Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pamplona to Uterga (16 Kms) 3 May

Signpost at the edge of town

I skipped breakfast in order to make a 7.30 a.m. start in drizzle, though the receptionist said that sun was forecast. There were hordes of pilgrims heading out of Pamplona. It was impossible not to know the way! After an hour or so, I arrived at Cizur Menor, desperate for a coffee and found one off track (Padrillo?).

Church at Zariquiegui.

From there the way led to Alto del Perdon (alt. 790m.) It was hard going up hill, with a long row of wind turbines up ahead, marking the line of the summit I made a brief stop for a drink of water and a banana at Zariquiegui, sitting on a low wall outside the church with its Romanesque doorway.

It was very cold and windy on top. I had lunch just before the summit, in a semi-sheltered spot with a picnic table beside the track, but nearly froze as I took out my bread and chorizo! There were views all round, back to Pamplona and ahead to Uterga, Eunate etc. The metal pilgrim monument of people bent into the west wind provided a good photo opportunity for everyone en route. There had been quite a mass exodus from Pamplona, but most had overtaken me by this time, including a noisy school group of teenagers and their teacher.

Pilgrim monument at the Alto.

I arrived at the Alto at 1.45 p.m., with another 4 kms to go to Uterga, all downhill, but on a very stony track, hard on the feet, which I took very carefully using my stick, as I didn’t want to risk a broken ankle. For the first time, I managed to overtake someone. Cuckoos were calling.

My booked albergue and private room at the Camino del Perdon was a welcome end to the day. As I sat having a beer in the bar, they were turning people away who arrived with no booking. The sun came out and warmed pilgrims resting in the garden. After a hot shower and pilgrims meal, I had a good night’s rest.

Albergue Camino del Perdon





Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pamplona 1 and 2 May

I had booked a train ticket yesterday at Barcelona Sants. This was fortunate as long queues built up at this busy station, especially on the May Day public holiday. My train departed at 9.30 a.m., arriving at Pamplona at 13.15 p.m. and cost €61.60. Breakfast in the stylish and elegant K and K Picasso Hotel was not served till 7.30 because of the public holiday, but the kind waitress let me in early and even allowed me to take a generous doggy bag which would comprise my lunch! The train fromEstacio Franca (which was in walking distance of the hotel) to Sants only took 15 minutes.

The Pamplona train was going to Vigo as its final destination, speeding along at 170 km per hour, even 242 km per hour at times. It was a lovely sunny morning, and 15° degrees outside, according to a sign at the end of the carriage. I was thrilled to be back in Spain and watching the familiar Spanish countryside going by.

.Cafe Iruna

Arriving in Pamplona, it felt markedly colder than in Barcelona (13°) and dull. I took a taxi to the Hotel Puerta de Camino, which was just near to the Francia Gate, but quite a long way from the station. I explored the town in the afternoon. The place was packed because of the Pinchos Festival, with people spilling out of the bars onto the narrow streets. I found the Hotel Perla and the Café Iruna in the main square (haunts of Hemingway); got a Credencial de Peregrinos from the Municipal Albergue and also found a Barclays Bank ATM near the closed Tourist Office where a big bronze statue commemorates the Running of the Bulls festival.

Running of the Bulls

I woke up to the sound of rain falling outside, so I had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before venturing out. It was even colder than yesterday, with the Pharmacy illuminated signs announcing 10°. First stop the Cathedral, where a mass was being sung by 6 monks and an organist. It was very soothing , and surprisingly warmer inside the Cathedral than out! At 10.30 a.m. the Cloisters opened, which included an exhibition on the history of the site going back to Roman times. Then on to the Tourist Office to obtain an updated list of accommodation on the Camino.

After a coffee at Café Iruna, a visit to the Museum of Navarre, which has many Roman mosaics and medieval wall paintings. A late lunch at a Pincho Place (anchovies on toast & Pimientos de Padron – delicious!) After a siesta, I made a quick trip to a small Carrefour supermarket to get supplies for the Camino (cheese, ham, chocolate). Then the hotel receptionist kindly phoned Uterga to book a single private room for me tomorrow. I was now as prepared as I could be.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Slow road to Santiago

Each year thousands of people decide to walk the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. In May I was one of them. Leaving Barcelona, I took a train to Pamplona, a city famous for the running of the bulls along its narrow streets. From there I planned to walk 220 kilometers to Burgos. This is the middle section of a route that starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and ends, some 800 kilometers later in Santiago. My rationale was that I had already tackled the Pyrenees part some 15 years previously, and just 2 years ago completed the last 160 kilometers on a group tour, where our luggage was carried for us in a little bus. Now I had to prove that I could do it alone, carrying my pack like a real pilgrim.

On the Camino with Fresco Tours in 2011.

I had researched my trip meticulously, I thought. I’d read at least five accounts of life on the Camino (German, American and Australian), as well as seen the Martin Sheen film The Way. I knew that my backpack must only weigh one tenth of my body weight. For me this meant no more than 7.5 kilos, but with all the warm clothing, wet weather gear, first aid kit, toiletries and face creams, emergency rations and one litre of water, I could not get it below 9 kilos. Nevertheless, at the airline check-in in Perth, the man congratulated me on having such a light pack. He had also been on the Camino!

I had always loved Spain, having gone there every year camping in my twenties. I loved the sound of the language, the historic buildings, the small villages seemingly unchanged over time and of course the food. (It was a challenge though, to wait for the traditional Spanish dinner time of 9.00 p.m. when one had been walking all day and were starving!) What came as a big surprise was the fact that most of the pilgrims were attacking the trail, like any other long distance footpath, intent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible. In doing so, they ignored pain in their ankles, knees, shoulders and acquired blisters as a badge of honour. None of this for me! I was going on a slow road to Santiago, determined to see every sight, visit every church and take plenty of rest stops for a café con leche or a cerveza. My guide book by John Brierley divides the Camino into daily stages. He takes 9 days from Pamplona to Burgos. I planned to take 18. I would never need to hurry, I thought. I would never do more than 15 kilometers a day, and I would never arrive at days end too tired to look for a nice place to stay!

Relaxed outside my hotel after a day on the track.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Pilgrim statue near Burgos

Camino bibliography

As an ex-librarian, I must offer you a reading list! The first title is the must-have guide to carry with you. The others are for research before you set off. Of course there are hundreds of blogs out there as well…

Brierley, John. A pilgrim’s guide to the Camino de Santiago. 9th ed. (Camino Guides, 2013).

Burkhardt-Felder, Theresa. Pray for me in Santiago. (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005).

Clark, Trish. Guide to the Camino. (Paratus Press, 2013).

Harrison, Kathryn. The road to Santiago. (National Geographic, 2003).

Kerkeling, Hape. I’m off then: losing and finding myself on the Camino de Santiago. (Free Press, 2009).

Wells, Kim and Malcolm. Camino footsteps. (Fremantle Press, 2008).