Archive for September, 2017

Mile 143 Belorado

September 24, 2017

Today I was “gel’n.”

Yesterday I bought at a store that sells sporting goods for pilgrims a set of gel insoles. They have more padding to the front of the foot and toes. I think it helped but it was a long and strange day today and my feet still hurt at the end of it. Though I don’t blame them.

The road wasn’t so bad, mostly level with a little incline but it was hot, dry, and sunny (as it is said in Spanish: “¡Qué pega el sol!”) and we walked most of the way along a freeway. We did pass thru several small towns where we could get water and a rest. The bar that we eat at, though, got my husband sick. The sandwich was too oily and he ended up feeling clammy and now has a fever. Of course I don’t have any Alka-Seltzer in my first-aid kit! We stopped at a nice bar/restaurant along the way to have some Kas de Limón. This is a drink that I first had in Pamplona when we took a stop before walking into the city. It’s a soft drink that is low in sugar and is sour like lemon. The texture of it is like a fine fizzy mineral water.   We like it for a change with ice and lemon wedge. It really helps with the thirst. So we were looking for a place to buy some, hoping it would settle his stomach. We stopped at this nice bar/restaurant, the only one around and were told that we could not bring our poles and packs in with us.

This is the first time anyone has told us this (even the nice bars that we have been in before allowed us to bring in our poles and packs). The guy was rather rude too. So we left and there was a vending machine but it didn’t work. So we sat on a stone bench where a stone lion spouted out water into a shell shaped basin and rested. A woman from a group that is using a tour bus to pick them up fainted. I don’t think she had any water with her. It’s amazing how many people don’t carry water or enough with them on the walk. We carry 2 liters each…always. She was taken away in an ambulance.

When we got to Belorado we stopped at a bar and had Kas with ice and a lemon wedge and also mineral water. It helped but he has a fever now. Tomorrow we will stay at the hotel longer and take a cab either all the way or part. We are thinking with our heads.

El Camino can be harsh…

…but it gives you surprises:

When we arrived to Belorado El Camino the road took us to a plaza. There on the wall of one of the buildings was a mural. It’s beautiful and has so much to discover as you look at it. Sitting on a bench in the center park of the plaza was a young man and woman with paint all over their clothes.   I approached them and it turns out that the young woman is the artist—Alegria del Prado. Later when I was exploring the town I came upon the back of the plaza where she was working on a mural on that side. (She has a Facebook page)


Mile 151.8 San Juan de Ortega

September 25, 2017

El Camino has a way of revealing that which some don’t want revealed:

Since my husband still feels sick, this morning we decided to take a cab to Villafranca Montes de Oca and started El Camino from there. As we drove on the freeway I could see pilgrims walking. I felt uneasy. I didn’t belong in a cab; I belonged out there walking. By doing this we knocked off 7.5 miles from our trip, about half of what we had to walk. When we got out of the cab we were face to face with a high incline of dirt and rock. Up, up, up we went…good way to warm up the calf muscles…ya.

Monumento de los Caídos (The Monument of the Fallen)

 A few weeks ago a pilgrim who was starting his second time on El Camino was telling me that in the 1970’s the pilgrims had a difficult time walking to Santiago because there was no set infrastructure for the road for the pilgrims. They ended up having to walk on the roadways and freeways.   So Franco decided to have a special path made for the pilgrims that led them more into the countryside. That is how El Camino as we know it today was formed (or so this pilgrim told me).  He told me that Franco was very Catholic. I told him that I knew that…I’ve been to his tomb. It was built into a mountain and is the coldest (not meaning temperature) church that I have ever been in.

Today we passed a monument that also has to do with Franco. In 2011 when there was construction being done on El Camino the workers found an unmarked common grave of 30 people. These 30 individuals had been taken to the area during the civil war and executed, buried and forgotten. Eventually around 300 bodies in other common graves have been found in the area. Franco may have had something to do with making the journey for the pilgrim easier, but El Camino doesn’t forget the atrocities that happened in this country. Today the pilgrims remember and pay tribute to these fallen individuals. We will not forget.


We ended the day in mass at the church in San Juan de Ortega. This was a mass specifically for pilgrims and only pilgrims were in attendance. The priest was a wonderful man and his sermon was inspiring about exactly what El Camino is about and what being a pilgrim is. It moved me deeply…I cried.

I am not on a vacation…I am on a pilgrimage.


Mile 165.5 Burgos

September 26, 2017

Today began new and fresh…

It was a crisp beautiful day as we left San Juan de Ortega. We walked thru pine and oak forests. We walked thru a chain of small, quiet villages. We walked along a crest were sheep grazed and a labyrinth beaconed us to walk it. We did and felt calmer and ready for whatever the day had for us. We walked passed an archeological site were people are learning more about the first humans that settled in this area 800,000 years ago. We walked up a path made of rocks and I wished I knew more about geology so that I could read the earth’s bones. At the top was a cross and a quote:

“Desde que el peregrino dominó en Burguete los montes de Navarra y vio los campos dilatados de España, no ha gozado de vista más hermosa como esta.” (“Since the pilgrim dominated in Burguete the mountains of Navarra and saw the vast fields of Spain, he/she has never enjoyed a most beautiful view such as this.”)

Below us were a mine, more villages to walk thru…and Burgos.

It is recommended to go to Villafria and take a bus into Burgos because of the traffic. So we walked around the airport on a road with cars and found an old church where the bus stop was. We took the #8 to the Teatro and found that we were quite the spectacle among the people enjoying their day. Photos were taken of us, two women found us funny and two others asked if we were going to Santiago. I told them yes and they said that we were “Valiente” (Brave). I thanked them.

We will be staying in Burgos for two days so we can discover as much as possible what this city has to offer.

El Camino is inspiring.


¡Buen Camino!


Pilgrim’s Passport September 27, 2017

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Mile 116.1 Nájera

September 21, 2017

My husband always says that you need to walk El Camino with your head not your feet. In other words do what you think best for your wellbeing. So today we had about 18.7 miles to walk from Logroño to Nájera, a town built against a red cliff. I don’t believe my feet would have survived. We took a cab to the next town, Navarrete, past an industrial area and a swamp and cut 8 miles off our walk. What were left were vineyards and mostly flat and rocky trails. I am beginning to feel that I am walking on the bones of earth. At least that’s what it feels like we are walking on…old hard bones.

The black grapes of Spain are being harvested now and fall is almost here. They are plump and juicy. I picked 3 grapes and let them explode in my mouth. The sweet juice was so satisfying. Instead of eating the skins like I did the other day (see Mile 97.5), I spit them out with the seeds. This kept the tannins from interfering with the sweetness of the juice. I picked 3 more grapes and was happy.

We came upon a Celtic refuge or lookout for the farmers called a chozo or guardaviñas; tall and conical made of stone there is a circular bench within. We passed a hill, El Poyo del Roldan, were Roland fought and killed a giant. We headed towards a town that was built against a cliff full of caves where the Moors once hid. The land, like the stone, is old and full of history and myth: the soil red with mystery.

El Camino has much to tell.


Mile 129.8 Santo Domingo de la Calzada

September 22, 2017

Today I was photo bombed by a young girl with a smile as bright as her shirt. I love texture and take photos of the ancient doors I see. They have so much character and so many lost stories to tell. A group of young people walked by as I was taking a photo of such a door. The girl saw me and posed. We laughed.

Yesterday in Nájera I wanted to take a photo of a stone carved shell that was on the wall of a plaza. A man was sitting on a bench under it so I told him that I was taking a photo of the shell above him. That I wanted him to know that I was not taking his photo and understood that some people don’t like to have their photos taken. I took the shot and than told him, “Aunqué usted es más guapo.” (“Though you are more handsome.”) He told me that Pilgrims should never lie. My husband told him that I was sincere. We laughed together.

 Today started out really well. It rained in the night and left the morning fresh. We had a 13.7mile hike ahead of us through rolling hills. So we left Nájera, the town built against red cliffs and traveled thru vineyards, freshly tilled land and a modern ghost town where dreams died with the housing bubble.

The walk was much better. We traveled over different road surfaces, most smooth but many rocky. Calzada means rocky or cobble stoned road. I was able to keep a better pace despite the rocks and we made good time. There were several statues that we encountered along the way in honor of the pilgrim.

El Camino is kind.


No miles today…at least none on El Camino

 September 23, 2017

Santo Domingo de la Calzada is named after Domingo Garcia who was born in Burgos in 1019. He wanted to enter a monastery but was not accepted so he became a hermit. He witnessed just how difficult it was for the pilgrims that traveled by his home so he built a bridge over the Oja River, a *hospital for refuge for the pilgrims, roads connecting Nájera to Burgos, and a little church. His burial site was placed in the middle of the Pilgrimage but over time became a part of Cathedral.

The construction of Iglesia Catedral de Santo Domingo de la Calzada was begun in 1158 and additions added throughout the next centuries. One (of many) interesting features in the Cathedral is the Gothic Henhouse. A hen and a rooster are the symbols of this city born to help ease the road of the pilgrim…of course there is a story here:

Hugonell, a German pilgrim, was traveling El Camino with his parents. They stayed at an inn in Santo Domingo de la Calzada where the Innkeeper’s daughter fell in love with Hugonell. Hugonell did not, though, feel the same way towards the girl so she placed a silver cup into his travel bag and accused him of stealing it. The punishment for theft was hanging. Hugonell was hung. His parents, grieving the loss their son, continued on to Santiago de Compostela. They then returned to Santo Domingo de la Calzada to visit the grave of their son but instead found him still hanging and alive.  Hugonell told them that Santiago brought him back to life and to please ask the Mayor to have him cut down. The parents went to the Mayor’s house were he was having dinner. The Mayor told them that Hugonell could be no more alive than the two roasted chickens that were on his table.  Well…those two roasted chickens stood up, grew feathers and began to crow.

Above the Henhouse is a piece of wood that is a part of the gallows that Hugonell was hung from.

Legends bring El Camino together.

*Hospital, in this sense, is a place of refuge with food, shelter for the night, and care.


NOTE: Because of the rocky paths I keep my eyes more on the road than the countryside that I am traveling thru. There are some very sharp and pointed rocks that I would rather not walk upon. So I remind myself to look up and enjoy the view before me; and to turn back and see the view from where I have been. There is a micro view though. A lot of critters cross El Camino: millipedes, black slugs, ants, small tiny spiders that walk sideways like a crab, shiny round black beetles, yellow and black striped salamanders (some of which didn’t make it across), a small snake who also didn’t make it across the road, orange spotted moths and orange spotted beetles, butterflies that flutter in front of the traveler, crickets that don’t move out of the way, and yesterday I saw my first lizard.

¡Buen Camino!

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Mile 60.6: Puente de la Reina

September 15, 2017

Today I walked out of Pamplona. A beautiful city where people say they love to live there because it is tranquila (tranquil). We walked up the ridge where wind is used to make energy and a monument stands in honor of the pilgrims. Then I walked down a steep trail that is known as Quiebra Canillas (Break Hips) where with each step the rocks move and slide. As I was walking ever so slowly down Quiebra Canillas a singing man passed me as he was climbing up. He was going home to Pamplona and was so happy and talkative. He brought joy to the climb down.

You follow the smoothest trail in the rocky road.

Mile 73.6: Estella

September 16, 2017

Today I walked over a bridge that was built by a queen in honor of the pilgrims to make their journey easier when crossing the Argo River. The journey was smoother with ups and downs that were manageable.

We pilgrims walked on both modern trails and Roman roads where the stones must have been more level in their day. We came upon a garden with places to rest for the pilgrim and a young man selling fruit. We passed small villages with both old and new and crossed a medieval bridge. A walled garden with trees sang to us with bird song that I have never heard the likes of as the sky drizzled down on us. We ended our day in mass at the Church of San Pedro de la Rúa in Estella. The stone walls were grey, the statues primitive and colorful. The Father blessed the pilgrims and their journey.

Our journey is blessed.

Mile 86: Los Arcos

September 17, 2017

This morning I drank from a wine fountain. It is there for the pilgrims to enjoy though the wine tastes like vinegar. It tasted better though with each sip and gave some energy to the day ahead.

My husband and I passed vineyards, ruins of stone buildings, a castle, and a 13th century Fountain of the Moors. We walked beside a man who was born in the area and he told us about the long history of the area and the best white wine. We parted at the foot of a steep hill where he headed up to an old castle and we headed down to our own destination.

We made new friends with a couple from Canada who has traveled to many places. Together we talked and eased our walk and enjoyed the sheep whose shepherd and dog herded them along.   I hope we meet again.   There is a daughter and mother we have seen for several days now too. We greet and talk before they pass us. I don’t know their names nor where they are from but I do believe that they travel together a lot. Maybe next time I will ask their names…or not. If I know their names will I see them again?

The day was beautiful, the road not so steep. Yet it was rocky. I have my first blisters though they don’t pain me…yet.

I would not be able to do this if I did not have trekking poles.

Mile 97.5: Viana

 September 18, 2017

Today I tasted “El Tinto del Pais.” It is a black grape that is sweet and adds body to the wine of this region. It has an old history like the soil that it grows in. The Phoenicians that settled along the Iberian coast grew it. Tempranillo is its name for it ripens early. It is what makes the Rioja wine—it is a noble grape.

A man was beating a tree with a long stick. There was cloth spread out under the tree catching the almond nuts that dropped. We walked thru valleys and up steep slopes that would tire out a burro.   Saw old ruins of stone buildings and smelled the sage.

Mile 103.7: Logroño

September 19, 2017

Today was such an easy walk…only 10 kilometros (6.2 miles).   The trail was made up of both rocky roads and asphalt with only a few hills. We walked behind the yards of homes and talked and joked with the owners. A man lamented that his tomatoes would not ripen before the frost. It has been a dry year. I told him that green tomatoes were good too but he likes them red and in his salad. An orange cat greeted us and rubbed itself against my husband’s leg. This is the first friendly cat we have encountered.

We eat in a restaurant that opened in 1916 and is popular with the people of this city. I had pulpo (octopus). I have waited 2 years to have octopus again. This one had chili pepper on it…hot, hot, hot! That did not stop me from enjoying it though. The beer and milk helped. I told the waiter that I had waited 2 years to have this dish again but picante (spicy) was a surprise. He joked if I wanted it hotter.

Logroño is alive with activity. There is a wine festival…San Mateo…with music, food, and wine. Friends, couples and families are enjoying it all. Tomorrow we have a day to explore more.

Tonight we drink the wine of Rioja.

No miles today…at least none on El Camino

 September 20, 2017

Today we washed our clothes and mailed some postcards. We eat at the same restaurant from yesterday. I thought I was ordering artichoke, at least the picture looked like artichoke; guess I was wishing it to be. Instead it turned out to be pork that was cut thin, rolled and fried. It was good. We walked the streets and enjoyed the festive nature of the city. Found El Mercado (the central market) as it was closing. So I took some photos. There was a store that was so colorful with all the goods that he had so I took a photo. As I was walking on I heard some hard clapping and turned. The store owner was looking at me with an angry look. “No Fotos!” he told me. I looked to see if there was any sign that stated that no photos were to be taken and saw none so I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and walked on.

It bothered me though for a while. I try to be so careful and respectful to others and the places that I am at when taking photos. I usually have my larger camera and zoom lens with me. People look at me with anger. For El Camino I bought a small point and shoot that takes RAW instead of JPEG. I love it. It’s small, compact, great lens. I actually didn’t know that he was there. In the photo he is sitting in the shadows behind his cash register. I am sorry he was angry with me for taking a photo of his beautiful and interesting store in El Mercado.

El Camino may be difficult but it has compassion.  Tomorrow we walk again.


Pilgrim Passport as of September 19, 2017

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***Mile 5: Orisson

September 10, 2017

Today I was baptized.

Pilgrims have a choice on the first day out of St. Jean Pied de Port to walk all the way to Roncesvalles (or any village near there) by the Napoleon Route or to split the 17 miles up into two days and spend the night in Orisson.

5 miles doesn’t sound too bad especially when looking at the map of the whole Camino. It’s brutal though. It’s the first day when beginning from St. Jean Pied de Port and it is the first leg to crossing the Pyrenees Mountains. St. Jean Pied de Port is at an altitude of 200 meters above sea level. Orisson is at 800 meters. That’s steep in just 5 miles.

You walk up and up and up and than down and again up and up and up. There are very little flat stretches only up hill grades that go from gradual to steep to “incredibly what did I get myself into” steep. Pace is so important. Even with practice I needed to stop frequently to catch my breath. I would set a goal from fence post to fence post or gate or cow (hopefully the cow moved more towards me and not away) and walk from one to another. We came across a short cut off the asphalt street made up of red mud (not bad to walk on though), rocks and grass. It switched back and forth and was rather steep in places but much easier to walk on—softer on the feet. Than back on the road, turned a bend and there we were. 3.5 hours, 5 miles, 600 meters higher.

I was baptized today. I walked a difficult road in the pouring down rain. I made it and now though I still have many more days to go and many more roads to walk I am a pilgrim and I feel blessed!



El Camino to Orrison

***Mile 17: Roncevalles where El Camino begins for the people of Spain

September 11, 2017

Today I walked in the clouds.

It was wet, windy and cold. I found out that my rainproof (Gortex) jacket has its limits. So does the rain cover that came with my pack. So I gained 600 meters today walking 10 miles in sloshy, wet socks with boots that had been waterproofed. I did well. Yesterday’s walk helped my body to adjust, just wish my feet would.   Walking down hill, though, can be a bitch.

Here I was high in the Pyrenees Mountains surrounded by clouds, the clanking of bells, and sheep. It was mystical in all that grey and dampness.

Today I walked in the clouds. I am wet, cold, and sore.

I am happy.



El Camino to Roncevalles and the church where they hold the Pilgrim’s Mass

***Mile 32: Zubiri

September 12, 2017

Today I walked thru forests and enjoyed the silent clear density within.

The rain stopped and we had blue sky. The trails were rocky and rough on the feet. We passed a man who had taken off his boots and walked barefooted…slowly over rocky paths and grass. Someone said that he had fallen and the boots hurt. We were than passed by a man traveling from Finisterre to Rome. He looked happy.

At one point I heard a man’s voice encouraging someone to walk a bit further.   As I turned a corner on the trail I saw Paul and Mary, a brother and sister who were walking El Camino together. Mary’s about 8 years older than her brother who had walked El Camino before. She wanted to experience life after retirement. I ended up walking with them for several miles. Mary would pass me as we went down hill and I would pass her as I went up hill. At one point I felt a sharp pain on my left forearm and yelled in pain. There was a large fly like bug with stripes, head down, on my arm and a spot of blood forming around it the size of a quarter. Paul helped me brush it away. I looked at the spot where it had bit me and it looked like a tiny vampire bite. The damn thing kept coming back for more and Paul kept helping me shoo it away.*

The last two downhill miles were the worst. Slate rock cutting into the trail making it difficult to maneuver. Downhill is always more difficult with the force of gravity pulling. It was rough on the feet and each step was agony.

Today I walked thru forests and enjoyed the silent clear density within. My feet hurt and I hope that I can continue tomorrow with less pain. The forests had an ancient wisdom to share.

*I later looked up what this bug was.  It’s called a Biting Midge, Leptoconos noei.

El Camino to Zubiri:  Beautiful but painful 

***Mile 45.3: Pamplona

September 13, 2017

Today I walked thru valleys that curved and flowed thru villages and farmland. The sound of clanking bells that hung around the necks of sheep, cows and horses was our rhythmic music to pace by.

The road was much better though there were patches with too much rock but nothing like yesterday. We walked up and down and up again and than down. The down hurts but the up is much better.   Kept a better pace. Feet hurt but they will survive. Calves are protesting a bit. We have a day off tomorrow.

The day was dry and sunny and warm. I still wore my vest and pulled down the long sleeves of my t-shirt. Sweat helps keep one cool especially with a breeze. We walked in and out of forested areas with sunshine hitting us then shade. Life’s small pleasures: shade and breeze on a warm sunny day. We met a woman and young man sitting along the roadside under the only shade there was. The heat was too much for them. I told her to wet her scarf and wrap it around her neck. She said she had no water.   We passed on and around the curve where there was a cool shady place with slabs of rock set up for a place to sit.

Today I walked thru valleys that curved and flowed thru villages and farmland. It took us to a medieval bridge that was built in the 12th century—Puente de la Magdalena—that crosses the river Arga and takes one into Pamplona. My feet protest, my calves tighten…I am where I should be.



El Camino to Pamplona and the gate to the city.


Pilgrim’s Passport as of September 14, 2017

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Flying can be a stressful ordeal. I set my expectations low with service so when I get bad service it’s no big deal. When I receive good service it becomes a pleasure. This is based on travel experiences as a single woman, a mother and now a married woman who sometimes travels alone. That’s all I will say about this subject.

We flew from Chicago O’Hare to Charlotte to Madrid to Pamplona. Spent a day in Pamplona before continuing by bus to St. Jean Pied de Port.   A day in Pamplona was a good rest along with discovering this city that we will be returning to in a week “a pie” (by foot).

We will enjoy St. Jean Pied de Port for two and a half days (3 nights). Many pilgrims only spend a night there and never really get to see the beauty of the town. Also spending more time helps acclimate to the time and altitude while enjoying the town, food, wine and people. Our first hike is short (8 km/5miles) but we gain a lot of altitude (600 meters or 1,968.5 feet)

So St. Jean Pied de Port is our mile zero.

1386_3x4         1372_3x4

Pamplona, Spain is famous for its running of the Bulls, yet there is so much more to enjoy there.


Statue of the Running of the Bulls and entrance to the Bull Ring


Pintxos (peen-choes) and a local white wine

Signage leading the pilgrims into St. Jean Pied de Port, France & a hostel sign with the universal pilgrim’s greeting “Buen Camino”


Porte Notre-Dame with the church Église Notre-Dame du Bout de Pont (left side)


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Map of Spain_trail_cropped copy


The pilgrimage that is known today as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James of the Field of Stars) is made up of eight routes: French Way, English Way, Portuguese Way, Silver Way, Northern Way, Primitive Way, Madrid Way, and the Finisterre and Muxía Way. All lead to Santiago and many pilgrims continue on to Finisterre (The End of the World) and Muxía after arriving to Santiago. This pilgrimage has been around for many, many, many ages. From the first (maybe) to populate the area known as Iberians to Celts, Romans, Christians, and now a variety of people from all over the world who walk it for many various reasons. They walk El Camino towards what the Romans called Finis Terrae (End of Land) because it was thought that there was no land beyond this point in North/Western Spain along the Atlantic Ocean.

The pilgrimage has actually three destinations: Santiago and it’s beautiful cathedral, and Finisterra and Muxía that looks out to the ocean where after the sun sets one can see a field of stars…the Milky Way.

As the way of ancient traditions go there are some that believe that Compostela comes from the Latin word compositum (burial place) and others that believe that it is derived from Latin campus stellae (field of stars).

For me, I can just imagine people of past times walking the path towards a vast ocean and watching the sunset, waiting for the darkness to envelop them as a beautiful field of stars appears before them. The land has ended and the heavens have begun.







Ottwell, Guy. A Pilgrimage to the End of the Earth. Astronomical Calendar 2016. Universal Workshop: Raynham, Mass.

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