Shortly after leaving our hotel we arrived at Zariquiguie as the wind picked up considerably. The temperature was 55 degrees making it quite chilly as dark clouds partially blocked the sun. We took some quick photos of the church featured in the film “The Way” mentioned earlier.
The Camino today took us up the steep incline to the Alto del Perdon and then back down.
The walk up was slow, giving us multiple excuses to stop and look back at the beautiful fields and small villages between us and Pamplona and look forward at the ridge above us, lined with windmills.
The winds of 30-40 mph, fortunately at our backs, continued to increase as we climbed upward. When we reached the top the near gale force winds forced us to struggle to maintain our footing. Our Backpacks acted as sails, making matters even worse.
We took some quick photos of the metal silhouettes of medieval pilgrims, an icon of the Camino Frances, then got some welcome relief from the gale as we began our descent.
The descent was also a struggle, even as the wind subsided a bit, due to the steepness and the fist size, loose pebbles filling the path which was more like a wash. This was a real knee killer… an accident waiting to happen. We finally made it down the slope as the path became more manageable and we walked the final distance to Uterga, our destination for the day.
Our albergue for the night was easy to find, right on the Camino path through the small village (pop. 205).
Directly across the street was a nice bar where we had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drinks during the day if not doing our routine chores in our room. Wifi was stronger in the bar so we did our internet activity and blogging there.
We left Villava at 7:45 a.m. and rejoined the Camino in about 5 minutes and walked through the city streets until stopping at a small bar to have cafe con leche. A few minutes later we continued on into Pamplona, toward the old city.
Pamplona had been a fortress for centuries, providing a base and protection for Navarre against both foreign and domestic foes. The old city inside the fortress is interesting, easy to get around and inviting and one of Jim’s most favorite places on the planet.
This being our third 3rd and perhaps last visit, we were a bit nostalgic as we walked through the familiar streets in our old “neighborhood” between the Hotel Catedral, also called the “Hotel Puerto del Camino” and the Plaza Castile.
We stopped in the Castile Plaza and Linda kept watch over our packs on a comfortable bench, while Jim took several “surplus” items from our packs to the post office only a block away from the Plaza. We sent these items to our reserved hotel in Leon along with items sent as we passed through Pamplona a week ago on our way to SJPDP. This will reduce our pack weights an additional collective 4-5 lbs, which be much appreciated during our month of walking from Pamplona to Leon (270 miles).
Jim returned shortly, we donned our packs and began the walk through the old city, then out past the Citadel, modern residential areas, Navarre University and out into the countryside, continuing our Camino.
After a gradual climb, we struggled somewhat as the hot morning sun beat down, even though the temperature was only in the mid 70’s, quickly rising from the low 50’s when we left Villava only 3 hours earlier.
We checked in to Casa Ancona just before noon. After a brief rest we did our routine chores then had “dinner” at 4:00 and chilled in our room until bedtime reading, resting and working on the blog.
It was still dark when we left Akerreta at 6:05 a.m., with Linda and her headlamp leading the way. A half-hour later it was light enough to see as we began walking along the Rio Arre (Arre river).
For the rest of the morning we walked on both sides of the Arre, crossing over a number of different bridges: some new, some old, some very old.
The walking surfaces and undulations were typical of recent days but the duration of the difficult sections was manageable.
Not until 8:00 did the sun appear as it rose above the mountains. We’ve only got a couple or three more hours before it gets miserably hot for walking in the open. And there are no bars until we reach the suburbs of Pamplona.
We crossed over the Romanesque Trinidad del Arre bridge and began looking for the Hotel Pamplona-Villava. The Booking.com app directions took us over a mile away from the bridge which we knew could not be correct. After several misdirections of our own, trying to figure out the app (it seemed to be giving us driving rather than walking directions) and three well-meaning but clueless Pamplonians, we finally arrived at our hotel at 10:45 a.m. and thankfully, our room (62€) was ready for us and were allowed to check in very early (normal check-in is 2 pm).
After a brief rest and completing our routine “chores” we selected additional items we feel we won’t need until we get to Leon a month from now, based on our experience this first week. We’ll drop them off at the Pamplona post office, Correos, as we walk through tomorrow morning. Now is the time to lighten our packs as much as we can for the next few weeks.
Linda got her first significant blister today. So guided by Linda’s close scrutiny, Jim administered the treatment procedure we learned in 2014 to hopefully minimize any pain and accelerate the healing process.
We’re in for the evening at 5:30 after a late lunch/early dinner at the hotel restaurant. The hours for the restaurant were 1:30-4:00 for lunch and 8:00-11:00 for dinner!
We didn’t set an alarm today but were up by 6:30, got gear together, Jim paid for our room (38€) and we had breakfast at our lunch, dinner and now breakfast bar. The staff seems to know us by now but our side of the communication is limited to scattered Spanish nouns and verbs and we wish we had a better clue to what they were saying to us! That will improve, hopefully, as we assimilate over the next two months.
Breakfast completed, we left Zubiri and rejoined the Camino around 7:45.
Today is a short walk by design. We will be spending tonight in the hamlet of Akerreta and staying in the hotel by the same name which is located in a restored 1723 Basque farm house. It’s only 3.6 miles from Zubiri. Several of the scenes in the 2010 film, “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, which tells a story centered around the Camino Frances, were filmed at the Hotel Akerreta. It’s a little pricey (82€), but having stopped here in 2013 for a break, we decided to include it as a stopover during Camino 2017.
Shortly after leaving Zubiri, we skirted a large Magna magnesium quarry and ore processing facility. We followed the paved road incline and afterward some steep steps down in order to go around the facility. Northern Spain seems to have a reasonable amount of heavy and light industry, but normally it is not visible from the Camino. The Magna organization apparently appreciates this, as the fence along the road where pilgrims pass was covered with an artificial dark green grass that was more pleasing to the eye and buffered much of the machine and equipment noise in the facility. Jim was also impressed with the Magna truck drivers moving the magnesium ore into and out of the complex. They were cautiously aware of passing pilgrims and slowed down, giving us the right-of-way.
Another mile or so along the way we entered the hamlet of Ilarratz. Attached to one of the several beautiful homes was a public outdoor drinking-water spigot, sheltered from the sun and with generous seating.
We stopped for a brief rest and chatted with two bicycles pilgrims, Willie & James. James is originally from Korea and now lives in Toronto, Canada. Willie is originally from El Salvador, then Toronto and currently lives with his wife, whose family is Basque, in the Basque Autonomous Community capital of Vitoria/Gasteiz in Northern Spain. James and Willie met while attending the same church in Toronto.
We arrived at Akerreta about 10:30 as the last of the previous night’s guests was checking out. Our room will not be ready until around 1:00. The proprietor said they normally close the hotel until that time to allow for cleaning and because they don’t offer lunch or non-guest services, they keep the front door locked. Ironically they don’t cater to pilgrims, because as an upscale B&B they are too expensive for 90+% of pilgrims.
But, the proprietor apologized and gave us the door code and said we were welcome to sit inside or outside to wait and were free to use the restrooms. We opted to sit outside and shortly one of the housekeepers brought us two cafe con leches and gave us the wifi password. We were pleased with their willingness to cater to our basic needs prior to checking in. And it kept us busy until our room was ready.
At 1:05 we were ushered to our very nice room and began our arrival/afternoon routine.
Because the hotel has no lunch option for us and the hamlet has no bars or other services, we haven’t decided, if anything, what we will do for lunch. Dinner is at 8:00!
Our growling stomachs compelled us to get lunch. The miracle of wifi pointed us to Larrasoaña, just a half mile from Akerreta. So Jim ventured out into the 91 degree heat, a took a relatively short walk, secured some items from a small market and returned with lunch for today and breakfast items for tomorrow morning.
Our hotel has a nice breakfast served between 8:00-10:00, which is not an option as we would like to be up and walking by 6:30. The room rate is 82€ including breakfast, but we will likely end up paying for it and not getting breakfast, as we would rather get an earlier start to avoid walking several extra hours in the mid-day August heat. Such is the Camino, Our Way 2017.
Our dinner tonight (28€) was a dining experience. Everything was fresh, organic and beautiful prepared. The tomatoes were full of flavor, locally grow from seeds of fruit from the previous season. The beef melted in your mouth and the sauce was so good Jim requested extra bread to make sure none made it back to the kitchen. Linda consulted with the proprietor on preparation techniques and we’ll definite try to duplicate it when we return home! The Navarre wine perfectly complemented the meal which concluded with a delicious homemade mango ice cream.
Sated beyond our wildest expectations, we retired to our room to conclude another extraordinary day on the Camino Frances.
We are both still recovering from jet lag and the associated adverse impacts on sleeping until we acclimate to the local time zone (6 hours ahead of home). Parallel to that were the physical demands of crossing the Pyrenees Mountains for our initial 2 days on the Camino and the subsequent muscle soreness and overall fatigue.
The sun was shinning down from a clear blue sky as we left Bizkarreta this morning at 8:00 a.m. We played hopscotch with Elena for the first hour or so. Linda loaned her poles for a short while, as Elena doesn’t have her own but is thinking about buying some along the way. She had disc surgery over a year ago and is still recovering. Elena returned Linda’s poles and we separated shortly thereafter, as our walking paces are different.
Today we are conducting a test with the baggage transport service that follows the Camino. Linda suggested we try it with just one pack. She put water, a poncho and other minor essentials into a 2 oz Altus day pack to carry and Jim offloaded as many heavier non-critical items from his pack that would fit into the transported pack. Our hotel proprietor called last night to arrange this morning’s pick-up at AmatxiElsa. We placed 7€ in a small envelope with our name and today’s destination hotel in Zubiri and attached it to the backpack and left in the AmatxiElsa lobby, when we left this morning. We’ve heard about this service in the past but hadn’t used it. We wanted to see how it worked and how reliable is was so we might use it along the way, if needed.
The Camino physically tested us again today, but didn’t overwhelm us. The first couple of miles or so was a fairly flat with some paved, but mostly unpaved surface. But, exiting the village of Linzoain in the open sun, the Camino climbed almost vertical, it seemed, on a concrete & gravel walk (an obvious gift from the locals to improve what would naturally be an impassable wash) straight up the hillside (no switchbacks here, just straight up)! We could see the apparent end of this killer of a path, so we just tucked our heads, leaned forward and undaunted, took it a step at a time. The “apparent top” unfortunately was only a short pause and the path took off again a similar distance and just as steep, before leveling as we and fellow Peregrinos breathed a sigh of relief.
The path became tamer, not only leveling considerably but also winding through a cool, shaded forest and level (yes, level!) dirt surfaces. Thru the trees we saw evidence of some commercial logging areas, confirmed by the signage on several trees, but no logging activities were visible this morning. After a few insignificant ups and downs, we reached what appeared to be a makeshift truck stop with a temporary van offering refreshment as we crossed the highway. We opted not to stop.
A few yards beyond the highway edge the Camino turned back into the forest and after a half mile or so, began to re-test us with a moderate down slope dominated by solid rock with loose pebbles and knifelike fixed jagged strips of stone that were difficult to navigate at a normal pace without peril. Every other step or two presented an opportunity for a torqued knee, twisted ankle or Camino delaying or ending fall.
For the most part the final mile of the Camino into Zubiri was characterized by the above terrain and as we reached the base of the trail just entering Zubiri it was like the sigh of relief one feels at the end of an extreme rollercoaster ride.
Interestingly enough, Linda’s experience with the final mile was much better today than in 2013, when totally exhausted and with multi-blistered feet, she wondered if she would ever make it across the Rio Arga into Zubiri over the medieval Puente de la Rabia arched bridge. But today, she effortlessly walked into Zubiri, blister free and feeling the strongest of any finish so far for Camino 2017.
We arrived in Zubiri at 11:30 a.m and the “pencion Usoa” door was locked and when no one responded to the doorbell, we walked about 50 steps to a bar and relaxed and had lunch. It was nice to just get off our feet, chill and enjoy our tortillas and drinks at the bar’s outdoor shaded table in the cool breeze.
We checked again at Pencion Usoa at 1:00 p.m. as the proprietor (who lived across the street) was opening the door. As we stepped inside, Linda’s backpack was miraculously sitting in the corner, wondering where we had been.
We were given a brief tour of our room and washing machine/clothesline area. He also told us about the pilgrim’s breakfast at 6:30 in the morning, the location of the Pilgrim Dinner tonight and gave us the wifi password. Our room is a comfortable “habitacion doble con baño”, (private double room with ensuite bathroom)
The proprietor handed us the keys, excused himself and we immediately resumed our routine: wash us-wash clothes-hangout clothes and relaxed the rest of the afternoon doing the usual. Jim also took a brief walk out to the medieval bridge to stretch his beginning-to-stiffen-muscles and take some photos.
Puente de la Rabia (Rabies Bridge), was named because of a tradition that if animals are led three times across the bridge, they will be protected from rabies. The tradition comes from a legend that the builders of the bridge in the 15th century dug into the rock to place the central pillar and found an embalmed body. The body turned out to be Santa Quiteria, patron saint against rabies. When she was being transported to Pamplona to be buried, her body miraculously refused to budge from this spot, so her processional assumed it was a sign that she wished to be buried along the pilgrim road.
Tonight we had pizza at the same bar where we had lunch. Both the pepperoni and margarita were tasty and were complemented perfectly with a glass of Navarre wine 🍷 .
We woke up to the 7:00 alarm and began preparing to rejoin the Camino. We are both still recovering from yesterday. Our bodies are weak but nothing permanent. We considered using a transport service to our next stop and walking packless, but once we walked out the door, decided to press on with our packs, at a measured pace.
The cool air, easy walking surface through a gentle forest path and mostly flat terrain made it clear that the Camino had decided to give us a break and encourage us.
The first 45 minutes/2 miles passed quickly and as we entered the village of Auritz/Burquete, a bar (small restaurants on the Camino are called bars) called out to us to stop for a light breakfast. After two cafe con leches, a shared tortilla (frittata) and a restroom stop we were back on the Camino, rested, refreshed and rollin’!
The Camino showed us quite a variety of walking surfaces today, some up and some down but relatively short duration and all manageable.
We walked thru a couple of villages, forests, pastures, paved roads, dirt paths, crossed three small streams and even a section of sidewalk type paved paths for the last mile as we approached Bizkarreta, our targeted destination for today.
As we entered the village of Bizkarreta at 12:30, a bar/aubergue came into view and we decided to stop for a lunch sandwich and drinks. 30 minutes later we walked another hundred yards and saw a sign directing us another few steps to “AmatxiElsa” a casa rural (24€) and our home for tonight.
Our host, a delightful couple from Argentina, welcomed us and offered us cool juice to drink as we sat in their living area and waited for our room to be made ready.
We have a nice, clean room with two twin beds and an adjacent bathroom that we will share with whoever might be staying in another double room nearby.
While the proprietor was getting our personal information from our passports and stamping our credentials, his wife was conversing with Linda and me via a translation app. You see, they speak zero English and are originally from Argentina. Spanish is their only language and it may, at best, our 5th (if you include pig Latin), but growing.
As we were getting acquainted and learning the basics of our accommodations via technology, a young lady arrived looking for a room and agreed to share one of the double rooms with another female guest apparently arriving later today from Canada. She is originally from Hungary and living in Sweden and speaks very good English and a little Spanish but much more than us! Her name is Elena.
We settled on 7:00 for dinner and will have whatever they prepare. They did ask us if anyone had diet restrictions but no one did.
Our room was ready at 2:00 and we began our Camino routine of: get showers, wash and hangout clothes to dry (drying will take an hour or two in the typically warm sun/dry air/wind).
The remaining “routine” is usually unstructured for napping, blog/journal, visiting with hosts/other pilgrims or visiting the sites in the local village or town.
Today, Linda read, wrote in her journal, checked in on the internet and Jim worked on the blog (while sampling a new beer offered by our host).
The Canadian lady did not arrive so Linda, Elena and I had a delicious dinner (10€) together, prepared and served by our hosts: A vegetable salad with tuna and toast, two baked chicken breasts and fresh tasty tomatoes and a beautiful and tasty custard flan.
This morning we had “le petit déjeuner ” at Hotel Itzalpea, settled our bill, stuffed all our personal belongings into our packs and positioned ourselves near the hotel front door to wait for our taxi. Our driver arrived precisely at 7:30 as pre-arranged by the hotel. To our surprise, the driver was Marie, who drove us from Roncesvalles to SJPDP to begin our previous Camino in Sept 2012! The ride to the Vierge de Baikorri was like a reunion and enjoyed by all.
Marie got us to the Vierge at 8:00 a.m. and after we payed our fare and said our goodbyes “jusqu’à la prochaine fois” (until next time!), we took some more photos of the Vierge and began walking toward Roncesvalles.
We missed seeing the Vierge altogether in 2012 because of the weather. All we saw was the road/path and fog and later rain. So the photos we took yesterday were a real treat, but the surrounding views were still, typically, blocked by fog once again. This morning the valley and scenery overlooked by the Vierge were much clearer so we took a few more photos for our collection.
The initial walk this morning was not nearly as steep as yesterday and we were able to see much of the spectacular scenery we missed in 2012 as the fog and clouds periodically uncovered the deep valleys and surrounding mountains for us to see.
We also saw a large numbers of horses, cows and sheep grazing along the road and on nearby slopes. In 2012 we only heard bells but rarely saw any animals. Did you know horses wear bells in the Basque Pyrenees?
After enjoying the fresh, cool morning air and relatively flat walking, the Camino veered right off the paved road into the grass pasture marked initially by only a sign with a map (a welcome addition that was not there in 2012). The slightly worn grass path suddenly became very steep and deteriorated into a rocky wash. It eventually morphed into a narrow dirt path, growing wider until it became a narrow farm dirt road. The fog had in the meantime rolled in and the scenery around us was no longer visible. We continued along the road which varied from flat to slight inclinations upward until we reached the Fontaine de Roland at around 10:00 a.m. which marks the entry into 🇪🇸 Spain.
After crossing the border the dirt road seemed inclined to move upward for a while, and then the sun broke through the clouds and revealed the huge mountains around us.
We walked by a small cabin used for shelter in severe weather, which “saved us” as we walked through cold, driving rain and wind on our way to Roncesvalles in 2012. Today, with the sun shining, clear blue sky above us and puffy white clouds hesitantly approaching the mountain tops while we walked, was a very different scene and a brand new experience for us compared to 2012.
The difficulty of the walk today, however, seemed equal or maybe worse than we remember from 2012. As we passed the cabin, the dirt road got steeper and steeper, climbing the side of one slope, rounding a bend only to begin climbing another slope. Nearly exhausted by noon, we finally reached the the high point in Pyrenees, Col de Loepeder at 4751 feet.
We stopped for a brief break and for the first time saw the valley below and terrain approaching Roncesvalles, some 2 miles away. We remembered only the steep descent from 2012 in the rain and fog, the slippery and long, unending knee killing down-slopes taken on without trekking poles. Today, with clear, cool weather, dry walking surfaces and a set of poles for both of us, we opted to take the traditional Camino path through the forest instead of the longer, more gradual sloping alternative route, which veered off to the right.
We goofed! In spite of the apparent advantages over our 2012 experience, we struggled the final 2.0 miles into Roncesvalles, wondering at times if we would ever reach our destination. We used poles, feet, knees, arms… everything at our disposal and were utterly exhausted, sore, fatigued and humbled by the experience. Our legs were actually shaking from the stress of maintaining balance and control. We were further discouraged as an occasional much younger pilgrim would pass us, at a much faster pace, totally ignoring the treacherous walking surface. It took us 2.5 hours to cover 2 miles…walking at a snail-like pace and stopping frequently to avoid exhaustion and fatigue and potential injury that would delay or stop our Camino 2017! We were so focused on preventing a fall or injury, we completely forgot to take any photos during the last tortuous 2 miles. (Maybe just as well as the result wouldn’t have been pretty)
When we mercifully arrived at Roncesvalles at 2:30p.m., we painfully walked to our hotel reception, got a room, tenderly advanced down the hall, struggled into and out of the elevator, entered our room and collapsed on the bed until we recovered to the extent that we believed that we might live and possibly walk again tomorrow.
If “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” is true, we are confidently looking forward to the walk tomorrow.
We stayed tonight in the historical “Casa de los Beneficiados” for the third time, first in 2012 and again in 2013. It still is a very nice, upscale, modern place to stay at a reasonable price (70€)
We Left SJPDP at 6:15 am. thru the Spanish Gate opening onto the main medieval route crossing the Pyrenees commonly known as “la Route Napoleon “. The paved road became very steep immediately as it passed thru some residential areas and likely discouraged any pilgrim who had second thoughts about taking on the Camino Frances. The road climbed for what seemed like miles but actually a few hundred yards and then flattened out somewhat as it passed through some rolling hills and small farms.
Shortly after daybreak
After initial climb, level roads thru local farms
Still relatively flat
Still flat, pilgrim up ahead sharing road w/auto
Along the way we met a young couple from Madrid walking to Burgos… she has a friend attending UNC. Jim walked at their slightly faster pace for few minutes then dropped back wishing them a “buen Camino”.
All too soon, after a big bend in the narrow road the paved road became very steep and began an aggressive climb up into the Pyrenees.
Steep incline beginning
Early incline before very steep switchback
Steep climb = better views
A lot steeper than it looks!
With little or no relief, we climbed upward for nearly 2.5 miles before leaving the paved surface into mountain side pasture land.
Leaving pavement into pastureland
Steep path with beautiful views
Our first try with new selfie gadget
Linda struggling with steep climb
More beautiful views justify the climb
The pasture land offered no relief in the climb so we stopped for a breakfast snack after 1.5 hours into the walk, under one of the few trees along the way. We rewarded ourselves (and our tiring bodies) 10-15 minutes to share a nectarine and a small piece of quiche. (We sat on the same log and rock that beckoned us to take a break in 2012.)
We moved on as the path ultimately rejoined the pavement a half-mile later at a potable water spicket and continuing another 3/4 mile until the road crested and sympathetically leveled and gradually descended a few hundred yards to the Orisson Refuge.
We were not alone as we struggled these first 4.5 miles of the Camino Frances, considered the most difficult of the 500 mile journey. Everyone we encountered this morning, regardless of age, sex or physical conditioning just smiled and shook their heads at the nearly overwhelming challenge we were experiencing. Our pace and others included a lot of stopping every 20-30 paces throughout the steep climb. But we still averaged about 2 mph. One measure of the steepness was Linda’s Fitbit which indicated she had climbed 251 floors!
Approaching Refuge Orisson
Well deserved break at Orisson
Pyrenees Overlook at Orisson – Linda seated right corner
When we arrived at Refuge Orrison at 8:45, we picked a table on the patio overlooking down on and across the Pyrenees. We removed our packs and changed from walking boot/shoes to sandals to let our feet cool and recover a bit. We further rewarded ourselves with cafe con leche, basque cake and then hot chocolate.
A lady from N. California stopped by our table and Jim helped her by explaining her hydration pack operation. She asked about how we found places to stay, reservations, etc and we shared some of our experiences and gave her some suggestions before she moved on with her “group”.
While we enjoyed being off our feet, the ever changing skies clouded up and it got cooler so and we moved inside the Orisson Refuge restaurant area. We charged phones/cameras, made blog/journal entries and otherwise relaxed until lunch.
So far, today’s experience on the most difficult stage of the Camino Frances was hard, without a doubt, but didn’t seem more difficult that our first time in 2012. It may have been a little easier because we knew what to expect. Since we are 5 years older than during our previous trek, we are encouraged about what lies ahead.
More gradual inclines as we neared Vierge de Biakorri
Vierge de Biakorri up close
Vierge de Biakorri overlooking the French side of Pyrenees
We finished our breakfast quiche for lunch and continued today’s walk to the Vierge de Baikorri at 12:15. Though still steep, the walk was not as difficult as the one to Orisson. Occasional level sections gave us some relief and the inclines were about half. We arrived at the Vierge at 1:45 pm, as the clouds/fog rapidly moved in. We took some photos and then sat and relaxed, while waiting for a shuttle to take us back to SJPDP.
We’re feeling great, for sure tired, but actually relieved, having successfully completed our first day of Camino 2017 and loo
Waiting for shuttle to SJPDP
Our shuttle picking up additional fares at Orisson.
king forward to Day 2.
The shuttle arrived at 2:30 pm and we were back in our hotel room, taking showers by 2:45.
It’s Thursday, July 27 and after months of planning and preparation, we are finally on our way.
This morning we drove to Jim’s daughter’s home, some 70 miles away and on the way to Charlotte International Airport (CLT). We had lunch with Beth and her family and left our car at her house to store for us until we return. She then drove us the remaining 20 miles to CLT and dropped us off at the departure area.
After a slight struggle with the ever changing check-in kiosks, we checked our duffle bags which contained only our backpacks, cleared security without incident with no carry-ons, only fanny packs, and by 1:45 p.m. proceeded to our gate to relax and chill until time to board our 4:55 p.m. flight to Madrid.
While waiting, Jim used a recently updated American Airlines app to track baggage and was relieved that it showed both our bags as “loaded” on our aircraft/ flight. This was later confirmed when our bags, in fact were waiting for us in the MAD baggage collection turnstyle.
The seven and one-half hour flight to Madrid (MAD) began with a 5:01 p.m. takeoff. The flight was smooth and uneventful, including a tasty (free) dinner with wine followed by a nice breakfast just prior to landing. We touched down at MAD at 6:27 a.m. (12:27 a.m. EDT) in the dark.
Several other flights arrived with us so it took about 45 minutes to clear customs, but our duffles were waiting for us when we got to the baggage area.
We stashed our duffles into our backpacks, rearranged a few things, donned our packs and made our way to the Renfe Cercanias (C1) ticket area in the T4 terminal, where we obtained free train tickets to Atocha (the main train station in downtown Madrid) by scanning our already on-line purchased tickets for Atocha to Pamplona.
We boarded C1 at 8:30 and arrived at Atocha at 9:00 a.m. and began our absorption into Spanish culture by ordering a brunch of tostada, cafe con leche and freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice.
We boarded the train to Pamplona about 11:20 a.m. which pulled out of Atocha station a few minutes later. The 3 hour ride from Madrid to Pamplona revealed an interestingly, sparsely populated countryside colored tan, gray and brown by dry, scrubby vegetation, washes, canyons and hills and frequent castle ruins appearing in elevated, strategic overlooks. Occasional small rancheros and villages with surrounding vineyards, orchards and livestock dotted the otherwise barren landscape. The countryside became increasingly greener as we advanced in a northeasterly direction entering the region of Navarre and approaching Pamplona.
Our train arrived in Pamplona promptly at 2:40 p.m. We took a taxi to the very nice Hotel Catedral (our third stay since 2014) and checked in (75€).
Once in the room, we triaged backpack contents, collected the duffle bags & warmer clothes we won’t need until Sept/Oct and stuffed them into a laundry bag we found in our motel room. At 4:00 p.m., typical reopening times for businesses after lunch break, we ventured out into the city to get treikking poles for Linda, mail our “extra” items to our reserved hotel in Leon and buy two bus tickets to SJPDP (2×22€) for tomorrow morning.
Each task was easily accomplished as planned. On our return from the bus station, we tested both our ATM cards, successfully, confirming a working source to replenish the cash needs for our Camino.
Before returning to our hotel, we stopped at Bar Gaucho, our favorite place for “pintxos” (the Basque name for tapas) and had two delicious selections and a glass of wine… for a light supper (10€). By 6:30 p.m. we were spent after two long days of travel and not much sleep.
Walking back to our hotel… Catedral in background
The street where the bulls run every July
Plaza de Castillo near our hotel
Monument to Fueros of Navarre
So we headed back to the hotel and crashed for the evening.
It’s Saturday, July 29, the third day of travel to get to SJPDP. With a much needed good night of sleep, we donned our backpacks, left our hotel at 9:00 a.m. and walked the 20 minutes to the bus station. Our bus departed at 10:00 for the trip to SJPDP .
The 50 mile drive up, over and back down the Pyrenees Mountains to Saint Jean Pied de Port, France took 95 minutes. We exited the bus, put on our packs and walked a few hundred yards to Hotel Itzalpea (70€), our base for the next two nights.
Our host is a delightful young French lady who had a nice room with a private bathroom ready for us to occupy immediately, 3 hours before normal check-in time! We took a few minutes to settle in before walking across the street into the medieval town to find a restaurant to quieten our growling tummies. We struggled initially with the menu which was a French/Basque hybrid, but a young lady (with a man old enough to be her grandfather) seated at an adjacent table, helped Linda avoid ordering a local version of chitlins.
After a filling lunch we walked up the steep Rue de la Citadelle to the pilgrim’s hospitality office to have our credential’s stamped and dated, verifying our official start of the Camino Frances.
While we waited in line, in walked the young lady who helped us at lunch accompanied by (as we soon learned) her grandfather. The two had arrived yesterday in St Jean via bicycle from Tours France. Tours is one of three other French Caminos that merge with the Camino Frances. Their bicycle journey from Tours to SJPDP was over 500 miles .
We chatted until our turn with the “credentials stamper” and wished them “buen Camino”. An hour or so later we observed them leaving town on their bikes, beginning their return trip back to Tours.
We spent the rest of the afternoon making final preparations by getting our packs re-organized for the walk tomorrow, picked up some breakfast snacks for tomorrow, napped a bit, had a light dinner and got to bed by 8:30p.m., setting the alarm for 5:30.
Preparations for our Camino 2017 became serious, when we gave each other Osprey Atmos 50L backpacks for Christmas 2016. Our new packs are slightly larger than our old ones, but about the same weight. We got the larger sizes to allow for extra room for packing and easier retrieving and repacking its contents… an issue we struggled with on our first Camino.
Jim’s 50L Osprey
Linda’s 50L Osprey
In January we bought new Lowa boots (Jim) and Keen “fishing” sandals (Linda) to replace identical footware that were badly worn from nearly 1000 miles of walking over the past 4 years. We continue to break them in and are now walking at least 2 miles every day until leaving for the Camino.
Jim’s Lowa boots
Linda’s Keen fishing sandals
Taking care of our feet is paramount to avoiding typical issues from walking 5-10 miles daily for 60+ consecutive days. Building on our experiences with socks & blister prevention/maintenance on our Camino of 2012-2015, we have confirmed and in some cases upgraded socks, foot lubrication and moisturing product as well as bandage material.
We each inventoried everything in our packs upon arriving in Santiago in 2015. This list became our start point for backpack contents for 2017. After minor deletions and additions, we’ve packed our backpacks and taken a few walks of 2-6 miles. Both packs are quite easy to manage and are just slightly over the recommended 10% of body weight at 18lbs and 22 lbs, respectively. Hydration pack water will add an additional 2-4 lbs of weight as we begin walking each day.
Linda’s and Jim’s poles
Different adjusting design
Even though we purchased a set of poles to share on our first Camino, we assumed they would be inconvenient to carry and not worth the effort to use. As we ascended the Pyrennees in late July 2012, the poles didn’t seem to help much on the steep climbs. But the 8 mile descent into Roncesvalles began to take a toll on our knees and we quickly discovered how to use a single pole to cushion the impact of the steep downhill walk. It rained that day and the single pole also aided our balance and footing. We decided that if one pole could make that much difference, on subsequent walks we would both carry a set of poles to use.
In 2014 we began our Camino in Pamplona each with a set of poles. They were adjustable and made of fiberglass and were bought on sale at Costco. While Linda initially used her poles mainly for balance on uneven terrain, Jim used his not only for balance but soon discovered on especially long walks, fatigue on knees and feet were reduced when using the poles for support. He also noticed that when the pole length was adjusted to cause his arms to form a 90 degree angle as poles made contact with the ground, his walking posture improved, noticeably reducing stress on the lower back.
(Our experiences have been confirmed by several published studies revealing that poles can reduce the compression stress on knees by 5-25% with the greatest impact being for downhill walking.)
After walking about 170 miles, one of Jim’s poles broke. The adjusting mechanism failed and would no longer hold the pole at a given length. Without both poles, the stress of walking 8-12 miles a day was dramatically increased. We kept a lookout for a place to buy a replacement pole and finally found a small store in Castrojeriz. The owner happened to have one set of poles which Jim quickly bought for 39€.
That afternoon, Jim got familiar with the new poles and found them to be superior to the old ones. First, the shafts were stronger but not significantly heavier (alumnium vs fiberglass) and the length adjustment was a better design and faster and easier to change while walking.
The next morning as we continued our walk, with a big smile, Jim began using his new poles and continued using them for the remaing 110 miles in 2014, the final 210 miles in 2015. They show little if any signs of wear and the adjusting mechanism is like new. The poles are Altus brand, but not available for purchase in the US, including the internet. Similar poles are available in the US at a cost of more the $100! We plan to buy a set of these poles for Linda at a store that carries Altus brand in Pamplona on our way to Saint-Jean-Pied de Port, France (SJPDP).
Our original plan for getting to Spain was to take Uber to the Greenville airport (GSP) and fly Greenville> Philadelphia(PHL)> Madrid(MAD), leaving our car at home to avoid long term parking fees (~$500 for 82 days).
Two weeks prior to departure, the baggage handlers, cleaners and customer service agents at PHL called for a strike against American Airlines. At the last minute, the strike was suspended as negotiations resumed.
Uncertainty in our logistics for the beginning of our trip is not a good thing. Most of Europe takes the month of August as a holiday. Thus, Europeans walking the Camino Frances on vacation must start their walk in late July or early August as the normal time to complete the 500 mile pilgrimage is 30-33 days. This creates a surge of pilgrims, overwhelming the limited accommodations for sleeping along the Camino.
Our plan to deal with this potential problem is to find and reserve hotel rooms and purchase tickets for our train and bus trip to SJPDP, as well as reserving rooms for the first 6 days of our walk. We completed this several weeks ago.
Consequently, any delays in our flight or baggage arriving in Madrid on schedule, will have disastrous repercussions on the beginning of our Camino.
So, we took immediate evasive action by calling American and changing our flight to originate in Charlotte(CLT) and to fly direct to Madrid… at an additional cost of $375 in re-ticketing fees. Also, to avoid airport long term parking fees, we will drive to Jim’s daughter’s home in Clover, SC, who has graciously agreed to give us a ride to CLT some 30 miles away and store our car in her driveway until we return in October.