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.

Trout time

At long last, here I am in St. Jean Pied de Port, the semi-official start of the Camino for pilgrims doing the French route. The journey here was long and arduous, for there is not an easy way to get to St Jean. I met up with Lisa Bartges and got my Camino “passport”. Lisa had arrived the day before and had a chance to tour the town. She told me that in St Jean Pied de Port, one eats trout. And so we did, at the Cafe Pip. As the town settles into evening, I will settle into my bed at the Villa Esponda. If I dream at all, it will be of tomorrow’s adventure.

These guys didn’t make the cut
Meeting up with Lisa at the Camino passport office
St. Jean Pied de Port

Camino Planning, Antigua-style

Much of the physical Camino de Santiago has its origins in pre-Christian times when people of the Celtic tribes made their way from central Europe to the mountainous region of Galicia on the Atlantic coast in the final centuries before Christ.  Some continued by sea to Ireland, but for Celts who remained in Iberia and called this isolated highland stronghold their home, following the sun and watching it set over the endless waters must have been a spiritual experience.  The Romans, arriving later and controlling the entire region by about 75 BC, built roads to exploit the silver and ore mines in Galicia but could not dislodge or overcome the Celt-Iberians; nor could the Visigoths who came as the Roman Empire decayed, nor the Moors, who never posed a real threat that far north.  

As the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain pondered the Reconquista, legend has it that in the 9th century a Christian hermit saw a glowing light in a forest in Galicia.   He alerted the religious authorities who discovered that the aura was emanating from a spot holding the remains of three men, one of whom was beheaded.  It was revealed that these were the remains of Saint James and two of his acolytes.  After all, when the apostles spread out across the known world to preach the gospel of Jesus, St James apparently came to Galicia.  On returning to Palestine, he was beheaded by Herod.  Thus, the legend was born that the body of St James was returned to Galicia where eventually it was found by the hermit.  A religious shrine was built and dedicated to the apostle.  It was rebuilt after being destroyed by the Moors, and by the 12th century the Cathedral of Santiago was attracting pilgrims from all over Europe, who travelled along the well-constructed Roman highways built centuries earlier. 

With the Protestant Reformation, wars in Europe and the isolation of Spain during the Franco years, the number of pilgrims decreased.  However, since the 1980s there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the Camino attracting those seeking a religious or spiritual experience as well as tourists looking for a new adventure.  I began to give it some serious thought in the years before retirement and after returning to the US after many years overseas, it was only a matter of determining when I would depart.

When my original plan to walk the Camino in April 2020 was ended by the Covid pandemic, I lost some of the passion I had for it.  Sometime during the “lockdown” I mentioned it to Lisa Bartges, who had always been keen to give it a go, and my desire was rekindled.  We decided in October 2021 that we would walk the Camino in September and October of 2022. 

Thus it was, that on Wednesday, February 23, 2022, Paula and I flew into VC Bird International Airport, Antigua, and found Rodwell Henry and his purple black van.  He delivered us to the Antigua Yacht Club for our rendezvous with Lisa and John for the purpose of planning our pilgrimage to Spain in September. 

You would not be out of place to ask why we had to spend 10 days on a sailboat in the Caribbean to plan a journey to northern Spain half a year in the future.  Well, as Lisa said, “It’s more fun to plan a trip when you are on vacation.” 

El Camino de Jaime

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.

“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”

Miguel Cervantes


Paula and I were visiting Maureen and Stephen at their country home in Chapell Hill on a rainy day in November 2019. We were on the way to San Antonio to spend the weekend with Michael and Chappell Hill is almost right on the way. Even in the drizzly overcast weather, it is a beautiful place and their home is very warm and comfortable. Maureen has furnished it with some items Mom and Dad left behind which brought back memories of my childhood. For example, there is a round leather-covered coffee table with six similar stools, all engraved with Incan motifs. As children we would spend hours waxing and polishing that table.

By the way, their home is nestled on high ground surrounded by trees and gently sloping land. We commented that it was a very special place, surrounded as it was by gently nodding trees in which dwelled the protective spirits who welcome them to live together in harmony.

That evening, after dinner, the conversation turned to my planned walk on The Camino, the ancient pilgrim’s trail in northern Spain. “Why in the world would you go all the way to Spain to walk 15 miles a day for 35 days?” Stephen asked. I had not been asked this question before and I don’t think I came up with a very convincing reason. Why does anyone write or paint or cook or travel? There are some things you do because you have to, but when you are free to chose, you do what you want to do. For many years I have wanted to walk the Camino.

Earlier that year— it must have been in March— I was chatting with Katita about doing the Camino. We thought how interesting it would be to follow the lead of Jonee, who, a couple years earlier, had forged, at least on behalf of the Carroll clan, the trail by walking for several days along the Camino. Katita and I thought we should definitely do it the following year. Well, about a week later she announced she was not waiting any longer and was leaving in a week! We got word she had landed in Madrid and soon I was excitedly and enviously following her blog and vicariously walking the Camino with her, meeting her friends and sharing her morning coffee and croissant.

A couple years have now gone by, and I prepare for my Camino. Hopefully, this blog will help refresh my memory of the experience in the years to come. For example, the following passages were written prior to my first attempt at the Camino in 2020:

“…I write these words at a coffee shop on Sukhumvit in Bangkok, arriving from Shanghai a couple days ago. I have been fascinated by the Wanderer, the Traveller, the Seafarer, and all those fellows whose goals may be lofty or noble or misguided or foolish, but who will live or die or find happiness or misery as a consequence of their actions, which may be selfish or altruistic, taken in the name of God or made under the deception of some trickster. I sail with Odysseus upon the wine dark sea and I share a saddle with Sancho alongside Don Quixote. And soon, I will join a one-thousand year old trek of pilgrims who have gained some kind of inner experience, perhaps quite unexpected, after reaching the bones of St James.

There is one more thing that must be mentioned here. As everyone knows, Paula is the walker in this family. As I originally contemplated the Camino, I was certain this would be a joint effort and if anything, I would be holding Paula back. However, she does not want to walk fifteen miles a day for thirty days. She also prefers to help JP and Jen with Juliette [and Jemma and Joelle]. When she told me, I knew that was the way it was meant to be. I will travel the trail alone but for unknown pilgrims and innkeepers, at my pace, unhurried, discovering my path and accepting its destination. And at the end, when I reunite with my Penelope, my Dulcinea, my Paula, it will be a moment to rejoice and celebrate and, copa de vino en mano, share stories.”


(Written in 2019)

Nothing happens in an instant. Biologically, one might argue, there is a specific moment in time when we are created, when our spirit and flesh magically burst into pulsating, vibrant life. Like the Big Bang. But in our consciousness — which is really all that counts — our lives begin as a blur, vague memories strewn together, like a long darkness broken up with sporadic flashes or glimmers of light, until at last, day breaks and we begin our journey, rich with twists and turns, leaps and stumbles, joys and disappointments, friends and foes. And so it will be when we breathe our last: a graying of the day as our consciousness dims and our memories vanish, and our spirit and flesh part ways.

And on that bright note, Sancho, while spirit and flesh remain somewhat intact, I prepare to set off, with the noble intention of sharing at least some my experiences.

And is it only a coincidence that today, October 28, 2019, is the feast day of Thaddaeus? Thaddaeus was one of the Twelve Apostles, a brother of St. James the Less and a relative of Jesus. He is the patron saint of desperate cases. Thus, I ask St Jude, as he is also known, to send a blessing my way that I may do this blog justice and that he deliver my plea to the patron saint of good deeds and worthy causes, none other than his brother.

I have one final point to make in this introductory chapter: My initials are JPC, and if you speak the letters, it sounds a little bit like you are saying “gypsy”. Okay, you have to use a little bit of your imagination, but I have been aware for a long time that I have “gypsy” blood — not in the sense that I am of Romani extraction, but that the desire to visit and live in different places around the world has influenced my destiny. An Irish friend once spoke of the gypsies in his country, calling them Travellers, which is actually a bit of a derogatory term, but so descriptive of my life that I felt an odd bit of comradeship with them. Home, as they say, is where the heart is, and I have made my home around the world. Final caveat: If you are expecting a travel blog, best look elsewhere. If you want to follow my adventures, come along, my fellow gypsies. We have giants to slay!