Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 7-8

Day 8- June 6 - 32,4 km - Najerra - Redecilla del Camino. Overcast am, Sunny & Hot (caliente) pm. Saw the two live chickens at the Domingo de la Calzada Cathedral (related to a fable). I've been eating Tortilla Patata every morning. The landscape here is much flatter. In the valley of Rioja, vinyards are as far as the eye can see and the same can be said about grains and cereals fields grown on the rolling hills. The is an abundance of red poppies growing everywhere, just like a Monet painting. At times I do feel like I am moving inside a painting.

The Spanish people and pilgrims from all corners of the earth are extremely freindly. Many walkers are afflicted with blisters, not always very nice to see, even if I am a nurse. I have been spared so far. There is a very strong fraternity among the pilgrims, even if we don't always understand the languages. It much more of a spiritual trek than religious, so far anyway. Buen Camino!

Day 7- June 5- 30,7 km - Logronos - Najera - 30,7 km , Sunny T- 3o+ C

Monday, June 1, 2009

Day 3,4,5,6

June 2 - Day 6- Los Arcos - Logrono - 28,5 km - Sunny 15-34 C. In the early morning hours, my walk on the way to Sansol is magical, especially as I am approaching the village, the fields of yellows and greens is criss-crossed by a winding road that leads to the village. It feels as if I am actually moving though a painting of a landscape. Every morning as the sun is breaking, and every thing seems to come alive is always the best moment of the day. I realize how fortunate I am to be doing this. As my day ends, I met up with three friends from Barcelona, Rosa, Carmen & Agatha. They are only on the Camino for only a week, and I will have a chance to mingle with them until after Burgos. I first met then on Day 4, when the offered me a tomato, when I found out the all store were closed on Sunday afternoon. They spoke very little English, but all the same, we found a way to communicate and poke fun at each other.

Just upon arriving to the city of Logronos, there was a large field of red poppies, popping up everywhere in a cereal field. The city is a urban hub of the region.

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June 1 - Day 5- Cirauqui - Los Arcos - 36,5 km- Sunny - 25-30 C, Passed by the Irache Fuente de Vino , where pilgrim have a choice of water or red wine at a drinking fountain. Here we are in wine country, vineyards as far as the eye can see. The fountain is courtesy of a local winemaker where you have the option to also purchase some if you want. But everything counts in a backpack, so for this time I will have to pass. I then have a great view of another charming village above another long inclined road, Villamayor de Monjardin. Then a 2h45 minute walk through winding roads, cereal fields to Los Arcos. The sun was in full force after midday. The few trees that provided shade often had a pilgrim taking a break or a nap while I kept moving on. It is as this point the I realize that it is important to get out early in the morning to take advantage of the cool morning air. That afternoon, I got the last available bed at the Albergue (Hostel), as I was one who also had walked the furthest. I was on the road a 6:00 am and arrived at my destination at 2:40 pm.

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May 31 - Day 4- Cizor Menor - Cirauqui - 27,4 km

Sunny - 30 C, light breeze
For Raymond & Marguerite

Last night, my wife Suzanne came to me at the foot of my bed waking me by tickling my toes. I sat up and looked at her. ''What are you doing here?'' I said. '' I miss you so much and couldn't wait until the fall to walk my Camino, so Dad is with Jean-Luc and I'm coming with you''. I was so happy to see her. She then climbed up the ladder to my bunk and curl up besides me and fell asleep. When I woke up at 6:00 am, Suzanne had vanished and I realized that it was only a dream. At that very moment I realized how much I loved and missed her.

By 6:50 am, I was on the road. At first, I walked alone and for a very long time. The narrow trail was bordered with wild flowers of all kind. Jenêt, a bush with tiny yellowing blooms that has a scent of lilac, rustic roses, honeysuckle bushes, and fields of red poppies as seen in Claude Monet's painting ''Les Coquelicots''.



When I reached Alto del Perdon I caught up with a pilgrim I had seen every day since I've started the Camino. Up until now, we had only exchanged a few words. He exuded a very positive vibe and also had a very generous smile, that said a lot about his personality. Jean-Marc C. 59, was a retired fireman who once lived in Paris and was currently living in Dunkerque near the France-Belgium border. He had a love affair with repelling and exploring caves (la spéléologie). He had travelled across Europe to fulfill this passion.



Alto del Perdon is where a grouping of cutout figure statues of pilgrims is located on top of a hill. The site marks the change from the Pyrenean foothills to the mild climate of the Navarra, characterised by wine growing and agricultural fields. The panorama from the top at Alto del Perdon is breathtaking. Across the valley at a distance is another foothill with many wind turbines. Jean-Marc took a photo of me posing next to the statues.....but I would accidentally delete it by accident later that evening. I also took a photo of him. I had already realized even though I had only been walking for 4 days, many very nice people I had previously met would no longer be part of my days, and I needed to remember them in a visual way. I told him that he was ''un bon vivant'' (happy-go-lucky guy).


The descent from Alto del Perdon is more than a km long, rather steep and stony. As Jean-Marc decided to take a break, I continued alone. Within minutes I was now walking with Thomas, 45 from Germany, who slept on the bottom bunk while I was on the top at the Albergue in Larrasoana . He was a rather reserved chap, but we struck a friendship all the same. Puenta de la Reina was supposed to be my final destination for Day-4, but as it was only 11:00 am, I decided to continue for another 9 kms. We had an early lunch at a local bar where I ate my first Tortilla Patata (potato omelet pie). This one was infused with small pieces of chorizo (a spicy Spanish sausage). It would also be the most flavorable one I would eat on the Camino. Since Thomas was a vegetarian, instead of eating Tortilla Patata, he ate two creamed filled doughnuts. I sat outside under an umbrella at a bistro table with another pilgrim who was enjoying a smoke and having a beer as his walking day was already done with. This guy had an impressive built with a massive upper body. ''Are you Austrian?'' I asked. ''No, I'm German'' he said. Have people ever told you that you look and sound just like Arnold Schwarzenegger? ''Yes, I get that all the time, my nickname is The Terminator and somethings they call me Rambo''. We both started laughed.



After crossing the 11th century footbridge of Puente la Reina, Thomas and I would walk for another 2 hours up to Cirauqui. An extremely steep hill before Maneru had Thomas regretting his choice of snack. In retrospect, it felt like the steepest section of the whole Camino. We had a back wind and the noon sun was at it warmest. Thomas was sweating bullets, and breathing quite hard. He stopped briefly to check his pulse......''160 per minute'' he exclaims. I suggest that he turn around to take in a bit of the wind to cool down and catch his breath. He snaps the waist buckle from his backpack and the unbuttons the top button of his pants, because he felt bloated and had a tummy ache. ''It's those doughnuts I ate.......I feel like Homer Simpson''. His comment completely caught me off guard and I was in stitches.



Cirauqui can be seen from at least 5km away. Approaching the medieval town that dates back to the middle ages, the trail cuts across cornfields and vineyards. Cirauqui rises from the horizon like a cone shape fortress with a church bell on top that resounds throughout the valley every half hour.


The first corner store I spotted, I stopped for an Aquarius. The streets in Cirauqui are extremely steep, and the side walk have stairs to reduce the effort of climbing or descending. This is my first Sunday on the Camino. We arrive at 13h15 and check-in at Albergue Maralotx. The Albergue itself is superb, modern, Spanish tiles through out often set in a mosaic pattern, sporting a eating/sitting area on the second level balcony. After a quick shower and hand washing my clothes, I make my way to the nearby grocery store only to find out that it is closed. As the Albergue is serving a pilgrim supper, the hostess omitted to tell us that stores close at 14h00 on Sundays and don't re-open. From here on out, I would carefully consider restocking my food provisions on Sundays before 1 pm.


As I was eating tuna and bread from my backpack, three Spanish ladies from the next table offered me a nice ripe tomato. I would use my Swiss Army knife to split it in two and share it with Thomas. During that afternoon, I would also meet a lovely couple from la Réunion. A young Australian who had quit his job to walk the Camino and had hooked up a pretty American just few days ago. When he asked me where I was from, I said Moncton, NB. To my surprise he said, ''I've been there''. As it turned out, he had cross Canada in a rented van. By the time he got to Vancouver, he had picked up a few hitchhikers who decided to join him on his journey. I them mentioned that he should have filmed everything, as it would have made a great reality-travel TV show.
At this Albergue is also where I was formally introduced to Françoise L. who lives near Lyon, France. I had also seen her since Day-1. She had started a day before me and had slept her first night at Orisson, at the 8 km climb of the Pyrenees from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Like Jean-Marc C., she had previously walked the 800km stretch of the Camino between Puy-en Velay and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. She works as a laboratory technician in a hospital. She and Jean-Marc shared the top and bottom bunk next to me, while Thomas was once again my bunk mate on the bottom bed.


As I am writing in my journal and enjoying this spectacular view from the balcony, on this Sunday I truly feel at peace on the Camino, and would not want to be anywhere else. The man seated next to me in this photo is also German. My estimate is that he's at least 65 years old. He did not talk English or French, so we only exchanged smiles. I would see him once in a while during the first week. This guy did not let his age damper his ability. He was a real fine-tuned walking machine, and I could only keep up with him for brief periods of time.



Supper was great and served in the basement of the Albergue which featured stone laid walls and had a pub atmosphere. It was accessed from the left side of the building. There were three tables, one for Spaniards, a second for the French and I sat at the International table. I felt sorry for Thomas when he mentioned that this was his first hot meal since he had left Germany a week earlier. When I asked why he had not eaten the pilgrim supper the previous evenings, he just said that no one had ever mentioned that such a meal was available. This is when I realized how important it was to establish connections with others around you. If you remain in your shell, opportunities just passes you by. This was also the last time that I would also see Thomas from Germany, although I did hear that he was in a neighboring Albergue in Los Arcos the following evening and would eventually walk ahead of us.
Tip of the Day- Bring some headgear. A cap or a broad rim hat made out of breathable material, that has a UV protection against the sun. These will also protect your eyes. I suggest that you also wear sunglasses with a UVA/UVB protection. This head wear is also easily hand washable and dries quickly on a clothesline.


May 30 - Day 3- Larrasoana - Cizor Menor - 20,7 km -
Sunny - 32 C shade / 40 C Sun
For Suzanne & Claude

Woke up at 6:00 am. From this point on, I would always prepare my own breakfast with only a few exception. Usually a piece of baguette bread with some peanut butter or jelly, a piece of fresh fruit, a yogurt when a fridge was available and a glass of water. Just enough to get me started. I was on the road by 6:50 am. Nice and cool at first, some wooden trails that are still partially muddy from a moderate amount the rain received the week prior. There's no precipitation in the long range forecast at this time.

At Arleta there is a service park with picnic tables along the main road. I stopped here for a banana before a steep path the continued along a mountain side. As I remove my backpack a large peleton of elite cyclists came whizzing down a hill at full throttle. The neighboring town of Villava is the birthplace of Spain's greatest cyclist, Michuel Indurain, a five-time winner of the Tour de France.


There are beautiful little cascading falls as we cross the River Ulzama, a branch of the Rio Arga in Trinidad de Arre. I have been walking part of the morning with a German man who started his trek back from Köln (Cologne), when there was still some snow on the ground. I had seen him a few times in the previous days. He mentioned that people along the Camino route have gone out of their ways to accommodate him. In some villages, there have a list of people who will take in pilgrims for a night. Often asking where is would be sleeping the following night and make arrangements prior to his departure the next morning. He carried an umbrella with him, the only pilgrim that I would see along my Camino boasting one. We stopped at a café after crossing the falls for a mid-morning snack. When he saw what they were serving, his face instantly light up and he exclaimed ''This is what I have been dreaming of since I left Köln, a hot bacon & egg sandwich''. I ordered one, while he ordered two....and they were delicious. He was right, as it was the only time that I would also get to eat one. He would stop in Pamplona and was planning to stay there for two days to visit the city.

I truly considered and reconsidered everything I had packed in my backpack before crossing the Atlantic. My wife had lent me her Mountain Equipement CO-OP backpack that she had purchased for here own Camino. It was very sturdy, and very user friendly with a side zipper for easy access. The problem with it was that it was a bit heavy, 5½ lbs empty, and there was not large enough. I had only pack the bare minimum, but I quickly realized that I should have packed even less, because I did not have enough space for food. I could have shipped some stuff by mail to Santiago de Compostela, but opted to send it back home instead to Canada. My father-in-law had send me a good luck card and a $50 bill before I left.....so there you go. I decided to put it to good use as it cost me 36,39 euros. I send a foldable carry-on used on the plane, anything long sleeve, a pair of short and one t-shirt. I gained much needed space and my trapezoid muscles thanked me for it. Afterwards, I would often detached the buckle the held the two shoulder strap together and slightly push them outwards to give these sore muscles a break. You learn a lot as times goes by.

I found the Spanish people to be extremely accommodating. I stopped at a produce market to ask directions for the Post Office (Correos). I wanted to ask the clerk, but as there was two line-ups of clients waiting, I asked a young man who was pushing a baby stroller. As he started to point out with directions, three older ladies in the other row all jumped in to help. After leaving the Post Office, I was heading in the wrong direction when a young man on the third floor of an apartment building yelled out to me, ''CAMINO SI''.....Si, Camino, I replied. Then he pointed with finger towards the street I should take.....''muchas gracias'' I bellowed. In Pamplona, at one point, I lost track of the yellow arrows and asked direction to a senior. He pointed the direction towards an intersection. I turned around and walked a few paces. As I turned my head again, he was following me to make sure I took the correct street. Moments like these are but examples of the hospitality of the Spaniards. You do feel as if they are honored that you have come all this way to walk on their land, on this sacred road that has part of their history for the past Millenium.



I found Pamplona to be exceptionnal beautiful. I entered through the fortified entrance of Old Pamplona.

It is here where the running of the bulls takes place at the time of Sanfermines (July 6-14). It was Ernest Hemingway's book, The Sun Also Rises (1926), that brought this event to the public's attention a Global scale.




As I opened the door of Iglisia de San Lorenzo, music greeted me as I entered. A young man was singing lead as a group of equally lovely ladies were singing back-up as they were reheasing a pop song. Amazing voices, beautiful arrangements and great accoustics made me instantly started to well up and became teary eyed, even if I didn't understand a word they were singing.


I bumped into François (59) from Paris while buying a few groceries. Then walked a while with him across the University park and we ate lunch under the shape of trees. It was super hot that afternoon wtih the mercury pushing 40 C in full sun. We arrived at Cizor Menor at 13h40 and decided to call it a day. Staying at Albergue of the Order of the Knights of Malta next to Iglesia de San Miguel. A 12th century small fortress-like Romanesque church built by the Order of St John.

I later ran into France & François at the corner store down the street from the Albergue. They arrived to Cizor Menor before me and are staying at the beautiful Albergue Maribel Roncal, that boost a full kitchen and they graciously asked me to have supper with them with France preparing a beautiful meal.

Danielle and her son were also staying at the same Hostel as I. Later that evening a young Knight of the Order of Matla came to our Albergue to take care the blisters under her feet. She had hardly slept the previous night as her feet were sore. The epiderma was completely missing in some areas where she had blisters. He desinfected the area with a Betadine solution and applied dressings to her feet. He recommended that she take a day off, in order to recuperate and speed up healing. The next morning was the last time I got to talk to them.
Tip of the Day- Choosing proper clothing before leaving. You should avoid cotton, as it retains sweat and humidity, takes much longer to dry and does not breathe. A cotton t-shirt might be OK for the evening, but why carry more when you have limited space in your backpack.
Now a days, there are so many new fabrics available in the sporting apparal market. All your clothing should be lightweight, breathable, that wicks perperartion to the surface in order to keep you dry. They are usually 100% polyester or blend of polyester nylon and Spandex. These microfibers are known under various names such as Cool-Max, Dri Fit, Clima Fit, Clima Proof, Hydrenalite, Gore-tex, Dri-weave, Polartec etc... While some fabric are meant to keep you cool and dry, others are meant to retain body heat while keeping you dry on colder days. These fabrics are usually quite thin, so they also take less space when packing. It is better to dress in layers when it is cool, and peel away a piece as it gets warmer. When layering, they all work together to wick perspiration. A lot of these fabrics also have a UVA/UVB for skin protection against harmful sun rays.
These fabrics are also wrinkle free, are easy to wash and also dry very quickly on a clothesline. If you are on a limited budget, wait for a sale and plan ahead. The garments will give you years of wear and are worth every penny. Pants with zippered pant legs that can be converted into shorts are the best choice, because they serves as a dual purpose and will save space in your backpack. Even my underwear was made of a dri weave and the rarely felt damped. At one point, I saw some people walking in jeans and handwashing them in wash tubs with a soap bar. What a nightmare to wring the excess water before hanging them on a clothesline, and they take forever to dry if it is not windy and hot.
Your jacket should also be made out of a breathable, water repellent material that wicks sweat to the surface in order to keep you dry. If not, these will retain moisture and before long your jacket will start to feel like a sauna. During winter activites, the sweat will actually freeze and create a frost on the inside of the sleeves when they are 100% Nylon. Again, it is best to invest once, and you can enjoy these pieces for years to come.