Category Archives: Hiking the Camino de Santiago (maybe!)



Zubiri to Pamplona — 21.5 kilometers

After going to bed at midnight and awakeningI at 7a.m. in our quaint little hostel in Zubiri, I found Dick sitting at the side of the bed. He had been awake since 3 a.m. I think  he was contemplating whether or not he should walk today with his sore feet. He decided he would give it the old college try and we would walk together. We went downstairs to check out and the receptionist convinced us to stay and eat breakfast. Neither of us was hungry but having a little coffee sounded good. We’ve both had queazy stomachs since the first day and eating just doesn’t sound good to either of us. The receptionist was so nice and kept up a lively conversation with us the whole time. Then she made reservations for us at a hotel in the Old Town section of Pamplona.

We began our walk on a bridge over a beautiful river with multiple waterfalls. The Camino path started alongside this river and went through wooded areas where we crossed over little streams and most of the time we were shaded by huge trees and again the path was dotted with colorful wild flowers. This was the most beautiful part of the walk yet — I think it was because we could hear the flowing river as we walked along.

But Dick was having a hard time. Whereas I wanted to keep walking, he needed to stop for frequent breaks because his feet hurt him so badly. It didn’t matter if we were going uphill, downhill or on a level path he needed to stop every few yards. We got to know quite a few people on the trail because we would pass them, then they would pass us when Dick took his breaks. And then I’d explain to them in Spanish that Dick was having problems with his feet.

The breaks were difficult for me because I knew we were headed for Pamplona and the walk was only 21.5 kilometers and we should have been making good time. The path wasn’t too difficult, some up, some down and some nice level spots. But it didn’t matter what it was, Dick needed more and more breaks and I didn’t want to leave him and walk on ahead. The breaks didn’t seem to alleviate the pain much but he’d also take breaks because his backpack hurt and he needed to get it off his shoulders for a few minutes of relief. It was surprising how many people we saw who carried day packs or hardly anything at all. They were having their backpacks shipped to their destination for the night by big vans that would deliver them. I think about half the people we saw did this. The other half carried full packs like we were doing.

Finally, after a very long day we were approaching Pamplona. It was funny because I didn’t know where we were so I asked Siri how far away I was from Pamplona and she actually answered and said we were one and a half miles away. And here I didn’t think she would be able to find us in Spain! Somehow we started walking with a young couple from the States who had flown over here to do the Camino for 4 days. Wow, all that trouble for 4 days. Anyway, the girl said she did research in human behavior, about why people do the things they do and what they do that brings on illness. She then said she was trying to analyze her own behavior in wanting to do the Camino and she felt that anyone who did it might be trying to punish themselves a little. We laughed about that and I agreed. Remember, this is a Pilgrimage of St. James and it has gone on since 900 AD. To me a Pilgrimage is a penance and a penance is a punishment. So are we all here to punish ourselves? I knew that punishment was certainly what Dick was getting right now.

Dick was hurting so much that he said he couldn’t go on one minute more. We were only about a half a mile from our hotel but he couldn’t make it. There were no taxis in sight so we saw an Albergue and had the person inside call a taxi for us. It arrived in 2 minutes and in 3 minutes more we were at our hotel, Hotel Europe, located in the heart of Old Town. It was now 4 p.m. and this whole walk had taken us 8 hours. We were dead tired but had to shower and wash our clothes and hang them to dry — something we did every night. Then we went to the central square of Pamplona and chose a cute sidewalk cafe for dinner. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast but again neither of us was hungry. The waiter suggested I order the fish because it was so good. He said it was cuddlefish, a mild white fish but when he brought it to the table it looked like an octopus with it’s arms and tentacles sticking out. Not very appetizing! It tasted o.k. but was rubbery and chewy so I only ate a few bites.

Back at the hotel Dick decided he couldn’t do this trek any longer but that he didn’t want to go home. He decided he would take a bus to our next stop tomorrow and meet me there. We never dreamed this would happen but now we’ll just have to go with the flow.

Sent from Karen’s iPad

Trekking Day 2

Woke up at 7:30 a.m. and when I tried to get up every muscle in my body hurt, especially my neck.  It was hard to lift my head off the pillow.  I felt like a 90 year old woman as I slowly made my way out of bed.  Dick was sitting in the other room and had been up since 5 o’clock.  He said he was just too exhausted from his previous 17 hour day to get much sleep.  His body also ached and we both had sore throats from all the mouth breathing we had done yesterday.  He said he didn’t want to walk, that he just couldn’t.  Not only his body ached but the peripheral neuropathy in his feet was what was killing him.  I didn’t want to walk either but after being up a few minutes the aches and pains diminished and I knew I had to get out and get going.  

We skipped breakfast, I put on my backpack and we went to the Albergue (Pilgrim Hostel) to get our Credentials stamped.  We said our goodbyes and I started my walk.  Dick checked out of the hotel and waited for a bus to take him to our final destination for today which was a town called Zubiri.  He waited an hour at the bus stop and said the bus came and passed right by without stopping.  So he and another guy (who had wrecked on his bike and was quitting the Camino) shared a cab to Zubiri.  

Zubiri was about 22 kilometers away.  I wasn’t sure how hard todays trek would be but one of the books I had read said this day would be a “walk in the park” compared to yesterday.  So I was relieved and thought this would be an easy day.  The weather was chilly, there was a slight breeze (no wind) and I started out walking on flat land.  The scenery was just beautiful and the path meandered through beautiful pastures with horses grazing and at times the path was surrounded by huge trees and wild flowers of every color.  I walked on bridges that were over little creeks and through quaint villages.  A couple of times I was unsure of the right way to go but then I would look for other trekkers and follow them.  One time I was kind of lost and two other trekkers came along so I asked them which way to go and they pointed to the yellow arrows painted on the street.  Oh! I had been looking for the little Camino clamshells posted on the sides of buildings or posts that showed people which way to go.  I didn’t even realize their were also little yellow arrows painted on buildings and roads.  

As I walked and munched on a little sandwich I was thinking, “Gee, this is really great.”  And then the terrain changed.  I was back to going uphill again and started making frequent stops just to catch my breath.  I walked really fast going downhill or on flat land  because all I could think about was the fact that Dick would have a hotel room waiting for me when I got to Zubiri.  But the fast walking ended with every uphill climb where I became as slow as a slug.  At times the path would go downhill and then flat for a while but then always uphill again.  I tried to pass as many people on the trail as I could but it was really hard to pass people who were using trekking poles.  If there were two people side by side using poles they took up the whole path and often times there wasn’t any way around them.  

I finally got a text from Dick telling me  he was checking into a hostel (just a small quaint hotel) and that gave me all the more motivation to get there.  Today I was dehydrated and drinking a lot of water.  I only had one pint with me and was running out and rationing myself when suddenly I came upon a food truck sitting in the middle of nowhere.  I bought more water and was good to go again.  I should have carried more water with me but I just didn’t want to manage the extra weight that would add to my pack.  

People were a little friendlier today than yesterday.  Today they actually talked whereas yesterday everyone pretty much kept to themselves.  I think all their energy was going toward just trying to get up the mountain.  Several times I passed the same trio of trekkers and finally one of them started talking to me while we walked together.  He was 74 years old and his wife was 72.  I asked him how they all did yesterday on that walk over the Pyrenees from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles and he said it wasn’t so bad because he had previously walked the Inca Trail.  Other people I talked to said yesterday was the worst day ever — and I agreed with them!  

Finally after 22 kilometers and five and a half hours of walking I reached Zubiri.  When I went to the front desk of the hostel I told the receptionist that I would be joining Dick in his room.  She gave me the oddest look and she said that his son was supposed to be joining him.  The woman didn’t speak hardly any English so when Dick had checked in he had told her his hijo (son) would be coming.  He thought hijo meant wife.  We had a good laugh about it.  So far my Spanish has come in very handy because I have talked to so many people who don’t speak English.  

When I got to the room I could tell that Dick had been sleeping.  I was just exhausted and dropped my backpack to the floor, pulled off my shoes, layed my weary body down on the bed and went sound asleep.  Dick went back to sleep, too.  Waking up 2 hours later was just awful.  I could hardly move and the muscle aches and pains all over my body were agonizing.  Again they subsided a bit when I got up and moved around the room.  Dick was still sleeping even after I had showered and washed my clothes.  Finally at a quarter to ten I woke him and said we had better get some dinner.  We ate a 3 course meal in the dining room and the food and wine were terrific.

Dick talked to a man at our hostel whose first day of trekking was today and he said it was just “killer.”  If he thought today was bad he would have died doing yesterday.  Another man who was the manager of an Albergue said that the winds were always fierce on that trek through the Pyrenees.  I have read so many books written by people who had done this trek and not once did any of them mention the wind.  One woman said that the wind was so fierce it was blowing peoples backpacks a ways away.  I also talked to a group of Canadians who had started their trek today in Roncesvalles. They were with a guide who knew to avoid doing yesterday because it was just so strenuous.  My advice to anyone considering doing the Camino is to start in Roncesvalles and avoid the trek between St. Jean Pied de Port, France and Roncesvalles, Spain.  Today wasn’t especially easy but yesterday takes the cake!  

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Getting to Spain turned out to be more of an adventure then we thought.  We were flying stand-by and all the flights we tried to get on were full.  A day later we finally got on a flight to Madrid.  After arriving it was a hurried rush to get a bus to the train station, figure out how to buy tickets from a machine and run for the train to Pamplona.  We made it huffing and puffing and the train left  30 seconds after we boarded.  Once in Pamplona we hiked (no taxi) to the bus station, had time for some wine then took the bus to St Jean Pied de Port, France.  This town was to be the start of our 500 mile trek.  

Once there, although we were exhausted and lost,  we walked all around town trying to find the Camino Office so that we could get our Credential.  It’s a little booklet that you get stamped at various places along the Camino and this stamped Credential proves you’ve actually done the Camino.  

We were so tired and lost and didn’t know where to go.  So as we were wondering along one of the little cobble stone streets I saw a darling, gray haired, little old lady sitting in a doorway.  She sweetly told us where the Camino office was, where we could eat dinner and where we could find an ATM.  I told her we needed a place to stay and her eyes lit up and she said she had rooms to rent.  We asked to see the room which was on the 4th floor with no elevator.  She made us take our shoes off before walking up the highly polished wooden staircases.  The room was large with 2 king sized beds but the drawback was that the bathroom was one floor down on the 3rd floor at the other end of the house.  She looked at us so sweetly and said the room was only $60 euros and that this was a real bargain compared to all the hotels in town.  I felt like when I said “Well yes, O.K. we’ll take it,” her eyes glowed red behind our backs like she was a little “She Devil.”  She had us in the palm of her hand.  

We left our stuff in the room and as we were coming down those highly polished stairs in our stocking feet Boom! Boom! Boom!  Dick’s feet had slipped  and he came careening down half a flight of stairs on his back.  I was so stunned that I turned around to run back up the stairs to see if he was O.K. then I tripped, banged my knee and slid down a few more stairs.  Dick’s elbo was bleeding, he bruised his hand, arm, knee and legs, and bent his thumb backwards.  In the meantime “She Devil” was behind us on the stairs and didn’t say a word.  But I know she was cackling inside while her eyes glowed from brown to red.  Dick said he was O.K.  I gave him a Kleenex for his bleeding elbo and we walked down the cobble stone street to the bargain of a restaurant that “She Devil” had recommended.  We ate what they call the Pilgrims Meal — a 3 course dinner which consisted of salad, a little leg of chicken and half a potato followed by dessert.  Wine was extra and the whole meal was no bargain and left us still a little hungry.  

When we got back to the room we found there was no top sheet on the beds, just a bottom sheet and a bedspread.  I think she expected us to sleep in our sleeping bags.  We were too exhausted to get our sleeping bags out of our backpacks so I decided I would sleep in the pajamas I had decided to bring at the last minute.  Anyway, by now it was dark and we had to put on our headlamps to find our way down the stairs and to the bathroom, this time in our bare feet so we wouldn’t slip.  

After a good nights sleep and still jet lagged we were up at 6 a.m, dressed with backpacks on and ready for our first day of trekking.  The house was dark so we put our headlamps on to find our way down all those stairs.  Dick had bare feet but not thinking, I had put my socks on.  Afraid that I’d fall I grabbed the bannister and when I put my stocking foot on the first step it slipped out from under me and I went barreling on my back, down the full flight of stairs like an out of control freight train.  I bruised the palm of my hand with the bruise going up my wrist, bruised my elbo and legs and hurt one of my toes which was swollen and bright red.  But the good news was that my backpack had saved me.  Otherwise my entire back and head would have been bruised, too.  I wanted to cry but I knew “She Devil,” with her glowing red eyes was cackling behind her closed door knowing she had triumpthed over yet another unsuspecting tourist.  What a way to start our first day of trekking!  

Once outside we saw the little clamshell insignias imbedded in the cobblestones and on the walls of buildings and we knew we were already on the Camino.  The morning was cool and crisp and the sun was just coming up.  Despite our aches and pains we were excited about starting our trek.  The first block was downhill and such a delight.  The second block out of town was a steep uphill climb with no end in sight and it was then that I knew this was going to be hell.  After all we were trekking the Pyrannes mountains of France and Spain.  As we walked uphill, trying to get used to our heavy backpacks (mine 20 pounds and Dick’s 23 pounds) Dick told me to go on ahead of him because we each needed to walk at our own pace.  At this point there were lots of other backpackers who were also starting their trek.  The walk continued uphill along the side of a country road.  It was really difficult for me and I had to stop often to rest and catch my breath.  Dick was so far behind me that he was nowhere in sight.  It was really slow going with a steep incline.  When I would get at a place where I could look down the mountain and see the path, once in a while I would spot Dick so I knew he was O.K.  After a while I knew I needed to stop and rest.  So I sat on a tree stump at the side of the road and a young Australian who also needed a rest sat down beside me.  He was exhausted and complaining about his tight hamstrings.  I thought, “O.K. this is even hard for the young ones.  After more gruelling uphill I stopped for another rest and a German couple came over and the woman sat down beside me.  She wasn’t really personable and just continued speaking to her husband in German.  He was standing a few feet away from me, then turned his back on me and started to pee.  I thought, “Oh pl-eeese!  Couldn’t you do this across the road or somewhere far away from ME?!  That’s when I got up and left and continued my uphill climb.  

This was such a hard walk and I never saw Dick again.  I figured he was just a little behind me but didn’t really know for sure.  After 3 hours of this gruelling uphill walk I came to the only spot in the road that had a little snack bar.  Lots of Pilgrims were there eating and taking refreshments.  I decided I would stay there and wait for Dick to catch up with me.  I was hot with no coat on but was wet with sweat.  As I sat outside at a picnic table the wind started blowing and I started shivering uncontrollably.  I put my coat on and went inside and ordered a cafe con leche and two ham and cheese sandwiches.  I knew Dick would be hungry when he got here as we had not eaten any breakfast.  I thought about ordering a cafe con leche so it would be there when he arrived because I didn’t think he was far behind.  I drank my cafe and waited and waited.  Still no Dick.  I had another cafe con leche and he still wasn’t there.  I texted him and told him I was waiting there for him and when he texted me back and told me he was just getting water from the fountain at the side of the road I knew he had a long way to go.  He finally arrived after 2 hours of my waiting there.  He was just spent.  He had some cafe con leche and we ate part of our sandwiches and then I knew it was time to go as this would be a really long day with 25 kilometers of mostly all uphill.  We started walking together and Dick stopped and said, “I can’t do this.  The periferal neuropathy in my feet is killing me.  It’s so hard to walk.”  I told him I would walk slowly and walk with him to make sure he was O.K. but he said he wanted to walk alone.  I gave him some euros and told he should get a ride to take him the rest of the way to Roncesvalles.  I then told him that once he got there he should get us a hotel room for the night.  I did not want to stay in the Pilgrims hostel where you have to share a room with other people.  

We parted ways and I started my uphill climb.  The wind was still blowing and it had turned trecherous.  It was a headwind and the strongest I had ever felt.  It was never ending and the frequent gusts felt like they would knock me over.  It was so loud and roaring that I couldn’t even hear a car that passed by me on the little one lane road.  It was so difficult walking uphill against this trecherous headwind.  When it would get stronger and louder I knew I’d be blown so hard that I couldn’t stand in one place.  So I developed a system of crouching low to the ground until the worst of it was over.  But this wind was horrible.  It was relentless and never stopped.  This combined with the horrible uphill was almost more than I could take.  I was struggling uphill, feeling sorry for myself when suddenly a huge gust of wind came barreling at me, blew me 4 feet off the path and I landed sprawled out on my back with my legs headed downhill.  If I hadn’t stopped where I was I could have slid 40 feet down and ended up in a creek.  Again, because I was on my back, my backpack had saved me.  I wasn’t hurt at all, my pride wasn’t even hurt because there were no other trekkers around to see this (and laugh at me)!  O.K. now it’s 4 falls in less than 24 hours — 3 for me and 1 for Dick.  And where was he anyway?  I was hoping beyond hope that he had gotten a ride to Roncesvalles and had a nice hotel room reserved for us.  I was sure he couldn’t have continued walking.  I tried texting him but he didn’t answer.  I tried to find him on “Find My Friends” but I couldn’t locate him.  

I picked myself up off the ground and started walking again.  I started talking to the wind, willing it to stop.  But it continued on as fiercely as ever, blowing me a few steps back or a few steps sideways.  At times I had to stop and hold onto a post or the side of a rock wall, crouched down in hopes I wouldn’t get blown over again.  Other hikers were doing the same thing.  As I walked I could feel sprays of a light rain hitting my face but because the wind was so strong I never really got wet.  It dried the minute it hit me. I wanted to stop, to end this day.  But there was absolutely nothing, no hostel, no town, no hotel, and no restaurant until I reached Roncesvalles.  So I had to keep going.  

The uphill was so hard that I developed a system of counting my steps until I reached 20, then stopping to catch my breath, then repeating this sequence over and over.  The wind was relentless, the path kept going up, I passed patches of snow and kept thinking I was at the summit but when I would round the next corner it was more uphill.  A couple of times it was followed by a little downhill but then the uphill cimb would continue.  Then I was finally there.  There were a few hikers at this one spot and they said this was the summit.  I knew it was downhill from here.  It was then that I chose the wrong path — I chose the trecherous one — the one that went straight down the mountain.  Now it was an extremely steep downhill with a muddy path and that relentless wind.  There were a few other hikers I would see from time to time and that was comforting because we were encased in woods and if something happened I wasn’t sure how long it would be before anyone found me.  

And then finally the path ended in a road.  I found the clamshell Pilgrim sign, turned right and within a couple of blocks was in Roncesvalles.  It was 6 p.m.  I couldn’t wait to get to that hotel where I was sure Dick would be waiting for me with a glass of wine.  But I thought, gee I must check to make sure he didn’t check us into the Pilgrim Hostel — the Albergue.  So I made my way there and stood in a line of people only to be told they had checked in a lot of people but had no idea if he was one of them.  I tried texting him but it kept saying he wasn’t available.  So then I walked to the hotel but they said he wasn’t checked in there.  A very nice receptionist told me that the hotel was full so she didn’t think he could have checked in, but that now a couple of rooms had opened up.  She suggested I try the other places in town to see if he was there.  There were only two more and after walking to them I found out he wasn’t there either.  So I went back to the hotel and asked if there was still an available room and the receptionist said “yes” but this one is on the 4th floor and there is no elevator.  OMG, this is happening again.  But it was now 7 p.m. and I needed that room and considered myself lucky to be getting it.  I had to stop and rest a couple of times going up those stairs but finally made it there.  You can’t believe my relief when I walked inside.  It was a studio apartment with a living room, a kitchenette, and two huge beds.  Oh, and the bathroom was there, too.  It even had a blow dryer!  And it was only 65 euros.  I was in heaven!  The first thing I did was to strip off my shoes and all my clothes.  Then a hot shower and blow drying my hair.  At that moment I felt life didn’t get any better than this.

My earlier attempts to find Dick had failed when finally I received a text from him that said “We are 2 hours away.”  I said “Are you walking?” and he said, “Yes.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I also didn’t know who “we” was or why he would be walking with any other hiker but knew I’d find out about that later.  I knew he would be hungry when he arrived so I had two Pilgrim meals sent up to the room.  I knew I could reheat them in the microwave when he arrived.  The food looked great, steak, french fries, soup, bread, dessert and wine.  

It was now 9:30 and getting dark.  10 p.m. still no Dick.   Close to 11:00 he finally texted and said he was close.  I told him the hotel I was in but knew he wouldn’t be able to find it in the dark.  I went down to reception and asked how I could get to where he would probably be entering town.  One of the ladies was so nice and accompanied me outside to where we might find him.  We went out of the hotel and around some alleys and into a huge courtyard and there sitting on a wall on the far side of the courtyard were Dick and two women.  They were lost and didn’t know where to go.  I was so relieved to see him!  He had picked up these two ladies while he was walking and overheard them saying they didn’t have a flashlight.  They were out of shape and one of them was quite heavy and had just been in two auto accidents.  The other had just lost a son so they decided to walk the Camino, as many people do under conditions of loss.  They said they had no idea it would be this hard.  They were planning to stay in the Albergue but it was closed and locked up for the night.  When I told them every other place in town was full the receptionist suggested they walk to the next town to try to find a room.  WHAT??  I told them we should go back to the hotel to check if they might have one room left and if they didn’t, we had two beds in our room and they could stay with us.  They said, “But we snore.”  And I said it doesn’t matter, so do we.  At least you’ll have a place to stay.  Thank goodness the hotel had one room left.  They checked in while I went to the dining room which had closed 2 hours ago and asked it they could get some food for these women.  They were so accomodating and brought them out two huge bowls of pipping hot soup, some bread and some wine.  The women were so greatful and kept calling us angels and said they never would have made it without Dick staying with them and lighting their way.  Dick was so exhausted I had to carry his heavy backpack up to the 4th floor and he had to take rest breaks on his way up the stairs.  His feet were killing him, his hand was beginning to go numb and I had to take his shoes and socks off for him.  He finally showered and we ate dinner at 12:30 a.m.  It was 1:30 by the time we both fell into bed.  What a day…



Leaving on a jet plane

Okay, what are we doing?   We're so nervous about this whole thing.  I mean -- walking 500 miles? Really? At our ages? Are we crazy?
Dick and I have been "practice" walking for this trek for the past 2 months. I already have blisters on my feet and Dick has bruises on his torso (not from me!).  We have to carry all of our own gear and our backpacks are soooooo heavy that I walk bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame while Dick walks behind me huffing and puffing all the way. Because we'll be staying in hostels and eating in restaurants all we need to carry is our personal stuff. But by the time we put in bare essentials -- one change of clothes (yes, only one!), shoes, rain gear, jacket, sleeping bag, toiletries, first aid kit, water bottles, camera, iPad and iPhone it all comes out weighing 18 to 20 pounds.  And I'm even leaving my blow dryer and curling iron at home!
Why are we even doing this? What is the draw? I'm not quite sure I know why, but years ago after reading Shirley Maclaine's book about her walk on the Camino de Santiago I was drawn, I was summoned, it was something I knew I had to do someday. Years went by and then out of the blue our good friends Joanne  Continue reading Leaving on a jet plane