A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3 Uterga – Villatuerta 23km

I leave Uterga surrounded by fields of long teal grasses that blow in the wind like the fur of a giant green cat being brushed one way and then the other. Roses grow insanely well here, clambering up farmhouses and buildings. There are so many types of flowers; the paths so far have been leafy and green with foliage arching over the Camino making a cool shady tunnel. It's surprisingly cold, especially in the mornings, and my hands turn a deep blue colour – warm on the inside from walking but cold on the outside. They start to swell up; and it feels like I'm wearing a pair of thick ski gloves because I can't move them properly or hold anything. After leaving Iceland with all of my fingers I didn't expect to get symptoms of frostbite in Spain.

Today I'm walking with a German chick I met in Uterga. I'm expanding my German vocabulary (instead of my Spanish). One of the coolest things Germans say is ear worm, an ear worm is a song that gets stuck in your head. I think I’ll try to start using this term. We stop before a tunnel near Villatuerta for a rest and find a row of trees overflowing with cherries. An old Spanish woman is collecting them and she waves at me to come over an join her. I run up to her and she thrusts a bunch of cherries into my hands, reaching up to get more and more like a meerkat bobbing up and down. I end up with so many cherries I can barely climb down the hill and I nearly fall over. They taste amazing.

We decide to stop for the night in Villatuerta, Estella is a little too far away and it's now hot in the afternoon sun. We find a great private albergue with hammocks and beautiful small rooms. I take my pack off and the albergue hostess says “you will never make it to Santiago with that bag, it's far too heavy for you.” Excuse me?! How dare she. Of course I can make it to Santiago with my bag. It's twelve kilos, which if you follow the guidelines is too heavy, but whatever. For those of you who want to know, the guidelines are; carry a bag that is one tenth of your body weight to a maximum of ten kilos. The weight is OK for me, my back isn't sore and I have everything I want: a textbook, a couple of novels, two pairs of shoes... Call me a nerd but I'm not throwing any books away, and I will make it to Santiago.

I clunk down the stairs slightly disgruntled and spot two super-cut bikers checking in. I throw them my very best “Hola” and try to look as elegant as possible descending the stairs with extremely painful calf muscles... Pretty soon we are all sitting in the courtyard drinking 79 Eurocent cerveza and listening to the boys sing and play guitar.

Tonight is the F.A. Cup Final! Woo! Barcelona V Man United what a game to watch in a local bar in Spain! This will be fun. It's a Saturday night, and Saturdays always seem to be the most fun anywhere. The bar is full and we are, of course, not there – but slowly getting plastered in the hostel on cheap wine and cheaper cerveza. It's ridiculous that beer is cheaper than soft drink here. I'm eating a steak tartar prepared by a French cook we happened to meet and everything is good. It's always nice to find out there's somebody French or Italian staying in your hostel because you know the chances of having an excellent meal cooked for you are very high. I have offered to cook for French and Italians before but they generally give me a look that plainly states it's sacrilegious for an Australian to cook for anyone from Western or Southern Europe. (I wont tell you what happened when I made pasta with an Italian sitting next to me).

We sit around singing songs and then the French chef surprises everyone by saying “so, I have some Mexican magic mushrooms if you want?” There is a momentary pause before everybody laughs and says “uh – yes!?”
“But you will not be able to do anything for six hours.”
“Yeah, OK” we chorus, “you've got the right group of people.”
“I know” says the Frenchman, “I had to make sure you were alright before I asked you.”

We dive into a plate of Nachos topped with mushrooms and continue to drink the vino tinto (possibly a bad plan.) Pretty soon we're sitting in the hammocks and being told off by the hospitaleros for breaking the 10pm curfew. (This you should know: all albergues have a curfew of 10pm). I ask the boys how they started travelling together and they launch into an excited tale “Well, well, none of this would have happened if a packet of biscuits hadn't fallen off the back of his bike... Yes, a packet of biscuits fell off his bike and I ran out into the road and picked them up. We started talking and now we... Now I can't get rid of him.”

As it turns out the mushies have no effect, which is annoying but still amusing. We sit in the hammocks and polish off our last two litres of beer, smoking cigarettes and counting the stars.

Posted by CharliePepper 09:15 Archived in Spain Tagged friends spain fun santiago hike de camino pamplona roncesvalles albergues refugios saint-jean pied-de-port Comments (0)

Day 2 Larrasoana – Uterga 30km

Day two was a lot harder than day one! My legs are sore and tired, but still, this is so much fun! I'm enjoying this so much and I haven't been lost. I have walked 57.9km in two days without getting lost, which is something of a record for me. Statistically I should have been lost at least 14 times by now, asked for directions 72 times and endangered my life at least twice. But the Camino is so well marked with yellow arrows and little blue and yellow shells. If you do start to head in the wrong direction there will always be a local or another pellegrino around to whistle several times, yell “hola!” to you, and then point you in the right direction.

Walking through Pamplona was beautiful, it's a huge city but beautiful with lots of old buildings. The green men at the traffic lights here walk with you when you cross the road, they are frighteningly limber like yoga obsessed Gumbis. Actually something really cool happened today. A tour guide with a group of tourists had stopped next to a statue in a park. As I walked past the tour guide introduced me to the group; “behind me you can see a pellegrino, or pilgrim, walking the route of Saint Jacques on the Camino de Santiago.” Wow! I was so happy! I'm a part of Spanish Culture this is so cool! I don't think I stopped smiling all afternoon.

There are so many different nationalities on the Camino. So far I have met Spaniards, Germans, French, Danes, Hungarians, Slovenians, Polish, Americans, Italians and Norwegians, and it's only day two! Today I walked with a French gardener who showed me how to find wild strawberries hiding along the path. He has walked all the way from Paris (which is insane, two months of walking!). I learn all about the plants we pass, what you can eat and what you can't. And I never knew lavender is good for keeping silverfish away.

Hey, Dana! People here really say hopa, epa, opa! It's such a multifunctional utterance, they use it when they run into you, as a greeting, when they answer their phones or find something surprising. And if you go into a bar or a café you will be greeted by the hospitable “di me.” Which literally means tell me, as in tell me what you want, without even a hello or how are you. I stop for lunch in the 5th cute little town of the day. They are all too picturesque to take pictures so you will have to imagine. The town I'm in has red roofs and red walls that are over 800 years old. They are constructed with stone slabs and second-hand tiles, it's an eclectic mix! There are big villas adorned with the skulls of cows, sheep, goats and rams like the set of a Lorca play. I head back out onto the path after lunch and a flock of cyclists speed past me singing “VOLARE-O-O-O-O.” I love the Camino.

Here are some walking tips. Change your socks at least twice a day so that your feet stay dry. If you get a blister stay put until a German or a Danish person rescue you with Compeed (thanks Gertz and Rickarda). When you get to the next big town buy your own Compeed. “What's Compeed?” Only the most amazing hi-tech blister protection in the world. You also need to have a sewing kit with you and if you do get a blister sew a needle through it and leave the thread hanging out at both ends – this will allow the fluid to drain and your blister will heal faster.

My legs hurt. Everything aches, aaaches. It's unbelievable. My muscles, knees, the bottoms of my feet are sore. This is so much fun, you have to do it. I feel great. I'm in so much pain I don't even think I can sleep. I'm sitting in the albergue bar in Uterga listening to groovy jazz music and having a warm Cola-Cao (a Spanish chocolate drink). The municipal albergues are great. They typically cost between 4 and 6 Euros a night with a washing machine and a kitchen. There are always lots of hungry pellegrinos that you can make dinner with and mess up the kitchen. Sometimes, if you arrive at an albergue late, (after 4pm), they will be “completos” or full and you might have to pay for a hotel or walk to the next town. There are also private albergues which cost about 9 or 10 Euros, they will be smaller, nicer, cleaner and give you towels. If you're really hungry most towns with a bar will serve a pilgrim menu, 10 Euros for a ridiculously large meal with wine, an entrée, main and dessert.

Posted by CharliePepper 09:11 Archived in Spain Tagged friends spain fun santiago hike de camino pamplona roncesvalles albergues refugios saint-jean pied-de-port Comments (0)

Day 1 Roncesvalles – Larrasoana 27km

As you can imagine, amongst the 100 people sleeping in bunk beds in the church hall several of them were snorers. Last night was like something out of a warped horror film with at least 9, (count them, 9), different types of snorers and a thunderstorm. Not that you could really tell the difference between the storm and the snorers. The man sleeping next to me became a character in my nightmare; with great big turbines of snot and a face like a deep-sea-fish with chomping teeth and a belly that churned air as though it was processing meat in a grinder. It was terrible on many levels. But I still slept and now I am walking! Buen Camino to me, buen Camino to me, buen Camino to me-e, buen Camino to me.

This is so much fun! I set off at 6 o'clock in the morning through a mist of dewy green trees and windy paths. They have crazy slugs here that are called Iberian Snails, they're fat and disgusting and black or brown. The snails though are beautiful, buttercup yellow or brown with decorative white swirls and patterned black shells. They're like designer snails with Gaudi shells. Our snails at home use their shells for camouflage but I think Spanish snails use their shells to look too good to eat.

At the end of the day I feel great. I relax on a four hundred year old bridge with a Dane, an American and a beer. “I feel fine” I say, to the laughter of my American friend, who responds; “Yeah, but you don't run the first mile of a marathon and say “oh, this is alright, I'm not having any problems!””

Posted by CharliePepper 09:09 Archived in Spain Tagged friends spain fun santiago hike de camino pamplona roncesvalles albergues refugios saint-jean pied-de-port Comments (0)


I decided to start in Roncesvalles because Michael told me to (and I need all the advice I can get). Many people walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port which is in France and involves a big climb over the Pyrenees causing bad blisters, knee problems and results in many people going home after their first day. So, I'm starting gradually, with a nice flat walk out of this town and 27km to Larrasoana. Apparently the French Alps are very, very beautiful, but the other constraint I have is time. I'm planning on doing the Camino in 30 days, most guide books advise 33 so cutting out one day at the start is definitely going to help.

So anyway, I'm here. Sleeping in a high arched cathedral built in 1725 for six Euros. It's amazing, there are about 100 other people in the room, and I just had dinner with a Hungarian and two Spaniards (none of them spoke any English, and I don't speak Spanish or Hungarian, so it was interesting!). A group of ten rowdy locals played the accordion and sang traditional Spanish songs at the table next to us for the entire evening. And now, it's goodnight! Bring on the walking!

Posted by CharliePepper 09:07 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Welcome to your own personal travel guide to the Camino!

To Amal, Nick, Nicola, Dana, Robin and Dad,

Welcome to your own personal travel guide to the Camino de Santiago! Each of you have whined about doing this walk at some time or another so now there's no excuse, here is an easy to follow step-by-step guide. You're actually pretty lucky to have someone like me to write this for you :).

For the rest of you; the Camino de Santiago is a walk to Santiago in Spain. It can be from almost anywhere, some people walk from Paris, France, some from Switzerland, some from Northern Germany and some, like me, from the French-Spanish border. The route that I took is called the French Route (Camino Frances), or the Route of the Stars, and it's the most popular. It travels 800 km (500 miles) across the top of Spain from St. Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles to Santiago and through to Finisterre (Land's End). Why am I doing it? I don't know. At the moment the idea is appealing because when I'm drunk and singing that song I would walk 500 miles I can say I've actually done it.

I still don't really know how I've ended up doing the Camino. I'm looking down from the plane thinking; where am I going? Why? I'm doing what? Walking 30 days across Spain? When did I make this decision? I remember being told a little about it in Australia and thinking I should add it to the 'one-day' list. Then I swapped a book with someone in Turkey which was all about the Camino, read it, enjoyed it, didn't really want to commit myself to something so crazy so I booked a ticket to Iceland instead. Iceland was beautiful, cold, arresting and volcanic. It was the last place I expected to meet someone who had been a guide on the Camino for five years, but there behind the desk of my Reykjavik hostel sat exactly that. This was the last sign I needed, and I listened to all of Michael's advice, making notes about blisters and albergues. “You will get blisters” he said, “everyone does, and they'll be bad.” Great. Exactly what I wanted to hear.

And so, in this confused but strangely guided manner I'm flying to Spain. I leave London behind; the four year old children in supermarkets that tell their mothers to buy “fair trade coffee” and the latent tension of a city about to explode with riots.

Posted by CharliePepper 09:02 Archived in Spain Tagged friends spain fun santiago hike de camino pamplona roncesvalles albergues refugios saint-jean pied-de-port Comments (0)

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