Friday, January 28, 2011

At the Foothills of the Pyrenees, Set to Leave Tomorrow for Spain

After a long journey of planes, trains and automobiles we've arrived at St. Jean Pied-de-Port! The biggest hassle? Your humble author getting bush-wacked by local Spanish clerics while our crew hunted down the van driver for Pamplona (more on that later).

After arriving at the Madrid airport we changed money to Euros and, thanks to Jackie's sharp eyes, found the Metro to Atocha. We pushed our way through the crowded and humid subway stations filled with Spanish business execs and grandmothers, stumbled between the "8" and "6" trains and again between the "6" and "1" trains until we arrived at Atocha, with just a half hour to spare before our 11:23 departure to Pamplona. If only Seattle had a public transit system where you could get from the airport to  just about anywhere for one Euro.

Dana and Greta outside the gate at St. Jean. Note
the albergue in the background - our lodging for the night.
As the countryside rolled by on our train from Madrid it became clear for several reasons that we were no longer in the U.S. While some of us slept, others noticed a) that (unlike Amtrak) the train was fast -- we really felt like we were getting somewhere, b) it was full of people using it to get around the country, unlike our too-often empty American trains, and c) the Spanish countryside is full of history! Who'd ever guess we'd see castles and ancient villages right from the windows of the train? "Toto, we're not in . . . . " etc. etc.

Once we arrived in Pamplona we had what I'm sure we'll later call "Bart's Hemingway Moment." Perhaps it was all the Ernest Hemingway related history of this mid-sized city, or perhaps there's something in the air, but it was as much as we could do to hold Bart back from heading to the city square and getting chased by the bulls! When we reminded him that the Feast of San Fermin is July 6-14 -- nearly 6 months away -- he settled down, though with a fair amount of disappointment. We're still going to watch him carefully, though, when we walk back through Pamplona in a few days.

As we waited at the train station for our van driver, a colorful cadre of local priests arrived in a van. They were looking for a friend of theirs who was to take part in the parade for the January 29 Feast of San Tomas de Aquino. Since he'd failed to arrive on time, in a moment of unusual ecumenicity they invited your humble camino guide to participate in their procession! I barely had time to throw on a beautiful, embroidered surplice (itself an unusual delight for a Methodist), dash to the main square, walk the procession, hobnob with the archbishop, and head back to the train station to the great relief of our group since the van was loaded and everyone was there except the tour guide. Oh, the busy life of a cleric.

A quick procession in Pamplona for St. Thomas Aquinas
before heading to the van for St. Jean. 
After a short and scenic van ride over the Valcarlos Pass (actually our bad-weather route, if necessary, for returning to Spain), we arrived at the picturesque hamlet of St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France. Its crisp air, green hills, red tile roofs, centuries-old white stucco houses, and air of expectancy mark this beautiful little town as a special place to all Camino pilgrims. After a quick visit to the office of Les Amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle (the French camino volunteers' headquarters) to pick up our pilgrim passports, albergue list, first stamps (sellos) and a weather report (clear skies, no chance of rain or snow) we unrolled our sleeping bags at the albergue and settled in for our last rest before the 3,000 foot climb up and over the Pyrenees. Let the walk begin!


  1. Sleep well, because tomorrow will test even the hardiest of souls, and you face the hardest day of the Camino Frances. 20kms straight up, followed by 8kms straight down, unless Sandy takes pity on you all and leads you along the winter route which is slightly less energetic and has many places to stop for hot drinks and warm food. I walked the winter route last September and sat and watched a very colorful wedding in Valcarlos.

    Buen Camino

  2. 20 km straight up?! That's like walking up the hill on Dravus Street 15 and a half times! I sure hope I'm cut out for this...

  3. You will shortly learn the first rule of being a Pilgrim. What goes up, will eventually come down, and your knees will protest painfully at the coming down part!!

    However, when you roll in to Roncesvalles you will find two very busy bars there where Pilgrims over a great many years have sought solace to aching joints and their first of many blisters.

    Have fun and just think, only another 29 days to go!!

  4. Never have I walked a worse day than this. Unfit, travelled overnight in a train from Paris, tired and wondering really now what I have have let myself in for.

    My rucksac was 13kg, I had 5 books thinking this was going to be a lonesome path - I had no idea what lay ahead - a bit like life really.

  5. There is a deathly hush from the road to Roncesvalles!

    Have our intrepid Pilgrims got lost in the mist and low cloud on the Route Napoleon or are they playing hookey from the Rock Star Pastor and are in fact holed up in a bar thinking that the life of a Pilgrim is not as bad as once feared.

    Of course, being Good Methodists, our Pilgrims will be on fruit juice whilst the Roman horde who have no scruples are getting stuck into their third jug of Sangria.

    Blisters?? When it's only 5 feet from your chair to the bar the chances of getting serious blisters are slim, so why tempt fate out on that up and down stuff called a track outside.

    Of course, I could be that fellow from down below where its a lot hotter than most folk keep their heating, and I am really trying to seduce you all to the dark side of the Way so you can sit back and become that most reviled of creatures on the Camino "The Autobus Pilgrim"

  6. (SMS from cell): M 'fraid a hulking So Afrikaner named Stephan lorded over the coin-op Net at Roncesv. Some tears & tlk of brkup w/ grlfrnd. No way to get on to post. Will ctch up the world from Lrsoana or Pmplna. Our 12 are well, most w/ first layer of blisters and room for more. Thanks Covey & Leslie 4 ur notes frm Lndn & Dbln.

  7. Carol F., '08 PilgrimJanuary 29, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    Pilgrims! You are doing honorable work on this trek! You are keeping Rev. Brown out of real trouble elsewhere. Whatever your initial physical shape, you will hike yourself into the best shape of your life! But women beware of sore quads that make squatting on toilets agony. Happily that goes away in the first few days. I'm sending you lots of enthusiastic support thru the ether!

  8. Carol F....

    I always feel a little sorry for Da Ladies who walk the Camino. Us Fellows can wander the Way dressed in a weird collection of ill fitting clothing, none of which is color co-ordinated and none of which has seen an iron for weeks and usually She Who Is Obeyed is not in attendance to give her opinion as to our sartorial elegance, or lack of. Absolute bliss!!!

    The Ladies on the other hand have to put up with 30-40 consecutive bad hair days, crumpled clothing out of the bottom of your pack, and nothing feels clean let alone feminine. Add to that spending nights deprived of sleep because of the snorers and its amazing that anyone wants to keep going.

    One look at the official Albergue in Zubiri will make some of our Pilgrims glad that they are in their virtual world of crisp sheets and plumbing that works!

  9. Ah, Hemingway, Gail ponders as she sips her gin and tonic and smiles at Carlos across the bar in Santiago. (Carlos is a handsome Spanish waiter who has just asked Gail if she has time this afternoon for a walk around the Cathedral. Alas, no, Carlos, my heart belongs to Sandy.....) Ernie, as she has come to think of him, relished the running of the bulls. That is up until that infamous incident in 1935 with the brown and white spotted one. She recalls that he was less enthusiastic after that, and spent much more time in Harry's Bar and Grill reliving past seasons in Pamplona....

  10. Ah.. Gail, whilst you are sipping your G&T in a display of elegant nonchalance, our Pilgrims are around the corner gulping down a jug of industrial strength Sangria in an effort to quell the pain emanating from somewhere below the knees! If the pain has spread to above the knees, then order another jug. Others will be scanning the instructions which came with their Ibruprofeno (600mg super strength) to see if Sangria is mentioned anywhere.

    The vaguely worrying rumors about the mountain escarpment awaiting just around the other side of Pamplona might cause unrest or at least an almighty hangover as one stumbles through the streets at the crack of dawn on your way to the Mountains of Mordor and the delights of Puente La Reina

  11. The Bart fellow could be trouble! However he is a major Hemmingway fan, so perhpas he can be forgiven a little excess of enthusiasm. I do beleive he was secretly relieved to learn there were no bulls roaming the streets of Pamplona that day!

  12. Gail.......Maybe you should have taken up the kind offer of Carlos to show you the sights of Pamplona, as our intrepid Pilgrims from Seattle seem to have gone missing!

    Not a word from them since Roncesvalles and that was three days ago, and by now they should have passed through Pamplona (hopefully Sandy bought you a drink!) and be in the one horse town of Puenta La Reina with luck.

    Luck is a relative term on the Camino, and the Pilgrim learns quickly that he/she who stops early and bags a bed, might also get warm water out of the shower. Power showers and very hot water rapidly become but a distant dream and early discussions regarding the temperature of the water eventually become shortened to "is there any water?"

    Maybe they are all still wandering around Pamplona trying to find the exit? Do they need help?

    Has the Pastors impressive collection of Apple products failed to guide him to the Way? (the rest of us follow the yellow arrows painted on the road!! No Apple App required!!!)

    Is there a Bermuda Triangle outside Pamplona somewhere?

  13. Covey, you sweetheart, you. Thanks for your encouraging words. Make certain to follow the full blog itself at where I'm posting each day. Indeed we're heading today to Puente la Reina with swelling numbers, but only after a mishap at Pamplona. You can read yesterday's post from Larrasoana at and once our photos from Pamplona have been "corrected" later today I'll post from Cizur Menor.

    Gail is still enjoying the sites and sounds of the Camino on her Apple PowerBook from her vantage point at the Hotel Altair in Santiago. Please don't encourage her to spend more time with Carlos, or Eduardo for that matter. Or for that matter Juan Miguel or Jose Alfredo.


  14. I took a lot of photos in this town, so I'm going to break them down into two posts.

    Bellevue Stucco