Sitting in the hotel bar…

The Féria de Gracias in Santo Domingo went on all night. I wasn’t there but I could hear it in the distance from my room at the Room Concept Hotel. Maybe that’s why there were not many people up when Lisa and I set off at 06:30 am. Except for some other pilgrims. I know it was hard for Lisa to leave her room at the Parador, but we wanted to get to Belorado early to enjoy what the town might offer.

We are creatures of habit as evidenced by our daily routines. Every night before retiring, I make sure my backpack and string bag are packed and ready to go. From bottom to top, my backpack consists of spare insoles, hiking shirts and shorts, dress shirt, baggie with underwear, socks, micro towel (so far unused), laundry bag if I have any, tee shirt (that I sleep in) and toiletry bag, the latter two packed in the morning. In the string bag I keep a bottle of water, a bag of almonds, bananas if I have any, and an assortment of ointments like Aquafor and sunscreen. I try to have a quick shower in the morning and give my teeth a breath-cleansing scrub. I dress, including rubbing Aquafor on my feet and pulling on my wool socks and tie up my trainers, clamber into my backpack, sling the string bag in front, grab my Tilley hat, and I am off. Breakfast will come about 5 km later.

Breakfast consists of a cafe con leche grande and, depending on what is available, a tortilla, croissant, or toast, on that order. I will also eat a banana if available (gotta get my potassium!). Later rest stops might include another coffee or an isotonic drink. I have found that a glass of beer or wine is best left until the destination is reached. I fill my water bottle if necessary.

I prefer to walk alone, but I don’t mind a bit of company every now and then. Sometimes I will start the conversation, sometimes another pilgrim. And as we are all getting familiar with each other, conversations strike up easily and at any time. At first the questions were always: “where are you from?“; “Where did you start?”; “Are you going all the way to Santiago?”. Then the questions were “What made you want to do this?” and now I get a lot of “What was your favorite day?” and “What was your favorite stop?” And then lots of personal questions or comments – but there is an etiquette in how far to push these enquiries. Sometimes I get snippets of other conversations going on around me, some interesting and some that I am glad I am not on the receiving end of. Examples of the latter: a computer program that is easy to learn and difficult to master; the complete rules of how to play Nickels; all the aches and pains and blisters of the Camino.

My feet have been giving me some trouble over the past few days: swollen ankles, soreness, etc. Now here is an amazing fact: if I start talking with someone, I become oblivious to the pain. Then, when that person moves on or falls behind, the pain is very slow to return. There is an a anaesthetic quality to social interaction.

I thought this was an interesting sight.
I like playing with the editing features on these photos of the drought-stricken sunflowers. They look like armies of alien soldiers. (Or triffids if you ever read that story – or saw the movie).
This is taken in Belorado, a village with colorful murals all over the place. Lisa and I are staying at the Hotel Belorado, at 1428 Elm Street. It is run by a branch of the Addams family. I think the sunflowers may have entered into their brains and it is possible they may take over the entire earth.

Tonight, a young Colombian priest said mass and gave the pilgrim’s blessing. Tomorrow we are off to Atapuerca, near the site of some early man digs.

Business and Pleasure

Lisa and I got underway at 06:30 this morning. We had a nice breakfast in Azofra an hour later. We reached Cirueña 12 km later and walked right through without stopping. Soon after, a gentle mist turned into a heavy mist and we put on our rain gear. Mine consists of a Hefty trash bag with holes cut out for arms and head. Cheap, but effective, dries out quick and rolls up into a tiny package.

The skies cleared up by the time we reached Santo Domingo around noon. After checking into our hotels and resting up a bit, we celebrated Lisa’s birthday a few days early with vino and pintxos, and later some Rioja truffles. But our greatest achievement of the day was booking the last 6 hotels of our trek. Many pilgrims walk only the last 100 km of the Camino which entitles them to receive the pilgrims credential, so we wanted to get our rooms reserved early as they are already scarce.

The precipitation that fell today came a bit late for fields of sunflowers all over the region.
The altar of the hermitage in Santo Domingo. It was quiet and peaceful even though outside the local people were getting ready for a festival of thanksgiving during which they give thanks for the harvest. It was not so bountiful this year due to the heat and lack of rain, but the celebration must go on! It includes a show by the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico tomorrow.

Day Off

The new King of England and I took a rest day today. I don’t know what Charley got up to but I visited the Marquez de Riscal winery and hotel for a tour and a tasting. The hotel was designed by Frank Gehry who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It is avant-garde, meant to blend with the surrounding vineyards and the adjacent winery, built in 1858, but rather stands out with a flourish of giant ribbons. The trip to Elciego and the tour of the winery were quite a departure from the more austere and contemplative temperament experienced on the Camino.

The tour was worthwhile and the tour guide lively and knowledgeable, imparting bits if knowledge useful for those occasions when one opens a nice bottle of wine. The tasting consisted of three wines, a white and two reds, the latter of which was the flagship Grand Reserva. I still prefer a Ramon Bilbao crianza to the Marquez’ Grand Reserva.

The taxi driver who took me to the bodega was the son-in-law of a wine grower who was also well versed in the trade with hands-on experience. He explained how the long even rows of vines, like soldiers in formation, were usually Tempranillo and were harvested with machines whereas the older vines in uneven groupings were garnacha or mozuelo grapes and had to be picked by hand. In short, an interesting diversion, but I am anxious to get back on the trail.

I met with Lisa and we visited the Monastery, had a bite, and later met to go to Vespers followed by mass. Tonight the townsfolk are celebrating their fiesta and we checked out the band before returning to the hostal. We plan to meet up at 06:30 tomorrow for a rather leisurely 13 mile stroll to Santo Domingo.

The Marquez de Riscal hotel, part of the Marriott Luxury Collection. Quite a different crowd to the pilgrims.
Virgin of the Holy Cross in a chapel built into the side of the mountain at the monastery. The feria is in her honor.
Anther photo from the other day. This ancient olive tree is older than I am!

On On!

All pilgrims must find their Camino pace. And this pace varies by day and by time of day. It can change depending on who you might be walking with. For example, my pace has slowed down over the past two days. My original pace, especially when walking solo, was too fast to be sustainable over the long run. It felt frantic. Life is slower on the Camino and my pace was out of sync. My mind was slowing down but my pace was not. What works in Texas or California may not be appropriate for the Camino.

For example, I departed Logroño with Chris, a Canadian from Vancouver who lived in Bangkok and picked up his tailor made suit from Jesse at Rajawongse at the same time that George Bush had his final fitting. We discussed how finding one’s way out of town in darkness is like a hash run (as in Hash House Harriers). But his pace was slower than my new slow pace. This is neither good nor bad, just different. I then walked with Scott from Detroit whose wife injured herself and was taking a taxi to Ventosa where they would stay the night. Our paces were practically the same. After breakfast in Ventosa, I walked with young Flores, a Belgian lad who prefers second division football clubs because they have not been ruined by money and high expectations, and Tiffany, from Victoria, who likes to drink fresh orange juice daily and whose son is getting married in December. Flores had a very quick pace, but by carrying on a conversation among the three of us, we were all three able to keep up, without feeling rushed. However, when I came to the big Norwegian fellow who had been in the south of Spain drinking too much – and thus decided to try something healthier- my pace slowed to his stroll. He had a parasol, was listening to music and was wearing flip flops. He was definitely not in a hurry. He drifted on as I stopped at a troubadour in a shady spot. He played what he claimed was an age-old folk song of the trail. He was a Woody Guthrie of the Camino. I then continued on with Jim, another Belgian, and again we had a steady not-too-fast pace. We didn’t talk much. As I came close to the end, I came across Hank, a South Korean who is on the verge of retiring and lives in New York City, but also has a place in Ho Chi Minh City, where his son and daughter are running a ladies fashion clothing manufacturing shop. I slowed down to match his pace until we came to the park just outside Najera where we rested, drank water and shared some almonds.

My pace will vary but my average pace going forward will likely be less than the pace the first several days. I think it takes everyone a few days to “find their pace” on the Camino. Hey, just like in real life!

This is Jean Claude who is doing the Camino with Clea. He has done several long likes in France with his donkey. He packs enough equipment to camp out in the country-side.
This guy had come all the way from Amsterdam with his doggie and was on day 40. There are quite a few bikes on the trail. I even saw an electric bike.
While on the subject of different conveyances, here is a guy I saw the other day with a art he pulls taking all the strain off his back – and onto his quads. Everyone’s experience on the Camino is different.
In Najera it is traditional for pilgrims to ring the bell, in anticipation of ringing the bell in Santiago (which I did t realize there was one!). I have visited many churches but this was the first mass I went to, which included the pilgrims blessing.
This is the priest who said the mass and took us back into the sacristy for our pilgrims stamps and some other gifts. He had a large plastic tank, not in the picture. I asked if that was his supply of wine. He said no, it was diesel used to fire the generator for the church electrical supply and heating water for the radiators

Tomorrow I take a day off while waiting for Lisa and going with her to Santo Domingo de La Cruzada. I want to give my feet a good rest, along with the rest of my body. Tomorrow is the feast of the Virgin of the Holy Cross. We will see what surprises that brings!

Oh, and one last item: the troubadour.


That’s the name of the hostel I am staying at in Logroño. It is clean, newly remodeled, efficient (e,g. big drawers under the bunk beds, big enough to hold backpack plus a lot more) and right next to center of town. But I have not had a glass of wine yet. Too many selections. Easier to order beer.

The roadside motel folks were kind enough to give us wayward pilgrims a ride to the center of Los Arcos this morning, but too early to see the magnificent altar of the Santa María church. So, even after the best sleep of the trip, I was not in best mood. It did not help that 5 km later, at a coffee stop, the proprietor had a fit that I put some trash into his waste battery collection. I departed and began getting a little upset about the pilgrim graffiti. “Shine bright! You are the light!” I am not a light thanks, so don’t tell me what to do. “Follow Jesus!” I’d rather follow the Camino trail markings and prefer you not to deface them with your suggestions.”I love you Kevin.” Well, your settling for a loser. And too many more that I have tried to forget.

Things took a turn for the better when I came across Casita Lucia in the middle of a forest patch. Had a great coffee and felt truly relaxed when I resumed my trek. Then I heard bells ringing in the distance which actually turned out to be a guitar player serenading the pilgrims. Then, as I entered Viana, the penultimate stop, I noticed a barricade surrounding an area full of dirt and people of all ages dressed in white with red bandanas. Turns out the village was celebrating their harvest festival in the honor of La Virgen de La Nieva with an encierro, or bull run through the main street. Fun to watch, though the bulls were not as big and wild as at Pamplona. That evening they planned a capea, where they allow a cow into the barricaded area and let people go and play dodgebull and other games meant to annoy the poor animal. But all in fun and an escape, I suppose, from the drudgery of life. Boy, I was feeling much better by now!

Arriving in Logroño I checked into the alberge and then wandered around town for a few hours. I visited the Museo de La Rioja which depicted the changes in the region’s culture since Roman times. Interesting and right up my alley. I ran into a few familiar pilgrims and met a few new ones, mainly my roommates. No communal dinner needed here with all the restaurants and pintxo places.

That brings me to now, sitting in the Winederful and finishing this blog. Too early to go to bed and too late to go out. Ever have that feeling? Well, maybe I have time for one glass of wine.

Casita Lucia, where life started getting better! They even had freshly toasted almonds – still in the shell but supplies a hammer to crack them open.
Everywhere I go the grapes are fat and juicy and sweet. Have I already mentioned that?
Not quite Pamplona, is it Jack?

Another amazing day

Let’s start at the end of the day, of which Los Arcos was the destination. I arrived expecting to check in about 4:30 only to discover that my hotel was not a cute little inn in the center of the old town but a roadside motel about 2 miles on the opposite side of town. I was with two other pilgrims who had no reservations anywhere and we were hurrying as fast as our sore feet permitted to beat approaching thunderstorms. They went off to the local alberge. I wandered off the Camino onto city streets and then highways thinking my dying phone somehow had the wrong address. Then it started pelting down rain. I finally realized my hotel was part of a gas station convenience store. It helped little that four other pilgrims were staying at this same place with gasoline pumps our only view. Meanwhile, the other two pilgrims found a place in the center of town and texted me that they were eating paella and squid. A pilgrim must believe: the Camino will provide!

OK. Back to the start of the day. The night in the alberge was amazingly quiet once the church bell across the street went off-air at 11 pm. No snorers or sleepwalkers or falling out of bed. I was up and out the door by 6:30 and a full moon helped guide me on my way. I made good time before the sun came up, even finding a table with toast and olive oil with a sign saying “Para los peregrinos”. I went through Lorca and encountered two of my roommates, a couple from Puerto Rico. We continued on to Villatuerta where we had a great breakfast. We split up and I went to Estella and visited a few churches. Michener writes about Estella, but I am not sure what attracted him to this place. I must have missed it, but I did find a Supermercado to buy bananas to keep my potassium levels up.

I then came to the well known winery in Iracha where they have two spigots: one with red wine and one with water. You are supposed to use your scallop shell (which every pilgrim carries) to sip wine from. Well, my scallop shell was so small and so well attached to my backpack, that I had to come up with an alternative, not having a wine glass handy.

I found the correct spigot
Not having a scallop or a glass, I tried various methods of getting at the wine.
Finally I decided to use my water bottle cap.

I should have opted for the water! The wine was very young, had seen neither barrel nor bottle and the bit that remained in my water bottle cap tainted the taste of my water for the rest of the day! Not good marketing. Later I met a local man who recommended Iñuriati winery, in particular a blend called Puro Vicio. It was a fortuitous meeting because he showed me a beautiful mountain trail whereas most people take a treeless path alongside the highway.

My plan was to get to get to Villamayor de Monjardin no later than 1 pm because it is an 8 mile push to Los Arcos with no rest areas or trees. I found a place where I could take off my shoes and socks and rest and cool my feet for half an hour. I was about an hour behind schedule but not concerned, even though the distant sky was darkening. You know the rest of the story.

Tomorrow: Logoño, capital of the Rioja wine country. I have a reservation for a place and I made sure it is smack in the center of where I want to be. Wanna know the name? Tune in tomorrow!

20 miles with full backpack

I’m a worn out pup. I’ll write more tomorrow!

This is part of the downhill trek, but you can see that although beautiful, the rocks make for rough going. Later, I had to climb for several kilometers in 90+ degree heat. Almost ran out of water!
After reaching the top of the rise, I still had several miles to go to reach Cauriqui, in the background. Here I am next to in yard with grapes sweet, juicy and ready for harvest. A lot of other crops were harvested early or died in the fields due to extreme drought.
My first alberge. We have six in an 8-man room. The communal dinner was delicious and the company and banter great. 3 euros for a towel, pillow cover and sheet. Good deal because pillow and mattress are covered in plastic! Todd and Carol from Cordillera are here!

Tomorrow I plan on 20 miles to Los Arcos, but I will porter my backpack.

Day 3: Confessions of a Pintxo Eater

What a day this was! But first I must set the record straight: on days one and two I portered my backpack, meaning I had it sent ahead and carried instead a small day bag with extra water, snacks and a few other items. In retrospect I am glad I did because they were two rough days! But on day two I noticed I was passing a lot of other pilgrims who were loaded with their backpacks. I felt a bit guilty, so on this third day, I carried my own backpack. I definitively noticed the difference by the end of the day! I want to commend Lisa who carried her backpack all three days, through all the ascents and descents and many trail sections which were tricky going.

We slept in this morning to take advantage of the Hotel Akerreta breakfast consisting of croissants, toast, jelly, cheese and coffee. It was nice to have a later start and another chance to chat with some of our fellow pilgrims, like John and Billie who have like 5 kids and twelve grandkids, and Todd and Carol who live in Cordillera Ranch near Boerne.

I took heed of information gleaned from my sister Katita’s Camino blog ( and booked a couple rooms at the Hotel Catedral in Pamplona. It turned out to be the perfect place: close to all the action, but situated on a quiet street. And there was plenty of action with a lot of people in town celebrating Saturday. I quickly took care of some chores: did my laundry (the machines dose the load with soap so all you need are dirty clothes and some money), replaced my faulty charger with a 3.4 amp super charger, hit the ATM (yes, Paula, I remembered my PIN), and bought bananas to treat some leg cramps.

I met Lisa at a pintxo place she had heard about and we drank wine and ate a plate of pata negra and a pintxo consisting mainly of eggs scrambled with morcilla. We decided to try a different place so I suggested Calle Estafeta where I had seen a lot of bars and people. On the way, we bumped into a waiter who had served me a beer while I was waiting for my clothes to dry and he suggested El Gaucho. Off we went and had txangurro au gratin and patatas entrufada con alcochofa, washed down with glasses of Ramon Bilbao. We then went to the square in front of the Ayuntamiento to look for Paul, a Pamplona local we be met on the Way who offered to give us a tour of the area. We did not connect with him, so went to Hemmingway’s Corner at the Cafe Irún for another refreshment and watched all the people watching people at the Plaza del Castillo. After that we went in search of the Pilgrim’s mass but unfortunately went to the wrong church. We visited the Cathedral hoping it was there – wrong again but we wandered the big church and admired the intricate paintings and carvings. As we returned to the hotel we wistfully watched as the crowds, even bigger and more boisterous now, settled into the evenings partying. Another time we would have joined in. But this is a trip with a different mission.

On the way to Pamplona we came across St Stephens church. If you obey the nun and read about the church and pass an oral exam, she will let you climb the stairs and ring the bell!
Lisa’s welcoming band as we entered Burlada, just before reaching Pamplona.
Jim’s welcoming band upon arriving in Burlada. It turned out that we arrived on the annual feast day of the town of Burlada. We wandered through a fair and watched people dressed in local costumes danced in ancient Basque tradition.

Sorry for going on and on but as I said at the top of the post, it was quite a day. Luckily for you, I have an early start and must now get some sleep!

Day 2: Where’s my Advil?

Left Roncesvalle at 7 am after a visit to the chapel and hiked over 30 km to Akerreta. But the big news of the day is that my twin granddaughters are training for the Camino!

The chapel in Roncevalle is so quiet and peaceful. I would occasionally hear the voices or footsteps of pilgrims on their way. I was mesmerized by the stonework patterns.
First stop of the day at Bar Juan. I leave before breakfast is served and look for a place to eat about 2 hours into the hike. I am really enjoying the cafe con leche and tortilla slice.
During breakfast, it started misting heavily. Lisa geared up in her rain jacket and persevered. I went inside and had another coffee.
Escapee from the running of the bulls, spotted outside Akerreta.
Action photo, about 20 km into today’s trek. Much of the downhill sections were composed of loose and slippery slate with channels difficult to negotiate.
The Hotel Akerreta. This is 6 klicks past Zubiri where most pilgrims stop. It is definitely worth the extra effort. The innkeeper is very friendly and dinner was excellent. He told us some scenes from The Way were filmed here. We have decided to stay for breakfast for a change. Next stop: Pamplona.
Pilgrimette #1: First solo steps
Pilgrimette #2: Gotta copy her sister!

Day One: Survival!

I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction while walking the final kilometer of the first day’s trek. After endless uphill passages and some steep difficult descents, through mountain passes crossed by ancient armies, the final bit of this 25 kilometer journey wandered through a wooded valley alongside a bubbling brook, the perfect element in which to meditate upon the day’s achievement. This was the longest distance I had ever walked in one undertaking in my life! And included an elevation change of 1200 meters to boot. I awoke from my thoughts as the trail opened up into the village of Roncesvalles.

Preparing the chapel in the Notre Dame du Bout du Pont church in St. Jean, where I started the Camino with a prayer. Coincidentally, 8 Sep celebrates the birth of Mary.
We set off at 7:00 am when it was still dark and were well on our way when the sun began to wake up.
First break at Orisson (8 km). Time for cafe con leche and a slice of tortilla.
Second break
I was entertained with gamelan music in this country of sheep. Question: how does the shepherd decide which sheep to put the bell on? The sheep will follow whichever one has it. Does the shepherd look for leadership qualities, or horn size, or charisma? Asking for a friend who has goats.
The panoramic vistas took your breath away. Or maybe it was just the altitude!
Another break. I kept thinking about all the mothers who bring life into this world. My mother. My wife. My daughter in law. I dedicate this walk to all of you.