Your Stories, Your Camino – Reg & Sue Spittle

I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Sue Spittle after she read my post asking for other people’s experiences on the Camino de Santiago. Both Sue and her husband Reg, decided to walk the Camino Frances from Pamplona in 2013. It was their first long distance walk and their first time with backpacks. It seems they really gained from their time on the Camino as they both are “living life with less baggage”! More details about Sue & Reg’s Camino can be found on www.carryoncouple.com/caminodesantigo.

So what was Sue’s impression of her Camino?…..

“We should do it!” That was my reaction in August of 2012 as the credits rolled signaling the end of the Emilio Estevez/Martin Sheen movie, The Way. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized I really meant it.

My husband thought I was nuts. We had no backpacking experience, with the exception of an overnighter with friends some 30 years earlier. How could we walk 500 miles? How could we carry everything we needed in a backpack? Where would we stay? What would we eat? What about our privacy? All valid concerns to which I responded, “What if we can do it? Besides, (we were recently retired) what else will we do with all our time?”

Fast forward to an April morning in 2013. Equipped with brand spanking new packs, sleeping bags, hiking shoes, assorted clothing and an abundance of other non-essential personal items, we took our first steps along the Camino, leading us out of Pamplona, Spain and into an entirely new way of life!

● Our training consisted of a variety of day hikes, with and without packs, only 100 miles in all. Trekking poles are a must!
● Albergues, with their dorm-style rooms, were intimidating at first, but we met wonderful people of all ages and nationalities. Do stay in some!
● Some Pilgrim meals were better than others, but all were affordable and often shared
around a communal table. Don’t miss out on this!
● Walk your own Camino. Find a pace and daily mileage count that suits your abilities.
For us it was 12 miles/day. It is not a race!
● Nor is it easy! Sore muscles, tired feet, blisters, sun, rain, snow, snoring, top bunks,
co-ed bathrooms…be prepared!
● The Camino has much to teach all who travel The Way. Appreciate each day for what it
is.

While reaching Santiago was our original goal, we weren’t far from Pamplona when we realized that the adventure would be about so much more. We both experienced a variety of emotions upon arriving in Santiago. Exhilaration, relief, sadness, gratitude…I would encourage you to find your “Way”. It just might change your life!

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Reg & Sue after reaching the top of O Cebreiro

Towns Along The Way – “P” – Part 1

Ok..So we are nearly there! Our credencials are nearly full with sellos and your Camino family are looking to book flights home. But before we do anything else, there is the small matter of talking about towns beginning with “P”….and there’s a few!!

Pamplona (map)

800px-pamplona_rathaus_2005We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque).  Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). Just make sure you call them “pinchos” and not “tapas” like in the rest of Spain! As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. Leaving the following day, however, is another issue, as I discovered in 2014 when I was geographically embarassed 🙂 The yellow arrows don’t tend to be distinct. There are many albergues, hostels and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. It is also well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.

Puente la Reina (map)

puentelareina2Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina, or the Queen’s Bridge in English. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.

Población de Campos (map)

poblacion-de-camposvista-genal-copiarClose to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push however, as nearly 200 live here. Hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop off point. There are a number of albergues here however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.

Puente Villarente (map)

2015-05-14-09-26-50A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approx. 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.

Ponferrada (map)

Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the ponferrada_16372Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar.The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.

Pieros (map)

valley-with-houseAnother small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of less than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kms along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left hand side of the road) before moving on.

 

Pereje (map)

14112442555_53ac63b6f1Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N-V1 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N-V1 with Santiago on your mind.

I have 3 more towns from Galicia to talk about in my next post.

Weekend Watch #22 – Navarran Timelapse

Guys, I’ve stumbled on gold!

I’ve found this gem of a video and I wanted to post it so you can see what I mean. I am a big fan of time lapse videos but when you find one created on the Camino, it is extra special. The maker of this one has put in a lot of work into this video with shots from St. Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona. I’m sure you all recognise these scenes if you have walked the Camino but it takes patience to sit in the same spot for hours on end while time passes.

Watch for yourselves…

Camino de Santiago. from Dominika on Vimeo.

Alto del Perdon – Hill of Forgiveness

There are many sites of importance along the Camino Frances, for example, the tiny village of St Jean Pied de Port, the bridge at Puente la Reina, the Cruz de Ferro, and of course, the Cathedral in Santiago. But one site that is equally as important is the Alto de Perdon, roughly translated as the Hill of Forgiveness. Located 10km from Pamplona in Navarra, it is about 750 metres above sea level. There is no doubt that it is a tough climb, but the views are well worth it.

Your ascent starts at the town of Zariquiegui and the climb is gradual until you reach the top. That point you are greeted04-etapa4-camino-frances by a unique combination of the old and the new. You will see a sculpture depicting a number of Pilgrims either on foot or on horseback as they make their way along the Camino to Santiago. It is dedicated to pilgrims who have walked the Camino before us and was erected in 1996. If you look closely, you will see the below engraved into one of the monuments.

Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas

which translates into English as

where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars.

The pilgrim sculpture shares the Alto del Perdon with 40 wind turbines, which you can see for miles. On the Alto itself, you can see your next day’s walking ahead of you. People like to use the top of the Alto as a resting point to catch their breath after the climb and to prepare for the descent which can be trickier. There can be a great atmosphere up there on a good sunny day. If you are lucky, there will be somebody selling refreshments and the odd albergue owner making sure pilgrims know about their accommodation.:)

I walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Belorado in September 2014. You can read about the day I walked up and over the Alto del Perdon here.

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Camino 2014 – Day 4 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina

September 7th 2014 – Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina, 24km

Dave, Anna and myself had agreed to wake and start early so we could tackle the Alto del Perdon before it got too hot. This is a 300m climb that starts once we leave the albergue and peaks after 8km. Climbing it apparently resolves you of all your sins. We shall see. Leaving later was not an option as the temperatures were set to be high and the humidity levels were through the roof over the last few days. I was glad to leave early as I thrive in the early morning. We decided to aim for Puente la Reina and more specifically, the albergue on the outskirts of the town which had it’s own pool and served meals. Bob and Leslie were more than happy to follow us and they agreed to meet us there. I woke up at 4am after a fairly restless sleep. There seemed to be an all night party on the streets of Pamplona. I’m not sure if this was due to the match or if it was typical Saturday-night revellry. Dave and Anna had little sleep too. I didn’t have a great experience in Pamplona and decided that I would pass through if I was to walk this section again.

We left Pamplona in darkness close to 5am, with the same kind of anticipation we had in St Jean, to reach the top of the Alto del Perdon and view the iron cast models. You need to be fully alert leaving Pamplona however and if you lost sight of the arrows or signs, you could end up far away from the Camino. That’s what happened to us. We got lost. One minute, arrows were in full view and the next, not one was to be seen. We turned back, we consulted maps, and tried to find a someone to ask what directions to take. But this was Sunday morning, no one was was out. In the end, a young man in a car pointed us in the right direction. When we saw arrows again, we came across other pilgrims who made the same mistake as us. So it isn’t that rare for pilgrims to become lost in Pamplona?

After an hour, we reached Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona. I had originally planned on staying here. There was a fiesta in full swing while we passed through it. The local bar was still open thumping music and serving drink. Drunk locals were on the street shouting as we passed by. I was pretty happy not to have stayed there. We swiftly passed this town. It was just after 7am and the sun was starting to rise. The climb was getting more and more gradual..it was all uphill for the next few hours. The back of my legs felt it and we were stopping for breath more frequently than before. I seemed to enjoy the ascent more than Dave and Anna and always left them behind. They didn’t seem to mind as it was I who had great difficulties on the descent and usually took forever to negotiate the drop. The terrain is barren, mostly empty fields after the harvest. The only word to use is golden. Save for the odd green tree, everything is brown or golden. Crops won’t grow here until after winter. I would love to see this scenery in May. I try to picture it in my head..different kind of greens, yellows and colours of flowers. A vast difference.

We arrive at the next town, Zariquiegui after 8am, halfway through our climb. I personally can’t wait to get to a cafe for some breakfast. My feet need to be checked as the ball of my right foot is hurting. The nearest cafe is buzzing and I am glad to find a seat to sit down. I order a cafe con leche, tostada, some fruit and can of coke. My feet seem to be fine. I recognise most of the faces from the cafe, including an Irishman, Ciaran. I joke about the town name, saying that it could win a game of Scrabble for you. The town itself is quiet, save for the cafe. No one is awake as I venture to fill up my water bottle from the fountain. We decide to move on. Next stop: Alto del Perdon and a further 100m climb in the next 2km. The sun is up now and we can see the climb ahead. I could see the row of electric windmills, some working, some not. The road cuts between fields and ends beside the far end of the row of mills. The track is rugged but manageable. We agree to walk at our own pace until we reach the top and to wait for each other when we get there. On I go, happy enough to plow on. Going up is no problem but I am nervous for the descent.

I meet Ciaran from Ireland further ahead and walk with him for a bit. He is walking a section like myself and finishes up in Logrono in a few days. The Camino has been tough for him he says but he is taking his time. I move on, again on my own. Being so high, you can see for miles around you. I see the last two towns I have passed. I can only assume that when I reach the top that I will see the next number of towns ahead of me also. I reach the top at last and just want to sit down and catch my breathe. I haven’t taken in what I have climbed, I need to take in some water first. The first things I notice are the many iron cast statues dedicated to all pilgrims.  There is an inscription on one in Spanish “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” which in English means “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”. There are tens of people taking photos, others just sitting in the hot sun and others who just decide to descend the alto once they reach the top.

I take a few photographs myself and wait for Dave and Anna to appear so we can start the walk down to Puente la Reina. I wasn’t waiting long before they arrived and we took a few photographs together. Anna is an aspiring photographer who brought along a nice expensive camera. It is pretty heavy to carry but she didn’t mind. Every so often she would disappear to take an obscure photo or to get a good position but she would return a few minutes later. On the Alto, a van appeared from the Albergue Apostol Santiago in Puente la Reina. We were hoping to stay there. I guess they were there to advertise themselves as they are based on the outskirts of the city and are not the first albergue or hostel you would pass. Speaking to the owner, she mentioned that the albergue has been full for the last weeks.

Eventually, we start to descend from the hill. It is steep and a little too uncomfortable for my liking. Here is me, the grown man, taking small steps, while Anna and Dave march down, trying not to run. It is a breeze to them! I am close to shouting “see you at the first town” but they wait for me. Good one! I have always been delicate on the descent ever since I was 12. Gravity beat me in a battle of wits while going down a mountain, leaving me with a broken collar-bone and a bruised ego. Ever since I have been taking downhills pretty seriously. I gain confidence as the descent flattens out over the course of 5km. We pass the beautiful almost-too-clean Uterga. The only sign of life is coming from the albergue which is close to full at this stage. We stop for water and to take photos.

Within the next 45 minutes, we pass two small towns, Muruzabal and Obanos. Obanos is located on a hill so we have another climb to deal with but it is nowhere near as harsh as the climb in the morning. Both towns were dead save for their local cafes and fountains. By this stage, the sun is out in full flow and the temp is close to 30c. We had another 6km before Puente la Reina and the Apostol Santiago albergue and my legs were weary. Mainly due to the descent earlier in the day. On the plus side, it was great to get to know Anna and Dave. Anna used to live in Spain before moving back to Estonia and had great knowledge of Spanish. Every so often, we would lose her while she took photos and she would catch up with us ten minutes later. That said, she was a pretty fast walker, loved the ups and the downs!

We reached Puente la Reina just before 1pm, the town is large and was starting to fill with pilgrims when we arrived in. We passed the parochial albergue and first private albergue and made way for the bridge over the rio Arga, which is on the way out of the town. Once you reach the pilgrims bridge, you can see the albergue at the top of a hill with a sign “Albergue 300metres”, Our faces dropped when we found out that the 300metres is all uphill!! What owner would place an albergue in such an awkward place?? Our legs took us there somehow and we checked in. I took a bottom bunk. The albergue has 100 beds which filled up pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before mats were used as overflow however.

Bob and Leslie arrived about an hour after us and I was delighted to see them again. They always made me smile. We were joined shortly after by the Irish gang, including Ciaran and two of the German guys that I had met outside of Pamplona the day before. So there was a close family being built up. The only person I had missed was Andrea, who had met a good crowd of people who walked at the same pace. I hoped to see her before I left for home. We all agreed however that this was probably the worst albergue we had stayed in. The people working there constantly sighing under their breaths and I didn’t get a pilgrim vibe from it. Call me choosy but I do appreciate owners who have a feeling what we pilgrims have undertaken.

The night was capped off by an epic thunderstorm, I mean epic! A band of clouds came in from the west and covered the albergue. The winds picked up and rain bucketed from the skies. I was so glad to be indoors. Water even started to breach through the ceiling of the albergue and I noticed a nice puddle gather right beside my bunk, So..it was an fairly busy day! I hoped to get some sleep tonight. I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t reach Burgos by the 15th. Plan B had kicked in at this point and I had hoped to finish up in Belorado. I was a little sad. I enjoyed Burgos last year and wanted to cap the trip off by visiting the cathedral. I would leave it to another time.

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Camino 2014 – Day 3 – Zubiri to Pamplona

September 6th 2014 – Day 3
Zubiri to Pamplona, 21km

It was 5.30am when I decided to make a move from my top bunk in the albergue. There were 8 in this small room; 4 Spanish, Ann Marie from New Zealand, a girl from Chile, a young guy from Italy and myself. All were sleeping soundly by the time I decided to leave although the Italian guy was a pretty bad snorer and had kept a few of us awake at the start of the night. The Spanish girls seem to get great fun out of it judging by their laughter! I enjoyed Zaldiko and Zubiri and thought to myself that I would stay there again should I return.

Once I stepped out and made my way over the Puente la Rabia, I had one thing on my mind….breakfast! I didn’t find a tienda to buy some fruit the day before so I just would have to make do without until I got to a cafe. It was 6am and it would be a while before I would see anything open. Maybe Larrasoana might have a cafe open? I started off alone this morning but it didn’t take long before I met other pilgrims. It was pitch black and all I could see and hear were the lights from torches and folks talking in various languages; Spanish, Italian, French. No English. When you leave Zubiri, you also get to walk by a pretty ugly industrial factory which took a while to pass by. The noise from it could be heard for miles. I didn’t see the crew from the night before, maybe they had left earlier. I didn’t mind. But I always had an eye open for any of them so I could have some company. I got talking to Christina from Argentina closer to Larrasoana who was walking to Burgos. She had great English and was really eager to talk. She had walked the Camino before and was stopping in the places where she didn’t stay last time. A wise choice. Just outside of Larrasoana as I was in hunt of a cafe, I see an Englishman called Bob. He had been in the town and told me that there was nothing open. Strange I thought, as it was close to 7am at this stage. He said there was a fiesta there all night and that none of the cafes are serving to pilgrims. Hmm..fiesta? That explains why the albergue was closed, and not bed bugs!!

I walk on past Larrasoana and am met by Bob and Leslie from Canada. Leslie looked like she was struggling. We discussed the Larrasoana affair also before mentioning that David is not far ahead! Aha..great! Someone who can match my pace! On I go a further 3 or 4 km before I reach Zurian situated on a river. It is a fab place and I stop by watching the river flow. It has an open cafe so I order my first cafe con leche of the day. Yum! I meet some of the Irish ladies from the first day. I was in no hurry here and would have stayed here for the night if it was closer to 1 or 2.

It was only 8am however, and I had a lot of walking to do before I called it a day. The Camino crosses the Rio Argo a number of times before reaching Pamplona’s suburbs but there is alot of walking through forests and wooden areas before I see any evidence of the city. There are a few steep ascents and descents to make before reaching Pamplona especially around Irotz. I really had to take my time here. It’s disheartening when you climb to the top of a hill and then see another stretch that needs to be climbed. The ever rising sun made it harder also. But I reached Zabaldika shortly after. I was another 8km to the suburbs but wanted to call it a day. Onwards!… I kept saying to myself.

Passing Zabaldika led me to another incline and further decline. I don’t know who designed the Camino to have us walk this way as there is a park just below that walks in the same direction and it is all flat. I pass Monte Miravalles and now I am on the home straight towards Pamplona. There are many suburbs to pass through and I begin to walk on asphalt paths until I reach my final destination. Sometimes I prefer this, today I do. I catch up with a group of 3 guys and 1 girl from Germany. They were kind of unsure where the Camino would take them now they were approaching a major city. The waymarks change from being signposts to being painted on the ground. The arrows can be hard to find and we needed to ask a few locals if we were going in the right direction. They were staying in Casa Paderborn (a German-run albergue in Pamplona) while I had decided to stay in the main albergue inside the city walls. All four were taking their time on the Camino and had no time when they needed to be home. The joys of university! If only I had known about this treasure at that time.

We reach Pamplona close to midday under the hot sun, passing Arre, Burlada and Villava. They say their goodbyes and turn to their albergue while I go in search of the city walls and the main municipal albergue. It is not due to open until 12.30 so I am early. I eventually find it (just beside the Cathedral) and meet the crew from the night before. I also see most of the crowd from day one, so I was delighted to see them. I took my pack off, placed it in the queue and drop to the ground exhausted. I had planned yesterday to go to Cizur Menor but that wasn’t going to happen. Pamplona was bussling and I was eager to see some of the sights. First I needed to check in, find a bed, wash and look after a blister that had appeared after my first day. Oh..and food!!

Later that day, David, Bob, Leslie and myself walked through the city. It was a weekend also, so it is worth pointing out that not much happens on weekends in Spain. Osasuna, the local football team were playing a game in the evening and many of the team’s fans were in the streets drinking openly and singing before the game started. It had a real fiesta atmosphere to it, but probably a little too much drink was being consumed. I also got a harsh reminder of how and when food is served in Spain. We made do with pinchos until 7pm when we could order the menu del dia. Phew! There are great advantages in making your own dinner.

Some of the crew from the meal in Zubiri were going to stay in Pamplona for an extra night so I said my goodbyes to them then, while I also met a new face. Anna from Estonia was walking from St Jean to Logrono and myself and David asked that she join us in the morning. I love meeting new people!

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