Camino de Santiago 8/10-5/11
My existence becomes completely changed September 8, 2008. The conversation with the young manager degenerates, and I resign my job.
Immediately I get a feeling of failure. But something else happens within me. I feel exhilaration. Something new and exciting happens. I’m approaching my pension age and am still full of energy. One of my best customers suggested that I should make a pilgrim wandering instead of butting with my manager. I have no idea where to begin or how to do it.
I decide to start my walking in St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. I have to buy sportswear, light backpack and stable boots. A so-called pilgrim passport or “Credential”, to stay on the pilgrim youth hostels, can be arranged when I arrive. I can also order from the network. A guidebook doesn’t exist in my mind. First after seven days in Spain I found one, in English by ”Cordula Rabe” and published by ”Bergverlag Rother”. The book is very illustrative and has a perfect format for my pocket.
7 Oct, Tuesday. I travel first to Biarritz, then to St. Jean Pied de Port. At the Information-Centre “Accueil des Pelerins” I get a map of the stages, good advices to walk gentle on my first day and a pat on my shoulder. In the close situated pilgrim’s youth hostel “Albergue Accueil Saint Jacques’, I hear many different languages. Some of them, are familiar with each other and talking, others are reading. I meet Hans-Günter from Germany. Soon, we walk out in the tiny mountain village and buy some food for tomorrow.
8 Oct, Wednesday. I wish that the first stretch to Roncevalles would be shorter than 27 km. No hostel nor “Albergue” will be open along the route. During the morning hours the weather is fine. Hans-Günter and I walk together and we will soon catch up with Peter who also is from Germany. I start talking to some Japanese guys, who think this is fantastic. It starts soon to rain and I don’t know where Hans-G and Peter are, so I stop and eat a baguette. At the tree line, it becomes colder and the rain turns to snow. I’m really tired now. The yellow markings are not visible anymore and I follow the footprints after other walkers in the snow. After 21 km and 1200 m higher, than at the start of the day, I’m up on top of the mountain “Col de Lepoeder”, 1430 m above the sea level. The route continues steeply down to the youth hostel in Roncesvalles. The big “Albergue” is an old church hall in Gothic style with thick stonewalls. Only pilgrims with valid pilgrim-passports are welcome to stay here.
When I first see the great hall with over a hundred beds, I want to turn, right away, and go out. A lot of pilgrims had already arrived and are resting. I talk a while with the very nice hosts in the reception and decide anyway to stay. However, everything is very well organized with showers, washing machines, Internet and worktables in the basement floor. In a nearby restaurant, served a “pilgrim’s menu” for hungry walkers. Now, I meet with others; Chantell from Quebec, Peter from Slovakia, Anita and Catherine both from Belgium. Back again in the Albergue, I fall asleep after a few minutes.
9 Oct, Thursday. To Larasoaña. We wake up at six-thirty to the sound of subdued church music. My feeling is moving and different. No breakfast is available at the Albergue in Roncevalles. It will turn out to be quite common in many places. Anita, Catherine, Peter and I leave the Albergue and come after four kilometres to a little cafe in Burguete. A lot of wanderers are already there. Some dry pieces of bread and a cup of coffee for four Euro is good enough for breakfast. Somewhere here, there is also a bar where Ernest Hemingway carved his name on a piano in the 1920s.
The Albergue in Larasoaña looks pretty good. A young girl from Kannada, have deep blisters on both heels. Hans-G helps her, he has a whole pharmacy with him in miniature with ointment and bandage. Normally, Spanish people eat between eight and nine in the evenings. It is very late if one has walked almost thirty kilometres during the day. The Spaniards have no understandings for us wanderers, which want to eat earlier. Again it becomes a pilgrim menu at eight o’clock in the evening. Chantell from Quebec and Hans-G gets probably a few glasses of wine too much, Hans-G says he was a Knight Templar in his previous life 800 years ago.
10 Oct, Friday. To Pamplona. All wake up in the morning when it’s still dark outside and the sky is completely starlit. A lovely feeling of freedom and independence is spreading in my body. I feel happy even though no breakfast is available in the village. I walk and walk, and I am thinking of the girl with the big nasty blisters, and shudder. I have still no problems with either my feet or knees. After two hours, I think of eating, a little of something left in my rucksack since yesterday. The sky is bright blue and the sun is shining. I caught up with Anita and Catherine. Catherine is limping now, and she decides to travel home in the afternoon.
Anita and I are walking to the private Albergue in Pamplona located close to the river Rio Arga. Hans-G is also there. He has problems with knees and feet. He has got bigger and bigger nasty blisters. He leaves early away alone next morning. Someone says that he has to travel home.
12 Oct, Sunday. From Puente la Reina to Irache. It’s a cloudy morning and we get some rain showers in the morning. Hans- G is still with us, Anita and me. We will soon enter an area with red clay. Lots of red, sticky mud stuck under the boots for almost ten kilometres. I get the feeling of having several kilos under my feet. In the tiny village Lorca, we eat a light lunch. Hans-G has, as usual, pain in both feet and knees. A beer and a “bocadillo” temporary solve his problems. Along the way we see Manuella a young girl from Vienna. Just before Irache there is a museum and a winery “Fuente de Vino”. In the wall there are two taps for free tasting. No wine comes out from the taps. In the wine shop, we ask why, and the answer is; “The Pilgrims are so thirsty nowadays so the wine never last long time”. Maybe it is so.
In Irache there is no Albergue so we decide to rent a small cottage on the campsite. It will be room for Hans-G, when he comes a little bit later, if he comes. He does, limping. In the evening we eat a good dinner, and it is really pleasant in a hotel right next to the campground.
18 Oct, Saturday. From Villambistia to Burgos. The Albergue outside the Cathedral in Burgos is newly built. I have a few small blisters on my feet and I use some surgical tape for it. Unbelievable, I have walked so long without severe problems. Hans-G decides to stop in Burgos and travel home to Germany. I try to call him several times, but I fail to get contact. I decide to continue alone the next morning. It fits me very well because it’s Sunday and many are planning to visit the Mass in the Cathedral.
19-25 Oct. After Burgos the landscape changes character, it becomes drier and in many places more desert-like. Many people choose to take the bus to Leon. I continue to walk alone. After seven days I pass Leon and stops on Saturday night in Virgen del Camino. The Albergue is closed so I stay in a little hotel. It will be really nice to sleep a little bit longer on Sunday morning.
27 Oct, Monday. From Hospital de Órbigo to Santa Catalina de Somoza. I arrive at an Albergue in the afternoon. In the evening I meet Norman from Australia in the dining room. First, it was difficult to understand his dialect. Eventually, I understand that he has walked a lot and have many interesting experiences to tell about. Later, he talks about a book; called “I’m ok, you are ok, a transactional analysis – how we relate to people. Worth thinking of. Norman and will I meet many times in the Albergues, and we are from time to time walking together, all the way to Santiago.
28 Oct, Tuesday. To Molinaseca. It’s really cold in the morning in Santa Catalina de Somoza and I am freezing. I stop at Cruz de Ferro on the 1530 m high mountain Monte Irago, with the symbolic and the famous iron cross. For centuries, pilgrims put stones there, borne from the beginning of the route. The idea is to get rid of their mental burdens. The cross and the tradition is unclear, perhaps it originates from roman times and is dedicated to the roman god Merkur, who was the protector of traveller. Or was it just a boundary symbol from the 1100s?
30 Oct, Thursday. From Villafranca del Bierzo to La Laguna. In front of me is now the last mountain, of about 1300 m height. On my way up in the dusk I comes to the Albergue in La Faba. There, a whole school class has already been quartered. I decide to go ahead further four kilometres up to La Laguna. The darkness comes soon, with sleet and wind, which is whipping my face. I have chosen not to carry my rain pants in my rucksack. I regret it now. I’m completely wet, and it is also getting really muddy. In the Albergue in La Laguna, it is plenty of rooms. My boots dries nicely, and it’s nice in front of the fireplace in the little restaurant there.
3 Nov, Monday. From Hospital da Cruz to Mélide. The 27th day I come to the large municipal Albergue with 130 beds in Mélide. It is full of people there. Norman has already come and talks to Mimi from Bratislava. I’ve met her a few times earlier along the route and I like her attitude. Later she prepares a goulash soup for us three. We talk a lot during the night, about everything, normally the most common topic of conversation is blisters and bad knees. Also, the weather of course.
5 Nov, Wednesday. The last stretch from Santa Irene. Finally we are in Santiago de Compostela. Mimi, Norman and I, are now really tired of the Albergue-life. Therefore, we chose a small guesthouse near the Cathedral. The next day is the first day for resting during the route, some shopping and an extra good dinner after 29 days and 800 kilometres by foot.
The walk has been a powerful and different experience with beautiful views and meeting with interesting people of different ages and from different countries. The meeting with Anita, Norman and Mimi was fine and we have kept in touch since we met. Walking is also a good way to improve the physical and mental health. The choice to soon walk again is easy.