Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Abbey at Trinidad de Arre

I was so happy I had chosen this particular refugio - it was so beautiful, and staying in the old Basilica de Arre convent righ beside the river Ulzama was really special. To get to the dormatory you had to go through the Abbey past the altar with statues of the Trinity, cross the courtyard with old fruit trees and cosy seating area - very picturesque.
As I was unpacking Margo, the American girl joined me in the women´s dormatory - I was happy to see her, and she thanked me for my advice - it was just the little nudge she needed, to make her decision to take care of herself and her body. We ended up being the only ones in the small dormatory, but the big one filled up, among others I was happy to see my German friend Dieter, from the night on the floor. He had also decided to take it easy, and not push through to Pamplona, so the 3 of us ended up having dinner together later that evening.
As I was checking out the town of Arre I met another of the pilgrims I had met earlier, back at the auberge at Orisson, Noel from Quebec, and we sat and chatted over a glass of wine in the late afternoon sun, watching the town slowly come alive, and then we walked over to the restaurant that served the pilgrim´s dinner. He joined some of his French-speaking friends, while I sat with Margo and Dieter, and we had a lovely evening talking about the Camino and life in general.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zubiri to Trinidad del Arre

The next day I awoke to the hustling and bustling of many,many pilgrims packing up in the large gym building where we had been spending the night, many of us on the floor. I was a bit stiff, but able to get up, packed and with the backpack on, water bottles filled, moved with the others along the camino,looking for a bar that was open, so we could get a much-needed cup af warm coffee. The weather was nice, blue sky and sun, and even though my knees were giving me some trouble, I moved along first through the next village, LarrasoaƱa, where the streets were deserted, and you could see the left-over trash from the weekend fiesta still lying in the streets. Then through a long stretch of lovely country side, until I finally reached the village of Trinidad de Arre. As I crossed the bridge I saw an American girl sitting resting - I had seen her before, and we chatted a bit.
She was tired and a bit at odds with what she wanted to do. Stop here and rest as her body demanded, or push on to Pamplona to keep up with the friends she had made the first few days on the Camino. I told her it was important to head the signs the body gives us, and that she would no doubt make new friends along the camino. Then I crossed the bridge and was happy to have reached the lovely old Abbey where the priest greeted me warmly. Soon I was signed in, had gotten my stamp in my pilgrim´s Pass, and I was shown to a nice, small dormatory separated from the big dormatory, it was just for women, and I was the first one who had arrived, as the Abbey had just opened it´s doors for the day´s pilgrims. Obviously that meant I got a bottom bunk and could take my shower and do my laundry in peace and quiet - what a gift!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Roncesvalles to Zubiri

As the time neared 4 PM we started to line up outside the refugio building in Roncesvalles to get our bunks - and I talked with the 2 Germans - Wolfgang and Norbert - I had chatted with in Orisson the previous night. They introduced me to Peter - whom I had seen, but not spoken to the night before, and surprised him by talking Danish to him - he had not realized that I am actually Danish, so it was fun to see his surprise!
- We were among the first ones to get our beds in the huge dormitory, so I got a bottom bunk by the wall, far from the showers and toilets, but by the wall at the "dead end", so I figured it would be as quiet as one can expect with well over 100 people sleeping in one room!
After shower, laundry and nap, it was time to go for the pilgrim´s dinner and I ended up at the "French" table, but at least one of the ladies spoke some English, so we managed, and had a nice evening with good food and wine, and then I was VERY ready for bed, and slept amazingly well.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of people getting ready to hit the camino, and I got myself up and organized, and went out into the early morning light, heading west along with all the other pilgrims as the sky turned from pink to lavender and then blue!
I could feel the long walk up and down the mountains yesterday, my knees and leg muscles were sore, but after about 1/2 hour they warmed up, and it went quite well. The weather was beautiful, and it didn´t really heat up until later in the day, so the first 10 km through several small villages went fairly easy.
Around noon-time I reached the third of the villages that were close together, and contemplated staying there for the night to rest my body, but decided against it as it was still quite early, and the village not particularly inviting. So I pushed on, even though it was a +10 km commitment, as that was the distance to the next village. Little did I realize that it involved another steep decent on difficult, rocky trails! My knees were protesting, as was my entire body, and I had to take several breaks to recuperate, and I saw that I was not the only one having problems. I passed and was passed by a younger man several times, as we exchanged comments like "My knees are killing me!" "Yeah, mine too!"
As I finally reached the town of Zubiri the albergue I had hoped to stay at was full, so I dragged myself over to the refugio they directed me to, the guy I had been exchanging laments with was on the same path, and as we arrived at the next auberge we were met by chaos, and the sad tale that only floor space was available sans madrases! Well, we had no choice, since neither of us had another +17 km in us, so concrete floor in the gym of the village is was! The reason for the problem was that the next village was closed due to a fiesta, so twice as many pilgrims as usual were staying in Zubiri! As he and I walked into the big gymnasium filled with pilgrims on mattresses and on the floor I saw my two German friends and the Danish guy - they had been there early enough to at least get a matress. I was so exhausted, I just sat down and got my sleeping bag out, and got my self situated as best I could. My floor neighbor, whom I found out was German and named Dieter, got up and came back with 2 cardboard boxes - one of them for me!! How thoughtful was that! I cannot tell you how grateful I was! The three musketeers were discussing the outlook for dinner with all the people in town, and set out to find a place and make reservations - and they included me in their plans - I was so grateful once again, because I was just so tired, to the point of nausea, and there was no way I had the energy to go find a place for dinner!
I laid down on the cardboard and rested for a while, listening to the place filling up and voices and conversations in many languages. Among them Danish! A nice young Danish woman had landed a spot on the floor also, and next to her was an older Danish woman on a mattress - we had a nice chat, and later I shared the sink with the young woman to wash my clothes. - In spite of the circumstances, or maybe because of them, I had a really nice experience, and lots of fun at dinner with my 3 musketeers! They walked at a much faster pace than I, so we knew we would probably not meet up again, but we exchanged email addresses, and had a last goodnight drink, before we bid each other farewell and Buen Camino!
As I walked back to the refugio in the gym I walked into the internet room there, and met Jane, the English woman who lived in Denmark, and I remembered she had mentioned that she had not been able to figure out how to sent an email home, to let her son know she was doing fine. I asked her if she still needed to send an email, and she did, so I showed her how to do it, and she was so happy. It made me feel good to have helped someone, as I had received so much kindness today! I went to bed on my cardboard and slept amazingly well, considering the circumstances!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Getting Over The Pyrenees - Part II

Early the next morning, well before daybreak I awoke to the sound of pilgrims waking up and packing their few belongings in their backpacks - soon I followed suit, and after a quick look out the window I decided to pack down my rain jacket, as the pre-dawn sky spotted a few stars and it looked to be a clear day without rain.
After a typical French breakfast of cafe au lait, bread and jam, I put on my backpack, and started the trek up the mountains in the beautiful morning light. Clouds were lying deep in the valleys as the sun slowly climbed up over the distant mountain ridges. It was such a glorious morning, and I had to stop often, not only to catch my breath from the steep climbs, but to admire the beautiful landscape unfolding on all sides. It was a lovely, cool, windy day, perfect for the long hike over the ridge of the Pyrenees, which I had feared would be more than I could handle. It was exhausting, don´t get me wrong, but not as bad as I had feared, and the cool breeze helped a lot! I walked past herds of sheep, pastures with cattle and horses, and it was so green and lush, and the views went on for miles - just breathtaking! As soon as I have the chance I will add photos, so you can see for yourself!
Along the way I ate the hearty bocadillo I had picked up in the morning from the auberge and it tasted delicious - dried jamon (ham) and french cheese on a big, freshly-baked baguette - which would prove to be the standard lunch for most of the Camino.
After about 3 hours I reached the summit, and then the path went steeply down - very steeply, and quite rocky was the path, so I took it really slow, I could feel it was a heavy load for my knees, and I certainly did not want to slip and injure myself!
It went through lovely beech woods, and at one point I passed a bunch of people, some dressed up in old costumes from the days of the temple knights, and as I passed an ox team pulling a wagon with wooden wheels I realized I had walked right on to a movie set. I found out that they were filming a documentary about the Song Of Roland, which took place in these very mountains and woods right above Roncesvalles. I passed a pack of 4 wolves, and that´s were I got my information - a girl was watching the wolves, and she spoke English well, so I could get the story.
Soon I was out of the woods, and there in front of me was the monestary and church buildings of Roncesvalles - I had made it over the Pyrenees in one piece, and it was only about 1:45 PM - much quicker than I had tought! I even had a chance to get my bunk assignment in the big old monestary building that would house well over 100 tired pilgrims who had made the very same journey I had! Happy to have a bed secured I walked over to one of the outside cafes and had a drink with my fellow pelegrinos to celebrate!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Over The Pyrenees - Part 1

St. Jean Pied de Port was as lovely as I remembered - and now I was part of the Pilgrims! It gave the scenery a whole new meaning when Narcisse and Marie Helene dropped me off in the late morning and walked me up to the pilgrim´s office. Soon I was seated and got my briefing by a former American pilgrim who was spending her birthday volunteering at the office.
After I got my pilgrim´s passport and my first stamp I ventured on to find the location of my auberge, which I (well, Janicke in her perfect french)had reserved in advance. It was right on the camino route, but not open until 2 pm, so I wandered around St. Jean and took in the sights, found postcards, stamps and sat at a cafe to write them. I tried to find an internet cafe, but didn´t succeed.
At 2 PM I walked back to the auberge, and was met by the very friendly hostess, a former pilgrim, and she showed me up to the dorm on the 3rd floor of the very old building, full of atmosphere! I dropped off my backpack, and went downstairs to use the internet there - it was slow, but at least I could check my mails and start my blog.
It was a lovely, but cool afternoon, and I did my laundry at the laundry area, then hung them outside in the backyard under some old fruit trees. Because of the cool weather I moved them in at night, and was happy to find them dry the next morning. It was overcast, cool and soon a light rain fell, as I started on the path out of the village and up the mountain. I was happy to know that I had a bed secured some 8 km up the mountain at the auberge Orisson. It took me about 2 1/2 hours to reach the auberge, and I was pleased to see other pilgrims there, and especially to find the bunk rooms nice and clean, and split into female and male - it makes the dressing so much easier! I changed into dry clothes and washed my dirty clothes in the sink, and then tried the dryer - it did not work, so I hung them on the line outside, under the eve - not very hopeful that they would dry in the rainy weather!
Then I went down to the restaurant and had a warm soup, a glass of red wine, and settled in to a cozy afternoon writing, sketching and painting, as I watched other pilgrims coming and going, and felt very content to be part of this amazing experience of the Camino!
After a nap it was time for dinner, and we all soon were seated along the long tables and benches, chatting in many different languages. After a hearty dinner of soup, lamb, basque bean stew and a wonderful basque cake, lots of red wine and water, we were asked to introduce ourselves in whatever language we spoke, and under much laughter and cameraderie we got to know a bit about each other! In the coming days I found that we had formed a certain bond by sharing this evening, and we looked out for each other whenever we met again along the route.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Getting to France

The last few days before my departure for the Camino adventure were hectic - trying to tie up all loose ends, squeezing in a few more hikes with fully loaded backpack, and trying to remember everything I might need. Well, somehow I think I remembered all the important parts, and early monday morning Janicke took me to the Reno airport, and my travels begun! Reno, via Denver, Toronto, then on to Madrid. Everything was on time, even though I almost missed my plane out of Denver - due to me being engrossed in reading! In Madrid airport I had to repack my suitcase, and pack my backpack with all the stuff I needed for the next 2 months hiking the Camino, so I tried to remember everything, before I stored my suitcase in a big locker. Then I took a taxi to my hotel in Madrid, right by the train station, where my train for Irun would leave at 8 AM the next morning. After checking in, I took a much-needed nap, before I walked across the street to familiarize myself with the train station, and find the gate from which my train would leave, and then my next task was to get a SIM card for my cell phone. That accomplished, I bought a baguette with cheese and ham, and a small bottle of redwine, and called it early dinner! I went to bed early, so I would be ready to get up early to catch my train.
The train ride went smooth, the train was on time, and very new and clean, it had a cafeteria, so I could get my cafe latte and a baguette, and by 2 PM I was in Irun, on the French-Spanish border, and Erik´s uncle was there to pick me up!
I enjoyed meeting his wife and her kids, and we had a lovely evening with the whole family and a few friends, converstion flying across the table in French, Spanish and English!