Thursday, September 10, 2015


I feel like I cheated by taking the bus the first leg of the walk but I was not alone. Along with my Achilles tendinitis, there were walkers with hip, knee, shoulder and leg problems. We're all determined to go on, though. We just couldn't face the initial 15 miles with 4,500 feet elevation gain.  One person on the bus was an Italian cyclist who thought he could rent a bike in St Jean but there were none to be had. A lucky escape, I say. He has to go all the way to Pamplona to get a bike.

It took about 45 minutes by bus to get to Roncesvalles, which consists mainly of an old Medieval hospital made into a 400 bed hostel, a couple of hotels, and restaurants. It sounds like a lot, but they were full and turning people away by late afternoon. So the people who were late getting over the Pyrenees had to struggle on to the next hostel up the road. 

I had time to take a tour of the Church of St Mary (1219) and the crypt where thousands of Charlemagne's rear guard are supposedly buried in a mass grave.
In the winter the snow can get to the upper windows. Some of the pathways are beautiful old stone mosaic.

We were all served a Pilgrim's meal for 8 Euros. They are a custom along the way and are supposed to sustain us through the next day of walking. This one consisted of salad, fish in white sauce and fries, wine, bread, and ice cream. My three tablemates were a German family that spoke no English or Spanish, but we managed to communicate in the universal language of hands and grunts. The daughter is vegetarian and ended up with a plate of French fries for dinner. We are supposed to pass a market in the next town, so hopefully she can get some healthy snacks.

After dinner we attended a pilgrim's mass in the church and we're all blessed. There were five older priests. One of them looked like he was a hundred years old. This must be a retirement posting for Catholic priests.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


The bus ride from Pamplona over the Pyrenees mountains to the French town of St Jean Pied de Port was through beautiful green rolling hills, dotted with sheep and cows. I shared the bus with many other Pilgrims of many nationalities. I'm sure it crossed all of our minds that we would be walking a similar path back to Pamplona, including steep ascents and descents and hairpin turns.

St Jean Pied de Port is a lovely Medieval town with a fortress and old stone buildings lining cobblestone streets. I met June from Korea as she was trying to manage a 50 pound backpack, a roller bag, and a large shoulder bag. One of the jokes of the Camino I have heard is that if you need something, ask a Korean--they carry everything! Poor June was a good example. I walked with her up to the Pilgrim's Office, which was closed for Siesta, so we opted to go to a French restaurant for lunch so we could set our luggage down. 

The meal was wonderful--roasted chicken, baked potato, vegetable salad, and an apple tart for 12 Euros.

Over lunch, June shared with me that she had worked three jobs to save for this big trip. It was bigger than I had imagined. She had flown to Vladivostok and spent a month crossing Russia to St Petersburg before flying to Madrid and right away getting on a night train to Pamplona and then the bus to St Jean. Needless to say she was exhausted. Her last shower had been in Moscow.  I asked what she thought of the steep downhill on the bus and she had slept through it.  

June's further plans after walking the 500 mile Camino are to go visit her parents, who are missionaries in Tanzania, tour around Africa, then go see "the big waterfall" in South America. Quite an ambitious itinerary. I did talk her into shipping her roller bag to Santiago and sending her backpack ahead to her first overnight stop after the steep ascent the next day. When I saw her the next morning, she had arranged all this through her hostel, but somebody stole the envelope with 70 Euros she was told to leave on top of her luggage for the transport company.

We returned to the Pilgrim's Office after lunch.  After the volunteer carefully explained to me the two options of hiking routes over the mountains, I knew for sure I would be taking the bus this first leg. My poor foot can't handle the 3000 foot elevation gain. 

I stayed at Gite Izaxulo and shared a room with a Canadian and a British guy. All of us were too tired to do much more than exchange Names.


I arrived successfully by train, despite a threatened railway strike. I had planned on walking to town but I'm glad I broke down and took a taxi. The seven Euros was worth not having to deal with busy traffic and a convoluted route. The driver couldn't take me all the way since some streets were blocked off for a fiesta. There were stands all over selling arts and crafts, homemade food, and religious articles. 

I'm staying at the Hotel Maisonnave, smack in the middle of Old Town and one of the cheapest things I could find on the Internet. Of course, when you get here there are lots of things cheaper that save money by not advertising. But it's a good feeling to know you have a bed somewhere with your name on it.  

I checked in then went looking for the bus station to get my ticket for tomorrow. It is another part of town. I asked directions of a pleasant looking older man. He said he was on his way to the station and would walk with me. Mikel is a Pamplona native and only speaks Spanish and Basque. He is also deaf in one ear but we were able to communicate alright. He is also divorced and has one son, aged 36, just like me.

We got to the bus station, which was underground and doesn't look like a bus station, so I was glad he was with me. He bought his ticket to go visit an artist friend but the woman said there were no buses to St Jean the next day since it was Sunday. It didn't show on the wall schedule either. My new friend saw a bus ready to leave for St Jean and asked the driver. He was busy taking tickets but after a few minutes he took me into the terminal and showed me how to buy a ticket at a machine for his specific company. So I now had a ticket for the next day.

My new friend had a couple of hours before his bus departed so he gave me a walking tour of Pamplona. I saw the old citadel, the bull pens and the route the Bulls take when they are let loose to go through the old city each July for "the running of the Bulls." I also saw my first Camino marker in Taconera Park, a silver shell embedded in the pavement. He showed me his favorite restaurant but lunch was already done. He had to go catch his bus but showed me an easy way to get to the station the next day before he kissed me on both cheeks and took off.

I found a place in old Town that agreed to feed me a meal of chef's salad, grilled salmon, potato, bread, wine and tiramisu for dessert. I went back to my room happy, ready to tackle packing for the next day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I had a panic attack my last night in Madrid. How am I going to fit all this stuff in this small backpack and how am I going to carry it all to Santiago?

I had already left a lot in Asheville, but I decided to purge some more. I tossed aside my cute clamshell leggings, a t-shirt, and my hat. Multiples of bandages and medicines were put aside. I threw away all excess receipts and paper, including my journal (still virgin). The only things I would not compromise on were my rain she'll and my fleece, since getting caught on a trail miles from anywhere in rain or cold is more misery than I can contemplate. Everything excess went into the red duffel, which started to look like it was holding enough for an entire trip. Shower sandals, tape, extra food, energy drink powder. I was ruthless. I ended up with a much lighter pack and was able to abandon my idea of having things dangling outside, since everything now fit inside. The only problem was that I would now have to be storing the roller bag I had intended to trash in Pamplona. Did I subconsciously overpack on purpose so that I wouldn't have to lose my old friend?

The Camino is supposed to be about getting rid of excess baggage--physical, mental, and spiritual. I feel like a failure already.

Palacio Real