Camino day 5: Los Arcos to Navarette. 27/5/2013. 41.3 kms

An early rise from the Albergue ‘Casa de la Abuela’ saw me on the way at 7 a.m. and within 10 minutes of setting out, the cold conditions had invited their old friend: ‘heavy rain’ to join us for 3 or 4 hours.

Most of the route starting out is along farm tracks and in places the heavy rain over the previous few days have made a quagmire but eventually I arrived at the 2 km road walk into Sansol and Torres del Rio. I chanced upon the albergue ‘la Pata y Oca’ which has a bar and restaurant attached and had a welcome respite from the still heavy rain while I had my breakfast break. In using the toilet I had a quick look at the restaurant area and it would definitely be on my list of albergues to try to stay in on any future caminos.

More mucky trails and ever present rain as I made my way into Viana and my 1st objective was to visit the 13th century Iglesia de Santa Maria where Cesare Borgia is buried.  A trip inside to say a prayer in remembrance of friends and relatives no longer present and when going to a small side room to have my credential stamped, one of those little moments that make a miserable morning into a day to treasure: the 3 elderly senoras in the office had made some pastries and were giving a sample to any peregrinos getting a sello.

A warm looking cafe across the plaza in front of the church drew me like a moth to a flame and I was soon enjoying my 2nd sit down break of the day.

Logrono was just 10 kms further on so feeling a little less miserable I tried to lose the mud off my boots and set a warming pace leaving Viana but some of the muckiest stretches yet were in the first couple of kilometers after Viana, however all bad things must end sometime and nearing Logrono the rain ceased, the sun shone and the temperature increased noticeably.  Off with the rain jacket for the remainder of the day and onwards through Logrono.

I decided to forego a break in Logrono as I still had 13 kms to go to my intended destination and instead decided to wait until I reached Pantano de la Grajera, Logrono’s reservoir and the cafe in the adjoining forest recreation area, an undulating passage through the recreation area in what were becoming very hot conditions left me wilting more than a little so I made myself very comfortable and a coffee, tortilla, chocolate bar and ice cream later,  I finally felt like venturing out again into what had become a very hot afternoon.

7 kilometers remained to Navarette but being a hilltop village I had one final climb before I could ease my backpack off my aching shoulders for the last time that day. I reached the 1st albergue in the village and that was good enough for me, 1 dormitory with 6 bunk and 4 single beds and reasonable free space in the only partially full albergue, Wi-Fi and a coffee vending machine that produced a mean cafe solo meant necessity and opportunity had very pleasantly coincided.

A nice dinner in a cafe/bar just up the street after hand washing that days clothes and I slept like an innocent baby. :-)

Camino day 4: Cirauqui to Los Arcos via Zarapuz and Luquin. 26/5/2013. 36.5 kms

The first dry morning so far and although very cold when setting out meaning I wore my gloves and light rain jacket for 2 hours it was nice to feel the promise of warmth in the day once the sun rose higher.

A brisk first hours walking brought me to Lorca and my 1st cafe con leche and tortilla sit down break. I joined up with a German walker for the stretch to Villatuerta and here weseparated as he was having his breakfast stop and I headed away from the normal route through Estella to take the higher route via the 11th century ruins of the pilgrim hostel at Zarapuz. This was glorious walking country through country lanes and old pathways with the lane edges being a riot of colour with wild flowers in bloom.

AfterZarapuz I gained my 1st sight of the Benedictine Monasterio de Irache and then I chose to drop down from the high route to visit ‘Fuente del Vino’ at the Bodegas Irache. It being just gone midday and no cafes available on the high route I took the extra detour to the Hotel Irache for lunch and then retraced my steps back onto the higher route.

By now the sun was putting real heat into the day and a glorious stretch of walking through woodland and high pasture followed before dropping down to the village of Luquin. I must admit that after Luquin the heat was on the upper side of what I find pleasant unless beside a swimming pool but in cooler weather the remaining 11 kilometers of country lane and pathway walking to Los Arcos would be a pleasure rather than the draining effort it became for me on the day.

I wasn’t the only peregrino to be sufferingin the heat and I passed about 20 other peregrinos in that last stretch, I planned on staying in the Casa de la Abuela albergue because of the advertised Wi-Fi and laundry and when I arrived at 4.15 I got their last available bed, no hand washing of laundry allowed, instead you are given a net bag and for €0.50 the hospitalero will run the contents through the washing machine, very reasonable arrangement, being a Sunday evening, town was quiet so an easy pizza dinner, a chat with a young Irish couple and then a good nights sleep.

Camino day 3: Trinidad de Arre to Cirauqui.

A lovely evening in the albergue on the outsk irts of Pamplona at the end of my 2nd day,  a great mix of nationalities and all with the true peregrino spirit. A very peaceful night and that rarity on the camino,  no 5.30 am early risers the following morning.  So day 3 saw me leave Trinidad de Arre about 8.30 am and on a cool, drizzly morning make my way through Pamplona.

it By the time I reached the far side of Pamplona at Cizur Menor, the rain had ceased for the day, I was able to put away my rain jacket and stow my back pack cover. 10 kilometers covered so into a cafe in Cizur Menor for a nice breakfast cafe con leche y tostado and then the long steady climb up the Alto del Perdon . A chilling breeze meant that after the near obligatory photos of the wrought iron representations of medieval pilgrims, I quickly made my way down the rocky descent and soon found myself in the small village of Uterga where I bravely managed to get myself outside another cafe con leche y tostado. Alas because of my slightly late start, I had to forego my intended detour to visit the 12th century church at Eunate as this would have added 3 kilometers to my travels and I still had some distance to go. Onwards through a lovely stretch of country lane walking and through the small villages of Muruzabal and Obanos before reaching the small town of Puente la Reina with it’s very attractive narrow streets and 6 arched mmedieval bridge.  I was now just under 8 kms from my intended overnight albergue but before I got there there was a slight kick in the teeth with an unexpectedly severe climb just before Maneru but once crested I was left with 3 kms to go to Cirauqui and Albergue Maralotx. Cirauqui is a lovely hilltop village but alas the last part of climb through the village bore an unwanted resemblance to St. Patrick’s Hill in Cork City. The village square just in front of the albergue was playing host to a festival with the last act due to come on stage at 4 a.m. Sunday morning so a good nights sleep was looking a little uncertain. Although the last peregrino to arrive for the day, I soon myself in a pleasant, roomy dormitory and after a shower and wash of the clothes I’d worn that day, I was finished just in time to join in the dinner prepared by the owners of the albergue and even at this early stage I doubt very much if I’ll have much nicer meals for €10 on the camino: spinach soup to start, spaghetti Bolognese for mains and a lovely custard based dessert and as much of any course as you wanted and a nice red wine which flowed freely. After dinner myself and 2 Dutch peregrino s strolled down to listen to the music for a while and then headed into the local Sport’s club bar for a coffee and to watch part of the Champion’s League final.Back to the albergue and the pleasant discovery that the windows were more than up to the job of preventing the music from the festival from disturbing our trip to the land of Nod.All in all, a very pleasant evening at the end of 36.1 kilometers of good mixed camino terrain.

Camino day 2: Burguete to Trinidad de Arre 36.6 kms.

After yesterday’s cold, wet day, my 2nd morning on the Camino saw no change. Woke early at 6 am to the sound of heavy rain and packed up but decided to wait a little before setting off in case of a break in the rain and about 7  a stop in the downpour saw me on my way. Alas within 20 minutes the rain returned and only ceased around midday. The church in Burguete presented a gloomy facade to passing peregrinos.

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After Espinal, the climb up Alto de Mezquiriz brought me to my high point of the day at 955 metres and this roadside monument.

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The small village of Gerendiain was my intended breakfast stop but nothing comes easy on the camino other than discomfort so first I had to cross this interesting stream

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before I was able to at last enjoy my cafe con leche y tostado.
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Even with gloves on I had suffered badly from the bitter cold and only during my breakfaststop did full feeling return to my hands although I was wearing shorts my legs were standing up far better to the inclement weather.

A lot of the next 8 kilometres were along very muddy and on the descents extremely slippery forest paths although this sign did lift my mood for at least a few minutes.

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After a particularly unpleasant final descent during which several of the peregrinos I met later had fallen, my little group of myself, a Canadian retired economist, a German student and a Belgian nurse arrived in Zubiri and crossed the Rio Args on the medieval Puente e la Rabia bridge
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and were soon enjoying a well earned warming cafe con leche in a small cafe.

Alll goods things come to an end and we were soon on our way the 5.3 kilometers to Larrasoana where my 3 companions were going to spend the night while I carried on the 11+ kilometers to my intended stop at Trinidad de Arre.

Along the way I passed this poignant memorial to a peregrino who had died en route.

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About half the distance left was on trails and paths which varies from narrow, slippy mudbaths to wide well drained tracks but eventually I gained my first view of the western outskirts of Pamplona

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On reaching the medieval bridge over the Rio Ulzama, I immediately was able to see my destination on the opposite side of the bridge: the Hermanas Maristas albergue.
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It proved a great spot to spend my 2nd night on the camino with a very disparate mix of nationalities but with a good peregrino spirit.

For those who wonder what dormitory accommodation looks like this may prove useful:
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Dormitories are mixed and hanging laundry the norm.
36.6 kilometers covered today including a short detour to buy some chocolate bars for those days when shops might be hard to find. Legs are holding up well and the 2nd half of today saw the sun make an occasional welcome appearance.
Tomorrow will see me enter Pamplona proper and later cross the Alto de Perdon.

My travel day to the Camino Frances

The day started early with the alarm set for 6 am to have a quick shower before my better half Wendy was due to collect me for the trip to Dublin Airport but no great surprise when I woke at 5 am and was unable to nod off again so up and had a shower and shave ( legs included ! ) and a cereal and toast breakfast before a last check through my packing list to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything ( guess who still arrived in St. Jean and remembered he hadn’t brought any clothes pegs? ).
A check of the backpack in the measuring frames at the Ryanair desks went well after having rearranged my contents multiple times the previous night to try to meet their cabin baggage size and weight requirements so on through the security clearance area ( set a new personal best of 7 minutes ) and then a welcome cup of Starbucks Americano to kill some time before the boarding gate opened.
Lo and behold almost no-one had their cabin baggage weighted/measured but at least the effort of tryingw to be sure my backpack would pass made me very selective in what I eventually packed.
The flight took off 10 minutes last but helpful winds saw us landing in Biarritz 10 minutes early.

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Just enough time for a quick cigarillo before the bus for Bayonne arrived and we were at the S.N.C.F. station 20 minutes later.

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After leaving Ireland enjoying a seldom sunny spell I arrived to a cold wet day in France so my choice of 3 sets of hiking shorts may yet come back to haunt me.
A recent landslip meant the much anticipated train transfer to Saint Jean Pied de Port would instead be made by coach so along with the other 18 peregrinos on the flight from Dublin and 35 odd others from wider flung parts we found ourselves 80 minutes later being let off the coach at the train station in St.Jean.

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A 5 minute walk into the heart of St. Jean

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brought me to the L’Esprit du Chemin hostel where I’d made a reservation last February only to discover there was no record of the booking.

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Not the start one wanted but across the cobbled street is the office of the local pilgrim association where I was going to visit anyway to collect my credencial ( pilgrim passport ) needed to be able to stay in the pilgrim hostels en route and they were quickly able to source alternative nearby accommodation for me

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and I was soon in my dormitory unpacking my fleece sleeping bag.

With a little time to kill,  wandered around St Jean which is very attractive place indeed

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and done my small bit of last minute shopping for toothpaste, sun tan lotion, moisturiser, clothes pegs and a few energy bars for the 1st day proper on the Camino tomorrow.
A very pleasant dinner in a restaurant adjacent to my albergue followed

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and then back to the albergue to arrange my backpack for an early start tomorrow and decide whether the forecast of steady rain and low cloud cover would make the high level Route Napoleon an unwise choice.

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Camino day 1: St Jean – Burguete

Guess which peregrino forgot to pack earplugs? No way,  how did you guess right so quickly?
3 bunk beds in my albergue dorm last night so sharing with 5 others, 2 Korean women and 3 Spanish men, the night started well with everyone in bed by 9.30 but by 10 serious competion was taking place between the 3 Spaniards for the last remaining place on the Spanish squad for the next Olympics in the team snoring event. I don’t think I managed 3 hours sleep in all and by 5.45 am the 2 Koreans had given up and got up and started packing away and I joined them shortly after 6. Snoring is an accepted part albergue life and the fault was mine in forgetting to bring my ear plugs.

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A group shot before I left the albergue and then shortly after 7 am my first steps on my 880 kilometer hiking pilgrimage.
The weather forecasters hadn’t been wrong and cold wet conditions were only too apparent leaving St. Jean by one of the old city gates.

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Once through the gates I had an immediate choice to make as to whether to take the higher level Route Napoleon or the lower level Valcarlos route and although the very low cloud levels meant Valcarlos was the sensible choice those who know me well rarely use the word sensible about my hiking activities so Route Napoleon it was going to be.

At this stage I want to apologise for the paucity of photos of today but the weather meant I had to be careful to keep my HTC One X well protected.

After about 1 km of very steep tarmac road I happened upon an Australian woman who asked if I would mind if she walked alongside me and as I was glad of both the company and the presence of a slower walker whose presence would help curb my tendency to start off at what might be an unwisely brisk pace on a demanding day we set off side by side.
Her destination for the day was the Orisson albergue/refugio where she had made a booking some months earlier and my intended breakfast stop was at the cafe/bar adjacent.
8 kilometers after St. Jean and 2 hours 15 minutes of some very steep road walking saw us arrive at Orisson shortly after 9 and enjoy the very cosy and hospitable surroundings of the cafe/bar.

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I managed to force myself to get outside 2 cafe au laits, a ham roll and a bowl of vegetable soup and although my friends walking was done for the day, I still had 17 kilometers to cover to Roncesvalles and the next chance of a warming coffee so on went the backpack again and out into the cold chilling mist which was now firmly ensconced all around.
The gradient after Orisson although steep in places was overall easier than before and the 7.5 kilometers to the Thibault Cross were covered in 90 minutes. The cross marks the point where you leave the small road and head across rough trails towards the French/Spanish border. Progress became a lot slower now partly due to the rougher ground and partly due to the poor visibility which was now down to less than 20 metres and meant care had to be taken not to accidentally turn down any of the side trails which frequently joined alongside.
30 minutes saw me reach Roland’s Fountain and almost immediately cross the border frontier which was marked by nothing grander than a cattle grid.
The trail then became a mix of very slippery, muddy stretches in the open and stretches under beech trees which were covered a couple of centimeters deep in fallen leaves.
Once past the emergency shelter at Izandorre ( 4 Korean pilgrims had to be rescued from here in January ) the last climb of the day to the Col de Lepoeder began, this was my highest point of the day at 1,427 metres ( 4,980 feet ) and the temperature quickly dropped to near freezing and my choice of just 3 hiking shorts and no trousers became very open to question.

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Shortly after the col I reached a minor road and had to choose between descending the road to join the lower Valcarlos route at the Col de Ibaneta or take the shorter but very steep route on the trail through the forest with all its slippy mud and leaf debris.
In this case common sense won out and I started moving as quickly as possible down the tarmac to Ibaneta to get my circulation moving and some heat back into my slightly hypothermic body.
Once I’d quickly dropped a couple of hundred meters of altitude the deep chill started to leave my body and after joining the lower route at Ibaneta most of the remainder of the way to Roncesvalles was through forest and some shelter was to be had from the chilling wind. I reached Roncesvalles at about 2.30 pm which meant 6 hours of walking time plus my leisurely breakfast stop at Orisson, a time which met my best hopes for the day.
After my poor sleep the previous night I decided to forego the pleasures of the 183 bed albergue at Roncesvalles so after a lovely cafe con leche and some chocolate in front of an open fire in La Posada, I left Roncesvalles and set off on the 3 kilometers stretch to Burguete

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where I managed to get a room in the Hostel Burguete.

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a location which has strong Ernest Hemingway connections from his times visiting Pamplona.

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After a much needed shower and washing my worn clothes I managed to fall asleep for a couple of hours before heading downstairs for another simple pilgrim’s meal.

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In the dining room is a piano which bears Ernest Hemingway’s signature and the date: 25/7/1923 and which he played on a few memorable nights.

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Today saw me cover 29.6 kilometers and 1,390 metres of vertical climb, tomorrow the weather is only likely to be marginally better so the outline plan is to rise at 6.30, be walking at 7 and hopefully cover 35.6 kms to arrive at Trinidad de Arre on the outskirts of Paplona.