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Day 12, Tardajos to Castrojeriz, Spain



18 miles, 750 feet of ascent. 7:15 am to 2:30 pm.

Spent the day walking and talking with Peter, who started walking from his home in Nuremburg, Germany on July 2. He has walked across part of Germany, all across Switzerland and France. He is a fast walker and we had lots of fun talking all day.  “Good companions make short miles.”  In his late 30’s he is a contract employee of a software firm and is between contracts, so he has this time. His wife, Amy, is at home working.
We part at 2 pm, over a beer. Peter is walking six more miles, but I have had enough for today.
Get checked in, wash my clothes, take a siesta and stroll up to the castle ruins on the hill overlooking the town. The restaurant has many old farm implements on display.
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Day 11, Atapuerca to Tardajos, Spain





15 miles, 450 ft. ascent. 7:30 am to 4:45 pm.

*Walk into Burgos with Canadian woman, Jan. Chatting with her made the trek through the industrial and ugly apartments on the outskirts just bearable. Looking back, this two and half hour stretch was the worst. Everyone else said it was hard for them too. Perhaps it was because we had come out of the glorious countryside, through a lovely forest on nice dirt roads. The hard, flat sidewalk, four lanes of truck traffic and industry was a mental test, as one pilgrim put it.
*El Cid’s tomb and the cathedral at Burgos are thrilling. It is a World Heritage site. Toured the cathedral, walked around the outside. Truly spectacular.
*Late afternoon I walked on, along the river bottom to a tiny town, Tardjos. The hostel was on a donation basis.
*John Deere tractors in the fields and main street of the small towns.
*Moorish influence in the arched doorways and “Hand of Fatima” door knockers.
*Iron rings in the stone walls, once used to tie up horses.
Dinner with Anne, a Danish woman and several Canadians.
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Day 10, September 18, Belorado to Atapuera, Spain


18 miles. 1,300 ft. ascent. 8 am to 3:30 pm.

Walk up and through Montes de Oca.
Pine forests to rolling countryside. Peaceful.
Bells jingle on cows.
Lunch with Spanish friends, a local dish of blood and rice and sausage. It was very good! They are leaving tomorrow and I will not see them again.
Met Jan Bryant on the trail. She is also from Eugene and works at Sacred Heart as a traveling nurse. She had heard of my business, Walk With Me.
Hostel in Atapuera is 7 Euros in a new pre-fab building. It is nice and clean. 
Walked to the local archeological museum and a Pre-historic Park. There is a famous dig quite near where early human bones are preserved. The park reproduces the cave drawings found near here. Once a rhino lived here, as well as the wild bulls. It is all very interesting and educational, making it fun to walk through the country side and imagine wild bulls behind the trees.
Dinner with my new friends Dayon, a young woman from Nigeria studying in Germany to be a German teacher, and Wilson, a 35-year old man from Brazil.
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Day 5, September 13, 2008








Irache to Los Arcos
10 miles, 600 ft. ascent
8:30 a.m. to noon

Cloudy, breezy day, pleasant walking through rolling countryside.

Castle on hill. Moorish fountain.
Huge, round bales of golden hay.
Ripe, black grapes in vineyards along path.
Bamboo in ravines.
Ripe blackberries.
Pines, olive groves.

Chatted with English couple from Yorkshire again.

Stayed at Pension Mali, 35 Euros.
My feet ache and are blistered!

Wine in the main plaza in the afternoon sun.
Visited the Santa Maria Church.
Attended the Pilgrim mass at 8 pm.
Many people there, mostly older, and several other pilgrims.
The church was then illuminated. One of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with a gold altar piece and spectacular paintings. It is nice to see the works or art where they belong, in a church, instead of a museum.

Dinner with pilgrim Anna, a 30ish Spanish woman I met on the trail. 10Euros

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Day 3, El Camino into Pamplona





From Villava, through Pampalona, to Puente La Riena
15 miles, 1, 150 ft. ascent. Leave 7ish, arrive at 4:30 pm.

Arrived in Pampalona about 10, though once the Basque capital Iruna. All signs are in both Spanish and Basque.
Walk into Pampalona along the river path, passing pens of horses, cattle and gardens.
Up into the huge fortress, across a moat, drawbridge to the cathedral and old, medieval buildings.
Find the Plaza de Toros, photograph Ernest Hemingway´s statue in front of it.
Stroll down the street where the bulls are run, there are photos of it in the shops.
Meet and walk with a couple from California and a woman from Denmark.

Mail my camping equipment home. It is something I will not use, campgrounds are hard to find, a little ways out of town, it rained one night, sometimes it is cold, it is too heavy, and so on. The accommodations of hostels and hotels are plentiful and that is fine.

Leave Pampalona through the university along the old fortress walls, into the countryside.
Sit on a bench on a hillside, sketching and counting four castles in the little villages.
At the Alto del Perdon pass is a metal sculpture of cutouts of pilgrims passing through the ages, starting with capes, donkeys, with dogs, and onto modern dress. There is also a large cross, as there is almost at every cross roads. Get a bicyclist to take my photo.

Fields of sunflowers, asparagus, beans, potatos and small gardens. Walk through small villages. Every one has a water fountain. The water is good and cold.

Stay in a nice hotel and watch the tributes in Spain and the USA to the September 11 victims. It is sad.

It is a cool, cloudy, breezy day. Perfect for walking. I love it.

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Day 2 on the El Camino, Spain, Diary notes




September 10, 2008, Espinal to Villava, 19 miles
900 feet ascent, 1,200 feet descent.
Hike from 8 am to 4 pm.

*Mostly in shaded forsts and trails bordered with
holm oak, maples, holly, Scot pine, walnut trees.

*Pure pleasure of walking all day.

*Early morning mist as I walked down into the valley.

*Bought salami, cheese, bread, a straw sun hat with rhinestones and turquoise beads to replace the one blown away yesterday. Shopped in a tiny store in Burguete, where the older woman at the counter wrote down the prices on a piece of paper, added the total in her head, and gave it to me for a receipt.

*Staying in a monestery doromitory for pilgrims built hundreds of years ago.

*Walk to center of the plaza for the Pilgrim Menu dinner. Four Australian women invited me to join them, and later to come visit in Australia to play golf.

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My El Camino Hike in Spain






4,000 ft. ascent, 2,000 ft. descent
20 miles. Walk across the border from France into Spain.

Oops, I misread the first walk from St. Jean Pied Pont, France into Spain. I was thinking the pass is 1,600 feet elevation. Not so. It is 1,600 cm and the ascent for the day is almost 4,000 feet. Then it is about 2,000 descent into Roncesvalles and 16 miles.

The plane trip from London to Biarritz, France, took an hour. Then a bus ride across town to catch the train to St. Jean Pied Pont. I explored Biarritz while waiting 2 hours for the train. Walked up to one castle to see another across the river. This charming old town is on a river near the ocean, and there are people surfing. Definitely a place to come back and stay a few days.

After 2 hour train ride, where I visited with a young French woman, Cecelia, and the pilgrims, at least 50 on the train, walked up to the reception building for Pilgrims. After receiving my Pilgrim passport it was 8 pm, most of the hostels were full and I was standing in the street wondering where I was going to sleep. A French woman took me with her to an old building down the street, motioned for me to stay, went up and got an old woman and they took me up to her sitting room. It had a sofa for me the sleep on. The price was 15 Euros. The older woman took her purse out of the desk drawer to get me change for my 20. Then put her purse back in the drawer.

The first woman took me by the arm down the hall to the bathroom, very nice and new. There was much chattering, none of which I understood, but said Decor and Qui. Then she kissed me on both cheeks and left. I went out for dinner, found Cecelia and two other young women from the train ride and had pizza with them. Cecelia kissed my cheecks goodbye and I have not seen her since.

The advice was to start the hike early, as it is 8 hours to cover the 16 miles to Roncesvalles, Spain, the first hotel or hostel or food.

Since I was on an earlier time from England, was excited and couldn´t sleep too long, I got up when the owl kept hooting. It was pitch black, no one was up and out I went. After finding my way across the river and out of town, where it was really dark, I put on my headlamp and putted up the hill and putted and putted. Two hours and there was lightening in the distance. Three hours and it was light enough to see without my lamp.

By now I am up into the common grazing area of the French Pyrenees. There are flocks of sheep herded down the mountain side to a small corral. They look like white water flowing down the steep green slope. Herds of blonde cattle, bands of 7 to 20 mares with foals roam freely. All animals have bells around their necks, so it is a beautiful sound.

The wind becomes more than stiff and straight into my face near the top, often making me stagger across the road. Even my trekking poles don´t hold me and they are so difficult to control, I attach them to my pack. For quite a ways, the path is tar and quite well marked with the sign of the shell, which is the Pilgrims symbol and the red and white bars which is the corresponding Grande Ronde trail across the country. I picked up first a couple of years ago in Geneva, Switzerland, walking 100 miles south into France on it.

I am the only one out, until 7 pm I pass a hostel and see people eating breakfast, so soon they will join me. By 8 am I see one man pass me, there are several behind him. Suddenly a van beeps me to move over, and it is filled with the people who were walking. They get a ride up to where the path goes from tar to trail near the top of the pass. My thoughts are distinctly unpilgrim-like toward them. I try to tell my self Everyone has their own journey. But, of course, mine is harder.

The mountains are well logged and an open view. It is misty and very windy. Finally over the pass, after passing some springs for water for Pilgrims and a big cross, the path heads straight down hill. The Romans put a road here and where there is solid rock, I can see the ruts from their wagons. And their roads typically go straight up and down, no matter how steep. Charlamagne also moved his troops through this pass.

About noon, in a light misting rain, I arrive in Roncesvalles, have soup and a cheese sandwich. There is a huge abbey built here to house the pilgrims with a great book shop for Pilgrims. I pick up a guide in English with history and strip maps which have a plastic pouch to hang around my neck so I can read the days itinerary, have an elevation chart and map of the towns. It is really helpful.

By now it is only 1 pm and there are many Pilgrims arriving to stay. I can´t face the walk being over, so keep going on down the trail through the woods. About 4 miles later in a small Basque village, I see a woman tending her flowers and it looks like she rents rooms. She does and so I stay with her. The building has beautiful wood stairs, floors, renovated bathroom and comfortable bedroom. What a nice find for the end of my first day on the El Camino. The restaurant down the street serves dinner and I am very happy.