Saturday, October 31, 2009

LoGroño to Najera Via Navarette

I walked to the train station in the rain to wait for Dorte to arrive. I had my morning café con leche and wrote my notes, checked the map to find the easiest way from the train station back to the Camino, so we could get on the right track out of town.
I was happy to see my sister get off the train as we had planned, and shortly we were on our way - Dorte without her walking sticks, which the airline had lost - so we shared mine!
We found the Camino without problems - a few Spanish people pointed us in the right direction, when we were in doubt, and several wished us "Buen Camino" as we walked by in the light rain. The way out of LoGroño went through a park, but then there were lots of paved road ahead, so it was a bit hard on our feet. Nevertheless, we had a nice walk, meeting several lone female walkers, who seemed happy to have someone to chat with as we walked together for a bit.
First we talked with a German lady who had been living on the East Coast of the US for many years, and later on another lady approached us as we were walking in to Navarette, where we were planning on spending the night. She had caught the sound of our Danish as she was also from Denmark, and was happy to get a chance to talk to Danes. We walked together up to the albergue, and she told us that she was having serious trouble with her knee and felt she was loosing her spirit because of the constant pain. I gave her my lecture about taking it easy and listen to her body! She had walked really long distances, and the first day over the Pyrenees she had set out fairly late, and not reached Roncesvalles until it was dark!! I shudder to think of her walking down that dangerous, very steep and rocky path in the dark! After that she had been pushing ahead and walked 30 km or more a day! Mind you she was no spring chicken either, somewhere in her late 60-ties! - I hope she takes my advice so she can have an enjoyable walk, and make it to the finish! She told us she had no time schedule, so why push yourself past your limits! As I am meeting more and more people and have a couple of weeks under my belt now, I know one of the lessons of the Camino is to listen to your body, and be willing to adjust your plans accordingly!
At the albergue we got beds on the top floor - and because of the slanted ceilings they were not bunks, but regular beds! Score!
It must have been the Danish convention that night, we met 2 Danish couples there also, so a total of 7 Danes! As I went on, I experienced that either I saw no Danes for a while, and then all of a sudden 3 or 4! My friends from the previous days, Doro, Roland and Antonio were there also, so lots of familiar faces, and a lot of fun! I am glad to have Dorte here to share the experience with - the camaraderie on the Camino is really one of the biggest joys!

The next morning We started out with a cafe con leche at the Los Arcos bar next to the albergue in Navarette and then set out in the early dawn light around 7:45 am. to our pleasant surprise it was not raining, we could see the last stars and a sliver of the moon, and just some clouds in the distant horizon.
We walked past lots of vineyards and farmland, it was a pretty morning and the temperature was pleasant. At the next little town we had another cafe con leche and cheese bocadillo along with good company of many of the same people we had met the day before.
Then we walked on and made good time into Najera. We had a bit of trouble finding the albergue as there was a festival in town, and the signage was not really clear. However, we found it, and were welcomed with open arms - literally! - After getting our bunks assigned, Dorte's walking sticks arrived as promised earlier, when she had checked with the airline - much to our surprise! Truly a Camino miracle, we thought! Then we went out for lunch, before we did our chores of showering and laundry. I got a bit of emailing done while Dorte rested, then she went out to shop for fruit and water, while I rested. We went out for a light dinner of tapas, since we had had a big and late lunch, and then it was time to turn in!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To Logroño

The walk in to Logroño was fairly short - only 9 km, and as Pilar had told me, I passed by a bird sanctuary on the way. As I reached it, it really was not very impressive, just some wetlands about 1/4 km away, so not too easy to spot or identify any of the birdlife there, but at least there were a sanctuary!
A van was parked at the parking area - it turned out to be the English guy I had heard about, who drives around to various lone spots of the camino and offers free (donations only) coffee, tea, fruit, etc. A perfect stop, and a nice surprise! He had a friend along, an American woman who had volunteered at one of the Albergues in St. Jean Pied de Port, before she was going to walk the Camino. However, she had strained her knee so much, running up and down all the stairs, that she had had to put it off, and rest it, before setting out, so instead she drove around with the "Camino Angel", and served the pilgrims this way, until her knee had healed enough to walk! I thought that was such a great example of what you meet on the Camino!
As I got in to Logroño I found it a bit difficult to find the Albergue. It turned out I had walked right by it without realizing it. When I came to the cathedral in the center of town, I decided it was time to ask for direction, as I was obviously off track. A very kind old Spanish lady practically took me by the hand and led me in the right direction. I have talked with many of my fellow pilgrims since, and we all have many tales of kind Spaniards leading us back on the right track, when they see us wander off in the wrong direction! It is so reassuring to know they watch out for us!
As soon as I was on the right path, I ran in to other pilgrims I knew, and since the albergue didn´t open until aftet 2 pm, I sat down and had some coffee and a tortilla with Doro, whom I had run into also. I found a photo shop that could load some of my photos from my camera onto my memory stick, but I later found that I could still not get them on any of the public computers, so I have decided to give it up, and resign myself to waiting until I am done with the Camino, and have my own computer! It´s just the way it is!
I also found an art supply store, and got myself another little watercolor sketchbook, as the one I had brought along was nearly full. I felt quite accomplished, after also having found out how to get to the train station the next morning to meet my sister Dorte, who would be arriving there, to walk with me for about 10 days. All this before I had even check in to the albergue!
Since I was now in the famous wine district of Rioja, I decided to go buy a couple of bottles of good wine, and when I met Ronald and his Spanish friend Antonio, who also speaks German, we decided they should buy some bread, cheese and jamon, and we would have a party at the albergue, instead of eating out! It did not get any cheaper than eating the usual peregrino dinner, but it was fun sitting in the kitchen, chatting and having fun! Soon we were joined by an american guy from Denver, German Doro, and the two Finnish ladies, who were recuperation from the flu also joined us, so it was fun, and the wine and food were a nice break from the usual fare.

Evening In Viana

As the first one to check in I got a chance to choose my matress and which room - so I choose the smaller room with only 4 matresses, what luxury!! I ended up with a "girls only" dorm, with Doro, the German lady, who had said :"Wir sind ja nicht auf der Flucht" and two young Brazilean girls - perfect! After doing the usual chores, shower, wash my dirty clothes, it was time for a Siesta!
We were going to have a communal evening meal, and so I sat down in the dining area and chatted and painted, until it was time for helping out with dinner. As I was sitting there painting, several of the others asked if they could see my sketchbook, and a couple of the French ladies were so excited, they wanted to photograph my little sketches - of course I let them, and was quite flattered.
I was happy to be able to help out in the kitchen a bit, so the 2 Brazilean girls and I were in charge of the salad, and it was just such a good atmosphere, everyone kind and helpful, not least the lovely hosts, who were volunteers from the church.
At dinner the priest, I think, showed up, but we could all squeeze in, and the conversations flew across the table in Spanish, French, English, German, Portugeese and lots of body language! As always a lot of fun!
After dinner we all pitched in to clean up, and then we went past the laundry room, through a secret door and through a narrow passage, to see the church at night! It was really exciting to be up where the organ and choir usually sits, and look down at the dark church, only lit by the light coming in from the windows from the street lamps which were softly reflected in all the gold and jewels of the magnificant altar piece. We could faintly hear the Fiesta music, but felt like in another secret world.
Pilar and Roberto had brought a little CD Player, and played some beautiful meditation music, as we all sat there each in our own thoughts, reflecting on the day and the Camino. What a wonderful end to a great day!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Los Arcos to Viana

I started out around 7:30 am with the intent to making it to Viana - about 18 km, so a respectable distance after my short days. - I felt good, and it was another beautiful morning. - The first town Sansol had nothing open, so I walked on and soon Rio del Torres appeared in the distance - soon I was seated and enjoying a cafè con leche and a bocadillo outside the local cafe with other pilgrims enjoying the cameraderie among us. At one of the other tables a Spanish guy was rude to the waitress, and we all were horrified, those who spoke Spanish told him off, and tried to calm him down. After he left the pleasant conversation continued sharing stories from our Camino experiences. We were discussing the morning rush we had all experienced. A German lady Doro came with a perfect remark: "Wir sind ja nicht auf der Flucht". Translates to "We are not fleeing for Pete´s sake!" Oh so true! This mad rush some people have to get out the door at the crack of dawn is really annoying, and I ask myself why? It does not get light here until around 8 am, and it´s really hard to see the way markers in the dark, not to mention the uneven pathways!
Later as I was happily walking along, one of the guys who had sat at the table passed me saying; "Auf der Flucht!" Funny!
My knees were doing well, I felt strong - glad I gave them the rest, and feeling I am getting stronger! Along the way I passed through a few villages, and I especially enjoyed the little octagonal romanesque church of Santo Sepulcro in Rio del Torres. When I got in to Viana I found they were having some sort of festival involving running bulls - along the Camino!! Not wanting to be part of the show I tried to find a way around it, and stumbled into a Albergue which was not mentioned in my book. It was only matresses on the floor, but the ambiance was so pleasant, I decided that was fine!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Road To Los Arcos

After the hearty breakfast and light sleep I set out around 7:30 am just as the light was painting the eastern skies in soft purples changing to golds. I found my way out of town and soon I was making good strides along the mostly very pleasant pathways. - It was cloudy, and the sun never really truly broke through, so I even had to put on my headband to protect my ears for the cool breeze.
I saw lots of birds this morning, and I am really looking forward to be able to identify some of all the birds I have seen along the Camino, when I am able to get my hands on a birdbook. It´s way too heavy to carry along, so I am doing my best to remember the markings of the birds I see.
I walked past the Finnish ladies and they past me a few times - they were both suffering from a cold, so they had to take some rest stops.
It seemed like the time just flew by, and I reached Los Arcos by 11 am. - I looked at the auberges as I came in to town, stopped to buy bread at the open panederia, just in case I would not be able to find a open restaurant, it being Sunday.
I went back to the plaza by the church of Santa Maria, and another pilgrim from Lethuania told me I should go in and check out the church, as it was very beautiful, so I did, and he was right, it was quite fantastic - gold everywhere!
Then I found the Belgian albergue I was looking for, and could leave my backpack there until they opened at 12 Noon. I went back to the square and had a cafè con leche, and had a nice long chat with a German couple who had been on the road for over 100 days! They had travelled on foot down through France, taking their time to stop whenever the felt like it. It was nice to meet people who were not in a rush to get to the finish line, but enjoyed the journey!
Back at the albergue check-in went fast, I got a bottom bunk again, and shared the room with all guys, and among them a father and son from Israel. The son had the top bunk above me, and he was a really nice young man, but he tossed and turned all night so the whole bed was shaking! The other guys were Spanish/Basque and obviously they had not observed that it was not all male, because one of them stood buck-naked with his behind in the air, roaming through his backpack! His friends saw me, and their faces showed their shock, not to mention his embarassement when he saw me, poor guy trying to hide the vital parts with a towel that was too small to go all the way around his rather wide waist! Yes, the Camino, modesty goes out the window very soon!
After showering and laundry duties I went back for a glass of wine at the bar in front of the church, and then I went in for the evening service. I sat with a row of old, spanish ladies - the one next to me was really sweet, and helped me along through the service. At the end of the service the priest called all the pilgrims up to the altar for a special Pilgrim´s blessing, and the old lady nudged me to go - since I did not understand the priest´s spanish. He was very kind, and spOke to each pilgrim as he gave us a prayer in our language and said a few words to each of us - very touching. Afterwards I went back to the same bar and had the Pilgrim´s menu and sat with a nice couple from Sweden, then off to bed before the doors closed at 10 pm sharp!

Friday, October 2, 2009

From Estella to Villamayor de Monjardin

I woke up early - we had to be out by 7 am!! Packed up and got coffee and a couple of crackers downstairs in the communal kitchen, before I headed out following the stream of pilgrims through the dark, emply streets of a sleeping town. As we walked through the gate, we moved from the narrow streets of old-town to modern suburbs, and before 8 AM I was at the famous wine fountain at the Irache winery, were I sacrificed one of my waterbottles to be able to fill it with about a glass worth of the free red wine flowing from the fountain to be enjoyed later in the day - I just couldn´t start drinking at that early hour and with about +8 km ahead of me to my stop for the day!
The walk went fast it seemed - especially because I had started so early. My goal for the day was to get to Villamayor de Monjardin, so I could give my knees a bit of rest. I was there by 10 am, and first I stopped at the Albergue Parroquial, but decided to check out the Dutch Albergue I had read about, before deciding, even though it wa tempting to get rid of my backpack, which the parroquial offered to store until they re-opened at 2 PM.
I am glad I did, because the Dutch Oasis Auberge was so nice, right on the plaza of the little mountain village, across from the lovely church. As I approached I was greeted by the Dutch hospitalier and was told to just go ahead and choose a bed, take my time to shower and do laundry, and make myself at home until it opened at 4 pm, at which time we would do the paperwork! What bliss!! "Oh, and if you encounter other pilgrims during the day, just tell them the same, and let them get settled."
It was just so nice to be able to get all the chores out of the way in peace and quiet, no rush, no long lines, no wet bathroom floors, and lines at the laundry sinks! Yes, life on the Camino really is simple and quite basic, you are happy when you have a bed secured, can bathe and wash your clothes, and hang them out to dry in a sunny spot! I was done before 11 am!!
Then I went in search of food, and the bar at the plaza was closed - after searching the few streets I returned to the bar, the one and only in town! It did say it would be open at 9 am, but obviously not! A few other pilgrims had stopped also, waiting for the bar to open, and sure enough, a few minutes later the owner showed up, and we applauded - and he jokingly turned around as if he was leaving again - but he did open, and soon I was happily consuming a much-longed for café con leche and a bocadillo in the warmth from the sun, which just then was emerging from it´s hideaway behind clouds.
I enjoyed just sitting and listening to the talk among the pilgrims as they wandered in to get refreshments before most of them continued on, most likely to the town of Los Arcos, where I would go to the next day.
Back at the Oasis it slowly filled up, first 2 Danes came, then a couple of Finnish ladies, a loud Italian - first I found him annoying, I will admit, but he grew on me as I got to know him a bit better. He was actually a nice guy, just loud, boisterous, well - Italian!
In the late afternoon we sat outside, enjoying the sun and I did a little sketch of the church and the view. We were enjoying seeing the little village coming alive - there was a fiesta going on, and earlier in the day there had been a wedding at the church.
As the last beds were filled, we had ourselves a nice, very international group of pilgrims - about 20 or so, and we had communal dinner in the cozy dining room with a fabulous view of the church and the country-side below. The food was really great too, a really well-prepared and delicious home-cooked meal, good wine and good company! Afterwards there was Christian Meditation, a bit difficult with the fiesta going on outside, but very nice.
The night was not as restful as one could have wished for, the fiesta went on until the early morning with loud music and fireworks throughout the night!
At 6 am the lights went on, and it was time to get up, pack and go down for a fabulous breakfast - by far the best I have had so far! There was everything you could imagine and then some - not just a cup of coffee and a cake or croissant, but eggs, granola, yogurt, rye bread, toast, etc. You have got to give it to the Dutch - it was fantastic!

On To Estella

I woke up to the usual sound of pilgrims packing, and I was on the road by 7:45 am in the lovely, cool morning air with the pastel glow on the sky as the sun slowly moved up over the mountain ridge in the East.
The next town was 5 km away, and I was there by about 9:30 am, ready for my café con leche, bocadillo and a banana. Lots of other pilgrims from the auberge was there as well, most of them Spanish.
The walk was not too strenious, just a few hills, but downhill still was tough for my left knee, but I made good time, and enjoyed most of my walk. A group of French "day pilgrims" no backpack or water to carry - were keeping pace with me for a while. Along the way they raided a fig tree - I resented that, because that´s one of the reason´s some Spaniards are not too thrilled about all the pelegrinos (pilgrims) passing by every day - can´t blame them with that behaviour!
Anyway, I happily lost them on the way out of Villatuerta, and the last part of the day´s walk in to Estella went quickly. I found the municipal auberge without problems as it was right on the Camino leading into Estella.
I was there just past 1 pm, and got my stamp in my pilgrim´s passport and a bed - bottom bunk again! I don´t know how long this luck can last, but I will enjoy it as long as I can!
I went about the usual routine of shower, laundry, checking emails, all this before the majority of pilgrims had arrived! Then I sat out in the lovely couryard and did my nails, before taking a nap while putting the cool necktie around my knee to ease the swelling. This little "cool tie" certainly has been coming in handy during these rather hot days!
In the early evening I set out to explore Estella, which is a beautiful town dating back to 1090, with lots of churches and monuments and the Palacio de los Reys de Navarra where the kings of Navarra used to live back in the 12th century. Part of it is now converted in to an art gallery devoted to the painter Gustave de Maetzu. Of course I had to see it, and it really was a very nice exhibit, which I enjoyed.
Inspired by the artwork, I walked on to the town square where I found lots of outdoor cafes full of people, so I joined them and had a nice, cool glass of Rosada wine, got my sketchbook out, and did a little quick sketch with my black pen,and then another with watercolors. It was 6:30 pm and the temperature was still 25C, and feeling cool, so the day must have been really hot! Later I had a nice pilgrim´s dinner while chatting with my neighbors from the dorm - they were from Quebec - so many Canadians are on the Camino, especially from Quebec, and very few Americans - so far I have only met very few.