Camino de Santiago

   My existence becomes completely changed in September 2008 when I decide to resign from my job. I get a feeling of failure but something else grew within me, a feeling of exhilaration, something new and exciting will happen. I’m approaching my pension age and I have still a lot of energy. My best customer gave me the wise advice to do a pilgrimage so that I can focus on things other than what I was not happy with. I have no idea where to begin or how to do it.
   I read and ponder many articles online to prepare and think even more about undertaking the pilgrimage. Most of the articles I read are about the French Way. “This is the one that everyone walks,” I think “so I guess I should do the same.” The starting point appear to be in the village of Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. That sounds exciting.::
   I must decide what kind of equipment I will need. To begin with, I need to buy a light backpack, hiking boots, a light sleeping bag made of down – warm, but not too warm – and a few other things. I also need to get a pilgrim pass, so called a credential, which is required for staying in the Albergues, the special Hostels exclusively for pilgrims along the trail.

Parts from my diary.
   7th October. Finally, I travel by air to Biarritz in the southwest of France. From Biarritz I take the local bus to the railway station in Bayonne, where supposedly a train connected to Saint Jean Pied de Port. Instead, there is only one bus.
   At the station, I see people with unusually large backpacks who seems not to be local travellers. Soon I start talking to a guy named Hans-Günter, who is from Germany, and we enter the bus together. After a couple of hours on the road, we arrive at the stop in the mountain village of Saint Jean Pied de Port.
   There, all pilgrims walk to the Albergue named Accueil Saint Jacques, the hostel at the starting point of the well-travelled French pilgrimage, where I also will spend the night. Adjacent to the hostel is a reception office, staffed by several people who inform visitors about the pilgrim trail. There I get a list of open Albergues and a small, printed map with elevation profiles for each day’s march. I review the map and is a little bit worried about the first stage of 27 kilometres across the Pyrenees. An elderly lady at the reception kindly say that there is no open shelter along the first stage, but I will arrive well in Roncevalles if I just take it easy.
   That evening I meet other hikers, among them Peter from Slovakia, who is a therapist, and Chantelle and Josie from Quebec, Canada. Later, Hans-Günter and I walk out into the small community to buy water and some bread and cold cuts for the next day’s lunch. It is late and time to return to the Albergue, crawl into the sleeping bag, and try to sleep. Jittery feeling, but exciting.

   8th October. When we start in the morning from the hostel and pass through La Porte d’Espagne, the weather looks good. Hans-Günter is in a radiant mood, and soon we catch up with Rolf, who also had stayed at the hostel. We walk the eastern trail and come to the hostel Auberge Orrisson, which is very much closed. Hans-Günter and Rolf decide to stay there for a while while i will continue.
   The sky get darker and darker, and soon a hazy rain begin to fall. The idea comes into my mind of returning to Saint Jean Pied de Port and starting over the next day, but no. That I will not do. Sure, I am already tired, but we are many who are going over the mountain to the other side. I put on my rain jacket and move on. The trail is not difficult to follow, but I is starting to feel lonely. In the middle of the day, I see the stone distance marker for Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. So, now only 765 kilometres remains to Santiago. Maybe it is time to eat a little, I decide. I step a couple meters from the road, sit down on a rock, and eats my sandwiches.
   Soon I am ready to walk again. The trail turns off to the right, and I see a rock that marks the provincial border with Navarra. All arrows indicating the trail are now yellow. The snow turns back to rain, and I continue the last bit steeply downhill among rolling rocks. It is also really muddy. Finally, I arrive in the tiny village of Roncesvalles. Its only pub is full of hikers drinking water or beer. Everything feels strange. I am tired and wet, and I do not feel very talkative. Next door to the pub stands the hostel, an old church hall with thick stone walls in the Gothic style. Two very charming hostesses informs me about the hostel accommodation, and in an instant my pilgrim credential is stamped.
   In the evening, I walk back to the small pub next to the hostel. Almost all the newly arrived pilgrims are already there. On the wall there is a pilgrim menu: pasta, trout, and wine. I sit down a little hesitantly at a table among some acquaintances from the previous day. Peter from Slovakia, Anita and Catherine from Belgium, and an Austrian. Later in the evening, a ceremony is held in a small chapel where all are welcomed by their nationalities, including me as a Swede.

   9th October. Common awakening at half past six to the sound of soft church music. No breakfast was available at the hostel, which turned out to be quite common in many places. Anita, Catherine, Peter, and I left the hostel, and after four kilometres we came to a small café in Burguete. It was already full of hikers, and we found only a few dry pieces of bread left. I paid four euros for my spartan breakfast, a cup of café con leche, the coffee with milk that is ubiquitous in Spain. Somewhere in Burguete there is a bar with a piano on which Ernest Hemingway is said to have scrached his name during the 1920s, but I did not search for it.
   The hostel in Larasoaña looked good. A young girl from Canada had deep chafe wounds on both heels, but Hans-Günter had a whole pharmacy with him, in mini format. He shared his wound ointment and bandages with the girl. Again, we ate a pilgrim menu late in the evening. After good food and good wine, the atmosphere anyway got fantastic. Hans-Günter explained to Chantelle that he was a Knight Templar in his previous life 800 years ago. We had nice time, despite sores and other things that chafe.

   10th October. I wake up when it still is dark outside, and the sky is completely starry. A wonderful feeling of freedom and independence is spread within my body. I feet happy, even though there is no breakfast available in the village. I walk and walk, thinking of the girl with the deep chafe wounds, and I shudder, feeling fortunate that I still have no problems with either feet or knees. After only two hours, I stopp to eat some of the pieces of bread left in my backpack. The sky is now clear blue, the sun is shining, and it was getting really hot. After my break, I catch up with Anita and Catherine. Catherine is now limping very much, and she have decided to travel home the same day in the afternoon. Anita and I encounter each other again later at a small private hostel called Casa Paderborn, close to the Arga River.
   Pamplona has become famous for its annual festival – San Fermín, in the month of July – with its running of the bulls. In the Basque Country, Pamplona is called Iruñea and is the provincial capital of Navarra.

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. I repeated Camino de Santiago 2015 from Pamplona and I also walked Camino Aragonés during 2012 from Somport in France.