Sunday, 29 January 2017

Our Camino Frances Stages

The big guide to the Camino for many Aussies and other English speakers would be John Brierley's Camino Pilgrim Guides.

Dad and I used his book while walking the Camino and apart from finding some of his descriptions of terrain lacking, it is quite handy. We quickly found that we couldn't complete the stages Brierley sets in his book and often stopped someone just prior to or just beyond what he described as an end of stage.

For those interested in walking the Camino, here is a guide to how we broke up our walk:

We flew into Paris' Charles de Gaulle and waited most of the day for a train that would take us to Bayonne, that evening. Unfortunately, we were seriously delayed and then, just when we thought we'd be able to change to our train to Bayonne, we were stuck on a bridge just outside Bordeaux train station due to a gas leak at the station! We managed to find the replacement bus that would take us to Bayonne but we were SO very tired and didn't arrive at our hotel in Bayonne until 4am.

We spent two nights in Bayonne before catching a train to St Jean Pied de Port. Dad and I spent four nights in St Jean. It was perhaps two nights too long, really, but we wanted to be rested before beginning the Camino and we also wanted to be prepared for any potential delays.

We spent the days eating, drinking and getting to know the beautiful little town. We really loved it there.The night before we began our Camino, we stayed at Beilari, a popular albergue.
It was a beautiful place and they definitely fed us well. Unfortunately they didn't encourage us to get an early start which was a bit frustrating as day one was extremely difficult day and as such we didn't arrive at Roncesvalles until early evening.

Day 1:  St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (Valcarlos route)
Distance: 28km
Accommodation: Albergue de Peregrinos 

This was predominantly a road walk and preventing cramps was very difficult. Highly recommend taking magnesium and electrolytes during the day, packing an extra water bottle and having food on hand. A pack of Haribo and a muesli bar within easy reach would've been ideal.

Day 2: Roncesvalles to Viskaretta
Distance: 13.8km
Accomodation: Pension Pure Heart
Don't bother with breakfast in Roncesvalles.
Walk through the forest path and you'll be spat out at a cafe. Quite nice food and very warm.
Barbara and Estevan at Pension Pure Heart were so informative and friendly. We were exhausted and managed a few hours of napping while Barbara put our clothes in the wash. We had a delicious dinner of soup, meatballs, tortilla and chickpea patty with a creme caramel for dessert.

Day 3: Viskaretta to Larrasoana
Distance: 15.4km
Accomodation: Larrasoana Municipal - 8 euro each and 12 euro each for pub dinner.
If we'd known what awaited us at Larrasoana, we'd have kept walking! It was like a spooky circus town. The Municipal Albergue was the best option as the privately owned places seemed to be in cahoots with one another and tried to charge us 50 euros for a room - criminal!A very rocky walk from Alto de Erro - walking poles came in handy.

Day 4: Larrasoana to Pamplona
Distance: 15.6km
Accomodation: Hotel Tres Reyes - Spent 3 nights here.

We left the bike path and had to go along a hiking track and it was quite a warm morning. Walking through Trinidad de Arre was very confusing. We re-traced our steps many times. We stopped outside a cafe for a lunch of coke, apple, corn thins and Haribo. I was quite miserable and upset. I had terrible blisters and this really upset dad as well.
It was nice to finally get out of the town and head up towards Pamplona. I only booked the hotel in Pamplona the morning before we arrived (I booked a lot of our accommodation through along the way).

Day 5: Pamplona to Puente La Reina
Distance: 23.8km
Accomodation: Amalur - 10 euro each
Breakfast at Zariquiegui then walked our way up to Alto del Perdon.
Incredible sight from the top but the walk down was incredibly difficult. Stopped at Uterga for lunch. We had Bocadillo tortilla patatas for lunch - it was our go-to during this part of our trip.
We planned to stay at Obanos but it was like a ghost town so we kept on walking the 2.2km to Puente la Reine. We walked past the main albergue to Amalur. It was positioned above a bar and was very nice inside. We ended up having a 12 person room to ourselves. Downstairs we had our very first sangria and celebrated finishing an entire Joh Brierley stage!

Day 6: Puente La Reina to Villatuerta
Distance: 18km
Accomodation: Casa Magica
Quite a steep walk up to Maneru - a short, steep section. Stopped for breakfast here but dad confused their pork rinds for churros! Lunch of tortilla and paella at Lorca.
Villatuerta was a nice place to stay. Here we met Molly and Greg and shared dinner together (nothing to rave about despite the reviews it got). Molly and Greg gave us some excellent tips for the rest of the Camino. I loved the pharmacist here as she gave me the best nose congestion spray I've ever used! HOT TIP: Download Google Translate while in wifi zones and then screenshot whatever you need. This proved handy when I needed to buy new boots!

Day 7: Villatuerta to Estella
Distance: 3.6km
Accomodation: Gebala Apartments $104 AUD
Dad woke up quite unwell (don't eat the Russian Salad!) and so our start to the day was delayed. It was very dark and stormy and we were quickly drenched by the downpour. I had looked up Gebala Apartments the night before as a 'just in case'. It was an excellent apartment right in the centre of town. We found the bust station and decided to take the bus to Logrono the next day.

Bus from Estella to Logrono
Checked into Hotel F and G for 69 Euros. There is an excellent little sports store in Logrono and dad managed to find some great Trango World pants and I got some Lorpen socks.

Day 8: Logrono to Najera
Distance: 28.9km
Accomodation: Puente de Najera
This was one of the most beautiful starts to the day. Logrono and its outskirts are just beautiful. Unfortunately, it seemed Brierley condensed the next stage on his map as walking through to Najera was incredibly difficult.It was a long, flat, hot walk. By the end of this stage I was very upset and in a lot of pain. I really felt for dad! We did manage to catch up with our friends so that was nice! We also had our first twin room at an albergue and it was well worth it (even though it meant walking up three flights of stairs!).

Day 9: Najera to Ciruena
Distance: 15.3km
Accomodation: Albergue Victoria
This day was very hard for me. I think backing up after almost 30kms of walking was never going to be easy. Ciruena was an odd place. It is full of empty apartment complexes but there was hardly anyone around. There was also a brand new golf course at the entrance to town. Very bizarre! Dad and I had another big room to ourselves and had a big nap before a delicious dinner of spaghetti, chicken and peppers. We met three lovely French women here and a mother/daughter pair from South Korea.

Day 10: Ciruena to Viloria de la Rioja
Distance: 19.5kms
Accomodation: Accacio and Orietta
We were Accacio and Orietta's first guests for 2016. They are the most kind, helpful people, much in the way Estevan and Barbara were. We also met an incredible Frenchman, Jean-Claude who does an amazing rendition of a very famous camino song. We also met Jentz and Gabi, two Germans. They were lovely. We realised dad had left his medication at our previous albergue and Accacio even went back to get it for us and dropped it to us on The Way. Such hospitality!

Day 11: Viloria de la Rioja to Villafranca Montes de Oca
Distance: 20.3kms
Accomodation: San Anton Abad
Great albergue with an awesome bar downstairs. Great dinner as well, however it was 11 euro each.

Day 12: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Ages
Distance: 15.8km
Accomodation: Municipal Albergue
We walked into Ages and had lunch at a fantastic cafe. The old couple made the most beautiful and fresh bocadillos. We were some of the first in the albergue and even though it wasn't particularly nice upstairs, it was bright and big and had excellent wifi and a bar downstairs.

Day 13: Ages to Burgos
Distance: 22.2km
Accomodation: Hotel Bulevar Burgos
The walk into Burgos is deceptively long. Definitely go the 'green' route. To do this, you will pop out at a road after walking past the airport, cross the main road, go left then a quick right. You'll head towards a quarry type thing and basically from there you loop around various parklands before FINALLY getting in towards the city (not at ALL confusing). Don't be fooled by the bridges you see, you still have a long way to go before the centre of town.

2 Rest days in Burgos. This is the coldest town in Spain so be prepared to rug up! I bought amazing, comfortable shoes here. Wahoo!

Day 14: Burgos to Hornillos del Camino
Distance: 21km
Accomodation: Meeting Place. A new albergue. Tidy but terrible showers and average food.
Stop for lunch at Rabe de las Calzadas. There is a lovely spot on the right as you walk through. The man was very nice. You enter the Meseta today. We found it quite pretty but generally very blustery.

Day 15: Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz
Distance: 20.1km
Accomodation: Albergue Casa Nostra. A nice enough place but very chilly.
We had sleet and rain on our sticky, muddy walk into Hontanas. It was motivation enough to buy some rain pants at Castrojeriz.

Day 16: Castrojeriz to Boadilla del Camino
Distance: 20.2km
Accomodation: Albergue Titas
Our accommodation was nice - Titas gave us real towels and the bathrooms were nice, however, dinner was very average. Our friends had an excellent night staying at the other big albergue in town.

Day 17: Boadilla del Camino to Villacazar de Sirga
Distance: 19.4km
Accomodation: Tasca Don Camino. Quite a lovely place to stay with a very friendly host. She was so lovely and could speak so many languages. Great food here.
Breakfast at Fromista. This is a beautiful morning's walk.

Day 18: Villacazar de Sirga to Calzadilla de la Cueza
Distance: 23km
Accomodation: Municipal Albergue - there are two as you walk into town. We stayed at the one on the right which was quite nice and modern. The one on the left was still being fitted out the day we arrived. This is quite an exhausting day as it is very flat, there is little to see and no towns can be glimpsed for 17kms. It was an awful walk the day we did it as it was very blustery so we couldn't talk to each other. We were extremely frustrated by the end of the day.

Day 19: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun
Distance: 21.7km
Accomodation: It was tricky to find accommodation here in April. The Monastery was closed as was another large albergue. We ended up staying at the big church come albergue but kept getting locked out until a friendly Italian man helped me. Basically the church is always open; you just have to pull on the door handle and make your own way in. Later on, the council opens up downstairs and you can go and pay for your accommodation. This was our fourth day of rain and it was making as both cranky. I basically forced dad down to the train station to buy an early ticket for the next morning.

We caught the train to Leon and stay at a gorgeous hotel (Hotel Conde Luna) for two nights.

Day 20: Leon to Villadangos del Paramo
Distance: 21.3km
Accomodation: Municipal Albergue
It took quite a while to walk out of Leon and it was rather commercial on the way out. Similarly, getting to Villadangos del Paramo means walking past a range of petrol stations along a fairly busy road. The school building we stayed in is positioned on the right, just after the current school.

Day 21: Villadangos del Paramo to Villares de Orbigo
Distance: 14.4km
Accomodation: Today we walked over the beautiful Puente de Orbigo -  a beautiful bridge. Just before the bridge was an awesome cafe. The owners fed us lollipops and cake and let dad take plenty of photos of the quails in his backyard. Our copy of Brierley's book had the albergue listed under a different name. As such, we walked past it and an awful pub owner, told us to keep walking to the next town. We were very glad we saw Christina and asked her about the albergue and she explained she had recently bought it. Apparently the local woman had been telling people to go elsewhere. DRAMA! It was a great place to stay and it was here I bought one of my favourite souvenirs, a knitted Camino beanie.

Day 22: Villares de Orbigo to Astorga
Distance: 13.4km
Accomodation: Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Astorga
A muddy ol' walk up until La Casa de los Dioses, a roadside stall/home catering to pilgrims. We stopped and chatted to the Australian girl who was living with David. Not a huge fan of these Albergue. It is a massive place and is run fairly tightly but our room was packed and someone had vomited in the bathrooms. It was just a bit smelly and neither dad nor I slept very well. We had a really nice time walking around Astorga though. It is a pretty place.

Day 23: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino - Dad's favourite town on The Way!
Distance: 20.6km
Accomodation: Casa Rural A Cruz de Ferro
A tricky but really nice walk. Some of it was along the road because it was too wet on the path.
This was just a lovely little place to spend the night.

Day 24: Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo
Accomodation: Meson El Acebo
Stopped at Foncebaddon for an awesome breakfast of nutella and toast and a chai tea. This day was foggy but very beautiful and it was a special moment to reach the Cruz de Ferro.
We really lucked out accommodation wise though. We definitely should've stayed at the flash new albergue, Albergue La Casa Del Peregrino, rather than the one we stayed it. It was our worst night's sleep thanks to a heinous snorer.

Day 25: El Acebo to Ponferrada
Distance: 14.4km
Accomodation: Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza 
We fell asleep the minute we arrived at the hotel. We were stuffed. Great twin room here. Not much to do in town but we did walk around the castle and then had the most incredible pizza for dinner.

Day 26: Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo
Distance: 20.3km
Accommodation: Albergue de la Piedra
You must stop in for pastries at Columbrianos. They were INCREDIBLE!
A very hot walk through vineyards. It was quite beautiful but pretty exhausting. We stayed at a well known albergue but there were some really nice new places as you enter town. The albergue did our washing for us and had a masseuse for those who could book into him if they were early enough.

Day 27: Villafranca del Bierzo to Ruitelan
Distance: 18.2km
Accomodation: Albergue Pequena Potala
Back when we first met Greg and Molly they told us we should visit this place. It was fairly humble but it was one of myfavourites because the men running it made us a tasty, filling dinner and by this point we had met some awesome people: a female taxi driver from Brighton, Old James, Jeff, Greg and Molly and a nice German girl.
Stop at Trabadelo for breakfast - it was one of the best brekkies we had on the Camino.

Day 28: Ruitelan to Fonfria
Distance: 20.9km
Accomodation: Albergue a Reboleira
Today we walked into Galicia over O'Cebreiro. We walked with Jeff for much of it. It was a beautiful morning and it definitely felt like we were capable of completing the kms in front of us. We also saw the incredible pilgrim statue at Alto de San Roque.

Day 29: Fonfria to San Mamed
Distance: 23.4km
Accomodation: Paloma y Lena
You kind of walk into No Man's Land but know that Paloma y Lena is waiting for you! There is an incredible lounge area where everyone congregated before eating. We had an awesome breakfast at
Aira do Camino in Filoval.

Day 30: San Mamed to Mercadoiro
Distance: 20.9km
Accomodation: Albergue Mercadoiro
It seemed many people were intent to walk further on but we were glad to stay here and spent the afternoon eating and drinking in the sun until Jeff arrived with Steph and her dad - another Australian father/daughter duo!
It was here we passed a lot of day walkers as we walked through Sarria and passed the 100km mark!

Day 31: Mercadoiro to Eirexe 
Distance: 21.6km
Accomodation: We stayed in the awful Council run albergue. It looked well-kept from the outside but was very average. There wasn't even a door on the male showers!
There was a lot of fog as we walked into Portomarin. We walked up into town for breakfast but we were a bit cranky when we realised there wasn't any other reason to walk into Porto, the Camino loops around the town.

Day 32: Eirexe to Melide
Distance: 22.1km
Accomodation: Albergue San Anton
A great day of walking. We had breakfast at Palas des Rei. The albergue is fantastic. It is very nice inside and the girls at the front desk allowed us to have a 4 person room to ourselves.

Day 33: Melide to Salceda
Distance: 24km
Accomodation: Albergue Turistico Salceda
This was the only day we took a detour and it was to stay at this albergue. We were SO lucky to get the last twin room available. It was definitely more expensive than the average place along the Camino.

Day 34: Salceda to Vilamaior
Distance: 17km
Accommodation: Casa De Amancio Lavacolla
This spot was way towards the end of town and dad was getting very nervous that we were going the wrong way. We walked through beautiful eucalypts. Once we arrived dad napped and then we caught up with our friends and drank a lot of beer and wine.

Day 35: Vilamaior to Santiago de Compostela
Distance: 9ish km!
Accommodation: An awesome AirBNB
Today's walk was very easy given we knew we'd reach our destination before lunchtime.

Please let me know if you have any questions or queries!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Walking the Camino de Santiago

In March of this year, my dad and I walked the Camino Frances.
The walk took us 35 days and we managed to walk just under 755 kilometres (minus kilometres travelled by one bus due to terrible blisters and gastro, one taxi to find our hotel and one train trip after walking for a solid five miserable days in the rain).

I first found out about the Camino 4 years ago when my friend Amy and I were in Paris. I went out on my own on a city bike tour and met a lovely mum and daughter. They were spending time in Paris before doing a section of the Camino. At the time I had no clue what it was. After working in Catholic schools for years, I heard more and more about the Camino. Then Amy's father-in-law did it.
Then I quit my job, moved back in with mum and finally I began to think this could be a way of escaping my belated quarter life crisis. Finally, dad received an email inviting him to do the walk with a group of colleagues from around the state. We signed up almost immediately.

I know a few people are interested in the trip so I thought I'd cover a few of the questions I received the most.

Did it change your life?

I don't think so. The thing about travelling anywhere is you return home changed yet come back to normality. That transition has definitely been a bit tough. I was very thankful to use my brain productively again and while it was hard to settle back into teaching - my Year 8s were much louder than I remembered - it was a good reminder that I do love my job so it was reassuring to be reminded of my purpose.

Weren't you bored?

During most days, dad and I would begin together and generally he would walk a little ahead of me. At the beginning, it was much harder for me, as my boots were suffocating and gave me terrible blisters so I would walk quite a way behind dad. If I felt overwhelmed I would generally listen to either Monocycle or No Such Thing As A Fish. Both were funny and gave me a sense of escape, and also distracted the tears if I was finding things too hard. I'd also pop my headphones in if I didn't think I could walk any farther. Listening to something took my mind off what was hurting. For the days that were boring, I mostly tried to embrace it. I felt like this was a big part of the challenge. The one time I let loose and tucked my phone into my backpack strap (because my earphones were too hard to reach) and had Adele blasting, we walked into an enormous herd of horned cows. I turned the volume down quick smart! It was a great reminder that the scenery changes quickly and the boredom or pain moves on.

What was the highlight?

Obviously reaching the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was exciting but for me it was really more of a relief. The cathedral is currently under construction and there were people all around it, including many beggars, so it wasn't perhaps wasn't the picturesque arrival you'd hope for. Highlights for me included reaching the top of Alto del Perdon as the iron statues were such an iconic image in my camino research and it seemed to be a sign of surviving the first, tough part of the trip.
At Alto del Perdon

Very blurry/very happy to be in Santiago
After that there were some very lovely moments to certain days - even our most difficult day 29.8kms to Najera was three-quarters great.
I loved a lot of the days towards the end of the walk but I think that was purely because I work better with small, bite-sized goals. On these days it felt as if we'd finally built momentum.

What were the days like?

We learned by Day 2 that we had to be out of most albergues by 8am. This was more flexible at family run/private albergues. The second morning was a mad scramble and the door basically hit us on the way out as we had been keeping the volunteers from their breakfast!
Here is what our days generally looked like:

6:45am - wake up. My alarm was always set and I kept my phone close by. Some places played music as a wake up call and this was always a nice change.
  • Go to bathroom. I'd change into my outfit for the day in the bathroom and take my little dry bag of toiletries with me. I'd wash my face, put my hair in a mid-ponytail, put on a Nivea moisturiser I bought half way through the trip and add some 50+ sunscreen.
  • Dress any wounds and take medication. This meant cutting up our Mefix tape. My nurse friend calls this "second skin" and it was far better for preventing blisters than anything else I saw. (Don't even get me started on Compeed. Don't use them.)
  • Pack bag. I'd fold up my bedding and put into its sack. Dad and I were terrible packers as we liked to unpack most of our things. I'd read a little article about how to pack your backpack well. It suggested the heaviest thing should be in the very centre of your pack so I would hacw to pull bits out in order to repack properly.
  • Do a final check. Dad left his medication at one place we stayed so we made sure to do a good look around after that.
8-8:30am - leave accomodation and begin walking.

10am - by 10 we'd have usually stopped for breakfast - only on a couple of occasions did we have to walk for a while longer.

Best breakfast on the Camino at Trabadelo:
muesli with goat's yoghurt and a chai latte
Breakfast was typically a white baguette chopped in half spread with butter and jam. Sometimes I'd have a hot drink and dad mostly drank tea. Mostly we'd have lunch in a cafe, sometimes we'd stop and eat these incredible Nutella things with a beautiful golden delicious apple.

Lunch time? In terms of lunch, sometimes we'd just walk through to our accommodation and then go wild on their hot chocolate machines and the Milka chocolate I had stored in my pack. There would nary have been a day I'd have gone without some Milka or Haribo. Other days there'd be somewhere to stop for a rest and buy some lunch. In that case it was either tortilla patatas, bocadillio or a hamburger with Kas Limon or Coke. Never has soft drink tasted so good.

Burgers and soft drinks for lunch in Itero de Vega
Lunch with our friend James
Hot chocolate in Najera:
it was the only thing that could take my mind off my aching feet
2-4pm Arrive at the night's accommodation. Dad I were happiest when we'd finish walking by 3pm. Walking in the afternoon was much harder. The kilometres pass by more slowly.

A 12 bed room all to ourselves at Puente La Reine
One of our favourite places: Acacio and Orietta
 Upon arrival we'd snag our beds and put our bedding out. Most days we would do some washing. Washing facilities were very easy to find and most places had coin operated machines. I'd go shower and then dad would. During this time I'd try to update facebook and work out how many kilometres we conquered.

It was always awful when your accommodation was upstairs
The afternoons would be spent washing, meeting other pilgrims, trying to find food and waiting impatiently for dinner. This was the best time of the day. Dad and I would also fill in our travel diaries. Usually over a beer somewhere warm.
Time for a cider in Acebo

7:30/8pm - Dinner! 3 courses usually for 10 Euro - soup or salad to start followed by a meat dish and then Santiago tart or creme caramel for pudding.
Entree: boiled beans with garlic and ham
Galician Soup
Beef, peppers and rice

Main: slow cooked pork (?) and chips 
Natillas: Spanish Custard
Lights out by 10pm

Repeat x 32

Did you pack everything you needed?

I was quite happy with my packing list - dad was not happy with his.

Here's my list:
3 x black plastic knickers - not really but they sure don't feel luxurious
1 x comfy bonds (travelled over with another old pair that got thrown after the flight)
1 pair Peter Alexander cotton pjs (many would argue against this but I didn't once regret being able to pull on my pjs at the end of the day. The cotton was also a nice change after wearing lycra most days)
1 Lululemon t shirt
1 Icebreaker Merino blend shirt
1 long sleeved Lululemon top - kind of like this
1 pair Lululemon Inspire tights
1 pair of Shants (didn't love these. They were a bit tight before I left but within two weeks they fit well. There was a tag inside the pants that chaffed by outer thigh so badly dad had to hack it off with his pocket knife on the path one day. They also had no stretch. I wouldn't by these as I didn't really want to wear shorts/it was too cold anyway. I'd maybe have bought a pair of Trango World pants. Dad got two pairs while we were away and they were perfect.)
1 x merino wool Buff
The socks and boots I took were terrible - they were far TOO HOT.
I bought some Saloman hiking shoes and they were fantastic. Dad and I both bought a few pairs of Lorpen socks while on the way.
I also bought a pair of rain pants at Castrojeriz after being sleeted on the day before. I wore them about four times so was glad to buy them.
Day 1: my Buff was as good at the end of the trip as it was on our first day

Would you do it again?

Yes, I would. My head has never felt so still and clear as it did while we were walking - and not in a zen way because I was frustrated a solid 70% of the time (at my hoes, my body, my dad, other pilgrims). It was refreshing not to live a "normal" life and be a part of a little community. There was a lovely sense of familiarity when you saw other pilgrims. It is also a relatively affordable way to see some parts of Spain you might not otherwise see.

Dad outside Puente la Reine

Graffiti at Belorado

The view on the way towards Acebo