Friday, September 20, 2013

Day to day on the Camino

First off, sorry for not giving more regular updates.  I could use the excuse that we are exhausted when we arrive in town each night but it's usually the situation that we are distracted by being IN A TOWN.  You know, there's cafe con leche and cerveza in the square to drink.

Here's a little  update about our day to today. Overall, things on the Camino are great. We walk around 25km a day. We leave around 8 or 9 and get to the hostel around 3 or 4. We stop for cafe con leche (coffee with milk) 1 or 2 times a day. The beds in the hostels (albergues) are dormitory style and cost between 5 and 8 euro a night. There´s often a dinner for 9 or 10 euro that has an entree, meal, dessert, and wine or beer. It´s pretty nice. The food is typically ho hum but it´s filling and nice to not have to prepare things. While it´s not cheap, it´s not super expensive either. For the two of us we budgeted around 50 a day.

We´ve made a nice little group of friends. We all seem to be in the same place at the same time so it´s lovely to have community. It´s also neat because we are from all over the world. At dinner the other night we were: 2 Americans, 2 Germans, 1 Netherlander, 1 Bulgarian, 1 Singaporean, 1 Korean, and 1 Irish man. It was pretty awesome.

Mostly the Camino parallels or is actually on the road, and while that sounds miserable, it means that the walking is not too steep and generally the views are stunning and beautiful. The roads are not busy and the main reason I dislike it is because it´s hard on my feet, ankles and knees. However, it does mean that we are often walking through small towns and can stop at lots of cafes for rest and refreshment. (Hence cafe con leche twice a day).

I´d love to come back and walk one of the other many Caminos.  There's a variety of them through Spain and some that start way further back in Europe. We have met people who have walked this one, the Camino Frances, 9 times! One man walked the Portuguese Camino 3 times, the French one 2 and next year he wants to do the Camino del Norte.  They all end in Santiago.   Fun, right?

I am, however, daily reminded that I need to learn another language. We are walking with a woman who speaks English fluently, Spanish passably and a bit of french. Her mother tongue is German. Amazing. Our charade skills are, as usual, excellent.   And to be fair, Jamie has gotten quite good. We've taken to calling ahead to reserve beds and Jamie has managed it successfully each time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 - Albergue Villares to Murias de Rechivaldo

I write now from a lovely courtyard in the albergue Las Aguedas where we and some other pilgrims have been busy filling it with music (Shannon's uke, a guitar, and our voices)!  We ended up here after a lovely day of walking in some beautiful sunny weather.

We woke up at 7:20, which is actually the latest we have slept in while on the camino as there are typically many people getting up around us.  The other two pilgrims at the Albergue Villares had already gone by the time we came down for our AMERICAN BREAKFAST!  Belan was nice enough to prepare us a beautiful platter of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese.  We have been pining for salty breakfast for weeks and it was everything we thought it could be and more.

By the time we finished our meal and got everything together it was near 9 so we said our goodbyes to the best darn hosts we've yet to encounter on the camino and started our day, which was turning out to be a beautiful one!  And lucky for us it turned out that today was mostly on dirt paths instead of gravel roads (which has really been getting us down!), through field plains mostly.  The dryness combined with the sun and vegetation gives the region a feel akin to the American Southwest.  So while it may be true that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, one wouldn't be able to tell from these ones!

While walking we saw a barn in the middle of a large field, right next to the camino trail.  Coming off of it was a variety of makeshift tent structures and a snack cart.  This was "The house of God", which we had actually heard about from a woman we met at our Alburgue from the previous night - she told us that she had set up a foundation to try and buy the place!  So this was pretty neat, and to put into context from our previous travels on the Appalachian Trail it was pretty much trail magic.  The trail angel who runs it lives there year round, using a wood stove for heat in the winter and providing some snacks and drinks for pilgrims.  He was an amazingly positive person - it seemed that he got a lot out of his camino experiences and wants to aid others.  Pretty neat.  We hung out there for a half an hour or so and even took advantage of the wood stove for a few to get warmed up (some clouds had come over head for a bit at the time).

We eventually pulled into the next city/town on our path, Astorga, around 1PM.  We had sort of a snack picnic for lunch in one of the main squares and then made our way for a pretty spectacular Gaudi palace that was directly adjacent to the local cathedral.  From there we hiked the final five kilometers out of town to a lovely little hostel where we are now, the albergue Las Aguedas.  On the way here we met a Spanish man who had a sort of cart with him (his "chariot") that he had pushed/pulled all the way from Barcelona and a German woman who had just started up in Leon.  They were both very nice to chat with and it turned out they both loved music (he plays guitar and she sings).  Well when we got to the hostel, friends of the guitar player literally popped out of the window in excitement (including a pilgrim we'd met a couple days before) so after some debate over whether to keep hiking or not we decided to stay.  After washing our clothes (and ourselves) we had a singalong!  And apparently this just delighted the woman who runs the place, because she thanked us profusely for our musical creations.

Anyways, lots of fun!  We are looking forward to our journey tomorrow, perhaps we will start to ramp up our miles soon.  Our feet are sore at the end of the day, but our legs are feeling pretty strong.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10 Villar de Mazerife to Villares Orbiga

While we woke up early, we had a nice leisurely start. Breakfast at 6.30, easy pack up with the lights on and we set out the door around 8.   We ended up doing only 10 miles today and so we pulled into our hostel around 1.30.  We knew we would want to walk on, but we compromised by walking 2.2 kilometers past our original intended spot.  If we had continued on we would have committed to mountains and 10 more miles.  Even though we were feeling fine-after another 10 miles we would be REALLY HURTING if we continued on.  OH my gosh.  Can you tell that the hiker in us feels a little bad about not walking more?  
However, the hostel we are in is adorable. I am so happy we are here.  It has a lovely courtyard with seating up on the balcony. The wood beams are painted a really festive blue and the lady and husband who run it are young, friendly and efficient.  Also, it's nice and clean.  I'm really happy we ended up here.  We've also been promised eggs and bacon for breakfast tomorrow. I really hope that's true!  This morning we paid 4euro for breakfast that was essentially bread and jam but also had cereal and chorizo.  However, the bread was toasted which was a delight.

We tried to drag the walk out today by going slow and sitting for a leisurely lunch.  We walked mostly through dried hay fields,but all day we had the mountains in the distance.  It was a really dramatic hazy morning when we started off with the sun turning the fields a beautiful golden color and the mist hanging low in the mountains.  It made all the pilgrims look picture perfect as we walked along the road.   
We wandered through a tiny town at about 11am.  Everything was quiet except for the pilgrims having second breakfast and a little old lady with her tiny dog.   It's interesting how quiet the villages are.  This one (and most that we've gone through) have the church bells on top of the church in a wall that just sticks out from the top. Picture the images you have of little chapels in Texas or Mexico.  It's really fun to see. 

We are not sure what we will do tomorrow.  We might do another short day into a bigger city, Astorga, or we might continue if we are feeling fresh and fine. 

So far we are really enjoying the walk.  Mostly it's very clear and easy to follow.  However, there are times where there are millions of arrows pointing it a variety of directions and some are blacked out and then painted over with another arrow in a different direction or blacked out and painted over with an arrow in the SAME direction. While we have never truly gotten lost-the arrows will take you somewhere certainly- it is a bit frustrating.   But aside from that water, coffee and food are all so easy to come by that you don't have to worry about carrying lots. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

September 8th & 9th - Leon to Villar de Mazarife

After a leisurely pack up in our hotel (we had spent two nights in the Tres Reyes hotel in Pamplona) we made one more visit to the Iruna cafe where Hemingway hung out (awesome art deco building from 1888) before making our way to the train station.  Apparently Jamie had booked really nice seats completely by accident (being the cheapest ones) and we enjoyed a lovely four hour ride to the fine city of Leon!

We were a little nervous at this point because we pulled into town around 5:30, and as mentioned in our previous post we were burned before!  Luckily, Leon is a city of 130,000(versus 400) and it turned out even the convent run albergue (hostel) had plenty of beds left.  We actually discovered that people either are a.) more spread out at this point or b.) much fewer in number either by chance or from dropping out as our subsequent night's stay in a small village had far fewer people.  More on that later.

OK, so Leon was really beautiful, clean, and old and like Pamplona just loaded with ancient structures and beautiful churches.  Since we hadn't actually done any major walking for several days we decided to stroll the major sightseeing spots in the evening so we could get an early jump on the next day.  Of the sights the one that really stood out was the cathedral, which just so happen to be catching the sun perfectly as we entered.  Very gorgeous stained glass windows, which apparently is quite different than many Spanish churches which tend to be on the darker side.

We enjoyed a pilgrim menu dinner at the convent restaurant (menu in Europe means a set of courses),which was quite nice (delicious turkey) and we made a friend from Germany who is biking the trail.  After dinner we stayed up chatting and Shannon joined a little guitar sing along by getting her ukulele out.  Quite a nice reintroduction to the camino!

We had decided that, not knowing the hostel situation up ahead, that we would wake up first thing in the morning and be out for 6:30.  All was going to plan but Shannon couldn't find her wallet!  After tearing her bag apart a woman from her dorm brought it to her - sweet relief!    After a simple breakfast of bread and coffee (really missing American breakfast at this point...) we were on our way!  And so were many others!  We could see how we missed the hostels on our day two, as there are a whole lot of early birds and it was sort of a big rush out of the gates.

Today's plan was a pretty easy one, only about 13ish miles over very flat distance.  The drawback was that it was virtually all road, which we are finding to be very hard on the feet. We made friends with another german during the walk, by the name of Catherine.  We stuck with her for a little bit and stopped in a tiny town for a picnic lunch.  We think that she went a bit further as we didn't see her in town.

We were fairly surprised when we looked at our watch and saw it was only about 1:30 when we pulled in to our destination, a small town with three pilgrim hostels.  To our delight there were plenty of beds at the very first one we tried (and I'd say the place is less than half full tonight).  We did some laundry, chatted with pilgrims, got some groceries (at the best shop in Spain! the lady working it was extremely nice and we seemed to understand most of her Spanish somehow), and checked out the tiny town.  And resisted the urge to touch the tiny kittens that live in the back (Jamie is allergic sadly).  We had a great pilgrim dinner (the best one yet I believe) which included our first paella in Spain which was exciting.

Tomorrow we have a couple of options that are less than ideal for hiking; we can go ten miles or twenty.  The hiker in us won't be too satisfied with ten, but our physical fitness at this moment means that twenty is certainly a push.  And given that our huge jump along the trail has given us a lot of leeway time, I'm thinking the ten would be a wiser choice.  We'll see how we feel tomorrow though.

Beautiful hostel tonight, great showers, food people, and weather.  Can't really ask for too much more!

We'll try and be more consistent with the blog from here on out!

September 3rd St Jean Pied du Port to Roncesvalles

Day 1 St. Jean Port du Pied to Roncesvalles

Wow!  What a gorgeous day. What an experience.   Breakfast at the hostel was at 6am and when we finally made it out to the table it was clear that a huge majority of pilgrims had already come through.  A whole group was getting up to start hiking as I was sitting down.  After a heartfelt "Buen Camino," I watched them walk past the window and off down the street even though the sun was only just beginning to lighten the sky.  I can understand  their anxiety, the hike today is considered one of the most arduous.  15.6 miles up and over the Pyrenees.  And the first 5 miles are STEEP!  After our instant coffee (in a HUGE bowl), multitudes of toast with butter,our supplemental banana  and delightful conversation we were ready to head out the door.   We passed right under the church bell as is was chiming 8am. 
It was a festive start.  Everyone, excited to be starting the Camino, waved hello to those that passed, slowed down to chat with others, took pictures at every turn and was generally in great spirits.  While the positivity continued all day the over-the-top enthusiasm dwindled as we started up the hills.  And up and up and up.   The first miles were all on road way. In fact, most of the day was on the road.  We walked UP for 7 hours.  But oh, was it beautiful. The views of the Pyrenees were stunning.  The mountainsides were green and well manicured with sheep grazing all around.  All day long the tinkling of the animals bells followed us.  At one point we saw some horses out grazing and to shannon's delight we got to watch a sheepdog do her thing. She had those sheep in a perfect rectangle!  Meanwhile, you could see the mountains stretch out behind them and the villages down in the valley.  Picture-eqsue. 
However, it was sunny.  No treecover until we got into Spain and the sun was relentless.   With the constant breeze you didn't really notice the heat,but when we stopped for lunch it was clear that we had started to get burnt.   I (shannon) was SO happy to have the hats-I'm so glad Jamie was dedicated to those purchases. 

By the time we got into the beech forests of Spain, we were happy to be out of the sun and didn't mind the lack of a view.   The decent down into Roncesvalles was rough! Seven hours up and then one hour down.  It was a very intense downhill!  However, when we got down to the bottom it literally spit us out at the Albergue.  It is (or was) a monastery and it seems like it exists now solely for the pilgrims.  A whole little economy has sprung up around it. 2 restaurants, 2 hotels, and a shop.   It is sprawling so it looks like a little village but everyone here is a pilgrim or a traveller of some sort.  Very interesting.  Jamie pointed out as we were walking around that it's really been a 1000 year tradition of travellers stopping here.  Really cool to think about .

We are booked tonight for the pilgrim menu at the restaurant across from our hostel.  Hope there's lots of food!  We are famished! 

Starting the CaminoDay 0- St Jean Pied du Port

September 2
Day 0 - St. Jean Pied du Port 

Today we arrived at Bayonne at 9 in the morning after a restless night (for the both of us) on the night train from Paris (we had arrived in Paris via the high speed TGV from Metz in Lorraine after our visit with Sarah and family).  We were pretty anxious/excited to get going, but the logistics of getting to town and getting our bearings straight took a bit of time.  We didn't arrive until about 12:20 and then after we'd had some lunch (we were starving!), purchased a hat for Jamie, and visited the pilgrims office we conceded that it would be a pretty late start for the 15.6 mile journey to the next lodging opportunity given that there is about a mile of climbing involved and we aren't exactly at trail fitness at this point.

Once we came to that conclusion we settled into the nice municipal hostel in town (called Auburgues on the trail).  It holds quite a few people it seems, but is extremely clean given the amount of traffic (tens of thousands of people do this pilgrimage per year, quite a bump up from our AT experiences).  At 8 euro a night, which includes breakfast, I didn't expect the cleanliness or the hot shower!

After our anxiety of losing a day subsided we really just took advantage of the day and even treated ourselves to our first "petite train" experience (we just like the name, but it was very nice).  It took us all along the village and up to the citadel in the middle of the walled town.  The structures are pretty remarkable and we also enjoyed walking around the wall at one point.  One of the bridges is a Unesco world heritage site (shannon graced it with her ukulele this evening), and the topography of the town and the surrounding hills make it a really breathtakingly cute place.

We ended up finding a hat for Shannon as well before the night was out and proceeded to stock up on some groceries for tomorrow's journey.  Tomorrow will actually be the most arduous day, as most of the trip will be flat (especially compared to the AT's dynamic topography).  But given the mountainous nature of tomorrow there isn't any place to find provisions along the way so we've packed ourselves a nice lunch (complete with fresh vegetables, another rarity we aren't used to while hiking!). 

Our spirits are quite high after our lovely day in town and we were glad we chose this as the starting place of our journey, even though we won't be able to walk straight through to the end.  Given our time frame we will have to skip a rather large portion at some point - we will figure it out as we go, but we think perhaps the middle third of this particular route we may not do.

Bon nuit!  Tomorrow Spain awaits!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 4-7- Adventures in the Land of Hemingway

Having hiked 17 miles of the trail we came to a rough realization: there were simply too many people on the trail!  When we arrived at our destination (a very small town) we found the albergue and all private hostels completely booked (and by 5PM!).  We were not alone.  We were wandering around with a group of 6 other pilgrims.  All exhausted and not able to continue. We finally found a little hidden Cafe/Hotel/Shop that had two rooms and gave them over to the most physically and emotionally exhausted members of our group.  That left the two of us and our new BFFs (best friends forever) Spencer and Kristy.  After a failed attempt to get a pension owner to let us sleep on his lawn, we asked him to call us a taxi and take to Pamplona.  He happened to also own a pension in Pamplona and as we didn't want to have to wander around and find a place, we went right there and checked in.  And by "right there" I mean we sat on his porch for nearly an hour waiting for the taxi and Spencer managed to help navigate a phone conversation about a hat with an English speaker (who could speak no Spanish) and the Pension owner (who could speak no English). Very fun.  During this time, we got to know Kristy and Spencer better and by the time we go to Pamplona we were committed.   

Being in Pamplona we decided to take a day off and tour around.  We hung out the next day with Kristy and Spencer, got a sim card for the phone, ate breakfast in the Art Deco cafe Iruna and then bought a delicious picnic lunch and lots of wine and spent the rest of the day lounging around.  At some point, we ended up back at the pension where we met a lovely Swedish couple and then we all drank more wine, wandered next door and had dinner together.   Overall, an excellent time! 
The next morning,  Kristy and Spencer walked on but we decided that as my birthday was coming up, we might as well stick around and tour and celebrate and drink wine in Hemingway's favorite bar and make sure to experience Pintxos  (Basque for tapas) in as many bars as humanly possible.   Success!  We went out for a real dinner on the night of my Birthday at this place, Baserri, that has won (according to the lonely planet) loads of awards.   The food was good, albeit a bit strange.   I got duck-which was amazing, but it came with a scoop of green apple sorbet on top of apple compote and  with homemade potato chips on the side.  The presentation was lovely and once I got past the strangeness of it, the flavors melded perfectly.  But it was a bit strange.
Right.  So that was Pamplona. We walked the route of the "running of the bulls",  we were lucky enough to be in town for the "medieval festival", and we toured the city via the ancient stone walls that still surround it.  Over all, pretty awesome stop and I'm glad we decided to stick to Pamplona instead of bouncing around to other cities.

So,  the Camino.  The lazy approach to the Camino.  We don't have enough time to walk the entire thing so we are skipping ahead to the town of Leon and will walk from there. Technically you only need to do the last 100km to get the certificate.  Not that it really matters to us.   But from Leon it's still another 336.1km (208.9 miles).  We've got 13 days.  Perfect!  I am a bit worried about the sleeping situation.  There are so many people walking that we imagine it will happen again, but we'll try to figure out a plan where we won't be so dead by the time we get to a hostel so that we can walk on if necessary.

Life is so good!