Monday, June 10, 2019

Our Camino, Part 1

Hello again! Just a quick note to let you know we are working hard to get current with our posts. We look forward to sharing our experience on the Camino de Santiago and, of course, Steven has some stunning photos for you! If you are new to the blog, or have just forgotten about what we're up to, we recommend you go back to our previous post and get all the deets!

With Bijou safely in storage and after two train rides, we arrived in Bayonne and went looking for our connection to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the town from which we would begin our journey on the Camino de Santiago. The station attendant directed us to the last car on the train sitting at Platform 4. When we boarded we saw others just like us. Pilgrims. We stuck out like sore thumbs. Camino shells dangling from backpacks, folded up hiking sticks and boots, all the usual pilgrim accoutrements. People were chatting in several foreign languages, some were reading their Camino guidebooks and others were just looking out the window. Most noticeable, though, was the excitement. We were all about to embark on what we each hoped would be an amazing journey. 

We spent a couple of days in Saint-Jean-de-Port soaking up the atmosphere, meeting fellow pilgrims and shopping for last minute items, the most important of which was our hiking poles. I have never used poles before but I was so happy to have them on this trip! We went to the Pilgrim’s office to get our credential book and our first official stamp. They also gave us an updated weather report letting us know the popular Napoleon route through the mountains was open. In previous days it had been closed due to storms, and two days after we went over a huge storm hit and many pilgrims had to be rescued off the mountain. We really threaded the needle with regard to weather! We sampled a good bit of the local Basque cuisine and of course, some wines, too. The village was buzzing with pilgrims and anticipation filled the air. “Buen Camino”, the universal salutation among pilgrims, was heard often. 

Eager pilgrims walking into Saint-Jean after arriving by train.


Signs of the Camino are all over the village.

Volunteers at the pilgrim office assist with credentials and information.

Good job I was traveling light, there was no room for chickens in my backpack!

Beautiful Basque architecture along the river in Saint-Jean.

On Easter Sunday, April 21st, we were up early to start our Camino. Our hostess at the Airbnb where we stayed made some last minute adjustments to my pack and waved goodbye. It was 7:45 a.m. This was ridiculously early, but we were filled with excitement, it was cool and we were anticipating some nice morning light and sky drama in the mountains. It was perfect. 

The arch was the starting point of our Camino journey.

The first of many markers that would guide us on the Way.

I was very nervous about the first couple of days as the elevation change was significant. Day one was five miles straight up, or so it seemed to me, and I powered right through it. Honestly, I was surprised at how well I did and how much I enjoyed it. Steven did, too. We enjoyed the view over the mountains and had found our stride when just around the corner our destination came into view. It was about 11:00 a.m. We sat inside and warmed up with a lovely bowl of soup. 

Almost immediately, we were met with a steep incline.

The higher we climbed, the more breathtaking the views.

We reached Orisson sooner than expected. Before turning the corner, we thought we still had one more hill to climb.

Spectacular views from the deck at Orisson. This is what we dreamed of!

Laundry is a BIG deal on the Camino. More about that in future posts.

Since Orisson is so close to Saint-Jean many people choose to continue on across the mountains and into Spain. About 30 or so stay behind to enjoy the view, the wine, the community dinner and the after dinner tradition where each pilgrim stands to introduce themselves and speak about why they are walking the Camino. 

At Orisson, stories are told and Camino bonds are formed.

There were about a dozen nationalities in the room and with each story there was applause, laughter, tears and sometimes all three. Of the first six to introduce themselves, four claimed Seattle as home. The Italian who followed said, “My name-a is Antonio, and-a Imma not-a from-a Seattle.” We all had a good laugh.

That night we shared a room with four others, Keri and Mike, siblings from Seattle who were walking to honor their brother recently lost to cancer, Cathie from Colorado who was on her third Camino and the energetic Lynda from Australia, a true inspiration. It was a fun group. 

On day two, rested and fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, we climbed up and over the Pyrenees and into Spain. It was a gorgeous day with cool temperatures and partly sunny skies. And the views, oh my, the views! At times Steven and I had the Way to ourselves and at other times we were joined by fellow pilgrims. Everyone was excited and chatty, going at their own pace, but we all hopscotched around each other throughout the day. 

This was the first of many strategically positioned food trucks along the way.


Lunch stop with Cathie and Lynda. Two days later, 23 people took shelter from a storm in this building and had to be rescued off the mountain.

The descent into Roncesvalles, especially the last four kilometers, was a killer. We were so happy to arrive at the municipal albergue, as I was sure I could not take one more step. The albergue is huge, it can hold a couple of hundred pilgrims. There are long hallways with cubicles, each with two sets of bunk beds. We shared a cubicle with Cathie and Yukiko, a young woman from Japan. There was plenty of room for everyone, it’s not super busy this time of year. 

We tried to get showers as soon as possible after we arrived so that we can hit the town after. It was very rejuvenating, also, we get out of our sweaty clothes so we could get our laundry done. We grabbed a couple of things to hand wash in the laundry room downstairs, but then we found out the hospitalerios (volunteers) would do it for us for a mere 3.5 euro. What a steal! We ran back to our room and gathered everything! Because we were traveling with so few things, it is such a great feeling when everything was clean!

That evening in Roncesvalles we went to dinner at a nearby cafe offering a Pilgrim’s menu. This is usually a starter (a huge bowl of pasta) a main course (chicken with gravy and fries) and dessert (yogurt) all for 10 euro. We ate with an Italian woman who spoke a bit of English and a Frenchman who spoke nary a word. We all shared a bottle of wine with our dinner and had a good time gesturing. 

Later there was a Catholic mass and a blessing for the pilgrims, all in Spanish. We didn't understand a word, but we figured a blessing of any kind can’t hurt, right? 


With two really tough days done we headed off on day three full of energy and excitement. Our goal was Zubiri just over 21 kms away. It started off well, but it went downhill, literally, into a never-ending, difficult path littered with sharp rocky outcrops, which were really difficult on my feet. Only three days in and I started to wonder if my feet would hold up to this brutal terrain. Steven didn't enjoy it much either, and by this time, his backpack had caused him some shoulder pain. 

Sometimes the only thing that propelled me one more step was conversation. On this stage we walked with Annette and her daughter Mille from Denmark. We really enjoyed their company and it made a difficult day more tolerable. 

I thought day four from Zubiri to Pamplona would be easy peasy, but I was wrong. We had booked a couple of nights in a hotel right off the square in old Pamplona and I was really looking forward to a rest day. A couple of hours before we arrived it started to rain. We found a covered area to stop and drag out our rain gear. The wind had picked up and we still had a way to go. It hadn’t occurred to us that once we reached the city we would still walk over an hour to reach our hotel. 


A grueling section on the trail and driving rain took a toll on all of us.

Finally on the outskirts of Pamplona.


We were about one kilometer away when I declared I could not take one more step, I just did not have it in me. I dropped my pack and sat down on a little wall. We had just passed a car dealership and I whined to Steven, "Please buy me that little car back there." 

I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Steven had just purchased a bag of peanuts from an enterprising seller who positioned himself at the edge of town with his satchel full of snacks for the pilgrims. He gave me a handful and a drink of water along with some gentle encouragement. It was just enough to get me going again and walk the final distance. My gosh I was in so much pain! Every bone in my body ached, my feet were burning and my shoulders felt bruised. When we got into our room and I saw the mini shampoo bottle and a hairdryer, that’s when I cried. 

We had a fantastic time in Pamplona, with its vibrant restaurant scene and beautiful architecture. We toured the route used for the famous Running of the Bulls from the opening pens, through the streets and into the ring. We have vowed to return when we are back to our sane selves, when we have clean clothes and proper footwear! 

Happy hour with the gang. Annette, Keri, Emilia, Lynda, Cathie, me and Mille.



Our favorite restaurant in Pamplona, Katuzarra.


Us with Keri and Mike at Hemingway’s hangout, Iruña Café.

I forgot to wear my FitBit walking around Pamplona on Thursday, darn it! 

NEXT UP: Our Camino, Part 2