Camino de Santiago Day Fourteen 2 Weeks Walking: Ages to Burgos

13 04 2018

Ay! We finally made it to Burgos. We thought this 14 mikes was going to be easy. When are we going to learn?!

The early crew left around 7 but our room was so nice and quiet. I actually woke up slowly at 7:15, I started my blog bleary-eyed from bed before someone out the lights on around 7:30, it was then I noticed Suzy was already up, unusual! Apparently she’d forgotten to ask to ship the bag along so wanted to make sure she was ok. I was sure aliens had abducted her in the night. Luckily I found her safe and sound in the dining room. I eased into the day since it was raining pretty heavily I wasn’t in a big rush to get out of town. While I blogged and organized my pack it came to my attention that Sophie from Canada was working on an exit strategy. Her knee is just too shot to continue, so she needs to have the Albergue manager drive her to Burgos to hopefully get a bus to Madrid to see a doctor and get some sort of flight back to Canada. Her Camino is over for this time. So tragic and so sad to see her in pain. Ali was in pain this morning also, something with her leg. The woman from Canada is a little older but Ali is probably my age. To see the intensity of this journey wearing on our fellow pilgrims is agonizing.

We headed out with just coffees in our bellies as we wanted to be able to get to Burgos in time for Suzy to get some money. Again no one will exchange dollars… anywhere… so now she has sent the call out to her whole family to ask anyone that can spare a little something to try to wire it to her, that said these Moneygram places aren’t everywhere and tomorrow is Saturday. Sigh. I never would have thought you could not exchange dollars in Spain or use Amex. It’s absurd. We wanted to hit the road hard to get to Burgos fast before the Moneygram closed. An update on this a few hours later is that if you do get money wired you’ll need to have a SPANISH PHONE NUMBER to get your money?! WTH. Be warned.

The first part was mellow, through some small roads mostly on asphalt highway but sadly soon the route rose up into the hills and became a scramble of rock peppered with sheep pellets. Literally you were looking for the next foothold at every step. There was very misty rain, not so bad but a little slippery. We smelled the muskiness of the sheep and wet wool and wondered when they’d passed by (later I saw a post from our fellow pilgrim, one of the early morning crew, surrounded by the sheep just hours before we got there!) Then at the top as we rounded a military protected zone protected by barbed wire and approached a large cross at the top of the hill the trail flattened before offering us the opposite exposure. The same rock now slick in the light rain, very slippery.

This top area provided a great view before our descent and circular rings made from the fragments of rough boulders that we’d just seen. The large gaping hole in the military fence and tire tracks gave us something to imagine…maybe this was the Area 51 of Spain and the gunshots that we’d heard weren’t open Pelegríno season but rather them shooting at the alien who’d escaped when they towed the mother craft into the secure zone. These are the ways we prevent boredom on the route. We let our imaginations run wild to keep the feet moving!

After trying the slippery rocks I opted for the grassy area with rugged boulders. It was much better. Between the poles for the downhill and my imagined goat like ability that I manifested for today I scrambled down the hill at top speed till we reached a track that had the creamy colored gravel we both really enjoyed walking on.

We booked along eventually running into the Cairo ex Pats and then Heino, Mark, Helena and almost the entire crew from our Albergue but we didn’t stop. We kept taking the left hand route and winded along leaving Heino at a crossroads as we descended down and around the Burgos airport. Then left again to stick to the Rio Route along the river.

Someone had warned us of “flashers” entering Burgos so we carefully inspected any oncoming walkers. The first we decided were definitely flashers turned out to be just a couple, yeah a man and a woman with short hair on a walk. The next, for sure a flasher with a dog to provide an alibi… um, until we realized he was visually impaired… it was a guide dog. Yikes sorry! But as we kept on and on through the park and near a tunnel near the river there were a few sketchy men, who knows. We kept them in sight. One man pretended to be watching the water and although I was right behind Suzy he immediately peeled away from his water sojourn to follow her, getting in between us very close despite the whole area being wide open. I said, “Suzy hold up! I’ve got to fix my shoe!” And she tuned around and came back so we could be behind him. He did glance back at us as he kept walking. Just better to have a code word or something and watch each other’s backs. Another day I was happy to have a partner.

The slog into Burgos seemed to go on and on so it was nice to see Mark and Helena catch up to us. We headed in and with aching feet opted to wait to check into our hotel and instead hit a tapas bar called La Favorita. It seemed a bit fancy and maybe a bit modern but it had reclaimed wood everywhere and was warm and comfy. The Italian guy with bad feet we’d seen upon occasion was even there. We were gluttonous… gorging ourselves on anchovies and olives, baby eels, ceviche, the pork belly cracklings, and then we found the foie menu! Three kinds! We did all three.

After a short conversation with a guy from Tennessee doing work with an equipment manager we headed to our “hotel”. The hotel not so much a hotel, seemed like we just checked into my friend’s grandma’s house. Two people were there sitting on the couch and buzzed us into the 11th floor of a nondescript apartment building in an area that seems to be a hub for 1Euro stores. Note to self when you see a “Hotel” advertised that says 11th floor (piso 11A) this might be a red flag. The place is fine, clean and has a shared bath but it’s a little weird. Halfway there I realized I’d left my poles at the tapas bar and had to walk all the way back.

After a quick beer I got back to the apartment and showered and then it was directly back to meet Mark & Helena for a farewell. They did the Camino from Burgos to Santiago last time so now they’re done and leaving us for a vacation. Heino is sad as he was too far away to join us, he asked us to not leave him, otherwise he will be alone with only Markus, oh and Markus is the name of his worst blister lol. Apparently Markus is a real jerk. My pinky toe blister is still around and very strange but doesn’t hurt so I’m still trying to ignore it. Long day tomorrow though. We had some tapas and then went to bed early at grandma’s place.

Camino de Santiago Day Thirteen: Belorado to Ages

13 04 2018

Well with a new day comes new experiences and a new outlook. The skies have to release the rain to let the sun shine through. Today the dawn came early after hitting the super comfortable bed at 1am after a session of inputting expenses into a Google Drive spreadsheet via my iPhone, but I got that done and I awoke to find that there was a yellow glow coming up over the mountain. The winds had changed and blown away my despair. The sun was out and the fluffy cotton ball clouds filled the skies. The roads began drying and we headed on to the town to get some breakfast feeling well rested despite the short sleep but grateful for the comfy beds.

We stopped at a cute cafe La Huella del Camino, with a great backyard terrace that had a view of the cliff dwellings behind the town and they made me a huge jamon and cheese with a coffee for 3,20 Euro. I finished up yesterday’s blog in good time due to the strong Vodafone connectivity and was feeling totally spry and ready to attack the day. While Suzy was connecting with her friends online I set out for the restroom towards the front of the place. When I got there I tried locking the door but the mechanism seemed stuck. I tried a few more times but the place was quiet so I figured why bother and just shut the door. After my minor business I looked at my reflection in the mirror and proudly said to myself, “You got this!” I felt like I looked pretty good, not as puffy eyed as I’d expected. I lunged to open the door and it was locked. Completely locked shut. No give at all to the lock, no give to the handle. No way to open it. I looked at myself in the mirror and said to my reflection, “Really? Are you f-in kidding me?!” I took a deep breath and said a prayer. I took some toilet paper and made sure my hands and the lock were super dry. I approached the lock from the left, from the right. As I panicked, I reminded myself to breathe. I tried again and again, fumbling enough so perhaps someone might hear me? Of course my phone was on the table with Suzy. I began to envision my Camino, cut short by this being caught in the bathroom in Belorado, I mean the locksmith was probably not in the town and not awake yet. Was this my penance? I thought well at least I have the water faucet and a toilet. I once again tried not to resort to a panicked scream for help and took a left hip to the door and “POP!” There it popped open. The cafe hostess was just on her way to my rescue as I suppose this is a known problem. Suzy had no idea I’d been MIA so long. I was so verklempt I left my poles at the cafe until I was half way out of town and had to head back. Belorado clearly thought I should have spent more time in that quaint town… I loved it but I wouldn’t want to live there forever.

So our progress on what we knew was going to be a slow day was slowed somewhat but it was fine because the weather was awesome. It was a cool 40-44F with a light breeze and sunshine! Soon after starting I shed my silver lined puffy for just my magic Smartwool long sleeve shirt but that was a little too cool so then I brought our the other fluffy puffy (that I mostly have as a happy cozy item) because it breathes more. It was a perfect combo. We made the switch where we ran into the Americans living in Cairo from yesterday whom we met with Ali from the U.K. and enjoyed chatting with them.

We stopped again at a bar called El Cantina just to get my water filled and have a beer and coffee then on through a few more towns. In Villafranca Montes de Oca we came right up to the town where there was a convoy of 18 wheelers parked and the bell rang. So despite it seeming kind of dark from outside we decided to go in and eat. We got gambas a la plancha which were exactly what I wanted. A note that the experienced peregrinos know that the best food is where the truckers eat… our new pilgrim friend from Holland told us that’s his trick, he had rabbit for lunch.

We zipped out of there and up a huge hill, but before we did we had to navigate a block of crazy truck traffic on the narrow streets. Then the familiar up up up on a very steep narrow rocky path with water pouring down it. We hoped that was it but the next few miles continued on up on a somewhat steep but long ascent up the mountain.When we thought we were done we noticed more water streaming past us and kept going. Finally there was a slope down but to our dismay it appeared to then go directly back up. I tried to oretend that it must veer off and not go straight up but when we got to the base not only did it go back up to the same level of the ridge we’d just been on, but we were also presented with a tiny wooden bridge covered in stones and running water. It was like a joke.

When we finally hit the flat and the descent we were elated. For sure it would now be easy! There was a beautiful forest of small new trees. Soon though the scenery changed and our young forest merged into an older one that looked storm ravaged with lots of deadfall trees. Our easy walk quickly became a slog through deep mud banks of red clay squish squish squish, no doubt this was a raging mud river in this past week. Then it became difficult to navigate as we had to zigzag back and forth and make a tactical plan for crossing the rivulets of water flowing past us. Some mud lakes spanned the whole road and we opted to cross over some tree limbs that had been placed there as an aide.

Not only is this type of walking tedious it seemed to go on forever. It’s also extremely hard on your ankles calves and feet as your at balance is crucial. The forest began to take on an ominous sinister tone. I suddenly realized how glad I was to have a walking companion because after at least two hours of this type of walking we had not seen a soul. They must have done some logging on this road though since there were deep tire tracks in the mud. I though maybe locals enjoy four wheeling out here and the theme from Deliverance popped into my head. I certainly wouldn’t want to be walking here in a storm. We started envisioning horror film scenarios and found later that many others had shared a similar feeling of heaviness about this stretch of forest, straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Our feet ached and we knew we still had a full hour to the next town San Juan de Ortega, so we put out the proverbial carrot, suggesting that when we a got there we would stop for a quick beer before the additional 45 minute walk to Ages… we opted to stay there as we had heard mixed reviews about San Juan. Just when I felt I could barely move my feet one more step, I noticed them up ahead. “Pilgrims! There’s pilgrims up there!” And then we saw a car and lo and behold the evil forest quickly morphed into an enchanted forest replete with happy totem poles lots of pods of tables and stools made of stumps… the Oasis it was called. We made it there just as the French couple were leaving and the woman running the stop was about to drive off, but she waited until we grabbed a beer and a wine and an orange before departing to get her own lunch. The spot was donativo meaning you give what you think it appropriate. We so enjoyed taking a load off and another pilgrim Fonz came by to chat. We’d seen him at the bar where we’d had lunch, he’d had the rabbit.

He zoomed onward inspiring us to get a move on and we continued the trudge through what was now a more serene forest. I won’t lie it was still a huge effort to keep going. When we finally reached the town we were greeted by some donkeys and saw Eppie and Jack the US expats living in Cairo as we walked through and a small gathering of pilgrims at a picnic table. Not much there so we were glad we took our rest when we did.

On and on through a small forest where we sang hippie songs (think Jefferson Airplane) and caught up with the French couple. Then a few very scary cattle guards with openings almost wide as my foot and a deep drop… so deep my pole couldn’t reach the bottom. On and on and on and on. My spirits were lifted when I heard the call of a cuckoo and the melodious low jangling of cowbells. The cuckoo didn’t sign a release we said as it quieted as soon as I tried to record it.

Above the rise the herd appeared, gently grazing along the green hillside with a backdrop of snow covered mountains behind them. One mother was licking her baby calf’s face and the whole scene was so soothing. It gave me strength to make the descent into the adorable village of Ages where our Albergue Pajar de Ages sat close to the entrance to the town. We were welcomed into the toasty room, a very cozy place and were lucky to get two lower bunks. Just before dinner which was to be served at 6:30 I left the Albergue to get a bit of air and I had about 1% battery left in my phone. I opened it for a second and Facebook opened up automatically. I looked and was shocked to see from my friend Kimberly’s fed that a friend of mine, David S. a fellow wine judge had died suddenly. I exclaimed out loud “oh no!” And immediately one bell tolled in Ages. I’ll take it as a sign.

Dinner was served early which was welcome, first piping hot bowls of vegetarian pumpkin soup and then a welcome unique take on the pilgrim meal, clearly what they’re famous for…a hearty perfectly executed paella. We also had a great salad with chopped almonds and pitchers of wine. We even compared our “pilgrim tans”, my hands are totally showing where my pole straps cover them. If you’re a hand model you may want to add sunscreen on your hands!

The group was fun, 12 pilgrims in our room and we met Sarah from the U.K. Later on Suzy was begged to grab the guitar and Ali whom we’ve met many times joined us and played Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. It became a sing along and there was a pilgrim family “breaking up” two core members leaving by bus to skip onto Lyon due to time constraints. They showed us their friend’s terrible feet and new pinky toe growing from her toe lol and three of us realized we all had a pinky toe blister and became the Pinky Toe Camino Blister Gang. My pinky toe was once again swollen but didn’t hurt too bad.

We all sang Blowing in the Wind together and created on the spot new pilgrim verses, each of us adding something…and after one more acapella rendition of Hallelujah it was off to bed… I almost crept into the wrong room, but luckily Suzy caught me.

It was a very difficult but good day. 18 miles and 40 floors.

Camino de Santiago Day Twelve: Santo Domingo de Calzada to Belorado

12 04 2018

Did you ever have that feeling as a kid… you’d been swimming so much and so long and so hard that it was hard to come up for air… and you had that breathless feeling? I imagine the opposite feeling of a fish out of water… waterlogged and desperate for air. That’s me tonight. Sometimes you’d have that “swimmy” feeling for a long time after getting out of the water… I cannot shake a similar feeling tonight and I broke down into tears… finally, and cannot stop sobbing. I feel like I’m waterlogged in tears. The reality of all the things I’d left undone came crashing down on me tonight. No doubt mitigated by countless factors… extreme exhaustion, homesickness, much more, but the tears keep streaming. Thankfully Suzy insisted on sponsoring a nicer private room after yesterday’s melee. Today didn’t even seem so bad… it’s just like that out here I guess… every minute in the Camino is its own thing…

The day started out innocently enough, oh wait, well actually no… at 10 pm sharp the night before st the “barracks” of Santo Domingo the lights were out and wifi went dark too. There were few power outlets as well. I barely leapt onto the top bunk when they shut us in. I was actually afraid to brush my teeth. The reveille started by the rooster at exactly 4:45. It just so happens that the back courtyard of the Albergue houses some chickens and the “extra” roosters for the church rooster display. He crowed about ten times. Then I was able to fall asleep again… until either he or another rooster started up at about 6. It was still pitch black at seven when we were all told we should be up, and the very dim room lights went on. As is custom everyone started rushing around except a few of us, and then the manager even came in to check to be sure we were all upright. We got ourselves sorted pretty fast as we prepped the night before but it was hectic. Downstairs I tried to take one for the team and grab the boots out of the smelly boot room for me and Suzy but I got in trouble and we had to put our boots on inside that room that had housed close to 100 pairs of wet and soggy footwear for a night. It felt like drill sergeants were herding us out and about to scream at us and at any moment I anticipated I’d here, “Pilgrim! What’s your major malfunction!” Later we learned some pilgrims did get yelled at…”Vamos!!” “Go!” and “Peregrinos Fuera!” “Pilgrims get out!!” It was stressful. When we spoke to Suzy’s sister yesterday and described the scene and the Camino she said, “The walking I could do, I can walk, I just don’t want that many people in my oxygen!” In a nutshell that’s what it was like. Just let’s say it was no vacation. If that doesn’t sound good for you consider staying in Granon the next town.

We stood outside feeling like we had been kicked to the curb a bit disoriented honestly. We wanted coffee and breakfast but were hoping to find a new bar but didn’t find one as we walked on past the cathedral. Finally at the edge of town we opted to just keep on going. We went on about an hour and a half and found a great coffee place across from the church in Granon but unfortunately all the pilgrims from Santo Domingo were there at the same time. We patiently lined up and waited and luckily most of them downed their coffees and continued their mad dash down the road. We expect some are trying to make good time or do extra miles but otherwise don’t really understand the rush. I finished up my blog we had time to relax and as they streamed out the vibe of the cafe really came alive. The owner played really great music, first some fun jazzy stuff and then some Natalie Simone and Leonard Cohen and as we were regrouping to head out it Cat Stevens’ Father & Son came on and the whole bar started singing. We were invited by the owners to play the guitars but we were too tired but we got a great pilgrim stamp (sello) that the owner’s brother had designed. His artwork was on the walls. Great food, great energy and if we had just rushed on through we would have missed it. Her brothers’ instagram is @mywayfrances if you want to follow him.

We plodded on and it had grown very cold. The rain held for the most part as we walked down wide track mostly close to the highway. It was nice to have created some distance from the main pack of pilgrims and we settled into our own rhythm. The track wasn’t hard but just a bit boring and tedious. In Redecilla del Camino there wasn’t much to eat or drink, really small town and so we went on hoping to find something in Viloria de Rioja so we could stop for a break (seems we are weaving along the border between two regions Rioja and Castilla y Leon.)

Immediately upon entering the town we found an adorable little stop, a local artisan has set up a shop and rest stop in her kitchen. You can stop and warm up around the wood burning stove that is heating the room, the owner will make you some food or you can just grab an egg or an orange, a coffee, beer or wine. The place has a great feeling complete with the homey atmosphere and the exposed wood beams and concrete slab floor. There’s even a pilgrim Take it or Leave it pile where you can ditch stuff knowing if will be used by another pilgrim or maybe find something you need. There are also 16 beds upstairs if you’d like to stay in this town. We purchased some of her bracelets that she makes over the slow season.

We relaxed here for awhile and then forced ourselves back into the cold, a really rude awakening after our cozy interlude. Snow was on the hills. Now he wind was whipping at us and pushing us around. We joked that if Suzy wasn’t careful one of the gusts, which were exacerbated but the huge trucks rushing by, would pick her up and carry her all the way back to Logrono!

We were lucky that it wasn’t raining but the wind was cold and raw. My pashmina was of course stuffed deep in my bag, so we kept on.

In the next small town Villamayor del Rio there was really nothing, no shops, no industry. Tiny quiet little place but we did see a woman buying her weekly groceries from a mobile food truck. We’d seen him a few towns back, he must move town to town to sell groceries to these small towns that are so far from any type of market.

We got to Beldorado and our hotel was the very first one so we didn’t really have the energy to explore the town. The private room we got was luxurious to us, just having some space away from all the humanity of it…and it had the most amazing shower with all kinds of jets! A quiet dinner and some chatting with some German pilgrims we met at the singalong in Santo Domingo and it was back to the room… to do work on my taxes. Reality comes seeping into the Camino, you cannot just walk away from life. It’s very hard to be here dealing with issues at home but that’s what I have to do. There are not really any Internet cafes here, no where to really get online other than my phone. Yesterday I tried to save on my phone by turning it off but wifi is spotty so that was a frustration in itself as well. Finances are always stressful but more so when you aren’t working and are on this road doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do but not yet knowing WHY you are here. Explaining to folks from work and home that this is not really some vacation is hard. Not feeling guilty for leaving your home and your family is hard. My body is hard, and lean but also tired. I ate a banana today which I hate but I know I’ve got to get rid of these nighttime pains and cramps in my legs. I have a tiny blister on my little toe. Ok it’s as big as the little toe, but I didn’t know it was there until I took my boot off. The road is uncomfortable it takes you out of your comfort zone mentally and physically. I can only imagine that this is a critical point where you shed old paradigms and enter stage two of the walk.

I’m one third of the way there. I’ve walked more than 167 miles in 12 days. I have 512 km to go to make it to Santiago. The weather has not been kind lately, but I have faith I’ll make it and make it through the hills and valleys.

Camino de Santiago Day Eleven: Najera to Santo Domingo de Calzada

11 04 2018

We had some left over snacks and enjoyed a protein packed breakfast of lomo (cured pork lion) and boquerones (sweet Spanish anchovies) and cheese. We stopped at a small cafe for a coffee and it was off. Same scenery as yesterday but somewhat monotonous. Wide track easy on the feet but with a long long slow incline. We passed by a sheep farm where the bleating sent us off with good intentions.

On and on we went, the first town we hit, Azofra, was only 10:30 and not long enough to make a pit stop really so we just kept going after eating some hazelnuts and some chocolate. But the next town was far. Again a long incline this time through abandoned housing complexes with for sale signs. Really not a very pretty part of the walk through that area. The town at the top Ciruena looked empty and we didn’t really want to leave the Camino to investigate so we decided to go on without a break. There was light rain but not too bad, we were not drenched but it was definitely damp. We arrived in Santo Domingo early and checked into the largest Albergue we have been in so far…Ref. Casa de Santo.

This Albergue was massive, 220 beds and incredibly I was pilgrim number 71, my birth year… but no doubt not the last to check in! We were assigned two upper bunks in a dorm with at least 20 beds… there are many rooms too. Bathing facilities were divided between men and women and there seemed to be plenty of showers and sinks and there was a huge seating area and a big kitchen with dishes etc and long tables to eat at. Rules were hung up on the wall.

We opted to go down the street a bit to a bar and get some lunch, we could not wait to eat, but first we went for a quick tour of the church famous for its rooster enshrined in a little cage. There’s a legend about it you can google if you’re inclined… We went back towards the Albergue and found a place to share lamb chops and patatas bravas with tomato and aioli. We have discovered that we need a LOT of calories, I found a handy site that can help you log your calories burned go to The big day we burned more than 3000!

We did some laundry across from the Albergue and then went out to eat again… I had lamb chops, again! And some Palomino sherry. And more wine, we also found a bottle for 1,50 Euros and brought that back to our “barracks” to enjoy before our 10 pm curfew and lights out and call to silence! We weren’t sure of the etiquette but Rice Kake Mary (our new name for Mary) egged us on to get the guitar. After a playing a few songs it was lights out!

Camino de Santiago Day 10: Logrono to Najera

9 04 2018

Day Ten! My body is in full efficiency mode, feet are good muscles are toned, the poles are like another set of limbs working to take the pressure off my joints. And I have rhythm!

We got up early enough to get Suzy’s bag set to ship out by 8 since the Pension was unattended in the morning. Although there was rain forecast when we left we saw none. Right down the road we saw cafe Picasso advertising breakfast for 2,80 coffee, fresh squeezed juice and a jamon and pepper sandwich that was freshly prepared, absolutely delicious. As we sat there easing into the day we glanced outside and it was pouring. Despite the big day ahead we took our time with breakfast and miraculously when we were ready to go the rain was light, not dumping like before. Sophia the cafe server even agreed to help Suzy get minutes from the Orange store for her phone, it wasn’t open until much later in the morning, but Suzy gave her some cash and she sweetly agreed to load the minutes for her later in the day.

The walk out of Logrono was tedious. With the rain constant we had hats and hoods on and it was often hard to look up to see the signs for the Camino. We passed by a protest for a trial we heard about at the court and almost got lost a few blocks down. Remember that rain doesn’t always fall down, Today it was falling AT us sideways and soon my pants were soaked and I was a bit chilly without another layer underneath. We saw a dog dressed very fancy wearing a shirt and corduroy pants, he looked warmer than we were.

With the rain we stop less to look around and I don’t take as many photos since my phone is wrapped up in plastic. We did get a break in the rain after a rest stop that had facilities and had a chance to watch some swans and ducks.

We just kept walking and walking until we saw the town of Navarette. Suzy made up a fun marching song and we marched on up to the town. We kept on the Camino not wanting to stop at he very first cafe we saw but we found very little on the route, lots of shuttered homes and abandoned buildings. We eventually left the route and found some banks where I got cash but Suzy was still unable to exchange dollars. She has enough for now but he plan is to try to get another hotel in a big town to do an exchange later in the trip. We did find a cute cafe but they had limited food, our breakfast was holding us over but we got two beers and a big piece of pork belly that they heated for us, delicious! we could feel the meat reenergizing our muscles. Sadly our clothes had not dried but we put them back on and plodded on.

Amazingly the rain had stopped but it was really cold at first, the wind was whipping and temperatures seemed to have dropped. There were lots of vineyards with pinkish soil and a good deal of mud. We stopped briefly in Ventosa for a beverage but we found each time we stopped we seemed to be get even colder.

We walked on and walked and walked. We missed a sign once and ended up at the bottom of a muddy hill only to see footsteps heading the wrong way and realized our error. And we walked. I was irritated to see that we were still far from the town it seemed endless as we wife past factories and industrial parts of town but eventually we made it to the Puerta de Najera hostel. The place is awesome, a great group of pilgrims were there and two pilgrim families merged. Somehow of course Heino and Marc and Helena were there and as we enjoyed some wine with the pilgrims there we met new ones! Gigi from San Francisco greeted us as we’d met on the Camigas blog and we met Z, Alyssa and Andi who were to my excitement playing left right center (although sadly not for money). We shared some wine which was available for sale at the hostel. Mary came in and gave us the brilliant idea to microwave a potato and cover it with cheese. Suzy and I headed out in search of the grocery store which is seconds from the hostel but went down the wrong street to our good fortune though as we found a place that serves the mushrooms like we had in Logrono and a fancy butcher where we got some lomo!

We finally found the grocer also and created a little feast of bonito tuna, white asparagus, local cheese and my favorite boquerones. And a bottle of El Coto Rioja crianza. At 10 they shut the lights and now we have survived the 6:30 am rustle and shuffle as pilgrims rush out of here. It’s 7:15 am now and maybe five of us are left, and it’s still dark out. Suzy has been wondering where they got the night vision goggles they must have ;). We like to take our time and ease into the day. I did brush my teeth early today and there were people lined up and waiting, so I’m cool to leave later. We have a mellow walk today anyway…

Oh I failed to mention that yesterday’s walk was 20.1 miles including our walk through the town. 🙂

Camino de Santiago Day Nine: Torres del Rio to Logrono

8 04 2018

Well we slept like rocks with all that meat and wine hopefully helping our bodies create more muscle. After some time with Paco at the bar enjoying some coffees it was off again. We wove through almond trees and vineyards, we were told there would be lots of rain but it seemed to hold off for us. The cool humid weather was nice though, it intensified the aromas of the ground and the vegetation and the grey skies made the colors pop.

We saw a sign for a steep descent and carefully made it down. During this portion we noticed lots of wild thyme growing on the side, first as it made itself known by smell. It’s a very lemony herbal thyme different than what you’d buy in a store. Then we came across wild rosemary, also very distinctly different than the California rosemary I’m familiar with and it’s resinous green herbal quality. Instead it had a very perfumed nose almost as if it was mixed with lavender, but it was definitely rosemary. I was comforted by all the old gnarled vines clutching the bright red soils and watching us walk on through. While the vines haven’t budded almost everything else is beginning to bloom and even the fruit trees are moving past the floral stage on into leading our. Spring definitely feels like it is in full force!

We ran into a fellow pilgrim from Korea whose wife we’d seen having a lot of knee pain way back along the way entering Viana. He was headed into town to meet her again as she’s been recuperating there for a few days having taken a bus there. When we hit the town walls amazingly a bell rang. Now in Spain there seem to be bells ringing all he time but Suzy and I have decided that bells mean something for us, they’re a sign of welcome, goodbye or to tell us where to stop, omg I’m not kidding just as I wrote this the bells rang…

At any rate entering Viana at 11:45 a bell rang, and after a steep ascent into town we were ready for a break.

we found a great gear shop where Suzy got some gloves pretty much ensuring us that she won’t need them, and some socks and then we’re on the lookout for a good sandwich place. The store recommended one that for 3 Euros has a sandwich, fruit and juice but it didn’t resonate with us, we kept walking and up ahead saw a place and when we reached the door the bells rang three times so we knew it was where we were meant to stop. The bar Txoco was mostly just locals, no one at he counter a few old men reading the paper, maybe seven people. We each got beers and sandwiches of jamon Iberico. They also had a great pepper spread that was so spicy it made Suzy tear up. We saw new plates being brought out (we were early to be eating lunch) and got a great salmon and vegetable “lasagna” with cream and cheese. As we finished up suddenly hoards or people, all locals streamed into the bar. I guess we’d found a good spot.

Onto our afternoon slog. We joked about the fact that we somehow didn’t find the space time travel wormhole that we had found the day before… and then like a plague they appeared, little pukey brown wormlike caterpillars zooming back and forth across our path. They were so speedy and so gross so a good deal if the climb to Logrono they distracted us as we tried to dodge them and not step on them.

As we descended into Logrono we walked through fields of yellow flowers giving off a great aroma, past an urban garden and a crematorium (eerie) and onto the river, the Ebro is wide here and they have it dammed and there’s a hydroelectric plant. At exactly the middle of the bridge was our German friend Heino! We were excited to connect. On I to the town where we’d booked a room at the Pension Redonda, hard to find as it’s just a small door to the apartments and we were distracted as there in front of us was Alistair who we hadn’t seen since Pamplona. Coincidences don’t really happen on the Camino!

it was great to have the luxury of a private bath and after cleaning up we set out to meet Merche, the unofficial mayor of Logrono. We’d been introduced by my dear old time friend Robin Kelley O’Connor. We met at the lively and bustling Cafe Breton, it was the down time at the tapas bars on the famous Calle Laurel, around 5-8 they shut down for a break and the real evening goes late. We grabbed two fishbowls of gin tonics and took in the scene.

I was so honored that Merche would take the time to hang out with us on her Sunday evening! I figured she’d just joking us for a drink or maybe a bite but she jumped into local guide mode! We went to a tapas bar Taberna del Tio Blas that stays open all day and grabbed some pulpo (octopus) and rose.

She lead us onward to the church with two steeples, and of course we ran into Heino who was now with Ziggy another German and we told them they could join us for a tour of the church, Merche wanted to show us the Small Michelangelo painting but it was closed up due to the fact that they had some special masses and the rosary going on. Still the church is stunning and it was awesome to see part of a mass. As we were leaving of course there Alistair and as we gathered again on the square up rolled Helena and Marc from Canada! Our crew was back together once again! It felt like welcoming old friends and Merche warmly greeted them and asked them to join us as she knew a few spots open earlier that had food ready for our ravenous bellies.

We hit a bar that serves only mushrooms and Merche taught us how to roll them on the bread to get the oil off and then put the skewer down into the bread and eat them one by one starting from the top. We had scallops and wagyu, special tuna, boquerones, foie all of it accompanied by wine.

With our large dinner party of 8 I would have been so annoyed to deal with all he ordering details (one no meat, another only beer) but Merche graciously navigated the bars for us, she knew everyone and knew what was best and we were all so grateful for her commitment of time to a group of pilgrims she’d never met. Just dealing with dividing the bill and all would have had me stressed out. But similarly our pilgrim family was so appreciative and we easily paid for what we had or more to make it easy. She bought us wine we bought her food, it was all infused with love and camaraderie. When the crew realized that I’d just met her too they were stunned. Her hospitality was just the first introduction we have had to be warmth and friendliness of the people of Rioja. A few had to zip off to make their 10pm curfew, and we parted ways hoping the Camino will bring us together again. Suzy, Merche and I found one last spot to grab gambas, aka shrimp and a small bottle of Manzanilla sherry and we bid farewell. Suzy and I stopped for a gelato like ice cream on. E way home and it was sweet dreams for us. Today we are ready to go but it really is raining. Our walk today is long but we are going to find that wormhole again where time is meaningless. Much love to all of you who are sweet enough to read this!

Camino de Santiago Day Eight: Villamayor de Monjardin to Torres del Rio

7 04 2018

Day eight of walking, almost unfathomable! My body feels totally different today and I’m noticing that my clothes fit differently. My gray stretchy pants are bagging around the knees making my legs look like skinny elephant legs. Despite all the beer and wine it seems my belly is smaller and my arms are becoming defined by the movement of the poles. Today for the first day I felt strong!

We headed out of town after the first wave of pilgrims. We seem to be on our own time schedule which is nice, but in these big firms the rustling of stuff starts at about 6am and then builds. At just about 7 someone opted to turn on the bright lights above us and I had to wake up. At least we weren’t in a rush and fighting the rush for the one toilet (for 12 people).

We had some nibbles for breakfast and headed down the hill last vineyards and through the sloggy red clay, the kind that sticks to your boots and adds weight. The rain held off for a little while but then we heard some thunder and out on the pack raincover and soon the walk became very wet (this less photos today. The rain was incessant but it was a pleasant temperature and although I was fearful that perhaps my phone and papers were in a precarious position I plodded on because once the rain starts there’s no way to reorganize… so if rain is forecast or not it’s best to have your stuff sorted properly in dry sacks.

At a certain pint in the walk I’m not sure what happened but I fell into a rhythm and could not be stopped, my pace was speedy and before we knew it we were in Los Arcos! I couldn’t believe it, we left at about 9 and we’re there by 11:30. We found a cute bar Gargantua that played a kick ass Spotify playlist! Black Water by the Doobie Brothers was on when we walked in “well if it rains I don’t care don’t make no difference to me.” Followed by AC/DC, Creedence, Bob Segar. It was great. I peeled off each wet layer soon discovering that my waterproof Patagonia… not so much, totally wet, inner Columbia layer soaked through in places but the phone was still ok. Waterproof Vasque boots? Nope, Smartwool socks soaked and feet wet. Not exactly appropriate to have stripped my socks off but st least my feet are still not blistered like a lot of others are.

I had a beer, a plate of mini deep fried squid and some padron peppers and let my feet dry for a bit. Then I changed to dry socks (they immediately became damp upon putting he boots on) and put on the cold wet jackets. And it was off again. We had what looked like a three hour walk but the weather had cleared a bit and the rain stopped. We had a slower pace and Craig from Ohio who we’d met during the rainstorm joined us for the walk. In about two hours we were in Torres del Rio and totally surprised as it seemed like we’d just left, time had no meaning.

We walked up through the town to our Albergue La Pata de Oca. We were out into a small comfortable stone room of four beds, facilities were minimal but clean… the shower requires you to push the button for water and doesn’t really regulate the temperature. I was lazy and opted not to shower my Smartwool black long sleeve didn’t smell and had dried completely, I love this thing! I went down to the fancier Albergue and had some wine at the bar and did a little reorganizing. It seemed we got here too early because dinner is not until 7 at all of these places! We bought some chips and had some beer at our Albergue waiting for dinner and were gifted some delicious mussels to tide us over. Finally after a short catnap it was 7.

We were sort of over the menus and so we asked about the special Chuleton, a huge slab of beef, market price. The folks at Pata de Oca seemed excited, in addition to the bar folk who were all locals, we were literally the only tourists in the place. I was a bit concerned about the temperature, you don’t want to overlook such an amazing piece of meat, it came out trembling and sizzling on a burning hot dish, a perfect rare. Chef and bartender Paco Mata sliced up the steak for us and we were able to cook it to our liking on the hot plate. We were also served a bottled Rioja, well actually two, and some herbal liqueur after dinner and some rose. It was absolutely delicious, quite the feast. Suzy played a song after dinner and we slept like rocks! We felt very warmly received in this town, the locals were so kind and I think a lot of people miss out on this town!

We have another rainy day ahead but we are heading to Logrono where we will have delicious tapas.

Camino de Santiago Day Seven: Estella to Villamayor de Monjardin

6 04 2018

So last night Suzy found a nice Albergue where we could stay at the top of Monjardin and we opted to plan a more mellow route for our 7th day walking. Only about 6 miles. The body needs to rest on the 7th day and we have been hitting really big stretches, this is a marathon not a race, but I was initially disappointed. Feeling my body though I think it’s for the best.

We headed out of Estella and onto Bodegas Irache, a winery that has been providing wine for pilgrims since 1991. The wine (and water) fountain is conveniently located near the monastery so pilgrims can fill a little in their bottles and get the energy for their ascent and next leg of the journey. Before the fountain though do not miss the cool blacksmith, he makes exceptional art and pilgrim jewelry, I bought a tiny scallop necklace which is easily transportable.

we enjoyed our share from the fountain which pour red wine either at a healthy clip or a trickle. We were told it runs out eventually daily, but we had plenty. They have a webcam where you can watch pilgrims visit. The wine was light and low in tannin and deliciously fruity, a mix of cranberry and strawberry flavors.

We reconvened with the Irish girls Yvonne and Elaine and then toured the monastery and had a prayer in the chapel. Then it was on to our walk. We were intercepted by an eager Spaniard who wanted to offer us the recommendation that by going right we’d have an easier route than going straight over the hill to Los Arcos…

Not only did he start walking part way with us but he was super “gropey” and tried grabbing under our arms and “accidentally” brushing our boobs with his fingers. Probably harmless but a creeper. He tried to kiss my friend on the lips but we easily avoided him and he left us at the highway no doubt to turn around and molest a few more unsuspecting pilgrims.

When we stopped for a nibble and drink at bar Azketako in Azqueta we ran into Heather who we’d had dinner with last night, she too had a photo of the culprit so this is a thing… I posted something about it on a private Facebook page for fellow female pilgrims and was shocked by two things, first that about four others from various past years (back to 2016) had also seen and experienced this man’s behavior. Even more surprising, there were comments by some that I was illegally posting his photo without his permission and accusing him of bad things and that I was being unfair. Shocking really that type of response. At any rate that is why I’m not posting his photo. And I will say that I’ve not had any of the people featured in my blog sign release forms or any such thing. Anyway moving forward… I was told I should report him and thought well maybe that is extreme but I think I will. It’s unacceptable and if I’d been alone it may have been more difficult to thwart his greedy hands. I’ve been told since that it’s important to be very forceful with the men that you may encounter.

At any rate we enjoyed our chicken wings and a delicious grilled ham and cheese and relaxed in the sun at the bar before making our slow roll up the hill. We are staying in a very clean and comfortable Albergue in the heart of town, 12 bunk beds in a room so a bit packed with only one shower and bathroom but very nice. Dinner was up the hill at the bar Ilurria where Asier the bartender, chef, server and owner was incredibly hospitable and the 12 Euro pilgrim menu was great.

Tomorrow we will try to get back in schedule with a bigger day to Torres del Rio and then to Logrono the next day.

All in all a pleasant leg, but rain is expected tomorrow and we have heard from fellow pilgrims that snow is in the forecast for Burgos… just when we thought Spring was here!

Camino de Santiago Day Six: Puente de Reina to Estella

5 04 2018

Today seemed like a much more manageable day. We still had some long steep climbs but the difference may have been we had a huge breakfast at Hotel Jakue, meats, cheeses, fruits and juice, more than we’ve been having. It was cool but I opted for just a tshirt and puffy jacket and quickly warmed up. I felt really strong for the first few legs.

There was a leisurely warmup walk out of the town and I loved the retro look of this old car wash.

We followed a stretch of ancient Roman road that meandered across the countryside on a slow incline in most spots. There were also many more pilgrims around. Groups we knew and some we didn’t took turns leap-frogging past one another or dropping back. At a certain junction we came across a bell to ring for good vibes and some creative artwork.

Turns out that there’s a guy out there turning this small strip of land under a grove of olive trees into a pilgrim rest stop! I found that today I was able to manifest the beer I’d been craving because he had a selection of beer, red wine and snacks just there to take and offer whatever donation you thought fair. We loved sitting there to catch our breath, checked out the book library where you could take or leave a book, and listened to the peal of the bell to signify another set of pilgrims was arriving.

We hated to leave but we have places to go so we said goodbye and headed onward.

The route was mostly flat winding through more towns a bit more Roman road and almond orchards in bloom a-buzz with bees. I’m not going to lie the last hour or so of the walk were long, during the “Are we there yet” part my heel bones felt like they were going to pierce through my heels. It was hot and I got a sunburn on my arm, not terrible but itchy enough later in the day! But we made it into Estella up and over a very steep bridge and to the Hostel Agora.

Hostel Agora is super hipster and chic, established in 2016 it was impeccably clean and had little bunks like the hostel in Pamplona but the showers were really nice with huge shower heads and it was very comfortable. Despite my aching feet, not blistered but more from the constant footfalls, I headed into town to find a beer and a bite and ran into Heino and Claudia two German pilgrims traveling separately but pilgrim buddies at Bar El Che. I grabbed a big plate of boquerones and soaked up the garlicky oil with bread. There were a whole lot of pilgrims in town from our initial group and another few groups so we opted to go to a little fusion place called Mundo where we got the pilgrim menu, mine was chicken with fried rice, good food. We went back to El Che for another glass of wine and then hit the bed and although I thought I’d do a little reading, gather my things and organize I was asleep almost immediately. The physical effort of this is intense. Today we are going to make an easier trip of it and only go to the top of a big peak and stay up there to break up the trip a bit and give our bodies a little rest.

I’m sad to report that this morning I got the news about my friend Jane’s niece Laura. I was walking with her photo and sadly she passed away. I’ll still be walking with her photo and sending a lot of love and prayers to her son Nico and her family.

Camino de Santiago Day Five: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

4 04 2018

Walk the Camino they said, it’ll be great they said…

Today was all about self doubt and wonder.

So luckily Suzy got money issues sorted yesterday but not without a crazy amount of effort. She ultimately had to get currency exchanged at a hotel and the ordeal included begging for a ride, a bus trip and more. Terribly stressful, but she sweetly got me a Kukuxumusu shirt for a gift once she was plush with cash and we had a fantastic dinner of tapas. Alistair had shown up at our Albergue as well so we hung out and drank some wine.

I somehow was able to climb to the bunk up the crazy ladder and fall asleep fully clothed atop all my crap from my pack. I was comfy but it was warm. The rustling of packs and bags and not so muffled noises of the other 19 bodies woke me a bit, but I was able to sleep until about 7. After a little tea and some repacking and backpack adjustment we bid adieu to Alistair, Ken and Allen who’d decided to spend an extra day in Pamplona to recuperate.

Today’s “walk” once again no joke.

We headed out and stopped at an adorable cafe for a cream puff and a coffee. The place was killer and even let us try their local not very sweet cinnamon pastry. Then it was off onto the route. We meandered through the city streets of Pamplona and started a slow ascent up up up and up up up across the valley and some farmland. Huge boulders in the field and on the path made it important to keep your feet moving and lift them up with every step and honestly I felt like I was wearing cement shoes. We used the amazing view as a good excuse to stop and catch our breath.

We stopped in a small town, Zariquiegui, just before the last steep rise to Alto de Perdon. Our legs were wobbly and we were starving so the super hot chicken soup and pork cutlets were so delicious and nourishing, and they gave us a full bottle of wine, 11 Euro. After lunch it was back to the route and we saw it had started raining. This part of the ascent is very steep and just covered in what I as a resident of Nantucket would call cobblestones. Every single step on the wet rocks had to be measured but we kept going and eventually made it to the top where there is an exhilarating view! This is also where there is a depiction of pilgrims on the crest of the hill and you are all the way up near the windmills.

After such an accomplishment we relished the moment and then we came across the grim realization that we had to go all the way back down the other side, a similarly steep grade just absolutely covered in cobbles. Luckily the rain had stopped. And luckily we only had some of that wine because the descent was treacherous. Be very careful here or you could twist an ankle.

Honestly all day yesterday I asked myself why I’m doing this. And my answer is waiting out there somewhere in the ether. It seemed the further we went we still made no headway. We passed through town after town which still wasn’t where we were staying.

We found a statue of the Virgen Mary and sat there and had some chocolate to lift our spirits and out of nowhere a flock of hawks probably about 8 of them circled above us, we joked that they were vultures circling because we looked so dead tired… but they were amazing. It was like they were performing for us. Then they flew off.

The rest of the walk super uneventful, tedious even and it seemed to go on forever, but we made it to Puente la Reina and enjoyed dinner with a new “pod” of pilgrims that already knew each other… it was great. We stayed at the Hotel Jakue which had great food and a nice buffet. Til tomorrow.