11th Day: Belorado to Ages

Yesterday the group of ten, all stayed overnight at the private albergue El Carminante because the Municipal Refugio is closed during the winter until April 1st. The private hostel exceeded expectations. We ate dinner for 10 euros that included a seafood Paella, saffron pan-fried fish, wine, water and tiramisu. We ate in a room adjacenct and across a small courtyard from the dormitory. The cook had made too much and we scarfed down the extra plate of paella to provide us with extra energy for the morning. Early this morning, I realized that I had left the original inserts of my boots at the Municipal Refugio of Santo Domingo, two days earlier. As I crunched across the rocks, I began to notice that the rocks were really making my feet hurt. We crossed through two small villages and then took the Camino 12 km through the forest without a town to stop in for a break. We were headed to San Juan de Ortega, however word had made its way from Rosita, a Brazilian doctor, that the Refugio in San Juan didn’t have hot water. Instead we sojourned on an unexpected extra 4k to the town of Ages. Upon arrival, Ivano from Italy, who made dinner two nights ago in Santo Domingo, decided that without inserts, a walk to Burgos would be too difficult. He sought out the owner of the Refugio to ask for assistance. His Spanish is perfect and in no time the owner had produced to white shower slippers for our use. Using a set of borrowed scissors, Uncle Ivano, as he told me I should...

10th Day: Santo Damingo to Belorado

Last night Ivano and Pierre Luigi made dinner for a group of 10 us. As you may have guessed by their names, they are italian. Earlier in the evening Ivano had a run in with a rather tall, angry Austrian man. Everyone was assigned a bed during check in, however one person chose a bed that was not officially assigned to her. This started a domino effect with Kild, the 65 year old Danish man, ultimately being confronted by an angry Austrian pilgrim. He yelled at Kild to get out of his bed, producing the slip given to him at check in. Kild tried to explain to him that somebody was now in his assigned bed and they would have to move 20 people around to accommodate him. The angry Austrian man would have none of it, pointing repeatedly to his paper and saying that the bed was rightfully his. Ivano did not appreciate the tone and lack of respect the Austrian showed Kild and told him to go seek the administration if he was having a problem with the bed situation (he also said a few more things in Italian that I imagine were not so polite). The administration wasn’t sympathetic to the Austrian’s cause either. The administration was sorry about the problem they caused the Austrian, but there were still many other beds available. After huffing and puffing around the refugio for another 15 minutes looking for some mysterious pants, he ultimately left and went to stay in a hotel. The whole scene took place 2 hours before our meal. After pasta with chile peppers, lemon and...

9th Day: Najera to Santo Domingo

Yesterday, I was in a foul mood for a combination of reasons. The weather had made its way inside of my rain-proof jacket and had infected my phone with a case of rain herpes. Whenever I turn it on, you can see little, round wet spots on the back of the display and the phone often mistakes these wet spots for a finger. It cycles through menus, takes me out of applications and generally makes it hard to do anything practical. On top of that, I had lost my SD card adapter for the IPad the day before. After I arrived in Najara yesterday I spent two hours walking around the city of seven thousand trying to find one. Granted not a big deal, but after walking 30k in pouring rain, you kind of want to just sit back and put your feet up. But I’m over myself now, even though today’s weather picked off where yesterdays left off. The rain was lighter though and let up several times throughout the day. I had put on my rain pants in anticipation and had tucked all essential electronics in a plastic bag. Rachel and Marcus, my walking partners for the past two days, had decided to stay in Ventosa yesterday instead of making their way to Najara. This morning I walked alone to Azofra, but met up with Caetano, Lea and 7 other pilgrims at a small cafe with the freshest eggs I have had during the entire camino (for those interested, its the very first bar that you pass on your way through town on the Camino). The vineyards...

8th Day: Logrono to Najera

The weight of the Camino is wearing on me. The rain beat down harder than yesterday and by the 13th kilometer, I was soaked. My boots were each at least a half pound heavier than normal. I have so much to write about today, but I have not the power or inclination to do so. Instead, here are some pictures from the last two days. I promise to write a more comprehensive post...

7th Day: Los Arcos to Logrono

Yesterday, Albert, who in my mind I refer to as the most interesting pilgrim on the Camino, dangled the keys to Casa de la Abuela (Grandmas House in English) in front of me. Albert had a mischievous grin on his face. “Normally you have to be back by 10 pm, but I told him I vant to vatch the Barcelona Madrid classico. I told him to give me the keys. I vill be back afterwards.” he said in a thick Viennese accent as we both enjoyed the mysterious brown liquor he had ordered for us in the small bar. The Spanish fans roared as Messi scored the game winning goal for Barcelona on a penalty kick. Madrid is not a team that is well supported in this part of Spain. This morning I woke up begrudgingly as the alarm of a fellow pilgrim sounded at 6:30 am. After a good breakfast of coffee, oranges, bread and water, Marcus, Leah and I headed out for the city of Logrono at 7:30. On discovering that we were going swiftly in the wrong direction, we promptly turned around and retraced our steps. With the sun providing ample warmth we continued at a brisk early morning pace to Sansol. In a few hours we would be cursing the weather. At Viana, 20k from Los Arcos, we stopped for Lunch. The small Cafe sheltered us from the rain which was starting to come down in sheets. We hastily put on our rain gear, knowing that we still had another 10 kilometers to our final destination. The rain didn’t seem like it would let up...

6th Day: Estella to Los Arcos

I’m getting quite good at breaking into Albergues. After walking 1km I realized I had forgot my dorky, red walking poles inside the communal room of the Municipal Albergue in Estella. I noticed the last two pilgrims leaving as I approached. At most Albegues the door locks automatically behind the last pilgrim. Sure enough, the door didn’t budge and no one answered my knock. I climbed over the fence in the back as I did two days ago in Puente lá Reina, opened the back door, grabed my poles and exited the front door as it locked behind me. I hastily jogged down the roads of Estella to make up the time I had lost going back to get my poles. I met Rachel and Marcus (the English group minus Helen who left for England yesterday) 10 minutes before Bodega Irache. The vineyard provides free wine from a tap and I filled up two 50 cl bottles with free wine. We then made our way to Villamayor de Monjardin and then on to Los Arcos. After getting separated from Rachel and Marcus, I met Daria, from Italy, and Paula, from Brazil. They also are starting a travel blog so we talked shop for three hours on the Camino, until I made my final stop in Los Arcos and they continued on to Torre de Rio. After arriving at Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos (the municpal refugio is closed until April 1st), I met the most interesting pilgrim of the trip so far. He reminded me of the Dos Equis guy, only with a mustache instead of a...

5th Day: Puente la Reina to Estella

I jumped down from the outer Refugio wall into a patch of wet weeds. The sandals I was wearing did little to protect my feet. Since it was dark, I had a hard time seeing where I was going. I heard the sound of water and looked down to see that the earth fell away into a creek that I would need to jump over. Leah and Caetano were still on the other side of the Refugio wall waiting for me to work my way to the front door to unlock it. Luckily the back door was open and I slinked into the dark hallway of the Refugio. The front door clicked open easily. Even though the sign on the front of the Municipal Refugio noted an 11 pm lights out time, the doors were locked by 9:30 with the other 24 pilgrims asleep inside. I woke up the next morning quite satisfied with myself, until Caetano asked me if I had a hangover from the wine at dinner last night. I didn’t. I set off a half hour after Leah and Caetano with the English group again. On the way out of town we passed first the Church of the Crucifix, so named for the Y shaped crucifix brought by German Pilgrims in the 14th century, and on to a path that intersected green and yellow fields on each side of us. The pace of the Camino is different for everyone and I found myself first falling behind the English group to take pictures and then leap frogging them when they took a break. We made it through...

4th Day: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

The sliver plaques of scallop shells leading pilgrims out of the streets of Pamplona passed underneath my feet every ten meters. I was hiking today to Puente la Reina that was 24k away. Cizur Menor, however, is only a 20-minute hike from the outskirts of Pampleon. There I saw the first of many historical sites of today’s Camino and met the first fellow pilgrim of the day. I met Antonio from Spain 40 meters off the Camino at the Church of Sanjuanista in the town of Cizur Menor. He explained that this city and church were at one time more important to pilgrims than Pamplona because the order of Sanjuanista protected and sheltered pilgrims even before the Knight’s Templar. Unfortunately, the church was closed and the keeper of the Church across the street was also not at home. Antonio sojourned on while I stayed to play fetch with the German Shepard tied up outside the keeper’s house. This also allowed me to meet up with a new group of pilgrims. After the “flat as a ruler” hike to Cezor Menor and the slow assent to Zariquiegui, the site of a 13th century Romanesque church, Iglesia San Andres, I joined a group of English speakers to hike the 600 meter assent to the ridge Alto de Perdon. The scattered windmills on the ridge provided a good reference point on the climb. Near the top, we reached Fuente Reniega (Fountain of Renouncement). Legend has it that the devil offered to show a thirsty pilgrim the secret hiding place of a fountain, but only if he renounced God, St. James and the...

3rd Day: Larrasoana to Pamplona

Two days ago my niece Raleigh Layne Pliskie opened her little eyes to this world. It was a great email to wake up to. It is certainly a different Camino now then it was for the first pilgrims 1,000 years ago. My family is able to keep me updated almost in real time, even while I am on the Camino. I walked most of today’s 15k with Antonio, an Irishman that will complete his Camino in parts, with this particular section lasting three days and ending here in Pamplona. His wife hadn’t planned on doing any of the Camino with him, but he thought he detected a hint of jealousy in their last telephone call. She may end up joining him next Spring when he returns to put a further dent in the remaining 720 km to Santiago. In Villava, Antonio had also given the German pilgrim with brown nicotine stains on his white mustache 20 euros. The pilgrim had produced a broken gold Visa card to corroborate his story that an ATM had destroyed his only means of obtaining cash. Furthermore, he explained that he had spent the 2,000 euros in cash he had brought while traveling to Santiago and back (supposedly he was hiking all the way back to his starting point at St jean Pied de Port). He needed money for a bus ride to the closest German embassy in Madrid. On the surface his story checked out – he had the pilgrim’s passport filled with stamps from Refugios all the way to Santiago. He also carried a 45 liter yellow Deuter backpack with the pilgrim’s...
2nd Day: Roncesvalles to Larrasoana

2nd Day: Roncesvalles to Larrasoana

Yesterday evening I rushed to finish last night’s post so I wouldn’t miss dinner. After I burst through the door of the Refugio and asked the Dutch volunteer if I had missed dinner, he laughed and moved his palms up and down in an effort to calm me. He explained that there were two dinners, one at 7 and the other at 8:30. Sitting down to dinner, I spied two other groups already eating – one with three Italians and an Irishman who I would later find out is walking the Camino in sections (3 days now, 4 days in October and then who knows) and two Americans from Texas. After digging into my pea soup, the American’s, L and M (names hidden for their privacy) struck up a coversation with me. They had just married in Austin and were using the Camino as a honeymoon of sorts. Three weeks before heading to Europe, first to visit M’s father in Switzerland and then to hike the Camino, they had let the lease expire on their flat in Austin. L had just quit his job working for a video game company. He was frustrated with how the company was treating its employees. L further explained that he wanted to become self employed, however if that didn’t work out, he could always get a job with M’s father in Switzerland as a cook in his hotel. L was a jack of all trades, as he put it. They both decided that the Camino would be a great place to clear their head and get a plan started for their next move....
1st Day: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

1st Day: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

In total, 15 pilgrims must have scuttled out of the train at St. Jean pied de Port. All had bags weighing between between 5 and 15 kilos (11 to 33 pounds) strapped effortlessly to their back. All were on their first night of their pilgrimage. We all followed an an older gentleman into town. He moved with purpose so I felt comfortable following him. When he came upon the Compostela office, he kept walking (I think he had gotten his pilgrims passport already). Drawn by the light and the stamps strewn about on the tables inside, I paused to investigate. It was indeed the Municipal office dedicated to pilgrims on their way to Santiago. I stepped in and 10 other pilgrims hurried in behind me. After the formalities, including selling me a spot at the 20 person Municipal Refugio (hostel) and the pilgrims passport which needs to be stamped every day in order to receive a Compostela (certificate of completion) for 10 euros, the former pilgrim cum volunteer detailed the route I would take tomorrow. She explained that tomorrow would be one of the harder hikes, as the elevation change would be the greatest of the Camino (1100 vertical meters or 3600 feet). I met Andrea outside of the munipal Refugio on my way back from dinner later on in the night. A small Italian man, maybe 5 foot 4, he is a holistic therapist. Or I should say was. He used to give massages in his home town near Venice before the hotel shut down in December. Due to the crisis, which apparently is still going on in...
Way of St. James Test Run

Way of St. James Test Run

I am leaving for the Way of St. James on Monday. So today I went on a 30 km test hike through Brussels on the hiking trail GR 579. If found anything wrong with the equipment, I could make some last minute adjustments. On a side note, the looks of confusion and snickers I received from urban dwellers while trekking with stupid red walking poles and full hiking gear in the middle of the city, made my hike much more entertaining. After searching for the trail for an hour, and after taking off my gear at a quiet church 5 km down on the supposed trail and after getting shit on by a bird, I decided the hell with the 579 route, I would make my own. I found an Abbey on Google maps and I beelined the 5 km in 40 minutes. Abbaye rouge du cloitre has a smattering of white washed dormitories and enclaves, surrounded by 2 vast lakes, 4 horses with pen (the kind with furry feet) and two jackasses. Apart from the indistinct calls of small birds and the intermittent splash of geese as they jumped into the lake to avoid the vicisous clutches of yet another small dog, the grounds were quite calm. Its early spring; the ground was a dull green and hadn’t really opened up to the idea of summer yet. The geese didn’t seem to mind as I banged away at my keyboard connected via bluetooth to my IPad; at least not as much as they minded the dogs. (I wrote this post using the Ipad – I scratched the idea...