End of Part One

Left our apartment at 10am for a leisurely walk to the bus station where we discovered there are no buses to Pamplona airport!? Hey, ho. We boarded a number 16 which, we were told, goes close. After about 20 minutes we saw the airport in the distance and assessed the best place to leap from the bus. I exaggerate slightly for dramatic effect. We walked to Noain, a nondescript little town and found a cafe to have coffee and an egg and bacon roll. We then walked towards the airport only to discover there was no pedestrian access. Forced to walk along the main dual carriageway with no pavements, we spent the next ten minutes watching the oncoming HGVs with great interest.

imageDeb suggested a shortcut onto a very wide road which went right past the control tower. We tried this for a short distance but had to get off quickly when we realised our mistake.

 

imageCheck-in was a breeze, now we can relax for a couple of hours before the plane arrives. As you may have guessed, Pamplona airport is small. Apart from three ladies checking in before us, we are the only other passengers. We’re talking small!

Rest Day in Pamplona

Up and out at 10:00am (you can tell it’s a rest day) after a breakfast of yoghurt and banana. Exploring Pamplona, starting at the food market then off to the bull ring. Food market was closed so we popped into the tourist information office to see what was open. Pretty much everything is closed including the bull ring!

imageimageAs we came out of the tourist office we heard a large explosion followed by hundreds upon hundreds of yellow t-shirted bike riders. This was either the most publicly planned bank robbery with no concept of  how beneficial a quick getaway would be to the overall success of the plan or a charity bike ride. Life’s highway has taught me that whilst most things are possible, probability would have to come down on the side of the charity bike ride. We waited for about 30 minutes for all the bikers to pass. I hope it wasn’t the bank raid as it will be the poorest payout in criminal history.

imageAs we made our way to the main square it was clear there were more festivities afoot. We watched a band of young drummers doing their thing, tried to book them for Running Well but they wanted travel expenses! I said I’m sure Chris will authorise 20 return flights to Spain and I know he and Sue will put them up for the night.

imageimageimageWe decided to follow the route of the bull run all the way to the bull ring and then made our way to a fantastic bronze sculpture perfectly depicting the action of the event.

imageWe returned to the square for lunch and enjoyed a leisurely meal soaking up the festive atmosphere. By now all the bank robbers were returning to the square looking fatigued but no richer.

We finished our meal and decided to walk the 5k perimeter of the walled city, you may well ask why, after walking 100k, I did. I was told it was too early to go back to the apartment and fall asleep! 5k later I’m lying horizontal updating the blog. Now I’ll fall asleeeeeep.

Day 6 Uterga to Puente la Riena

An easy start today as we only have a three hour walk to Puente la Reina. So, a leisurely walk to the town to pick up some food for breakfast on our terrace after which, we don our burden for our last walk this visit.

imageThe road out of Uterga rose gently through fields with beautiful views across the surrounding countryside. We could see our destination way off in the distance but it seemed no time at all before we were entering the outskirts of the medieval meeting place of the French and Spanish Caminos.

imageThis is a fitting place to end our first leg, no pun intended. We’ve clocked up 100k and can hopefully continue once Deb has the all clear.

As we walked through the ancient main street we met a young Costa Rican guy who we’d passed several days before. At that time he looked as if he’d been walking for about six weeks non-stop and was about to die. He clearly hadn’t and had revived sufficiently to overtake us! I wonder if he has any Japanese blood in his ancestry!? We chatted for a while and he told us his trainers had worn through to his feet and that’s why he didn’t look like he was coping too well. We escorted him to a local shoe shop and suggested he invest in some more suitable footwear.

We made our way to the town bus stop to check times for our return to Pamplona then settled down in a bar opposite for a coffee and another stamp in our Camino passports. We’re getting quite a collection now.

imageimageWe had two hours before the bus was due so we wandered round the town and walked half way across the Puente la Reina. We’ll walk the other half when we return.

 

imageWe returned to the bar and found the Costa Rican tucking into dinner with a smile on his face. The shop assistant had recommended inner soles for his shoes and his feet had been returned to a state of bliss. We had lunch and a beer before boarding the bus for the 30 minute journey back to Pamplona, a journey that had taken us two days to complete!

Day 5 Pamploma to Uterga

We left our humble abode at 8:30am after I explained that I’d lost the key to the room! I’m not allowed keys anymore.

imageWe walked out of Pamplona and into the countryside. Our walk today was 16k to Uterga but mostly uphill to the famous metal sculptures depicting pilgrims on their journey. The weather was cloudy today but still very warm. Much easier for walking. We could see the highest point as we climbed slowly upward.

imageAfter two hours walking and halfway to the summit we stopped for a lunch of Spanish omelette and tea. Rested and refreshed we set off for the top. We thought this was going to be a hard climb but I think day 1 must have set  the standard because we breezed up, even with one dodgy knee.

imageimageTimagehis was a great place to rest and reflect before the downward trek to our bed for the night. Although we’d climbed higher, this peak gave us a sense of achievement and, with the sculptures, an awareness of the pilgrims journey.

imageIn contrast to the journey up, the downward leg was steep, stoney and strenuous. How’s that? Alliteration thrown in at no extra charge! On our way down we were in lovey, dovey holding hands mode and a group of American/English walkers came up behind us and thought we looked ‘cute’ so, took a picture. I leave the reader to judge.

imageimageAfter a careful decent we reached the town of Uterga and booked in to our room. The room is one of five in a house, the other four were empty. Just as well as Deb wasn’t happy with the first (twin beds), she wasn’t happy with the second (too small) but the third was just right with private balcony, jacuzzi and extra space. Some days it’s not easy being a pilgrim!

Just back from our pilgrims dinner with two fellow travellers Angela from Michigan and Linda from Wales, three courses including a bottle of wine 12 euros! Good company, stories exchanged and now time for bed.

Day 4 Larrasoana to Pamplona

imageWe made it. Arrived at 2:00pm bang on schedule, thanks to that kindly motorist. I jest. I guess it’s us getting used to the walking regime. We certainly felt well rested after our stop in Larrasoana.

 

imageWe left at 8:30am after a meagre breakfast (wait till the Booking.com review arrives). The walk out of Larrasoana was steep but through fields and woods. This pretty much set the scene for most of the day. It was easy going with more downs than ups.

 

imageWe stopped along the way for a drink at a cafe/bar which was a well used watering hole and appeared to be a meeting place for many people on the Camino. Watered, we pushed on.

 

imageimageAfter a short walk we emerged from the trees to be greeted by a Scottish lady who invited us to view her church attached to a convent and climb her bell tower. She even said we could ring her left bell but not the right one as it was broken. Sounds like a whole string of euphemisms here but no, she was on a sabbatical promoting the church. We duly climbed her bell tower, rung her bell and took photos to prove it. It’s amazing how easy it is to climb a bell tower without a back pack! Deb said I’ve cheapens this interlude in our day and she’s absolutely right. These are the sort of serendipitous moments that are few and far between and it was special for both of us. Did sound a bit double entendre though! We continued onward enjoying the countryside. As the Ks rolled by the landscape slowly changed as we descended into the outskirts of Pamplona.

We stopped for lunch at the Paradise bar which was not quite the vision of paradise I’d carried with me thus far in my life but the food was adequate and gave us the energy to complete the last leg. We marched on, well I marched on, Deb hobbled along in my wake like an overworked prostitute.

imageWalking over the medieval bridge and into the walled city gave us a sense of achievement although our feet somehow failed to appreciate the moment. Managed to find our 1 star hotel and after a shower we’re out exploring.

 

imageOur first discovery was two very large beers! Not to drink, just to soak our feet. Now we have the task of finding somewhere to eat tonight. I think tapas is calling. Tomorrow is a hard day to Uterga. Big climbs, long distance and hairy descents. Just the one bottle of wine tonight, each!

imageCouldn’t find a tapas bar that would feed us at 6:00 pm for some reason no one is taking into account how tired we are and they all wanted to open at 7:30 pm. We ended up in a mini market and purchased two packs of massive prawns, a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, some houmous and some salad. Bliss, hotel table between the beds and the best meal anyone can have with the best company in the world, from my point of view anyway.

 

Day 3 Viskarret to Larrasoana

imageimageSetting off at 8:30am we left our haven for the night. Our bodies seemed back to normal in that they only complained when we walked and not when we rested. Our walk was in total isolation through open fields, shaded woodland and a few tiny hamlets. We walked up hills and down dales and steadily clocked up our 15k target. We stopped for a short rest where the trail crossed a major road.

imageimageHere we had our break of banana and water. While we were ‘feasting’ a mobile food van arrived and set up shop so, coffee and muffins added to the feast. By the time we entered Larrasoana at 1:30pm we were ready for a shower and a rest for the remainder of the day.

imageLarrasoana is a sleepy little town which seems to be closed all day. The lady owner of our room kindly made us an omelette followed by a slab of water melon and a coffee. Now sated, we’re lying on sun loungers chasing the sleep we were so unjustly deprived of the previous night. Hope we wake for dinner at 7:30pm.

Day 2 A Short One

img_0660.jpgAfter the shattering Day 1, yet to be posted, we decided to have a short walk of 12k. I say decided, we walked 12k and realised we couldn’t do any more! The big bonus in doing this is that we are now out of phase with the majority of pilgrims who are all going by the book. We aim to keep it that way as it’s much quieter. Our stop for the day was Viskarret and by lunchtime all the pilgrims had passed through and the small town was deserted. We found a suitable room over the village shop and purchased our fayre for the evening. The view was magnificent as we sat on our balcony in the sun, me writing my journal and Deb relaxing.

The evening fayre consisted of our usual cold meats, cheese, wine and bread. After that we retired for the night for some much needed sleep in the hope that our bodies would undergo some miracle rejuvenation. Now, during the day we were serenaded each hour by the delightful sound of the church bell. However, as the night progressed we realised this wasn’t going to stop for our benefit so we heard every hour on the hour with increasing fatigue until daylight lit the room. Hey ho, we’ll try for some sleep again tonight.

imageBreakfast consisted of an apple and some water from the communal fountain then we were off.

Day 1-2 The Monastery

imageimageWe emerged from the trees at 4.00 p.m. in the grounds of the monastery where we were to spend the night. We had walked 27k and we were shattered. The monastery is a municipal accommodation building split into many hundred beds arranged in dormitories. We were welcomed inside and ushered into a registration room where we were asked to pick up a registration card and complete it using the fixed pens on the table. At the same time we were asked to keep moving round the table following the queue. So, unless the question involved a tick or a cross you were obliged to drop the pen having stretched the tether as far as possible and pick up the next one on the circuit. Registration completed we were asked if we would like dinner. The 7 pm sitting was full but 8.30 pm had space. We grudgingly purchased two tickets wondering what to do for the next four hours when all we wanted to do was sleep. We enquired about the rest of the town only to be told there was no town – only the monastery and the hotel attached. Hotel? If we had known about that we wouldn’t have booked the dorm in the monastery. Hey ho. We found a bar in the hotel that served food so we ate there for 33 euros including wine and water (and got a refund on the meal tickets!). Suitably wined and dined we felt strong enough to face the dorm.

imageimageWe were escorted to our cubicle, I say ‘our’ our two bunk beds were on one side and our sleeping partners for the night, yet to arrive, were on the other. We decided to shower and took our meagre toiletries to the communal ‘his and hers’ showers. All very clean but to conserve water one was forced to keep pushing in the button every 10 seconds to release more. Clean but damp we returned to our cubicle and decided to turn in for the night and hopefully fall asleep instantly to minimise the experience. Not wishing to sleep apart deb squeezed into my bunk. No sooner had we shut our eyes when a middle aged Spanish couple arrived to take up our partner bunk beds.
We tried to drop off to sleep but everyone else was starting to return to their bunks of which there were about 100 in our dorm alone. The Spanish couple settled down and all seemed calm. Lights out arrived at 10.00pm and we all settled down to sleep. Unfortunately Spain’s answer to Brian Blessed arrived in the next cubicle and proceeded to boom to his friends -oblivious of all around him. Various attempts to shush him by woken pilgrims failed to temper his dulcet tones. Eventually his voice dropped below 100 decibels and we settled once more. This was about the time the Spanish lady on the adjacent bottom bunk started to snore! Not gently or endearingly but agressivly. How does her poor husband put up with it? I contemplated creeping over to her bunk and gently placing a pillow over her head. Surely no one would mind, least of all her husband. It was about this time that somebody’s mobile announced an incoming message and continued to do so every 15 minutes for the rest of the night.
Now, when you are in a dorm with 100 other people it’s inevitable there will be visits to the loo. Unfortunately the cisterns were designed by Frank Whittle and sounded like a 747 taking off every time someone emptied their bladder. While we’re on the subject of loo visits, the favoured footwear for the dorm was flip flops which sounds innocent enough until 11 pm when the urgent flip flop, flip flop of a bursting bladder echoes from one end of the dorm to the other heralding another 747 about to take off.
Just when the brain had learnt to banish all these sounds to the rear of the mind, Mr Spanish man decided to enter into competition with his wife! Had Brian Blessed next door complained no one would have heard. Besides, he was now fast asleep and muscles relaxed, had entered into a bout of night time flatulence, each eruption reverberating against the partition wall. If that had given way we’d both have found ourselves on top of Mrs Spanish lady which would have somehow lessened the overall musical effect of their cacophony.
Deb and I decided to launch a couple of 747’s then try to get at least 10 minutes sleep before lights on at 6 am.
We woke at 5.45 when Brian Blessed launched himself from the top bunk and the dorm shook.

imageWe abluted in conditions reminiscent of a ’60’s washroom on a caravan park and after 30 minutes were out the front door vowing never to return again.

Day 1 Leaving St Jean Pied de Port

imageimageWe left our luxurious accommodation at 7 am after a full breakfast. We had started!
Leaving the town we started climbing. In fact we climbed for the next 24 km!! We were to climb to 1450m that day.

imageimageThe scenery was incredible, steep rolling hills, fields full of sheep or cows or horses (couldn’t think of any reason to have herds of horses other than food).

 

imageIMG_0642The scenery kept our minds off how incredibly difficult this section was. When trekking you get to pass and repass the same faces as each of you rest at different places. Early in the day we passed a young Japanese girl who appeared to have trouble walking. She walked very slowly with a peculiar gait reminiscent of The Mummy from some old Hammer horror film, although she was dressed somewhat better.

Several hours later after keeping up a brisk pace we decided to take a 2 minute break. As we got up to resume the trek, there, some 50 metres away lurching towards us was the Japanese girl! How did she do that? It was just like the film, no matter how fast the hero ran, whenever he turned around there was the Mummy!

imageimageAfter 18k we reached The Cross where the trail leaves the road. Here we found an enterprising chap with a food and drink van so we decided to stop for a break. From our vantage point we could see several kilometres back down the trail, the road was deserted. After a banana and a fruit drink we donned our backpacks and we’re just about to leave when lurching round the bend came the Japanese girl! What’s going on here!

imageWe left the road and ascended steeply to the highest point on the Camino at 1450 metres. We had hoped for a picture of us crossing the boarder into Spain but there was no demarcation whatsoever. From here we knew we had 4k of downward trek, steep and all through woodland. If it hadn’t been for the pain this would have been a very pleasant part of the trek. We were totally alone and it was an extremely personal and peaceful experience. Deb decided to take advantage of our solitude to answer a call of nature but no sooner had she started than we heard the familiar shuffle of the Japanese girl!! After a frantic scrabble to regain a modicum of modesty we stood silently and watched the Japanese girl lurch past.

We continued our woodland decent but after several hours felt we were part of an Escher landscape that never ended! I’m sure I saw the same knarled oak tree pass us by at least three times. The last time I swear I saw a strange grin etched into the bark! Would we ever emerge? Where was the Japanese girl? Would our feet ever recover?

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Views from St Jean Pied de Port.
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A look back at the main road through St Jean.
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A well earned rest at Orisson 6k out of St Jean.

C-Day -1

Left the bags at the hotel, I use the term loosely as it feels more like a hostel, and are currently sitting in the town square with a beer.

imageimageWe’ve circumnavigated the town following a procession of brass band, Morris dancers and sheep herders (including sheep).

 

imageimageWe started making our way back to catch the bus and took the opportunity to walk round Bayonne cathedral. A calm and peaceful interlude. Arrived at the bus station at the required time and boarded the bus. It was full but we grabbed the back seat so Debbie could wave to the cars behind (just won’t let her childhood go). A beautiful bus ride with rolling hills that meandered across the countryside in the foothills of the Pyrenees. After an hour and twenty minutes and an afternoon nap we arrived in St Jean Pied de Port.

img_0614.jpgimg_0626-1.jpgWhat a beautiful town, a must for anyone regardless of whether you’re walking the Camino or not. We checked into our room (nice room) and then visited the ‘passport office’ to pick up our Camino passport (including our first Camino stamp). A walk through this charming town and a most excellent meal has left us relaxed in our room contemplating a seven o’clock start for a 7-9 hour walk over the Pyrenees, the toughest day of the whole Camino!

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Lunch by the river in Bayonne.
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I’m not sure how I’d feel being penned up while strange men wore the skins of my ancestors!
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Waiting for the bus at Bayonne station.