Camino Frances 2018 – Los Arcos to Viana

September 14th, 2018 – Day 3
Los Arcos to Viana, 18km

Dark thirty. I wake to pilgrims gathering their belongings. I reach for my phone and see the time. 4.30am. Sigh. I then see that my phone had not charged during the night. Well, I will have no photos today. I decided to turn my phone off until later that evening. With those two pieces of unwelcome news, I turned over and tried to sleep for another hour.

At 6am, I awake again and gather my pack and leave. The Quebecois duo had left, the American lady and Mexican man had both departed. However, I would hope to see all in Viana. I doubt I would see Doug today. So today would be a solo walk! Let’s go! Breakfast was served at 7am in Los Arcos main plaza which I accepted. There are not many stops for water and food along the route today, so it is worth filling up when you can. The Camino takes you past the Iglesia de Santa Maria and over the River Odron. It isn’t long before you are back in traditional Camino territory. But of course, it is still dark as we are expecting a hot day this day. I noticed the whirr of an electricity station on the outskirts of the town. Ok, now for music. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to any music since I started walking. Not that this is a bad thing. I’m in the zone when I walk alone and having some music helps me think, I suppose.

More and more vineyards crop up as I walk westwards. Reaching out to grab a few grapes are so tempting, but a voice inside tells me otherwise. The sun rises as I spot Sansol and Torres del Rio in front of me. Both towns might as well be joint to the hip for they are so close. Torres is bigger and is established on a hill. It takes great energy to get to a cafe and have a 2nd breakfast. I’m sad to learn that Albergue Casa Mari is no longer open. I stayed here in 2014 and really enjoyed it. The Templar church looks magnificent as always.

Although the day starts at about 450 metres, the high point of the day is nearly 600 metres. It is a very hilly day with many rolling ups and downs, it is it not as easy as it may seem. I passed a few pilgrims who were having difficulty and I always said “take a rest, you deserve it, the hardest is behind you. It gets easier”. While others, and more agile than me, walked past me like I wasn’t there. So you get all sort of pilgrims. I enjoyed today, particularly watching the sunrise over the vineyards. Stopping where you are, turning around and watching the sun rise is just essential on the Camino.

I was aiming for Albergue Izar in Viana and I arrived just before midday. The albergue didn’t open until 1pm so I had some time for a drink and some lunch. I walked past the bullring, and down Calle Rua Santa Maria where the Church of Santa Maria stands tall. I took a moment or two just to take it in and then ordered a cafe con leche. I immediately saw some pilgrims who I had met before from Finland and Germany respectively so I joined them for a bit. They wanted to walk on to Logrono, another 10km. But the day is young. The wine festival of San Matteo was happening over that weekend so most pilgrims wanted to be there for the festivities. I, on the other hand, was aiming for Ventosa the following day. I’m not a fan of the big cities. I saw the Quebecois duo also, who were staying in the same albergue as myself. They were fun to be around.

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The entrance to Viana

Albergue Isar is a good clean modern albergue with communal meal and breakfast. It has small rooms upstairs for just 6 or larger dorms on the ground floor. The only problem is that it is situated at the bottom of a short steep climb in the town.

Iglesia de Santa Maria de Viana. In the heart of Viana. ...#caminodesantiago #caminosocietyireland #caminofrances #viana #navarra #spain🇪🇸 #peregrino #elcaminopeople

Iglesia Santa Maria de Viana

I met L&R for the last time on this Camino for a final pilgrim meal and some drinks. The restaurant was on a side street so it was away from the crowds of Calle Rua Santa Maria. Back to the albergue I went after saying my goodbyes and thinking about tomorrow. Most were talking about walking to Navarrete, but my feet felt good, and I have walked before. I think I will make Ventosa. Adelante!

So nice meeting up with L from @somewhereslowly and her husband over the last 3 days as they start their Camino. Tomorrow we part ways. But we will see each other again...#camin

Myself, L&R meeting for our final meal before they continue on their Camin

Camino Frances 2018 – Estella to Los Arcos

September 13th, 2018 – Day 2
Estella to Los Arcos, 21km

Another crisp dark morning without a cloud in the sky as I left the Agora Hostal in Estella. Again, thanks to our hosts for making my stay as amazing as it was. I shall be back! Leaving the hostel, I started talking with Guillermo from Burgos, who was choosing to walk part of the Camino for his 60th birthday. He was much faster than me, but then again, he is nearly 7 foot tall. He hoped to walk to Sansol today, slightly further than me.

You pass the church of San Pedro de la Rua on your way out of Estella. The many lights illuminate the stairs. Guillermo was always ahead of me and he was happy to be alone. We arrive at the much talked about Monasterio de Santa Maria de Irache which has a wine fountain.  I took a sip, it proved to be too sweet and I moved on. I’m sure some pilgrims will love it, just not this pilgrim.

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Church of San Pedro in Estella

Somehow, I let the darkness take me for a walk and bring me on a wrong turn. I was off the Camino. But panic not as I turned a corner and I saw another yellow arrow, And shortly after that, I saw Doug from Canada again. All smiles.  The sun was rising over Navarra as we made our way to Villamayor de Monjardin.

After a gradual climb, we both arrived at Villamayor. There was a chap with a flying drone recording so you might be able to hear the buzzing in the video clip I took below. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the XII century. We stopped off here for a bit and had a snack from the Markiola tienda.

After leaving the town, there is a 12km stretch to Los Arcos so I was sure to have enough water and some fruit with me for the morning. Off we went.

The weather was super and once the sun came up, it started to get warm. And by warm I mean 15c in the shade and 20-25c in the sun. I quickly realised I had no sun cream so I was hoping there was a farmacia in Los Arcos or I would be the pink-skinned Irishman, from now on!

 

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We arrived at Los Arcos, which would be my stop for the day. Doug had decided to walk some more. At the entrance to the town, there was a great tienda and we bought some fruits, drinks and cakes. All waiting for the albergue to open. Looking at my watch, I had quite a while yet. The fabulous Casa de la Abuela in Los Arcos is much revered so I thought I would check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I said goodbye to Doug, knowing that we would meet again.

I met L&R later on in the evening in the main plaza for a pilgrim menu and some non-alcoholic drinks. The plaza was a full place that night, and all three restaurants were busy with pilgrims. The albergue was full too. I met a lady from Queens in New York who was walking with a Mexican guy. I also met 2 French Canadians with the most basic English but we communicated through Spanish. Which was fun. Tomorrow, I hope to walk to Viana and it will be my last day with L&R. I will walk on then.

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Los Arcos at night

Camino Frances 2018 – Puente la Reina to Estella

September 12th, 2018 – Day 1
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km

I was awake at 6am, which is late by my standards. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostal so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends, L&R, who would start their own Camino the following day.

Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.

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Leaving Puente la Reina

Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. He commented on the size of my backpack and I explained that this was not my first time on the Camino. A pack of 7kg is more than enough, in my opinion. The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. There are many ascents also. This was my St. Jean Pied de Port unfortunately as I embarrassed myself after a minute by stopping exhausted. Doug had walked through the Pyrenees. He walked on, enjoying this moment.

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Looking back following my climb from Puente la Reina

I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance and there was no rain forecast. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.

After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it.

 

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Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention. That is exactly what happened to me! A fun day so far! I was a little bruised but I was on my way again. There is not much happening in Lorca, apart from the fact that it has 2 albergues and a cafe. We stopped for a rest. I had been looking for a walking pole since Puente la Reina and I picked up one here. It stayed with me until Burgos.

Doug had decided to stop in the following town, Villatuerta, for some lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I marched on to Estella. Little did I know we would meet the following day.

It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. “Where was that farmacia?” I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. If you are in Estella and are looking to stay somewhere, just go there! I also met Guilhermo from Barcelona, someone who I would meet on and off until Burgos. A gentlesoul.

I would later meet my friends, L&R, for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.

 

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Camino Frances 2018 – Day 0 – Dublin to Puente la Reina

September 11th, 2018 – Day 0
Dublin to Puente la Reina via Bilbao

Another Camino in 2018…another chance to walk with others in Spain. I made the decision to return once I stepped into the Praza da Obradoiro in Santiago in May.  It just made sense. I booked flights to and from Bilbao, Spain, packed my pack and set out.

 

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The road to Puente la Reina is long and I didn’t arrive until late in the evening. The flight with Aer Lingus was fine and it left me in Bilbao at 3pm with still much travel to do. From the airport, one must catch the A3247 Biskaibus shuttlebus to Termibus in the city centre, which costs just €3.00. From there, I traveled on a Cuadrabus to Logroño, which took the bones of 90 minutes. On arrival in Logroño, I didn’t have long for a connecting La Estellesa which left me in the centre of Puente la Reina.

I wasn’t alone, mind you. A couple from Clare made the trip from Dublin and were traveling to Estella to start their Camino. They had walked from St. Jean to Estella last year. I enjoyed their company until we said our goodbyes at Estella. There were many others on the Logroño bus. The scenery from Bilbao to Logroño is beyond amazing. The bus chugs through valleys, giving you a first-hand view of the spectacular mountain scenery. The second trip was a little bit longer but it was fun to be driving alongside the Camino – passing towns I will meet in the next few days. Siesta had kicked in but we did pass the odd town with the next Lionel Messi working out how to score the winning goal in the 2028 World Cup.

Just after 8pm, I arrived in the Calle Mayor of Puente la Mayor. The streets were bustling with Spanish conversation and wine. Spanish dinner time. I took a walk to the Puente Románico before doubling back to my booked hostel, “Hostal la Plaza”. I had my first pilgrim meal while watching Spain play some football on TV. Sleep was in order, the next day (although short) had a number of steep climbs. Adelante!

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Packing list for Camino Frances 2018 (with links)

So this will be a fairly routine post with a list of what I have in my pack and links to where I have purchased them if you are interested in finding out more information. Most of the gear I have had for the last while with only some new items since my recent Camino Portuguese in May. So here goes.

Backpack – Lowe Alpine 35litre Trail
Trail Shoes – Meindl Philadelphia GTX trail shoes
Something for the rain – Berghaus rain jacket and Columbia rain trousers
Contigo 720ml water bottle

Clothes:
Columbia zip off trousers
Socks – 2 pair of Quechua socks (bought in Decathlon, Vigo) and 1 pair of Smartwool
Underwear – 3 pair of Under Armour
Baseball cap – Jack Wolfskin
Buff – Random buff I bought in Santiago in May
Sandals  – A cheap pair useful for airing the feet in the evenings
Craghoppers long sleeve shirt
Helly Hansen t-shirt
T-shirt purchased in Santiago in May
North Face fleece
Towel – 1 quick dry Microfibre towel
Sea to Summit – Silk liner sleeping bag

First Aid & Blister Kit:
Blister kit with a selection of compeed and plasters
Gehwol 75ml Foot cream
Deep heat
Earplugs, perfect for those noisy albergues!
Hand cream
Wash kit including All purpose soap 100ml
Safety pins for hanging up laundry
Toothpaste
Toothbrush

Electronics:
Phone & charging cable
Plug adaptor
Fitbit & charging cable
Small over-the-shoulder bag
Wise Pilgrim guidebook
Passport
Pilgrim passport

And I guess that is it!
I will make this into a pdf and save it in the archive.

If I don’t post again, please keep an eye on my instagram. I will be posting more frequently there. My first stop is Puente la Reina but I look forward to meeting other pilgrims and sharing stories. Isn’t that what the Camino is about?

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So why the Camino de Santiago?

I was out with some good pilgrim friends last evening and naturally enough, the Camino was brought up during our conversation. One of the many questions was “So how did everyone hear about the Camino?” which is a perfectly fine question. I didn’t get a chance to answer, however, and as my story is not fairly typical, I thought I would post it.

I have written about my first Camino before. It was a hastily planned affair arranged 6 months before I stepped on the plane. It started with a leaflet, given to me. The words “Walk The Camino” were emboldened at the top of the sheet. I said I would give it a try as the cause was worthwhile. The thing is, after raising quite a lot of money, I was spent and the Camino was just an afterthought. The six days was merely a formality and dare I say, a holiday? I had the wrong gear, the wrong attitude, the wrong everything. On arriving into the Praza da Obradoiro, I was already mentally home in Dublin deciding on the week ahead.

But the Camino didn’t want to let go…

Our guide for the 6 days was a pretty outgoing chap from Australia called Garry. He loved Spain but loved Ireland also. He saw I was struggling and wanted to make sure I got to Santiago in one piece.

Job done. And for that, I thank him.

October 2011, I am back to normality at my desk-based job in Dublin. I receive an e-mail from Garry asking how I am. I leave it unanswered for a while, maybe a week, but like an itch unscratched, I feel the need to reply. A quick hello leads to chat and that leads to a plan to return to the Camino the following May.

Without that e-mail, without that scratched itch, I would not be where I am today – writing from the heart on this site or giving my time to the Camino Society. The rest is history.

 

11 days to Puente la Reina

So while I have the time to write, I may as well post something.

I am 11 days out from yet another Camino and I am as good as ready. These five months since I returned from Santiago have flown by but I have been so busy. These few weeks have come around at just the right time. It will give me the time to slow down and, I suppose, unclutter everything from this head of mine. I have a few decisions to make so I hope the Camino can help me out and I will have a few answers when I return.

I am in zero rush to get to Puente la Reina as my bus to Logrono is 3 hours after the flight arrives. Once I arrive there, I have another bus trip on La Estellesa to Puente la Reina. I don’t know why La Union canceled their service there. I remember it being advertised the last time I was in Bilbao in 2015.

The Camino Frances can be addictive. No, let me rephrase that. It can be difficult to get used to other routes if you are so used to one particular route. I remember last year saying I would not walk the Camino Frances again, and here I am.

I have 6 days in the office before I leave for Spain and sunnier climes (I hope). I have been keeping tabs on the weather and it looks promising. I might ditch the rain trousers!

Adelante!