Photos from The Way

I have another two or three posts to write before I complete my Camino from September but I before I did that, I wanted to tell you about one of my Camino family member’s photos.

2014-09-07 09.00.27

Anna, who walked to Logrono with us, has quite a talent in photography and some of her shots are superb. We were blessed to have good weather also so the sun brought out the best in the hills, valleys and trails. You can check out her photos on her Flickr site here. Some of her photos make mine look plain ordinary ;)

Camino 2014 – Day 9 – Navarrete to Azofra

September 12th 2014 – Day 9
Navarrete to Azofra, 22km

I had a near-perfect sleep after drifting off around 10pm. The town’s church bells woke me a few times but I was back asleep shortly afterward. Most towns in Spain have churches that chime on the hour every hour. I was reminded of my stay in Hontanas last May where the bells kept me awake all night. However, I wake up close to 5am right before the alarm bell went off on my phone. I wanted to get up, get ready and head out on the trail. The destination was Azofra which is 22km eastwards. Last year, I passed it without giving it much thought but I decided to check it out this year as I heard a lot of good things about the municipal albergue. Hmm..I seem to be basing my decisions on where to stay on their albergues..shouldn’t it be the other way around? :)

I leave the hostel keys on the table and quietly close over the door. There is no one around, you could hear a pin drop in the streets. It wasn’t long before I was retracing my steps from last year. The only difference is last year the sun was out..now it is pitch black with a chill in the air. The thought crossed my mind that I could catch David, Bob and Leslie as they were staying in Ventosa which is another 6 km down the line. I first of all had to deal with the pitch black in front of me. I still had this nagging groin pain on my left leg and the blister on my left foot had not burst. A few Camino candy got rid of any pain I had.

Navarrete’s winding streets are tiny and without a decent amount of light you run the threat of getting lost. Yep..it happened again! I missed an arrow and had to retrace my steps before I ended up on the main road. Once you leave Navarrete, you have a short walk on the main road with lights and then you are back in vineyards again. And once again, at that point I lost the arrows again. I was almost thinking of staying put until the sun came up so I had some natural light. I switched on my torch on my phone and found myself slap bang in the middle of a nowhere. GPS to the rescue! I was off the Camino by a few kilometres. Not a great place to be alone at close to 6am. In the end, I discovered I had followed a rogue arrow down a detour to a town called Sotes. It’s not officially on the Camino but it has an albergue and people can stay there. After about an hour, I got to the next town, Ventosa where my buddies were staying. I meet Christina and her friends from Argentina again as she was leaving and waved to them. It was the first time I saw Christina since outside of Zubiri. I wandered on making my way along more vineyards and dustpaths, mostly alone although I do stumble upon two French women who wish me a Bon Matin!!

It wasn’t long before I could see the lights of Najera and it took an hour or so before I got to the outskirts. My hip was beginning to hurt again but I was hoping the walk would be over soon so I could put my feet up. I was craving a cafe con leche also. Entering Najera is not attractive by the way, the Camino floats alongside an industrial centre. A park doesn’t hide how hideous it is. I pass the funny little dome building and the scribes on the wall and it isn’t long before I cross the River Najerilla. It’s a beautiful town once you get into it. Again, all these memories come back to me from last year.

Leaving Najera, it was close to 9am and I knew my day was nearly over. Azofra is the next town and is about 5 km away. It is also when I bump into Paddy from Canada. He is just leaving Najera and heading to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. He was the life of the party back in Torres del Rio so it was great to talk to him. It was only then that I realised that it was him who stood up on the chair to take a great group shot of us all. A funny man and really intelligent. We reach Azofra close to 11 and grab a drink, a cold one. It’s quiet and the albergue is closed until after 12. What else better to do than chill with a drink until it opens!? I wish Paddy a Buen Camino as he headed to Santo Domingo, where he had a pension booked. At this point, everyone I has previously met are ahead of me. The joys of a slow Camino. I meet new friends here also, Alo from France, Peter from Germany and Joanna from Cork in Ireland, all of whom had started a day after me, the 4th of September. Azofra is such a tiny town, even smaller than Navarrete, but it’s shop / tienda was open all day (yay!!) so I was able to make some dinner. There are no bunks here also. Each room consists of two beds so I had the option of a room to myself or sharing. I shared with Peter. Highlight of the evening was coming across a group from South Korea, all of them stayed in the albergue. One brought with them a guitar and there was a mini-session that evening singing songs from their own country, as well as Beatles tunes.

I must have walked over 25km if you take into account me becoming geographically embarrassed! Tomorrow the aim is Granon as the majority of the gang here are going there..but I would like to walk longer so my last day is as short as possible. Two more days to go!!

2014-09-12 07.40.57 2014-09-12 07.53.28 2014-09-12 08.04.38 2014-09-12 08.24.55 2014-09-12 08.27.52 2014-09-12 08.28.12 2014-09-12 10.13.01 2014-09-12 14.13.10

Camino 2014 – Day 8 – Logrono to Navarrete

September 11th 2014 – Day 8
Logrono to Navarrete, 12.5km

A short day but different to the previous week. No more would I be walking with the same crew, and I felt a little down knowing this. But this would be a great chance to meet some new people. After dinner, the night before, I bumped into the three Irish men who I had met first in Roncesvalles. One of them (called Tom) wanted to have a slow day and was hoping to stop in Navarrete, which was my stopping point. So I made plans with him to walk the short distance, around 12km. We agreed on 7.30 the next morning. I might not be walking alone after all.

The next morning came, and I was the last to leave. Tom had stayed in an albergue on the outskirts of the city but I forgot to take note of where it was. After 15 mins waiting, I moved on eastwards. I might see him further on, or he might catch up with me, time will tell. I wondered where Bob, David and Leslie were while making their way to Ventosa. Also, Philippe was going further, possibly to Najera, and Anna..I wondered what she would be doing today. I don’t mind walking by myself but it lets the mind wander. And mine was wandering today.

I have walked this stretch before in May 2013. You can read about it here. Walking out of Logrono, you don’t have the same experience as walking out of Leon or Burgos or Pamplona. You are greeted by a large park once you leave the main city. Murals cover the walls, while dog-walkers and morning-runners pass me. I’m in no great hurry and for the first time this Camino I switch on some music on my phone and my earphones go in. A Spotify playlist I have created blasts out “There is a Light that never goes out” by The Smiths. I start to sing under my breath…”Take me out tonight…”!! It’s one of those songs you want to sing at the top of your voice and I was in that mood! I reach the large reservoir “Planta de Granjera”, and I wait if I could see some fish. The famous pilgrim “Marcelino Lobato” was giving stamps in a stall just by the lake. He has walked the Camino 50 times. On my credencial he wrote “Cada peregrino hace su Camino” which translates to “Each pilgrim does their pilgrimage”. Very true!

Leaving Planta de Granjera, I am back in wine country, with vineyards to each side of me. Walking around this area is great in the autumn when you see the grapes ready for harvest.  It is different in May where the grapes are not ready to be picked. I don’t meet many people today. I’m baffled by this as in the last week, the Camino has been crowded. After an hour, I see the medieval town of Navarrete in the distance, but it is still a while away. It sits tall on a hill. It is not even 9am, I am far too early. Navarrete is a small town based around a hill with a church spire being the highest point, like most towns in Spain.  I walk in looking for the pension which I had booked before I left. It is called Hostal Villa de Navarrete and is located at the far end of the town, across the road from the main municipal albergue. I might as well have been the only pilgrim to have walked into the town that day based on the looks I was getting from locals. But not to worry. I checked in and had to wait an hour before my room was ready. I had some breakfast while I waited. The only food I had today was some fruit and yoghurt.

My room was standard fare, but 5-star compared to the albergues I had stayed in over the last week. I usually book one room in advance and this year I chose this small town. No idea why. After a rest, I took a wander around. I wanted to check out Naverrete’s church which is decorated with gold. I took a minute out here before checking if I knew anyone in the municipal albergue. I didn’t recognise anyone. I guess everyone who started with me on day one was ahead of me.

After the town’s siesta I came out later and had a meal in the restaurant with some folks I had got talking to. The weather gods were very kind again to us today with no rain and only a few clouds. We were expecting rain however, either the following day or the day after. Overall a short day, and one where I got used to walking by myself.

2014-09-11 07.59.11 2014-09-11 07.59.21 2014-09-11 08.21.51 2014-09-11 08.25.17 2014-09-11 08.50.18 2014-09-11 09.07.30 2014-09-11 09.17.53 2014-09-11 09.18.04 2014-09-11 09.18.24 2014-09-11 09.28.28

Camino 2014 – Day 7 – Torres del Rio to Logrono

September 10th 2014 – Day 7
Torres del Rio to Logrono, 20km

We had another early start today but a short day was planned as decided to finish up in Logrono. It was Anna’s final day also. She has walked with us since Pamplona and was part of the family. But we had another few hours of walking to go before saying our goodbyes. I was also looking forward to getting back to Logrono as I had started my previous Camino there last year.

The weather was perfect again but it was cold in the morning. We were getting close to the La Rioja / Navarra border, which is just as you enter Logrono. La Rioja includes Logrono, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and ends just after Granon..which is another 4 days away. Navarra has been very kind to us since we crossed into it at Roncesvalles. But it has some of the toughest terrains on the Camino. Wine Country awaits. The bad thing about leaving Torres del Rio at crazy o clock is there is a pretty tough climb just as you open the door of the albergue. We have a nice 100metres ascent over 2kms. I find climbs no problem at this stage and reached the top of the hill (Alto NS del Poyo) in no time. There is a Spanish couple giving refreshments for a donation at the top and I take a can of Coke to cool me down. It is only 7am at this stage and I watch the sun rise while I sip on my drink. I’m joined by a Belgian girl called Cap. She stayed in the same albergue as us last night. She is in university at present and can afford the time to have a long Camino. Oh I wish I was in her position again! I’ve also noticed over the last week that I had been drinking a lot of cans of Coke. Back in Ireland, I never drink it, but here I was a 1-or-2-a-day-man. I hope I don’t bring the habit home with me.

After the climb, comes the descent and I let Dave and Anna walk ahead as I navigate cautiously. The ground below me is made of dry red silt as there has been no rain here in a week. The descent is around bends and is tricky. You can tell I’m not a descent kind-of-guy! I had noticed, along with my blister at the back of my foot, that I had been getting pain in my left hip. It only seemed to affect me on descents but a few Camino candy sorted me out for the day.

We arrive at Viana, 12km from Torres del Rio. The Camino cuts through the old town, which is asleep. The only movement is coming from the main plaza. About half a dozen men are putting together a bull ring so I can only assume the town is holding “a running of the bulls”. There are no advertisements for it however. We walk on after a few minutes. Our next stop is La Rioja and Logrono. I’m not a fan of walking into large cities. Last year, the walk into Burgos was depressing and in 2011, the walk into Santiago was one I wish I could avoid. But they are part of the Camino as a whole and must be done unfortunately. The final 6kms into Logrono passes through suburbs, under tunnels and along main roads. A large green sign post with “Communidad de la Rioja” tells you exactly where you are. Just before that, we passed Felisa who sells trinkets and gives a stamp for a donation. She and her family have been doing this all her life. It is a great place to grab a rest as there are a few seats. I recognised Logrono’s main bridge (Puente de Piedra) over the Rio Ebro but many of it’s streets were in darkness when I arrived last year.

Logrono is a large town, with over 140,000 people living there. It is a recommended end stage also, and many pilgrims stay here. It has 7 albergues also, and it is next to impossible to not find a bed here. We stayed in one of the many private albergues here and after settling in, Anna decided that we meet to say our goodbyes. It was great to see Phillipe later on as it meant he could wish Anna well also. I slept for a few hours and met in the main plaza while the town was waking up. The meal as always was fab and I drank far too much wine yet again. Saying goodbyes are never my forte and saying goodbye on the Camino is much harder. You open yourself up to people whom you would consider strangers days before and friendships are formed. Anna also kindly gave each of us a bracelet with a shell attached to it, the symbol of the Camino.

I had decided before reaching Logrono to start walking by myself for a while. Prior to the Camino, I booked a room in a pension in Navarrette so I had tomorrow’s walk set out for me. Dave, Bob and Leslie were walking to Ventosa which is further on so it was unlikely I would see them again. I hoped I did as I wanted to wish them goodbye. Tomorrow would be another short day which I looked forward to. It would be on familiar ground after walking it in 2013.

2014-09-10 07.14.23 2014-09-10 07.51.25 2014-09-10 08.08.26 2014-09-10 08.10.31 2014-09-10 08.47.46 2014-09-10 09.58.44 2014-09-10 10.10.30 2014-09-10 19.37.49 2014-09-10 20.23.54 2014-09-10 20.24.32

Camino 2014 – Day 6 – Ayegui to Torres del Rio

September 9th 2014 – Day 6
Ayegui to Torres del Rio, 28km

During dinner the evening before, we agreed to keep staying away from the towns recommended by Brierley to finish your day. The next end town was Los Arcos and after that was Torres del Rio, at further 10km. So the plan was to aim for Torres del Rio, which is in or around 30km if you take ascents into account. I also started to notice that the majority of people were phoning ahead an pre-booking albergues for the next day, which I avoid doing. I kinda prefer to let the Camino do it’s work and if an albergue is booked out, I move on to the next, however, I didn’t want to loose my buddies I had met and asked that I be included in the booking in Torres del Rio. That was that..the first time I booked an albergue in advance..felt kinda strange!

That morning, we (Dave, myself and Anna) started out early, as it was going to be a hot sunny day again in Navarre. It was pitch black and I believe it was close to 5am. Easily a record for earliest start in my books! Walking out of Ayegui, you need to venture to the main road and again, you need to be careful as failure to spot a sign means you are lost. And guess what!? We missed a sign! Hmm..we turned back until we saw the sign for the turn off to “Bodegas Irache”, the free flowing wine fountain. I heard about this place ages ago, almost on the same day I heard about the actual Camino. Imagine waking up, being still asleep and before having breakfast, sipping on free wine. Nice, eh? It was 5.30am, we sure were the first ones there that morning. Pity I hadn’t an extra bottle, I would have filled it up for the rest of the day.

We moved on after a while through wooded forests, plenty of trees and it wasn’t long before the climb to Villamayor de Monjardin began. We had a 150m climb ahead of us over a few kms. We have walked worse however. The sun was starting to gradually rise as we were climbing. There wasn’t a cloud in the young sky. We reached Villamayor before 7am after a nice climb, it’s large church greeted us. There was nothing open when we arrived and we looked right through the town hoping that a cafe or an albergue was serving breakfast. It wasn’t to be. Damn! Now we had a nice 10km stretch ahead of us to Los Arcos with no towns. I have walked longer without food, but it is breakfast..c’mon! :) Brierley even mentions “Take food with you during this difficult section!!”

Walking from Villamayor is all downhill for 6km or so and then the terrain becomes flat. We walk through field after field of vineyards. Nothing else. We passed owners looking after their crop, with the sun looking down on us. We pass a Spanish man beside his van, who was either opening up or closing down. After a quick conversation, we found out he was closing his mobile cafe. A highlight of the day came on the stretch leading to Los Arcos. Myself and Dave were talking for quite a while and didn’t notice Anna in the background. She ran up to us with large branch each of grapes from the fields. A great though and it quenched the thirst until Los Arcos.

We arrived into Los Arcos close to 11am and we went straight for the local cafe. There were two there. I bought a roll and a cafe con leche and took my shoes off. I honestly wanted to finish up there, but purely because it was so warm. We had another 8km to go before we reached Torres del Rio. We came across our German friends, whom we hadn’t seen in a few days and I met another Irish friend that I last saw in Roncesvalles. Local men were playing cards in the main square as the bells chimed for 11am in the Church of Santa Maria. I didn’t visit the church unfortunately. I hope to stay here the next time I visit. I remember thinking to myself that we were so far ahead of anyone at this stage that there was no need to book the albergue in Torres. Ugh..I hate races!

The next 8km was mostly flat but this was broken by a steep climb into Sansol, a small town before Torres del Rio. I often wonder who gave the go ahead to build these towns so close to each other. On reaching Sansol, you turn a corner and you reach Torres del Rio. It is a fab town, it’s main attraction is the sepulcher church. It was quiet, and as it was after midday, it was reaching the start of it’s siesta. I needed one after that day. We checked in, got the clothes washed and had some lunch. Anna was super-thoughtful again and bought a melon in Los Arcos. We along with the other folks staying in Casa Mariela ate it all, with help from 2 cats. There was a good crowd staying here, alot of people we hadn’t met before, including 2 English men. They were great fun. Phillipe found us also, along with Bob and Leslie. The other two private albergues were booked solid by 3pm so it was turning out to be a busy September! We went for dinner later on that evening and I had an early night afterwards. The sun took a bit out of me but I survived. Just.

2014-09-09 05.40.01 2014-09-09 07.11.49 2014-09-09 14.21.27 2014-09-09 14.47.37 2014-09-09 20.25.59 2014-09-09 20.30.05

Camino 2014 – Day 5 – Puente la Reina to Ayegui

September 8th 2014 – Day 5
Puente la Reina to Ayegui, 24km

Another early day was on the cards as we were forecast sun, and most importantly, humidity. I was beginning to get used to the heat and started to wear a scarf around my neck. It didn’t stop my bald spot on my head turning a bright shade of red however!! But we were doing a good proportion of our walking in the early morning so there was no need for panic. We left shortly after 6am today. We being Dave, Anna and myself. Bob and Leslie would follow us. Our agreed stopping point was Ayegui, which is just beyond Estella. A large municipal albergue awaits us which many people speak highly of. On the plus side, we were off the dreaded recommended stages but on the negative side, I had passed through two major Camino towns without properly investigating them.

I actually had a good sleep in Puente la Reina and we were the first to leave. The rains had stopped shortly after midnight and there was little sign of the downpours on the roads when we left. Again, we chose to wait until our first stop for some breakfast. It was pitch black, save for the stars in the sky. There were a few other peregrinos out and about and you could see them by the bobbing light of their respective flashlights. The terrain was set to be tricky today. All the towns we pass through are based on hills, so once you climb up and into the town, you need to make a big descent to leave it. The first town we pass was Maneru which was still sleeping. It was 7am and nothing was moving. The lights were on in the town and showed us the way out.

Another 45 minutes down the line after a descent and another climb, we reach Cirauqui. I had read a lot of this town and it’s Roman bridge which is actually part of the Camino. It is worn out after a thousand years of trampling on but it was great to see a piece of history. Unfortunately, this had to be the day the battery on my phone died and I was unable to take some photos but here is a link (http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/65997854.jpg). I had hoped on staying there but I will leave that for another time.

Throughout, the morning and early afternoon, we passed mile after mile of vineyards. We were not quite in La Rioja yet, but you could tell that we were in wine country in Spain. Dave, who works in the wine industry in Australia, could tell you the exact type of wine by looking at the grape. “Vino Tinto” was good enough for me! Lorca was the next town, a further 5km onwards. It was close to 9am at this stage and the sun was up a good while. Due to the tough climb into Lorca, we stopped off for a bit to relax. Luckily enough, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so there wasn’t going to be a repeat of last night’s downpour.

Villatuerta is the next town, a further 5km onward. Villatuerta has a very popular albergue “La Casa Magica” which is privately owned and while we had no plans on staying there, there were people outside already. It is close to 11am at this stage. Villatuerta is, for a change, situated in a valley, and there is a nice steady climb once you leave it. My hip started to act up on me at this point. Time for some Camino candy (ibuprofen, if you haven’t walked the Camino before!!)

The great joy of walking the Camino is being able to walk by yourself for a while, or if you want to have company, you can have it. It is your choice. I walked the final stretch into Estella by myself, over mostly flatlands. Estella has a good few suburbs to pass through but not as many as Pamplona. The Rio Ega cuts the town in half and there are many bridges you need to cross. Some are wooden, some are made of stone. The first bridge is wooden and after the previous night’s rains, it was slippy. I knew there would be an accident if I wasn’t careful and yes! I was the first to realise it when my ass hit the deck. It was painful but the only thing dented was my ego as I watched pilgrims pass me by.

We arrive into Estella (it is also called Lizarra in Navarra) and are greeted by it’s church of San Pedro. Camino tourists litter the pathways taking photos of the sights. I spot Natty from Canada, the first time I see her in 3 days. She looks lost and is behind schedule she says. I wish her a Buen Camino and move on. I wonder how she got on. We pass through Estella and on to Ayegui, 2km westwards. It’s albergue hasn’t opened yet and we are in plenty of time. When I arrive with Dave, Anna is there with a Belgian called Phillipe. Phillipe has walked from Le Puy in France. He has very little English but great Spanish and we have enough to communicate, although my Spanish has been found out big time during the 5 or so days here. Anna and Phillipe are first in the queue of 2!! Bob and Leslie arrive shortly after. We didn’t see many other familiar faces after the usual crew. It’s a large albergue and I’m just glad to have found somewhere to sit down. I automatically think of food..like I do most days! This place serves meals but we wanted to visit the town and check out San Pedro church closer.

After washing my clothes, and powering up my phone, I am ready to see Estella. The food was top class and it was very cheap. 10pm was closing time in the albergue and we were 10 minutes short from being locked out. The run back was fun!

2014-09-08 07.03.27 2014-09-08 07.05.45 2014-09-08 07.15.38 2014-09-08 19.03.01 2014-09-08 19.03.30 2014-09-08 19.03.36 2014-09-08 19.07.03 2014-09-08 19.24.43 2014-09-08 19.25.10 2014-09-08 19.25.17 2014-09-08 20.54.56

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.

2014-09-07 08.25.39 2014-09-07 08.57.26 2014-09-07 09.00.27 2014-09-07 09.00.39 2014-09-07 09.03.36 2014-09-07 09.38.38 2014-09-07 09.55.20 2014-09-07 11.00.07 2014-09-07 11.50.00 2014-09-07 11.50.07