camino de santiago

“Didn’t sleep well at all. At first I thought it was Steven that woke me with his snores, turns out it was the lady bunking above him. Mind you this was nothing compared to the person on the other side of the dorm who was snoring seriously out of sync with about 20 others. Think an orchestra of pneumatic drills and squawking baby elephants. Wait do baby elephants squawk? As if this isn’t bad enough I have woken up totally frozen and I need to pee. Ugh! One battle at a time right? I tip toe up through the dimly lit dorm, try my best to open the door and turn on the light in one swift James Bond movie. I fail miserably. Suddenly blinded, I remember lights are automatic here. Sitting there in the cold, I wonder just how soundproof the walls are. Can they hear me in here? I jump out of my skin, when I flush the loo. Giving it serious evils I realise I have probably woken anyone that was asleep. Sh*t! Scampering back to my bed I am relieved (heehee) to hear the footsteps of many others making bee line to the toilets. Clearly everyone was waiting for some one to break the seal. I use that “loud time” to find my headphones. Wrap myself up in the liner and sheet. I look like a cocooned caterpillar. Finally settled, though not too much warmer, I turn on London Grammar rejoicing in the fact that sleep is coming……… I spend the next hour trying to clean out the headphone socket of my phone, in the dark! When that doesn’t work, I try sheer brute force and desperation. Its no use, the headphones are broken. I feel broken. Its 4.45am, I have been awake since 1am. Thank god for the 8am check out. A very friendly volunteer turns on ALL the lights of the dorm at 6am. He goes to all the cabins, waking pilgrims and reminding us that we have to be out by 8am. There is no going back to sleep. I may cry. Like, I know I suffer from insomnia. I am happy with my five hours sleep a night, when those five hours are broken, well its just not pretty. Sean pops his sleepy happy head over to say hello. How is it he always looks happy when he wakes up? I am fairly sure I look like a cornered wild animal” ~ first entry into my journal

After a small breakfast of coffee and giant toast we set off in the dark. Its ludicrous how many people are walking in the dark with out lights of any kind. The footpath is strewn with overgrown tree roots and gravel. Its pretty dangerous. As we both were thinking someone was going to get hurt, we heard some one behind us trip and face plank the ground, walking sticks go flying and everyone feels the weight of the fallen souls backpack. I can only image how they ached for days after. Bring lights people! I feel bad for Sean on our very first morning. We were all excited to get a picture with the sign in Roncesvalles “Santiago de Compostela 790km”. It’s still dark out when we pass it. Instead of the iconic image we go a lovely image of the reflective sign instead!

Sun is up and we have been walking for a while and as you can see I am still not a morning person! The random carts of stacked potatoes were cool. We both joked that it would have been awesome to have a couple on hand to take photos! It would not be the last time we wished we had a wedded couple to photograph on our travels.

A lot of day two walk was through woodland. It was very beautiful but I was convinced we were lost. Keeping an eye on the time and other pilgrims I mention as much to Sean saying the town Espinal should be visible soon. Time for a bite eat and coffee. We never get to Espinal. I hear from Steven later that it was quite lovely.

My mum had told my brother when he was little that the Robin he saw in the garden every morning was the same one. That this Robin used to watch over my brother and make sure that he was being a good boy and also that no harm would come to him. When I saw this little guy, I decided that he was going to be our robin and watch over us. The logical part of me says there are lots of robins in Spain. The child in me however, would like to think that this robin was in fact the same one that kept us company all the way to Santiago. Stretches are very important! I didn’t see very many other people doing this either on their walks or when they got settled for the day. On the first few days we were stretching all over the place like elastic bands. As Sean, demonstrates below if you feel a blister starting hit the decks and get out the first aid bag. Look after those feet!

Hello Viscarret. Still do not know how we totally missed Espinal? We drop our bags outside a handball alley and reapply sunscreen and top our water bottles. Much to the bewilderment of locals and pilgrims we make use of the amazing shadows being cast inside the alley and take some photos. I jest with Sean that we should do a Lisa and Alex and bring a wedding dress with us on our next adventure. Its mid afternoon and it’s very warm. Like that hot sticky warm. I am aching all over from yesterday’s walk. My thighs are like concrete they are so heavy, so I am less than impressed when I see the short but vertical hill to get out of this hamlet.

YAY! Zubiri. This was the place we had planned to stop for the night. Nearly 99.9% of pilgrims follow Mr Brierley book, which has the walk broken down into 33 days. We were told that most people will follow his routes to the letter and will start and finish as he advices. Which means that accommodation is scarce in the town that everyone is headed for. We were given this heads up by a few friends so we decided that we would stay a town before or after “the top of the page.” We stopped into a bar and had two glass of vino and a meat platter for €10. It was still early enough. Larrasoaña was only 5.3km away. If we left now we could be there in an hour and be further than we planned for day two. Standing up to leave took longer than expected. My body has put its foot down and seized up. Locals give me the “Awh bless” look. Sean just laughs though he has to be feeling the same. When I go to get our passports stamped ( remember where you eat and where you sleep), there is some confusion. It is the second time in 48hrs I wish I had learned Spanish before we left. It wont be the last time I wish this either. As we leave a group of pilgrims arrive, they look like a fun bunch. I wonder if we’ll become friends?

Zubiri we had read is an industrial town. Still we we shocked by this factory. It wasn’t something I thought we would see on our adventure. How naive I was!

Apparently we were almost there when we reached this little hamlet. It was so so hot we filled our hats with freezing water and poured it over our heads. Even thinking of it now, there was nothing more refreshing on that long walk. This is when we discovered that there are large discrepancies between Brierley daily map and the Spanish signposts. It took us a lot longer than an hour in dead head to get to the next town! I was at breaking point when we passed a (to go) signpost, then bewildered to see a 2.5km sign 30 minutes later. That was just one example. I have hundreds!!!

We arrive at Larrasoaña at 3pm after seven hours walking. Much later than expected. Sean just shakes his head and follows me as I lead him totally in the wrong direction as we look for our albergue. When there is no more town to walk through I concede my defeat and follow Sean back to where we should have been going. Both very tired and achy we walk through the wrong door of a building and are greeted by a rather flustered and annoyed man, who spews something in Spanish. Once he is done with his rant he takes our snatches our passports and money and tells us where to find the building with our beds. After the amazing volunteers and the lap of luxury last night, Camino reality hits us with a bang. Rubber covers on the mattress and pillows, no sheets, no lockers, no cabins. Just rows of bunks, which are filling fast. There is no nice lady to do our laundry. There are two cubicles in the ladies both with a hose. One toilet. No kitchen. Yup, this is the real camino!

Hosed down and clothes hanging out to dry we head for the bar. Of which there is just one. We book in for dinner. Then sit. Blood rushing to our feet. We chat with the lovely Coleen, who has seven weeks off for her adventure. It dawns on me that this is not the first time we have met Coleen today. She was lucky enough to witness us filling our hats with water! Then we met Alan from Wexford and ask him to pull up a chair. Pretty soon there is a group of us from all over the world, tables joined. I am sure we look like a welcoming committee! In the short time we are sitting outside the bar loads of pilgrims we have seen along the way walk up and down the one main street. It becomes apparent by 4pm there is no room in the town. The next town is another “5km” away. My heart literally sinks for each and every one of them. Alan tells us that Zubiri is full. Steven walks up and we are relieved to hear that he has a place to stay here in Larrasoaña. He tells us that Zubiri is so over full that they have had to open up the local gym for people to sleep on the floor. I think of my rubber mattress and am glad of it. We learn that some are taking a taxi to the next towns. Personally I don’t blame them.

As we all chatted and laughed the afternoon away the clouds gather and start to grumble just like our tummies. A few of us ran back to the to albergue to take the laundry in off the line before the downpour. When it rains in Spain it falls mainly everywhere with big fat drops. It was only a short jog around the corner but I was soaked when I got back. I think of all those that had to walk on to find accommodation. Poor souls must be wet through, cold and oh so weary.

Dinner time comes not a moment too soon. We give in our dinner tickets and take our seats. I feel like I am in a movie, you know the ones where family and friends sit down to dinner, laughing and joking with one another just as the credits roll. I have forgotten about the aches and pains, the horrid rubber mattress that I have to go back to. I listen as Steven tells us about his friends who stopped in Zubiri and ate a wonderful meal of cured meats. I smile knowing that they are the group I spied earlier. What knocks the smile off my face is the fact that this friendly group only met two days before. They look like they have all been life long friends. Steve met Jason in an airport. Both of them strangers but saw that the other was making his way to Spain for the Camino. Then they met someone else in a Spanish airport, another in a train station and so on, until their group grew to about twelve people. I am smiling again. This is the power of the Camino. Its brings people from all walks of life together and forms life long bonds. Sadly, this was our last time seeing Steven. Totally mad, we knew him for the bones of 48 hours and he is someone that we both remember with such fondness. If by any chance you ever see this Steven, we hope you made it to the end with that big cheery smile of yours and just so you know Love Actually will forever remind me of you!


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