We hadn’t seen my Brother the day before, so we spent all morning walking together. A happy little trio. So here I’ll answer a question you’re dying to know the answer too! Just how do you entertain yourself on a 1,000 mile walk? Your days are filled with slowly changing scenery. Some filled with glorious nature, other smothered in industrial noise and smoke. Sing together, listen to music. I might have a small habit of dancing down the Camino. A grown woman, dancing with a 30 pound hiking bag? Yes, it just looks weird. And you’ll have long deep philosophical talks of life, the universe and the why to it all. So there are few ridiculous games we played to break these bits up too. One is ‘What she said!’ This is something you say after someone says something that a woman might say related to sex. The other is ‘Roger’. Effectively you have to say ‘Roger’ after someone burps. You have to do this quickly, as the last one to say it gets a smack around the head… These are deliciously childish games, that are extremely satisfying to help break those serious moments. Its even more fun (gross confession now) but I can burp on command and say words at the same time. So, I pretty much always win at Roger. Cue evil villain laugh. Continue reading Camino Day 51 (Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado) 20K- #CAMINO #HIKING
The Magician and I set off late in the morning down the hill. The sun was rising quickly and burning off the mist which was curling round the small clumped buildings in Sotés. Once we got down the tarmac road, we reached the Camino again. The dirt track had a golden colour with the small towns highlighted in the distance. On the way now we could easily see the next stops we’d get too. This was a simple motivation for more coffee and food. Today took us to the first major town in a while, Nájera. After Pamplona was sacked by the Moors in 924, the Kings of Navarra residence was moved here. During the War of Independence though the French destroyed large parts of Nájera. This gives the town a huge amount of history here, but is now just a very small town with a number of old churches. Continue reading Camino Day 50 Sotés to Santo Domingo de la Calzada 35K- #CAMINO #HIKING
Today we set off with my Brother and the Magician again. They spent a lot of the morning walking ahead of me. The Camino this morning was along dusty roads next to a high way across Spain. I paused once by a chicken wire fence which was filled with pieces of wood set out in crosses. This was one of the first clear signs of the Catholic church and this being a walk of devotion that I’d come across. A sign which was based from Camino walkers collectively together putting signs of their faith on the walk. I felt conflicted in this moment. When I’d reached Pamplona, I’d seen clearly how the church was using fear to create devotion. This had made me start to see that, although, till that point I’d classified myself as Christian. I no longer was. Being here, it just felt creepy to be honest. I started to see that when I saw signs of Christianity, I felt a strong level of judgement. Kind of ironic when you think the path I was walking on is a Christian one based on devotion and pilgrimage. Continue reading Camino Day 49 (Logroño to Sotés) 20K- #CAMINO #HIKING
We started out early in a group of three with the Magician and my Brother. We passed a selection of rocks glinting in the sparkling sunrise. When you walk, people mark their passage on walking routes by placing a stone in a pile. This early on made me very sad as people had placed notes in remembrance of people. People walk the Camino for a lot of different reasons. One of these can be to work through the grief. I saw my father ghost in all the pictures of men in their middle ages, and personal messages of love. Continue reading Camino Day 48 (Torres del Rio to Logroño) 21K- #Camino #Hiking
Today was an epically exciting day! Today we got to go to the free wine fountain!!! Yes, that’s right. On the Camino there is a free wine fountain (Fuente de Vino), and the official French opinion from the Magician is ‘Its not that bad for free wine’. So to every other person, that means ‘That’s good wine’. Continue reading Camino Day 48 (Estella to Torres del Rio) 28K- #CAMINO #HIKING
Having enjoyed a perfect night nestled together, we both woke late with a warm furnace burning in our hearts. It also helped that we enjoyed having a night without a chorus of snorers to keep us awake constantly too. Although in fairness to the Magician… I might be one of the snorers. The walk for the day would be a short flat route, so we took an opportunity for a long slow breakfast in a café in Puente la Reina.
The breakfast in Puente la Reina was AMAZING! And to be honest this would be average compared to the food in France. As you can see from my earlier post. Food in Spain had become especially bad, meals were filled with processed breads, Tortilla (which is a Spanish Omelette and potatoe) and bad coffee. This became increasingly difficult for us as we were trying to eat a more vegetarian diet. Although we’d been given the Vegetarian guide from a friend, I have to be honest, we weren’t that good at remembering to use it!
Leaving Puente la Reina we crossed a beautiful old bridge, where we met an American on the bridge. Due to illness he was doing the Camino by bus, but his friends and wife were walking the Camino most days. He was so excited to see us, he asked for a photo with us. He couldn’t believe that he’d met actual pilgrims. I couldn’t help but think the man was exceptionally sweet, and surprised by his excitement, as its fairly difficult not to spot Pilgrims walking on the Camino Frances. For him, evidently Pilgrims represented something unique and special. The Magician and I were so blaze about it now for us this was an every day occurrence. Our brief conversation brought back a childhood level of excitement. It gave me the chance to remember that the adventure we were embarking on was unique, and something a lot of people don’t either have the luxury to do (either from time or funds), or are limited by their health.
The route took us along a lot of roads and small towns. Generally it was a fairly bland route in the day, but we passed some of the typical vending machines on the streets. To capitalize on the number of Pilgrims walking the Camino, its really common to find vending machines on the streets selling blister plasters, water, sun cream etc. But we passed one today which had me in hysterics. Mainly due to the wrong use of English, but the vending machine was selling sex.
Through the end of the day we reached Estella city. It was at this time we met my French Camino mummy. We had a brief conversation, as she was staying in an Albergue again, and we were making our way to the municipal to catch up with new friends. It was at this moment, we causally said ‘See you later, maybe for a beer?’. But that was it. It was in that casual moment, it was the last time I saw her on the Camino. She’d been such a strong influence on my Camino up until that date. And I didn’t get to say goodbye properly, to thank her for the advice, love and support. But this is always a common occurrence on the Camino. You never know when you’ll say goodbye, and that’s actually the last time you see someone. Or if you’ll see them again in a few days.
Estella itself is a beautiful city, which only became really significant town in 1090, when King Sancho Ramírez diverted the Camino through here. At the same time he summoned French settlers to the area, where it then quickly flourished. As a city, its similar to Burgos (but slightly smaller). It was one of the nicer places I been in Spain on the Camino so far. The Cathedral is risen high up in the city, but covered with beautiful stone work. The roads surrounding it are connected through to old beautiful stone bridges, giving it a medieval relaxed atmosphere.
It was here in a small shop the Magician bought me a present. Ironically, and unbeknownst to either of us at the time, but the ring is a typical Greek wedding ring. The ring has been nestled on my finger from then on, never leaving my left hand since that day.
We had a steep uphill climb to Alto del Perdón, which the Magician and I found fairly easily. We slowly passed more and more other walkers, as they struggled up the hill. Again our conversation drifted to open relationships. Although I’d been worried once we reach the beginning of the Camino Frances that there would be a number of women that would catch the Magician’s eye. Continue reading Camino Day 46 (Pamplona to Puente la Reina) 26K – #Camino #Hiking
We set out late in the morning and walked with the Ukele player we’d met the night before. Crossing over the beautiful bridge on the entrance to Larrasoaña, we then walked through stoney paths through the forest. Stopping for a late breakfast where we spent a magical hour with new Camino walkers. The Ukele player bought out his instrument again and we spent an hour all singing together. Sharing food with each other. Continue reading Camino Day 45 (Larrasoaña to Pamplona) 20K
After an unsettled evening, I then woke up at 3am with the continual people walking around the bunks or packing & re- packing their bags. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so instead of rustling around, I decided to get up. I couldn’t quite believe the people who walked around. One man was only in his tighty whities, doing an excellent impression of Mr Burns from the Simpsons with his hunched shoulders.
The Magician and I set out slightly early for us at 8am, but there were already keen walkers who were climbing up the mountain. The first walkers we came across was a couple in their late 60s and evidently hadn’t done much walking before and were bent over huffing and puffing on the steep incline. Watching them, I immediately starting to worry about them. Its pretty common that people hike the Camino when they haven’t prepared for it. And they can really end up hurting themselves, and it can also be really disheartening for them that they have to quit the walk early.
When we walked across the Pyrenees the sky was a beautiful blue with soft fluffy clouds. After the steep incline we got to the sweeping green mountains, watching over 40 vultures floating on the hot air currents. We also started meeting lots new walkers today, and saw huge numbers of South Koreans who kept together in tight little packs. This took me by surprise, as its unusual to see such a high number of people from another country on the Camino. When we stopped for lunch, we shared some of our traditional French food with a group of South Koreans. They then gave us some of their sweets. It felt like a little bit of Camino magic already!
During the afternoon the Magician wanted to meditated so I left him and walked on. As I started to come further and further down the mountains, the forest started to get denser and denser. There’s actually 2 routes down, but I didn’t realised and took the more dangerous one. In the medieval times, this walk through the forest down to Roncesvalles was dangerous because of the wolves that used to be here (not to mention the sharp decline). The forest was filled with silver birches, and lots of red mulching leaves covering the path. It was stumbling down here that I met a well-travelled South Korean and a Mexican woman. Again, it was another repeat of my previous experience. The South Korean looked like he was about to fall over, and he didn’t even have any sticks to hike with to make it easier (and he was carrying way too much weight). It was here I decided to give him my sticks. They’d served me well up until this point, but at this point my legs had become so much stronger that I didn’t really use them anymore. Needless to say I think I made his day at this point.
Roncesvalles itself has a huge abbey, where most people stay. It was an important resting spot for pilgrims from the 11th century as its so close to the Pyrennes. They also became known for having good rations of food as well though. The Magician caught me up in the Abbey, and whilst we rested in the court yard we started to meet all the new walkers who’d started on the trail. One Italian taught us a little Reki that can be used to help relax your feet.
As a small town, I really didn’t like Roncesvalles. The people manning the reception could be really rude. I felt surprised as I’d always been told the Camino Frances is the best Camino to start with, but already I’d had a bad experience. I wondered what the rest of the Camino in Spain would be like and if the magic on the Camino would remain.
Worse than the day before almost the entire walk today was on a main roads. But today was the day we would get to St Jean. And today was the half way point of the walk for me. Half of my journey completed, and the Magician and I weren’t looking like we’d separate any time soon, as we’d previously discussed week after week.
Due to St Jean’s location, a lot of people choose to end their Compostelle here (the official name for the Camino from Le Puy en Velay to Roncesvalles). So we would be starting to say goodbye to more and more people. And we’d also be meeting new walkers on the route. This would be nice, as the people who walked the Camino Frances are typically a younger crowd who mostly speak English on the route. I was dreading this slightly though as I’d been enjoying having the Magician to myself for most of the days we had on the walk recently. And the jealous eye monster in me wondered if, as we continued to talk of open relationships, whether this would be the time I’d actually be tested on this philosophy.
Walking in the St Jean unfortunately we had to spend a lot of time here, re- stocking on food, getting a new Camino passport for the Magician (as he was about to fill his first one), and me to post my divorce papers to my lawyer in UK. During this moment we spent about over an hour faffing with the post office in St Jean, that I started to see what love really was. The Magician stuck by my side throughout it all, and even paid the postage for my letter when I’d run out of cash. This might sound pretty basic to most people, but with my ex, we’d gotten into routines where I organised everything in our lives, and I was left to it with no appreciation. Here the Magician was doing the opposite role I used to live in, and told me he loved it, loved that I let him do it at his pace and he never once got mad or grumpy at me through the whole thing. I will admit we both got grumpy that we didn’t leave St Jean till 3pm, and the walk up the giant hill to Ourthiagne took us longer than expected. But never for one minute did he make me or let me feel bad that we’d been late mostly because of me.
Once we arrived at the Gite in Ourthiagne we got to watch a beautiful sunset over the mountains. And we got to enjoy the magical evening with my French Camino Mummy, the Turtle, the Taiwan Angel and our first new Camino walkers (Three American forest fire fighters). Needless to say they’d past us on the walk up the hill. The Magician and I out of breath, them laughing whilst sharing a giant bottle of jack amongst themselves. Even having walked over 500 miles already, I was still unfit compared to some. And had to patiently remind myself everyone has a different Camino!
Leaving the farm early in the morning, more of the walk was now next to a main road. Although there was a hedge separating us from the road, we could still hear the cars zooming back and forth. This was pretty horrid though to be honest, but we had views of the Pyrenees inching us forward in every step. The question that occupied us and all the other walkers at the moment though, was would we be able to make the Napoleon route or not?
Now there are two routes across the Pyrenees. One is the Napoleon route, this route started when (you guessed it), Napoleon took his troops across it into Spain. The other route is the easier pilgrim route. When the weather is hard, the Napoleon route is shut, and people have been known to get lost when the Pyrenees gets covered in mist here and die. As we were in mid- October, we were watching the weather forecasts constantly, as I had my heart set on walking across the Napoleon route. We’d purposely started to time our stops so that we would cross the Pyrenees on Friday, which was the only day that week where the weather seemed to be good. And we could then cross the Napoleon route safely.
During the walk we past one of the last signed from the Alchemist of words (the Donativo owner from Navarreux). It said ‘Create your future now’. This felt very poetic to me, as this would be the night I signed my final divorce paperwork.
There’s a small town called Ostabat- Asme (Izura) which was just before our final stop for the day. This is a small village now. But in pilgrim times this was an important gathering point for pilgrims. In the middle ages, the hospitals and inns could accommodate up to 5,000 pilgrims, but there is only one Gite open there now.
When we got to our Hotel for the night, I was sat next to a beautiful woman from Taiwan. I’d seen her a number of times on my walk-through France, but never taken the time to talk to her. It wasn’t till we started talking that I realised she was one of the legends on the Camino. When you’re walking on the Camino people talk about how they met such and such. This was how the Magician became know as a healer/ Magnetist on our walk, and we were known as Les Amours. She was known as the woman who survived Cancer from walking the Camino. Her story amazed me, and I won’t go into huge detail here (but I will in my book). But I’ll give you the main learning she gave me. I am grateful everyday for my cancer. Because without it, I never would have walked that Camino. I never would have changed my life and lived this journey. If you aren’t a spiritual person, I would dare you to not be moved whilst in the presence of someone with terminal cancer, who has not only accepted this is the end of her journey, but done with such grace and humility that she also thanks God for it every day. It blew me away, and I felt the grace of what is so much bigger than me here. And I thank the Universe for letting me hear her story that night. As through the evening the Magician helped me organise my divorce paperwork, and then held me gently as I said a final goodbye to my 13 year relationship with a man who’d gone from being my closet confident, to a complete stranger in a heartbeat 10 months earlier.
The Magician and I set off fairly late from the Alchemist Donativo. Looking to have what had become our second breakfast of croissants as we left the large town. A small bit of education on French patisseries. About 70% of them now order in their croissants. However on this part of the Camino apparently a lot of them actually still make theirs in house. And with my palette, I can’t tell at all. But if you want to eat the best, just follow the French. I’ve never met a group of people who are so good at knowing the difference for whats the best. But this also comes to the challenge that you will never lose weight on the French part of the Camino. The food’s just too good! Yummy!
We were finally returning to loping fields of green grass as we got closer and closer to St Jean (the start of the Camino de Frances). The temperatures became less fierce and we were covered by more shade during our walk now. Our discussion for most of the day was intensely debating the intent of the two Donativo’s we’d stayed at so far on the Camino. The Alchemists place matches who he is completely. What he wants to do, which is have every walker leave in a better place than when they arrived. And that they’re able to keep walking. At the Bonheure Donativo though its about being able to live life in the way they want. The people they serve doesn’t come into it at all. This was something that didn’t feel congruent for me. As why would you be on the Camino to help the walkers, if they didn’t come into it. Otherwise this just became a way for you to live from others.
This made me feel very uncomfortable to be honest. As this tapped into one of my languages of love. So for those of you who haven’t read it, there’s a book called the 5 languages of love. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read on understanding how people express love. In simple terms there are 5 languages, based on words, gifts, quality time, servitude and physical. But you need to read the book to really understand this (which I can’t recommend enough!). After spending so much time with the Magician (who lets me be me) I started to understand that I suppressed one of my main languages of love. Acts of servitude. When I first met my ex, he said to me I have a mother already, I don’t need another. Since then I suppressed this expression of mine. So I eventually saw I connected with the Alchemist because his language of love was completely driven by servitude. And I connected completely with this. Whereas I hadn’t at all at the Bonheure. Not to say that one is right or wrong, but it was simply with how I connected to the intent of the two places.
After our beautiful walk together I start to feel closer and closer to the Magician. During our weeks walking together we started to understand our little intricacies, and habits. My ex husband and I used to talk about the most important thing in a relationship was to help the other grow. With the Magician I started to realise this hadn’t been true with my ex for a very long time. And I also started to pick up the Magician had a habit of arguing his opinion very strongly. On the one had this was good because he was pushing me outside my comfort zone. But on the other hand I’d been in a relationship which over 13 years I’d argued, erm maybe 4 times with my ex. So this isn’t something natural for me. And as the last arguments I’d had with my ex resulted in us splitting up, my instinctive reaction was either to roll over in the hope he wouldn’t ‘leave me’ or to literally storm off declaring this was it, we were over. Neither of these is really conducive to an open communicative relationship. And to be honest, I’m still not much better at this. The difference is now the Magician’s spotting when I’m doing this and tells me we’re not arguing or no I can’t use that as an excuse to run away and I should sit still. Either of these outcomes has a very funny picture in my head of my legs doing a weird little jig!
We ended the walk at a gite run in an organic farm. The dinner was INCREDIBLE!! The food was based on what they grew themselves. The cheese platter alone had 12 different types of cheese. The woman who ran it obviously made no money from running the Gite. She did this purely for the magic of the Camino walkers, as her mother had before her. Her mother had died a few years earlier, and you could easily see that she still did it for her. It was very beautiful, and brought a smile to my face for the rest of the day.
Today was a day of surprises and happiness. We saw my Camino French Mummy (after we didn’t think we’d see her again), with another beloved Camino family member. This Flemish man has lived in Spain for a number of years and walked part of the Camino most years. He called himself the Turtle. As although he walked slowly, he always got there in the end. Personally, I’d always thought he speed in front of me and the Magician with our long French lunches.
We finally started to see views of the Pyrenes, as we walked the 12k in the blistering 28 degree heat again. The view started the count down for us till we reached St Jean and the famous walk over these mountains. This could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing!
Before we got to Navarreux we were recommended to go to a piece of forest land that a couple had set up with a Camino garden. We spent over an hour there, reading all the little notes of wisdom. Breathing in the calm beautiful atmosphere.
Getting in early to Navarreux allowed us to explore their area and to chill in the sunshine with a beer, before we went to the Donativo called the Alchemist. In Navarreux the Church of St- Germain was finished in 1562, but converted to Protestant temple under orders of Jeanne d’Albret. Before it was later re- converted back to a Catholic church.
When we arrived at the Alchemist Donativo, both the Magician and I felt immediately at home. The person who runs the Donativo (know as the Alchemist) is known for being a bit of an outcast in the town itself. This in in itself is rather ironic to me, as Navarrenx has always had a reputation for having a significant Cagot (outcast) population.
During the vegetarian meal the Alchemist served, he gave us his speech for how and why he runs a Donativo. He does it because the people who come into his home, he wants to make sure that they’re fit enough to be able to walk again tomorrow. This hit me as a pure act of service, that he genuinely took pleasure from helping Camino walkers. Later in the evening the Magician did what he did best and chatted away to people. This was also the first time in a while he’d offered magnetise anyone. A woman was having a sore spot in her ankle, and he worked to re- balance the energy there. As always, the lady said the pain felt a lot better. But this was one of the first times I could see other people sceptically watching the Magician. I remember the first time that the Magician had magnetised me and the effect it had on taking away the pain I’d had in my knee. I’d been very sceptical, but having been walking in France for so long know I also started to see that different cultures and people can be very sheltered into understanding more about spirituality. The French culture on a whole seemed a lot more open to spirituality, than the English. This made me challenge the British cultural understanding and ability to really leverage knowledge from other cultures. One key example for me in this is that Eastern cultures typically have low rates of depression compared to Western cultures. And yet we still don’t learn or leverage these practices.
After dinner we explored the Alchemist’s home. There were giant singing bowls that we placed on our heads, and the Alchemist showed us, if you hit them, this would help to ground you. I mainly felt a lot of tingles running up and down my legs, plus the giant ringing noise in my ears!
The walk was beginning to have a few more ups and downs along the 19K entire route from Pomps to Maslaq. This was stretching our muscles out again as we were starting to prepare for the walk over the Pyrennes. Although we couldn’t see them yet, it felt as if we were getting close and closer to our half way point to Santiago (over 1,000 miles walk).
The heat through todays walk was a gruelling 28 degrees again. To give you an idea of the impact of this heat, on a normal day you should really be drinking 1.5- 2 litres. Hiking, you should be drinking about 2-3 litres. In 28 degree heat, you should probably be getting closer to 4 litres. Which although there are multiple water points on the Camino, you still have to keep drinking. Even when you’re not thirsty. As the saying goes, if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated! This is also exhausting and after a couple of weeks of walking in temperatures above 25 degrees, it was finally starting to take its toil on our body’s.
Walking through Castillion, there used to be a hospital for pilgrims and travelers in the 11th century. To coincide with this, there were a lot more pro- pilgrim things around. This continued to fuel the Magician’s and my excitement for getting to Spain. As if this was pro- pilgrims here, there must be a lot more in Spain on the exceptionally famous Camino de Frances.
On the second day we walked only Maslaq to Sauvelade. There were continued ups and downs all along the route with ruined buildings scattering the landscape. As the route today was mainly in the sunshine, so ended up staying in a gite early, as the 28 degree blistering weather was unbearable.
A little history lesson on Sauvelade! This town used to be part of a separate country called Béarn. This Church and Monastery was founded by Gaston IV of Béarn in 1128, but then sacked by the Hugunots in 1569. This was later restored in 1630, and sold at the time of the French revolution. The church was originally dedicated to St Mary, but this was later changed to St James (in recognition of the pilgrims who rested at the Abbey).
During the day we couldn’t hold our mounting excitement for the next day though. Where we would be arriving in Navarreux. Here there is a very famous Donativo. For those who haven’t read my previous post on what a Donativo is, it is a donations based place that people can stay at during the Camino. People can donate money, or time to look after the house, food etc. But its based on the idea of an exchange, to allow someone a place for the night. The person who runs the Donativo in Navarreux is called the Alchemist. This funnily enough isn’t names after the famous Paulo Ceolho book. He’s very specifically named himself the Alchemist, as he’s an Alchemist of words. He’s actually an ex- journalist, and up and down the Camino trail you’ll find these chalk boards with his sayings on them. And every time the Magician and I came to one, ironically exactly what he was saying, was what we’d just been talking about. It was like the Alchemist was reading our mind. You can see this as creepy or magical. Take your pick!!