Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome !!

This Camino Gazetteer coordinates all my postings by 75 locations where I halted and blogged during eleven Caminos from 2004 through 2015 walking in autumn and winter. Before reading click on the Map tab above to see what's where. The History tab gives a brief overview of the Camino. Memories highlights some favorite recollections. Kit and Tips lists my backpack contents plus some walking advice. About Me is my profile. After reading these tabs click on the Home tab and choose any place name in the Blog Archive in the left column to read all posts. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port starts my itinerary.

You can also read these posts in the blog, All My Caminos. Written in a book format, it is illustrated with my photos and covers in a separate chapter each completed Camino de Santiago de Compostela in chronological sequence from 2004 through 2015.

Either way I hope you enjoy my journeys!


Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 1-2004:September 26, 2004
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:October 3, 2005
.....Camino 3-2007:February 5, 2007
.....Camino 4-2008:January 16, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 22, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 6, and October 6, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 10, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 15, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 15, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 14, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 13, 2015



September 26, 2004

Today I began my Camino, a hike alone across northern Spain from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Fulfilling a dream held since university days, now at 65 I was setting out alone. This pilgrimage route to the catholic cathedral and burial place of St James, Christ’s Apostle, has been in existence for over 1000 years. Over the centuries multitudes of pilgrims had followed the trail known in Spanish as the Camino or path. I, too, wanted to experience what so many had done across time and to see what had been built along the way.

Bill, my husband, was off to the US for a month so we closed our French Bed & Breakfast to follow our separate journeys. Good-byes were said in the Gare Montparnasse as I awaited the TGV train going southwest to Bayonne. Sad at our parting, yet so excited to be going at long last I boarded the train. Packed, my knapsack weighed about 10 kilos or 22 pounds. In it were a sleeping bag, poncho, thin waterproof jacket and pants, muffler, woolly hat, gloves, and lightweight polar jacket. A walking stick, change of hiking clothes, underwear, basic toiletries, towel, notes, diary, tiny flashlight, camera, food bag, water bottle, utensils and cup made up the rest, plus Mo. (Mo is a toy stuffed moose, which I long ago gave to my father for his 90th birthday. After my father’s death Mo came back to me. Now he was traveling in his own blue sack within the knapsack disguised as my ‘pillow’, but in truth my silent confidante.)

Travel time on the TGV passed quickly. At Bayonne I changed to a slower local train going east to the Basque town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, named such because it is the foot of a pass crossing the Pyrenees. It is also one of the two main entrance points on the French border to the Camino; the other is further east at Somport.

At Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port I hoisted the pack, walked uphill and through the old fortress walls to the office of the welcoming Amis du Chemin de St Jacques to apply for my pilgrim pass and find a bunk for the night.

During the Middle Ages the Camino had been the third most important pilgrimage route in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome. Thus throughout the centuries lodgings were built to house the hoards of pilgrims. Some were in monasteries, others in hospitals. The tradition still continues. Today towns along the route provide simple shelters for pilgrims. These Albergues de Peregrinos are generally priced at 6 or 7 euros a night for a bunk bed in a mixed dorm. In order to use them you need a pilgrim pass or Credencial del Peregrino. Stamped each night it provides proof of your trip when you arrive at Santiago. More than 70,000 Credencials were issued during 2003! To obtain the pass you must state your intention as either a religious pilgrimage or a spiritual journey and not just tourism. Since the hagiography of St James recounts that his dead body miraculously washed ashore in Spain, scallop shells from the sea are his symbol. Hence, from time immemorial pilgrims have worn scallop shells (in French, coquille St Jacques). Along with the necessary Credencial I obtained my shell.

Nearby a restaurant served the basic menu de peregrino, a simple three course set meal for pilgrims for about 7 euros including wine. Most restaurants along the route would provide such meals. My bunk was in the refuge run by the Amis. Sleeping in one of eight beds in a mixed dorm, I spent my first night with 7 men. Six had hiked down for two weeks from Puy in central France and would continue their pilgrimages in future years; the other from Holland had just arrived on the train. He and I nervously discussed potential stamina for the route that lay ahead. All would snore loudly during the night. After rolling out my sleeping bag and patting my ‘pillow’ I fell asleep wondering about the route and days to come.

Pilgrims must vacate each albergue by 8 am! Nearly everyone wakes around 6:30. After waiting in a few cold lines to use the toilet facilities I quickly learned to rise by 6:15 and beat the rush! The Amis provided a simple free breakfast of bread, butter, jam and tea or coffee, plus welcome conversation; all these volunteers had walked the Camino. Although they welcome so many thousands of pilgrims every year the Amis were attentive, caring hosts who took a personal interest in each guest. They asked and remembered names and offered a multitude of tips. Standing at the exit door they shook each hand and wished “Bon Camino” as we pilgrims left.

October 3, 2005

Exactly one year after completing my first Camino I decided to re-walk the pilgrimage route to try and recapture its special spirit. This time my pack would be lighter; from 8 kilos I was able to cut back to 6.5 by using a smaller knapsack and a more compact sleeping bag ecumenically named Little Buddha as well as wearing lightweight runners’ tights and technical tee shirts. The rest of my kit remained the same, but Mo stayed home. One trip is enough with a stuffed moose!

Bill drove me to the TGV in Paris. We said our goodbyes on the quai and I was off on the morning train to Bayonne. After a few minutes of emotional shock and slight depression at being alone the five-hour trip went quickly. At Bayonne I changed to the tiny two car local train for Saint- Jean-Pied-de-Port. It was easy to spot other pilgrims. All had knapsacks, wore hiking boots and looked slightly apprehensive. I sat next to a woman from Tahiti who was also redoing part of the Camino since she had found her first journey so unforgettable. We compared memories.

At Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port I revisited the offices of the French Amis du Chemin and obtained my new Credencial or pilgrim pass and scallop shell. The Credential allowed me to stay at pilgrim albergues and would be stamped at each stop. The shell is a symbol of St James and visually identified me as a pilgrim. I hung it with pride on the back of my pack. Many carved shells decorate doorway lintels and latches along the old streets of the town. Three Italian pilgrims and I went to the Amis’ albergue, had a simple supper and would sleep in the same co-ed dorm. The three repacked their heavy knapsacks several times once they realized how small mine was!

February 5, 2007

Today I began my 3rd Camino with as usual mixed emotions of excitement and trepidation. Bill and I spent last night in our Paris apartment so that I could get to the TVG easily. My pack weighs 6.4 k without food. It was sad to say goodbye for the next 2 months. For a few hours on the train I felt "lost", but little by little I relaxed. Once I arrived at St Jean Pied de Port and climbed up to the rue de La Citadelle the magic of the Camino prevailed. Mme Jeannine as always was most kind. She cooked me a simple meal and turned up the heat in my tiny room. I was the only pilgrim.

January 16, 2008

Riding aboard the little train to St Jean Pied de Port I met two nice men, one is French and 61 the other Italian and 51. We have already become a Camino family. Madame Jeannine, the gracious hospitalero, liked her photos from last year and was as generous as ever making us dinner and breakfast. What a women!

January 22, 2009

Today I took the TGV from Paris to Bayonne and then the local train here. I am staying in the wonderful albergue run by Mme Jeannine. Entering the front door begins the new adventure!Ultreia!

January 6, 2010

Bill and I got up well before dawn to drive to Paris and my TGV. It was minus 7 celsius when we left home. After our saying goodbye and a cold delay the train eventually left. All went well through the frosty countryside until an unscheduled stop at Poitiers!

Either gas or ice was frozen on the tracks so the train waited for 1 1/2 hours until the all clear. Needless to write many connections were lost including mine! I missed seeing the rolling hills between Bayonne and St Jean Pied de Port in daylight.

Luckily the albergue was open until 10. The last bus from Bayonne SHOULD have arrived at 7 or so but finally arrived at 8pm.

I stayed at 39 rue de la Citadelle with the Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques. Unfortunately their regular Albergue is under renovation so Mme Jeannine, the famous hospitalero of the past years was not on the scene. St Jean Pied de Port just wasn't the same without her.

Four other pilgrims were there; all guys from Austria, England, France and South Korea. We shared the common dorm and breakfast this morning offered by the volunteer hospitaleros.

October 6, 2010

After Bill drove me to the TGV I set off. The train was late arriving in Bayonne so three other pilgrims and I missed the little connecting train to Saint Jean Pied de Port. Luckily the Station Master was able to produce and pay for a taxi which took us on our way!

The other three passenger/pilgrims were an interesting mix of two Koreans from Seoul and a Los Angeles movie wardrobe coordinator. None spoke French nor had ever walked the Camino, so I was kept busy explaining logistics. In Saint Jean Pied de Port at the office of the Amies du Chemin they received their necessary Pilgrim Credencials and we all found bunks.

The newly renovated albergue looks great and is now VERY comfortable; it was completey full with thirty-two pilgrims. The wonderful Hospitalero, Mme Jeannine, is back once again; she remembered me from past visits which I found extraordinary since thousands of pilgrims have passed during this current Holy Year.

I wished Buen Camino to my new friends. They planned to follow the classic Route Napoleon directly up to Roncevalles monastery today while I have followed Charlemagne's path of retreat stopping today in Valcarlos and aiming for Roncevalles tomorrow.

October 10, 2011

I have only just begun yet already am ahead of schedule! Today, October 11, the date I long planned to begin the French National Railroads recently decided to hold a nationwide strike. Thus I quickly changed plans and left yesterday by TGV for Bayonne and eventually Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a major starting point for the Camino.

SJPdP is a picturesque Basque mountain town in the French Pyrenees. Beneath brilliant sun and clear cobalt sky I climbed the ancient rue de la Citadelle to the welcoming Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques. Outgoing and generous these volunteers provide pilgrims with necessary documents and info. Nearby was the famous red door of the municipal albergue. Pushing it open begins each new Camino adventure. Mme Jeannine, the wonderful hospitalero greeted me with a big hug saying You again! What is it now ? Seven times? Other pilgrims arrived; we all shared tips, tribulations, and a simple supper.

October 15, 2012

For me the Camino Frances could ONLY begin at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the picturesque Basque mountain town in the French Pyrenees. Excitement built up while riding there on the local train from Bayonne. After hoisting my pack, walking uphill and through the old fortress walls to the 39 rue de la Citadelle office of the welcoming Amis du Chemin de St Jacques to obtain a Credential and bunk, I walked on. Nearby at 55 was the famous red door of the municipal albergue with its welcoming shell. Opening that door as always began my new Camino adventure. Mme Jeannine, the tireless hospitalera greeted me and serendipity prevailed.

Such shared serendipity is a continual precious gift. This extraordinary flourishing of human spirit helps make the Camino incomparable.

October 15, 2013

First my sincere thanks to all the many past guests at our b&b, old friends, readers of my blogs and pilgrim Forum members who have kindly sent me good wishes for this my 9th camino. One Forum member met my train with a welcoming bottle of the most delicious wine! What a gracious gesture; new pilgrim friends and I happily are sharing it tonight at the municipal albergue in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. New Camino arrows now lead directly to number 55, this comfortable albergue where Mme Jeannine, the energetic hospitalera still reigns.

It is always hard to switch gears and actually set off; each time what to then has only been an immagined dream suddenly becomes vibrant reality as I step aboard the train. Bill waves goodbye and suddenly I am alone in a new physical and mental space. Solo a new adventure then slowly unfolds from home to Paris, to Bayonne, and then into the Pyrenees.

Every day from now on there will be further camino arrows to follow.

October 17, 2014

Whenever I start to walk once again a multitude of camino memories return of places, objects and, of course, people. Over the years I have learned never to assume but always to hope that which was good will still remain so. Happily Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where I have always begun is still a picturesque Basque mountain town in the French Pyrenees and the volunteers who maintain the Pilgrim office of the Amis du Chemin de St Jacques are as ever most welcoming.

However at the municipal albergue which is always my first night stop Mme Jeannine, who served for so many years as the tireless hospitalera, has now retired. For me the absence of her presence was most poignant and her caring kindness so well remembered. How lucky I was to have met her in her prime!

October 13, 2015

For me the Camino Frances could ONLY begin at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the picturesque Basque mountain town in the French Pyrenees. As always excitement built up yesterday while riding there on the local train/bus combo from Bayonne; the dozen other pilgrims in aboard were also beaming in anticipation. For all a long-dreamed journey was about to begin.

After hoisting my pack, walking uphill and through the old fortress walls to the 39 rue de La Citadelle pilgrim office of the welcoming Amis du Chemin de St Jacques to obtain a Credential I walked on. Nearby at 55 the famous red door of the municipal albergue with its welcoming shell was ajar. Crossing that special threshold symbolically always begins my new Camino adventure in the same way that the children in Narnia move from one world to anther through a bedroom wardrobe. That small dark space behind the red door at 55 is my magical entrance to another way of life, the Camino way.

Mme Jeannine, the tireless hospitalera who had served pilgrims for so many years is once again in charge at the Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port municipal albergue. She greeted me happily with a big hug, fond recollections and many kind wishes. Thus serendipity prevailed as that special threshold was crossed.



Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 1-2004:September 27, 2004
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:October 4, 2005
.....Camino 3-2007:February 6, 2007
.....Camino 4-2008:January 17, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 23, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 7, and October 7, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 11, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 16, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 16, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 15, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 14, 2015



September 27, 2004

The Camino is well marked with yellow arrows and stylized shells. Spotting the first shell marker my excitement was intense as I began to walk westward into the woods towards Valcarlos, Spain, through morning fog.

Several tiring hours, one false turn and 10 k later I arrived at Valcarlos. The town’s name means Charles’ valley after Charlemagne. It is said to be the place where during the 8th century he and his army rested following their nearby defeat. Although the Amis had mentioned that Valcarlos had an albergue I saw no sign! I asked in French at the drugstore. The druggist took me to the mayor’s office where they handed me a key. Unmarked and between two public lavatories at the back of the municipal playground, the space was small and clean. Mo and I were alone. Next morning when I tried to pay the mayor’s secretary said it was a ‘donativo’; one donated what one wished. Many other places along the Camino would use the same system.

October 4, 2005

The Italians and I set off together in a chilly dawn. Our trail to the Spanish border crossed farmland. At Valcarlos where the albergue is run by the town I stopped while the Italians continued on. I got the key, paid my donativo or contribution and took a welcome hot shower. After a hearty late Spanish lunch in a near-by restaurant I called Bill to wish him well on his journey to the states and spent the afternoon reading alone. Late in the day an older French bicyclist arrived. A retired farmer, he was so surprised to find an American woman who lived in France walking on the Camino that he cell-phoned his wife with the news! Discussing our philosophies and dreams he and I talked for a long time during the evening over several hot cups of tea.

February 6, 2007

During an early breakfast with Mme Jeanine and two young Spanish men who had arrived in the night, Gendarmes came to warn us not to cross the mountain by path. Conditions were too dangerous. Instead we should follow the lanes. Just after dawn I set off alone walking in a heavy mist. After crossing the old French/Spanish border by noon I reached Valcarlos. Here I stopped at the tiny municipal albergue. Unadvertised and without any sign you must ask for the key in the Mayor's office next to the drugstore. There was only a tiny space heater but plenty of hot water for a welcome shower. Drinking many cups of tea I spent hours reading the same study of English landscape history that I had begun during an earlier Camino! The book was in the same spot as before. Again I was the only pilgrim. Snuggling in my sleeping bag I went to sleep early in order to keep warm.

January 17, 2008

These guys with whom I am walking are not very trail wise so I have become "mom" showing the ropes and how to find places on the trail. Last night we stayed in the little albergue in Valcarlos situated between the public lavatories. All was fine but no hot plate so I made tomato soup for us all with my heating coil.

January 23, 2009

After an early breakfast this morning with Mme Jeanine I set off in the rain. It felt great to be walking again!

Although it had been cold last night I felt snug by folding a blanket in half and placing my sleeping bag on top of one half and the other half on top of it. It made cozy 'sandwich' for sleeping.

Today I walked about 14k to Valcarlos. This is a good stopping place before tomorrow's climb to Roncevalles. It rained all day and I was soaked! However efficient electric heating and a great hot shower made all the differance. Now it's toasty. This is a brand new municipal albergue and guite differant from the old one where I stayed on earlier Caminos. It is a bargain at 10 euros. However you still access it via the town hall so that you must arrive during business hours.

January 7, 2010

Last night I stayed at the very comfortable municipal albergue in Valcarlos. New and well designed it is great. I was the only pilgrim and slept for 12 hours!

Valcarlos, a Spanish village close to the border and within the Pyrenees, is named after a legendary battle. When Charlemagne (Carlos) fought the Moors and lost he retreated to a valley near here. Hopefully I will NOT need to retreat! On to Roncevalles.

October 16, 2012

Now I am back once again amidst the Pyrenees mountains! Sunday night's train from Paris to Bayonne took 12 hours. Since I had booked online 2 months in advance and am well over 60 the cost was only 50 euros to travel 1000 k while asleep in a first class couchette. Luxury was none existent, but the price was a great bargain! From Bayonne a small local train took me down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Last night the bustling coed dorm in the municipal albergue housed French, Flemish, German and Italians plus me.

One Italian woman and I shared our thoughts on kit, backpacks, strength, and, of course, pasta. We decided to start off walking through the mountains together; thus today we crossed the old border and arrived in a gentle rain at Valcarlos, Spain.



Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 1-2004:September 29, 2004
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:October 5, 2005
.....Camino 3-2007:February 7, 2007
.....Camino 4-2008:January 18, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 24, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 8 and October 8, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 12, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 17, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 17, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 16, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 15, 2015


September 29, 2004

Hiking 20 k up the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass to the monastery at Roncesvalles was one of the most difficult days on the Camino and certainly the most physically exhausting day of my adult life to date. I was pooped! Although I had hiked throughout the summer in preparation for the trip, nothing had prepared me for such an effort. Beneath a deep blue sky and brilliant sun I gasped and ached while my pack weighed like bricks. After hiking about 5 hours I finally staggered over the pass into a picnic area filled with a munching mob; they had arrived by bus and cars! Never will I forget the look that one très correct French woman drinking champagne from a crystal flute, no plastic for her, gave me as I trudged past exhausted! ET would have been better received. A kindly couple from Scotland offered me the best ever cup of tea from their thermos. Refreshed I continued on to the monastery, happy that the path was now slightly downhill.

Roncesvalles monastery is documented from 1127 as a pilgrims’ hospice; it still is in use as such. Earlier in time the picturesque site had been the battle scene for the defeat of Charlemagne’s army, immortalized in the medieval poem the Chanson de Roland. Today the many medieval structures are highly visited both by pilgrims and ordinary tourists. After attending evening mass and participating in the traditional pilgrims’ blessing I went to eat. Other diners at my table were 8 extremely well dressed and coiffed Italian men and one young fellow from Brazil. We shared the pilgrims’ menu and talked in French about our plans.

All of us stayed in the one room 80 bunk albergue. Recently installed in a buttressed Gothic barn without windows, it boasted a new ventilation system and superb tiled hot-water showers and toilets in the newly excavated basement – a great example of architectural adaptive reuse! To my surprise the Italians who were bedded near me all went to shower wearing thick terry robes. It was hard to imagine these carried in any knapsack since they would be bulky and heavy. Next morning all were awakened at 6:30 to pack in the flickering light of 80 flashlights. Outside I discovered the Italians’ secret. At a luggage van parked nearby they stowed their night packs and picked up others for the day! Although I never again saw these Italians, as time went on I learned that “real” pilgrims always carry their own packs and feel mighty superior to those who don’t.

October 5, 2005

In sunshine I climbed up 19 k to the famous mountaintop monastery at Roncesvalles. The hike was tiring but not as exhausting as it had been the year before. At the Ibaneta pass purple autumn crocus bloomed along the steep path. By chance the bicyclist from Valcarlos arrived just after I did. After lunch together we shook hands and wished each other “Buen Camino”. We never met again. That night spent in the 80-bunk, unheated dorm with a handful of other pilgrims was very cold. How might it be in winter?

February 7, 2007

Today I walked continually for 5 hours up the road to the famous monastery at Roncesvalles. Here pilgrims have been welcomed since the 11th century. Today at times there was sleet; patches of snow covered the fields. It was very cold! As I arrived exhausted on foot at Roncesvalles a tourist bus pulled up. Most of the fur clad passengers took my photo, a real pilgrim, through the bus windows! After eating a late Spanish lunch in one of the two inns I spent much of the afternoon visiting the splendid Romanesque church. It was wonderfully well heated! The small winter pilgrim albergue is also cozy. During the evening 4 Germans and 1 Norwegian arrived. We all shared introductions and hot drinks.

January 18, 2008

In Roncesvalles after a difficult hike up in the rain. All is cozy now. Tonight we are in the monastery dormitory rigged out for winter. All is fine. We will attend mass and the pilgrim blessing at 8pm and then eat a pilgrim dinner at 8:30. I feel fine but am tired tonight. However I should feel tired after that climb of 4 hours today. I will write more from Pamplona as there are too many people who want to use the computer now.

January 24, 2009

At last I am at the almost mythic monastery of Roncesvalles. It has been quite a day! Walked 18 k in 5 hours through strong wind, heavy rain, sleet and eventually dense snow! Saw no other pilgrims and few people. Tourists in one car that passed took my picture and the Guardia Civile asked if I needed help or a ride. Now it is GREAT to be inside, seated and relatively warm. I am the only pilgrim.

The monk who stamped my Credential invited me to the evening benediction for pilgrims. It was lovely. The service was held in the ancient Romanesque church (now cozyily heated) in front of the magnificent silver sculpture of the Virgin. Three monks assisted and asked me to stand at the altar. ...In retrospect how special it was to be the single pilgrim where crowds have stood throughout time. ...Today I took no photos since the storm was too strong.

January 8, 2010

It was a 6 hour trek to get to the monastery at Roncesvalles. Wind, ice and snow made the climb up the Ibaneta pass extremely tiring. I am pooped! A young guy from Hungary and 4 Spanish are also in the albergue. Outside is a winter wonderland and very cold.

October 8, 2010

Climbing up to Roncesvalles monastery today was, as usual, exhausting! Following the road's many switchbacks took me 4 1/2 hours to attain the 1067 meter height; finally pooped but proud, I staggered in. What a great pleasure it was to remove my pack and only sit! (If you have never hiked wearing a pack just imagine carrying 15 pounds of potatoes continually for half a day.)

By evening there were many pilgrims; some even arrived by bus! In the albergue last night there were 84 others besides me. Two reasons may account for this surge. October 12 is the Spanish National holiday. Many will walk only this weekend and next Monday before the holiday. Others are starting a mad dash to arrive at Santiago for the Pope's scheduled visit next November 6.

We all attended the traditional evening pilgrim Benediction and Blessing in the monastery church. More than 25 countries were represented! May we all find our way in peace.

October 12, 2011

Yesterday as the sole pilgrim in the comfortable municipal Valcarlos albergue, I awoke worried regarding the long climb ahead. It was a ROUGH five hour slog up the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass. Twice I had to lie flat on the narrow verges to catch my breath. At last at the top exhausted and elated I then "floated" happily down to Roncesvalles. What a wonderful relief!

Roncesvalles monastery has been welcoming pilgrims since the eleventh century. On earlier Caminos I have always stayed here in simple accommodations which were downrght minimal in winter. Now however much has changed!

An old wing of the vast complex has been handsomely rehabilitated into a splendid albergue sheltering well over 100 pilgrims. Sleek stainless steel kitchen, large dining areas, computer and wifi facilities plus a reading room are all available. A huge coed dorm is divided into cozy four bunk units. In mine were men from Japan, France and Germany. None had walked up but had arrived by taxi!!

Later in the evening we all attended mass in the ancient Romanesque church. Pilgrims from more than thirty countries were gathered for the traditional pilgrimage blessing. May we all go safely and in peace.

October 17, 2012

Tersilla, my new Italian pilgrim friend, and I slowly continued climbing up the alternate route from Valcarlos towards Roncesvalles. To help take our minds from the endless mounting switchbacks I recounted the importance of serendipity or fortunate good chance on the camino (as well as in daily life). Imagine our mutual surprise when as if on cue there suddenly appeared beside us an Australian pilgrim whom I had met walking last year!! We three were QUITE astonished by this coincidence and continued climbing up together!

Five hours later while caught in a fierce wind we at last staggered breathless over the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass and peered into the tiny new chapel to glimpse the stained glass. Exhausted but joyous we have now descended to this almost mythic monastery complex where we plan to offer our thanks and to soak our very tired feet.

October 17, 2013

Today was the first long HARD slog of this camino. Leaving Valcarlos as dawn broke at 8am it took me 5 hours to slowly climb up to the Ibaneta pass, altitude 1060 meters. This once was THE medieval route through the Pyrenees with a very early pilgrim hospice at the pass; today a small modern chapel marks the spot.

As past pilgrim multitudes have done I, too, joyfully shouted my thanks when cresting the pass and then weeping in exhausted relief slowly 'floated' into the historic Roncesvalles monastery complex which has sheltered pilgrims since the eleventh century. Recently, however, much has changed; a state-of-the-art albergue housing more than 100 pilgrims was created in a renovated 18th century wing. Sleek bunks are arranged in nooks for four. My fellow nook-mates were Swiss, German and Australian. Last night we four joined other pilgrims for mass and the traditional pilgrim benediction. May we all walk in peace.

October 15, 2015

Although my journey has only just begun at the early stops I have often heard repeated a new current fear of many changes coming soon to the Camino Frances. Hospitaleros, restauranteurs, bariestas and regular pilgrims all are concerned with what has and will develop for the summer crowds and especially those expected during the next Holy Year in 2021.

Worries include the ecologic impact on the land from the pounding of more and more feet as well as architectural change especially to rural villages and historic urban centers with the infusion of lodging for the anticipated throngs. Greatest is the fear of losing the special spirit of the camino where pilgrims are simply grateful for what they find to that of a callous demand for what new crowds might consider to be their rightful due. All of these are intense concerns regarding the immediate future along this beloved path.

Nevertheless thankfully the strong old camino traditions still do remain. Many, many local people wish pilgrims "Buen camino" as we walk through their villages as do the bicyclists who pass us on route. Shopkeepers and hospitaleros seem pleased to see us. Most importantly the religious traditions continue to be meaningful and consistent.

At Roncesvalles this evening Vespers service pilgrims from more than forty-five nations clustered at the monastery altar beneath the silver sculpture of the Virgin to receive the special benediction for protection on our ways...Thus we stood as pilgrims before us have stood for centuries and hopefully will continue to stand forevermore.



Camino Gazetteer

.....Camino 1-2004:September 30, 2004
.....Camino 4-2008:January 19, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 26, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 10 and October 10, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 14, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 19, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 19, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 18, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 17, 2015



September 30, 2004

Descending from Roncevalles into the Spanish region of Navarre beneath a black sky lit by morning stars was beautiful. As day broke the rolling landscape was covered in fog. Since the monastery had not offered an early breakfast, it was with great pleasure that after hiking an hour or so I arrived at Buegete which has an open café. It was filled with other hungry pilgrims.

The rest of the day was 20 k of relatively easy walking across farmland and several medieval stone bridges, but my legs and back ached from the day before. In one woods I met a German fellow who was truly thrilled to be doing the Camino. He had been a political prisoner in the old East Germany and this was his first ‘voyage out’. Night was spent in a tiny, very crowded private albergue in Zubiri. The town name is Basque for village of the bridge. After a picnic supper I talked with an older French pilgrim from Pau who was afraid that he was getting tendonitis. It sounded painful. Little did I suspect….

January 19, 2008

After Roncevales we, ie me and the French guy called Polo, and the Italian, named Mario began our descent. It was very tiring with lots of slippery mud. These guys had too much stuff in their packs which made everything very tiring and difficult. One kilo of pack weight per 10 kilos of body weight is a good rule of thumb. Hard to do though.

Along the way we met a couple who live in Canada and are from Venezuela. She thought I spoke very good English which, being American, I found very funny. The albergue in Larrosana was closed so Paulo and I, plus a new young Spanish couple, stopped in a cheap and agreeable Casa Rural in Zubiri. Only 14 euros apiece including a most useful washing machine.

January 26, 2009

Yesterday I left Roncevalles as dawn broke. Lots of snow covered the ground and surrounding mountains. Walking for safety on the N135 roadway and not the Camino, I trudged along. Down then up and down again; alone for 30k or 18 miles! Truly alone amidst the pines like some German storybook character. Also worried since my telephone had stopped working and I knew that Bill would be concerned not hearing from me.

Exhausted, by mid afternoon I arrived at Zubiri. Found the excellent Pension Usoa. Clean, warm and cozy; perfection! Called Bill and learned how to fix the portable. At last all was calm....Today it also snowed so I will stay in Zubiri again tonight.

January 10, 2010

20 cold, lonely kilometers across the mountain on the road in a light snow. The Camino itself was far too dangerous hidden under ice and snow to even consider. All I saw were a few horses and snowplows. Arrived at Zubiri by one pm which was great time considering the weather! Stayed in the very comfortable Pension Usoa where I have been twice before. The kind owner hugged me tightly before she showed me a warm, comfortable room.

October 10, 2010

Saturday night it poured rain. However much of Sunday was simply moist as I hiked 20km, half up/half down to Zubiri where I stayed in a new private albergue, El Palo de Avellano, next to the church. Several small traditional stone structures have been nicely converted into the multilevel space.

Rain teemed just before arrival and never ceased. Hiking in a downpour is NOT fun; since I wear glasses there is an equally unsatisfactory choice between not seeing through wet lens or not seeing because I removed the glasses. Decisions, decisions!

The albergue is packed with four-day pilgrims or those who will stop on the holiday. Easy to spot they all have small packs, often carry umbrellas and are hyper clean! To each his own.

October 14, 2011

The path has led down and west out of the Pyrenees towards Pamplona. Slowly my pack is adapting to me (or vice versa) and all now feels "Camino normal". Some interesting fellow pilgrims have passed by. In this handsome new private Zubiri albergue I am sharing a dorm and meals with four French pilgrims who started in Puy en Velay last year. They can only walk 3 weeks a year so hope to arrive at Santiago in a few years. Worried about the intense popularity of the Camino and the consequent possible loss of authenticity they were pleased to read my choice of smaller albergues offering true caritas.

October 19, 2013

Much has settled now for my long haul west to Santiago and beyond. Daily walking seems easier if not yet truly easy and the pack on my back feels quite normal. I don't carry much kit, only 6.5 kilos, but an important part of what I do carry is basic food; tea bags, firm cheese, sausage and packets which make a single cup of soup. With these basics as long as an albergue has a kitchen for pilgrim use, I need not worry about finding any open restaurant.

However recently both private albergues where I stayed offered delicious meals. First in Bizkaret, where I stopped post-Roncesvalles a new place, Curazon Puro, run by a gracious young couple provided a three course supper which was most savory with their native Hungarian spices. Tonight at El Palo in Zubiri the delicious meal was served per usual in the rustic dining room beneath an evocative neo-Medieval mural of 'breadmen'. We pilgrims, too, ate bread, but also salad, soup, fish and a yummy lemon mousse. All fuel for the next stretch of the camino.



Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:October 6, 2005
.....Camino 3-2007:February 8, 2007



October 6, 2005

Without breakfast through fog lit by early morning stars I started west from the monastery. The descending trail crisscrossed gated farmland. Walking past Zubiri where I had stayed in 2004 after a tiring day of 26 k I arrived at the crowded municipal albergue in Larrasoana. Arriving at the single shower stall I collided with an exhausted Australian chap. Laughing he bowed and graciously said “Since I’ve waited 3 days to get clean another 15 minutes hardly matters. Please go first”. I did. The hot water was great! For dinner he and I joined some other pilgrims at a local café. Later as I climbed into my sleeping bag my legs began to ache. Was I trying to walk too far too quickly?

February 8, 2007

An exhausting day! Covered 26 k down from the mountains and crossed the river to Larrasoana. I ache all over! Walked with a young German guy named Gunter and woman named Nikola. Staying in a tiny municipal albergue with basically the same group of pilgrims as last night. No shops or restaurant are available so we all pooled our rations for "dinner". I contributed cheese and sausage which tasted great with German black bread!


Trinidad de Arre

Camino Gazetteer
.....Camino 1-2004:October 1, 2004
.....Camino 4-2008:January 20, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 28, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 11 and October 11, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 15, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 20, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 20, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 19, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 18, 2015



October 1, 2004

It was a hot day, but walking was easier. Crisscrossing the river Arga on medieval bridges it was surprising to see Coke machines often installed by the bridges to service contemporary pilgrims! After 13 k came Arre and the small monastery La Trinidad. Scenically located on riverbank, it also had been an important pilgrim refuge throughout the ages. Accommodations were in a refitted barn within a tiny simple monastery garden. Sitting outside writing my diary all seemed timeless. Happily, I was starting to feel at ease and at one with the trail. Fellow pilgrims included a group of very athletic Spanish men; suffering from huge blisters on their feet, they were in agony. For dinner nearby I joined two Frenchmen taking time out to walk.

January 20, 2008

Yesterday, Sunday, Mario went on while Polo and I continued slowly to the most pleasant monastery at Trinidad de Arre where I had stayed on my first Camino in 2004. We were the only pilgrims.

January 28, 2009

After spending a second full day in Zubiri I decided to leave this morning no matter what the weather. In fog and light rain I walked mainly on the road due to all the water and mud accumulated along the Camino. Other than one mad dash into the very wet grass for a 'loo' all was fine. The famous Arga River where Hemingway liked to fish was churning with high water.
Earlier I had worried about one area on today's route remembered from past Caminos. It mounts steeply up and then clings to a cliff for a stretch before leveling out. It could be dangerous in the rain! Even a search on the Net for alternative hiking routes into Trinidad was unsuccessful. Nervous I walked closer. Suddenly in the distance approaching me appeared a guy holding an umbrella.

At first I was leery since it was hardly weather for strolling! We greeted each other and chatted mixing Spanish, French and English. Best of all he knew another level path which would join that to Trinidad! We walked safely on together....Such chance encounters make up the Camino's serendipity.

At the very moment that I wrote the word 'serendipity' in my blog and sent it off another pilgrim entered the albergue. Happily speaking Italian he was welcomed at the door by the two Spanish pilgrims. I was writing in the common room. The Italian entered, started to say 'buona sera' and then enthusiastically shouted 'Margaret'! Imagine my delight upon realizing that he was Mario whom I had last seen at Burguete in 2008 during Camino 4!! Another fortuitous chance encounter indeed.

We and a French pilgrim, Polo, had met on the little train going to St Jean Pied de Port. As Mario and I recollected those 'old times' we tentatively promised to meet again next year in 2010 on the Camino. May our lives be such that we míght.

January 11, 2010

Tonight the monastery at Trinidad de Arre is quite a story. It is freezing! The monk hospitalero who met me a the door was wearing a quilted ski parka and knitted cap with ear flaps. He resembled a wintery Michelin man. I have a tiny cell behind the altar with blankets but NO heat. Arriving here was difficult for the path was slick with ice. Hopefully I will be able to sleep since the monks have just brought me a tiny heater. .....However now five minutes after the monk plugged in the heater all the electricity has blown! It is FRIGID and BLACK tonight!!

October 15, 2011

Today the French planned to walk on to Pamplona while I stopped once again at Trinidad de Arre, another monastery which has received pilgrims for centuries. The present small albergue is set within an overgrown walled garden on the riverbank. Tonight the twelve other pilgrims form two groups; six South Koreans with piles of equipment and six Irish some of whom have special needs. At the moment all are trying to simultaneously use the kitchen. Bedlam!

October 20, 2012

Yesterday tramping through the forest down to Zubiri was dark, sodden and rather eerie due to continual heavy rain. I stayed once again in the pleasant and quite up-market private albergue, El Palo de Avellano, located next to the church. Several farm buildings have been refashioned into slick multilevel dorms and common spaces including a lounge with billiard table as well as a dining room with murals. Much is automatically lit by motion sensitive lights. Most fellow guests were of the 'been there, done that' ilk. Hence the night's ambiance was sleekly correct, but highly impersonal.

Tonight is vastly different. More rain made today's camino west towards Pamplona into a muddy mess; the Arga river was churning whirlpools. Drenched and cold I stopped as usual at the monastery in Trinidad de Arre. Their main albergue is under renovation but three tiny cell-like spaces above the church are presently available for off-season pilgrims. Luckily I got one; four Spanish men occupy the others. We all share the single loo and shower. The men keep asking if I am comfy. Two kind monks brought all of us hangers for out dripping ponchos and extra blankets "just in case". True the electricity is not state of the art, but we pilgrims all have tiny headlights. ... Thus for me tonight's shared human warmth is the true camino ambiance!

October 19, 2014

With exhausted pleasure I crossed the ancient stone foot bridge and FINALLY reach the albergue at Trinidad de Arre! The Marist father who greeted me was, as always, gracious and offered a most refreshing glass of cold water as he stamped the Credencìal. After showering I sat alone for much of the afternoon drinking tea in their simple timeless monastery garden. While wondering how it might have appeared during the past I watched the shadows lengthen and the first stars appear ever thankful to be at peace in such a pleasant spot.


Cizur Menor

Camino Gazetteer

.....Camino 1-2004:October 2, 2004
.....Camino 2-2005/2006:October 7, 2005
.....Camino 3-2007:February 9, 2007
.....Camino 4-2008:January 21, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 29, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:Jan. 12 & Oct. 12, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 16, 2011
.....Camino 8-2012:October 21, 2012
.....Camino 9-2013:October 21, 2013
.....Camino 10-2014:October 20, 2014
.....Camino 11-2015:October 19, 2015



October 2, 2004

After entering its fortifications via the Portal de Francia I walked through the city of Pamplona. Like most cities and towns along the trail its urban development is closely associated with the history of the Camino. During the Middle Ages ‘burgos de francos’ or independent neighborhoods had been settled by former pilgrims. The cathedral interior and Gothic cloister are magnificent. Here, as in most major religious buildings in Spain filled with priceless treasures, one pays an entrance fee. Pilgrims showing their Credencial pay less.

The weather turned hot and humid so I stopped at a well-known private refuge owned by the Roncal family in Cizur Menor, a western suburb. At their doorway from a chain hung a welcoming scallop shell.

October 7, 2005

The trail meandered along the river Arga. At times the weather was actually hot and humid. Since the Trinidad monastery at Arre where I had stayed previously was closed for restoration I continued to Pamplona. Revisiting the handsome cathedral and cloister was an aesthetic pleasure, but crossing the busy city was nerve wracking. It’s difficult to shift mood from pastoral hiking to congested sidewalks especially while wearing a full pack! After 20 k I stopped at the pleasant private albergue in Cizur Menor. By night it was so full that late arrivals were turned away.

February 9, 2007

Another long, hard slog to the pleasant private Albergue Roncal in Cizur Menor west of Pamplona. At least there was sunshine! Ate two big meals to make up for yesterday. Unfortunately my feet are swollen. Am I trying to go too far too quickly?

January 21, 2008

Today it was an easy walk on the sidewalks of Pamplona to here, the private Roncal albergue in Cizur Menor. Not too much heat however and a cold shower. Glorious sunshine. At last I feel back on track and my body feels balanced. Frankly the French guy would never be able to manage without me. As I write he is sending a huge pile of unneeded stuff back home.

Tomorrow I plan to cut across the back country to the wonderful circular chapel at Eunate. If my guts hold out I hope to sleep there. However one never knows what may occur. It should be a walk of about 25 k but across relatively flat farmland. I will try to write from Puente la Reina in a few days.

January 29, 2009

Today was a wet, walk across Pamplona to Cizur Menor. I revisited the magnificent Gothic cathedral where the cloister paving was treacherous from recent downpours. Besides its architectural style much of the art within the complex came from France. As such it exemplifies the close ecclesiastical/political bonds between Navarre and France throughout history.

Leaving the church in pouring rain I met a charming priest. He wore a beret and insisted on holding his huge umbrella over both of us. After wishing me 'buen Camino', he made the sign of the Cross. All this at a busy street corner in pouring rain!

Now I am at the comfortable private albergue run by the Roncal family. There are two Spanish guys also. They seem to have tons of stuff in huge backpacks. We all ate at the nearby El Tremento restaurant. Their Pilgrim Menu was delicious, copious and cheap!

January 12, 2010

This morning ice covered all of Pamplona. After a brief visit at the cathedral I slipped and slid across the city. Many local people were falling and so did I! While crossing a foot bridge leading west from the city I fell, luckily landed on my pack but slid on the hard ice. After pulling myself up I s-l-o-w-l-y continued to the Roncal albergue. There are a few Spanish men also here; we all ate together at the good Asador restaurant near-by.

October 12, 2010

Up early this morning to do about 15km crossing Pamplona to Cizur Menor where I am staying, as usual, at the private Roncal albergue. Construction is continuous here so the place is always quasi-chaotic but pleasant.

En route I drank my first glass (first for this camino) of freshly squeezed zumo naranja or orange juice. No champagne has ever tasted better!

Also en route I took a photo of a poster in a realtor's office. I wonder if Hugh Laurie's character House is called Casa in Spain?



Camino Gazetteer

.....Camino 5-2009:January 30, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:January 13-15, 2010



January 30, 2009

Today I went off the Camino Frances and cut across country to Tiebas on the trail coming from the Somport pass. Both trails will join at Puente la Reina. It was an easy 16k ending in sunshine! How nice after a week of storms. As I was walking along the country road several times drivers stopped concerned that I was NOT on the main Camino!

There are two reasons that I came this way; in order to avoid the steep Alto de Perdon which I laboriously climbed twice before and this is the route for Eunate where I hope to be tomorrow. Here in Tiebas also at lunch in the one cafe were two French pilgrims who had crossed at Somport. We compared snowstorm stories.

January 13 - 15, 2010

From Wednesday through Friday I have been alone in the Tiebas municipal albergue. Located on the Aragonés Camino, this is a very simple hill-top town with a huge open pit (magnesium?) mine. There is no shop but the town bar sells basics, meals, and drinks as well serving as the "urban" hub.

Everyone was very kind. When I arrived on Wednesday shaking from exhaustion an elderly local on a bike walked me to the bar so I could "sign in" before collapsing. The bar lady quickly prepared a hot meal. The town engineer came to the albergue twice to check that the heat was working properly. It was. What a welcome change from glacial Trinidad de Arre!

Relatively revived after two full days of comfortable rest I will try to move on towards Eunate and Puente La Reina where the Camino Aragonés will join the Camino Frances.



Camino Gazetteer

.....Camino 4-2008:January 22, 2008
.....Camino 5-2009:January 31, 2009
.....Camino 6-2010:Jan.16 and Oct.14, 2010
.....Camino 7-2011:October 18, 2011



January 22, 2008

We spent a long day walking downhill across the back roads and not across the Mountain of Pardon to the exquisite circular church at Eunate.

Polo and I spent an unforgettable night in the little albergue with Jean, the French hospitalero. The copious food he served us was wonderful.

After dinner we visited the church by candlelight and held an almost silent prayer service. All was truly beyond this world. Slept on mattresses on the floor.

January 31, 2009

Once again today I walked into perfection, the church of Santa Maria de Eunate. This small, circular structure is more than 1000 years old and may be based on the plan of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Nestled into the rolling countryside it is truly timeless. Protected within the dim interior one senses the deep peace of eternity. ...May my memory of such beauty and calm endure.

Although I have visited Eunate several times last year was the first time I stayed at the albergue. Today I am the first pilgrim to stay in 2009! Jean, the French hospitalero, is still here and so very gracious. He invited me to join him and some friends for tea. We ate the most delicious goodies! What a wonderful day this has been.

January 16, 2010

Yesterday I moved on towards Puente La Reina where the Camino Aragonés will join the Camino Frances.

By the time I reached Eunate I was shaking with intense pain from the simple act of walking. Nevertheless coming along the Camino and catching the first glimpse of this wonderful circular church "lost" in the ocher countryside was as always a thrill. Unfortunately the church and albergue were still closed for the winter. (Both will reopen on January 20.) I sat outside in a chill drizzle, gave thanks for being able to see this beloved spot once more and for coming as far as I had and then I wept. ...

And so today in pain and sadness I had to leave the Camino. Physically I may not be there, but sentimentally I will always wear my shell. ... Thanks for reading my blog and offering your comments. Ultreia!

October 14, 2010

Earlier this year on January 16 I staggered into Eunate. Unable to walk further without assistance, I canceled my winter camino vowing to return. Today walking easily yet weeping with joy I came back to this beloved place. From the depth of my heart I offer sincerest thanks for such a possibility.

As an architectural historian it has been my professional privilege and personal pleasure to visit some incredible structures, but Eunate is beyond them all. Here set within a natural bowl unknown craftsmen using ocher sandstone have crafted a small circular church surrounded by an octagonal cloister.

Here pilgrims have worshiped for one thousand years. For me, as for those multitudes, Eunate is close to paradise on earth. May peace in this timeless place always continue.

October 18, 2011

The Pyrenees are past and gentler rolling country lies immediately ahead. Simple endurance and not brutal strength now will be necessary. At Trinidad I met an American guy whose expressive face and blond mane were reminiscent of the wonderful lion in the Wizard of Oz. After crossing Pamplona we both stopped at the relaxed and relaxing Albergue Roncal at Cizur Minor.

Yesterday in glorious sunshine we climbed the infamous Alto de Perdon. Lower than Ibaneta it nevertheless is steep with a difficult descent down on scree. Glad that is it is finished!

Today I walked alone to one of my most favorite spots Santa Maria de Eunate. Here I will spend the night in the tiny albergue next to the church. All day was spent enjoying the small, perfect church of Santa Maria de Eunate and its surrounding. This thousand year old circular structure with an octagonal cloister is timeless. Set within a natural bowl the ocher sandstone walls blend into the almost sculpted nearby fields planted with corn and fennel. Here is found the simple peace of eternity.

In the evening four other pilgrims and I shared warm hospitality in the simple albergue. Our two hospitaleros from Strasbourg served an outstanding supper. Afterwards we held a simple candlelit prayer service in the mystic church giving thanks for our Caminos, our lives and our loves. Later as we each fell asleep we pilgrims remarked on our luck and pleasure in sharing such precious moments. ...I thought how wonderful it had been to visit this beloved place once again. May peace reign here another thousand years.