Spain: Camino de Santiago

PART 1: St Jean Pied de Port – Pamplona

In August 2015 we set about walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela starting at St Jean de Port and walking through to Santiago de Compostela, being 800km give or take a few kms. This walk is also known as “the way of St James” a pilgrimage walk which can be googled to read about the history. For us we didn’t see ourselves as pilgrims as most walkers saw themselves but rather tourists. Rather than stay in albergue accommodation we chose to take lodgings in hotels or Casas which we booked through booking.com prior to leaving Australia. Most places had a free cancellation policy giving us the freedom to change bookings along the way which we did. Walking from town to town amongst the hustle and bustle, stopping at cafes along the way, sleeping in accommodation and walking with the crowds of people was very different to our usual hiking of walking through quiet serene Australian bush, setting up the tent and sleeping on a thermarest.

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eventually getting there………

Arriving in St Jean Pied de Port took us by surprise, the crowds of people squeezed into this small town was amazing. Being holiday season not only Camino walkers filled the streets but also many tourists. The shops were overflowing with people as were the cafes, clearly business was booming. Each day an influx of Camino walkers arrive in SJPdeP to spend the night before departing the next morning. We had a most enjoyable day strolling around the shops, learning about the history and indulging in the cafes. With registration at the pilgrim office, purchase of our token scallop shell and first pilgrim stamp in our Camino passport we were prepared  for our first day on the Camino.

and off we go………

Early morning we walked through the town archway, we were off on the Camino along with many other excited and enthusiastic walkers. All you could hear was the clicking of many walking poles hitting the bitumen road. The sun was shining with the temperature expected to reach 35-37c and it did. The climb was steady as the road meandered to Orisson, what we had read was right, “the first day is all uphill” Most of the day we walked along a sealed road with one short section veering off onto gravel. The road was full of walkers and cyclists making it rather difficult for cars. We ambled through farm land that displayed lush green pastures with flocks  of grazing sheep and roaming horses.

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Just when we were almost out of puff the incline flattened out and as we veered around a bend Orisen albergue appeared which on a very hot day was a most welcomed sight.

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Many people take lodging here for the first night while other die hards by choice continued on to Roncesvalles making it a 27 km first day!!!! Bookings at Orisson are essential, we observed a few who hadn’t booked being left no choice but to push onto Roncesvalles. Only being day two we were surprised to see a few walkers throw down their packs, pull out their mobile phone and call a taxi to transport them back to StJdeP, They weren’t going any further!

The staff at Orisson had things running like a well oiled machine. We relaxed in the shaded outdoor area enjoying cool drinks and lunch whilst chatting to fellow walkers, everyone had a story to share. As evening drew near we were all summoned into the dining room for a communal meal. As the chatting continued we enjoyed a chicken stew, boy it was delicious. The waitress called for silence as she welcomed us onto the Camino then invited us all to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for walking the Camino. Much laughter, encouragement and cheering took place. By the time we retired for the night many strangers that we started the day with had become acquaintances that we would share the journey with. We met Ken and Dorothy from Racine, Wisconsin and during the walk built a friendship that we have continued to enjoy post walk.

Pyrenees crossing…………..

We woke early and enjoyed breakfast before heading off in an upwardly direction. This was the day we would cross the Pyrenees and to our luck the day skies were  clear so we could look forward to some spectacular views. Frequently, despite the time of year cloud cover is low which obscures the magnificent views. Flocks of sheep roamed the unfenced lush pastures with the gentle ringing of their neck bells creating a musical background as we slogged our way higher and higher to the Pyrenees summit. A stone shepherds hut  still stands giving shepherds respite from the horrendous weather that the Pyrenees is renowned for.

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The higher we climbed the wind intensity increased creating havoc as some people actual become swept up in the wind resulting in falling. Others linked arms to physically support one another and forged forward. At one stage the wind swept Ian’s hat off his head which sent him on a merry chase to retrieve his very distinctive Aussie hat. Ian’s  hat earned us the title “the Aussies” by many from other countries.

As amazing as it was for us to cross the Pyrenees many lives have been lost as seen by the memorial crosses along the way.

We huffed, we puffed, we grunted up the steep incline being made worse by the force of the wind and just when we entertained thoughts of questioning our sanity for undertaking this challenge a mobile food van appeared, what a relief. Backpacks were hurled onto the ground as everyone made their way to enjoy the treats on offer. Refuelled and recharged we pushed on and eventually crossed over the Pyrenees. As we stood in awe of the views Leah from the USA appeared. She was walking solo and had been battered by the wind and asked if she could walk into Roncesvalles with us. After taking one another’s photos we then continued to walk on together. Once over the exposed Pyrenees the decent began along a tree lined path giving shelter from the wind.

We had crossed the border from France into Spain at some point. What was left of the walk was a long steep descent into Roncesvalles but I knew a hot shower and comfy bed awaited. On arrival to Roncesvalles Leah took albergue accommodation as we went off in search of Hotel Roncesvalles. We didn’t cross paths with Leah again until the end of the walk. After a wander around town, a visit to the cathedral and a hearty meal  we eagerly crawled into bed as tomorrow was another day’s walk in the high 30s.

After a solid sleep we rose bright and chipper ready to walk into Zubiri which was 20kms. The yellow arrow lead us through some small towns before heading into the countryside. It certainly was hot and luckily the afternoon walk was through bush with the canopy of trees throwing shade. Underfoot though was very tough with a rocky track to negotiate. We walked and talked to many other walkers which distracted from the blaring sun and rough track. Passing through the villages and towns certainly made it easy to keep the fluids up. On arrival into Zubiri we crossed over the stone bridge to enter the town only to be greeted by the Casa manager. How he knew us I don’t know but he approached Ian and introduced himself then lead us to his house. He sat us down giving us ice cold water to drink, what a host. After a shower and rest we strolled around town catching up with others with  the conversation being “that was a hot one”. Well there was not going to be any relief from the heat for a week so early morning starts would be necessary. Walking in the cool brisk air of the morning is always refreshing and invigorating.

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bullfighting territory………..

Pamplona with a population of 200,00, was our destination for the day. It was the first major city for us to experience. Like most cities there was an old part and a new part to explore. The track out of  Zubiri was away from major roads and followed a river for quite some time which was pleasant. Stopped and watched some people fly fishing which really was of interest to us as we have enjoyed fly fishing before. Nothing biting and  with still a few kms to walk we continued on. Along with other walkers we enjoyed  stopping at a cafe where they were ready and waiting for the hungry walker. The food was great and with the cafe positioned on the river in a lovely outdoor setting made for a very restful break. As much as we wished to linger longer we needed to push on as the forecast temperature of 37 was looking like a reality.

Entry to the city of Pamplona was through a magnificent stone gateway in the wall that would have encircled  the old city of Pamplona in medieval times. Pamplona is world renowned for its ‘Running of the Bulls’ festival. August/September wasn’t bull season so we wouldn’t have to scale the barricades. If you wish to be entertained look up running with the bulls on you tube. We continued on through beautiful gardens until the old city merged into the new city which was a vast contrast in appearance.

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On arrival to our accommodation we found ourselves hot and bothered and took full advantage of a long soak in the tub. After which we found a laundry then searched for an eatery that would satisfy a hungry walkers appetite, we weren’t disappointed.

the yellow arrow to continue…………

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