A Pilgrim’s Day on the Camino

Up before daybreak (and before me), Judi drinks the coffee con leche that she wisely purchased the night before and put into a thermos. She’s the light sleeper and always the first awake; she writes in her journal and does her yoga routine. I’m up soon after. No worries about what to wear: we only have a couple of outfits anyway and no one dresses for fashion on the Camino.

The bathrooms are communal, but since we’re up early, they’re empty, and we can soon be putting on backpacks and boots and leaving the building.

It’s blessedly cool outside but dark. With flashlight and headlamp, we find the blue signs with yellow scallop shell insignia or the yellow painted arrows on road signs, highway guardrails, or the walls of buildings. The moon was full a few days ago, and that made the wayfinding easier. Not many animals to see: a few bunnies, the occasional chained dog, maybe a snail or two in the roadway. In the distance, we sometimes see the lights of other pilgrims who have left early. The nights are quiet here, with only the occasional sound of a barking dog in the distance.

By seven, the sky starts to lighten in the east. We’re hitting our stride, still full of energy and walking at a good clip. We don’t talk much, each of us lost in thought, remembering events from days before, solving the world’s problems, or thinking about our loved ones at home.

After a couple of hours more, we stop at a roadside bar/cafe in whatever small village we’ve reached. It feels great to take off the 20-pound backpacks and walk unencumbered into the cafe. We’ve each settled in to our favorite choices for breakfast. Judi usually has freshly squeezed orange juice and an omelette on part of a crusty baguette. I want cafe solo Americano and a tortilla patate with a chunk of baguette. Cafe solo is espresso with extra hot water served in a small teacup. Very strong and delicious.

Sometimes Judi jokes, “Okay. Saddle up, pilgrim. We’re leaving,” and we wrestle the backpacks on and continue on our way.

By noon, we’ve usually walked over 2/3 of the way to our destination, our pace has slowed only a little, and we’ve greeted many fellow pilgrims. The way seems harder, and we’re more careful to choose our steps along the rocky way. Our patience thins a little, but Judi’s always upbeat and finds the best in every situation.

When we finally arrive at an albergue, we join the line of people checking in for the night. By this time, we’ve walked thirteen or more miles, and the only things that make sense are taking off our shoes and backpacks, sitting down, and preparing to shower.

The host at each albergue checks and stamps our pilgrim credentials, records numbers from our U.S. passports, and assigns us to a room and bed. It varies, but most rooms have ten or more bunkbeds each. I prefer the top bunk, and Judi, the bottom bunk, so we’re usually happy with our assignments.

After a quick shower (bring your own soap, shampoo, washcloth, and towel), we usually take a walk around the village, have an early supper at 4:30 or wait to enjoy a pilgrim dinner at seven o’clock. Meals in Spain are divided into courses. El primero is a choice of ensalada mixta, pasta with red sauce, vegetable or meat stew, or a local specialty; el segundo is a choice of cod fish, trout, pork, beef, or chicken. I can find a good vegetarian dinner by choosing two primeros, usually ensalada mixta and pasta. Meals are served with red wine, water, more baguettes, and desserts. Judi’s favorite dessert so far has been the homemade rice pudding. I usually choose ice cream, even though that means a pre-packaged cone like you’d find in the frozen food section. Ice cream is always good in whatever form it comes in.

The best part of the pilgrims’ meals is conversation with people from all over the world. The other night we heard the adventures of an Australian who had climbed Mount Kilimajaro and others of the world’s highest mountains. At the same dinner was a couple from Stockholm who had traveled around the world and were currently living in southern France for a few months. The man from Brazil talked about his trips to the Amazon. Such a wide world and such a variety of adventures!

“And so to bed,” as Samuel Pepys would write in his journal centuries ago. I conk out just about as soon my head hits my blow-up pillow in spite of lights, beeping alarms, church bells, and snores, grateful for friendships, clean beds, and much-needed rest.



If Only You Were Here!

Your intrepid peregrinas have traveled far since last we updated you. We have gone 161.5 miles in all and are more than a third of the way to Santiago. We’ve experienced friendship, laughter, exhaustion, cold showers, bedbug scares, pilgrim dinners, friendly Spaniards eager to help us find our way, and more wishes of “Buen Camino” than we can count.

Longrono, Najera, Santo Domingo, Belorado, and San Juan de Ortega are behind us, and we sitting in an outdoor cafe in Burgos, using the wifi that comes free with our meal. Not even a block away is the magnificent Gothic Santa Maria Cathedral that is the pride of Burgos. Judi’s pictures will follow in a subsequent post.

Our albergue for the night is municipally run and cost us five Euros each: clean showers, bunkbeds (28 in just our room), one immaculate bathroom on each of the six floors, warm showers, and lots of limping people, most of whom had walked 16.2 miles today like we did.

Judi and I appreciate and love your comments. They’re the first thing we look for when we can capture a few minutes of wifi at our albergues. We both miss home, but are literally having the trip of our lives!

The Camino Family Expands

Instant bonding – a quick introduction, your name, where you’re from, “Oh, I’ve been to Vermont (or Maine or Boston); is that near you?”

“Did you start at St. Jean Pied de Port? The climb over the Pyrenees was really tough, wasn’t it?”

And on it goes, to children, spouses, occupations, the condition of your feet and knees, how long you’ll be on the Camino, and why you’re here.

A mother and son from Washington state

You depart, one person stopping for a sip of water, the other moving ahead. But then you meet again, at an albergue, or a restaurant, or just at a shady spot along the way.

A father and daughter from Sydney, Australia

The Camino family grows. And we take care of each other. One needs some of your water, you share your chocolate bar, someone helps you fix your blister. And on we go, toward Santiago.




Estella, Irache, Sansol

The days and towns are blurring into one sunny, sensory-packed whole as we trek our way across northern Spain. We have already traveled over one hundred miles (48.7 miles in just the past three days), and our blog posts are not keeping up with our feet. The albergues have wifi, but the downloading and uploading of posts take a great deal of time and are sometimes not possible.

Judi and I have been feeling great with only one small blister each, hiking far, and having so many experiences. We wish we could share every one, but we’ll just give you a taste of our highlights.

In Estella, an elderly man walked about a quarter of a mile out of his way to bring us to an albergue with a vacancy. Kindness abounds here.

A modern albergue in Estella which has been built onto a Medieval structure

This September has seen a larger than usual influx of pilgrims on the Camino. We have met people from such exotic places as the Canary Islands and Panama. Rumors have circulated that “there are no rooms anywhere” as we approach some cities, but we have found by experience that “the Camino provides.” We get up early and walk in the cool of the morning, arrive early, and find a bed.

We are traveling through the Rioja, the wine-producing district of Spain. We walk through vineyards with rows after rows of grapevines heavily laden with bountiful grapes, so dark purple that they are nearly black. Interspersed are trees with slender leaves and green olives, and above our heads are cloudless, azure skies.

The celebrated wine fountain outside of Estella – This fountain dispenses more than a hundred liters of wine a day to thirsty pilgrims.

After Estella, we felt we deserved a short day of walking so we checked into a camping village in Irache where we rented half of a tiny cottage and felt decadent and pampered as we sat outside on the porch and watched the twilight descend into night and the stars appear.

Leaving early in the morning has such advantages: watching the sun rise and capturing the sight of Medieval buildings bathed in the morning light.

In the dawn’s early light

Our next day of hiking brought us past Los Arcos to an albergue in Sansol with all the comforts of home: washer, dryer, and hot food. Life is good, and I even had a chance to write in my journal.


If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Part Two

Streets of Pamplona, quiet at last
Bowed heads of the penitents
“Cafe solo” for two
With the makers of a Camino documentary: website at caminodoco.com
Alto de Perdon
“Where the way of the wind crosses the way of the stars.”
Toward Santiago
Sunrise in Puenta la Reina
Puenta la Reina
Pilgrim shadow on the ancient Roman road
In the footsteps of a Roman soldier

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Part One

Then let these pictures tell our story…

Judi’s pictures told the stories of our trip over the Pyrenees, and here are the stories from Roncevalles and beyond.

But first, a recap of our mileage:

St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncevalles, 15.6 miles

Roncevalles to Zubiri, 13.6 miles

Zubiri to Pamplona, 13.o miles

Pamplona to Puenta la Reina, 14.8 miles

Puenta la Reina to Estella, 13.6  (Total, 70.6 miles)

“Older Man of the Mountain”
Walking the Byways of Pamplona
Toro Fuerto!
Pensioners Protesting for Higher Wages in Front of Pamplona City Hall
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Real, 15th century
Alabaster Mausoleum of Carlos El Noble and his Wife Leonor

No News is Good News!

Due to technical difficulties, we haven’t been able to add new posts with pictures, but rest assured that we are safe, exhausted, pain- and blister-free, and resting for the night in Pamplona.

The hike over the Pyrenees was incredible in every way: strenuous, long, but most of all breathtakingly beautiful. When we can make our computers work well again, we will share Judi’s pictures….just wait, they will knock your socks off.

After Roncevalles, we walked to Zubiri and on to Pamplona for a grand total of about forty-two miles so far. We hit the trail tomorrow morning on the way to Puenta la Reina fourteen miles away and are hoping for more reliable wifi service when we arrive.  Until then, please know that we are thinking about all of our friends, both old and brand-new. We already have been welcomed into our own Camino family that includes folks from South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Ireland, France, Holland,  Germany, Canada, and the U.S.

Thank you for all of your comments. We have treasured every one.

Buen Camino

A Day in St. Jean Pied de Port

“Take it easy. You’ll have no problem,” Jacques reassured us when we talked with him this morning at the Pilgrims’ office. This climb over the Pyrenees makes the first day on the Camino the toughest. Jacques has counseled many pilgrims over the years and certainly made us feel confident.

We spent the day exploring the town, making new friends, and having adventures.

Crossing a bridge through the oldest section of St. Jean Pied de Port
Andrea and Darren (AKA Theron the Archer) from London demonstrate how to aim arrows through the window openings of the Citadelle.
Judi bravely guards the entrance to the ancient ramparts.