El Camino de Santiago

August 28, 2015

On August the 5th 2015 Susan and I along with another couple set out on our Camino Walk.  Traveling from the USA was an adventure in itselfl…..there and back, a total of 7 airplanes, 4 buses, 3 trains, 3 taxis and 2 metro rides.  What an goexperience and one that we had to pull out of unfortunately.  

After a week  Susan’s knees were causing so much pain she had to walk backwards down any inclines and there were plenty.  This released the pressure.  Going up was a little better but for her there was no relief in the decent…..we joked that she could be the first person to walk the Camino backwards.  

It was the Pyrenees on the first day that really worked us.  Everyone said that it would be tough and we are in decent shape….I have a new understanding of what a 4500 foot ascent means.

We did go with a plan B if the Camino did not work out….. we would go surf.  Europe has some classic surf spots, Biarritz in France, which is where we came in, San Sebastian in Spain close to Biarritz and Portugal.

The Camino is a pilgrimage that progresses through beautiful  Spanish countryside however the most amazing part of the Camino is the people one meets along the way.  I had heard this said and its quite true.  I wonder if Peregrino’s (pilgrims) seeing Susan walking backwards got their attention because there were many times people stop to offer assistances.

Our two friends that we started with are in better shape and after the Pyrenees we separated so they could move on an not be slowed down by our backward snail pace. 


Saint Jean Pied a Port….the start of the Camino in France before the ascent into the Pyrenees.


And so it begins.

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Going Up !


And some going down.



Clouds move in and the stunning Pyrenees vista’s are lost.


Up in the clouds….these’s guys are loving life and enjoying a good scratch.


Not to many pictures from the Pyrenees mostly due to exhaustion and screaming muscles, that and the oppressive clouds though still beautiful.  Fatigue has a way of making one rather disgruntled to put it nicely.

It was during out descent we met a Danish family, a mother with her two daughters.  They stayed with us the whole time and were a great distraction for Susan going down backwards with me holding her hand so as not to fall.  They could have blazed off and left us.  They knew a gentler descent as they had walked the Camino before.    This was our first encounter of people that to us were “Angels on the Camino” and we were to meet several more along our way.

As we finally sat down for cafe con leche and to rest after the mountains….. a man and his son approached us with a very friendly Irish greeting and quickly focus on Susan’s discomfort.  Dave & Dan had just come over the Pyrenees and suggested  fine accommodations that was part of the Auberge (inn) in Roncesvalles.  We did not fancy staying in a large dormitory style arrangement yet so private rooms sounded wonderful.  He also offered an unusual Chinese ointment perfect for mountain caused aliments.  



We had only concerned ourselves in our planning with possible issues of hot weather not rain.  The hotel gave us garbage bags and some scissors


Rock Sculptures…everyone who passes adds a rock


After out second day we tumbled into Zubiri……here we ran into money trouble using american debit cards.  Our account got closed out.  We actually had no euros to pay the hostel ( credit cards not excepted)  we had checked into.  Thinking what to do next we had dinner in a local restaurant and who should come in to eat but Dave and his son Dan….after listen to our saga he quickly pulled out 200 euros ($230+-) and said to give it back when we can.  Its not often that one has the good fortune to be complete emotional striped from fatigue, stress and worry.  A simple act of kindness puts you in a place of such humble surrender.


Guidance and protection….we are heading towards Pamplona


Coming from Zubiri towards Pamplona


A large roundabout in the outskirts of modern Pamplona, a nothing special picture of an ordinary urban section with one extremely important symbol…the yellow arrow on the lamp post.  So many times we would arrive somewhere with a choice of directions to go and not a clue which to take were it not for these painted yellow arrows.



A view from our hostel in Pamplona


Looking up to the Cathedral,  Pamplona


Plaza del Castillo, Pamplona

We arrived in Pamplona, actually we could not get into the walled city at first, had to walk a good way around  to find a gate…….as we wandered around the streets to get our bearings we stopped in a cafe to anethitize ourselves and check my iPhone for places to stay.  Never travel without some sort of smart device, wifi is everywhere in Europe and it saved us many times from being less clueless. Feeling somewhat calmer and with an idea of a few places to stay we walked out into the busy Pamplona street and right into Dave & Dan.  What a sense of relief. Turns out they were lost and could not find there way back to a very nice hostel that they had found….stand aside, if I am one thing I am great navigator.  

We stayed in Pamplona for 2 days to rest and really enjoyed the food, wine, history and happy late night noise…..you can sense the bulls running through the streets.


Sunflowers everywhere!


Leaving Pamplona and heading to wind turbine hill


Susan nearing the “summit”


looking back towards pamplona


Taking a rest at the top of turbine hill



A iron sculpture depicting medieval pilgrams with the inscription ” Where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars”


The path ahead looking towards Santiago some 500 miles that way……

As we made our backwards decent a man came “running” up the hill and when he got to us  seem concerned about Susan unusual Camino walking technique.  He offer to carry her back pack down the hill.  Carlos introduced himself and asked if we had a place to stay for the night…..he and his wife had open a new inn in the next town a few miles away.  El Jardin de Muruzabal  was the name.  He called ahead to hold a room for us.  He explained that the inn was not in the guide books yet so each day  he would run this distance of the Camino to drum up some business…..impressive.  He and his wife both worked in Pamplona and would come  after work to accept pilgrims and cook the evening meal before bed.  It was a short 15 minute drive to Pamplona….a distance that had take us all day to walk!

It was at this place that Susan and I decide to throw in the towel…..sad and disappointed that we had travel so far to get here but also relieved that the beating our bodies had taken was coming to an end.  Susan knees had only got worse,  we had walked the toughest part of the Camino and it had taken its toll .  

The next morning we walked a few miles to Puente La Reina and caught a bus to Logrono, a 50 minute bus ride that was actually 4 days of walking in camino time. Logrono is the capital of the Rioja wine region, a favorite wine of mine.

We stayed in Logrono just one night.  We had considered returning home and I did check air flights…we only purchased one way  tickets from the USA as we had no idea from where in Europe we would return from…..$2400 each for flights the next day, I dont think so.  Flights a week or so out dropped to around $800 each. This confirmed our plan B…we would go to Portugal.  I made the necessary arrangements that involved a 10 hour sleeper train ride to Lisbon.

Some of the pilgrims we meet at this stage had thoughts and longings to return home and would have were it not for the camaraderie and inspiration from other pilgrims.  If you can give the Camino a week or so it will train you physically but the emotional aspects of it take more time. 

We did meet our friend Dave one more time….he had just arrived in Logrono. His son had returned to Ireland.  Dave also wanted to return home but walking the Camino was a fund raiser for a charity back home in Ireland so he had to stay focused beyond his personal feelings.  



The main square in Logrono


Modern and old architecture…..the Rioja Wine Museum, Logrono


Lightening our 40lb load for a bit…..Logrono train station waiting for the train to Portugal.  Technically our Camino ended here but we felt that it was more of a continuation just in a different form.



All arrows have special significance.


Waiting for the Lisbon Sleeper train.

We did not know or understand that the sleeper train divided women and men up four bunks to a cabin and mixed cabins within each car.  Susan was concerned heading off into the night with strangers as we could not be together.  Turns out that one women was a Judge, her friend a prosecutor and both spoke perfect english (my travel spanish is decent but portuguese, sounds like russian to my ears).  In the next car I bunked with an older portuguese man and a young man named Esteban who I noticed had a surfboard bag tucked in the cabin.  He was going to Peniche to surf…..exactly the same place that we were headed.  During the night in Susans car a women had had some sort of fit and fell from her bunk, an ambulances was called for ahead at some station and the women was taken to hospital. Quite the drama and one I had no clue, lost in the motion of deep train sleep, well deep enough that I didn’t  know the train had stopped.

Esteban became a great companion and guide, as getting from the train to the bus station via the Lisbon metro would have be a serious challenge without him.  


The bay of Peniche, Portugal,  looking towards Baleal were we had a little apartment for a week.


Looking towards the old fishing town of Peniche


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Surf School



Esteban last surf session before catching the bus to Lisbon



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We have been back home a week and I feel it will be a while for the immensity of this experience to fully manifest.  Though our Camino was rather short and the distance covered  quiet small the impact was anything but that.  The Camino was all about the people we meet along the way and so it is in life!  The beauty of France, Spain and for us Portugal was evident but the magic could only be experience by putting one foot in front of the other.  

Buen Camnio