefly, stepped inside the 12th century Romanesque Iglesia de San Andrés just before the 11:00 service.

We then returned to our hotel in Pamplona via taxi.

Leaving our packs in the room, we walked another mile or so to the bus station to buy tickets for the 10:00 a.m. bus to SJPDP tomorrow morning (44€).

On the return walk we stopped for a light lunch of tortillas, similar to what we call frittatas at home.

Our work completed for the day, we spent a leisurely afternoon reading, blogging and preparing for the 74km (45 mile), 1hr45min bus ride to SJPDP tomorrow.

Two common questions we are asked about the Camino are: 1- What is the walking surface, path, like? and 2- How do you find your way or avoid getting lost?

We collected some photos of the various walking surfaces and types of trail we walked during the 7 mile stretch this morning. It’s representative of the paths we will see on the Camino.

We also observed a variety of Camino markers which were plentiful and well placed at intersections and at frequent intervals along the path to reassure pilgrims that they are not lost.

We opted for a “normal” dinner tonight and stopped at a nearby restaurant next to one of the streets along the famous path of the San Fermin festival that occurs every July in Pamplona, more commonly known outside of Spain as the “running of the bulls”. We had a very nice dinner (32€). First course was mellon and ham for Linda and gespacho for Jim. We both had the salmon and roasted vegetables. For us, the Camino has always and continues to be a “culinary” experience as well!

Madrid to Pamplona

By Friday morning Linda was already adjusting to the time change, evidenced by her sleep quality measured by her Fitbit. Jim however is still on Greenville time.

We had breakfast at a nearby restaurant (4.40€ total) taking a pass on the 25€ each for the Hilton buffet breakfast).

Around 10:30 we took a taxi (€8.75) to a nearby shopping mall (“Plenilunio”) to get snacks for the train/walking, prepaid sim cards for our cell phones, and Euros from a bank ATM to cover cash expenses for the next several weeks.

We used our Uber app and in 3 minutes were on the way back to the hotel (6.61€)and had lunch(15.50€) at this morning’s breakfast restaurant.

Our leisurely afternoon and evening was spent in the comfortable AC of our room and included a short nap (Jim), reading, repacking and a snack supper.

Outside temperatures were 90+ degrees
A very nice room for ~$110/night in a large city

We checked out of the Madrid Airport Hilton (104€/nt) at 7:00 a.m on Sat., July 27, took a taxi (25€) for the 15 minute ride to Atocha train station in downtown Madrid, and cleared security for the train boarding area with a smile, wink and ‘buen camino” from several security guards (big backpacks and no luggage are a dead giveaway).

We had breakfast (8.80€), cafe con leche and tostadas, at a cafe near our boarding gate.

Evidence of our typical Spanish breakfast.

Atocha is well organized with logical flow from street entrance to security to food court/loading platforms and individual gates for each boarding each train. Airport style departure display boards are located throughout. Trains will typically arrive and depart within 10-15 minute intervals.

We missed our train! … our first Camino 2019 “glitch”, but probably not our last .

After breakfast, Linda secured great seats adjacent to gate 4 and we waited patiently for 2 hours for our train to depart. During the wait, we got several different assurances from different train station attendants that our train left from gate 4.

Where we waited for our train
Where we should have waited for our train

At 5 minutes before departure, still no one had lined up to board at gate 4… we thought. It turns out that our train boarded from gate 4 Baja (bottom floor or basement) and we were strategically waiting at gate 4 Primera (first floor). Unfortunately we realized this at 9:41 as our train left the station.

So we are now waiting, not for our original noon train, but the 3:05 train, the next and last available train to Pamplona today with available seats and with an extra 37€ cost because the last seats available are in first class. (“preferente“)

Changing our original tickets, when we arrived at MAD on Thursday, to get us to Pamplona at noon instead of 3pm , while sounding like a good idea at the time, may have been an even better idea now. If we had kept our original tickets and made the same boarding error, we wouldn’t get to Pamplona until tomorrow, which would really have messed up our plans. Now, we’ll just need to be creative to decide the best way to spend the next 5 hours. And so much for getting to Pamplona earlier. We think the Camino is testing us.

More good news! Our new First Class tickets give us access to the Renfe Lounge up to two hours before our train departs. It’s like an airline lounge with free snacks, drinks, comfortable seating and better AC.

We boarded the train to Pamplona( 59.50€ x 2 + 37€) at 2:50 and settled in for the 3hr 12 min ride. The train didn’t leave at 3:05, but 3:12 instead! We missed our 9:40 train as it was just clearing the platform at 9:41. If only it had been 12 minutes late…. but we did nearly double our Spanish vocabulary by learning the meaning for Baja and Primera, which we’re not likely to forget!😉

Arriving at Pamplona at precisely 6:26, we took a taxi (8€) to Hotel Maisonnave (98.10€/nt) and checked in without incident.

We got showers, organized our stuff, had a snack supper in our room and got to bed early, as we plan to walk to Zariguegui at 7:00 tomorrow morning.

A common question we’re asked is what does it cost to do the Camino. Jim tracked our costs in 2017 and found the combined cost for the two of us averaged close to $100 per day. That breaks down to $50/night for lodging and $40/da for food and snacks and another $10/da for transport and other non-routine incidentals (taxi, train, occasional backpack transport, pharmacy items, etc).

We”ll initially note our expenses for Camino 2019 to give you an idea of the range of costs we experience for various items and then only by exceptional outliers. For simplicity, all costs will be in €, with the typical exchange rate being $1.15=1.00€.

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Greenville to Madrid

Our trip to Madrid was free of glitches. All flights were on time, the weather was clear, flying was smooth. And we were actually treated with a full dinner meal with complimentary adult beverages, a snack breakfast and a nice selection of free movies to occupy the time, in Economy class!

We used the AA app to confirm the loading of our checked backpacks along the way and were pleasantly relieved to find our duffled backpacks waiting for us in the Madrid T4 terminal baggage area after clearing through customs.

Rather than add 3+ lbs to our backpack weight for our 500 mile walk across Spain, we talked about discarding the duffles in the Madrid terminal.

A gentleman in the baggage area overheard our discussion and asked if we were just going to throw them away. George was from Louisiana and after retrieving his checked trekking poles was planning to catch a plane to Porto, Portugal to walk to Santiago on the Portuguese Camino then take a train to Pamplona to walk as much of the Camino Frances as possible in the time remaining of his 4 week vacation. We saw his interest in our duffle bags and offered them to him which allowed him to consolidate and check his backpack and poles on the Porto flight. George was all smiles as we wished each other “buen Camino”.

So George and we both have had a positive experience before our Camino even begins… or perhaps it has.

We found a Renfe (train) office before leaving T4 and changed the departure time on our internet purchased tickets (27 July -Madrid to Pamplona) from noon to 9:40 a.m. This will give us more time in Pamplona to get checked into our room and organized for beginning to walk our Camino 2019 on the 28th.

Finally we took a taxi to the Madrid Airport Hilton, where we will spend the next two nights acclimating to yesterday’s 6 time zone passage.

And topping off a great start for Camino 2019 was arriving at the Hilton at 9:30 a.m. and being able to immediately check into our room. (normal check-in is 2:00 p.m.)

“The Camino provides”

Getting Ready

In December 2018, we decided to walk the Camino Frances again in 2019.  Based on our knowledge of weather, crowds and personal preferences, we decided to walk in late summer and early fall

To maintain a good level of physical conditioning year-round, we normally go together to the gym 2-3 days per week to do weights, swim or walk(treadmill or elliptical). On the non-gym days we leisurely walk 2-3 miles in our neighborhood…missing days for bad weather,sickness or travel and taking an occasional day or so off, just because we can.

By early April 2019, we began wearing our Camino footwear of choice (Lowa boots or Ecco fishing sandals for Jim, Quechua trekking sandals or HOVR Sonic running shoes for Linda) for our walks. We adjusted our routine by getting up and walking, without breakfast by 6:30-6:45 every day, regardless of the weather, etc. and walk at least 2.5 miles before returning home for breakfast. This training method conditions our feet, tests the comfort of our shoes, socks and walking habits (including waking up at the crack of dawn), giving us opportunities to optimize our methods/routines and equipment and shore-up deficiencies before we begin our Camino.

By the end of April we also started walking in the evening for another 1.5-2.0 miles with no days off.  An occasional day we might walk with a full pack and/or walking poles for longer than 3 miles… only to validate our final conditioning and equipment for longer walks. This routine continued until a day or two before departing for Spain.

We purchased our plane tickets in Mid-April.  Our flight dates were determined after estimating how far we felt comfortable walking each day, divided into the 500 miles of the Camino from St Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP), France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Then we added several days at the beginning to get over jet lag and travel from Madrid (MAD)to SJPDP.  We also added an extra several days at the end to transition from pilgrim to tourist to civilian and to make our way back from Santiago to Madrid to home.

Knowing that over 50,000 pilgrims will start, many from SJPDP in late July/ early August, we made reservations for a place to stay in the small medieval town of SJPDP as well as other selected villages spaced along the Camino for the first 6-7 days of our walk. After that, we’ll generally wait until we get to our daily destination to find a place to stay that day.  Depending on pilgrim traffic, we may also call a targeted location the night before to request a hold on a room for the next night.

By early May we began to finalize our lists of what to take and began gathering and weighing items to make a backpack as light as possible with only essentials (for 75 days away from home!). 

Our knapsacks have been packed for over a week and ready to be put into dufflebags for checking. Hopefully the duffles will protect them from mishandling by airline/airport personnel and equipment.  Linda’s weighs in at 16.5 lbs and Jim’s at 20.5lbs.

We board our flight out of Greenville(GSP) tomorrow afternoon on our way to Madrid(MAD) via Charlotte(CLT) to begin Camino 2019.  Welcome aboard!

Why do the Camino again?

This is a frequent question asked by folks who hear this is not our first time.  They might add, why not hike somewhere else… that is longer, tougher, nearby, that has better, different scenery, etc.

We’ve discovered that a Camino in our future, is good for our health because the obvious physical strength and stamina challenge motivates our daily eating and exercising habits. 

But the simple answer is it’s a location thing, “ You have to be there to understand”.

Have you ever been somewhere that you wanted to return?  Is there a favorite vacation spot that you look forward to year after year?  Do you enjoy sampling local cuisine? Have you ever been to a place or had personal, positive experience that was physically challenging or peaceful or energizing or relaxing or meditative or healing or renewing or supportive or socially interactive or emotionally stimulating or introspective or refreshingly simplistic?

Well, for us, the Camino is all these things… and that’s why it keeps calling us back and why we are answering its call once more.