Zubiri to Pamplona to Puente La Reina

Written last night in Puente la Reina:

The road to Pamplona from Zubiri felt long, but mostly because of the relentless drizzle. In Larrasoaña we stopped for café con leche and muffins with chocolate centers. Yes, I have been drinking coffee. No, I still don’t like it. But we’ll see how I feel about it in Finisterra.

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The road from then on was mud and rain, dewdrops on blades of tall green grass, the clack of my walking stick and Lidia’s trekking poles. Many fotos del giorno, which may just be my Spanitalian transliteration of what I hear when they say “photo of the day” in Italian. Many cries of “tutti distruti” since we all have felt aches and pains everywhere since the first day.

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We were walking past a pasture with horses when one came up to the fence next to me, leaning her head out over the wire. Slowly I reached my gloved hand out towards her and gently settled it on her muzzle, petting a few times and talking softly to her in Spanish. I was a bit afraid she might bite, since horses have a reputation for startling easily. But she seemed very calm and welcoming of the attention.

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Eventually the sun paid us a visit, in time for us to enjoy a good view from a hilltop just before Sebastian caught up with us, with two more German men behind him. Many hours later we arrived, quite well beaten, in Pamplona. The walls and turrets of the entryway were much like those at the Castillo de San Marcos in Florida and the fort I visited in Cartagena with Daniela.

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It was late in the day, but luckily Chiara had reserved us beds at the albergue privado Casa Ibarrola, right at the entrance to town. The hospitalero César, bald and quick with jokes, gave us the tour of the facility. Compared to what we had in Zubiri it was like a spaceship. Each of us had sleeping pods with a privacy curtain, a locker, two power outlets, a light, and wifi everywhere, along with nice showers with plenty of hot water and a laundry machine and dryer. After the bare-bones albergue municipal in Zubiri it was a welcome change for tired souls.

We had beers nearby and were happily surprised when Sebastian walked in followed by our extended Camino Family and their new member, a friend of Merel’s and fellow Nederlander. We chatted a bit and then the girls and I went back to get the laundry from dryer.

Later we met with Adrián and his friends, all Spaniards. I first met him in Zubiri on the steps of the albergue, but I think Chiara and Lidia had met him already. We wandered the streets where they hold the Running of the Bulls, and stopped in for beers and group photos at a nearby bar.

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At dinner in Zubiri we had found ourselves next to two more Italians, and so I spent that dinner intensely focused but mostly confused. At the bar with Adrián’s group the shoe was on the other foot, except that the girls actually understand Spanish very well. Often better than me. After a while the girls and I left to explore Pamplona before stopping for pintxos and the most enormous bocadillos filled with tortilla de gambas de Huelva (Spanish tortilla, filled with shrimp that are presumably from Huelva).

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This morning we woke early and walked through the heart of the city in the morning light, until finally we left the urbanscape behind us and found ourselves on a path through rolling hills of grain and meadows. Spaniards ran with their dogs off-leash. One woman played fetch with hers. He leaped through the field, disappearing and reappearing with each bound above the plants. The sun shone bright and warm as we made our way to Alto de Perdón.

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The climb was at times steep and others gentle. At last we reached the iconic sculpture of pilgrims pressing on against the wind. We took photos, enjoyed a rest, and quickly made our way down the steep and rock-strewn path leading away from the mountain. We passed through several pueblos, each appearing deserted as it was siesta time.

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Finally we reached Puente La Reina, and now I’m sitting in the common area writing these words.

The experience so far has been more physically demanding than I expected. Pero vale la pena — it’s worth it. I don’t know that I’ve had some life-changing epiphany yet, but I am on an adventure. Walking down the path with nothing on my mind but the weather and the views and the sounds and the pain in my feet and the company of my friends. I’ve lost track of days and months, and I don’t much care. In Zubiri I dreamt for the first time since leaving, and again in Pamplona. Strange dreams about work and old flames and the Camino. I haven’t given them much thought yet.

Not sure what city we’ll stop in tomorrow. I’ll have to check the guide. Later tonight we may join the Spaniards for food and beer and a football (soccer) game on TV.

-Daniel

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Roncesvalles to Zubiri — Rest for the Weary

Written a day ago, with photos added tonight in Pamplona:

We woke early to the lights of the albergue in Roncesvalles and the singing of a guitarist as he walked up and down the halls. Dressed and packed, Lidia, Chiara, and I walked out into the cold morning and the light rain, through muddy paths.

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We passed through forests and farms, past horses and rams and cows and found ourselves in Burguete, a tiny medieval town where we stopped for coffee and a croissant. The streets were lined with a drainage ditch than ran like a tiny stream, though not one I’d be keen on drinking from. Leaving Burguete we passed through a farm where the bulls walked up to the fence and drank the waterfall from the roof’s rain gutters. I tried to get very close, but they frighten easily.

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Route Napoleon – How I learned what heavy feels like.

Written two nights ago:

I’m in Roncevalles tonight. Coming up to the door of the albergue was like reaching the promised land after 40 years in the desert.

It’s been busy ever since I landed in Madrid, but I’ll focus on today for now while it’s fresh.

I woke before the sun this morning in my albergue in Saint Jean Pied de Port, Gite Ultreia. I dressed and packed in the dark so as not to wake the three Australians I shared my room with. Breakfast was quick — bread and butter and, and milk because I don’t care much for coffee. Up Rue de la Citadelle to the supply store where I purchased a hiking pole and waited a bit to meet the two Italians, Lidia and Francesco, who I planned to walk with. But I was a few minutes late and they’d left already.

Erica, the girl from New York who I met in Bayonne waiting for the bus to Saint Jean, saw me and we decided to walk together. She’s been traveling for a very long time, having come most recently from a long stay in India. She’s an experienced hiker who has walked to Everest Base Camp. We set out on what was meant to be a rainy morning, leaving Saint Jean Pied de Port and roaming out into a cascade of pastoral hills and farms on the Route Napoleon, the more challenging way to Rocesvalles and, some say, the most challenging stage (etapa) of the entire Camino. Around us: cows with bells, lambs, rams, and a dog at Hunto who craved affection but approached everyone with his head down and tail low. For a moment there I thought he’d be walking on with me to Roncesvalles.

After Hunto it became clear that my pack is awfully heavy. On flat terrain I fare fine, but uphill was a terrible battle and I’ve never moved slower in my life. But my photography and this blog and project are important to me, so I don’t regret the weight even though it was pretty brutal. Erica walked a good deal faster than me so for a time I walked alone, though I stumbled frequently upon others I’d met on the trains to Saint Jean.

Among the beautiful hills and steep climbs I found Orisson, an albergue and restaurant some choose to stop at for the night or just for lunch. There I was reunited with Lidia and Francesco who had found a group to walk with. I skipped lunch and filled my bottle with water from the fountain, and followed them (they’d walked ahead a ways already).

Francesco and his group moved quickly, but at the first pile of rocks with the yellow arrow of the Camino at their top, I met with Lidia and another girl from Italy, Chiara. We walked together the rest of the way. The rain held off but the wind didn’t, and the road seemed to go up infinitely. But around us the hills and valleys were lush and green below the low and heavy clouds. Eventually we ascended  into a thick mist along the border of France and Spain, which slowly turned into a light rain as we pressed on.

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The path continued to climb and climb until very suddenly it dropped down via an ancient Roman road, slippery and muddy from the rains and snow. The forest grew thick around us in the mist. The way down was in many ways as challenging as the way up, stressing already tired muscles with the act of balancing. I was glad to have my walking staff.

At last, when the three of us were at the end of our rope, the trees parted and we could see the medieval walls of Roncesvalles. We quickly entered and registered. I showered, and then we made a reservation for a pilgrim’s dinner at the only restaurant in town. We attended the mass at 6 in dimly lit stone cathedral with pointed gothic arches, and received the pilgrims’ blessing in many languages from the priest. Then dinner, planning, and now I’m writing in my cozy top bunk.

Lidia and Francesco are from Sicily, walking two weeks to Burgos before they go home. They speak more English than most Italians I’ve met, and otherwise we communicate in Spanish or my awful Spanish-Italian hybrid language that I make up on the fly. I’ve spent much more time with Lidia and Chiara than Francesco — he walked on with another group. Lidia works in ambulance administration for Sicily and her worried mother texts her constantly.

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Chiara is from Verona and practices law. A friend of hers did some of the Camino in winter and described the experience to her, and so she decided she would also go. She actually didn’t plan to hike the Route Napoleon, but the bus she thought would take her to Roncesvalles from Pamplona actually took her to Saint Jean Pied de Port. She is traveling to Burgos too.

Editing photos on this tablet really is a challenge, especially when I’m half asleep. It may not be until I get home that I can do the portraits any justice.

More to come.

-Daniel

One Last Night in New York

This will be my last night in New York City. Tomorrow night I fly to Madrid, arriving there at around 11am. I feel strangely calm about it. Maybe when I’m boarding the flight I’ll start feeling those “it’s really happening” jitters.

Yesterday morning I had a tooth filled. Of all the things I’d prepared for, a cracked filling wasn’t among them. So let me be the first Camino blogger to add “new dental filling” to my Camino preparation list. Fortunately it’s very lightweight.

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Lauren

I met my friend Lauren for dinner at a gastropub on Lafayette and Prince called Soho Park. She and I took classes together at the University of Central Florida, and now she is a production supervisor here in the city. The last time she visited Los Angeles I was visiting New York (d’oh), though the trips were offset enough that we were able to get lunch.

The weather out of Saint Jean continues to look bleak. But to quote Paulo Coelho, “If you only walk on sunny days you’ll never reach your destination.” I suspect he was being a bit more figurative, but it works.

My plan for the rest of my time in New York? To relax. Soon every day will be a day on the road.

-Daniel

New York City

My plane touched down at New York’s JFK airport on Thursday evening. In the terminal I stopped to strap my sleeping bag to the top of my pack for better weight distribution before moving on to the carousel to grab my suitcase full of pre-trip clothing, which I’ll leave here when I fly to Madrid.

I waited at the subway platform. Nearby a large family of very orthodox Jews stood. Father and sons had shaved heads except for the curls hanging from their temples. The family was entirely dressed in black. One of the daughters dutifully carried her father’s hat box; the hat on his head was like a giant fur halo in black. They spoke only Hebrew.

Another couple standing nearby spoke Italian, and another Portuguese. One girl I talked to briefly spoke hesitant English in a French accent. The diversity was a welcome reminder of where I was, and a precursor to where I will be soon.

I boarded the Manhattan-bound A Train. Continue reading

What’s in the bag?

Short answer: probably too much. Camino veterans recommend a light pack, somewhere around 10% of your body weight. Since I’m choosing to carry my camera and a few lenses, along with this tablet for blogging and photo backup, my pack is up to around 22 or 23 pounds, which is closer to 15% of my weight. So if you’re a future pilgrim scouring the internet to see what others are carrying, you’ll want to bear that in mind as you read the list.

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Home

For me, although the road to Santiago begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, my camino begins here in the house where I grew up. I landed in Fort Lauderdale airport, momentarily surprised by the warmth and humidity of the South Florida night as I stepped off of the plane and onto the jetway. My parents were waiting for me at the terminal’s exit. The full moon was bright in the sky as we drove home.

My parents have been supportive of my plan to walk, as they’ve been supportive of me all my life. That’s not to say that they completely understand why I want to go (how would they if I don’t?) — my mom wonders aloud how they managed to raise a son who thinks walking 500 miles qualifies as a good time! My aunt takes credit (or blame?) because she once ran away from her home in New York on a Greyhound bus to Florida.

It was late when I arrived, but for me it felt three hours earlier. So after they went to sleep I stayed up to watch the full lunar eclipse. In Earth’s shadow the moon swirled red and black in the sky next to a teensy tiny supermassive blue giant star, while Mars glowed brightly off to the right. What a tease, no?

The next day included more preparation. The undersheet, sleeping bag, pillowcase, and frame pack needed a coat of permethrin to guard against bedbugs. I sprayed the sleeping bag’s compression sack with water sealant, because I’ve gone to sleep in a rain-soaked sleeping bag before and left it a scathing Yelp review. Continue reading