People generally discourage me from ditching my comfortable life and becoming a full time camino bum; walking endlessly up and down the Camino de Santiago, praying, philosophizing and searching for the answers to life’s questions, but to be honest; nothing would make me happier than to be in full time communion with my creator!
Could a life be better spent? Marveling at God’s beautiful earth each day, taking in each miraculous sunrise, walking until exhaustion takes hold and feeling each day like you’d truly earned your evening meal? The only problem with this lifestyle is that it’s not really of service to anyone but myself. It would be pretty self-indulgent to live that way for any length of time.
Self Indulgent! Getting up at 5.30am, walking 30k a day, up hill and down dale may sound like absolute torture to some and there are days, especially at the start of the Camino when the tendinitis flares and you perspire in places you never thought possible that you don’t feel like you’re spoiling yourself rotten. But you are. It’s a pleasure, a joy and a fine life, made all the more special by the people you meet (#on
pigeon pilgrim street)
Luckily for me I live in Barcelona and get to act out little camino jaunts now and then, this recent hit consisted of a four day, five night jolly from St Jean to Puente la Reina. We’d intended to do much longer, to Burgos in fact, but Clarisa (seriously, again!) hurt her leg and had to be taxied back to St Jean after climbing two thirds of the pass and I caught (seriously, again!) a head cold in Puente la Reina. Actually, with a redonkulus amount of echinacea, salmon, yoghurt and all the other top 10 superfoods the interweb told me to chow down to relieve my cold symptoms, I actually felt better the next day but, too late, I’d bought the return ticket from Pamplona and probably for the best as Muff-Muff was quite whiffy on our return. Here she is, in her favourite pose.
Well, here’s proof positive at least that I finally climbed over the Napoleon Route to Roncesvalles and didn’t chicken out and go to Valcarlos. The Napoleon, Cize pass takes you on a climb of 1400m and a walk of 28k on a good day. But this wasn’t a good day!
From Orrison you feel as though you are touching sky, and just when you think there’s no more up on this great earth, another ascent appears. If you’re old or unfit, or have any niggling feet or leg injuries do not attempt this stage in one day. The climb to Orisson, the first Albergue, is super-steep, tackle it slowly and you’ll be fine, but it’s really very steep, add in the weight of your backpack, and the fact it’s only Day 1, and it’s a killer. After Orrison it levels off a little, but there are still steep climbs and steeper still (22°) descents.
So – St Jean to Roncesvalles – Day 1!
Since my first Camino, ooooh, 10 months ago now, I regretted avoiding the Napoleon pass in favour of the easier route via Valcarlos. The most spectacular views on the camino can be enjoyed via Route Napoleon and, its quite the physical challenge. I’m not as skinny as I’d have people believe, so I wanted to see if my body was up to the task, could I actually make it over this steep pass with the extra 10 kilos I shouldn’t be carrying and the 8 kilos I had to carry in the form of a freshly packed mochila? (Not a sausage, a backpack – sounds like a sausage though doesn’t it?).
Well not only did I climb the distance and the height of the mountain, I added another 4k and 200 meters as disaster struck somewhere off the main road about half way into the day. Clarisa did something funky to one of her ligaments (I think on purpose!) and we had to make our way, very slowly, back down a section of the mountain to the road, flag down a passing French motorist who kindly took her back to St Jean where she struggled for a couple of hours to get a taxi to Roncesvalles. Unfortunately there were only two seats in the French motorist’s car, so I could not travel with Clarisa. I realise this sounds a little dangerous but we really had no other choice to rely, again, on the kindness of strangers.
I carried on up the mountain and on finally reaching the summit, at the back of the pilgrim express, faced a very steep descent which turned out to be just one long mudslide. In June. Be warned!
On arriving into Roncesvalles, 4 hours after Clarisa left with the French motorist, she had only just arrived and was booking us in. It was 18.30. I’d been walking for 11 hours.
Roncesvalles monastry is actually anything but creepy. It’s run by friendly hospitaleros with infinite patience and sunny smiles who you can’t help but feel well disposed to – even when they inform you that you’re in the spill-over block, and the showers and toilets are outside… and they’re communal.. and you’re going to have to get very naked… in front of other people…
So, it was a toss up – whiff of 11 hour stale sweat and go to mass and then bed stinking to high heaven or use the communal showers and expose myself. I exposed myself. Clarisa chose to stink.
The pilgrim mass inside Roncesvalles is not to be missed. You receive communion and a mass pilgrim blessing, however, more intimate than this was the mass at St Jean Pied de Port the previous day where only a small group of pilgrims gather and the nuns and priests are among those blessing the pilgrims. I recommend attending both. We may not sound very blessed with the nakedness and the busted legs and all, but it’s a wonder we survived that day in one piece and were incredibly fortunate to find the French motorist passing by precisely as we needed him!
So – Roncesvalles to Zubiri- Day 2! (24k to most, 28k for me)
I’ve been down this road before. Literally and figuratively! I knew what to expect. I knew the way! Yet still I managed to get lost on the trail this day, pointed off route by a first time Spanish pilgrim I willingly followed her unqualified instruction down a path leading to fields to add another 4km to my day. We’re always trying to look for lessons in our camino us pilgrims, and here is a clear one! Why oh Why oh WHY do I follow the advise of people with less experience and knowledge than myself!? I do it all the time! Just because someone seems certain – off I go!
This is my third camino! Get the lesson!
Clarisa decided, rightly, to bus it into Zubiri this day arriving at the Albergue Zaldiko at 10am and getting a head start on the washing and baggying the two best bunks in the joint! Unfortunately these two best bunks were in a closed room with a snorer. But the trusty foam earplugs did their job and I managed to get a good solid 7 hours sleep.
I arrived into Zubiri about 1.30pm after setting off at 6.30pm – not too bad all things considered. The afternoon was spent stretching and paddling in the river next to the town.
So – Zubiri to Pamplona- Day 3!
I love this day on the Camino, there’s no big hills and you spend the majority of the time walking through countryside, even the suburbs of Pamplona on this side of the city are picturesque and you can look forward to a good meal and a good bed in the fabulous Albergue de Pamplona with its private bunks. I forgot to take photos today! Clarisa was walking with me and we decided to have a storming argument for the first part of the day and play vegetable, animal, mineral for the rest of it. Getting out the camera and taking a picture wouldn’t have been a good move.
So – Pamplona to Puente la Reina- Day 4!
Alto de Perdon, for the 3rd time in 10 months then, I should really be the most blessed person on the planet. And maybe I am. For I see rainbows in the clouds!
Today we walked the first 5km to Cizur Menor at quite the clip accompanied by a new friend Rocher from Figueres (just a few miles down the road from our home town of Barcelona). We reached an albergue for the morning tortilla in 50 minutes but that pace took a lot out of Clarisa (haha – wait till she reads this) and we parted ways with Rocher and slowed up considerably for the 6km into Zariquiegui. We continued on to climb Alto de Perdon really quite easily. I’ve finally found the secret to steep hill walking. Short steps at a steady pace will get you up the hill with half the sweat in double the time.
Coming down off the Alto de Perdon is quite the exercise in patience as loose boulders by their million conspire to twist an ankle or worse still. This is the only time I have not twisted my ankle coming off that descent and so it was without any further trouble that we arrived into Puente la Reina around 4pm after a two hour leisurely lunch in Uturga.
We caught the mass in Puente la Reina and enjoyed a fine pilgrim menu before that strange scratchy feeling I know all too well began to tackle my throat. I didn’t think anything of it at first and so just went to bed as usual. When I woke up the next morning it was game over for a walk to Estella.
So, our walk ended there and we caught the train back to Barcelona. I plan to do the section from Leon-Santiago (or even Finisterre) in late August to early September!