Day 3: Zumaia to Deba

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

Author Unknown

The Camino must be preparing us each day to face a harder challenge the following day. Every day the test has become harder and harder.

We walked out of Zumaia in great spirits reveling in the beautiful Basque coastal scenery that continued to dazzle us every step of the way. After a short while, we came to a junction where we had s decision to make as to whether we take the coastal, spectacular scenery but very challenging track or the high track that climbed steeply at first then plateaued out and appeared to be less arduous. As it turned out, this was a good choice because even though it turned out the be quite challenging, it was apparently nowhere near as challenging as the coastal track which out friends, the two Simones took.

Again, the outlook was spectacular through high mountain areas with cropping animals and pine forests and tantalizing glimpses of the Bay of Biscay gradually disappearing ad the pathway followed the mountains away from the coast deep into the forests. Hot day, very hot day and very hilly terrain.

The track deteriorated into rough stony ground which was hell on the feet and took a lot of focus not to turn an ankle or two. But we ploughed on, becoming more and mire exhausted as another hill reared its head just ad soon as we had ascended and descended one. This happened several times until late in the day we stopped at a cafe in Itzar to take a breather only to discover that the highest hill of the day was still ahead of us! Needless to say, we pushed on under the relentless dun and reached Deba totally exhausted and happy to have made it.

Day 2: A taxing but spectacular day.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.

Marcel Proust

Rising early in order to enjoy a breakfast of bread, jam, fruit, cheese and coffee we were out of the albergue by 8.00 am and on our merry way. The morning air was thick with a layer of delicate mist that hung low over the river as we crossed the bridge and headed out of town.

It was so lovely and fresh as we climbed above the mist and out of Olio with the sun sparkling on newly-damp grass beside the path. Then it was uphill for most of the next 2 hours. The initial path became the dreaded cobblestones and these continued in a steep upward direction for a kilometre or so. Very taxing on the feet and knees.

We trudged on ever upward towards Zarautz and were treated to amazing vistas of coastline stretching as far as the eye could see. Then it was down down down into Zarautz for an early coffee.

We set off again accompanied by a lovely German girl we had befriended called Sina. She was dragging her pack behind her in a trolley thing that was attached to her waist. Looked awfully cumbersome, but she managed it very well.

The heart sank a bit as we looked up and saw the track rising steeply before us yet again. Nothing for it but to put one foot in front of the other and trudge on. The view up and over the hills was astounding. What a beautiful piece of coastline this is. Blue blue sea reaching blue blue sky, sandy beaches, towering granite headlands and cliffs, and almost everywhere, the stark white sails of flotillas of yachts looking like tiny toys floating in the calmest of seas. 

We passed through a variety of terrain, from open land supporting burgeoning grapevines to wooded areas and even a small forest if eucalypts, and of course fields dotted with sheep and cattle. Eventually we stopped for a snack and to rest our weary feet. This was welcome relief and we spent a very enjoyable time sitting in the grass.

We crested another hill and the small town of Zumaia came into view. Yet another beautiful vista met our eyes.

Then it was steeply downhill into the town and on to our accommodation for the night the Albergue Convento San Jose. We soon discovered this was the most basic of basic accommodations with many rules – no food inside, no shoes, no poles ( standard for hostels), no breakfast, no dinner, doors shut at 10.00 pm and everyone out by 8 am! As this was a Donotivo (no charge – just donate into the tin),we could expect no more, however, we resolved not to stay in another one if we could help it.

We then repaired to the beautiful beach boasting some amazing prehistoric rock formations for an ice-cream and a bit of lazing in the bright sunshine and chatter.

And so the journey begins…

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.

Tony Robbins

The day dawned bright and sunny as we took our first steps on the track to Santiago, Muxia and Finisterre. Having ascertained that there was no accommodation in Zarautz, we phoned ahead and found available beds in Albergue San Martin at Olio about 7 km before Zarautz. With all that settled we took off in two groups, Cheryl, Kym, Margaret and myself leaving from our Albergue near the start of the trail, and the two Simones setting off from their accommodation in the old part of San Sebastián.

The first section was directly uphill – reminiscent of the thousand steps in Mt Dandenong National Park back home in Melbourne – except more steps lol. The stupendous view back to San Sebastián and the Bay of Biscay was just reward for all our hard work. This view continued as we followed the coast high up on the mountain with the ocean always on our right.

Eventually, we turned a little inland and , with the ocean just out of sight, made our way up and down a little narrow path through densely wooded hills and vales and with easier walking. Some time on, we found a little fountain with trickling water that was mentioned in the guide book as being drinkable. We stopped here for a while to refill water bottles, have a snack and generally rest our feet. It was heaven to offload the backpack for a while and refresh ourselves.

We set off again and, high up on a hill, the track changed completely. We saw a sign which explained that the 3km of rugged stony cobblestone road ahead, is the longest medieval cobblestone road surviving in Europe. It was mainly downhill all the way and I swear it was harder on the feet and knees than all the previous uphill slogging! It was a matter if slowly picking your way between rocks and stones and making sure you did not turn your ankle!

I was quite pleased when the track changed again and the terrain opened out to show off superb country views for miles over the valley and down to Orio.

With my pack feeling ever heavier and my feet and knees feeling the strain, we eventually arrived at Albergue San Martin, to find it closed until 2 pm. It was now 12.15 pm. So we shouldered our packs anew and headed down down into Orio and found a bar open so we enjoyed some lunch and a welcome coffee. As we were looking around for a supermarket, we met up with the two Simones who had just arrived so we showed them where to have lunch, did our shopping and made our way back up the arduous road to the albergue which was by this time open.

So now, showered and refreshed, we are sitting in the garden overlooking a stunning view of the valley below. Tomorrow is another day and I look forward to a new adventure!

The penultimate day in San Sebastian

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.

Ellen DeGeneres

Love that quote!

We have enjoyed 3 days in beautiful San Sebastian staying in an albergue that is fortuitously close to the starting point for our first day of walking tomorrow. We have a room to ourselves and have been joined by a friend of Kym and Cheryl who they met on their first Camino in 2014 and who also walked a week with us on their second, and my first, Camino. She will walk the first few days with us before returning to Ireland. We also met up with the two Simones who will share the whole journey with us so now we are six!

Whilst here, we have enjoyed lots of pintxos and wine and especially loved walking the length and breadth of the old city and the beautiful beach. Such an awesome place!

Thoughts on starting the walk tomorrow? Contemplating the big hill ahead is somewhat daunting. The trail is marked out by the familiar yellow arrows and they seem to disappear upwards pretty sharply, but no doubt we will be fine once we start. Already, we have found out there is no accommodation available in Zaurutz where we were hoping to spend the first night so we will have to trust the universe to find us a bed. The reason for the lack of accommodation, is that there is a big triathlon occurring there over the weekend.

Cheryl, Kym, Simone, Simone and Lynne

Nearly there …..

The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting – Andy Warhol

Well here we are in Biarritz after an amazing 9 day tour of Morocco which was wonderful, but is a story for another day.

Today, Cheryl and I met Kym, who flew in from London, at Biarritz airport and we are currently filling in a few hours before catching a bus to San Sebastian. Here we will rest a couple of days before meeting the two Simones and beginning our epic walk. Fingers crossed for good weather but the weather forecast does not look good so the wet weather gear will get a good workout.

Beautiful Biarritz

New Travel Arrangments Bring Further Excitement!

Since my last post, ideas for extending our stay in Europe have been developing. After all, if one has forked out all that money to fly from Aus to Europe, one really ought to get full moneysworth out of it!

My sister  has recently returned from an extended trip overseas to attend her son’s wedding in Canada and to spend some time with her daughter  and her family in Germany. She will be returning to Berlin at exactly the time we will be completing our Camino so the opportunity to spend time with her  and her family is too tempting to ignore, so I have decided to spend a further two weeks in Berlin at the conclusion of the walk. Another very attractive reason is that another niece has also moved from Russia to Berlin recently and will probably be there when I arrive. All in all, I will be spending close to 3 months overseas from end of  May to mid August!

I am slowly getting my gear together and flights and accommodation around the walk organised (we will be staying in Refugios or hostels whilst on the walk). So the flight from Melbourne to Madrid, Hotel in Madrid, flight to Casablanca and flight from Casablanca to Biarritz at the end of our Moroccan adventure, have been booked. Hotel in Biarritz is booked as well. From there we will journey by train to San Sebastian where we will have a couple of days of rest before starting the walk. Cheryl and I will meet up with the other walkers there and explore some of what San Sebastian has to offer. Continue reading “New Travel Arrangments Bring Further Excitement!”

Yes! Its another Camino!

“Another year is ending but something is pending.”

Ernest Agyemang Yeboa

Well here I am again back in this blog which mysteriously went silent a couple of years ago and remained unfinished. I have some deep regrets about that but things became too difficult and I eventually stopped the blog.

However, I did not stop my Camino! We arrived at Santiago on the appointed day and then continued on to Finisterre and Muxia approximately 900 km in all. It was the most challenging and amazing adventure of my life. Now, we are doing it all again but a different Camino – the Camino del Norte across the top of Spain starting in San Sebastian and finishing, of course, in Santiago. We will then continue on to Finisterre and possibly Muxia.

Before beginning our walk, Cheryl and I will fly to Morocco for a 9 day adventure trek before flying to Madrid, then train to San Sebastian where we will meet Kym and two Simones to begin the trek. I am training hard and can’t wait to begin!

More Magic Maseta days: 19, 20 & 21

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
arousing to rapture the earth and the seas

Day 19: Carrion de Los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza – 17 km

Today was marked by four things:

  • The lovely accommodation in the monastery overnight and the delicious breakfast
  • The long long straight Roman road we followed
  • The wild head wind that buffeted us as we walked along, making the day exhausting but exhilarating.
  • The bar man at the accommodation that night who was absolutely the most congenial and funny host we had had yet. He had a joke and wink for everyone and made the afternoon and evening at Calzadilla de la Cueza fun for everyone

That afternoon in the bar, I met Jean and Hugo, two young people from Sth Korea who had met each other and formed a relationship on the Camino. What a lovely pair they were. Jean took a photo of me at the table in the bar with my camera and also with hers. After that, I really discovered how good Vino Tinto is! I drank 5 glasses of it and woke up with absolutely no after effects! If I had done that with Australian wine I would have been comatose with a headache and probably throwing  up!

Wake! For the sun, who scattered into flight
The stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n,
and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a shaft of light – Omar Khayyam, The Ruba’iyat of Omar Kayyam

Day 20: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun – 22 km

Today began with another magnificent sunrise. I just love leaving early and catching it. This one was truly spectacular and we stopped a while to watch it change.

Most of the rest of the day I spent walking by myself in silent contemplation, trying not to think about sore feet and spending some of it catching up with  other pilgrims we had met previously. There was Åsa, a Lutheran Minister from Sweden who was such a beautiful lady, then a younger girl from Sydney who spoke perfect Spanish and perfect English, so I presumed she was an Australian of Spanish descent. She worked with homeless youth. She walked a while with Åsa and me and then sped off at the rate of knots hurrying to get a bed in an Albergue.

Even though it was fairly flat, there was such a lot to see and much for me to reflect on. Close to Sahagun, the track took a sharp detour to the right and my heart sank as my feet were becoming very sore and I was so close to Sahagun, however, when I saw why, I was very happy. It came to a little church which was set off the track and was quite beautiful. I spent a little time in there, resting my poor feet and thinking about things before heading up the track to our quite posh hotel in Sahagun.

I did have a small language and hearing miscommunication with the chap who was signing me in. I thought he was telling me that my actual room was in another part of the hotel further into town. When he he showed me on the map, I was dismayed as it was quite a distance. Happily for me, Cheryl appeared and the misundstanding was sorted  out. The little chap came tearing out of the hotel to stop me from leaving but luckily for me, I had waited for Cheryl and was sitting outside. It appears that he was telling me where to go to get a sello, or stamp, on my credential to mark the exact halfway point of the journey from St Jean to Santiago!

Who knows what may lie around the next corner? There may be a window somewhere ahead. It may look out on a field of sunflowers. – Joe Hill

Day 21: Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero – 17 km

Sahagun, is an intriguing town with plenty of old buildings still in existence. “It was once the seat of ecclesiastical power, largely courtesy  of the influence of Alphonso VI who, along with his various wives, is buried in the Benedictine Convento de Santa Cruz” (Brierley, 2016) There is a wonderful old church way up on a hill where you can get a sello (stamp) for being the halfway point of your walk to Santiago, however, after we had toiled all the way up, we found it closed. We wandered through an amazing arch and had our photos taken in the bronze pilgrim footsteps there, before setting out once more on the track which would take us to El Burgo Ranero.

That day is unfortunately memorable for the fact that the terrain was flat and open and I was in dire need of a pit stop! That was the day I found the “Retreating Village” which, in my heightened state of stress appeared to get further away as we approached it! I missed the sign, but Cheryl did not have the heart to to tell me it said 3 km to go! You will be pleased to know that I managed to hold on until we got to a cafe and was able to relieve the situation!

The weather had been a lot colder for the past few days and I was not unhappy about this as I did not really enjoy the extreme heat we had been having. The major storm we walked though a few days back certainly changed the weather pattern and I was happy to start the day in a jacket and be able to take it off in half an hour or so of starting the day’s walk. I appeared to be alone in this as others were cold for most of the way!

We came across a paddock of beautiful sunflowers that were NOT past their prime and I took many photos of them as they made me feel happy. The way was again straight as an arrow in many places – the Romans certainly knew how to build a straight road! We reached our destination pretty early as it was a short walk, and settled down to drink and chat with various people we had met earlier – a group of Australian and New Zealand women and Judith from Alaska. It was  a merry gathering with lots of laughter and cheeky banter.

 

 

 

Day 18: Fromista to Carrion de Los Condes – 20 km

Summer ends now; now barbarous in beauty, the
Stookes arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! What lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! Has wilder wilful-waiver
Meal-drift molded ever and melted across skies?
Hurrahing in harvest, Gerard Manly Hopkins

Again today, the rolling paddocks of golden stubble and slender oat stalks  along  the walking track made a pleasant sight as we journeyed. Again too, it was a flat landscape on the meseta but I found it lovely with the golden stubble and oats juxtaposed every now and again with delicate blue and purple wildflowers clinging on to the last vestiges of Summer sun. Cheryl and I walked mostly in companionable silence, savouring the opportunity for the inward journey as well as appreciating the beauty around us on the outward one.

We crossed the Rio Palencia via a lovely little bridge, passing through Revenga de Campos. AT  Villamentero de Campos, we came across a little oasis of a bar/cafe which had ducks, geese and chooks roaming freely amongst the patrons so we had to stop there for a coffee and muffin. We also found a donkey. I got some pictures of Coral and the chooks.

On we went to Villa de Sirgar where we spied a lovely church – Santa Maria la Blanca XXIII where we sat a while and rested our feet, tending our outer  needs as well as our spiritual ones. Moving on, we decided to sit and eat our apples but as we were close to our destination, we decided not to stop for lunch but move on the Carrion de Los Condes and buy a picnic lunch there.

We found a Panaderia and bought a long crusty roll, then at a supermarcado we found a tomato and cheese to put in it. We headed towards the river looking for a good spot to sit. We found one, and sat on the lawn in the shade right in sight of our accommodation,  the Monasterio San Zoilo, which, as its name suggests, was an old monastery which has been turned into a hotel. After thoroughly enjoying our lunch, we approached the monastery and settled in. What a lovely place! It managed to keep all the attributes of the old monastery  including the beautiful cloisters while tastefully modernising the rest. I showered then could not wait to get down to the bar for a refreshing cold drink.

 

 

Day 17: Castrojeriz to Fromista -25 km

After all, the wrong road always leads somewhere – George Bernard Shaw

I will return to the quote in a little while……

The Roosters (Sharon and Kym) who stayed at an Albergue, left before light. Cheryl and I  (The gazelles),  did the same but a little later. Looking ahead, we saw the huge hill in front of us and the track winding its way up with a few pilgrims toiling their way upwards ahead of us. It is a testament to how much fitness and strength I have developed on this walk that the climb did not seem so very difficult. Had this been at the start of our journey, I would have felt exhausted. However, we were rewarded by the view on the way up and the magnificent sunrise which dazzled us all.

Down the other side of the hill we went, noting the dark storm clouds that were gathering. We paused in Itero de la Vega for a snack and a rest. I saw Tamara, my sister Jo ‘s friend having lunch with some other pilgrims and we had our photos taken to show Jo we had met again. Then the others in our group arrived and joined us for lunch.

Still mindful of the darkening sky, Cheryl and I set off again at a rate of knots. The storm front ahead was incredible to see and it appeared to be heading straight for us. The wind rose to a strong gale force and then the dust storm began. We were right out in the open and very exposed so we set our backs to the wind and waited until the dust storm had passed, only to be followed by heavy rain and the continuing strong head winds. It almost blew me to a standstill several times but it was exhilarating to be out there in it and I was yahooing and yelling my enjoyment whilst at the same time being only able to look at the ground in front of me as the ran was hitting me in the face. Another pilgrim passed me walking very quickly so I settled in behind her and matched my steps to hers. I had no idea I could walk that fast. The 8 km we had to go to the next town was just eaten up in no time. We must have been doing over 5 km an hour. I would never have been able to keep up that speed if I had not been paced by the long-legged girl in front of me. Amazing what the Camino can bring out in you when the need arises!


Now back to the George Bernard Shaw quote above….We finally reached the next town and thankfully settled into a cafe for a sustaining hot chocolate. The rain petered out while we were inside, so we set off again. This time, we missed a marker and headed down the wrong road. We had only gone a few hundred yards when we came upon a mob of sheep at the far end of a paddock. We both baa-ed frantically at them then one by one they began to move towards us until they were right up against the fence and we could pat and stroke them. Cheryl did a bit of sheep whispering which I caught on video but am unable to upload here. We spent at least 15 minutes talking to the sheep then moved on. We had gone perhaps a km and a half when we noticed there were no markers guiding us. We decided to go on  a little more then realised that we definitely were on the wrong track and turned back. We retraced our steps to the sheep who all rushed back to the fence again and there was another round of sheep whispering and patting. We soon got ourselves back on track and surprised the rest of the group who had been quite a way behind us, by walking up behind them. We then all walked pretty-much together over the lock and into Fromista. Had we not taken the wrong road, we would never have had the lovely experience with the sheep. As has been said to me several times on this walk –  “There are no wrong turns on the Camino.”