Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

12:31pm – Uterga

Mateo and I stop at this cozy but super hip albergue after Monte Perdon [Sierra del Perdon], an absolutely deathly up-hill climb. Misty and foggy; Seatle-like, how the mountain holds in the rain on the Pamplona side. At the top is a man selling juices, coffee and treats. This was prophesied by this delightful elderly lady coming down the mountain as we were ascending. She could tell I was struggling and an English speaker, and said that we weren’t far from the top and that our salvation would be found in a treat-selling van. I’m almost positive that this woman was not real, but an gentlest angel of the Lord’s army of hosts.

This treat-selling man was just as unreal. From Idaho, though I am doubtful that he was from there originally due to a heavy European accent. He drive his little van up to Alto del Perdon to sell coffee, brewed via Bunsen burner, juice boxes, and bocadillos de tortilla española to those who make it up to the summit there. He is saving up/raising money for a 2010 trip to Mount Everest. He’s going with two guys from Montana. He’s hiked Mount McKinnley twice, the Appalachian Train once, and he met his wife on the Camino (she gives massages and foot treatment in a small town at the base of Monte Perdon). He’s short and stocky, like me; his legs are absolute tree-trunks. We wished him luck in the coming year and thanked him for the juice and treats.

We have grown in our number of friends. At first it was just the two of us. The two gals (lesbians) from Austria, but today we took on Timo, a Finnish gentleman on the descent down from Perdon. I believe we hurt his feelings by not sitting and resting with him in the shade at Perdon’s base, but we want to rest in Uterga. We’d like to make Puente La Reina today, which is 7.6km away.

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8:15am, Ezkirotz
We wake at 615am with my alarm, check our bags, check our email, eat the second half of my sandwich. This morning’s hike 53min, took us by a Magna Construction Co. site, our first blah moment, but this town is cute and has a good place to site and public water fountain. It’s still foggy and cool.

12:35pm – Burlada
Today’s camino we’ve managed nine miles before lunch here in Burlada, a short 6km from Pamplona. We eat at Cafe Paradise, most likely a tourista. I tried to say something nice to a nun, who passed by us. She just smiled and patted me on the head. This, Mateo informs me, is the nicest he’s ever seen a Spanish nun act, hopefully because I am a peregrino.

5:00pm – Pamplona
Today’s shoe change was a good change, but it didn’t alleviate my feet pains, but only changed. Today’s pain was merely from number of miles and footsteps, where were quite many.

After Cafe Paradise, Mateo and I followed the city street path – very modern, European, and urban busy. I suppose at one point we missed a camino marker, and it was late before we realized this. We were traveling on a busy city four-lane at a steady up-gradient for probably one-and-a-half miles forward to enter Pamplona proper. We passed the sporting complex of C.D. Amayo. We finally turned into the anicent city. We saw two bars in Hemingway’s honor, found Plaza de Toros, found the Cathedral and then finally found other pilgrims, where we all found a rather large, very clean albergue for only pilgrims. Mateo and I both napped for a few hours and my feer and calves are still very sore. We covered many more miles than yesterday, as the terrain was much less mountainous than the trek to Zubiri.

Everything here – the sleeping quarters, the bathhouse – is coed.

Mateo and I look for a proper meal, which initially leads us to Café Iruña, another Hemingway honorarium, where we have cañas (draft beers) and fritas (fried squid and shrimp), before leaving for a tapas place. We have tortilla española, an omelet of eggs, potatoes, and onions, served on a bun.

We leave the bar to take pictures of the Catedra in the beautiful sky. The cafe across the way is now closed. We walk past an Basque bar with a Basque flag in the back, and mysterious people drinking up front and a general uninviting feeling.

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The dangers of the road produce, also, a mode of travelling, resembling, on a diminutive scale, the caravans of the East. The arrieros or carriers congregate in troops, and set off in large and well-armed trains on appointed days, while individual travelers swell their number, and contribute to their strength. In this primitive way is the commerce of the country carried on. The muleteer is the general medium of traffic, and the legitimate wanderer of the land, traversing the Peninsula from the Pyrenees and the Asturias, to the Alpuxarras, the Serrania de Ronda, and even to the gates of Gibraltar. He lives frugally and hardily ; his alforjas of coarse cloth hold his scanty stock of provisions ; a leathern bottle hanging at his saddle-bow contains wine or water for a supply across barren mountains and thirsty plains; a mule-cloth spread upon the ground is his bed at night, and his pack-saddle is his pillow. His low but clear-limbed and sinewy form betokens strength; his complexion is dark and sun-burnt; his eye resolute, but quiet in its expression, except when kindled by sudden emotion ; his demeanor is frank, manly, and courteous, and he never passes you without a grave salutation— “¡ Dios guarda a usted ! “—” ¡ Vay usted con Dios, caballero !” — ” God guard you ! ” — ” God be with you, cavalier ! ” (17-18)

Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra (1831)



n. & adj.

1.  a horseman; courtly gentleman, gallant, especially as escorting a lady;

2.  adjective.  offhand, curt, supercilious, whence cavalierly, adverb.

[earlier -llero, -liero, from Spanish; present form French, from Italian cavaliere; cf CHEVALIER]

chevalier (sh-), noun.

member of certain orders of knighthood, & of French Legion of Honour etc;

soldier cadet of old French noblesse; chevalier of industry, an adventurer, swindler.

[Middle English and Anglo-French chevaler (Old French -ier) from Medieval Latin caballarius from Latin caballus horse; cf. CAVALIER]

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This entry is taken from my Camino journal.

June 24, 2009 – Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Though only 21 km from Najera, this trip was most difficult for me due to the blisters on the backs of my twin heels and a new one having formed on my big right toe.  I am told a man is coming around 5pm to care for the blisters of pilgrims.

The albergue is the nicest we’ve seen, as the place in Puenta la Reina was a hotel with a few beds for pilgrims, this place has a sleek design, three floors of spacious living and functioning room; there are many fairly artful photos hanging about, dedicated to the city’s fiestas and over-infatuation with chickens.

The story I am told is that a family was once stopping through St. Domingo.  A local girl feel in love with the family’s son, but, since the family would be leaving in the morning, the boy called it off.  This angered the girl and, in her rage, hid a goblet of worth in the boy’s bag.  The “theft” was discovered, the boy tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged.

The parents finished the pilgrimage, but later returned to find the boy still hanging and miraculously still alive.  The mother gave thanks to Saint James (Santiago) and to the Virgin Mother of Christ for the miracle.  The family went to the local magistrate to say that their son was still alive as a proclamation of his innocence.  The magistrate was about to eat when he heard mother’s story. He answered that the hanging boy was as alive as the chicken he was about to eat.

In that moment, the bird returned to life, flying from the table. Astonished, the magistrate went to where the boy hanged and saw that he was alive.  He boy was returned to his family and the chicken was taken to the church to attest to the miracle.

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The Running of the Bulls

We stop in Hospital, our second camino town of the day since leave Mount El Cabron (O Cebrero…) and passing through Linares, to have toast with jam and a co-cola, and just in time for the third day in a row to see the Running of the Bulls on the bar tele, live from Pamplona. The men, many dressed in all white, save red sash belts, have rolled up newsprint held in their hands like batons, and in unison, chant a cheer in anticipation of the bulls´release.

Thrice the cheer is cried and finally the bulls are let go into the street corridor at 800am prompt. One grand bull, grey, red and brown, leads to the way, with three of his shade to follow. They are followed by four all-blacks, then about five all-browns. The first two groups make it through the enormous crowds and into the Plaza del Torros, even with the thousands in their way concurrent, but it is the brown bulls, each with long horns, longer than the other bulls, as long as a man´s arm, who have the most difficulty negociating the crowds to the ring. They are seperated from the greater herd. Their confusion leads to aggression – aggression towards the runners, many with long herding sticks or the white chanting batons, trying to antagonize the bulls to give chase and run ultimately to the Plaza and ultimately to their death that afternoon.

One bull, the last of the lot who has lost the herd entire, begins picking out runners and even spectators sitting on the make-shift barriers. One unlucky gaucho, wearing green and white with a red belt sash, is lifted off the make-shift wall by the arm-length horn, thrown over the bull´s entire body into the street. He is gored once in the side, and then butted repeatedly by the bull´s head, as he tries to tuck into a fetal position. Men with their long herding sticks and white chant batons try to shift the bull´s anger and attention, and one man even pulls with both hands and full body on the bull´s tail, as if tug-o-war. The bell finally relents and heads for the plaza, where he is greeted by hundreds more, runners who have yet to jump into the stands and to their own safety. The bull begins a charge at these, but is diswayed by men with matador caps. The distraction is too great to ignore, and he is finally lead out of the plaza, and with this last encouragement, the last brown bull makes it to the bull ring to await his moment of death that afternoon.

Later today, when at the albergue here in Triacastella, Mateo tells me that someone had died from injuries sustained during the running. An American, and only the fifteenth death in the last fifty years of the Running of the Bulls.

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East – the last word we want to hear on the camino. “Go west, young man,” is the calling on this trip. Any notions of east would be against the metaphysics of this entire trip. And yet, east has happened.

The march today was very good, perhaps the best I´ve felt in a while. And we covered much ground, many townes and even some good elevation. We stopped in San Juan de Urtega, an old monastery with very unfriendly nuns, but Mateo and I only stopped in to get a sandwich, a cold beer, and ready ourselves for the extra push to Atapuerca, two towns past what the guide book suggested. But we were cock-sure and ready for the extra 6km. Just two little towns and downward elevation. An extra 6km for our push to the large metropolis of Burgos.

But, to quote the great Scottish poet Burns – “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley” or something to that degree. The only albergue in Atapuerca was full and there wasn´t another for 6km in the foward direction. There, however, was two back in the previous town of Ages. Nicely, there was a gentleman to give us and our gear a ride back to the Ages, where the albergue was very nice, only four bunks to a room with a hot shower.

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The Spanish –

Last night was something else. Mateo and I are watching  the United States play Spain in the Confederation Cup. We find a bar near the Albergue and settle in, as the bar is already crowded, full of Spaniards, including a large group of pilgrims we´ve been traveling with. But Mateo and I haven´t really been very tight with these guys – they are loud, appearing to be a bit standoffish and not overly welcoming. But when they saw Mateo and I walk into the bar, we became their new best friends, and they became ours: Aurelio, Ignacio(nicknamed “Nacho”), Ignatcio (nicknamed”In-yanki”), Sylvia (the latter Ignacio´s wife), Pedro, and Xavi. Mateo speaks great Spanish with them, which is great, because they speak very little English. We order beers for each other, even after The States take a surprising 1-nil lead. We´re elated and the Spaniards are excited for us, despite their own side being down a goal.

Then down two goals! Mateo and I can´t celebrate, but some of the drunk Spaniards at the bar, including the bartender, pick up on our nationality and ask us why don´t stand with our hands over our hearts and sing our national anthem.

We were planning to leave after halftime and make curfew, but Aurelio, the wild, curly-haired ring-leader, has convinced the albergue señora to let us stay out, since there is a fiesta in the adjacent plaza. So the crew of Spanish guys and two Americans head out on the town. And they are all about some Hierbas, this dredful green absinthe liquor that reminds me all too much of jager. But who am I to spoil the fun. I just have to drink more beer to get the liquor´s taste out of my mouth. We turned in at 0030am, which is way too late for the camino, but we had a blast, and made some great friend, three of which (Aurelio, Xavi, and Pedro) are doing the whole camino.

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9:15pm – Estella

We strove into town like two c0nquering heroes today. We had been told Albergue Anfas was the place to go, and this place is amazing – it doubles as a hostel for pilgrims and a center for children who have mental handicaps, specifically down syndrome. The senora of the house had cold water and cherries for us as we fought our way into the albergues disco beads. The Senora shows us around the place, which is very spacious (over thirty sets of bunks) and implacably clean. There is a seperate room for bikes and dirty boots. I nap for a little while and then Tony shows up out of the shower wearing nothing but his small boxers.

Tony – We meet Tony in the town privious, Lorca. Mateo had seen a albergue where we might get a bit for lunch and to rest our feet. I shose it because it was playing good classical music. After a few moments of nibbling, Tony, a talkative Brit with a heavy Scouser accent, walks in. He, of course, knows we´re from the States and we begin to have a chat. He confesses to being a “Blue-nosed Evertonian”. Later we walk with him on the path from Lorca to Villatuerta. That this is his fourth camino in seven years, and he´s about to turn seventy, still amazes me., and that his “old lady at home” encourages him on these trips, this amazes me even more.

We parted at Villatuerta, where Mateo and I visit “Our Lady of the Assumption,” which is most impressive as they discovered XIIth century mosaics on the church walls a few years back while clean and have left them for all to see.

This evening Mateo and I explore the town of Estella, its churches and plazas, where Spaniards dance to live music. Many of these dancers are elderly Spanish women dancing with each other, and I sadly wonder what has happened to all their men. Little Spanish lads play their La Liga, often firing shots into crowds of tourist sipping on cafe con leche, or into the occasional mother with her troller. Little Spanish girls rider their scotters or rollerblades in the plaza as well.

We have our own cafe con leche in a small cafe around 5pm. It wasn´t crowded. Mateo talks about the dew on the beer taps and how it entices him to want a cana, but we stick with our cafes. For dinner we find a little plac with a pilgrim´s menu, and there we run into Robert.

Robert – We also met Robert in the same albergue in Lorca. He is French-Canadian, French being his main tongue, but speaks English with us just fine. Mateo order for us, as the waitress is thankful that he speaks Spanish. A gentleman, whom we saw panhandling for change in the plaza earlier, is playing the slot-machine, and he is being closely eyed by two very sleezy chaps sitting next to us. We are also joined by Jean-Deit(rich), a Dutch man, who has been biking from Holland, through Belgium, through France, and now west on the camino. He looks like Hemingway.

I grab the bottle from dinner, just in case the two gentlemen next to us at dinner are actually waiting for us. We make the albergue by curfew. Tony is there, telling us about the places on the road to Los Arcos that we need to see, including a monestary that makes its own wine, and at its gates has two taps for peregrinos : one for water and one for wine.

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Today was difficult – there is no way around that nugget, and no real need for elaboration, given a) it´s our first day, b) no sleep, c) complete lack of fitness and shape for this type of Pyrenes manuvering. Perhaps it is the late 10am start where we felt we´d use our adrineline to fight through the heat, the lack of sleep, and show this camino who´s boss. Well, El Camino showed me and Matt what was what. I´m not sure what was worse – the steep uphills, or the slippery/descents (it had rained earlier). The milage markers were quite off. After a days worth of sweating and running out of water, we enter Zubiri like two conquered heroes.

After a brief nap, Mateo and I handwash a few clothes, walk up to the local grocer to pick up a bagette, jamon, cheese, and two peaches for dessert – 11.6€

Tomorrow, we make the 13(?) mile push to Pamplona, as to make up for the 65€ cabride to Roncesvalles. We will stop in each town and hydrate/relax a little more tomorrow. We will take our time and watch our pace.


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We are currently waiting for the office in the abbey to open (10am), as well a place for breakfast (?am). We arrived in the coach to Pamplona around 530am, proceeded via cab (via 65C), which brought us here around 615a. The only complany we´ve seen or spoken to is a sullen Spaniard on a camino bike and two French girls, waiting for a trip into town to get new boots for the camino. They are only doing the journey for a week.

In Roncesvalles there is a monastery, an 11th century stone chapel, an abbey, and two restaurants. That´s really it. The abbey is were we will get our credincial, or pilgrim´s passport, to be signed at various stations on the camino.

In Roncesvalles, there are two bed and breakfast hosts, if you’re willing to pay 40€ for the bed, shower, etc. The abbey provides a mattress and a meal for 6€. To each her own.


Mateo and I were able to have a cafe con leche and a pre-packaged muffin for just over 5€ total, which we agree would be fantastic if we can find this on a daily basis. We’ve also decided to begin each day by walking and waiting to have breppie later in the morning.

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