Day 109: Walk to Puente La Reina.

This is the post for day four of my pilgrimage along the Camino Frances route across the north of Spain towards Santiago de Compostela.  Enjoy!

Just the facts:

  • Stage: 4
  • Route: Cizur Menor, Zariquiegui, Alto del Perdon, Uterga, Muruzabal, Obanos, Puente la Reina.
  • Distance: 19 km (20.7 km adjusted for climb)
  • Total distance to date: 92.4 km (101 km adjusted for climb)
  • Accommodation:  Albergue Jakue.  This place is amazing!  Loved everything about it, especially the way it magically appears when you first enter the town.  It is in the basement of a hotel, with a beautiful garden where you can enjoy a frosty beverage when you arrive.  You can stay in the regular albergue part, or pay a few Euros more for a room with just 6 beds and a private bathroom, which we did (just 9 Euros each).  It also had a couple of real washer and dryer machines, which we happily bought tokens for.


  • Food: The food was the best part!  There was a buffet dinner with unlimited salad, sides and dessert.  Yum!  Perfect for pilgrims.  We even had friends from other hostels come back and join us for dinner.  We also spent some quality time in the sunny bar playing cards, which is also where we had breakfast with unlimited freshly squeezed orange juice.  I was very sad to leave this virtual oasis of the Camino.



On Day 4 of the hike, after fuelling up with an awesome breakfast in the stocked kitchen at the hostel which we paid for ‘by donation’, in Cizur Menor outside of Pamplona, we walked a mere 19 km to Puente La Reina.  Along the way, we passed through a rather windy mountain range that was dotted with wind turbines.  Talk about breezy!  Glorious vistas both on the way up there and down the other side.  It was awesome to be able to get so close to these impressively large machines.  I had no idea that Spain had so many of them.


We continue to be amazed by a Korean lady who is doing the entire Camino bare foot.  That’s a whole different level of crazy.  Puenta La Reina had the most beautiful hostel we’ve ever seen: Albergue Jakue.  In fact, it was attached to a hotel, which no doubt helped a lot.  A nice garden, real washing machines and dryers, and an unbelievable dinner with a full salad bar, side dish bar, and dessert bar.  The pilgrims were very happy that night!  We even played a little euchre in the bar – good times.  Especially since my team won.  At least, that’s how I remember it…


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Day 108: Walk to Cizur Menor.

This is the post for day three of my pilgrimage along the Camino Frances route across the north of Spain towards Santiago de Compostela.  Enjoy!

Just the facts:

  • Stage: 3
  • Route: Larrasoana, Akerreta, Zuriain, Irotz, Zabaldica, Arleta, Villava, Burlada, Pamplona, Cizur Menor.
  • Distance: 20.9 km (22.7 km adjusted for climb)
  • Total distance to date: 73.4 km (80.3 km adjusted for climb)
  • Accommodation:  Albergue Sanjuanista (27 beds in 3 rooms).  Basic, but lovely, and excellent value for the 4 Euro suggested donation.  Separate bathroom for the women, which was very clean.  The hostel is run by rotating volunteers of the Knights of St. John, and is open June to September.
  • Food: The Albergue keeps a fridge full of food that you can enjoy on a donation basis, of which we partook to make a stellar breakfast in the morning before continuing on our journey.  The town of Cizur Menor itself is quite small; however, there were a couple of bars / restaurants offering pilgrim menus, which is a three-course meal for a flat rate, usually 10 Euros.  We ate dinner at nearby Asador El Tremendo, which had a separate dining room reserved for pilgrims, and it was nice.

For lunch along the way, we enjoyed some delectable tastes of tapas in Pamplona, which was all abuzz with a festival.  If I understood correctly, the occasion was to celebrate the anniversary of the loss of the Basque country’s independence.  Um, what? It was quite a good party all the same.

Several of the pilgrims we had met so far decided to opt for a hotel and stay in Pamplona rather than continuing the extra 3 km to Cizur Menor.  While they all enjoyed it, and the lack of curfew that an Albergue would impose, they were all a little slow to get going the next day.  Given the option, I would probably still stay in Cizur Menor, only because the level of soreness in my muscles would have meant going to bed early anyway, in which case the value of the hotel would have been lost on me.



Day 3 was a bit of a wake-up call, as I could barely get down the stairs to the toilet, my legs were that sore.  Apparently, running down the steep hills at the end of the last two days was not a smart move.  Our feet have also started to suffer, with a few blisters here and there requiring attention.  We patched them up as best we could, and reunited ourselves with our sturdy hiking shoes and evil backpack.  While it carries everything including our precious water, it is at the detriment of our shoulders.  I am seriously contemplating burning half of the things I packed to lighten the load.


In any case, we made our way from Larrasoana through Pamplona, where we stopped for tapas and then a lovely salad to throw into the bocadilla rotation, and hauled ourselves to a small suburb called Cizur Menor, where we stayed in a hostel next to a beautiful church for 4 Euros per person, and it is infinitely nicer than last night’s.  MdR even felt comfortable not wearing her flip-flops in the shower.  True story!

Dinner consisted of a 3-course pilgrim menu, which are offered in most bars and restaurants.  They range in price from 7 to 10 Euros, and include a starter, main, dessert, wine or water, and bread.  The white, fluffy and incredibly crusty white bread is ubiquitous in the north of Spain.  You can count on a chunk to be served with everything you order, and, while we do need our carbs for the walk, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the bread alone will be enough to stymy any potential weight loss on this pilgrimage.

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Day 107: Walk to Larrasoana.

This is the post for day two of my pilgrimage along the Camino Frances route across the north of Spain towards Santiago de Compostela.  Enjoy!

Just the facts:

  • Stage: 2
  • Route: Roncesvalles, Burguete, Espinal, Alto de Mezquiriz, Gerendiain, Linzoain, Alto de Erro, Puente de la Rabia, Zubiri, to Larrasoana.
  • Distance: 27.4 km (28.7 km adjusted for climb)
  • Total distance to date: 52.5 km (57.6 km adjusted for climb)
  • Accommodation: Municipal Albergue (73 beds in 4 rooms in main building, a bunch more on two floors in an outcrop building).  Horrific.  Stay in Zubiri – do NOT stay in Larrasoana under any circumstances!  This was by far my worst accommodation on the entire Camino.  While it is a lovely place to visit and there is a quaint bar there with free wifi, pass on through.  We were in the outcrop building, which was more like a large dingy shed with two floors.  There was one toilet and two showers for quite a large number of women.  One of the showers was only a hose.  It was gross.
  • Food: the saving grace of this town was a lovely, quaint bar near the centre which offered free wifi.  We had a large communal dinner there, which was great.  Not a lot of other options in town.  There was one small supermarket in somebody’s house, but it was closed when we walked by.



Day 2 took us from Roncesvalles to Larrasoana – another 27 km or so.  It was deceiving, as it was touted as a fairly flat walk, so we thought it might be easy-going.  In fact, the morning portion was quite pleasant, and we had a nice lunch in Zubiri.  However, the last 5 km from Zubiri to Larrasoana was in the brutally hot afternoon sun, and was pure torture.  Not sure I would ever want to do that again.

When we arrived, our 6 Euro hostel was even shabbier, and yet a convivial atmosphere surrounded everyone there as we made our way to the only bar/restaurant in town (with free wifi!).  Misery truly does love company!  We sat and sipped on the terrace in the cool evening breeze.  The mere act of survival and glorious hot shower can do so much to revive the spirit.

We met some lovely folks from all over – the US, Austria, Ireland, Quebec, Germany and France, to name a few.  In the end, all was well, as our bodies acclimatized to the shocks we were inflicting upon them.

Nothing a little pilgrim menu complete with vino tinto can’t do to turn that frown upside down.  It’s all good!

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Day 106: Start El Camino Walk to Roncesvalles.

And so, it is finally here.  THE walk.  Yep, the 790 km across the north of Spain on the Camino Frances, beginning in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France – the ‘traditional’ route of the pilgrimage all the way west to Santiago de Compostela.  It does indeed begin with a single step.

In order to catch up on my blog entries, which have been more than a little difficult to keep daily during the walk, I am going to make the majority of the Camino entries photo blogs, since, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words, so in some weird way, I am actually going to be writing even more, not less.  I will try to include the key points of each stage, though, along with a few impressions about the day for posterity’s sake.  Enjoy!  Note that the distances are taken from the ubiquitous English-speaker’s bible, “The Way of St. James” by John Brierley, or, as we call him, The Wizard of Oz.  And so, without further ado, here are the facts from Day 1 of the walk.


Just the facts:

  • Stage: 1
  • Route: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Huntto, Orisson, to the top of Col de Lepoeder in the Pyrenees mountains, into Roncesvalles.
  • Distance: 25.1 km (32 km adjusted for climb)
  • Total distance to date: 25.1 km (32 km adjusted for climb)
  • Accommodation: Roncesvalles Albergue Convent (183 beds in 4 rooms); clean, large, groupings of 4 bunk beds with cubbyholes; separate washrooms for women and men
  • Food: decent; a couple of pilgrim restaurant menus nearby; large pasta starter, fish with fries for the main, and a dessert; vegetarian option was available (pasta without chunks of ham, tortilla with potatoes, and salad)


Day 1 took us across the very windy and steep Pyrenees mountains from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to the town of Roncesvalles, in Spain – about 27 km.  We passed a lot of sheep, cows and seemingly wild horses, and a few people on bicycles, and somehow managed not to get blown off the mountain.  My hat went over the edge once, but got stuck in a bush that was fairly easy to retrieve in the grand scheme of things.  We even met an entrepreneur way up there (the last stop in France before crossing into Spain) who was selling snacks including hard-boiled eggs, which we devoured!


While the scenery was truly spectacular, I have never been so happy to arrive at a hostel in my life.  It was large, clean, and had hot showers.  What more could you ask for, really, especially for … was it 10 Euros for the night?  Something like that.  Also mentally thanked profusely my friend who gave me hiking poles for my birthday.  They were indispensable!  I honestly believe that I never would have made it up the mountain without them.


This first day was definitely harder than I expected, and it left me with a certain amount of trepidation for the days to come.  Apparently, this is the hardest day of the entire trek – let’s hope that’s true!  PS. The last photo above is the table of ‘not so necessities’ that pilgrims have left behind after this first day, free for the taking if anyone is foolish enough to feel that their packs are not already heavy enough.  Every ounce counts!

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Day 105: St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they need to stop talking about doing something, and just get on with it.  I had been captivated by the stories of personal transformations resulting from walking the Camino de Santiago across the north of Spain for more than a decade now, and I had run out of excuses.  Being freshly liberated from employment, I had the time, the means, and the feet.  The recent blockbuster documentary ‘The Way‘ had been a gentle reminder to start packing, and to pack light.

There were plenty of people offering their opinions about the trip in terms of preparation, and what to bring and leave behind.  My memory being somewhat selective as to what it retains, I absorbed surprisingly little of this advice, and kept myself busy with fun new things in LaLa-land, until pretty well the time of departure.  When I put my sizeable backpack next to my friend MdR’s, who would be accompanying me for the first two weeks of the walk, it was clear that mine was probably a little on the large size.  But hey, I figured my primarily Eastern European and Scottish stubborn shoulders could handle it.

So away we went, stopping in one of my all-time favourite cities of Barcelona for a couple of days to enjoy the spoils of luxury and excess.  And, as usual, it did not disappoint.  Early this morning, we left the comfortable hotel with its bath mats, towels, toiletries, safe, crisp linens, and privacy, and boarded a flight to Pamplona.  This would be our gateway to the start of the Camino Frances, the traditional pilgrimage route from the south of France across the north of Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a mere 790 km walk away.  Piece of cake.  I mean, if Martin Sheen could handle it, surely we could!


After a stopover in Pamplona to explore the charming city that is best known for its annual San Fermin festival (with the running of the bulls, aka encierro), we caught a direct, nausea-inducing bus (newly introduced in 2011) to the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.  You know, the one just on the other side of the Pyrenees mountains?  We found our Albergue (in Spanish, Auberge in French, Camino hostel in English) without any trouble, and settled in amongst other first time walkers.  Our room consisted of 6 bunk beds, which we shared with just two other pilgrims, who happened to be male.  Mixed accommodations and bathrooms are apparently common on the Camino.

We explored the picturesque town for a bit, and had a group dinner in our hostel, which was made by our very hard-working hostess, who did everything including the cleaning, reservation taking, grocery shopping, and cooking, not to mention the onerous task of pouring the local wine, which is always included in pilgrim dinners, bless them.  The dinner was excellent, and extremely reasonable.  That night, I was already glad I had packed my earplugs, to try and drown out the snoring of our roommates.  One guy was from Texas, and had walked the Camino a couple of years before.  The other guy was from Brazil, and was doing the walk after finishing his studies in Madrid.  We were both so excited, we could barely sleep.  The Camino awaits!

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