Day 5 – Zariquiegui to Lorca (27.1 K): Building Community

I must confess, my pen and paper notes started to become a bit sloppy at this time. Our days (although each unique) began to blur together.  I do remember starting this day by climbing  200 meters over two kilometers and then descending 300 meters over the next four-and-a-half. Although there was a cool photo op at the top of our ascent, as well as a food van to help console my self-pity, my whole body screamed, “when will there be an end to this merciless  up and down?”

What I also remember, even more clearly, and much more fondly, is that when we finally crawled into our auberge late that afternoon, our Camino Angels were there. As the Angels had left Zariquiegui about the same time as us, I asked when they got in. “A wee bit ago,” Karen replied softly, compassionately downplaying their much earlier arrival.  I blinked and looked again. Yup, the Angels looked fresh, well-rested and ready to conquer the world. This was a stark contrast to our haggard exhaustion. But once again, it was incredible what a hot shower and a warm Spanish meal could mend.
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“As there is a terrific kitchen here, we’ll fix you breakfast in the morning,” Grace offered. “Eggs and toast okay?”

It was more than okay. It was like a mini-miracle!

Noel (who we had met previously), as well as Mark and Angela, also shared that Auberge and breakfast with us. The laughter, chatter, and stories continued long after the toast, eggs and coffee had run dry.

Although she was staying at an auberge across the road, I also need to mention Birte here. I have been remiss not to mention her previously. We met her in our auberge that first night in Saint-Jean. We were walking similar lengths of the trail each day, so we sometimes walked together. Birte had just finished high school. Her mother had always wanted to walk the Camino, but now, for a variety of reasons, was not able to fulfill that dream. Birte was making this pilgrimage for her mother, and for herself. She was bright, fit and determined. We admired her grit and her resolve.

This is one of the incredible offerings of the Camino – the strong community that you build with others who a mere few days prior, were total strangers.

La Bodega del Camino (we highly recommend it)
C/Placeta, 8
+34 948 541 327
info@labodegadelcamino.com
http://www.labodegadelcamino.com
8 euros per bed, 20 euros for private room (with shared bathroom)

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Our reward for another tough climb: a very cool photo op!

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La Bodega del Camino

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La Bodega del Camino (attached) Bar and Restaurant

Day 4 – Larrasoana to Zariquiegui (25.7 K): We Should have Listened to the Bartender!

Because we had pushed on past Roncesvalles, we were not on the typical path of ‘stages’ for the Camino Frances. That meant we stayed in smaller towns most nights–which worked perfectly for us. The downside was that during the hottest part of the day we were walking sections of the trail that were much better suited to cooler mornings. The road from Pamplona to Zariquiegui was no exception. It was seven kilometers of LONG road with little or no shade. When we stopped in Cizur Menor to fill up our water bottles (the last spot to get food/drink/bed before Zariquigui), the bartender looked at us with disbelief. “You continuing the Camino now?” he asked. We nodded. “Bad idea. Too hot” he warned. “We’ll be all right,” I said, rechecking our water supply.  He then mumbled something under his breath. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t complimentary.  “He’s used to siestas,” I thought to myself.  And as his bar was one of the few places around that offered food and rooms, his words may have been somewhat self-serving. Still, his warning did serve to mess with my mind a bit. As we walked the remaining seven kilometers in the 36-degree Celsius heat, with almost no shade, and rationing our sips of water, I began to fear that the bartender might have been right. It was a hard climb halfway up the Alto de Perdon (that same section of trail would have been MUCH easier in the cool morning air).

But as we arrived at The Albergue San Andres, and were surrounded by other die-hard hikers (several whom we had met previously, including our ‘Camino Angels’) we knew that we had made the right choice. And as we quickly learned, there is nothing like a hot shower and a great meal shared with good company to nourish the soul and renew the spirit.

Albergue San Andres, C / Camino de Santiago, 4, Zariquiegui (Navarra) Tel: 948 35 38 76 info@algerguezariquiegui.com, www.alberguezariquiegui.com

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What was the weather like that afternoon? As Robin William said,
 “Hot! Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest thing (was) my shorts. I could cook things in it!” (source)

Day 3 – Espinal to Larrasoana (30 K): Somebody Lied!

Somebody lied. Or else I honestly was not paying enough attention. I had (repeatedly) heard that Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles was the most difficult part of the entire Camino Frances and after that, the path was much easier. Visions of flat, smooth trails danced through my mind. For me, that conception could not have been more untrue. The trail continued to have relentless ups and rocky downs. I breathed deep yoga breaths. I cranked up the music on my iPhone and let it blast:

“And no one else has ever shown me how to see the world the way I see it now. Oh, I, I never saw blue like that before.” (Shawn Colvin)

The music combined with the incredible scenery (and the deep yoga breaths) created a full mind-body symphony that definitely helped to get me through more uphill, especially the vicious little climbs that tend to appear right before the town that you are desperately trying to reach. Why are so many Spanish towns built atop massive hills?? I know the answer. But still!!

That night we stayed at the Municipal Auberge in Larrasoana. 38 beds in one room, and rather tight quarters. This would have been fine if all of our roommates were hiking the Camino, and thus on the same early-to-bed, early-to-rise, schedule. Unfortunately not. Two guitar-carrying dudes stumbled in at 1:30 a.m. and very loudly tried to fit the exceedingly tight, disposable sheets onto the slippery, blue plastic mattresses. At six a.m., when all others were up and preparing for the day, the guitar dudes were quite grumpy about the light being switched on. “Shut your eyes, and then it will be dark” cooed Grace, a charming young Irish school teacher. We later spent three more nights sharing a room with Grace and her friends, Yvonne and Karen. For us, they became our Camino Angels. More on that later!

Albergue de Peregrinos Municipal de Larrasoana
Calle San Nicolas, Esterbar, Navarre
Tel.:+34 605505489
Tel.:+34 948304288
8 euros per bed

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Fun little surprises along the way, like this…

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and this, definitely helped get me through some of the more difficult legs of the journey!

Day 2 – Orrison to Espinal (24.3 K): Getting the Hang of It!

When we left Orrison early in the morning with a planned 18 kilometers ahead of us, I felt like a true pilgrim, a great explorer…I knew that I was about to take part in an incredible quest. Walking through orchards, past quaint country houses, looking up to the mountain meadows, knowing that I was in the Pyrenees, I was in absolute awe and wonder…that is for the first hour or so! And then we climbed and climbed and climbed. The incline was ruthless. My five-and-a-half kilogram pack seemed to expand in both size and weight. My legs were unamused. Millions upon millions of people have taken part in this walk since the Middle Ages. Many of those who walk this area of the trail complete twenty-six (or more) kilometers in one day. Was I crazy to think that I could do this? “Slow and steady wins the race,” Richard reminded. I wanted to slug him.

Then, as we reached the peak of our climb at 1450 meters, a small group of us spontaneously gathered and high-fived one another. It was invigorating! My exhaustion instantly turned into an incredible feeling of self-satisfaction. And then I looked down at the rocky decent through a dense forest. The Pilgrim’s Office had advised an alternate roadside route that was deemed to be “less treacherous.” I don’t know about you, but ‘treacherous’ is not a word that I want to hear when I am hiking (or ever, actually). I looked at Richard, took a deep breath, grabbed my hiking poles and down the rocky forest trail I went. It actually was amazing! After begrudging the steep steps uphill, my whole being shouted “I LOVE downhill” and down, down, down I swiftly went! I must insert that this section is definitely not everyone’s favorite part of the trail. In fact, Richard thought that this hour-plus portion was far worse than both yesterday’s and today’s uphill climbs combined. Afterwards, my battered toes (from constantly being pounded against the inside of my boots) were raw and tender (and two of them are still black because of it). But for my spirit, it was exhilarating, and a great confidence builder–so much so that we decided to push on for seven extra kilometers staying the night in Espinal, instead of the planned Roncesvalles.

Hostal Rural Haizea                                                                                                   Saroiberri, 2, 31694                                                                                                         Espinal-Auzperri                                                                                                              12 euros for a bed                                                                                                      Breakfast, lunch and dinner available                                                                     We highly recommend this accommodation

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Statue ‘Vierge d’Orisson’, said to be carried all the way from Lourdes, by shepherds.

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The sharp descent! Photo Credit: Wise Pilgrim Guides, App

 

Day 1 – Orisson, France (8 K): Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Being the research nerd that I am, I spent countless hours reading a multitude of details about the Camino Frances and watching YouTube videos of the trail. (I know, in a previous post I said I wouldn’t over-research, but you already knew that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself, didn’t you?) I had repeatedly read that the uphill hike from Saint-Jean to just before Roncesvalles was brutal…and that the sharp descent back down was even worse. As I read, I continually had to battle fear and self-doubt (and I definitely had to quit watching YouTube videos)!

Many hikers starting in Saint-Jean walk the 26-kilometers in one day to Roncesvalles. But there is an option for those wishing a shorter first-day hike, and that is to start with just eight-kilometers and spend the night in Orisson. The catch is that you usually need to book, and pay, In advance. After much toing and froing (as well as advice from our friend, Louise) we pre-booked. Similar to the evening before, a booking included a full dinner, salad, dessert, wine, bed and breakfast, as well as a formal introduction to all other guests (35 euros per person). Unlike the night before, all guests were handed a SINGLE token for a five-minute (lukewarm) shower. Advice from Richard: if using a lush shampoo/soap bar, in a metal container, be sure to open the container FIRST before inserting your token (we could all hear him cursing as he struggled to open the tin as the shower meter clicked on)!

Would we stay in Orisson again? Although it offered good food, spectacular views, great company and a solid rest after a truly tough three-hour hike (the equivalent to climbing 126 flights of stairs) if doing this route a second time, we would just stop for lunch in Orisson and then push on to Roncesvalles. But we did meet some great people during our stay there. One woman, Lisa, was hiking alone with a 35-day supply of insulin in her large pack. Her determination, and positive attitude made me cringe about the whining I had been doing.

Family members from Los Angeles (parents, a middle-schooler and a high-schooler)  were walking just two days of the trail, in conjunction with a larger trip to Europe.  I had noticed them on the path from Saint-Jean as they each had relatively light packs, and one of them was carrying a pink cardboard pastry box! When we met them, they joked that their packs were mostly filled with snacks. As we departed for the steep climb and sharp descent into Orisson, I wondered how this family could make the tough journey ahead in just tennis shoes and no hiking poles (not to mention the cardboard pastry box)! The two girls (avid softball players) were well ahead of us most of time, passing out cookies to weary hikers and taking full advantage of photo ops (as shown above).

So, for us, Orisson was definitely meant to be. I look forward to remaining in touch with this very engaging family. After leaving the trail, they went on to Zaragoza, Cordoba, and Granada (where they spent the night in a cave). When I last heard from them, they had just finished hiking in Caminito del Rey. Yup, definitely very cool!

Refuge Orisson, Refuge.orisson@wanadoo.fr,                                               00 33 559491 303 or 00 33 681497 956

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As Orrison is an approximate three-hour hike from Saint-Jean, staying there does give you plenty of time to relax, have a refreshment (or two) and enjoy the spectacular views!

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And time to do your laundry,

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before enjoying the delicious group dinner,

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and finally getting your bed ready for the night (not to mention the luxurious five-minute shower)!

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A simple graph of the  climb–both behind us–and ahead of us. Please stay tuned as we continue our journey. (Photo Credit: Wise Pilgram Guides, App)

 

Day 0 – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port: Greetings from The Camino Frances!

My husband and I recently walked 200 kilometers of the Camino Trail, in eight days, from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Najera, Spain. Although I originally had lofty notions of blogging daily ‘live from the trail’, creating an iMovie, or iMovie trailer, these plans were quickly dashed. Without my computer or iPad, and with infrequent WiFi connection (not to mention very full days and sheer exhaustion) I was left to journal with pen and paper (shriek here)! For any readers interested in getting a small sample of the Camino trail, I will do my best to transcribe my notes and post them daily for the next several days. Stay tuned—and feel free to ask questions—I will be happy to answer if I can!

Day 0: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The Camino de Santiago is a physical journey that people of all backgrounds have been making for over a thousand years. Some people make this trek for spiritual reasons, others for adventure, culture, fitness, enlightenment or different personal causes. Experiencing the Camino is an incredible way to immerse yourself in the local food, culture, and history of the area covered. It can also be done very affordably. There are numerous established routes leading to Camino de Santiago (where it is believed that the remains of the apostle, St. James, are buried). The Camino Frances, which crosses the Pyrenees Mountains, along the French-Spanish border, is a popular route that covers 800 kilometers. This is the path that we ultimately chose (albeit only the first eight days of it).

Whatever the reasons someone has for walking the Camino, the trek is tough. The pilgrimage from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port includes crossing a lower ridge of the Pyrenees, as well as climbing and descending mountain passes with altitudes of up to 1,500 meters. The weather has a huge impact and can vary remarkably from very hot and dry, to very cold and wet, depending on the season.

We began our journey in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. Getting there was no easy feat (we took a train from Manchester to London, a plane to Biarritz, France and then a shuttle van to St. Jean (shared with one other hiker). Although you don’t usually need to book ahead at most auberges, we did book at Beilari in St Jean. (30 euros a person got us a full dinner plus salad, dessert and wine, a bed, hot shower and breakfast the next day.) As most guests were beginning their hike there, the hosts of this auberge, Joselu, Jakeline, and Elizabeth, successfully created a warm, communal atmosphere which was a terrific way to begin our journey.

The feature photo was taken outside of Beilari in the early morning of July 16 as we took the very first steps of our journey. Don’t I look clean, refreshed and ready to go? Spoiler alert: that all changes!

Beilari Aterpea, Gite du Chemin                                                                              40, rue de Citadelle                                                                                               64220 St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France                                                             +33(0)5 59 37 24 68                                                                                    info@beilari.info

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Group photo sent from the hosts at Beilari. My look of surprise foreshadows many things to come.

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The start to a most scenic journey.

BLOGFEST: MY MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION

I LOVE the idea of taking part in a blogfest (even if I only found out about it twenty-four hours in advance). I also LOVE writing about a wide range of topics. But writing about an object–and a most cherished one at that–well at first, that just seemed wrong.

I have previously written about some of the people in my life whom I deeply cherish (A Love Letter, Dear Son and Thanks, Mom). I have even written about our adored dog, Cody. How could any material object that I own inspire such passion?

To help with this endeavour, I imagined our house burning. What would I run to save? Most items that we own are replaceable. What wasn’t?

By engaging in this basic exercise, the task was now so simple. I instantly knew what I would rush to save: the guardians of my memories.

Memories become our life stories and our legacy. They define us and give our lives meaning and purpose (source). My memories remind me of my roots, ground me and inspire hope. They are not simply nostalgia or longing for the past – they are, as scientists have now discovered, a bridge to the future. The same brain processes that we use to remember the past are also the same processes that we use to imagine the future. When our ability to remember the past is compromised, so is our ability to envision different outcomes (source).

Through my material object (in this case, a collection of objects), I am quickly transported back to beloved people and places.  Sadly, many of these people and places I can no longer access in any other way.

This most treasured possession, that is so priceless to me, is of little value to others outside of my immediate family. It will not be recognized as having artistic merit. What is this magic portal that is both old and new, faded and glossy?

My collection of personal photographs.

Thank you to the initiators of Cherished Blogfest for providing the platform, and the inspiration, for this post. Thank you also to my family for taking an abundance of photographs, and for passing on this trait (as well as family photo albums) to me!

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Dear Son: Reflections on your Graduation

Twenty-four years ago, as you stood to receive your kindergarten graduation diploma, I wept. Everything was new. All hopes and dreams were possible. You were forging out into the world with your own unique set of passions and talents. My heart burst with love, admiration and pride.

Since that time, I have witnessed you in millions upon millions of snapshots in time.  As a student, you often had an alternative answer, a different method, a creative solution. As an aspiring athlete, countless times you shouted “watch me” or “time me again” as you raced around our complex at your fastest speed.

I have watched in awe as you have grown to embody kindness, compassion, non-judgement, patience, balance, determination and resilience.

Nothing has made me feel more helpless than seeing the bumps you hit along the road. And nothing, absolutely nothing has made my spirits soar more than witnessing your joy for life and your successes.

You are a now a geographer focused on urban, cultural and environmental issues. You are passionate about our world environment, democracy, internationalism, fairness and human rights.

You are not only a researcher and an academic, you are an athlete who competed for Canada in the Men’s 50K Racewalk in the Pan Am Games last summer. You have now turned that talent and passion into long distance running. You speak two languages and are an extensive traveler. You are also a die-hard fan of alternative music that I do not understand.

Readers that don’t know you will dismiss the above as simply a mother’s rose-coloured perspective. Those that do know you will be aware that these mere words have not done you justice.

Today, as you stand to receive your Doctor of Philosophy diploma, I weep. Everything is new. All hopes and dreams are possible. You are forging out into the world with your own unique set of passions and talents. My heart bursts with love, admiration and pride.

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Retirement: Everyday Is Saturday–Or Is It?

My husband started it! Early in our retirement, he threw down the gauntlet and wanted us to preserve defined weekends. I pouted…just a little bit…okay, a lot! For years I had been totally sold on the concept that during retirement every day would be Saturday (or Sunday). To me, it was now like saying there should be no Santa or no Tooth Fairy! Why wouldn’t we want every day to be Saturday?

During the first two months of our retirement, we were fully immersed in intense house renovations (insane, I know – but it was cathartic and served as a great transition from work). At Richard’s lead, we did the renovations on Monday to Friday and took the weekends ‘off’.

With the renovations behind us, we have continued that schedule. As best as we can, we now try to make the weekends special and confine more mundane tasks and our ‘to do lists’ to the weekdays. In this way, we not only have defined weekends, we also have a weekly escape from household chores and other drudgery.

My husband just may have been on to something. In a study on ‘the weekend effect’, led by Richard Ryan at The University of Rochester, (January 2010) researchers tracked the mental moods and physical symptoms of working adults during both weekdays and weekends. Not surprisingly, participants indicated being happier during the weekend with less physical complaints.  “Weekends were associated with elevated feelings of freedom and closeness — participants said they were more often involved in activities of their own choosing and spending time with close friends and family members. People also felt more competent during the weekend than they did at work” (source). Even those who worked on weekends reported feeling happier on Saturday and Sunday. For this latter group, researchers suggested that it was probably because “cool events tend to happen on the weekend.” They also proposed that there was a likely social contagion effect, i.e. when other people are happy around you, you become happier yourself (source).

Live Science (February 2008) reported on another interesting study that found that weekdays often bring heavier rain than weekends. “Summertime storms in the southeastern United States shed more rainfall midweek than on weekends….The cause could be the air pollution created by the daily grind—traffic and business operations….The clearest day of the week was Saturday, with nearly twice the rainfall on the wettest day, Tuesday afternoon (source).

Could the ‘weekend effect’ also apply to retirees? Ryan’s study did not look at non-working adults, or at adults over the age of 62. However, it makes sense that special Saturday/Sunday events, weekend visits with working friends/family members, social-contagion, less rain, as well as old habits dying hard, could have a positive impact on a retiree’s weekend.

I began this post at the beginning of May (when weekend farmers’ markets/special events were beginning to step up in our area), and I once again experienced the “twin blog phenomenon”. To get more details for my post, I increased my on-line search for “retirement-everyday-weekend” and came across a blog post, Every day is Weekend In Early Retirement? by Mr.Firestation. That post was written just one day before my search. Seriously, how does this happen? I had never previously come across this blog, or this blogger. Regardless, Mr. Firestation and I had both been working on the same blog topic at the same time (and I discovered that many bloggers that I follow, follow his blog). I put my draft away for a while and wrote on other matters. Then, after a particularly fun and rejuvenating long weekend, I pulled out this draft once again.

It is true. Even in retirement weekends are significant. They cause an increase in special events, outdoor community activities, and a mixture of age groups out and about (or, in respect for our recent Canada Day, “oot and aboot”).  Used wisely, weekends can also provide a break from tasks and chores (which sadly do not disappear in retirement).

In response to the question “is every day the weekend in retirement”? Mr. Firestation sat firmly on the fence and concluded both “yes and no.” His reasoning was that for most retirees, weekdays are more relaxed than when they were working. Conversely, he also argued that weekends are even more special as retirees can avoid scheduling chores during that time, giving them even more time to take part in special events with friends and family. (source)

I totally agree with Mr. Firestation’s conclusion, and in the process, I have found a great new blog to follow.

Once again the weekend is near…bring it on!

Feature Photo: Cedar Sunday Market, Vancouver Island, BC.