Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 10 - Artieda to Sanguesa

You´ll remember that we lost 8 kms by walking down from San Juan de la Pena to Santa Cruz (which is not on the actual camino) and then to Santa Cilia. So, after breakfast we loaded our gear into the minibus taxi and the owner of the hostal drove us down the winding road with magnificent views of the Yesa dam to Ruesta. We passed a number of the pilgrims who we had dinner with last night and caught up with a couple who had continued to Ruesta yesterday. The few stone buildings in Ruesta were abandoned due to the planning of Yesa but now one or two of the derelict buildings are occupied and there is a very modern albergue in amongst the ruins -and nothing else that we could see. The path today was very easy - mostly along gravel or dirt. The first 7km went straight uphill all the way to the wide ´meseta´at the top. It was then a long, winding road through scrub land,similarto the moors in England with scrubby vegetation and very few trees. We stopped at the only village between Ruesta and Sanguesa - Undues de Leida - for a coffee and coke. From there the path dropped quite sharply and soon we were in the valley walking between wheat and barley fields. A few kms from Sanguesa we passed a large stone marker that marked our entrance into Navarre. The terrain softened, with no more stark, stony hills and weird gravel formations. As we entered Sanguesa we saw our first European stork and followed his flight as he-she swooped onto a next, one of many, on top of the church. We were led to the pilgrim albergue by a wizzened little man but when we climbed the stairs to the dormitory we found it fully occupied by old men! We think that it is a group that is starting from here as we have not seen them before and none of them had sunburn! We, on the other hand, look positively burnished with brown legs and arms and sunburned noses! We walked all the way through the long town and visited the information centre. There is a hostal across the river or the camping further down. We crossed the bridge to the hostal - the young man tells us it is 82 euro for a tree bed room. Val's feet are giving her hell and we were not prepared to cross the river bridge again to try to find beds on the other side of town so we took the room. At least we have our own bathroom and best of all a nice fluffy towel! Marion and I went back into town to look for Internet and a camera shop where I had my memory cards downloaded onto 2 CD´s. Later on we return to the calle Mayor and have a tapas dinner in the local bar. On the way back to the hostal we stop at an internet cafe and catch up with the blog and me with a few emails. The next two days will be shorter walks to Izco and to Monreal. We just hope we make it before the senior citizens´club get there!
Val - Minister of Nutrition

I am now resigned to the fact that I will not satisfy my culinary obsession on this trip and that's fine - there is much to enjoy and I've probably been a bit of a pain about food - the wine has been no problem at all, its certainly easier to get than coffee and food. In every village you can normally find a drinking fountain, Syl and Marion say in some they offer both water and wine on tap! And so I will perhaps expand on more of the basics of our trip to prepare any of you who might consider such a trip as walking the Camino.

WARNING: some readers may find parts offensive! If you are going to consider walking a Pilgrimage walk then I highly recommend you attend one of Syl's workshops which she holds in Durban. She is also a guest speaker at the Gauteng workshops. Syl is the convenor for the KZN branch of the Confraternity of St James of South Africa - the website is

Properly research your route so it meets your cultural, historical and culinary(!) expectations. You can walk many pilgrim routes in France, Portugal and Italy as well as Spain and other countries. Some are remote like this one and offer something equally unique. Some, like the Via Francegenia in Italy, you will have the opportunity on many occasions to end the day in a established village - usually a walled city, high on the hill where you can eat fine Italian food. Be be prepared because there are many days where you will walk without coming across any inhabitants throughout the day. The workshops equip you in many ways including a back packlist and equipment recommendations. I am walking (and have walked for up to 5 weeks) on the exact list Syl gave me, no more and no less and have not wanted for a thing. However, I am proud to say that I have influenced Syl's list - I insist on one little evening number just to get away from the trousers and t shirts and this can be a dress or top and skirt, one of those that can be rolled up tightly and must weigh next to nothing and of course can be worn with the current fashion statement footwear..."La Crocs". Be prepared to share dorms and ablutions with the opposite sex - the Germans in particular are at ease with nudity. Take dear Bernd for instance in Italy, we had just reached th4e top of the Great St Bernard Pass and it was indeed worthy of celebration so I decided to go to the local tavern and have a glass of wine and a local palte and phone Martin. By the time I got back to the Monastery where we were spending the night, the girls were fast asleep in the dorm. I grabbed my toiletries and went to the (unisex) ablution block. I have dreadful eyesight in the dark even though I wear contact lenses and the room was dimly lit. A man was standing at the basin and we acknowledged each other. I cleaned my teeth, took out my contacts (I have 20/20 vision close up without them) and immediately realise that he is stark naked! He is tatoed from his neck down, arms, hands, bum, legs to his ankles...he lkooks like he's wearing a patterned babygro! I make a hasty retreat and jump into my bunk fully clothed. Bernard befriends us and this is a girls holiday so we really don't want him tagging along for too much longer. We decided to tell him that Martin (my husband) is a very jealous man and very upset that we have a man walking with us. Syl gets the job of telling him.."but Syl" he says "you must not worry, I am Gay!" Then dear sweet Bernd oversteps the mark - he tells us what food to buy, how to cook it and drinks our wine. We part company the next day.

Lovely walk today just cross with my blisters...I walked 800km in Italy without one and instead of doing what I always do, I saw some gel heel pads and decided to buy them...they were too big and wrapped up around the base of my heels causing blisters. We have Compeed, excellent plasters so these will sort it out together with some lambs wool......we arrive in Sanguesa and Syl pointed out the European Storks on top of the Chapel where they have their nests - she has seen them all over Spain and some of their nests are huge and years old. Long walk around town to find our accommodation, we enter through the door and go upstairs, there are about 12 beds all very close to each other and full of middle plus aged men, there are 2 beds left ..we would not have stopped there anyway - we have shared dorms before but this one didn't feel right. We left and walked and walked until we came to a hostel that had room, it was more like a boutique hotel with a trendy little seating area and we had a room with OUR OWN shower AND toilet between us..but the cost per person was E27 as opposed to the usual E8 - was lovely. Whilst I tried to repair my feet (I bartered with Marion "you give me your spare lambs wool and I will carry your wine goblet!") Both Marion and Syl gave me their spare lambs wool for free!! Syl and Marion went on a recce to find a cameral shop to copy over her photos onto a CD and somewhere to eat as there are no facilities to cook here - when we arrived this afternoon everything was closed so have walked on half a slice of bread and an apple and starving! We cannot have breakfast in the morning because the hostel will only serve something at 0830am and too late for us. We have some leftover fruit and hopefully there will be a village with a shop on our way. Syl and Marion return with a wonderful 70% cocoa chocolate bar for is Roncesvalles Chocolate Artesano. They found a bar with tapas is lively with only one barman serving which is quite normal, serving beers, wine, coffees and tapas all on his own. The tapas display is nothing like we saw at the beginning of our arrival in Spain but worth trying. We have mushrooms with garlic and butter mopped up with bread, Tuna...fresh with olive oil - served cold and very good. The croquettes were filled with cheese and ham or pimentoes are quite doughy and stodgy. Then we hit the Internet cafe, a dingy place and part of an amusement arcade which appears to be the only facility for the poor local kids who have to live here. There is a foul smell throughout this "town" almost toxic. It is an Inner City Slum. The smell turns out to be the water purifying plant that we walk past in the morning.

Day 9 Santa Cilia to Artieda


Today we decided we needed to start a bit earlier so that we could rather walk most of our walk in the cooler part of the as as it so very hot by lunchtime. Val´s alarm went off at 6.00am this morning so we were up and out of the room to dress in the passage so that we did not disturb the others. Can you imagine all of us standing on the steps with all our belongings, folding up our sleeping bags, puting everything in our backpacks and getting ready to go and then creeping down the stairs then to the kitchen to get our breakfast.

We were on the road by 7.15am. Most of our walking was through farm land lots of golden wheat fields with a scattering of wild poppies every now and again. We walked on a path of sand and stone lots of wild flowers alongside us. It was quite flat and again very hot with very little shade. We stopped at a little village called Martas, unfortunately no shops at all, so no coffee. Luckily we saw three elderly men sitting on a bench and the one showed us where we could get some cold water to fill our bottles. We then walked through the Lunar valley, it was quite weird, hills that are soft rock, grey coloured and it looked like they had a top layer of very fine looking gravel. The village that we were going to stop at Artieda was on a top of a hill, it was quite a climb. At the bottom of the hill was about a dozen Royal Eagles flying around and whilst I was walking up I could not help but wonder if they were watching to see if I would make it to the top and if I did not would I be good food for them. I was exhausted by the time I had reached the top, at first could not undrstand why I found the day so tiring but then realized how I had perspired in the heat and had not had enough carbs and salt, also had not had enough to drink. I straight away started drinking water and eating carbs and some salt. Even though it was a tiring day it was wonderful.

Val Minister of Nutrition
We are up early today = we want to get a head start and so it is dark when we awake. The alarm has been set for 6am and my cell phone is our alarm....but the battery is running low and I have to leave it plugged in at the bottom of Marion´s bed...I am above her in the top bunk. As such I say, Marion when the alarm goes off in the morning you must quickly turn it off so it doesn´t disturb the others. It duly goes off at 6.00am, and off and off....I lean over the bunk and whisper Marion, Marion....she cannot hear me...´the poor French girls head is next to the bench that the phone is on and in a sleepy voice says "oh Sil o plait, oh sil of plat....which interpreted comes out like the teenagers say " oh pleazeeee" finally Marion awakes and unplugs the phone and hands it up to sorry´s do nothing to compensate for the intrusion....we all sneak out and then go back and back again to move our things from the Dorm to the landing to dress and sort out....I have dreadful eyesight so put on my head lamp and go back into the dorm, careful to keep my head low so as not to disturb them further...but the poor French girl´s head is just where I need to be and my head lamp shines right on her head...."oh Pleazeeeee"...I think this morning I have crossed the line of Pilgrim etiquette! One does not wake up nor disturb fellow pilgrims.
We go downstairs and prepare our hot chocolate with hot fresh milk (actually it is longlife in a carton but by fresh I mean it is not in a packet). We have a breakfast bar and a banana so lots to eat and there are some late comers who are sleeping on the lounge furniture and ´hiss at us´to shutup. We give up and leave. There was a storm during the night and it is very humid. Eventually the sun comes out and there is no escape as we are in the open...quite a slog today on hard gravel paths and not much variation so you feel every km. After about 5kms I could feel my left foot stinging. I discovered scourers/sponges last time were great for putting under your bra straps to support the back pack straps - as long as you remembered to put the sponge side on the skin and scourer part against the bra strap. I hve been using them to cushion the balls of my feet, toomany pedicures have made my feet too soft. Finally I have to stop and discover that I have put the sponge around the wrong way and had the scourer against my skin and I have literally grated the underpart of my foot. I had rubbed raw. Nurse Syl comes to the rescue and dried it off with spirit and rosemary and then applied a dressing and the rest of the journey was fine. We could see our village high on the hill and it reminded us of Tuscany. We climbed and climbed andwere greeted by a lovely woman and daughter - her Albergue was also the only bar, restaurant in the place, what luck!! There were no shops and they relied on deliveries. They showed us to our rooms and once again, spotlessly clean. Asked if we would like to eat and offered us Tortilla and Salad - yes please...we had cool drinks and coffee and vino tinto. My first spanish meal. There is no internet so we will write our blog and publish when we can...have a shower and afternoon nap as they have offered us supper at 8pm and breakfast at 7am...more than we have eaten in days. We got caught out today and walked all day on a banana, apple and a third of an orange.We ask if we can get a taxi to drop us at the next village as we are a bit behind now and need to catch up about 8km to guarantee somewhere to sleep. yes we are the taxi also she says! The wind is up now and it is trying to rain (5pm)We get ready to go down and I go to climb off the top is so high I can reach the ceiling without stretching...I crawl to the end and turnaround to come down and Syl shouts " the ladder is on the other side"...we nearly have spatchcock Val. Tonights meal is green beans, large runner beans cooked with potatoes and small dice of ham. Followed by Tortilla (which we have a lunchtime so gave that a miss), beef ragu or sausages. I choose sausages dreaming of a Spanish casserole of spicy sausages, Spanish onion, garlic, peppers and perhaps some smoked Spanish chipolatas and chips!...followed by commercially packaged ice cream, tinned fruit salad or flan.. I choose flan which turns out to be a prepackaged creme caramel...I woof the whole lot down! Breakfast is lovely coffe, half a slice of dry bread with preserves. Also Magdamena´s...cupcakes which taste stale. However, all of this together with our accommodation cost 28 euro....The Spanish are really lovely people......
Today was a much better day for me. After the heat of yesterday and the challenging climb down from San Juan de la Pena, I found today´s walk a breeze - long and relentless, but
easy all the same.
The paths were mostly wide, open gravel or sandy paths and although it was hot we were able to stop three times for a backpack off and snack break. Val and Marion seem to find the long, flat paths more tiring than I do and it my turn to be encouraging.
We realise that we need to take in more salt and perhaps more proper carbohydrates. They eat more bread than I do but I prefer fruit and yoghurt - neither of which really replenishes salts and fluids lost by a long day´s walk. Artieda is on a hill (what´s new) and as we walk in we see a vehicle parked on a side alley with a taxi advert in the wondow. Such a tiny place with a taxi service! It also has a telephone box and I try to phone home. My card works for Marion to phone Kim in JOhannesburg but doesn´t work for me to phone Finn. I´m starting to feel home sick and need to speak to my family.
The albergue is in a hostal - some private rooms and some dorm rooms. Our room has two double bunks so we are alone in the room.
After a lunch of Tortilla Espanol and salad we had a nice hot shower and sorted out our packs. Marion and I walked to the end of the village and took photos of a stunning view of the valley with rain clouds slashing the Yesa dam. Dinner is a communal one and we shared our dinner table with three German pilgrims who could all speak English. After dinner, a French pilgrim asked the owner to take a photograph of all of us so we trooped outside for a group photo. I ask the woman in the restaurant if we can contact the taxi to take us to Ruesta tomorrow. "We are the taxi" she says. "We are the hostal, the shop and the taxi - todo!" So, we arrange for the taxi to take us 8km down the road tomorrow morning so that we can get back on track to reach Pamplona in time for Val's flight and our trains.

Day 8: Jaca to Santa Cilia

Another beautiful day, clear sky, no sign of rain at all. We started off by taking a taxi to the Monastary of San Juan de La Pena, it was such a worthwhile stop. Its amazing to see how the Monastery was built into the rock mountain. The workmanship was incredibile, and it all was so interesting. After spending approximately one hour walking through the monastary we then started walking the 7.5k´s back down to the road. At first did not understand as we started climbingfor 1k, and then the descent began, a very steep path of earth, stones and rocks. One had to be very carefull and go down quite slowly. I so enjoyed it but must admit I would not like to do it in very wet wether. At times we came across wild lavendar growing alongside of us, lots of pretty wild flowers and very colourful butterflies. At the bottom we found a cafe bar and had something to drink at Santa Cruz which was very welcome and then continued on our way up and down a another path of rocks and boulders. It was very hot and no shade. I am sure we were walking in the path that the water would come tumbling down. One could actually see where the little waterfalls would be in the wet weather or when the snow melted. I love walking off the road as in the silence I am able to listen to the sounds of nature and lose myself within myself. Have to say at the end of walking today I was quite tired but contented.

Val Minister of Nutrition
We are chucked out at 0900am so we decide to get up early and finish off on the blog. We are now up to date with our blog...still a shame that we post almost a week in one go as we know friends and family like to get an update every few days....we are getting a taxi to the Monastery this morning so Syl goes off to scout for the taxi rank and atm whilst Marion and I get our fix of ´cafe´in a bar....I also have a roll with ham and proscuitto which is served warm...delicious. The taxi rank is full of cars which are not taxis...and we along with another woman accost every one who parks and gets out of the car..."taxi" NO comes the reply...the Spanish woman actually opens their doors and is almost in when the owner of the car has to manhandle her and say No not taxi!!
We got to a hotel and the kind lady calls us a taxi and we then wait at the taxi rank....we bundle in with all of our stuff and are soon speeding up a very narrow winding road to the Monastery. It is well worth the visit and the late start we have today. It doesn´t open until 1000am and we spend at least an hour. We immediately set off on the path to our next stop. I resist singing "I´m off to Sunny Spain¨and pretend that I have never been to Benidorm! But I feel like singing because it is so beautiful. For the past 5 days we have seen a lone bird of prey - it is as if he is following us...perhaps guiding us. Our next stop should have been Arres but we will not make it as we are so late and cannot book and as such ensure our accommodation. We walk into Santa Cilia and there are two young boys playing football. .. Syl says Albergue? and they immediately walk for us to follow. We go down a side road where the entire road is running between the buildings is dug up...another village undergoing reconstruction. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing! We have walked through villages where there is a row of say 4 houses, of which only one is habitable, the ones surrounding it are ruins. They have no shops, absolutely nothing but almost always a water fountain and incredibly - recyling bins..probably more for us pilgrims than the residents. Our accommodation tonight is superb in many ways, it is bright and cheerful, the 3 storey ¨townhouse¨has colour washed walls and paintings (murals) a map and modern Male and Female Pilgrims to denote the abultions, although most often these are communal. The place is spotless and quite a few of our fellow pilgrims have all gathered here tonight and a great atmosphere exists. There is a washing machine! Marions says, "and what is this?" " a dishwasher?" I say, but it is a tumble dryer....we have not been able to wash our fleece´s as they are difficult to dry and if the weather turns we only have one, and need them in the mornings and sometimes to sleep in. They are competing with the smelly cheese now! Downstairs is a fully fitted kitchen, huge communal table and lovely open plan lounge. The next floor is a male and female dorm and lovely showers and toilets...there is liquid soap AND paper towels AND TOILET PAPER! Some places do not supply toilet paper because we pinch it. The first time I discovered this, was a bit of a shock...where the toilet rolls should have been, was a piece of cardboard with a message...I did´nt need my phrase book to know that it said something like "we no longer provide toilet paper because you nasty little Pilgrims pinch it".....In the next door cubicle is a groan and expletive - it doesn´t matter what the language, it is obvious he also forgot to check before sitting down.
On the 3rd floor is a huge room - almost like a classroom with free Internet and we manage to post a few photographs onto our blog. The use of the internet, washing machine, including powder and the tumble dryer in addition to all the other facilities is just 10 euro. The only problem now is where can we get food. Marion and I go looking around the village, and it is full of allotments with such wonderful produce including fruit trees and fruit bushes. As we pass down a narrow path we can just see over a wall with vegetables at our height - oh it is so tempting to pinch and onion and lettuce but we resist. We report back that the place is deserted. Eventually we learn that we have to walk around the corner and press the door bell and wait about 15 minutes and they will open - there is apparently a bar and food shop. A few of us go to the door and sure enough about 10 minutes later a lady appears and we set into the bar..a tiny dingy room and we are told to wait here until she is ready for us to come into the shop. The tiny bar has a shelf on the wall with grimey bottles, most without labels and I don´t ask for wine fearful that I might be given the contents of one of these bottles and so we wait for over 15 minutes for Senora to invite us into her shop behind the bar. "only two at a time!" But she allows us three in together. It is a lovely Alladins Cave- we snatch up fresh lettuce, toms, onions, peppers and garlic. A carton of milk for tomorrow with sachets of hot chocolate, apples, oranges and bananas. She doesn´t have any bread but we still have some in my backpack also some cheese. Then she says "Jamon, Chorizo?.. Chorizo I say...a huge one is taken from the fridge and she gives us a generous piece. I will lightly fry this to release the juices and add to our salad. There is a row of wine bottles, covered in dust and cobwebs...¨vino¨I tinto? Senora..she opens another little fridge and hands me a perfectly chilled red wine. We all go back to our kitchen and start cooking...Marion and I produce our corkscrew and wine goblets and the German man, says in English ¨you do not need a man¨...then he calls everyone into the kitchen to see our goblets...they are drinking out of plastic bathroom cups. Our bread was so hard now I couldn´t cut it too well, the yellow hard cheese was desperately trying to evolve into a Stilton but tasted fine and we finished off with a piece of Lindt chocolate which had travelled for 2 days in my backpack.

We have three options today.

(1) This was the plan from home. Get a taxi to San Juan and ask him to wait for one hour then take us down to St Cilia - which means an 8km walk to Arres, our next intended stopover.

(2) Get the taxi to San Juan and walk the 7.5km back to St Cilia and 8km to Arres. That'll make it 15km walking day.

(3) Get a bus at 8h10 to St Cilia and walk up to San Juan de la Pena and back again. This will make it a very long walk so we discard this idea.

Plan 1 means we walk 8kms today - or plan 2 and we walk about 15kms?
"I don´t mind to walk" says Val. "I don´t mind walking" says Marion. So, I ask the driver to take us to San Juan and we will walk back. It costs us 25€ - 35€ if he had waited. We pay 3€ (pilgrim price) to see the monastery and leave our packs behind the ticket booth. After visiting this stunning place we collect our sticks and packs. "It is not a dificult path" says the young lady in the ticket booth. "Only 7.5km". It IS a difficult path! It is rocky, narrow, VERY, Very steep and although we spent the first km going up, the rest is all down, down, down - impossible ledge paths with no hope of recovery if you wobble or stumble. At one stage it looked as though the path had disappeared into an abyss but there it was when we peered over the edge, snaking its way sideways down only to disappear again into another gully.
I was exhausted by the time we got to the bottom and even after stopping at Santa Cruz for a cold drink, I started to feel light headed and wobbly as we walked to Santa Cilia.
"I think I need to lie down" I told M and Val at one stage. We found a tiny patch of shade and I lay down with my legs up on a tree and my head on my backpack. I had goosebumps even though it was 35oC in the shade. I think I had a touch of sunstroke. When we got to Santa Cilia I headed straight for the albergue. After a shower, something to eat and a drink I felt as though I could have gone on another 5km or 8km but by then our washing was in the machine and we were very comfortable in the albergue.
A pilgrim gets very excited when she sees my shorts. She is an ex-pat South African living in Belgium. We talk about Cape Town, Johannesburg, the 1908o's and the new South Africa. She and her husband are cycling from their home to Santiago. It's a really Groot Trek!
Val´s heels are sore and her achilles are tight so I give her another foot massage. This turned out to be one of the best albergues we´ve stayed in with a very kind hospitalera, small rooms, free internet, free washing machine and tumble drier and a wonderful atmosphere. I have a bed near the window and can hear sheep baaing in the fields. I also hear thunder during the night and worry about what the paths will be like if it rains. But, I´m too tired to care tonight and drift off to sleep. It´s been a long, hard day.