Santiago

I’m going to keep this short.  Just wanted to let you all know that I made it to Santiago.  500 miles in 26 days (actually 25 days, 5 hours and 23 minutes, but who’s counting).  Not too shabby.

I started walking alone on an overcast, grey day so it’s only fitting that I came into Santiago alone on an overcast, grey day.

Here are the last 10 kilometers, so you can walk along.  (We’ll use kilometers because we’re in Europe and they’re shorter than miles).

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3 (the herd thinned dramatically here – we’ve started to pass bus stops)

2

1

And Santiago de Compostela!!!!!

Yep, pretty much the most anticlimactic finish to a long hike ever.  First of all, the path ceases to be marked once you hit old town Santiago, then you approach the cathedral from the back, walk all the way around, only to find scaffolding.  At least I match.  Oh well, it’s a good thing I enjoy the walking rather than the finish.

I’ll post more on the compostela, the church itself and what my takeaways are some other time.  There will still be a dessert course; the decision having been made to take a train to Sevilla to check out Anadalucia and see how the Moorish influences differ from what I’ve observed up north.

July 22, 2017

A Salceda to Santiago de Compostela – 16 miles

PS – Beard or no beard?  Yes, I suck at selfies.

 And here’s what the cathedral is supposed to look like:

 

Weirdness Ensues

Lauchlin and Stefan weren’t quite ready to leave when I was, so I took off a few minutes ahead of them and figured I’d just catch them during breakfast in the next town.  After a 20 minute wait, I concluded I must have missed them when I went to the bathroom.  I never did catch them and ended up spending the day walking alone.

The scenery is still 90% monotonous wheat fields and the small villages interspersed between them don’t elicit much enthusiasm or interest.  My body has been holding up fairly well, but with a few miles left in the day my calves started acting up.  I don’t know if it was just cramps, fatigue or what but they’re definitely tight.  Nutrition has been more challenging than I expected.  While meals are readily available, the pilgrim dinners in the albergues are universally light on protein.  I’ve been rationing some protein powder I brought from home but haven’t been able to find a suitable substitute in the small stores along the way (by small store I mean 3 shelves, one of which is devoted to bread – presumably from the ample supply of wheat in the area).

The days have been getting warmer, but not unbearably so.  I still prefer the heat and sun to the cold and grey of the first few days, but it’s required an adjustment in terms of sunscreen application and fluid intake,  Fortunately, living on Kauai has given me a nice base tan and I haven’t suffered the sunburns that I see on some of the less fortunate pilgrims.

I strolled into my finish town, Redecilla del Camino, and headed to the town’s only albergue, noted by a small hand painted sign on a building near the town entrance.  The host, an effervescent Spaniard with only a modest grasp of English, greeted me at the door and offered me a glass of fresh lemonade.  Very welcoming!  We sat down in his living room to run through the check-in, which I thought was odd, since this albergue was supposed to have 50 beds.  He took my passport and stamped my credenciale, smiling and talking in Spanish about things I couldn’t understand.  I looked at the sheet where he was noting my passport number and it took me a few seconds of staring to establish that he had only had 2 guests and that was 2 nights ago (dates in Europe go day/month/year).  OK, that’s kind of odd.  I talked to him in my broken Spanish and established that this was not, in fact, the 50 bed municipal albergue but a competitor that had opened up recently.  That was why it didn’t show up in any of the guides.  Since he was starting out, he was operating “donativo”, which means no set price, you simply make a donation at the end of your stay.

He led me upstairs and showed me a nice room with only 4 beds and a balcony.  He also seemed so happy to have a guest that I stayed instead of walking over to the municipal where I was supposed to meet Stefan and Lauchlin.  As I was sitting on the bed, unpacking my things, my mind began to work overtime.  What if this is a setup? What if he’s the Jeffrey Dahmer of albergue hosts, who’s going to drug me and lock me in his pleasure dungeon in the cellar of his stone house where no one can hear me scream? I already drank the lemonade and all he has to do is quickly take down the albergue sign out front and no one will ever come looking here.  Crap.

It’s amazing how the mind can take an innocuous situation and before you know it, you’re ready to panic.  I was just getting ready to text my wife to let her know where I was when I saw Stefan and Lauchlin walking down the street.  I ran to the balcony and waved them over, telling them I accidentally went to the wrong albergue but that they should check this one out.  (I’m not getting killed alone here.)  All it took was the word “donativo” to get them to come in and I was saved from my would-be serial killer.  Turns out they took a wrong turn leaving town this morning and were behind me all day.

Besides the albergues, the town (I’m using that word loosely) only has one other establishment, a bar/restaurant.   Not having decided whether to let Spanish Jeff Dahmer cook for us or go to the restaurant, we decided to go on a reconnaisance mission and maybe have a beer.  This restaurant didn’t have any signage either – the only thing giving it away are an open door and some tables across the street on the town square.  Inside the building was a young man behind a counter and a beer tap.  We sidled up to the counter, ordered tres cervezas and inquired about dinner.  It didn’t look like a restaurant – there was no kitchen, but he assured us it was.  Dinner is served at 7.  I asked if we could come earlier and he shook his head.  I asked if we could come later and he shook his head again.  OK, 7 it is.  We drank our beers, had another and maybe another and went back to the albergue to wait for dinner.

At 7 we returned to the “restaurant” where the young man gave us a shocked look when we said we were ready to eat.  He motioned us to a table and made a frantic telephone call, speaking rapidly in Spanish.  I have no idea what he said or who called.  10 minutes later, a woman that looked to be his mother, came in.  He pointed at us and more words were exchanged.  The woman came over and said she would tak our order.  There was no menu but we did get some choices – 1st course either mixed salad or some rice/bean concoction, 2nd course, chicken, hamburger or pork, 3rd course, ice cream or flan.  I opted for the mixed salad, chicken and flan.

The food came from the house adjacent to the bar and I have to say, despite the lack of menus or any semblance of a professional operation, it was the best pilgrim meal I’ve had on the trail.  The salad actually had vegetables, the main dish was flavorful and the flan was a rich, creamy consistency and delicious (and I don’t really like flan).  I’m positive the young man’s mom just rifled her fridge and cooked us dinner because the kid said they were a restaurant, but it was a great meal and a great story.

I’m happy to say this kind of interaction has not been unusual on the Camino.  I’ve found the Spanish to be warm, welcoming and generous.  The people are honest – there have been no attempts to rip me off by changing prices (a popular trick in Italy and Greece).  Yeah, they keep funny hours for their stores and stuff isn’t always available when I want it, but I have nothing but positive things to say about the people. Even overly friendly albergue Jeff Dahmer.


July 4, 2017

Najera to Redecilla del Camino – 22 miles

Albergue Lyfe

 Bonus Shepherd and Sheep

 

Routine kicks in

Today was relatively uneventful.  The daily routine has become get up, put on clothes, walk, eat, walk some more, eat some more, repeat x2, check into albergue, shower, wash clothes if ambitious, eat, write blog, sleep.  Only the locations and the cast of characters changes.

I left the hotel at 6:30 but by 6:45 I ran into Stefan and Lauchlin and walked with them the rest of the way.  Today’s supporting cast consisted of an ultramarathoner from Detroit and his wife, an Asian from Belgium, a Brit in a kilt and a Dutch girl who hopped on the trail that day in Logrono.  Many people on the Camino simply walk a short section or start in places other than St. Jean.  The only rule that I’m aware of is that you need to walk the last 100km to Santiago in order to receive a Compostela.  There are also two other accredited ways of traversing the Camino – by bike and by horse.  So far I’ve seen plenty of bikers but no one on horseback.

The landscape has turned somewhat monotonous.  It now consists of long valleys with predominantly wheat fields interspersed with a few vineyards.  It’s still pretty, but not dramatic.  The mountains in the distance are dramatic.

There is also nothing in terms of interesting animals.  This must not be a livestock region so even the farm animals are gone.  The most exciting animal I’ve seen in three days was a rabbit that hopped across the path.  And maybe the storks, which we don’t have by us.

This evening I’m staying in an albergue run (owned?) by a what looks to be a very scrawny metalhead.  He’s roughly 6 feet tall and weighs at most 120 pounds, 10 of which is hair.  He’s friendly enough but it’s clear the operation is fairly low effort.  There is one toilet for 20 beds and the plumbing and electrical do not appear to have been installed by licensed tradespeople.  When I asked for the Wifi password, he took my phone, turned away from me and entered a password.  That didn’t work so I asked him to re-enter it.  This time he didn’t hunch over enough and I could see him type “restaurantchino” which is the name of the restaurant next door.  Unless he owns both businesses, he’s leeching off his neighbor’s internet.  I have a lower bunk, though, so I’m not complaining.

Lauchlin purchased a deck of cards and two six packs (grand total $7) and we spent the evening playing President/Asshole with a Danish woman who’s walking with an insulin pump and a South African woman who likes to cheat at cards.

This marks one week on the Camino.  I’ve walked about 125 miles, which is respectable considering I had a short day into Pamplona.  As long as the body continues to hold up, making it to Santiago in time shouldn’t be much of an issue.

July 3, 2017

Logrono to Najera – 21 miles

Very ornate gold altarpiece in Navarette

Someone must stand here and feed the fishies

Bonus swan

Logrono

Yesterday’s downer was followed by a pretty good day again.  The sun finally came out and with it my mood brightened.  Yay!

Yesterday I decided to eschew the hostel pilgrim dinner in favor of wandering the streets of Los Arcos.  Upon leaving the hostel I took a wrong turn, which in hindsight could have been a correct turn.  I walked two blocks from the hostel and ended up in a plaza with a cafe/bar – no hikers in sight and no sign advertising a pilgrim menu in front.  It looked like a locals place so I went inside.  The place was buzzing but I found a spot in the corner where I could observe.  I’ve been having a problem in Spanish establishments – I never know whether to order from the counter or wait to be served.  Sensing my predicament, a server ducked from behind the counter and came to help me.  He informed me that they were not serving any meals, just the appetizers listed on the board.  Having had a big lunch, that was fine with me so I ordered a cheese plate and a Sangria and sat back to observe the Spaniard in his natural habitat.

The general process seemed to be someone would come in, stand at the counter, order an appetizer and a drink, take it down and then move on.  Most people were alone and didn’t stay very long.  The exception was a couple that was splitting several small plates and a group of 8 ladies, 7 of which were playing cards and 1 who was reading the paper.

I lingered over the cheese plate as long as I felt was reasonable (not very long), went to the counter and paid.  I’ve found that you have to ask for the check in Spain – you won’t get it otherwise.  This isn’t bad service, just how it’s done.

Pleased with my locals experience, I meandered back to the albergue and slept reasonably well.

Today I ended up walking most of the day with a German primary school teacher from Hanover and a young Aussie who’s trying to put off joining the real world.  Tihs is the first time I’ve walked for an extended period with someone.  We laughed a lot and their pace is similar enough to mine that it seems like a good fit.  I tend to prefer walking alone since I like the freedom of stopping whenever I want to but in this case I enjoyed the company.

Logrono is a fantastic town.  I like it significantly better than Pamplona.  Maybe I caught Pamplona at a bad time when everything seemed frantic with the festival set up, but from the moment I hit Logrono it just felt somehow more inviting.  The guidebook says it doesn’t have anything worth seeing and that could be correct.  However, what it does have is a phenomenal restaurants scene, friendly inhabitants and a liveliness that works as easygoing instead of chaotic.  Logrono is the capital of the Rioja region and the Rioja wine that is produced there.  It is also known for hundreds of tapas restaurants that grace the inner city.

My first stop was, of course, the toursist office where I asked about the tapas (tapas are small dishes that sell for 1-5 euros that are akin to appetizers) and was given a nice map and a guide to each restaurant’s specialty.  My goal was to eat my way through Logrono.

Before I could get started, however, I ran into Stefan (the German) and Lauchlin (the Aussie) again.  We grabbed a couple of beers and sat by the river enjoying the sunlight and talking until 8.  After a quick dinner, I didn’t have time for my tapas experience.  But that’s OK.  There’s a saying in Hawaii – “go with the flow”.  It means you shouldn’t try to fight the current because you’ll only tire yourself out.  In my case, the flow tonight involved hanging out with Camino buddies instead of venturing into the Spanish wilds. At some point the flow will bring me there. 

One last note – I’m staying in another hotel today.  For $60 I have a fantastic room – similar in size to a typical American hotel room – nice amenities like good bath soaps (even a bath sponge!) and a pillow menu.  Logrono is the first city I’ve been in Spain where I can say I’d come back here, despite what the guidebooks say.

July 2, 2017

Los Arcos to Logrono  – 20 miles

Bonus Stork:

A rough day

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – today was a tough one.  The exhilaration of yesterday was difficult to match and with high highs come low lows.

Dinner last night was awful.  You think Italians, you think good cooking.  Nope.  I found the only Italian that can’t cook proper pasta.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s why they’re no longer in Italy.  The first course was a runny spinach soup – ochre water that can only be described as disgusting.  That was followed by a decent fresh salad, by far the best course of the evening.  The main course was spaghetti and meatballs, and I use that term charitably.  Soggy noodles drenched in oil (at least we got some calories out of it), the sauce of 1 tomato split among 7 people, and a whopping two 2-inch meatballs apiece.  Dessert being the obligatory yogurt.  By far the worst meal I’ve had on the trail.

I slept like absolute crap.  The church across from the hostel rang its bell every half hour.  Bong.  Bong. Bong.  No earplugs in the world can defend against that.  The fact that each hour represented an extra bong just added to the punishment and the realization that the night was quickly fading away.  At six bongs I gave up and hit the trail.

The weather was no different than any of the other days but today I’d just had it.  I was sick of clouds, sick of depressing gray, sick of light that makes you feel as though you’re walking pre-dawn all day.  It was still bitterly cold and this was day 5 of no sun.  I really miss the sun.  Yes, it could be worse – it could be raining – but man this weather sucks.  Why would someone live with this crap when somewhere like Hawaii exists?

The walking was fine but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it.  The landscapes are pretty (even if dreary) and the topography has changed with rolling hills replaced by rocky mountains with cliffs and steep sides.  The rocks have changed from yellow to grey and that’s reflected in the buildings of the towns that I pass through.  It makes sense – people build with what’s available to them.  A pretty simple corrolation but one I only made today.

Tonight I’m in the town of Los Arcos, a town who’s city center appears abandoned except for pilgrim auberges, a bakery and a cafe.  Like many towns throughout Europe, the citizens seem to have given up the cold stone houses of the old town for modern houses on the outskirts.  One interesting note – the town does appear to have a running of the bulls judging by the wooden gates along the old main drag – something pointed out to me by the nice Swedish woman I had lunch with at the lone cafe.  I’ve been running into her fairly regularly ever since Day 2 and it’s nice to see a familiar face.

Part of my discontent today stems from the realization that the Camino is only about 100 feet wide.  Along that stretch, you have a world that is centered around the needs of international pilgrims.  Everything is homogeinized and sanitized.  The restaurants serve pasta, hamburgers, chicken nuggets (as if anyone needs that) and fries.  I feel like I have a good handle on what the Camino is and how it functions, but I want more.  I came to experience Spain and to learn a new culture and I’m starting to doubt that exists on the Camino.  As wonderful as it is to interact with Scandinavians, Koreans, Eastern Europeans and others, my goal over the next few weeks is to walk those two blocks away from the Camino and hopefully experience the real Spain.

July 1, 2017

Cirauqui to Los Arcos – 22 miles

“Pasta” dinner

I forgot to mention the wine fountain.  That was pretty cool.  A winery sponsors a spigot that dispenses wine along with water.  The wine was pretty tasty too, even when mixed with residual Coke.

Hay mountain – people for scale

Unexpected Solitude

I’m sitting under an awning at the Albergue San Nicolas, listening to hail ping off the roof and feeling vindicated in my decision to pack it in early today.  Compared with yesterday’s giant operation, this Albergue is a cozy little family-run place that feels more like a bed and breakfast (with bunkbeds).  It’s located in a residentail neighborhood and across the street an enterprising neighbor has hung hand-painted signs in his yard that advertise “Shop”.  He’s also set up a couple of tables in the yard and is blasting the Blues Brothers soundtrack from the patio.  In between the bouts of rain we’ve had all afternoon I’ve been watching pilgrims scurry into the living room/shop and emerge with beer and snacks.  Earlier, I myself visited the shop and happily purchased a beer, a banana and a bottle of water for the bargain price of $2.10.  How does he even make money?

The day began with someone’s alarm going off at 5 am.  This was followed by 30 minutes of rustle… rustle… rustle, rustle, rustle until I finally said screw it, clumsily climbed out of the bunk and packed my bag.  I was on the trail by 6 and was shocked by how dark it still was.  The sun hadn’t come over the mountains yet, there was heavy cloud cover and the path led through a dense forest.  I almost got out my head lamp but laziness won and I just stumbled through the dark for a half hour, listenting intently for strange noises.  When I emerged from the forest, a sign informed me that the woods were populated by witches’ covens in the 17th century and that nine people had been burned at the stake.  Creepy.

Shortly after the haunted woods I reached a bar and decided to stop for breakfast.  Now before you jump to conclusions, bars in Europe are different than bars in America.  Yes, you can go there to drink beer and hit on women, but they’re more akin to to coffee shops where locals stop to pick up a quick bite to eat and grab a coffee.  This was my breakfast:

The rest of the morning was spent wandering through the Basque countryside and walking through several nondescript small towns.  At most I saw half a dozen other pilgrims, which shocked me considering how many I encountered yesterday.  I have no idea where they all went – presumably I was in front of the pack since the albergues in town seem full.

At 12:30 I reached Larrasoana and had to decide between stopping and walking another 13 kilometers to Pamplona.  When planning for the trip, I booked a hotel in Pamplona figuring I’d get there the third day.  The walking has gone a little quicker than I expected so if I pushed on, it would mean taking a zero day tomorrow.  The skies were darkening so I figured I’d stop, put in a short day tomorrow and see the sights in town.

June 28, 2017

Roncesvalles – Larrasoana: 17 miles
Typical Basque town
Nice trail sign

Waking up from hibernation

Greetings from Chris Takes a Hike!

It’s time for another little adventure.  The past few years have had their fair share of hikes, bikes and random escapades, but for the first time I’m feeling compelled to start the blog back up and start chronicling a new experience.

This time we’re headed over the Atlantic to walk an ancient pilgrim route across northern Spain.  Officially called the Camino de Santiago (or Way of St. James in English), the route I’ll be walking starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  It’s a total of roughly 500 miles over generally easy terrain and with an experience that differs dramatically from the long distance hiking in America.

I’ll take about a month to walk the route and hope to report on the characters and places I meet along the way.  It’s a very popular walk in Europe with hundreds of people starting every day.  The route is very well supported by hostels, hotels, restaurants and stores which means I get to travel light.  No more tent or cooking gear or even toilet paper.  Just a few clothes, some toiletries and my cell phone which should allow me to move faster and enjoy more Sangria, vino and beer along the way.  In a way you could say it’s the polar opposite of the AT.

The Camino and the concept of a pilgrimage dates back to the early Middle Ages.  It was believed that every good Catholic had to walk to Santiago to receive what’s called a “Compostela” – a document that wipes away your sins and that you show St. Peter to get into heaven.  In actuality there are many different Caminos all over Europe and you can start from any Catholic Church and find your way to Santiago. I chose to walk from St. Jean because it’s a popular starting point and well supported for the aspiring pilgrim.  The symbol for the Camino is a scallop shell, signifying the many paths to Santiago.

Why a pilgrimage?  I was raised Catholic but am not what one can consider an avid participant today.  Those of you that know me well know that I’m neither especially spiritual or penitent.  My reasons skew more toward the cultural – I enjoy travel, I enjoy walking and it’s a great way to experience a new culture.  I’ll visit a number of churches along the way but don’t anticipate a sudden epiphany.  The religious aspect is more of a curiosity to me – and I wonder how much of a focal point it will be for others.

Right now I’m tooling through France on my way to St. Jean.  I start walking in a couple of days and the anticipation is driving me crazy.  I’m antsy and ready to start walking.  It’s time for an adventure!

I’m leaving my old mailing list intact, so if you received this in e-mail form it’s because you followed me while I hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back.  If I’ve annoyed you or you could care less about what I’m up to, there should be an unsubscribe option below.  Otherwise just send me a note or leave a comment and I’ll make the change.