08 December 2015

Camino de Santiago--St Jean to Burgos

2 OCT 2015

So we got off the bus in St Jean and walked about ten minutes to the pilgrim office in St Jean, where I had to get my pilgrim credential, or passport.  Basically this is just a piece of paper that they give you, and you have it stamped everywhere you stay, although you can also have it stamped in every church, museum, and cafe along the way if you want.  At the end of the pilgrimage you have a souvenir of your trip, and you can present it in Santiago to get the Compostela, or the official certificate for completing the pilgrimage.  Also, you can't stay at many pilgrim hostels along the way without your credential, I guess to keep out the backpacker riffraff.

The pilgrim office in St Jean is a pretty low key affair, a couple people behind a long desk handing out credentials.  I got the credential and was out the door before 10:00, and then wanted to buy a couple of things before starting the hike, including a walking stick, some bread, cheese, chorizo, and water.  That was all pretty easily accomplished, and by about 10:00 I was on my way out of town.  Here is a picture of the town, on the way out:
It had rained while we were on the bus into St Jean, and while it had stopped by the time I left town, the ground was very damp, and the weather was cloudy.  The road started climbing steeply as soon as I got out of town.  One of the first things I noticed was the huge quantity of giant slugs on and along the road...six or eight inches long and an inch or two wide...black ones and orange ones.  Never saw so many huge slugs in my life, but I'd see a lot more in the next week or so.  I probably saw a thousand on the first day, they were all over the road.  Here's a picture of one I took a few days later:
Anyway, the first eight kilometers--to a little lodge named Orisson--are pretty tough, very steep, but the views are nice.  Here are a few pix:

When I got to Orisson a little after noon, it was very foggy and cloudy, and I was pretty tired already, and it was another 16 kilometers to the first day's destination--Ronceville (sp?), so I was thinking about spending the night there.  I decided to have some lunch and decide whether to press on.  While I was having lunch, I looked around and overheard that most of the people having lunch were going to spend the night...hmmm.  And then it started raining...and then I knew that I couldn't stop after going only 8 km--what kind of pilgrim would do that?!  So I finished my first glass of wine and sandwich of the trip and started walking uphill in the rain.

It rained for awhile, but sometimes the sun came out, and at one point I saw a rainbow below me in the mountains--a first for me--with another fainter rainbow above it.  It was pretty cool:
The views didn't get worse as I kept climbing:

While I was taking a break at one point up near the top, a small herd of sheep came running up towards me:
I kept going up and up and up...somewhere around here I came across Zack, some German-American (?) kid with a rasta doo who I would see a lot of for the first couple of weeks...
Finally I got to the top, and saw the path leading down:
Another shot, a bit further down the mountain:
This part of the hike was really steep downhill, which sounds great but in fact was exhausting after the long climb up.  As I was coming down the hill, I came across probably the only guy moving slower than I was--Danny, a roughly 60 year-old guy from Tennessee or Alabama or somewhere.  He'd fallen, broken his walking stick, and was generally in a pretty bad mental and physical state.  I walked down with him for awhile, sharing with him my optimistic (but it turns out incorrect) readings from my GPS that we were only 500 meters from the end, etc.  Anyway, I helped him get down the hill, and probably about 19:00 we finally came to the monastery where we would spend the night:
As soon as we got to the monastery, I noticed that there were lots of people about, and I wondered where they'd all come from, because I had hardly seen any on the trail.  Later I realized that I only saw a few people because of my late start--about 10:00.

The first person I met at the monastery was an Irish girl sitting out on the terrace--this was Tish, who I'd see quite a bit more of during the trip.  A bit later, I also met Satia, an English/Indian girl who'd I'd see almost every day (pics of both later!).

There were so many people!  Because I got there so late, I got one of the worst bunks in the place--a top bunk in a basement room...the bunkbed didn't have any kind of ladder to get up on it, so it was not very easy to drag my exhausted body up onto the top bunk...  After stowing my stuff, I took a quick shower and then got my first dinner of the pilgrimage, which was pretty awful, but I was hungry enough that I didn't care too much.

While I was messing around with my backpack, I bent down and the seat of my pants completely ripped out.  Since I only had two pair of pants, the fact that one pair had been ruined on the first day was not great news.  Luckily, the monastery had a "spare stuff" table where people left stuff that they realized that they didn't need after the first day, and I found a pair of pants in my size that someone had left--the only problem was that they were made out of some kind of rubber! Anyway, beggars can't be choosers, so I took them.

3 OCT 2015
I got up early the next morning, hardly having slept at all.  The bunkbed was awful--I wouldn't sleep on a top bunk again the whole trip--as was the snoring.  I'd brought earplugs (a highly-recommended item on the packing list) but had forgotten to put them in, and then didn't want to get out of the top bunk to get them.  Again, that would be the last night without earplugs!

I was incredibly sore from the previous day, and I had another problem--I had almost no cash, since I'd forgotten to get some in St Jean, and there was no ATM in Ronceville.  At the monastery, some of the workers told me there was as ATM machine in a town a few kilometers down the road, so I figured I'd get money there.  I said goodbye to Danny, who I never saw again, and headed out.

No ATM appeared, so I hoped I'd find one that night, or I'd be pretty hungry...  Anyway, here is the trail in the morning:
It was another foggy day, and the fields were shrouded in mist:

[Several pages of text covering the next few days was lost after this point, despite being saved to the server after every paragraph...very frustrating....at this point the account is being abbreviated.]
So where was I?  This was a weekend, and there was some kind of walk or run for locals, so the path was packed with people (with no packs).  I was hurting, so would sit down every few kilometers for a few minutes for a breather.  Finally I arrived at Zubiri, the day's stop, after a long day.  I found an ATM and then checked into the local pilgrim hostel, which was not as grand as the one from the previous night; just a non-descript, run-down building with two big rooms.  After checking in, I did some laundry and walked around town.

There was some kind of local festival going on in Zubiri.  Here are pix of an ox and a guy shearing a sheep:

They had a bunch of handicrafts and food for sale, but I wasn't likely to carry anything, so didn't really buy anything other than some kind of burrito thing and some candied nuts which I figured I would have for breaksfast.  I had a pizza and a couple of beers for dinner, yum!

I hadn't really met many people yet, but I saw a few I recognized at the hostel, including Satia and Ross, who I wouldn't meet until the next day.

4 OCT 2015
I was really sore from the last two days walking and decided to take a rest day in Pamplona, today's destination.  In addition to needing a rest, I had some stuff to do in Pamplona, the first city along the camino.  Once again, the weather was not great, cloudy, but at least not raining when I left Zubiri.

On the way out of town I stopped at a cafe for breakfast, where I bumped into several other pilgrims, including Deb, who introduced me to Val, Caitlin, and Ross.  Val had walked all the way from St Jean to Zubiri in one day, which was a pretty amazing feat. I never saw her again, within minutes of leaving the cafe she was far ahead of me.  Caitlin I wouldn't see again until the very end of the trip, she was a day or two ahead of me.  Deb I would see a few hours later at a cafe, and then never saw her again...I heard she got sick and fell behind or dropped out.  But Ross I ended up seeing almost every day, and spent a lot of time with.  Such is the camino...

After breakfast we set out, here is  a cool picture:
The weather was cloudy/rain again, but it was really nice fall weather, kind of windy, with the leaves falling from the trees and blowing around a bit.  Here are some more pix:

Just before Pamplona, we came to another town with a festival going on...this one had some wooden barricades set up for some bull-running, but I couldn't tell if it had already happened or would happen the next day.  Later I talked to Pete from Portland, and he had run with the bulls in the town, I think a day or two after I passed through.  Here is the festival:
Anyway, a few kilometers further on we crossed into Pamplona across this cool medieval bridge:

Pamplona was a cool city.  Since I decided to take a rest day tomorrow, I decided to get a hotel room instead of staying in the hostel.  I found a cheap hotel, arranged to have some laundry done, and walked around town a bit.

I bumped into a lot of the other pilgrims in Pamplona, including Caitlin and Ross.  Later on I bumped into some Brits/Irish who were going to watch some rugby, so I tagged along, where I met Irish Donall and English Dreadlock John.

5 OCT 2015
It was very good to have a rest day today, and not having to wear the backpack; I just walked about the city and took care of some errands, like getting a Spanish SIM card for my phone.  No major news to report...

6 OCT 2015
I was still pretty sore even after a rest day, but it was time to continue the march.  Now that I had a SIM in my cell phone, I'd be able to track my hikes better with an app that I had on my phone.  Today's destination would be Punta la Reina ("Bridge of the Queen"), which was about 25 kilometers from Pamplona.

I left Pamplona while it was still dark, and while I was walking through a park leaving town a couple of old ladies told me that I'd left the path and that I had to go off to the right.  I was kinda doubtful, since I had been following the signs, but followed their directions.  After about two minutes I check the app on my phone which showed my location and that of the Camino, and realized that the old ladies had sent me off in the wrong direction.  Whether they were senile or just getting their kicks by fooling stupid pilgrims, I decided to take locals' advice with a grain of salt in the future and headed back to the right path.

Anyway, it was a very nice walk today, and not too bad.  Here are some pix:

Just after taking the pictures above might have been the most treacherous part of the whole Camino, a fairly steep downhill part with large, loose stones.  It wasn't particularly fun.

Punta la Reina was a nice enough town; I found the municipal hostel and got a bunk before going out for dinner.  I still didn't really know anybody very well, at least none of the people I saw in Punta la Reina, so I went to a kind of expensive restaurant in town by myself and had what was probably the worst steak I've ever had--all gristle, and whatever meat there was was so tough that I could barely cut or chew it.  It was truly awful.  .

On the way back from dinner I bought some stuff for breakfast in the morning, and started my Camino tradition of chocolate donuts for breakfast.  There is some brand of fairly average tasting donuts which is cheap and available in almost every little shop in Spain, so I started buying those the night before so I could have them for breakfast in the morning before leaving the hostel.  Worked great, for the rest of the trip there were only a couple of days when I couldn't find my donuts...

At the end of the trip I will post some shots showing my daily distance, time, calories, and steps, so you have that to look forward to...

Here is a map of today's hike:

7 OCT 2015
The next day's hike was to Estella, about 23 km away from Punta le Reina.  Frankly I don't remember much about the walk, but the town was kind of interesting.  It was a fairly small town, but there were quite a few massive churches/castles and other big buildings, as well as a really steep bridge over a little river.  I checked into the municipal hostel, did some laundry, and walked around town a bit...

In Spain basically everything closes for siesta, which is generally from 14:00 till 17:00, so during that time there is not much to do other than laundry, reading, etc.  Also, the restaurants don't open for dinner until 19:00 or sometimes even 20:00.  So about 17:05 I went to a grocery store not far from the hostel and bought some donuts, wine, chorizo, cheese and bread (mainly for the hike tomorrow).  I had dinner at a little cafe across from the hostel and went back to the hostel for some wine and a cigar before going to bed.  Not very exciting...

Here is today's hike:

8 OCT 2015
Today's hike was to Los Arcos, which is 23 km from Estella.  Again, the hike itself was not especially memorable, but I remember walking into the town--the last few kilometers was through the very drab ugly town, and I was not looking forward to staying.  A few hundred meters before the hostel, however, the camino came to a big plaza in front of the cathedral, where there were a couple of restaurants with tables out on the plaza, full of pilgrims.

Here are some pix of the hike, and of the church in Los Arcos:

This was another pretty big hostel, with two buildings.  I was sent over to the second building.  This was the first time I remember the Koreans, or as I would soon come to call them, the "fucking Koreans".

But first, a word on nationalities on the Camino; I mentioned the people from all over, but the distribution by nationality was really surprising.  Other than the Spanish, probably the second most numerous nationality were Americans/Canadians (lumping us together...).  Next was probably the South Koreans--there were lots of them, most but not all of them in groups of 10 or more.  There were also a few Korean couples that we would get to know.  I got to know one couple pretty well--I usually saw them several times a day--but I never could remember their complicated Korean names...  Anyway, the Koreans were out in force in Los Arcos.

I went out to the plaza for some beers and an early dinner and had some crappy paella--I wasn't having much luck with the food in Spain so far.  After dinner I went into the church--it was absolutely freaky-terrifying--very dark, with sort of a black and gold interior.  It looked like something out of a (Catholic) horror movie.

I bumped into a big American group here for the first time, well a handful of people at least.  I had to sit and listen to a bunch of pilgrim talk about bullshit for awhile.  Had another cigar and some wine...

I was still pretty much by myself at this point, although I'd say hi and chat to a lot of people that I saw all the time.

Here is the hike from today:

9 OCT 2015
Today's destination was Logrono, I think about 25 km away.  For reasons explained below, I don't have a track for today.  Other than one problem I had, this was one of my favorite days.  The scenery was nice, the walk wasn't too long, the weather was nice, and we ended up in  a cool city!

Here are a few pix:

The only problem was that I broke my cell phone; I had it in my back pocket and sat on it during one of my breaks.  Not only did the screen break, but it lost all touchscreen capability, so I couldn't use it at all.  I was relying on my phone for most of my pictures and my music, as well as e-mail, etc., so I had to replace it...

When I got to the hostel in Logrono, I immediately bumped into Ross, who had not take a break in Pamplona, so I hadn't seen him for several days.  Satia wandered up about the same time, so I introduced them; Satia need to replace her backpack, so Satia, Ross, and I headed into town.  As we walked around, we bumped into a bunch of other pilgrims that we recognized and stopped to chat.

I didn't even take a shower and was very funky as I was walking around town; I went to a few places that couldn't fix my cell phone or didn't have the same model before I found somewhere to replace it (I wanted the same model because I liked it and so I could keep using the same case) for 500_ euro--ouch!

Satia and Ross had gone off to do their own stuff, so after buying the new phone I went for dinner and got more bad food and expensive wine, I was doing something wrong!  Throughout my stay in Spain, I could never get anyone to understand that I wanted a carafe, or half-bottle of wine--it was either a glass or a full bottle, so kind of a pain.

When I got back to the hostel, I sat down in the courtyard and soaked my feet in the pool there (put there for that purpose) and chatted with other pilgrims, including a couple more Americans, some Irish, and an arrogant German guy...

Logrono is the capital of the rioja region in Spain and generally is a very cool city, I would have liked to spend more time there, but after the recent rest-day in Pamplona, had to push on the next day.

10 OCT 2015
The next day was to Najera, about 29 km from Logrono, the longest day yet!  Frankly I don't remember much about this particular day, and didn't even take any pictures.  Generally thought this area has lots of vineyards, so the hike was mainly through rioja country.  There were a bunch of grapes on the vine, but I'd head that they were treated with insecticides so wasn't keen to eat them without washing them or carry them anywhere to wash.  So I had a couple, and that was it....

This was a long hot day, and I started talking with German Andrei towards the end of the day; just at the edge of Najera he'd stopped for something to drink, so I joined him for two cokes--it was too hot for just one!

Then I walked into Najera itself, which was not very nice.  The hostel itself was on the far side of the city, and turned out to the the worst hostel of the trip--one big room with 100  bunks in a crappy building.  Bunkbeds were literally pushed right up next to each other.  After walking around awhile I had another mediocre paella, had some wine, and went to bed.

11 OCT 2015
Unfortunately for some reason I could not sleep at all that night, hardly a wink.  So about 4:00 I decided to get up and leave, and I was out the door of the hostel by about 04:30.  I had a dark walk in front of me!

Today's walk would be short, about 21.5 km, to Santo Domingo.  After going a few kilometers, I realized I'd forgotten my shemagh (middle eastern scarf thing) at the hostel, but I was not about to go back.  I was hoping that either Satia or the Korean, who were sleeping near me, would see it and bring it with them, and I'd get it in Santo Domingo.

It was very dark, because it was cloudy and raining lightly, but it was a nice peaceful walk through the vineyards.  Nonetheless, I was a little chilly and had not had any coffee before I left, so I was really wishing it wasn't so early on a Sunday morning in Spain, so that I could find an open cafe for a coffee and a donut.

After a couple of hours, however, at about 06:30, I was walking through a pitch-dark town and came across an open cafe--certainly a minor miracle.  I had a couple of coffees and some kind of pastry, relaxed a bit, and moved on.

Here are some pix from the day, after it got light out:

 The church in Santo Domingo:
I reached Santo Domingo by about 11:00 and immediately stuck in a load of laundry and got some breakast, a delicious omelette with chorizo and cheese!  The best meal I'd had in Spain yet, and one of the best of the trip!

The  hostel in Santo Domingo was very nice, a very nice change from the dump in Najera.  Big, clean modern, with a big lounge-type room with couches.  And the town was OK.

I saw Tish as she was checking in, I hadn't seen her since the first night; today was her birthday and Irish Donnal had told everyone he was going to organize a party for Tish, but nothing every materialized.

Santo Domingo has a weird local legend which results in them keeping a live chicken in their church.  But they wanted five euro to go in the church to see the chicken, so I didn't bother.

I did finally find some normal hiking pants in Santo Domingo which I bascially wore every day for the rest of the trip, so that was nice.  The rubber pants I'd picked up in Ronceville I left behind in Santo Domingo; they were very uncomfortable and heavy, so good riddance!

Here is today's hike:

12 Oct 2015
Today would be another shortish day, to Belorado, about 22.5 km from Santo Domingo.  The weather was kind of dodgy, but generally it was a nice walk.  Here are some pics:

The weather was rather dodgy, but it only started drizzling as I walked into Belorado, although it started pouring rain shortly thereafter, and continued to rain all evening.  The hostels in town were pretty crap; the one in Belorado was really small and I think was the only hostel on the whole camino where I could not find a plug to use to recharge my phone.  Met Magnus, an English guy, at the hostel, apparently he'd been with our broad group the whole time but I'd never met him before.

I walked around the town in the rain in the evening, and finally found a restaurant with a decent pilgrim menu.  After dinner I went back and joined the others, who had eaten in the hostel, and had the only philosophical discussion of the whole trip, kind of interesting.

Here's the day's hike:

13 Oct 2015
Today was another long day, about 29 km to a town called Agis.  Again, generally a nice day, including the only stretch of the camino though a real forest. There were a few pretty big hills, which I was not keen on, but nothing too bad.  Here are some pix:

 Here is a view of the town of Agis, as I was walking in:
This is one of the few towns where I had a hard time finding the hostel, but finally I found it.  It was a little weird, but it turned out to be a nice evening; the hostel had a bar/restaurant attached to it where the locals hung out, so it was pretty cozy--I had a few beers and I think a pizza or something, and just read for a while.  It was nice and relaxing.

  Here is the day's hike:

14 OCT 2015
It had been about ten days since my last rest day, so I decided to take another one in Burgos, which was also a fairly large city along the Camino.  From Agis to Burgos was about 23.5 km.

The road to Burgos is supposedly very grim, through an industrial wasteland.  So Danish Tobin recommended another, longer route along the river into town.  Ross and I set off in the dark to find that route, but apparently we did not find it, as most of the day's walk was through not particularly attractive parts of Burgos.  No pictures, because there was nothing particularly interesting.  Ross walked on ahead of me as soon as we found the main path, and so I walked into Burgos by myself, and got a hotel again.  I wanted something cheap, so found a hotel room for 25 euro a few hundred meters from the cathedral, but the room was so small (literally barely room for the bed, a wardrobe, my backpack and me) and the bed so rickety I had to change rooms the next morning.

Here is the hike:

I walked around quite a bit that night, but hardly saw anyone I knew, and didn't like the city very much, it seem much more "spread out" than Pamplona or Logrono, so pilgrims didn't concentrate in the same areas as much as in those cities.  I bumped into Magnus and had dinner with him.  I didn't know then, but that would be the last I saw or heard of him...

15 OCT 2015
I had a couple of things I wanted to do during my rest day:  get a haircut, go to the archeology museum (there is a rich archeological site near Agis), and visit the cathedral.  So I did both of those things, although the museum was nothing particularly special.

Here are a bunch of pictures of the cathedral.  It turns out that El Cid, the Spanish hero against the Moors (who later joined the Moors) is buried there:

I didn't really see anyone I knew as I walked around Burgos, so it was kind of boring.  I was already ready to leave the next morning!

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