Monday, 23 July 2012

Lograno to Burgos

Tuesday 5: Logrono to Najera - 19 miles (30km).
I leave the albergue first, but Nathalie catches me up in a little park on the outskirts of Logrono and we walk together through Navaretta and Ventosa. We nearly spend the night in a small beehive hut but continue to Najera. I don't disagree with Natalie's description of the place as a shit-hole, but once across the river the more appealing old town appears and we head to Municipal albergue on the riverbank. Here we meet up with Erin & Cameron, Leia and Johanna.
Erin is a pretty twenty-two year old who has just finished a journalism course and is writing a weekly column for a local catholic newspaper. She is quite amusing despite, or maybe because, she suffers from a hearing impairment, but she copes with it well. Great for the camino, I say, "just turn your hearing-aid off and the snoring goes away". Unfortunately not, as it is only high-pitched sounds that she has difficulty hearing. 
Nathalie, Leia and I have a great tapas meal in the backstreets, it's good to get away from the rest of the pilgrims for a change. I should sleep well but I'm woken by grunts that sound like bonking, surely not. I wonder if Erin heard anything?
Municipal albergue (€10), large cramped ninety-person bunk room with inadequate cold water showers.
Wednesday 6: Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada - 13 miles (21km). The girls are further ahead but I catch up with Nathalie just before Navarette. She's concerned that Leia has her camino passport in her bag without which, I joke, "you may have to sleep in a ditch". They have agreed to meet up at Ventosa but when we arrive there's not much there just a note on the bar door telling us that they have continued on to Santo Domingo de Calzada. Nathalie's not happy, her feet are sore and she wants to stay the night here but we must continue. Eventually we catch up with Leia and check in to the Cisterciense albergue in the little town of Santo Domingo. We meet Dave & Julie again over lunch in the noisy town square and in the evening I cook a Scottish peasant meal, mince & potatoes, which goes down well with Spanish vino tinto. At 9:59pm  two women in black usher us to bed and turn the lights off - we're staying in a nunnery! The girls rebel at being treated like being back at boarding school and decide to "escape" in the early hours to walk in the moonlight towards Belorado. I agree (thinking to myself that they won't wake up).
Cisterciense albergue (€5), rickety old rooms but with a pleasant grassy courtyard, kitchen and dining area. Strict curfew.
Thursday 7: Santo Domingo to Belorado - 14 miles (23km). Leia wakes me at 4:00am, we pack quietly, creep downstairs only to discover that the gates are closed. We're locked in, but the girls' resolve is strong and we scale a 3 metre wall, me astride the top passing the bags over. We are out - but not quite. Bugger, we are in another courtyard with another 3 metre wall to climb. Finally we escape the albergue, we escape the town and promptly get lost in the dark. With luck and good judgement we find the camino again . . . We talk about the last few nights and it enlightens me about the rumpy-pumpy couple in the albergue in Najera. The girls were nearer and more awake . . . a couple were bonking on a top bunk - a small white-haired pilgrim from the bunk below gets up and disappears to the loo tutting and shaking his head - but who were the inconsiderate couple? Couldn't they get a hotel, grab the shower or wait and find a field?
Granon village is asleep when we pass through but we find a comfy breakfast bar, the Estrella, in Redecilla del Camino, great to have a coffee. As is customary, Leia leaves her walking poles outside near some red plastic chairs next to other pilgrim sticks. After breakfast both the expensive poles and the other pilgrims have gone, she's not happy but generously decides that the thief's needs must have been greater than hers.  Nathalie is tired so Leia and I walk ahead for a while and wait for her at Viloria de la Rioja. Leia's a lively twenty-four year old from New York, walker, climber and general outdoor kind of a girl.
Albergue Santiago (€5), run of the mill bunk-bed albergue but with the added bonus of a swimming pool. Cameron and I swim, the girls stay dry.
Friday 8: Belorado to Ages - 17 miles (28km). Walking with the girls today we are on the lookout for Leia's green colapsable walking poles, no joy. Now with Erin & Cameron we check into the municipal albergue in Ages where Leia and the others confront an Italian lady leaving her little option but to claim that she can't understand - the sticks are hers! Leia persists showing her photos of the sticks but the result is the same. It's not until later when Cameron enlists the help of an English speaking Italian guy, telling him that Leia will need to get a police report to make an insurance claim, that the poles are returned to the rightful owner - it's all a misunderstanding. With the international incident resolved we enjoy a great meal at San Rafael restaurant nearby.
Municipal albergue (€7), spaciously spaced bunks with gym equipment between beds (do worn-out pilgrims really need a running machine?).
Saturday 9: Ages to Burgos - 14 miles (22km). Long day with a boring approach through industrial suburbs into the old city of Burgos. I call after Natasha who takes the even more boring road route into the city but we meet up again outside the albergue, she's not happy.
The old quarter of Burgos is pleasant with a huge catherdal and several open squares. In the evening I have a few beers with American Dave and Mike from Whitehaven in a little sports bar, El Adan, in the cathedral square. Mike and I are joined at dinner by an American lady staying in the 4-star hotel opposite. The food in the restaurant is appalling, meatless rib of pork and dried-up trout, but she is all over Mike like a rash - she's met a authentic pilgrim. We take her back to the El Adan to meet some other pilgrims and later I tease Mike - Cumbrian stallion?
Municipal albergue (€5), modern 5-floor building behind original facade, solid banks of 4-bed bunks with side-lights and power points, not enough loos, no blankets or wifi.
Photos of the Camino de Santiago: Lorgano to Burgos. I've now walked 179 miles (288km).

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Pamplona to Lograno

Friday 1 June: Pamplona to Puente la Reina - 15 miles (24km). Walking alone today it's another uphill morning but I soon catch up with Erin, Cameron and Natasha. We walk together up Alto del Perdon which is topped with pilgrim silhouettes cut from sheet iron and wind turbines stand like sentinels along the skyline. I continue with Natasha, through Uterga and Obanos, where we duck under an iron pilgrim obelisk, and on to Puenta la Reina to spend a lazy afternoon in the little grassy garden of the arched albergue beneath the town's magnificent church bell-towers. Natasha is an attractive, slightly geeky, twenty-four year old with a good degree in English but sadly, disillusioned with life in Britain and in general, she hides her intelligence under a bushel. I'm sure I was much more optimistic at her age or has Britain really has changed that much? I've been out of the mainstream for nearly three years, I was kind of looking forward to returning to London and doing the normal things in life - like getting a weekday job, shopping in Woolworths on a Saturday and reading the News of the world on a Sunday.
Refugio Reparadores (€6) is a standard bunk-bed albergue with a small kitchen and dining area, pleasant garden, free wifi, hot water and showers. 
Saturday 2: Puente la Reina to Estella - 14 miles (22km). Erin, Cameron and Natasha have already left when I follow the camino through the backstreets of Puente la Reina, over the medieval pilgrim bridge and on through vineyards and olive groves to the pretty saucer-shaped village of Cirauqui for a breakfast. On the village outskirts locals have constructed a map of the world on a hillside from old car tyres. Occasionally there are little shrines to those who have died on the camino. Wickedly, I hope each one is a cyclist rather than a walker.
I meet up with Natasha again just before Lorca and we walk together under the motorway arch and on into the beautiful town of Estella. With the prospect of free wine nearby we continue to the  albergue in the western suburb of Estella
. To my complete and utter disbelief - it does exist - Fuente de Vino, the Wine Fountain. Yes, on the camino, just before the 12th century Cistercian monastery, is a tap linked to the adjoining winery that dispenses free wine to pilgrims. It's Saturday afternoon and we are the only two pilgrims there (yes, I suddenly decide I am a pilgrim). If this was in Britain there would be queues down the path for miles with people carrying bottles and jars of all shapes and sizes, and piss-heads everywhere. Natasha is optimistic enough to bring an empty bottle (I was too sceptical) and we have a quiet evening chatting in the pleasant picnic area nearby. 
Albergue San Cipriano at Ayegul (€8) is in a modern sports hall, with beds, not just bunks, hot water and showers, no kitchen but a little pilgrim bar. There are three large supermarkets and the Fuente de Vino close by. 
Sunday 3: Estella to Torres del Rio - 15 miles (25km). We walk up to Villamayor with a castle on the hilltop and fine views of a limestone ridge to the north. We meet Gary, a busking Irish lad, en-route, then suddenly around a bend, we arrive at Los Arcos for a supermarket lunch of overpriced dried fruit and nuts. We decide to stay in an uphill albergue in Torres del Rio but walk back down to the town centre for an enjoyable communal pilgrim meal where I meet stalwart Mike from Cumbria, jovial American Dave who is walking with his daughter Julie, kind-hearted Leia also from the States and Damian from Belgium who has little English.
Albergue Casa Mari (€7), more bunk beds in small rooms but with a scenic terrace, wifi and detached hot showers.
Monday 4: Torres del Rio to Logrono - 13 miles (21km). Once again I walk briefly with Erin & Cameron in the morning then catch up with Natasha just before Los Arcos where we call into the little Austrian albergue to get our credentials stamped. We carry on to Logrono where there's good fun at the albergue - Leia punches a hole in Natashia's straw hat for her dreadlocks to drape through and the girls join forces with Swedish girl Johanna to serve up a party pasta meal above the little foot-spa pool in the albergue courtyard - lashings of wine and an entertaining night, the young lads that the girls have in tow do the wash up.
Municipal albergue (€7), crammed together bunk-beds with inadequate washroom facilities make for a hectic morning.
Photos of the Camino de Santiago from Pamplona to Lograno. I've now walked 101 miles (163km)

Monday, 9 July 2012

Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Wednesday 30 May: Roncesvales to Zubiri - 14 miles (22km). Today is mostly downhill. The scenery is unremarkable farmland and I've lost Natcho but I bump into Natasha briefly at supermarcado breakfast stop, at a stepping-block ford over the Rio Erro and in the evening at the albergue. Later, Natcho also arrives.
The municipal albergue (€6) is in Zubiri's former schoolhouse - fairly basic bunk-bed dorm with detached communal showers across the courtyard.
Thursday 31: Zubiri to Pamplona - 14 miles (22km). I pick up the pace today so as to arrive early in Pamplona and soon I cross the pretty arched medieval Magdalena bridge over the Rio Arga. Great, I'm in the city by midday - a chance to explore Navarra's ancient capital. I walk up to the fortified old town, through the Portal de Francia and on to the Gothic cathedral which towers above the narrow streets lined with  lively bars and restaurants. Further along the camino is the town hall then the street where charging bulls will chase revellers on the 5th July, but not much to see today. In the evening I bump into Erin & Cameron who I've met briefly a couple of times. They, and Natasha, are staying in the larger Albergue Jesus y Maria (sounded a bit like a nunnery to me).
Paderborne albergue (€8) - small comfortable dorm rooms in a pretty riverside house, welcoming drink, free wifi and simple breakfast included.
Photos of the Camino de Santiago: Roncesvalles to Pamplona. I've now walked 44 miles (71km).

Monday, 2 July 2012

Camino de Santiago: The Pyrenees

DSCN7274 by DavetreksWhen walking in Britain last year several other walkers recommended the Camino de Santiago to me. In Thailand, Yuki, who had walked the walk and Natcho who talked the talk, made me even more intrigued. So, with a reduced 20 pound (10k) pack, I've decided to experience the 485 mile (780km) route, across the breadth of northern Spain, for myself.
Monday 29 May: From Biarritz airport a shuttle bus runs to the French riverside cathedral town of Bayonne where I spend the day before catching the reduced service 9:00pm local train (it's a French religious holiday) to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the traditional starting point for the Camino de Frances. First I call into the Accueil or pilgrim's office to obtain my credencial or pilgrim passport - this important document allows access to discounted pilgrim accommodation and meals en-route and is date stamped at albergues (pilgrim's refuges) and other places to serve as proof you have survived the entire camino.
Imagine my surprise, when I arrive at Sarl Zuharpepa albergue which the Accueil has allocated to me, and spy Natcho sitting on the bed next to mine - a happy coincidence. I also meet Irish couple Erin & Cameron who arrive at the same time.
Sarl Zuharpepa albergue (12) - mixed 14-bed dorm with comfortable single beds (not bunks), en-suite hot water (important if you wet-shave) and showers, plus free wifi.
Tuesday 30 May: St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles - 16 miles (25km). It's an early start and once out of a misty St-Jean it's up, up, up along the strenuous Route de Napoleon with spectacular views back down to France. I accompany Natcho safely over the border and into Spain where I leave him soaking his feet in a the Fontaine de Roland. Like most first time walkers Nacho is suffering a bit, he's a big lad. Once over Col de Lepoeder it's down, down, down, to the abbey at Roncesvalles. It is here, in 778, that Roland, commander of Charlemagne's rear-guard, was killed by Basque tribesmen - yes, we are in Basque country.
I have an enjoyable dinner with Natcho, a Canadian girl and a quiet English girl with striking dreadlocks, Natasha. At €9 the three course pilgrim's menu at the abbey restaurant seems good value but the food's not great. During our conversation Natcho tells us that tapas were originally free bites served with wine so as not to drink on an empty stomach. Older style bars still serve simple tapas free, as I will later discover.
Albergue de Peregrinos (10) in the abbey building - modern with comfortable purpose-built bunks in cosy four-bed compartments with power points and free wifi. Hot water and showers, but no blankets provided, it's a chilly mountain night.

Photos of the Camino de Santiago: The Pyrenees. I've now walked 16 miles (25km).