Day 4: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

Statistics: 26 kilometers, 8 hours 15 minutes, elevation gain 456 meters, elevation loss 578 meters, 31,000 steps.

The statistics for elevation gain and loss don’t look remarkable, but after about five kilometers of flat walking early this morning in Pamplona, we launched into nearly the entire gain, followed by nearly the entire loss. The route today was straight up and straight down! The down was steep and the trail was covered by large gravel. It was a difficult day of hiking! I felt a bit stronger on the uphills, but it’s still a work in progress.

Shortly after we left Pamplona, we had a downpour. We huddled under a small tree, frantically donning rain gear and protecting our packs with rain covers. The deluge didn’t last long, but I created a small river that covered the trail. We were forced to walk in a freshly-plowed field. Our boots were covered in thick mud when we finally found pavement.

On the way up we walked through a small town with a little church (see picture). I went in, said my mid-day office and had a chat with God, thanking God for my legs, my feet, and for loving me unconditionally. In this small, old church, I felt the embrace of the Creator. It was a warm feeling that stayed with me all day.

As I said, we went straight up and straight down today. At the top of the hill we saw one of the most iconic artworks on the Camino: the Monument to the Peregrinos (pilgrims). In the picture below you’ll notice the huge windmills. They dot the whole crest of the hill.

A bit further on, we came across a beautiful, little shrine to the Blessed Virgin (see the picture below). I took a picture of the plaque that describes the origin of the shrine. I hope you can read it. My rosary today was for my family – especially for Laura. ❤️

After the punishing downhill, I was tired, my right knee was sore, and I just wanted to stop walking. But I had more sympathy for Vera. Her cold had gotten worse. She battled mightily all day, but really looked tired toward the end of the day. A good supper, a good sleep, and I’m sure we will both be ready for tomorrow!

The beautiful little church where I had a chat with God.
The Monument to the Peregrinos (pilgrims). Note the windmills in the background. There were dozens of them along the top of the hill
Vera and I with the Monument to the Peregrinos.
The beautiful shrine to the Blessed Virgin. See that some of the pilgrims have left notes and personal articles. There is strong devotion to Our Lady along the Camino.
This is the description of the origin of the shrine. It’s a very sweet story. I hope you can read it.

Day 3: Zubiri to Pamplona

Statistics: 24.5 kilometers, 7 hours 20 minutes, elevation gain 418 meters, elevation loss 484 meters, 27,000 steps.

We got an early start this morning (7:30). Had to use the headlamp for the first half hour. The weather was cool and overcast most of the day, excellent for walking. In general, the walk was easier than the first two days. There were a few nasty uphills and downhills, but not as many as on the previous days. Our first stop was at Abby Saint Lucy (see below). They were trying to raise donations to do renovations. We couldn’t get into the building, but saw the small cemetery and the beautiful vegetable garden. We passed a building with a big sign written on it telling us that we were entering Basque County. They are very proud of their heritage. We stopped in a small village for breakfast (see below). It was a wonderful atmosphere and we met up with some young people we met at dinner two days earlier. At about 14 kilometers I stopped to change shoes. When I got up to resume hiking I forgot my hiking poles, and only realized it half a kilometer later. As I was walking back to get my poles, one of the young people from the dinner two nights ago was coming down the path carrying my hiking poles. I was so grateful! Shortly after that we saw the same young lady helping a girl who had fallen off her bike. We concluded that she was an angel. The second one we encountered in two days. We decided that angels were looking after us. Vera (who is Buddhist) had a very moving experience in a small church on the outskirts of Pamplona (see picture). She thought about all the tired pilgrims who had sat and prayed in that pew at the end of a very long and hard day. As we walked through Pamplona, we saw crowds of people in the streets (see picture). Many looked like pilgrims celebrating at the end of a very long day. The person at the desk at the hotel gave me directions to a nearby Catholic church and told me that Masses were at 6:00 and 7:30 pm. I got to the church (see pictures) around 5:40 so I had time for the rosary. I said the rosary for the people at Holy Trinity. For each Hail Mary I prayed for a person, couple, or family at the parish, and the last decade was for the parish in total. As 6:00 approached, I heard a lot of people, especially very young people around me. When I looked up, I saw lots of babies dressed in baptismal garb. There were ten baptisms. After the baptisms, Father presented each of the children to the Infant Jesus of Prague (see picture). I thought Mass would begin after the baptisms, but Mass only started at 7:30. It gave me a lot of time to pray in the special presence of the Lord, and I was grateful for that, but I was also really hungry. I had walked 24+ kilometers and had not eaten since morning. After Mass, we walked to a “touristy” area to get some food. The waitress didn’t speak any English and we couldn’t read the menu. It turned out we both got some good food. We topped off dinner with a stop at an ice cream shop. All in all, we had a great day. We are both getting more comfortable with walking. Not everything worked out as we had planned, but we were blessed abundantly.

Abby Saint Lucy. They’re trying to raise money to repair this ancient place.
We entered Basque Country!
Breakfast on the Way.
Beautiful little church where Vera prayed in solidarity with the many tired pilgrims who had sat in this place.
Church where I attended Mass.
Father presented each of my the newly baptized babies to the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Day 2: Espinal to Zubiri

Statistics: 18.5 kilometers, 5.5 hours, elevation gain 393 meters, elevation loss 698 meters, 22,000 steps

We had planned to stay in Roncesvalles, but because there was no room in the inn we were ferried five kilometers down the road. So, today was a shorter hike than expected. We were descending the western foothills of the Pyrenees, so there was still a lot of up and down. Thankfully, there was more down than up. But the tips of my toes are sore from banging into the front of my boots/shoes on the downhills. We spent a lot of time walking through the woods and the smell of pine was plentiful. There was a bit more sun, but it didn’t make it through the forest canopy. I said my rosary for the Sisters at the Carmelite monastery and their faithful “congregation.” They said their Mass for my intention yesterday. The footing on many of the downhills was treacherous, with angled strands of rock intersecting the trail at “inconvenient” angles. When we got into Zubiri, we got the same story: “No room in the inn.” But one of the guys who ran a hostel got us in touch with someone who had a room. He even carried one of our bags to the other place, and refused a tip. Vera called him the “angel of the pilgrims.” Maria (who spoke zero English) met us with a huge smile and showed us to the room. She then washed our dirty clothes and signed our credentials (the document that shows we walked the entire Camino). Another angel. We took a walk to the nearest Catholic church. It was 2.5 kilometers away. I know what you’re saying: “They just waked 18.5 kilometers and now they’re doing another five?” The church was out in the country, and as we found, it was locked and no longer in use. I took a couple of pictures (see below) and we walked the 2.5 kilometers back to town. On the way, we met (for the second time) Mike from Alaska. Mike is originally from Wisconsin (as am I), and is a Green Bay Packers fan (as am I). We had a short chat and then on to supper: pizza (for Vera), salad (for me), and beer (for both). Another challenging but rewarding day on the Camino.

The old church, no longer in use, in a small town outside Zubiri. The town also looked a bit run down.
A closer picture of the old church.
Mike, from Alaska, born and raised in Wisconsin. A true Packer fan!

Day 1: St. Jean to Roncesvalles

Statistics: Hiked 27 kilometers, 10 hours, 1359 meters of elevation gain, 40,000 steps.

Well, there is no “easing in” to the Camino! The majority of our first day was a relentless uphill. And I really don’t do well on uphills. My watch said I climbed the equivalent of 165 floors. The Empire State Building has only 102. The weather was perfect for hiking: cool and overcast for most of the day. I hiked the first half in my hiking boots. They became so uncomfortable that I switched to running shoes for most of the last half: much more comfortable. The Sisters at the monastery offered their Mass today for me. I am very grateful to them. They are angels! I was especially aware during the time Mass was going on. I still struggled up the mountain – no wings for me – but I went blister-free on the first day and my muscles felt good the next morning, so thank you for the prayers Sisters! The hostel we planned to stay for the night was full. We were told that they had over 150 beds, and yet there was no room in the inn for us. It was my understanding that doing the Camino in September/October would avoid the crowds: no such luck. It’s very busy on the trail and accommodation is hard to find. The hostel arranged for a taxi to take us to another hostel. I shared a room with nine other people. There was a dog barking for most of the night and plenty of snoring. With my jet lag I had trouble sleeping anyway! Then at 6:00 am someone’s alarm went off. It was very loud, and sounded like a car alarm. I had just fallen back to sleep! Well, at least the snoring stopped for a while. It was a very difficult first day, but a very good first day: the first of many…

The beginning of our first day – just leaving St. Jean Pied de Port
We saw lots of black-faced sheep and also wild horses. They say the wild horses end up on the dinner plates in France.
We came across this small shrine on the side of the trail, sort of in the middle of nowhere.

Pilgrims’ Mass

We attended a Pilgrims’ Mass in St. Jean. What a wonderful experience! The Mass was in French, and although I didn’t understand the words, it was easy to follow the Mass. Our universal Church! At the end of Mass the priest called up all the pilgrims, asked us where we were from, and gave us all a special pilgrims’ blessing. It was so nice. I now feel like I’m ready to begin!

The pilgrims receiving communion in this beautiful, old church.
Father, giving us a pilgrims’ blessing. Pilgrims from so many countries, there was even another guy from Canada.

Arrived in St. Jean

I stayed last night with Vera’s daughter’s family. I woke to a beautiful view of the Pyrenees Mountains!

View of the Pyrenees Mountains from my bedroom window.

We traveled by train to St. Jean Pied de Port, the start of the Camino. We had to register and get our “credentials,” documents that show we’ve hiked the whole way. We will need to get a stamp each day. The lady in the office was kind enough to take a picture while I was giving myself the first stamp (see above).

Arrived in France

After almost a full day of traveling (Edmonton to Toronto to Washington DC to Brussels to Toulouse), I was greeted by my pilgrim partner Vera (see picture below). Vera has been a great friend of the family for more than 35 years. She did half of the Camino last year, so she will be my guide. We will take a train to St. Jean Pied de Port tomorrow morning. If we can get a reservation in a hostel (they call them albergues) we will start walking tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise we will start on Thursday. Had a nice walk in the woods this afternoon to loosen up my legs after too long on the airplanes. I’ll let you know what happens. Must remain flexible.

Arrived at Toulouse, welcomed by my dear friend and fellow pilgrim, Vera.

It fits!

The good news, everything fits. The bad news, it’s a bit heavier than it should be. They say the pack should not weigh more than ten percent of your body weight. The full pack weighed in at 25.5 pounds: about four more than it should. Still have six days to get rid of stuff!
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