Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Camino de Santiago 2016

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Once again we, a group of nine Camino enthusiasts take to the Camino de Santiago to do 5 Camino stages which go from Estella to Torres del Rio, Logroño, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and finally Belorado.

We had decided to cut short our first stage by walking 9 kilometres to Villamayor de Monjardin on the first day, so that the next day we would only have to walk about 20 Kms to Torres del Rio.

The day before the start
Tomorrow .. rucksack packed .. another 120 Kms of the Camino de Santiago. Estella to Belorado on the old medieval Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow morning a 2 hour bus ride takes us to Logroño at the heart of the Rioja. Lunch and a short bus ride to our starting point Estella. Then a two hour walk to our first resting point, the grandly named hamlet of Villarmayor de Monjardin.
Today was a beautiful day and for the second day in a row I dived into the sea. Still a bit cold but us pilgrims need to toughen up! 

Below is a compilation of my daily posts to Facebook during the walk

Camino de Santiago Day 1 of 6

I am now in my bunkbed in an 'albergue' in our first stop. There are 12 beds of which 9 are in our party..of the other three we have no idea. They were asleep when we got back from dinner.

There is not a bed to be had in this place..just as well we had reservations.

Earlier everything went to plan. Except that we had to rush through lunch..by the time we found a place to eat in Logroño we had half an hour to devour a 3 course menu. I was still munching my profiteroles as we ran out of the restaurant and headed for the bus station to catch our bus to the start of our pilgrimage. 
Once we started our walk in Estella we began to settle down to our rhythm of walking. It was only a short 9kms which we did in a couple of hours. Just as well as it was all uphill or so it seemed to my 67 years old legs!
This is Navarra countryside and it is absolutely beautiful. There was the small detail of a drizzle which meant waterproof capes but we were in high spirits..perhaps because we had had a few glasses of Rioja already!
It was tough climbing steep uphill slopes and I was glad when we arrived at our first night's shelter at Villamayor de Monjardin.
There was a long spell of freshening up and the gang made for the only bar in town for a few drinks and a hard earned meal!
Now we are safely tucked in our bunks and enjoying the glow of a few wines, orujo and gin tonics.

Camino day 2 of 6..
First night in a strange bed is always difficult, specially if there are 11 other occupants and a church ringing a bell every hour. It was a very comfortable place with all mod cons, even washing machines and dryers.
Breakfast was pretty basic but enough. Within an hour of starting our 20km for today to Torres del Rio, we had reached a wonderful bar on the camino in such fantastic surroundings that we had to stop and have real coffee and tortilla.
This section of the camino has been maintained in very good condition and the surroundings are lush green sometimes resembling a golf course. The fields were full of vines, olive trees and wheat however the towns we passed through such as Sansol, were like ghost towns with no visible inhabitants but impeccably maintained, the economy dependent on pilgrim traffic.
On the way we met a Dutch man who works at Erricsson and was taking 8 weeks off to do the whole camino.
He joined us for lunch and even stayed at the same Alberge run by a Bolivian woman called Lily. Everyone was amused by an 80+ years old woman who seemed to be trying to seduce the Dutchman.
After freshening up we hit the town and tried out the various bars and restaurants.
Lily and her bar restaurant San Andres treated us like royalty, and would be highly recommended by me!
On the other hand I would give very low points to the competitor Restaurant La Pata de Oca, where we were given bad wine at an exorbitant price.
And so we get to the end of our 2nd day, less tired and looking forward to more 😊

Camino day 3 of 6 .. 
from Torres del Rio to Logroño .. 
About 20 kms
No churches last night so slept a lot better..after breakfast our group took to the road. We found that a very old church in town which had been closed yesterday, was open as we passed by. Its claim to fame was that it dates from around 1100 and that the statue of Christ wears an actual crown, which is apparently very rare.
It was another lovely day with no rain but significant ups and downs to test any pilgrim, and many are senior citizens. I started my music system but I must say that sounds of birds have accompanied us delightfully from the start. The Byrds playing Turn, Turn, Turn.
Once again beautiful countryside all around and well maintained path and soon we found ourselves in the lovely town of Viana. Majestic cathedral and beautiful buildings everywhere made to impress the pilgrims as they made their way slowly west through medieval times till now. Keith Jarrett playing piano in the Bregenz Concert.
Thought of all my friends and loved ones everywhere, and sent them cosmic energy for their well being.
After a few more kilometres of walking we finally arrived in Logroño to find our accommodation for the evening. Beatles playing Get Back..go back to where you once belonged.. tears ..will soon reunite with Marisol then looking forward to indeed getting home..
where ever that is....

Camino day 4 of 6
From Logroño to Najera
About 30 kms
Logroño was a strange experience. This is the capital of the Rioja wine region and yet my first glass of crianza at the Faro bar across the road from our apartment turned out to be so bad that I had to ask for a bit of lemonade to make it drinkable! Sacrilege.
Also we were in an area where several bars and restaurants seemed to have shut down .. perhaps because of a large population of muslims.
To make matters worse the water heater failed and we waited all afternoon for it to be fixed. Nevertheless there is no way to suppress the high spirits of 8 Spaniards and me so we had a merry evening and got up early for a 7am start for the long leg of our walk.
Today everything was at its limit. Our stamina, the state of our feet and muscles were all at maximum strain. The slightest pain in any part of the body a cause of concern. 
We have prepared well with anti blister creams and sun creams and a myriad of other applications, however we could not avoid a few problems. But nothing serious, a blister or two, feet problems mostly.
Now, group chemistry is so important, and there is safety in numbers and a great support system when in need. The camino can be a very lonely place. If you are an extrovert it is easy to make friends, otherwise left in your thoughts for hours day after day could drive you mad.
So the seven hours we spent on the camino today were much less by the goodwill of friends and the company they provided whenever you caught up with them.
Midway through a fairly easy but long beautiful sunny day we passed through the lovely town of Navarete, with its enormous church whose entrance reminded us of Petra. And lurking inside a tableau covered with enough gold to keep the Spanish economy afloat for a very long time! 

Peruvian mineral? I ask..Spanish are pretty sensitive about this.. If it was not them then the English might well have stolen it instead!
The countryside is still breathtaking but today large chunks were alongside roads, so I used my music system controlled by a Pebble watch.
In the end we arrived an hour ahead of schedule perhaps because the distance was 26 instead of 30kms, well in time to tuck into a hearty lunch and more excellent Rioja.
Now the hard work is done. The last two days should be a lot easier!

Camino de Santiago .. Day 5 of 6
From Najera to Santo Doming de la Calzada
About 20 kms
Najera was curiously interesting. Big gypsy population, a small medieval part, some buried kings and a huge red mountain vertical face as a backdrop.
We tried to get close to the rock face but the entire town had built a barrier to bar all access. The wall has been built virtually to the rock. 
Two gypsy boys about 10 or twelve were lounging in a back street. Smoke was curling from the hand of the younger from something he was hiding. I asked about the rock, and the older boy explained that some years ago the access points had been closed because of suicides!
The younger boy offered to open the door to one of the rather dilapidated houses if we gave him a Euro. I was about to produce the coin when my companion pulled me away with a look which said lets get out of here. It was a dangerous situation and we left quickly.
Wined and dined as usual after the long trek and got up at a more civilised hour to start our fifth day which promised to be more comfortable.
It was a sparkling sunny and hot day and the walk started in an easy and fairly nice countryside. About 5 or 6 kilometres later we started a gentle climb which went on forever.
By the time we got to Azofra, about 10 kms, we were exhausted. The younger men pressed on, but some of us stopped for refreshments.
An Australian lady with a sore ankle was slowly making her way. Kalee, pronounced Kaylee, was from Brisbane and was doing a 30 day complete walk, but her ankle had gone and she hoped to be able take a bus to skip a few stages and catch up lost time.
More climb followed and it was not until we were virtually at our destination that we finally got to the top of the ridge..where spectacular views awaited.
After that it was an easy few kms into Santo Domingo.
And so, suddenly we find ourselves near the end. Tomorrow another 20 km stage will see us at the end of our chosen stages and then a bus ride to Burgos.

Camino de Santiago..day 6 of 6
Santo Domingo to Belorado
21 kms
Santo Domingo is a lovely place..it has a beautiful cathedral whose claim to fame is the presence of a live hen and cockerel in a showcase. It goes with a curious tale which can be looked up on the Internet.
Attached to the cathedral there is also a tower which has a staircase which ends in a gallery with spectacular views. I was the only one to do this from our group after the walk of the morning.
It also has two fine Parador hotels but our accommodation was more simple. Across the road we were recommended a restaurant where we spent our lunch and dinner time.
La Strada produced excellent food at reasonable prices plus very friendly service. They also produced a bottle of champaign so that we could toast a happy birthday for my father who completed 92 years in far away India.
This morning once again we took off from SD de la C at 8am. Thunderstorms were forecast and for the first few kms we could see ominous clouds, but thankfully they dispersed and we soon emerged into bright sunshine.
The scenery was as nice as previous days but today was a day of lost in translation.
First there was Valery the Russian who was resting on a bed of wheat plants, who was doing his 4th camino and seemed to speak several languages. Then there was Alberto from the Canary Island of Gran Canaria who had learnt some Hindi and tried to impress me with this. Among others there was the Italian youth Paolo from Rome who was nursing a sore thigh muscle.
On the path I was also entertained by a couple of butterflies dancing, some toads or frogs who tried to tell me something loudly. Birds also have been in constant chirping all along the Camino. I tried hard to see if I could gather some mysterious messages from all these. But mostly they were lost in translation.
We tried to enjoy the walk and the company as much as possible as we were approaching the end of our planned walk. There was also the gathering of as many stamps in our Camino passport, normally given at all churches and bars. This was a requirement in medieval times as now, to show that you had followed the path and not appeared in Santiago to get the completion certificate.
The last few kms seemed endless, but after what seemed an age our objective Belorado came into view and we could get our rucksacks off our backs and start our journey homewards. Drinks and a well deserved lunch awaited.

And a final group photograph..

Buen Camino

P.S. Here is a full set of photos from the Camino walk