Camino de Santiago, Days 7-11

By Elizabeth

At a Glance:

Day 7:Logroño to Nájera (28.9km)

Day 8: Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (21.3km)

Day 9: Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Tosantos (27.6km, including alternate route into Granon)

Day 10: Tosantos to Atapuerca (25.5km)

Day 11: Atapuerca to Burgos (19.7km, including alternate routes south of airport and through riverside park)

Daily Highlights:

Day Seven: While weaving our way through city streets to exit Logroño in the morning, I noticed that Michael was lagging and looking unwell.  When I asked how he was doing, he responded that he was feeling tired and feverish.  We stopped for him to rest and eat a couple of times early in the morning with plans to reassess how he was feeling when we got to the first town, Navarette, at around 13km.  Much of the first 10km was through a park and around a lake bordering Logroño. 

IMG_6273

Peregrino statutes on the way out of Logroño.

After a hot chocolate and pastry in Navarette, Michael was feeling better and we decided to continue on.  The second half of the day passed through farm land and vineyards before a couple short climbs on the way into Nájera.  On our way into Nájera, Michael started feeling tired and unwell again.  We briefly searched for a hotel with a private room, but with no luck we continued on to an albergue.  The main albergue in Nájera is run on a donation basis (although they request that you give a minimum of 5 euro) and is attended by volunteers who were especially welcoming and helpful.  While Michael slept for the entire afternoon, I walked back to the town’s large grocery store (purchasing a bit much as I was super hungry) and cooked dinner in the albergue.  Unfortunately, the town’s cathedral was closed by the time we finished dinner and Michael felt well enough to walk about.

IMG_1372

Walking through the vineyards.

Day Eight:  Michael felt a bit feverish again in the morning, but quickly started to feel better as we tackled our first incline.  Today we passed through a couple small towns that have recently had declining populations and which now exist largely due to the Camino.  Perhaps because of this, in one of the towns (Cirueña), the local golf shop had finally opened its doors to peregrinos interested in a meal or drink.  According to our guidebook, the population of Cirueña is now 100, although there were easily that many townhouses in town (many of which appeared deserted).  Such a strange feeling. 

IMG_1373

More rolling hills and vineyards.

IMG_6285

So much green.

We had a relatively short day today and ended after about 21km in Santo Domingo de Calzada.  We stayed at a great albergue run by nuns, with a huge fireplace in the kitchen (with a wood fire!) and a lovely back yard.  The town is named after Santo Domingo, who became a hermit in the 11th century after being rejected from the local monastery and subsequently dedicated his life to serving pilgrims.  The cathedral in Santo Domingo is unique in one important respect.  One of the miracles ascribed to Santo Domingo involves a family traveling on the Camino that stopped at a tavern in what is now the town of Santo Domingo de Calzada.  The innkeeper’s daughter, apparently upset that the family’s son had rejected her advances, hid a silver goblet in the son’s bag and then accused him of theft.  After being discovered, the son was hung as a thief and his parents continued to Santiago without him.  On their return, the parents found their son still hanging and miraculously alive.  They rushed to the sheriff’s house to ask that their son be cut down.  The sheriff responded that their son was as alive as the cooked rooster that he was about to eat — at which point, the rooster stood up on his plate and crowed.  In honor of this miracle, the cathedral in Santo Domingo has special dispensation to permanently house a chicken and rooster inside!  For dinner, we joined a few other peregrinos from Slovenia and Canada who had found that they had cooked too much — so we added wine and ice cream to the mix and had a lovely meal.

IMG_1858

Cathedral in Santo Domingo de Calzado.

IMG_1856

Michael below the special coop in the cathedral for a chicken and rooster.

IMG_6290

The cathedral also housed a random exhibit with model castles (some real and some fantasy).  How many Disney princesses you can spot?

Day Nine: Much of today’s walk was on pathways directly next to busy highways.  We were able to escape a bit of it by taking an alternate, unmarked “green” route described in our book as we headed into Grañón.  The route was peaceful and unmarred by the pilgrim masses that we’ve been seeing, but unfortunately it was only a small part of our day.  During today’s walk we passed from the Rioja region (like the wine) to the region of Castilla y Leon, in which we will spend the majority of the Camino. 

IMG_6310

Approaching the border into the region of Castilla y Leon.

The end of today’s stage (according to our Brierley book) was supposed to be after 22km in Beldorado — and we had heard that two of the albergues in town even had pools!  Despite the pools’ great attraction (it was really hot today), we continued on another 5km or so to Tosantos because I had read that the parish albergue there was known for its warm welcome and communal meal.  I had hoped that this would be a nice change from the larger, less personal albergues that we had been staying in.  So we passed up the pools.  When we arrived in Tosantos, we were (not warmly) greeted at the albergue and were told all of the albergue’s rules before we registered.  Amongst the normal rules (curfew, etc.) we were told that pilgrims were not permitted to leave before 7am in the morning.  We had been leaving at around 6:30am most mornings and had already decided that we wanted to leave even earlier the next morning in hope of escaping the mid-day heat.  This meant that 7am was a problem.  Additionally, it appeared that the communal meal also involved extensive communal preparation — which was a problem, because I woke up this morning sneezing like crazy (I’ll blame Michael,  who now feels fine, even though he never sneezed).  So we ended up going to the other (private) albergue in (the very, very small) town instead.  The facilities there ended up being great and we enjoyed good company hanging out on the front patio area.  I did discover my first mini-blister on my big toe — it’s tiny and I only found it based on visual inspection.  Hopefully it doesn’t develop into anything further.

IMG_6319

Interesting rock formations near Tosantos.

Day Ten: We made it out of the albergue a bit earlier than usual this morning (around 6am) and enjoyed walking for a short while prior to dawn.  We’ll take waking up early to walk in the cool morning over the hot afternoons any day!  We stopped briefly to eat our breakfast in the small town of Villafranca Montes de Oca.  We had also hoped that because the town was along the road and is frequented by truckers we would be able to find an ATM, but no luck.  We were told that the next ATM on the Camino is in Burgos (about 40km down the road, and we didn’t see an ATM along the Camino yesterday either) — which meant that unless we could find a place that accepted credit cards, we’d have to be very careful about our food purchases until then.

IMG_6330

Gorgeous sunrise along the Camino.

Following Villafranca Montes de Oca (not to be confused with the other “Villafranca” later on the Camino), we started our ascent for the day.  As we climbed, I heard the familiar sounds of a cockoo clock coming from the surrounding forrest.  I never realized how accurately the clock captured the sound of the birds (who, incidentally, don’t stop after 12 cockoos)!  At the top of the climb, we passed the Monumento de los Caidos, which marks the shallow graves of unidentified individuals executed during the Spanish civil war.  Over the next few kilometers, we were assaulted by a huge mass of flying black bugs that looked like a cross between a giant mosquito and wasp.  They were so bad that we couldn’t talk or otherwise open our mouths for fear that they would fly in! 

IMG_1376

Later, as we passed through San Juan de Ortega, we caught our first glimpse of a dog walking along the Camino.  We decided that the dog was a “perrogrino” — a combo between “perogrino” (for pilgrim) and “perro” (for dog).  We caught up with the dog and owner a bit further down the road and learned that they were indeed planning on walking all the way to Santiago, but are taking it slowly.  Because we started early and didn’t stop much during the day, we arrived in our destination of Atapuerca before noon and had to wait for the albergue to open.  During this time, I solved our cash shortage by finding a bar/restaurant nearby that accepted credit cards (so what if we ended up with frozen pizzas, it was a nice change of pace) — it’s crazy what a cash economy the Camino is!

Day Eleven:  Today we had a short(ish) walk into Burgos.  Last night, we booked a hotel in Burgos for tonight in order to avoid standing in line for the municipal albergue (since we’d likely arrive before it opened) and because of predictions of rain.  And rain it did.  At first lightly and then it poured as we passed the airport on an alternate route into the city.  Our shoes and shorts were quickly soaked (we only have rain jackets and pack covers).  The heavy rain continued as we took a second alternate route through a riverside park in order to avoid walking through the city outskirts.  This park was much less groomed and more wild/natural than the park approach into Pamplona, although was still popular amongst runners and local bike groups (even in the rain).  Luckily, the rain let up and the sun even came out by the time we entered the historic center of Burgos.  We were largely dry by the time that we got to our hotel and parted ways with the Seattle couple and Aussie that we’d been walking and chatting with off and on throughout the day.  First stop in Burgos was a cafe with amazing hot chocolate (the super thick kind you eat with a spoon) before heading toward the cathedral.  We were greeted at the cathedral by speakers blaring “I Will Survive” — apparently the plaza was being used in connection with the race that we’d seen while entering the city.  There’s nothing quite like walking past a race and having the runners yell “buen camino” at you!  The cathedral itself was beautiful, but was unfortunately accompanied by the most boring audioguide that went into extraneous and honestly uninteresting details about the origins of each side chapel. 

IMG_1379

The cathedral entrance was lined with flowers, likely related to a festival that appeared to be going on while we were in Burgos.

IMG_1386

The ceilings were amazing!

IMG_1389

The cathedral housed a common depiction of St. James as the “moor slayer”

IMG_1384

Creepy figure overlooking clock in the cathedral.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the Evolution Museum (where we got a discount for being a pilgrim — don’t think too hard about that one!).  The museum houses many of the important artifacts found at an archeological site near Atapuerca (where we stayed last night).  These human remains and artifacts have been used to place homo sapiens in Europe much earlier than originally predicted.  The portion of the museum addressing these local sites was very interesting and well displayed.  Unfortunately, by the end of the visit, my ankle was acting up and all of a sudden walking became extremely painful for no apparent reason (just what I do not need to accompany my cold).  Fingers crossed that it will feel much better in the morning!

IMG_6347

The Museum of Evolution’s acronym was “MEH.”  Where is the entrance?  Meh.

Camino de Santiago, Days 4-6

At a Glance:

Day 4: Pamplona (Iruna) to Cirauqui (Zirauki) (34.7 km, including detour to Eunate)

Day 5: Cirauqui (Zirauki) to Los Arcos (35.1 km, including alternate scenic route via Luquin)

Day 6: Los Arcos to Logrono (27.8 km)

Daily Highlights:

Day Four: We headed out of Pamplona early with the intention of putting in a big day.  We started by walking through Pamplona’s suburbs before climbing almost 1000 feet.  At the top of the mountains, we were greeted by a series of windmills (and the corresponding wind).  A wrought iron monument shows medieval pilgrims battling the wind on the way to Santiago with the inscription: “Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” (“Where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars.”). 

IMG_1352

Permanent pilgrims.

IMG_6205

Looking down at the valley below.

Back down in the valley floor, we opted to detour to the Church of Santa Maria de Eunate.  The 12th Century church is linked with the Knights Templar and has a simple, but beautifully calm interior and a surrounding porch.  There were several non-pilgrims inside praying and a separate group outside preparing what appeared to be a tasty feast!

IMG_6218

Exterior view of the Church of Santa Maria de Eunate.

IMG_6215

The scallop-shell on the exterior of the church marks it as a stopover on the Camino.

IMG_6219

Preparing for a feast at the hermitage building next to the church. Just like a pot luck!

Once we were back on the Camino, we stopped for tapas in Puente la Reina.  The town is designated as the end of “Stage 4” by Brierley, but it was still relatively early and we decided to push on another 8 km or so to Cirauqui (for a total of about 21.5 miles).  Like many of the towns that we pass through on the Camino, Cirauqui is best described as a small, seemingly abandoned village on a hill.  We stayed at the sole albergue in town and joined the group dinner run by the albergue.  Unlike some of the pilgrim meals, where wine is included but limited, our host continued to check on our pitcher of wine at dinner to make sure that we were getting enough to drink (and encouraging us to eat more salad and pasta as well).  Once again, there was a family connection between the albergue and the winemaker!

IMG_6227

Passing by one of the region’s many vineyards (part of the Navarra region).

IMG_6231

Someone spent a lot of time cultivating this map of the world on a nearby hillside.

IMG_1358

Small chapel we passed early on day five.

Day Five: We planned another long day and passed quickly through the first couple of towns until we arrived in the small city of Estella (about 14km down the road).  In Estella, we stopped in a bar/restaurant for breakfast and marveled at the number of locals enjoying their (presumably) first glass of red wine at 9:30am.  Just a bit further down the road, we passed through the town of Irache, best known for its fountain.  Now, many of the small towns have public fountains with drinking water for pilgrims, but Irache’s famous fountain has one handle for water and a second handle for wine! It is sponsored by a local winery and was good (at least that’s what we thought while hiking).  Quite the morning treat!

IMG_1362

The wine fountain!

IMG_6254

Fill her up!

We spent much of the remaining day on an alternate “green” route that went up through the hills on dirt tracks instead of following along the road.  It provided a peaceful alternative to the masses of pilgrims that we encounter each day on the Camino — over a couple of hours we only saw two other couples (and a horse) instead of dozens of people.  We ended the day in Los Arcos (the end of Brierly’s “Stage 6,” meaning that we did three stages in two days) and stayed at an Austrian-run albergue with lovely gardens and common areas (and a friendly black lab).

IMG_1365

IMG_6250

Day Six: With two long days behind us, we decided to take it easy and stick with the designated 27.8 km stage into Logrono.  Our morning was filled with a series of hilltop villages before we stopped to breakfast in Viana.  We were greeted in Viana’s cathedral by a hilariously talkative volunteer and also enjoyed the nearby ruins of the Church of San Pedro. 

IMG_1368

One of the many hilltop villages we passed through.

IMG_6256

The entrance to the cathedral in Viana.

IMG_1851

Ruins or skylight?

A couple hours later, we were similarly “greeted” as we approached Logrono by the daughter of a legendary gatekeeper of the Camino.  We had been led to expect that there would be a stand with figs and water to accompany her pilgrim credential stamp that reads “higos, agua y amor” (“figs, water and love”).  Alas, there were no figs, no water, and she spent the entire time that I was getting my stamp in what seemed to be a heated argument with her husband!  A memorable stop nonetheless.  Logrono proved to be a fairly sizable town, and we enjoyed tapas, beer, and ice cream along the main square.

IMG_6268

The entrance to the cathedral in Logrono.

After six days on the Camino, our feet are still blister free (but tired).  We’ve noticed that the Camino seems particularly busy (as least compared to my 2012 experience). This means that we can’t walk late into the afternoon (as we did on the JMT) without risking showing up in town and finding that all of the accommodations are already full.  To deal with this, we’ve been waking up early each morning so that we can comfortably fit in our miles by 1pm or so.  In the future, we may book ahead to allow us to walk further into the day, but on the whole we prefer the accommodations that are first-come-first-serve.

Camino de Santiago, Days 0-3

by Elizabeth

At a Glance:

Day 0: Madrid —> Pamplona (train); Pamplona —> St. Jean Pied de Port (taxi)

Day 1: St. Jean Pied de Port —> Roncesvalles (25.1 km)

Day 2: Roncesvalles —> Larrasoana (27.2 km)

Day 3: Larrasoana —> Pamplona (16.8 km, including alternate park route into Pamplona)

Daily Highlights:

Day Zero: We lucked out on our way to St. Jean Pied de Port (the unofficial, but popular, starting point of the Camino) when we found another traveller (Sam, from Minnesota) willing to share a taxi from the Pamplona train station.  Although it ended up costing a few euro more than taking the bus, we got into St. Jean about four hours earlier because we didn’t have to wait for the bus.  Our first stop was the Pilgrim’s office (which likely would have been closed for the day had we waited for the bus).  Everyone who walks the Camino is referred to as a Pilgrim (or “Peregrino” in Spanish) and is greeted over and over again during the day with the greeting “buen camino.”  At the Pilgrim’s office we registered and received our Pilgrim’s credential.  The credential is stamped at various establishments, is required to stay in many of the albergues (hostels for Pilgrims), and entitles Pilgrims to certain discounts at various cathedrals and sights along the way.  The rest of the day was spent exploring St. Jean and finding provisions for the next day’s walk.

IMG_6122

Overlooking St. Jean

IMG_6128

Placards in the cobble-stone street marking the way.

Day One: We were up bright and early (5:45am), although we not the first ones up in the albergue.  Breakfast at the albergue was simple (bread and jam), but enjoyable if only for the stern (but very lovable) woman who ruled over the kitchen and wished everyone a “buen camino” on their way out the door.  The first day of the camino is known for its climb through the Pyrenees mountains.  We felt right at home as we climbed up the mountain (easier than the Sierras!) and were treated to amazing views (and only light rain)!

IMG_6133

As we climbed up above the clouds, the hills appeared to rise up as little islands.

IMG_6142

Only 765kms to go!

IMG_1333

Getting ready to head out again after stopping for tea.

IMG_6135

IMG_6146

There were so many slugs!

We ended the day in Roncevalles, in part because it was the end of the stage in the Brierley guide to the Camino (which most English-speakers use) and because it is a historic stop on the Camino.  The stop ended up having a very weird feel to it.  We arrived before the albergue officially opened at 2pm and the administration of the albergue felt very bureaucratic compared to my prior experience on the Camino in 2012 (and the cold showers did not help matters — apparently the hot water was off until about 5pm).  The albergue also felt very isolated, although when we discovered the bar at a nearby hotel (that the albergue failed to mention existed), we happily enjoyed a bottle of wine to pass the time before our 7pm group dinner.  Following dinner, we enjoyed mass at the on-site church (but were confused to find that communion included no wine! As non-Catholics, luckily no communion papers were requested 😉 ).

Day Two: After the climb on day one, our second day started out reasonably flat before descending into Zubiri.  Much of the day was through forested land with good, dirt trails.  We stopped for tea and grocery shopping in the small town of Viskarret before tackling a small ascent in preparation for the big descent of the day.  A food truck and a short downpour greeted us at the top, meaning that the descent was a bit slippery at times (we passed one bicycler who had opted to walk with her bike and witnessed another completely wipe out on another slick turn).  We ended the day in Larrasoana at the municipal albergue, which was further than the recommended stop in the Brierley guide, but we wanted a short day three leading into Pamplona to maximize our time in the city.   The highlight of Larrasoana was a happy shop owner offering free samples of his family’s wine (and sampling himself), so of course we had to buy a bottle (for a whole 4 euro!). Michael also enjoyed the four barn cats who visited the back patio of the albergue, one of which knew how to open the door.

IMG_6148

Leaving France, headed towards Pamplona.

IMG_6150

We stopped to take a group’s picture and they insisted on taking ours as well.  At the time, we were walking with a guy from Edinburgh and a couple from Boulder, CO.

IMG_6155

The quiet streets of Larrasoana.

Day Three: The highlights of our short hiking day into Pamplona were the pen of miniature horses (so cute!!) that we passed and our decision to take an alternate route into Pamplona through one of the parks instead of via city streets. 

IMG_1334

Miniature horses!  There were a bunch and they were adorable.

IMG_1337

Bridge leading into Trinidad de Arre.  We bypassed the town to take the scenic park-route into Pamplona.

IMG_1338

The branches of the trees have grown together so that the trees are connected over the walkway.

We ended up getting into Pamplona by about 10:30am to find that all of the private albergues were already full due to the convergence of a triathlon, local festival, and food festival that day.  This meant waiting until the municipal (first come, first serve) albergue opened at noon.  While waiting, we were treated to performances by the gigantes (giant, um, just look at the picture below) celebrating the local festival — what a treat!  Check out our short video of the dancing gigantes here.  We spent the afternoon visiting the Navarra Museum and Pamplona Cathedral before getting a group together to watch a major soccer match at a local bar.  Dinner consisted of amazing tapas from an award-winning tapas joint (my favorite was the foie) and chocolate con churros (yum!).  Pamplona ended up being a great spot to spend the day, especially given the many festivities going on in town.

IMG_1342

Los gigantes in Pamplona.  These guys spent the entire day walking through the city streets performing.

IMG_6179

Some of our tapas: including the foie (left) and sea urchin (right).

Overall, after three days on the Camino we are feeling pretty good.  Our feet are tired and we are a little sore, but no major issues thus far!

Change of Plans

by Michael

[Due to poor Internet connections, we’ve fallen behind on our posts about Morocco.  We’ll get those up as soon as we can.  In the meantime, we thought a quick update about where we are now would be nice.]

Plans? What plans?

One of our three main targets on this trip is the Camino de Santiago. For those who are not familiar, it’s a centuries-old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are about a dozen routes with branches, but the most commonly walked route is from St. Jean Pie-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees mountains, and across Northern Spain.

No, we didn’t cancel the Camino.

As I write this, we are on the train from Madrid to Pamplona, where we will catch a bus/taxi to St. Jean. We had originally planned to make our way there while enjoying various sights along the way, including crossing the Straight of Gibraltar and visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Our tentative plan had always been to make our way through Morocco and cross the Straight of Gibraltar by ferry (Tangier, Morocco to Tarifa, Spain) then make our way across Spain in steps to the start of the Camino de Santiago. We got as far as Chefchaouen in Northern Morocco, but it seemed like too much: bus to Tangier, ferry to Tarifa, bus to Algecerias, then bus to Malaga, stop by the Picasso Museum, train to Madrid then Bilbao (or flight to Bilbao), Guggenheim Museum, bus to San Sebastian, 1-2-3 enjoy beach, bus to St. Jean. This would have taken a minimum of two days, probably more to enjoy it. And booking connections in Morocco can be difficult — everything is a negotiation and sometimes you still don’t get what you agree to buy. So we went the other way.

We took a bus four hours to the Southwest to Rabat and flew from Rabat to Madrid. It was not without difficulty at the Rabat-Sale Airport, but it’s a relief to be in Spain. Morocco is fun, but everyday interactions are more challenging. Spain is easier, especially since I can understand a lot of Spanish (and speak a little).

FullSizeRender_1.jpg

My ticket to prosperity.

This morning we did laundry, put about 1/3 of our stuff in a box and shipped it to Santiago de Compostela (to a service that holds shipped stuff for pilgrims — my compliments to El Correos (the post office) at Plaza Prosperidad in Madrid for being so helpful). Then we made our way to the train station and after a few failed negotiations with the ticket machine, we bought our tickets to Pamplona, a sandwich, and a beer. We are now on our way to the Camino.

FullSizeRender_2.jpg

On a train in Spain.

Update: As it turns out, wifi along the Camino has been a bit spotty. I was finally able to upload this post at the end of our second day on the Camino (in Larrasoana). We’ve had an easier time uploading pics to the Instagram feed in the meantime.